Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Budapest - Beers, Baths and Slight madness

21 - 24 October

We arrived in Budapest on a Wednesday night, expecting a quiet night in at the hostel, after a quick walk down to the river, and out for dinner. Rach retired early, while Kerry went out for a few 'quiet' beers with a few people from the hostel (Bubble Hostel, best hostel in ages due to the great people! More on that later), only for them to turn up around 2AM, giggling and not able to look each other in the eye... turns out one of the hostel mates divulged a LOT more information about her personal habits than anyone was expecting. Much hilarity ensued, and everyone kept giggling about it for the next few days...

Anyway, the next day we went for a walk up Gelert hill on the 'Buda' side, to get a great panaromic view of Budapest, and for Rach to cough her lungs out. Got an asian tourist to take a pic of us - she looked terrified to hold the SLR, and I thought she was going to drop it, hence the slight grimace on the pic below!

Budapest
Gelert Hill - worth the hike

Budapest
DON'T DROP THE CAMERA! (note my pained smile...!)

We then headed back into Pest, and up to the Terror Museum. For a very depressing subject (it housed both Nazi and Communist interrogation and terror squads), it was a well done museum, with lots of loud rock music and information in English. Back to the hostel again for a few more beers, then headed out about 9.30ish for drinks at a 'Ruin bar' in the Jewish quarter called Mamoush (sp?). Great place - basically an abandoned apartment building from the Communist days, which they've opened up a few apartments and the central courtyard, and grabbed furniture from skips/side of the street. We ended up sitting in someone's old lounge room, right by the bar which was in the kitchen.

Next day was October 23rd, which is Republic day in Hungary, celebrating the various uprisings against the Communist government. Sam from the hostel was doing some reading on the 1956 uprising, and found out it started just a few doors down the street from the hostel, and there were tanks firing on protesters on the next street. As a lot of stuff was closed, we headed up to Szechenyi Thermal Baths for a couple of hours of soaking in various temperature mineral baths - the outdoor ones were pretty nice, it was cold out, and boiling hot in the pool (38 deg C), so very refreshing while dashing about to the next pool.

Hummus Bar, Budapest
Hummus Bar. Sexy.

The afternoon was spent holed up at the hostel watching movies, internet, cups of tea and beers etc. Funnily, Sam from the hostel was on the shared hostel PC reading some news sites, when a trojan/virus thing decided to activate and kept popping up adult web sites and taking over the antivirus systems. K and I spent a few hours messing about cleaning it off, but we were all kept giggling over some of the sites that came up. Again, beers in the hostel, then out to a club later on with Brownyn (the other girl from the Hostel) to check out some Hungarian music.

Budapest is a huge city, and we only saw a small part, but what we saw was fun. Nightlife is great there - a lot of hostel mates were out all night.

More photos on flickr here.

Next stop, Prague (Czech Republic).

Slovakia

19-20 October

After Vienna, we jumped on the train for a short hop to Bratislava in Slovakia (about 60km from Vienna), for a couple of nights. Rach was still struggling with a horrid cold thing, so was pretty grumpy about stomping around. We headed into the Old Town for lunch at the 'Slovak Pub', where they have lots of traditional Slovakian food - we had Garlic soup served in a hollowed out loaf of bread, bean soup, Goulash Soup and Tortellini like dumplings, and local beer and Cola (Kofola - kind of like a anniseeidy flavored Coke).

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Tram

The rest of that day and the next were spent cruising the streets of Bratislava - walking the Old Town which is full of small winding streets and lovely squares, and up to the Castle which is closed, but can walk the battlements for a good view.

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Kerry getting rather artistic on the camera

A beer or two went down at the hostel bar too, which was in the basement, and themed like the horror movie 'Hostel', which I have a feeling was filmed in Bratislava (anyone know?). There are heaps of quite comical statues placed around the Old Town. Funniest thing we saw was a quite nice looking dog (not a stray), hanging out at a Tram Stop, and then jumping on the tram - everyone was looking around for it's owner, but we think it was hitching a free ride on it's own! Must've had an important meeting.

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So that's how it feels on the other side of the lens...

More photos are on flickr here.

Next stop, Budapest in Hungary.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Austria

We left our brief visit to Germany behind and headed for the alps, Innsbruck. The scenery of this town is worth the visit alone. It is surrounded by mountains which were snow covered and there was a light snow falling for the whole time we were there, none of it was sticking to the ground fortunately though.

Innsbruk
Moody, the sky, not the girl

Innsbruk
Innsbruck

We did a whole bunch of sightseeing and the usual stuff, climbing up a tower in the centre of town which used to be used to spot fires, visited the city museum, visited Schloss Ambras which has an interesting Curiosities collection(stuffed crocodiles, stuffed sharks, and lots of paintings of people covered with hair, dwarfs and giants etc. etc.). We also went to the ski jump at Bergisel were some young french kids were training so we were able to watch them jumping, it was very impressive and I think you'd need to be brave to do it the first time. Surprisingly, they were jumping on artificial grass, which is how they train all year until the snow comes and covers it in a 30cm layer.

Innsbruk
The ski jump

Later on we took the train to Salzburg. In the morning we took off for some sightseeing in light snow. We walked up to the castle,
Hohensalzburg Fortress, above the town which gives a good 360 degree panoramic view. We continued walking along the hills above the town before heading back into town for lunch and a visit to the Katacombs. Happily, we managed to avoid all showings of 'The Sound of Music' at the hostel, and didn't even spot any fans around the city. Lucky escape...! It was late afternoon by this time so we went back to the hostel for the happy hour and bumped into a couple from Perth who we'd seen in Innsbruck. It turns out they were taking almost the same route as us between Munich and Krakau, but a day or so behind. We had a few beers and traded stories etc.

Salzburg
A castle on a hill above a town

Salzburg
Maitai river

In the morning Rach woke up with a cold and a fever before we packed up and headed for Vienna. We were going to do some sightseeing and stuff in the afternoon but decided to take a break and rest up instead.

In the morning we went out to
Schloss Schönbrunn which is a palace built by the Hapsburgs to rival Versailles. We took a tour around the state rooms and then walked around the gardens. In the afternoon we went back into town and visited the Central Cafe which is a well know coffee shop for some coffee/tea and cakes.

Vienna
Beaming with enthusiasm over the prospect of more old stuff in rooms

Vienna
These stick people are everywhere, somebody should tell them they're walking on a footpath not the North Face of the Eiger

Vienna
A thing you can climb up but not a thing where you can get a cup of tea from the cafe.

Afterwards we took a few wrong turns on the local transport but managed to finally get to the MAK which is a contemporary art gallery/design thing. It's quite a weird museum/gallery and it has lots of exhibits of things which aren't contemporary at all. We did enjoy it though even though Kerry got told off for trying to take photos.

More photos: Innsbruck :: Salzburg :: Vienna

Next up: Bratislava.

München

We got to München for Saturday night and the hostel we were staying out was one big party. We decided to take it easy after the previous few nights efforts to get an early start the next day.

On Sunday we did our usual wandering about sightseeing looking around the town centre and then taking a tram out to Schloss Nymphenburg.

Munich
Fancy work from the photog, fancy walk from the boss

It was starting to get a bit cold by this stage so we stopped off at the Augustine Keller Bier Garden which was on the way back into town for a touch of lunch. The food here was really good, and we had a few beers to accompany it. There were lots of people in traditional Bavarian garb dancing to a band and boozing it up out in the back room, there clothes were very smart, Rachael was jealous. After lunch we needed a nap so didn't really get up to much else for the rest of the day.

We were originally only staying 2 nights but decided to extend it a couple more because we thought the city deserved more than a quick look.

On Monday we took a 2 1/2 hour train to Füssen which is the starting point for visiting the Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau castles. By the time we arrived at Hohenschwangau the weather started to really take a turn for the worse, we persevered and walked up the hill to Schloss Neuschwanstein which is a very picturesque castle.

Schloss Neuschwanstein
Disney would be proud

About 10 minutes walk past the castle there is a bridge 90m above a gorge that looks back on the castle and normally gives a great view. The weather was appalling by this stage, we were soaking wet and the wind and hail was howling up the gorge.

Schloss Neuschwanstein
Probably should have added a thumbs up to go with the grin and the crouch

We headed back into Munich and were happy to get back to dry land as it were. We celebrated by taking advantage of the happy hour in the hostel bar for the next few hours.

It goes without saying we woke up with decent hangovers. We spent the day visiting the Dachau concentration camp memorial which is about 1/2 hour out of Munich. The sight has a good museum and shows a strange 1960s video about the history of the camp. It's quite a depressing day going out there, and the hangovers didn't help! Afterwards we headed back into town and took it easy for the evening.

More photos: Munich :: Fussen

Next up Österreich.

Heidleberg

We headed up to Heidelberg on Friday morning for some authentic German action. It's a very nice small town situated on the river Neckar and is supposedly in it's "original" state as it was barely bombed during WWII. We stayed next to a pub right in town, I won't bore anybody with the details but basically there's a lot of good pubs and cafes serving local fare(beer and schnitzel) so we ended up having quite a good time for the one night we stayed.

Heidelberg
Cheers

In the morning it was raining heavily so we snuck out for breakfast and managed to get very wet in about 5 minutes. It cleared up enough for us to go up to the Schloß(castle) and have a look around. We also visited the Deutsch Packaging Museum which was about as interesting as an empty cardboard box.

Rain man
Rain, what rain?

Heidelberg
Nice pose

More photos here

Next stop: München

Switzerland after Geneva

After leaving Geneva we headed to Bern, stopping at Lausanne on the way which is further around Lake Geneva(Léman). We spent a few hours walking around the city and had lunch at an Indian cafe up by the church above the town.

Lausserne, Switzerland
I don't remember it being that sunny

Bern is the capital of Switzerland but you could never tell by walking around it, it's quite a small town centre but very picturesque. We took a guided walking tour in the morning which was a bit lame but showed us some views over the river we hadn't found rambling by ourselves.

Bern, Switzerland
It's a clock, lots of Japanese tourists were watching it so we joined in

Bern, Switzerland
This statue eats children, he looks busy

From Bern we moved onto Zurich. On the night we arrived we visited our friend Enda who Kerry worked with at SwissRe and is now living in Zurich. He cooked us dinner, which if you know him is an amazing feat and then we had a few drinks to catch up. We wisely waited for the last train back to Zurich before leaving, only to find that it didn't even go halfway into town. We found ourselves stuck in the middle of nowhere outside Zurich at 1am. We ended up going back to Enda's and kipping the night there.

Swedish Chef
Enda, cooking, this is real, not staged.

After a slow start to the next day we walked around Zurich and did a bit of sightseeing. We visited the basement of one of the police stations where the vaults are covered in paintings, it was quite amazing but we couldn't take photos and I can't find any reference on the web right now so you'll have to live without a photo.

That night we visited Andrew Erickson and his fiancée Agne who now live in Zurich(they were at our wedding) and they cooked us dinner and we caught up over a few drinks. Even though some very nice Ukranian vodka was involved we managed to get a tram that took us back into town without any problems.

In the morning we took a funicular up to Felsenegg which has quite a good view over the city, the weather was a bit grey though so we didn't hang around too long and walked back down the very steep hill. We also visited the Freitag(they make bags from recycled truck covers) shop which is made from shipping containers and has a lookout at the top.

Zurich, Switzerland
There's a bag shop in there

We went out around Neiderdorf strasse for a few more drinks that night catching up with Enda again to cap off our Switzerland trip and cap off us. Ended up in a rather expensive bar - I think we managed to drink away €100 that night, onto plain rice and tap water rations for the next few days, haha.

More photos here: Lausanne :: Bern :: Zurich

Next up: Deutschland.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Geneva, Switzerland - Cheese, Cheese, Fondue and Mountains

3 Oct - 9 Oct
After skipping most of France, we arrived in Geneva to a cold bright day. Wandered through the Old Town, and along the lake front. Evening was spent with an early dinner at a 'Thai - Chinese' restaurant (the food wasn't one or the other tho), and then went to the movies to see 'Inglorious Basterds' - in original format, with subtitles. Funny thing is, it had French and German subtitles for the Swiss, then started mixing in English ones when the movies dialog was actually in French or German... got rather confusing at times! The Swiss were also laughing at bits we didn't find funny at all, guess we missed something they got in the translations?

The next day we got a bus to Veyrier, and caught a cable car straight up a 1000m cliff face to Saleve (sp?), took a bit of a walk around, and checked out the view.

Geneva, Switzerland

The afternoon was spent with a tour around the Palais of Nations (the UN compound), which was really interesting. It was a Sunday evening, and there was nobody around, no lights on, and they were half way through clearing the last weeks conferences, and setting up the next weeks ones, so there were lots of abandoned photocopiers and piles of junk lying around. Felt quite gloomy at times.

UN, Geneva, Switzerland

Dinner was a fantastic Fondue at a restaurant called Auberge du Savièse - we shared a two person cheese fondue with green peppercorns and shalots (called Fondue Au Poivre), some rather dodgy local wine, and a lot of bread. Mustof eaten a kilo of cheese each... yum tho.



More photos on flickr here - Geneva.
Next stop, Laussane and Bern.

France, take two

30 Sept - 3 Oct

Next, we stopped for two nights in Biarritz, after a bit of a debacle getting there - it's only about 50km from San Sebastian to Biarritz, but we had to change trains on the French border, only to find the train wasn't running and the staff in the station told everyone the wrong info for the replacement bus... Eventually got there without too much more excitement.

We stayed in a cheap hotel right in the centre of town, by the posh cafe's and jewelery stores, very close to Port Vieux, where we found some cheaper restaurants, and cafes that do really nice breakfasts (the same price as the hotel, but a whole lot more food, and a lot better tasting!). Most of our time was used walking, and hanging out at the Surf beaches.

Biarritz

It rained quite a bit, first rain we've seen for ages, and the surf was pretty dead, so not a lot of action on the beaches. We stopped by the Musee del Mar (Museum of the Sea), to check out the Aquarium - the seals had just been fed, so just lay sleeping and snoring in their pool.

Cafe, Biarritz

From Biarritz, we jumped on a night train through to Lyon, and then another train to Geneva, so bypassed the rest of France completely. Again, a rather slow ride, with lots of long stops in Stations, and a semi-deaf Nun waking up at around 4AM shouting and asking if we were in Lyon yet... half the train yelled at her, and we were on our way again.

More photos on flickr here - Biarritz.
Next stop, Switzerland.

Northern Spain

After leaving Portugal we bussed north to Spain and into Galicia. We stayed a couple of nights in Vigo which is unremarkable but we were mightily impressed by the food. There's a street where about 10 women are just shucking oysters onto plates of 12 for sale right there, slightly treacherous to walk down there, with all the oyster guts on the street. Rach had a dozen oysters in a little 'local' restaurant we found in a back street, for about €8, which is probably the cheapest and freshest oysters I've ever eaten.

Oysters, Vigo

After Vigo, we took a very long train to Bilbao (11 hours, ouch. Weirdly, it's the 4-5 hour trains that really get me...). We spent a couple of days there and visited the Guggenheim, wandered the river and the Old Town.. ). We spent a couple of days there and visited the Guggenheim, wandered the river and the Old Town.

Bilbao

We then carried on around the coast to San Sebastian, where they have a variation on Tapas called Pintxos which is usually piece of bread, some topping like anchovy or tortilla etc. and then held together with a toothpick. There are really nice looking surf beaches there, with lots of surfers out... shame there wasn't much surf tho :)

Pintxos in Rach's mouth!

San Sebastian

More photos on flickr here - Vigo :: Bilbao :: San Sebastian

Next stop, Biarritz in France.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Portugal - Lisbon and OPorto

19th - 24th Sept

We flew into Lisbon and stayed for 3 nights. We did a lot of walking around Lisbon, I guess because we were fresh from our holiday from our holiday in the UK so we saw quite a bit of the city.

Lisboa

Our hostel was right in the centre of the city and was really good (they even cooked eggs or crepes to order for breakfast). We walked up to the Castelo Sao Jorge which is a fortress above the town and gives quite a good view across the city. We also visited Cristo Rei which is a large statue of "Christ the King" on the opposite shore of the river which Lisbon is on. It resembles a similar statue in Rio, and is 100 metres tall. We took an elevator to the top and snapped a few photos of the town.

Christi Rei, Lisboa

Before we left on the train for Porto, Kerry had time to get a haircut at the barbers across from the hostel. This was hilarious because the barber couldn't understand English so there was lots of hand gestures and pointing to scissors and clippers etc, while two old ladies who worked there looked on laughing at us. He ended up with the only 'style' the barber knew, which was a side comb over, nice!




The old area of Porto is built on the steep banks of the river Duoro and the train passes over this as it arrives so you get a great first impression. Of course after trudging up and down the hills a few times looses it's charm pretty fast. Our hostel was central, right next to Torre do Clerigos which is a church that you can climb to the top of, it gives a nice view of Porto. There was some kind of University initiation/orientation week going on so there were groups of kids being marched around the city chanting, singing, dressed like idiots, and being made to do strange stuff in parks. The older students were all wearing the Student's uniform of long black cape and black suits, which is a little creepy looking, and there are all sorts of weird rules and traditions that go with wearing the outfit like the first year students can't look them in the eye unless addressed by them. I can't find anything on google about it either, v strange.

Porto

Porto's wine cellars cover one side of the Duoro opposite the old city and we managed to visit a couple of, them, Ramos Pintos and Sandeman, splitting the tours/tastings with some lunch and a bottle of cheap plonk. The tours take you around museums/cellars etc. giving you a history lesson and telling you about how they make the wine, they finish with a tasting. We tried some white port which we've never had before and a tawny or two.

Porto
Sampling the wares, Sandeman Cellars, Porto

More photos here: Lisbon :: Porto.

Next stop, Vigo in Northern Spain.

UK Stopover

7-20 September

We had to go back to the UK to pick up travel visas for later in our trip so we spent a couple of weeks messing about waiting for those to be issued. We met Jocelyn and Bruce (K's parents) at Leicester Square and had Yo Sushi for lunch one day, and then later in the week we took them to Brick Lane for a curry before they flew back to NZ. Originally we were just meeting them in France, but ended up seeing them in Croatia, France, Spain, and England.

On the weekend we drove up to Leeds to meet Rhyce and Cath Barker who were staying with Rhyce's brother while they toured about before heading off to the continent and onto the Greek Islands.

Chatsworth
Chatsworth - stopped off on the way to Leeds

We caught up over a few beers and had a meal together. On Saturday we drove about the Yorkshire Dales and then had dinner with Rhyce and Cath again. On Sunday we headed back to London to stay with friends and then spent the rest of the week catching up with friends before leaving on the Saturday for Portugal.

Yorkshire Dales
Yorkshire Dales