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.
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.
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.