25 August 2012

Bratislava was probably one of the less well known places we visited, but it was definitely worth it. It’s also a convenient stop off between Prague and Budapest. It was much less touristy than most places we’ve been, being quite quiet and small for a city. On the plus side it was also probably the cheapest place, with 0.5l of the Zlatý Bažant (Golden Pheasant) lager being about €1.50. We were lucky enough to be staying in the excellent Botel Marina, which is what it says on the tin: a hotel on a boat moored on the Danube.

Arriving late afternoon, we did some well deserved sleeping before heading to the ‘Krishna’ restaurant conveniently located on our boat. Indian restaurants seem to be scarce in mainland Europe but this one turned out to be nothing short of brilliant. The fish curry and butter naans were some of our favourites. As bonuses, it was very cheap and had a classically taciturn waiter.

Two men and a snail

On the first full day, we went to visit the historic town centre area which was pretty close by and featured some interesting market stalls, one selling very artfully carved fruits. There were also a lot of bronze statues dotted about in interesting poses which added a lot of character to the centre. For lunch we went to the alchemical restaurant and bar which serves good traditional type food and had very friendly staff. After a further reduction of the sleep debt we headed to the close-by Jasmin Chinese restaurant. Lucy ordered ‘Duck with Eight Treasures’ which was the house speciality. Amusingly for me and unfortunately for her, one of the treasures was most certainly some sort of cubed offal, possibly liver or heart. That aside though, the portions were huge and the food, while sometimes unidentifiable, was very nice.

We felt we had to do something other than eat in Bratislava, so the next day we rented some pretty posh trekking bikes for the very reasonable €9 per bike (5 hours) from ‘Bike Bratislava’. This characteristically (for us) took much longer to find than it should have. Once we managed to actually get them, we went back to the Danube waterfront and followed the (quite long) cycle path. On the way there were some imposing views, such as this one from under a bridge.

Lucy and a lion made of tyres

After an hour or so, despite my persistence that there would be something more exciting than suburbs around the next bend, we turned back. On the way back, we went to a rather ’trendy’ looking café which was either a converted or current dance school, the drinks were great and the food decent. We headed back down the Danube and ended up in a very busy shopping centre complete with artificial beach. This turned out to not be very cycle friendly, so after a bit we returned the bikes and went back to Krishna’s for some sort of Royal Tandoori banquet (definitely get it if you go).

On our last day we visited the ‘Freja’ spa which had a sauna, pool and great jacuzzi. If you go in happy hours it’s quite cheap and definitely worth it. We also discovered that Slovaks do not go naked in saunas – the rough guide book did say they were characteristically reserved. We used Bratislava more as a rest stop than anything else, but I am sure there was a lot more to do that we did not take advantage of. One place we wanted to visit, the Novy Most restaurant/bar/UFO was just out of our price range, at €12 for soup plus a €3.50 student entrance fee! I did find some very amusing descriptions of stag-do packages in Bratislava on the tourism website though, so that might be worth a look. Next stop, Budapest!

Bratislava - Comments


16 August 2012

Our arrival in Prague was heralded by the usual predicament of the ATM awarding us the highest value note it could – 2000 Czech Koruna (about €80). Needless to say this wasn’t great for ticket machines, so we had to pay at the desk who told us ‘ah you have the big money!’. After resolving this though, the metro turned out to be very fast and we soon arrived at the bottom of the steep hill to our hostel. We didn’t mind though, since it was pretty quiet and the streets were nice and cobbled. Before going to bed, we watched a bit of Olympic Weightlifting and talked to some English people who recommended pedal boating.

So next day we did so in a Swan Boat, no less. We had to steadfastly avoid drifting towards the weir which made the outing all the more exciting. In search of some Czech food on our street, Nerudova, we got a goulash (actually Hungarian) type soup with bready dumplings. It was very filling and just what we needed. It was a shame the wasps were so interested as they invariably instil panic in me and Lucy.

Lucy and a skeleton

In the afternoon we went to the museum of alchemy which had many peculiar and amusing things in jars up a tower with a spiral staircase. Afterwards we went to the alchemical bar and I made the mistake of ordering Grog, which is quite possibly the most foul drink in existence. Following profuse amounts of water to banish the taste, we went to the ‘Ghosts and Legends’ museum, which was included on the alchemy ticket. It proved to be quite ghostly, we walked past it four times and asked two people for (correct) directions before finding it. Unfortunately it was a bit underwhelming, consisting of too much writing and not enough scary papier mache figures.

We were only going to stay one night in Prague, but after looking in horror at how long it would take to get to Poland (about a 9 hour train minimum just to Krakow) we decided to save Poland for next time and booked into ‘Hostel Mango’ for another two nights. So on the third day we finally mustered up enough energy to go on a walking tour. Finding the one we originally wanted proved too difficult in the packed old town square. All the different guides have coloured umbrellas, and the one we chose was Keith, with a green umbrella. Like all the other tours we have been on this was tips-based. He proved to be the best and most friendly guide we’ve followed in any city.

I’ve noticed that cities can often appear quite faceless until you know some of the history, and nowhere else but Prague was this more apparent. Unfortunately, there are far too many tourists in certain parts of the city, especially the Charles Bridge. Even worse, there are innumerable shops selling tourist crap like ‘I <3 Prague’ t-shirts, tacky jewellery and other rubbish. Another blight on the city is the amount of graffiti. None of it is remotely artistic and the vandals have even daubed it on some of the more historic buildings.

A view from the Old Town Square

Once we’d started the tour however, we found there was a lot more to Prague than meets the eye. We heard a story about Reinhard Heydrich, the hated Nazi leader who occupied Bohemia and Moravia, the two constituent areas of the Czech Republic. He apparently liked the opera and frequently strolled around the Prague Opera House, which has a roof lined with statues of composers. Heydrich was outraged to learn that there was a statue of Mendellsohn, a Jewish composer, and ordered it to be removed. The Czech workmen detailed to this didn’t know what Mendellsohn looked like however, and neither did their Nazi guards. So they said ‘find the one with the biggest nose’. Duly that statue was destroyed, and only later did the Nazis realise that they had removed Richard Wagner, a German composer and Hitler’s favourite.

In the evening we went to the ‘Drunken Monkey’ bar crawl, which came recommended by Keith. It included 2.5 hours of all you can drink, which we took a bit too literally. It was good fun though, and I learned a new drinking game from some of the many Australians trawling Europe this summer. It’s called flip-cup, and involves two teams lining up at either side of a long table. Each person gets a plastic cup with a bit of beer in it. In turn from the end of the table, each player drinks and then places their cup upside down, partially on the edge of the table. Then you have to flip it so it lands upright before the next person can drink and carry on. It was great fun, and after the next couple of bars, a few fallings over, and some slurred instructions to taxi drivers later we got back to the hostel and either fell asleep or passed out.

In the morning we found the only English Breakfast in Prague, which turned out to be about £10. It was definitely worth it though to alleviate our hungover state. Unfortunately we failed to muster enough energy to go to the huge castle, so we will save it for next time. We caught an afternoon train to Bratislava.

Prague - Comments


12 August 2012

We only scheduled Vienna (Wien) for a night and day, since we’d spent longer in Slovenia than anticipated. The ‘railjet’ train proved to be even better than the German ICE trains. It was the only train I’ve seen which has free wifi (albeit patchy in coverage) in the second class area. After arriving in Wien Meidling we found a succession of very friendly Austrians who spoke perfect English and told us where to find our hotel (only 2 star, don’t get excited this is still a hostel trip). From the bus we could see that the streets were markedly wider than those in the German cities we’d visited – it felt more airy, and despite having a lot of traffic, not as bustling.

The ‘Hotel Cyrus’ didn’t prove hugely easy to find with the given directions. In case anyone comes across this, we think it would have been better to take the S-Bahn from Meidling to Südbahnhof and then it is one tram stop away (within walking distance). During the journey I had the mind blowing revelation that ‘Wiener’ refers to Vienna – Wiener Schnitzel would be forever changed. The hotel was very spacious (our double had four beds in it) and had Eurosport in English on the room TV which allowed me to hypocritically watch the olympics I had formerly been slagging off.

We went on a quest for food which after some argument about whether we could be bothered to find the restaurant from the guidebook (no) ended up at an Italian restaurant opposite the Apollo Kino (IMAX cinema). However Italian food is currently embargoed pending our visit to Italy; we have noticed there are a lot of Italian restaurants all over Europe and eating it can get a bit samey after a while. Therefore we ate another Wiener Schnitzel. The restaurant’s attempts to charge for extra ketchup were thwarted by me paying with card and them not caring enough to change the bill.

Next day after cursing the slowness of Viennese trams we went to the ‘Haus der Musik’ which is a great museum all about sound and music. There are a range of interactive exhibits about everything from digital signal processing to the lives of classical composers. We thoroughly enjoyed it and would definitely recommend a visit there. We spent an interlude at ‘Wienerwald’ but instead of the usual Schnitzel I got a burger which came with crisps in place of chips, this actually works pretty well.

A cute glass aquarium in the Haus der Musik

Lastly we took a puffing trip up 343 steps to the top of the Stephansdom, the spiral staircase makes you dizzy but it’s worth it for the view. I felt a bit sorry for the man working in the gift shop at the top who must have a long way to go for a toilet break.

View from the top of Stephansdom

Only too soon, it was time to leave Vienna. It is definitely on the return visit list along with Bruges. Next we were going to Prague which turned from 1 night into 3 nights as we realised we couldn’t stomach an 8.5 hour train to Poland.

Vienna - Comments

Lake Bled

11 August 2012

After a very long tunnel and a first-time walk across train tracks at a station, we arrived in Bled. It is a small town in the north of Slovenia known for its large and clear blue lake. We were visiting primarily for my sister’s wedding but ended up being very glad we went as it is a wonderful place and we were glad to have a break from big cities. We liked it so much we stayed an extra night.

After getting a cheap taxi from the station, we dumped our stuff in the ‘aparthostel’ (apartment, not hostel), and went out to search for food. We had dinner in a nice Chinese called Peking, eventually found the ‘devil bar’ and had some agreeably parentally-funded drinks before walking home in the dark brandishing phone screens at oncoming traffic.

Next day we had an amazing breakfast in the 4-star Park Hotel my parents and co. were staying in which included the first sight of bacon (speck) and was probably the best breakfast spread I’ve ever seen for €13.50 (non guests). Then of course there was the wedding itself, which is amply immortalised in hundreds of photos and videos. It was an amazing day and a lot of food and drink went down very well!

On the slightly hungover day after we went for breakfast with Sue and then spent some time swimming in the wonderful Lake Bled. We tried to sneak into a 5-star hotel lido area (€15) with our friends but got caught and had to go. After finding an almost as good spot on the grass next to the closed off area we considered an amphibious landing but decided against it. I tried to chase some of the many ducks on the lake but came to the conclusion that they are a lot better than me at swimming.

In the evening we went for a gigantic pizza at ‘Pizza Rustica’ which was only about €7 and very tasty, bizarrely we walked past some goats in a little paddock at the side of the street on the way. Later we went for slightly more relaxed drinking, deciding that the ‘Vegas Club’ might be a bit much for the moment.

On our (unfortunately) last day we went to Vintgar Gorge on the bus early in the morning. It is stunning with crystal clear water (we could see right to the bottom) and a lot of waterfalls and little whirlpools. We drank some of the water and it tasted great and fresh. We could see lots of fish presumably waiting for food coming downstream. After a lot of walking we ate some of the fish at the restaurant near the end of the gorge. I felt a mixture of being impressed and sorry for the fish when we saw a man walk into the restaurant after we ordered with a net full of them.

Finally we had dinner in the hotel restaurant buffet which was brilliant – ‘Slovenian food night’. We made a return to the ‘Art Cafe’ for more drinking later and had to say our goodbyes. Tomorrow (Monday) we were bound for Vienna!

Lake Bled - Comments

Accessing Backups of Truecrypted Windows System Drives Under Linux

11 August 2012

Unfortunately I lost this article when I lost the database for my old blog. I noticed the link is still generating quite a bit of interest from the superuser question and I have been emailed about the page. I am currently away so don’t have time to try and completely rewrite the article, but here is what I said to the person who emailed me as a rough guide:

Roughly, I ended up creating an image of the disk with dd in linux and then created a VMWare Virtual Machine. I then modified the configuration file (.vmdk IIRC) for the virtual machine to make the virtual disk descriptor map to the dd image I’d created (information about how to do this is on google, you just want to ‘redirect’ the disk descriptor to go to your image rather than the empty container vmware creates). Sometimes you have to fiddle with the SCSI/IDE controller type to get the virtual machine to boot without blue-screening.

Hope this helps.

Accessing Backups of Truecrypted Windows System Drives Under Linux - Comments