A Travellerspoint blog

Last Days in Europe

Vienna

The next stop would be my final in Europe as I headed back to Vienna to catch up with friends before heading back to South America. Vienna would be a chance to relax and enjoy the nightlife as this was also the independence weekend of Austria and thus a four day weekend for everyone. The weekend started off with a house party for my friend’s birthday that saw about 100 people arrive and turn the giant house into chaos. With all the beer finished and people starting to crash we finally kicked the last of the people out at 7am in the morning – with everyone having a good time. The next day was a bit quieter and after a quick walk around the city it was time to relax before heading out once again.

Sunday saw a brief change as I was lucky enough to get to an ice hockey game once again. I had been warned here that the standard might not be as good and early on in the game they were certainly struggling a bit with their stick work. However this did improve and the overall the game turned out to be quite good, once again finishing 4-1 including some really awesome goals. After this we headed out to one of the bars in the square and spent most of the night talking to the bar owner and sampling the options of scotch that they had.

The next day was the independence day so we headed down to the parliament to have a look at the parade, which appeared to be more of a military recruiting exercise but was interesting all the same. That night saw us once again head out to a cool little café bar right on the river for a few drinks to celebrate my friends actual birthday and wind up what had been a big weekend. With a little time left the next day I wandered around the city briefly before having one last schnitzel and saying goodbye to Europe, looking ahead to South America once more.

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Posted by rhinoc 11:19 Archived in Austria Tagged vienna Comments (0)

Continuing the "Hostel" trail

Bratislava


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To continue on my trail of “Hostel” I headed to Bratislava where the movie was supposedly based, however quite the contrary to the movies perception the town is quite attractive and the people are really friendly. The first day I went walking around the old town taking in the sites and what I can only describe as a “smurfy” church.

This church is pale blue and white in every simple aspect, as I said I could think of nothing other than smurf church. After this I took in a few more of the sites making my way to the castle which overlooks the city and the UFO style bridge tower that taints it. The bridge also offers a view over the rest of the new city, built in typical soviet fashion with building after building of rectangular blocks, atleast they are painted nice pastel colours.

The next day I walked around the castle which is quite strange as its almost like a castle built in the new age, all shiny and white. The castle is also surrounded by nice grounds that are lovely without being spectacular. Walking back to a brewery on the way to lunch we checked out the street art that Bratislava is famous for. The statues include a doorman welcoming you to a hotel, a man peeking out of a pothole posing while working and a hidden photographer embracing his identity as paparazzi. The photographer was also nicely placed behind the corner of a bar by the name of paparazzi!

After yet another fine goulash, its easy to like the cuisine here despite it being a fraction heavy, we headed out to the castle ruins. The ruins are an easy bus ride out of town but unfortunately we arrived just in time for the castle doors to close – can’t help but be frustrated by non-peak times. Still we had time to walk around the castle and take in the gorgeous setting right on the Danube river watching the sunset and peering up at what napoleon left of the castle on the hill. Despite the fact that the castle is incomplete it has a look about it that makes it nicer to me than the restored castle looking over Bratislava. After a few beers and photos of the castle I was ready to head back to Vienna. Just to make things even more bizarre the guy that was in the dorm with me just happened to be the owner of the Loft hostel in Budapest, a hostel which I had been sort of working at last Christmas. A guy I had talked to a few times on the phone but never met…..small world hey?

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Posted by rhinoc 08:59 Comments (0)

A brief visit to Czechland

Ceske Krumolov


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Next it was off to Chesky Krumolov a place I had always wanted to visit since I first ventured over this way in 2005 but have somehow just missed for one reason or another. Originally the place was an entirely german speaking town up until the end of the second world war when they were all expelled and the government then devoid of ideas invited the gypsies into the town. The place then became run down but after the velvet revolution in 1989 the town has slowly been restored to its former glory. The place is also very famous for being used as one of the filming locations for the Tarrantino film, Hostel.

Far from the image presented in the film the place is a fairytale little village with cobblestone streets and a really pretty castle complete with the castle “guardians”, three bears that were apparently bought as a present due to mistaken identity. Wandering around the castle is simply beautiful especially at the moment as autumn sets in and the trees are undergoing their transformation creating some truly breathtaking scenery. The area around the lake with the leaves covering the roads and the trees displaying the lovely autumn palette looks so close to unreal! Its only a shame I won’t be here when it snows, sometime in 1-2 weeks seems to be the best guess because I think the place would look truly magical at this time.

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Apparently in summer this place is over run with tourists and locals avoid the old town as there is just no room to move with tourists wandering the photogenic castle grounds and drifting down the river on rafting pub crawls. In off season however the place is so tranquil and quiet it is really surreal, I remember talking to a couple that were looking for a quiet bar to have a drink and I remarked they would have more trouble finding a busy bar at the moment. But that’s the beauty of the place at the moment everything is relaxed and laid back no one is hurrying and everything can be done with a minimum of fuss when you want to!

The next day we checked out the local brewery of the town which despite not being as popular as its other Czech beer cousins in loved within the town for its contribution to the community. Strangely the brewery has been on the brink of bankruptcy after some difficult years both controllable and otherwise but is now changing is business to utilize its grounds as well as its product. The nicest thing about the brewery however would be the way it is run and that is why it is so loved by the town. The brewery is majority staffed by the homeless people of the town who receive little in the way of money for their work but are provided with free accommodation and all the beer they can drink accept when they are working! Such a simple but effective idea that has worked wonders and as a result there is no homeless situation here like there is in so many other tourists towns.

With one more good night of food and beer (especially the beer) the entire hostel was once again heading off on the same day. This is what is strange about hostels on the bus-about they fill and empty on cycle…..very strange if you are on a different schedule. Tomorrow it was off to continue the “Hostel” trail with a trip to Bratislava, capital of Slovak Republic.

Posted by rhinoc 07:48 Archived in Czech Republic Tagged castle cesky krumolov Comments (0)

The hills are alive.....

Salzburg

This country is truly beautiful and even the train ride is amazing as the picture perfect scenery slips by you can’t help but just sit back and enjoy it. The train ride takes you along the river Drau northwards and then into the mountains with the spectacular forests and fields also well represented along the way.

Salzburg is a lovely city like so many others in Europe and it’s really easy to enjoy just walking around the town a bit before nightfall. After this it was time to check out the bar as the whole hostel was seemingly filled by Aussies which gave the place a great atmosphere and ensured we all had a good time.

The next day a couple of us checked out the ice caves in the afternoon and it was such an amazing experience as we first headed into the mountains again. These were just incredible, I think one day I will get tired of seeing these but that day hasn’t come yet! The views were nothing short of stunning and included looking out over the top of a hilltop fortress. Part of our trip included a couple of hikes and it was great to hike up to the point where we would ride the cable car. This was an experience in itself as it is the steepest cable car in Europe, and whilst it was a really cool experience there were more than a couple of us that were just a fraction nervous especially when it began to rock after passing a pylon - still we made it up safe and sound. The ice caves were awesome as we wandered through for an hour with little more than an old lamp to guide us, walking through taking in the sculptures that the wind had carved through the caves. The two most interesting sculptures are one that looks remarkably like a polar bear and one that resembles an elephant. There are also some really cool tunnels and ice walls also and were made all the more amazing by the guide who used burning magnesium ribbon to provide bright light to further enhance the beauty of the ice.

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After the ice caves we all headed out to an old monastery that had been converted into a few beer halls, yep you read that correctly. The strangest thing was walking in through the door there was no indication of this as you walk through the main hallway with nothing but religions pictures before walking through a less than well advertised door with a painting of Christ on it. After this point it changes completely and you have a long line of fast food stalls before seeing the entrances to the beer halls. The cool thing here is that you select your own stein off the wall and wash it yourself before paying to have your stein filled, this does give you a nice sense of ownership over your stein however the fact that they are all the same does not avoid confusion at the table! This was a really strange but great night as everybody got on so well that we decided that we should be a family and have names for each other (I am now known as Papa Trav, head & authority of the family) which was really fun. Having a family meeting at 5am when we were drunk to draw up the family tree was perhaps taking it a little far!

Posted by rhinoc 03:15 Archived in Austria Tagged beer salzburg caves ice hall Comments (0)

Sightseeing & Shopping

Austria, Slovenia & Italy


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After so much sightseeing last week, this week we returned to reality a bit and indulged in the more cosmopolitan European life. We traded the mountains and open roads for the more traditional surroundings of coffee shops and designer stores whilst at the same time having just as much fun.

The week started off with me returning to work, in one sense and continuing to enjoy Austrain hospitality in another sense. Today I was substitute teacher for one of Alex’s english students, luckily for me this involved simply going around there for lunch and talking – if this is a teachers life then I could get use to it! After a few hours and by that I mean about six hours it was time to say farewell to my new friends and get home to prepare for a big day tomorrow.

Today we took a road trip down to Slovenia to visit Bled in Slovenia, a fairytale village with a nice lake, a hilltop castle and a little island with a church on it. The drive through the Slovenian mountains was really nice as age has allowed these mountains to be moulded by erosion forming almost perfect pyramids. After looking around the castle we partook in what has become one of our new hobbies, indulging in a coffee or two. This time the location was in a lovely restored old building, now a hotel overlooking the lake and looking up to the castle. After a couple of coffees we abandoned our road trip further into Slovenia because a) I wasn’t quite prepared with the next destination and b) Alex forgot her overnight bag…..clearly Slovenia is just not for either of us – particularly Alex who tries her best to hide it but is really not a fan.
The next day was road trip mark II, this time destined for Italy and more specifically the fairytale castle of Miramare. Our first destination however would be to take in the spectacular views over lake Worthersee courtesy of the lookout tower. Luckily we caught the good weather and but for a few clouds over the top of Klagenfurt the 360 degree were fantastic with the sun kissing the lake and the autumn colours in the trees providing the perfect companions to the layers of mountains that unfolded towards the borders of Slovenia and Italy. This was a really beautiful start to the day and after a few minutes marveling at the mountains we began our journey through them to Italy.

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Driving through the mountains here was also beautiful as these mountains are completely different to those that separate Austria and Slovenia. Here the mountains are a lot younger geologically speaking and thus rather than pyramids they are much more raw in shape and in many ways slightly more beautiful as they are a little more individual. I think Alex was particularly excited as we were finally headed towards the sea again! Arriving at Miramare it was immediately obvious why you would build a castle here, however it was also completely baffling as to why you would leave this castle to become emperor of Mexico. With us checked into our hostel which was in the perfect location overlooking the water we set out to visit the castle grounds.

The first thing that you notice about the castle is that it could have been designed by a twelve year old, such is its typical castle look. It is all here from the square walls to the serrated terraces and the oversized turret displaying the flag. Even the entrance way is traditional with the traditional arch and column design extended out to provide an authorative entrance to the visitor. In fact given an afternoon and a couple of square buckets I’m sure kids would be able to come up with a reasonable replica on the beach! This however is the beauty of this castle and the look of it itself in enough to take you back to your childhood images of kingdoms and then if you step back for a second your breath is taken away by the location which whilst complimenting the castle well actually upstages it in my opinion. At the front of the castle the gardens and mountains provide an attractive foreground but the remaining three sides descending into the Adriatic Sea provide a remarkable almost unreal backdrop. We were lucky enough to spend the entire afternoon there exploring the gardens before settling in to watch the point and the castle be spectacularly enhanced by the wonderful colours that the stunning sunset produced. As the sunset over the top of the sea the colours were incredible as the horizon changed from the vibrant blue colour through the yellow hues until finally an incredible orange glow that transformed the clouds This place is extremely photogenic and thanks to Alex’s talent there are some photos that are nothing short of incredible.

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With the sun setting over our perfect location we headed into Trieste to find something to eat, here we played the poor travelers role with our order consisting of one entrée between us…..fair to say they weren’t all that amused – still it was very expensive for what it was. After this we headed into the main square of Trieste to check out some quite amazing buildings that dominated the main square and such was the view we decided to get ice cream and relax some of the night away. We were still recovering from the Italian driving which at best is unpredictable and at worst is down right scary as you have no idea what they are likely to do next. We finally decided to get a beer each and sit down on the balcony outside our room and watch the moonlight dancing on the ocean, a really nice idea apart from the two other guys that seemed intent on disturbing our peace.

The next day we started our shopping spree….three days of shopping which was surprisingly a lot of fun for both of us. Being in Italy and Austria we got the opportunity to have a look at a couple of different styles and whilst neither of us really needed anything we both bought clothes for going out and were very excited about this! It wasn’t exactly in my plans to buy anything as I still have to get it home but sometimes you need to change things a bit and with me spending more time in Klagenfurt I needed something to wear out as my old trekking clothes weren’t cutting anymore.

On Sunday I gave my second english lesson that involved a hike up one of the gorgeous mountains in the vicinity of Klagenfurt and then having lunch at one of the alpine cabins. I could really get accustomed to this teaching gig if this is what is involved! The season is quite beautiful at the moment as despite heading into autumn the weather is beautiful with the sun coming out and glowing providing warmth but in the shade it is a fraction cool. The trees are also changing with the orange, yellow and red colours being quite prevalent and spectacular. The mountains here are also lovely, and look particularly impressive when the clouds cover them like a blanket, as of now there is no snow on them, perhaps if I’m lucky I will see some snow before I leave Europe in a couple of weeks. Still it is really beautiful and the fresh mountain air and water here are incredible. For lunch we had the traditional lunch of the alpine people, luckily for me this involved schpeck (similar to a bacon style thing), various cheeses, different breads and pate style schpeck paste as well as a beer to wash it down…..perfect for finishing a hike. After this we washed it down with schnapps….ofcourse and enjoyed a leisurely walk back down to finish the lesson.

The next day was a bit of a strange day for me as I took my first real step towards returning to real life after travels. A few minutes on the phone saw me accept an offer to return to work in January when I get home back at my old job, officially closing my travels in December when I head home. For the last month or so I had been winding down and I now feel as though it’s time for me to lock in a return date to head home. With this great news celebration was on the cards and we headed out to our local taking in our usual drink of Aperol and champagne.

The remainder of the week was spent on the bike that Alex’s sister kindly lent me clocking up a couple of visits to the lake as well as riding the 50km circuit around it and also riding along the Drau river, a lovely ride through the smaller towns along the river towards the mountains. It was great to get out and do some exercise and I’m feeling quite fit at the moment despite the coffee and restaurant lifestyle we have been leading, but we have been doing so very healthily with only the occasional beer and wine. This all changed on Friday when we went out to celebrate as there was a big concert event on in Klagenfurt and since we were both up for a good night we went out and had fun, taking in a few of the live acts available as well as a few drinks.

Saturday saw us both in recovery mode and we did little but share a coffee in town before heading to the lake once more this time to find a nice restaurant to have some exceptional venison and a beer watching the sun set over the lake. This was a perfect way to spend a lazy yet fulfilling Saturday doing so little but loving every minute of it.

The next day would be my last in Klagenfurt as I had extended my stay partially because there was a big parade on and secondly (and mostly) there was a huge ice hockey game on. The parade is to celebrate the fact that 90 years ago the people of Carinthia voted to stay part of Austria rather than join Yugoslavia as it was back then. This is very significant for the people here and they parade around in traditional dress to celebrate the occasion, with each region being represented. It was quite fitting then that the ice hockey game on tonight was between Carinthia (Austria’s best team) and Slovenia’s best team. Also fittingly it was a great game with the local side winning 4-1 and yours truly there to cheer them on. The game was incredible and the first period especially was really fast with the puck and skaters flying across the ice. This was easily the best standard of ice hockey I have seen live and makes me want to watch a lot more!

The next day was a sad one as I boarded the train leaving Carinthia behind, it has been such a beautiful place to be for the last couple of weeks but with the rest of Austria and Europe calling I had to leave. So many people here had done so much for me and I appreciate everything and say thanks once again to them. My first venture out into the rest of Austria would be to Salzburg home to Mozart and the sound of music but also some really cool ice caves, which I wanted to see.

Posted by rhinoc 10:39 Archived in Austria Tagged castles ocean austria italy backpacking slovenia Comments (0)

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