A Travellerspoint blog

The Long and Winding Road

Bar, Montenegro to Dubrovnik, Croatia

Sunny skies and warmer temperatures led us away from the beach at Montenegro toward Dubrovnik on Bus Croatia. A twisting turning drive reminiscent of our very own Great Ocean Road but with larger, more rugged mountains and olive groves dotting the landscape in sections between the road and sea. Apartment blocks of varying vintages lined the way into and out of each village, from 3 story traditional type beach homes to enormous modern hotels and holiday apartments; a number of massive homes could be spotted jutting out over the sea like modern day castles. As always a few gum trees have made their way into the landscape, making us feel at home. We were surprised to find that most of the beaches appeared to be sand rather than stone, surely making this an attractive holiday destination for Europe. Our bus driver appeared to think that he was auditioning as an F1 driver and took every turn as though he was late for a very important date, leading us to think that it was just as well we were on the right hand side of the road, lessening the chance of ending up in the Adriatic. We had decided to stay in Bar for a couple of nights as it was easy after the train arrived but with a bit more research we could and should have stayed further up the coast in one of the many villages hidden in the coves. Who knows, we may be back to Montenegro one day. If so, a village between Bar and Budva will most certainly be on the agenda, although it must be crawling with crowds in summer, so best we pencil in Spring. A note to self, Budva appears to be the commercial capital of the area, one to avoid.
If you love to drive around tight corners, large sweeping bends and enjoy picturesque views over turquoise waters surrounded by craggy outcrops and mountains, put this in your diary, as with the aforementioned road at home you could drive this in a day, or you could take a week and experience it slowly. Truly it is a delight which is obviously known to some European tourists. It is not yet overrun with English or American tourists.
After Budva the road takes a turn inland through rustic, agricultural areas with orchards, grapevines, market gardens, a few cows and more olive groves for a while before heading into the scrubby foothills and mountains, the highest peaks still lightly dusted in snow. Whilst not as beautiful at this time of year, as the trees, vines and gardens are sparse it must be quite pretty and green during the warmer months.
As with other regions in Europe most of the houses are white with terracotta tiled roofs interspersed with ochre, rose, peppermint and pale blue making a beautiful palette whether set against grey mountain sides or aquamarine waters.
The town of Kotor should not be missed; we popped out of a long tunnel into a valley ringed with giant peaks, beautiful old buildings, ancient walls, monasteries set high on the mountains and what appeared to be a huge blue lake shining in the sun like blue glass. However this is no lake but the Bay of Kotor, apparently the pride of Montenegro and judging by the size of the yachts in the harbour a very wealthy part too. Cath could certainly see herself swanning around on the deck of one or two of those. As if it wasn't enough to be a 360 degree view of absolute beauty, as the road snaked its way around the bay right on the waters edge, (not that there was a choice as the mountains were no more than half an arms length from the side of the road) and yes Mr. F1 was still driving, there are islands in the bay with ancient churches and what appear to be holiday rentals?
Pencil this one into the future trip planner, right now! Actually no don't, don't tell any of your friends, Cath wants it first! Might have to be soon because surely the secret will be out before long.
It is lucky that it was so beautiful because we didn't have time to consider that the road really wasn't wide enough for 2 cars let alone a big bus! There were a number of moments where someone had built on both sides of the road, god only knows how on the waterside, but had failed to consider the future size of buses. To be fair to the builder it was long before the invention of the combustion engine, one suspects. The driver however just ploughed on as though it were open highway.
As we left the bay glancing back over our shoulders we caught the last glimpses of old Kotor overshadowed by a massive peak covered in snow glinting in the late afternoon sun, what a picture!
And then through a tunnel and up, up, up we went and down, down, down through valleys where pencil pines made an appearance on the slopes creating patches of dark green amongst the mauve scrub and grey green olive groves, creating a painting like a vista in the late afternoon light.
And before we knew it passport control, a short delay and onward into Croatia where a wide open valley filled with grapevines, pastures, cows and villages dotted along the mountain sides greeted us. We wound our way back up the hills and as the sun set over the islands we approached beautiful Dubrovnik.

Posted by Seantiel 08:53 Comments (0)

Over the Hills and Far away

Budapest to Bar via Belgrade

semi-overcast 13 °C
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Our final day in Budapest became a rather long and tedious waiting game. We had hoped to visit the major library after seeing some very impressive photos but first we had to get our luggage to a storage place for the day. Two metro trips and a short walk saw our luggage stowed. Next we headed for the library, which was a solid half hour walk. It turned out the library was nothing like the photos, had no wifi and was in fact a couple of hundred meters from where we had been staying! We have not had a lot of luck with libraries on this trip, disappointing our resident bibliophile.

Somewhat disappointed we returned to the luggage storage (two metro trips and a short walk, again) and sat reading and waiting, waiting, waiting. Finally it was too much, so we collected our bags and headed for Keleti station and the Barross restaurant, which turned out to be something of a baroque delight. Gold leaf columns, carved wooden heads leering at us from beside our table amid a general air of decadence. We opted for the French onion soup, somewhat mediocre, but ok. Cath wasn't hungry for mains, after a rather large lunch at a lovely Italian Kitchen but Ian decided on a steak, which turned out to be sitting on top of a pile of chips and covered in a mountain of.... onions. It seemed the onion fairy had visited. As we left the restaurant, the onions began to do their magic work, with Ian burping frequently. Ah well, we thought, at least it would keep our sleeper on the train free of interlopers. How wrong we were.

By 9:45, we were heartily sick of waiting for our train, so went off exploring. To our dismay, we found the decrepit old carriage attached to the end of a line of smart new carriages was our sleeper. To say it was appalling is a gross understatement. A friendly worker in a high vis vest helped us on with our luggage, while a seedy looking conductor took our tickets, showed us to a disgraceful 6 berth compartment and then steadfastly refused to return them. As we were surveying the mess, our friendly guard made it clear that he required a tip before leaving. Ian gave him the last of the change he had but the guard wanted more. Eventually Ian convinced him that he had no more to give and he left us to it.

Next, another fellow came by to distribute sheets and blankets, complete with holes, dust and odours. Cath dutifully put together a couple of "beds" for us whilst Ian, having picked up a wifi signal, researched the ticket situation. Unfortunately the information Ian got was all about scams and people waking up to find they'd been robbed. It was then that a little Korean chap popped up. He was as dismayed as we were to find that the 4 berth cabin he'd booked (as had we), was in fact a 6 berth and his ticket was also taken.

The night was spent in extreme discomfort. Cath, whose cough had now taken on the dimensions of a full blown cold, was alternately barking and snoring. The Korean chap was tossing and turning on the bunk above, and Ian was lying wide awake, desperate not to fall asleep, lest we all were robbed blind. Into this mix arrived the first border patrol at midnight. Cath's Australian passport caused quite some interest, while Ian's shiny new British passport was given no more than a cursory glance and no stamp! Of course what we hadn't realised was that was only the exit from the Hungarian side. After waiting an hour for the whole train to be checked, we took off again, only to be stopped half an hour later to have the same process by the Serbians. At least this time Ian got his first stamp... Ian managed to stay awake until somewhere around 4:30, when he finally deemed it safe to rest his eyes, just as Cath woke up and commenced to read a book.

So it was that we finally arrived at Belgrade Station, surely the very worst we had encountered on our trip. It is the most dilapidated, filthy, rundown building we have had the displeasure to use. And all topped off with what Cath found to be the filthiest toilets in our entire trip, perhaps Europe; a return to the drop toilet but with the challenge of slippery wet floors, human faeces and used toilet paper in piles everywhere, but a necessity as the toilet on the train had a rusted out bowl! To make matters worse Cath payed a Euro for the privilege!! We were very pleased to get our train and bus tickets and finally be on our way out of Belgrade. An hour later we boarded our train bound for Bar in Montenegro and so began a delightful, scenic tour...

The train from Belgrade to Bar is known as Tito's train and traditionally was a little blue train but alas that is but a marketing tool and the train is relatively modern but not Eurostar style, most likely built in the 80s, no wifi, Dinar only accepted in the restaurant car and again the toilets were unusable. We were quickly settled into a berth with a young woman who was very polite and grateful as Ian assisted her to get her enormous suitcase onto the overhead storage. This train journey is known as one of the most scenic in Europe if not the world and did not disappoint as it meandered its way up mountains, down valleys, through an endless number of tunnels and across amazingly high bridges. The scenery was awe inspiring, huge mountains dropping into valleys hundreds of metres below, with patches of not yet melted snow along the side of gushing torrents. A delay of nearly an hour sitting half way up one of these mountains allowed us to observe farms perched on the side of the mountains, tiny houses, barns and outbuildings which appeared to be hundreds of years old, it must be a difficult life for the people who live here. Which introduces the reliability of Serbian railways, as we had previously experienced on our journey from Budapest to Belgrade delays are the norm and this trip certainly had a few of those, until it seemed we crossed the border into Montenegro. We missed being able to see some of the most spectacular scenery on the trip due to it getting dark and we were almost 2 hours late arriving in Bar, at 11pm. We had arranged with the apartment we had rented to be picked up at the train station and were quite worried that it was so late and they would not be able to meet us, but were gratefully surprised to find our host dutifully waiting in the not so cold to greet us, sign in hand "the Hickey's", Ian must have been exhausted as he did not even mention that our name is Steel; a minor irritation as Cath has not yet changed her name in her passport. We were whisked into the awaiting VW and as we headed to the apartment, he explained that it is not unusual for the trains to be delayed on the Serbian side of the border due to ongoing reconstruction of the track, he circumspectly mentioned the difficulties with NATO that have had an ongoing effect on the infrastructure in Serbia.

The first thing we noted about Bar, was the change in weather, whilst it was not hot by any stretch of the imagination it was warmer. For the first time in a what felt like a long time no need for thermals, beanies or scarves. The second thing to note is that from our little balcony we could see the Adriatic, what a pleasure to be back on the coast. Bar is a small Montenegrin port town and beachside resort, which has clearly suffered a bit of a downturn in the last 20 years or so, a bit like the south of England, you can see the former glory of the buildings but its best days are behind it. Undeterred we spent a great day stretching our legs along the beachfront promenade, investigating the marina and yacht club and the town itself; there are many shops, bars and restaurants and during summer it must be a thriving area. After a good stroll it was time to hit the balcony with a bottle of wine and some nibbles to waste away the afternoon during which time Cath recovered from her illness and Ian managed to develop a hacking cough and fever. After a tough night of man flu it was up early for Cath for a quick dash to the nearest pharmacy to get panadol and/or cold and flu tablets. What a beautiful morning for a brisk walk along the water into town, the sun was shining off the water, locals were out enjoying the fresh sea breeze and everyone had a bit of a smile, suddenly it felt very much like spring had truly arrived, hooray! Cath returned to dose Ian up and perkily got ready for what we hope will be a bus trip with a great view to Dubrovnik in the afternoon.

Posted by Seantiel 02:13 Archived in Montenegro Comments (0)

A Tale of Two Cities

Buda and Pest

snow -6 °C
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We left Our Vienna apartment early and thanks to the efficient transport system, were at the main station an hour early. Devoured a disgracefully yummy chocolate croissant and apfel strudel and then went and stood out in the freezing cold waiting for the train to Budapest. By the way did we mention the cold? It does have its upside, beggars turn into ice art very quickly if they hang out in the streets, so no bother there.

Wrestled our way onto the train and then after being moved twice from seats that were reserved for others, found a nice Hungarian couple who happily allowed us to share their booth with a table. We immediately set to work on bringing our blog up to date, as the wifi on the train worked well. In no time at all we were rolling again through snow covered fields, whilst consuming a couple of beers, courtesy of the restaurant car. Before we knew it we had arrived in Budapest. The railway station resembled nothing so much as a Victorian railway building. Quite simple and we had in no time, deciphered the ATM, loaded up on cash and proceeded outside, where we found the stairs down to the metro. Cath sorted out the ticket machine once again, without needing to ask the kindly old chap standing ready to help, then it was down the escalators into the bowels of the metro. It could not have been simpler to follow the signs and there were guides there to help if required. So it was that we found ourselves once again ensconced in a lovely little apartment in Erkel UTC, just off the main drag. The wifi in the apartment was excellent, so we packed away our clothes, did a little computer fun and then dressed up for our first foray. Although we thought we had experienced a fair dose of snow in Vienna, Budapest really turned it on. Big flakes tumbling and swirling around. So much so that we retreated to our apartment for an early evening.

Budapest sits atop a massive thermal spring and there are a number of beautiful spas located around the city. As our second day was also our 4th wedding anniversary, we decided to treat ourselves to a spa and massage package at the Gellert, a gorgeous art nouveau hotel and thermal spa. Although the weather continued to be inclement, we were able to cross under the river to Buda and pop up next to the centre via the metro, which, by the way, we should give a mention as it is a modern and highly efficient system. The Gellert was absolutely amazing; huge cupolas decorated with stained glass, floral plaster decorations adorning the walls, and the various thermal baths were surrounded by ornate carved columns. We opted for the 36 degree pool first, a semicircular affair which was constantly refilled by a couple of stone lion faucets. After that we wandered off to the 42 degree pool, which was absolutely glorious. There really was something marvellously decadent about lying back in an opulent, highly heated thermal bath, whilst snow and ice were piling up outside.

Next treat was an hour long massage for both of us, in the same room, if you don't mind. To be honest it was a bit weird, but like a couple of good soldiers, we forged on and allowed ourselves to be pampered, pulled and prodded for the next hour, by a couple of muscular young Hungarian women. Job done, they left us to dress and wander back down for another lazy soak in the baths, before reluctantly dressing and heading back out into the cold afternoon. Cath felt that the weather was perfectly balmy at 2 degrees, a huge change from -8. Another quick trip on the metro and we arrived at our lunch venue, the Cafe Intenza. We had researched it and it did not disappoint. Ian had a goulash soup for starters, which arrived with a small pot of chilli paste (or paprika, as they call it here) Ian couldn't help himself and put a large spoon of the paste in his soup. He was just about to add a second when the owner called out "Don't do that! Is very hot!" Suitably admonished Ian stirred the mixture and had to admit that one spoon was heat enough. Cath's first course was an unusual concoction of a potato pancake filled with pulled chicken, sitting in a kind of pumpkin soup. Sounds odd but it too was delicious. The mains were both excellent as well; pork medallions for Ian and a spare rib for Cath. A fine bottle of local red and a Baileys with ice cream for dessert, to celebrate our anniversary of course, rounded out the meal and then we walked it off with a stroll around the city. The snow had stopped falling and we were able to navigate our way through a heavy fog, to the river, before collecting some supplies and heading back to the apartment.

Ian was finally able to find his long wanted and not yet found traditional European sausage, at the Great Hall Market and whilst it was ok at the time Cath paid the price later, a night spent on the toilet. No more sausages! We found the food court in the Great Hall Market a disappointment whilst the downstairs area filled with butchers, bakers and vegetable stalls was a delight of food, unusual drinks and characters, but it was clearly not really the place where locals shop, or maybe we just managed to be there in non busy times.

Saturday morning was again spent lazing before heading out into what was supposed to be a sunny day; someone at Accu-weather may have missed the fog which had clouded the city and made the river Danube invisible. We had planned to visit the Parliament building, St Stephens Basilica and then head over the Chain Bridge to the funicular up the Buda hills and castle. Our unintentional quest to ride all Europe's small railways continued and being intrepid explorers we were not going to be put off by something as minor as a pea souper. Ian had failed to mention to Cath that crossing the bridge in fact meant walking across the bridge, no tram or train. Cath has an irrational fear of walking over bridges which induces an anxiety that she struggles with, however not one to be beaten; head down, lips pursed and a cracking pace saw us make the crossing to Buda and glorious sunshine. It was quite a special view of the Gothic and Classical Pest rising out of the fog, the layer slowly settling onto the river. We managed to avoid the ubiquitous tour touts at the bottom of the hill and were delighted to find a quaint little funicular to take us up the very steep hill. Buda is a delight of pretty coloured buildings, impressive castles, museums and ancient walls with fantastic views across the valleys to the surrounding hills and we spent a very pleasant early afternoon wandering.

As usual our stomachs alerted us to the fact that we had achieved our daily exercise goals, it really has become a habit to achieve our 10,000 steps before lunch and it was back across the river to hunt up lunch. Cath was feeling a bit loath to try anything but a basic meal and Janis' Irish pub seemed like the answer, Guinness being the cure for all evils, especially those related to the gut. We had a very pleasant afternoon in the pub, Ian having been converted to drinking the black stuff and we were happily tipsy when we arrived at the original Ruin Pub-Pouder. Ruin Pubs are a Budapest movement that started out with 'hipsters' a few years ago, otherwise ruined buildings are taken over and filled with mismatched furniture, art and general bric-a-brac and called pubs. It appears that Pouder has become a bit mainstream and most of the now hip Ruin Pubs are in the Jewish quarter, but it suited us fine as we were happy to share a very nice bottle of Portuguiser, a dry Shiraz like Hungarian wine, surrounded by the not so young and hip crowd, less then half a block from home.

We spent our week in Budapest enjoying walks along the Danube, watching the melting of ice on the sunny days and slight freezes on the cooler days, meandering in the city admiring more amazing architecture and planning the next stages of the Year of Living Dangerously. We were lucky to have a mix of sunny and snowy days allowing us to explore the city and have some downtime, relaxing in our apartment; much needed after a couple of months travelling, or spending a quiet Sunday in a sunny bar on the banks of the river, for a late lunch and coffee. It seemed on those sunny days that the locals were making the transition from Winter into Spring, as were we; finally leaving the house without thermals, scarves and beanies. We were again astounded by the beauty, grandiosity and yet decadence of the ageing city, the marks of neglect during the last century are obvious and yet somehow add a touch of reality to an otherwise fairy tale world.

We had read some horror stories of dealing with the Hungarian metro and other public transport services such as finding it difficult to get train tickets, staff being rude and always needing to have identity documents with you for the over zealous authorities and yet witnessed none of it. There are signs of recent refugee crisis in Eastern Europe, with people sleeping in train stations and ticket inspectors at every entrance, but they only want to see a ticket, glance at you and that's it. The staff at the international train station were very helpful when we purchased our tickets for the overnight train to Belgrade and everyone in shops, restaurants and markets have been friendly and helpful.

The more we travel the more it is obvious if you try to be polite, murder a few local phrases, so that the local people want you to stop using their tongue so poorly and instead allow them to show off their much better language skills, you can pretty much ignore sites like Trip Advisor and travel with very little issue. It appears that the only people who bother to make comment are those who want a whinge.

Our week in Budapest is coming to an end and as usual, we are ready for the next stage. Tomorrow night we catch an overnight train to Belgrade, arriving in the morning in time to catch the train to Bar in Montenegro, which we have learned is one of the most spectacular train trips in Europe.

Posted by Seantiel 03:48 Archived in Hungary Comments (0)


Orchestral Manoeuvres On the Train

snow -6 °C
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It was with a tinge of regret that we left our apartment in Prague for Vienna. Ian had already spent a few quiet moments the evening before looking up apartment prices, as we were both envious of those who had the luxury of being local, albeit we don't necessarily want to spend winter there every year. But the morning found us raring to go as usual, keen for the next adventure.

We navigated trams and metro with the alacrity of a kozica and in no time had popped up at the main railway station, from whence we were to depart for (Ahhhh) Vienna. Cath had done her homework and already had our tickets booked, PDF files with details and thus armed we waded in..... only to be informed that no, we needed printed copies. So began a trying experience, first ascertaining an internet place (one floor up past the coffee shop in the Forex office) where we could login and print; secondly negotiating our emails so that we made sure we had the right details and then finally printing out the ticket sheet. The whole process set us back half an hour, though at least it gave Ian the opportunity to convert our remaining kroner into euros. It was draining, however we rushed down the causeway to platform 4, up the stairs and there we were confronted by a stylish blue Czech rj75 train. Not sure which carriage to climb onto, we approached a conductor who assured us that our printout was in fact a "description" of our ticket, not an actual ticket. Although we were by now clearly freaking out, he told us to get on the train and we would sort it out on the journey.

What ensued was an awfully trying experience, as the train internet wasn't working properly and until she finally figured out the obscure logging on process, Cath was beside herself. All credit to her, she worked it out and finally, as the train had already left the station, she downloaded the tickets just in time for the inspector to come and scan her iPhone. Thank f**k for that!! The moral of the story? Don't bother printing tickets, but do make sure you have pdf's of the actual ticket on your phone....

So finally we sat back, relaxed, accepted the kind offer of the waiter for a bottle of Pilsner Urquell and started enjoying the scenery. And what beautiful scenery it was. The countryside was decorated in snow and like so much Christmas cake drifted quietly by, two adoring children drooling over it and wishing it would never stop. For those of us used to a green, brown or red continent, the snow truly is the icing on the cake, especially when viewed from a warm and comfortable train carriage. Roll on....

4 beers and a sausage later we entered Austria, big rivers, frozen rivers with ice skaters and stranded swans greeted us.

Vienna, city of wedding cake buildings and OMG look at that building, moments; classical, gothic, art nouveau and art deco design is everywhere; very pleasing to the eye of architecture lovers.

On arrival we decided to give Uber a go instead of taking a taxi or using the metro, mainly because the apartment owner made the metro sound awfully difficult. As we soon learnt that was untrue. As we have found in European cities, public transport is the easiest and cheapest way to get around. Well Uber was not such a great experience, we were unable to find the supposed driver and ended up taking a taxi anyway, the driver appeared to be unsure of whether the apartment building was actually accomodation at all, making us a little nervous. We had booked this stay using Booking.com instead of the usual Airbnb and it is not as reliable as meeting an Airbnb host. However, on entering the building we were met by Patrick, a young Serbian guy who grew up in Darwin; yes that is what you read, Darwin NT. His parents still live there, they were refugees from Serbia during the 90s and Patrick is now studying in Vienna, he very kindly helped us up to the 3rd floor (no lift) with our luggage and suggested we head straight to the shops as they close very early on Saturday and are almost all closed on Sunday. In fact almost all of Vienna is closed on Sunday, quite odd for a large European city, although it is true of Paris on Monday I guess. So a few supplies sorted and we were ready to head off to the theatre for a night with the ORF- Radio Symphony Orchestra at the Golden Hall, Musikverien.

We were to collect our tickets at the Musikverien an hour before the show commenced and arrived to find that in true Germanic fashion the building would not open until exactly 6.30, not 6.29 or 6.31 so we took the opportunity to take a few photos of the building and it's neighbours. We were very happy when the doors opened however because it was a freezing night. We had assumed that one dressed up a bit for this type of event and did our best; the best one can do out of a suitcase that is, but we need not have bothered. The following description is not a joke, ugg boots and tracksuit pants, yes tracksuit pants!!!! Cath, who had told Ian he should not wear jeans, was aghast and happy to give looks of disdain to those who had turned up looking ridiculous. However on the other end of the scale were the couple dressed in black tie. At least we were somewhere in the middle and had made some effort. The hall of the Musikverien was built in 1870 before modern technology but is renowned around the world as one of the best acoustic venues and it did not disappoint. Neither of us would profess to be classical music lovers but this was a mind blowing, visceral and emotional experience. It is really difficult to put in words our reactions to the sound and spectacle of a full orchestra and the guest pianist for the night Gabriela Montero was quite extraordinary, at one point in her performance she asked the audience for a theme and improvised for 10 minutes; what a talent!
We were concerned that we may not last the distance, 3 hours of classical music did sound like a lot but it flew by. Days later and we were still discussing our reactions to the concert, if you have not had the chance to experience a concert like this, take the next one you get, it is quite unlike anything either of us have done before.

Day 2 of our Vienna trip and we awoke to light snow and naturally decided it was best to go for a walk to see the Rathaus, the city hall and museum quartier. What else do you do in the snow but walk? In all seriousness though, we walk so that we have an excuse to be able to eat and drink whatever we like. The front of the Rathaus is a winter wonderland where families ice skate around outdoor rinks, have fair ground rides and stalls with hot chocolate, gluwhein and of course pastries. A delight in front of the impressive gothic style building. For a brief moment Cath consider having a skate but then noticed the small children, some only just walking age smoothly doing their thing and decided she did not need to be shown up by a 2 year old.

Injury to ego and possibly bum avoided, we wandered off to peruse some of the other awe inspiring buildings in the central part of Vienna, churches, museums, halls and apartment blocks are all so prettily decorated and some just so big and beautiful it starts to hurt your eyes. The cold raised our appetites once more and we headed off to find a schnitzel from one of the 8 best places in town, which took us to what seemed to be a dodgy suburb, but it was well worth it. We arrived at Gasthaus Kopp at 2:30 in the afternoon to find a traditionally decorated place packed with families, students and dogs, where we were seated at a table with 2 young guys. It was a bit odd and we were a little uncomfortable, but it didn't take too long to strike up a conversation and we enjoyed their company over a few beers and the biggest schnitzel ever seen, with a side dish of very nice potato salad. Suitably nourished and warmed we were off to our neighbourhood pub- Bierometer to watch some football (soccer), enjoy a few more steins and chill out. Not needing to eat dinner or maybe not needing to eat ever again after that schnitzel, we had a night at home playing cards, drinking vodka and getting into trouble for having the music up to loud, oops!

Day 3, and we were off to see Klimt and Schielle at the Leopold museum of art. Again we are by no means art experts but we know a little bit and Cath particularly was excited about seeing Klimt's, The Kiss; no such luck. Both the Klimt and Schielle exhibitions were disappointingly small. We did however learn some history of the Secessionist movement that occurred at the beginning of the 20th century and there was quite an impressive collection of Josef Hoffmann furniture and collectables. Hoffmann worked closely with the great Scottish artist and designer, Rennie Mackintosh, a favourite of both of us. Having caught the Metro into the city we were delighted to find St Stephen's Cathedral right in the middle of the mall and went in for a quick look, mass was on and Cath got a quick picture to prove to her mum that she had in fact attended a mass in the last few years!!!

A quiet night in with a delicious home cooked carbonara, saw us both off to bed early. Next stop, the fabled Budapest!

Posted by Seantiel 03:19 Archived in Austria Comments (0)

On The Feast of Stephen

Prague part 2

sunny 2 °C
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A lazy day was needed and had on our 4th day in Prague, we meandered through our neighbourhood shops and spent a ridiculous amount of money on cheese and salami. Which led us to spending an afternoon in our gorgeous apartment eating and drinking the fruits of our labours and planning the next steps through Central or Eastern Europe depending on your viewpoint. Apparently the Czech people do not see themselves as part of Eastern Europe but Central Europe, who knew there was a central part to Europe?

And then on Thursday, blue skies and the sun came out for our Foodie Tour of the Old Town. Now one may think, especially if they have been following our travels on Facebook or Instagram, that we are already on a global food tour. They may well be right, but having a local foodie introduce us to the best of the local food scene was too hard to pass up. The tour was recommended by our Airbnb host, Zuzanna, who so far had not made a bad recommendation and with a light breakfast on board we were ready to eat and drink our way through this beautiful city on a sunny winter day. We met Míša in the Old City and were delighted to find that she was an interesting, multi lingual, charming 30 something, who freelances as a tour guide and writer in her home town. We were quickly underway via hidden passages reminiscent of the Passages in Paris.

The following is a list of restaurants and meals eaten in them from our tour, by the end of which, we were again resembling a couple of overfed penguins;

1/ Sisters - modern “chlebíček” (open faced sandwiches) with egg spread and celery spread- one of the local office workers favourite quick lunch spots, we vowed to make these at home

2/ Naše Maso – traditional “tatarák” (raw beef tartar) and homemade meatloaf on Czech bread. We were both a bit taken aback by the steak tartar, but feeling adventurous we ploughed in and it was a delight of beef, chilli, onion and of course garlic. Nase Maos were apparently very much on the cutting edge of Czech cuisine when they insisted that Czech beef was good enough to eat and now own the farm and deliver the end products. So glad they did it. Fabulous tasty treats.

3/ Katr restaurant – “small beer dishes” such as “nakládaný hermelín” (pickled cheese) and “tlačenka” (aspic / headcheese), together with salmon with seasonal vegetable and potatoes / grilled goat cheese on beetroot and Urquell Pilsner beer. We could have stopped eating after this meal, as we were both quite full, but no there was more just up the road!

4/ Czech Slivovitz - alcohol made of plums (the best brand: “Žufánek” and you can get it at Bartida Bar & Shop), Misa surprised us by stopping in a small square in the Jewish quarter across the road from the Spanish Synagogue and Kafka memorial statue, for a "little liquid gift" from her bag and assured us her grandmother says, Slivovitz is for when you feel ill, when you feel well, when you feel sad or when you feel happy! It is the medicine of life! We had previously tasted a supermarket version of this local spirit and it was like petrol. Clearly spending a bit is quite a good idea, very nice and we were warmed and primed for the next bit of the walk.

5/ Mincovna restaurant – fried “Romadur” cheese with cranberries, a smelly but delicious cheese, “svíčková” - roasted beef with traditional sweet sour creamy sauce and Carlsbad bun dumpling, washed down with dark 'ladies' beer Velkopopovický Kozel. This was followed by apple strudel, served with Becherovka, a Czech digestive liquor, made of a secret combination of herbs and spices. Only 2 people in the family who make the spirit are able to know the recipe and like the royal family they can not fly together! The liquor broke through the sweet traditional apple strudel and whipped cream.

6/ Choco Café – More dessert, a unique Czech “Hořické trubičky” (Hořice rolls) filled with fresh whipped cream dipped in a hot chocolate. Not needed but very quickly devoured, food babies here we come.

7/ Red Pif wine bar- a funky little venue with a selection of Czech & Moravian wines. The white and rose were ok, a little sweet for our taste but the red was super and we had to take a bottle home for the road. Míša informed us that the maker of this wine is only 25 years old and has taken over his family business as he proved to his father that his wine was much better. Good move! A future visit to Moravia may very well be on the cards as Míša let us in on her favourite weekend away, the cellar hop in the district of the Milan Nestarec winery.

We would highly recommend the "Eat like a Local" tours and if you have the chance request Míša as your guide. We felt like friends by the end of the day. She kindly escorted us back to the river, as it turned out only a couple of blocks, but we would have been seriously lost in the winding cobbled passages of the Old City without her. A quick stroll along the Vlatava under the lights of the castle and city saw us home just in time to rest our feet and let our tummies hang out.

We awoke from our food coma ready to find some culture and walk off some of yesterday's calorie count, a chilly but sunny morning was perfect for a stroll along the Vlatava to the Franz Kafka museum. Given that our total combined knowledge of Kafka was an uncertainty about how to use the term "Kafkaesque" we figured it was a worthwhile project and what did we learn? Kafka was a bit of a miserable git really, clearly a very clever man and one of the revered artists of the late 19th, early 20th century but miserable. Cath left with a determination to read at least one of the books she had downloaded in preparation for this trip but not yet started and the Piss Fountain was an impressive installation- google it, you need to see the moving pictures.

Figuring we had used up a fair amount of glucose in our brain cells it was time for a coffee and cake, taking the advice of our food tour guide we wandered to the back streets and found a lovely coffee house, Kaficko. We thawed out and solved some of the world's problems, with honey cake and walnut cake, as you do after visiting an existentialist museum!

We are fast becoming funicular aficionados and Prague of course has one too, don't all European cities? We, however, managed to miss the bottom of this one and considering we were already on our way up, went off on a pilgrimage to the top of the hill. Cath, ever the navigator, thought she had figured out how to get to the middle section where there was a half way stop, instead of taking the snow cleared paths. We gingerly traversed the ice and snow laden paths up the hill, whilst observing a young girl who had chosen to go cross country. She spent a large amount of time ice crawling and bum sliding up the hill. It was quite amusing to watch, but we were in danger of doing the same as our course became more and more ice encrusted. Petrin park may qualify as a small mountain, but once we were half way up the only way appeared to be to continue, giving the locals in the park surrounding us a good laugh. It remains a surprise neither one of us fell and broke a bone, or at the very least bruised our ego, but clutching at tree branches and hopping from one leaf patch to the next, we finally we made it to the top to find some magnificent views of both sides of the city and surprisingly enough, the bloody funicular! An hours climb took about 3 minutes to descend in the very sweet little train.

All that exercise justified a beer, as the Czech's would apparently do at lunchtime on a Friday, so we arrived at our local beer house U svatého Filipa a Jakuba, just in time to beat the lunch hour rush, 2pm appearing to be that time. The bar maid was kind enough to point out that the English menu was much more expensive than the daily specials and when we asked for a traditional sausage meal she was a bit offended, explaining that you can get that stuff anywhere- like Germany or Poland!!!! So we went with her suggestions and it was pretty basic but very tasty fare, including garlic soup which may not have been a winner with those we spoke to in the afternoon, but tasted great. Deciding that one enormous beer was enough for lunch we were off to find the Library as we had seen pictures of a very ornate building and Cath is a bit weird about needing to visit the books wherever possible. After jumping on the wrong tram we decided the train was best and were quickly on the other side of the river and off to see the library which sadly, once we found it, was closed for restoration, bugger!

Prague like many old European cities is a town of laneways and alleys, perfect for wasting time in, imagining that you are not just visiting but part of the place. It does however get pretty cold for two little sun loving Aussies once the sun starts to go down, at about 4pm, so it was time to head home, get organised for our next trip and rest our weary legs before heading out for the evenings entertainment. Friday night in Prague- Jazz time was our plan, however we ended up settling for a quiet red and off to bed.

Tomorrow it is going to be a train to Vienna!

Posted by Seantiel 23:32 Archived in Czech Republic Comments (0)

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