Wednesday, January 27, 2010


We've only had two or so days in Stockholm, but it was immediately obvious that it is a well-developed city. And like Vienna, expensive. I guess it's like being in Sydney, except that it is much colder, the people speak Swedish and that the public transport is much better.

Flying in to Stockholm, it was all trees and snow. Christmas trees! There were so many of them. It was also strangely dark. That is something I'm not sure I'd ever want to get used to, sunset by 4 pm or so. I like sunlight and blue sky. The sky ends up a dusty red colour, but still "dark". Conducive to staying inside.

Accommodation here was in a jail! An old, converted jail, that is. We had a 2-bed cell and it was fantastic. I should like to think that it will be one of the only times I'll be "in jail".

More detailed update with more pictures later.

Friday, January 22, 2010


Vienna is everything they said it would be. Pretty, fashionable, tasty. And expensive. I guess it is no more expensive than Sydney, but after visiting Prague, Krakow and Budapest, just about anything would be expensive.

Schloss Schönbrunn was amazing. This palace was the home of the ruling family of Austria, the Habsburgs, until they lost power. In particular, Franz Leopold and Elisabeth lived there. We only managed to see part of the palace, but it was obvious that the cost of things didn't really matter. Still pretty nonetheless.

We had Wiener schnitzel one evening, at a little place away from the city. The schnitzel (turkey and pork) was good, except that there was enough meat for a week on our two plates. Most people need to make use of the paper and bags to take the rest home, which is what we did.

Schloss Belvedere was a bit of an eye-opening experience. I thought it was going to be another palace, like Schönbrunn, and it was, in that it was a magnificent building. But this palace houses art. I don't know much (or anything?) about art, except that I'm not very good at it. Renoir, Monet and Manet live there, as well as Klimt. We only had time to look at a part of the palace, which was a shame.

More pictures soon!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Some more minor things about Budapest.

It is a city that is very much different to the previous cities we've visited. It seems a lot older, yet still has young bits. I had no idea, but Buda is on the west side of the Danube and Pest is on the east side of the Danube.

The transport systems are fantastic here. The trams, metro and buses link everything together. Like everything else, it takes a little getting used to, but it works.

Everyone seems to smoke here! It's hard to eat with people smoking, but that's the way it is.

We are spoiled in Australia, when it comes to fruit. The choice and quality is better than anything I've seen here.

Those delicious twist things we found in Krakow are apparently traditional Hungarian and not Polish! Here is one with walnuts.

If something is open 24 hours a day, it is open "0 - 24" or "non-stop".

The labyrinth in Buda is a bit of a scam. They claim to have human footprints from 40 million years ago, with shoe tread marks! Really? "Homo consumeres" apparently. That and rocks with imprints of mobile phones and computers.

More pictures when I have a proper computer.


Even quicker quickie than I thought. Limited interweb access here, so just a hello from Budapest.

We're heading to Vienna this morning, day time train! More from Wien.

Friday, January 8, 2010


Krakow is fantastic. It's quite different to Prague and other cities, more relaxed and modern. I'm definitely not going to be learning Polish any time soon; the language is a bit of a tongue twister. I'm having trouble saying hello, let alone other things. 

Wawel Cathedral
We arrived at about 6am and headed up to Wawel Cathedral shortly after. There is a lot of history here, as they seem to have been very much a religious country, with various cardinals and so on buried within the Cathedral. No photos of the inside, unfortunately, because it is ultimately, still a place of worship. 

The largest bell in Poland. Something about over 11 tonnes. 


Statue of Pope John Paul II outside the Cathedral.


Cathedral from the outside.

View of Krakow from the top of the hill.

There is apparently a dragon here at the top of the hill, in the dragon's den. And apparently, said dragon was killed by some smart people who made it eat a bag of hot sulfur. Apparently! Either way, we didn't get to see the dragon breathe fire, because he doesn't work if it gets below 0 C. And that is everyday here at this rate, so no dragon. Still, the dragon lives on in the city and plush green reincarnations are available. 

Wieliczka Salt Mine
The other main attraction here in Krakow is the salt mine, on the list of UNESCO's special places. Everything is made of salt. Except maybe the toilets, which are the toilets that are the furthest down on Earth at a depth of 120 metres below sea level. There are many salt statues in the mine, telling stories of what happened in the mine over 500 years ago. The mine was discovered by a princess who threw her engagement ring down a mine shaft in Hungary, only to have it dug up again in Poland, where the salt was found. I don't know how well jewelery travels underground, but that is a good way of doing things.

The outside of the mine. It's a little below zero outside, but about 14 C underneath.

The princess being reunited with her ring.


The gnomes hard at work.


Inside the mine, all the salt looks brown, but under a decent amount of light, it comes up white. Crystalline? 

We were lucky enough to visit on a day when a special Mass was held in the main chapel. The Cardinal of Poland (important guy?) was there to open a new tourist route through the mine. The mine has its own brass band (with token woodwind) and so they were playing, the Cardinal was talking and so on. There are plenty of little chapels throughout the mine, because the miners were often devoutly religious. The chandeliers are all made out of salt, with some crystals making me jealous that I can't make anything near that nice in the lab.

The Cardinal of Poland during Mass. Salt sculpture of the Last Supper in the middle, on the left.

More about Krakow later. We're heading to Budapest tonight on a sleeper train. They are quite useful, because you get transport and accommodation in one, but they do go rather slowly. We're traveling 250 km, requiring 11 hours. 



Tuesday, January 5, 2010


Prague Philharmonic Orchestra
Fiona and I arrived at our hostel at 3pm, to find that there was a New Year's Day concert given by the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra at 4pm, so we walked over to the Rudolfinum and managed to get relatively inexpensive last-minute tickets. Definitely well worth the effort. We were sitting up behind the orchestra, under the organ, which was an experience in itself as well. Mixture of Smetana, Dvorak, arias from Mozart and Puccini, and of course, Strauss.

 Fiona and Althea, sitting under the organ.

The view of the orchestra from behind.

One of my favourites, Anotonín Dvořák.

Markets in the Old Town Square

There are markets in the town square and we generally walk through this to get to other places in town. The Czech people have a doughnut-like pastry item that tastes like a doughnut with cinnamon sugar, but has the texture of bread. Very nice when still hot.

Christmas tree and one of the churches in the Old Town Square.

Althea usual.

Navigating the streets
Prague is confusing, because the streets curve in such a way that the maps we have make it a little difficult to go places. Still, we're managing. The streets are cobbled, which makes it interesting to walk on. All the street lights are yellow, which gives the whole city a warm glow to it at night. During the day, it can seem a little gloomy, but that's the way it is. 

           Prague in the morning, Prague in the night. 

Shopping and so on

The city centre of Prague is extremely touristy, so there are plenty of shops selling hats, bags, bohemian crystal, glass art, jewelery and so on. Not bad, but, it can get a bit tedious. If not, then there are department stores, with most big name international labels here in the city. I love going supermarket shopping, because of the sheer variety available under one roof, so we ended up at Billa. Supermarkets here sell plenty of alcohol, but no stationery. We needed sticky tape and ended up needing a department store for such a mundane item. Absinthe seems to be big here as well, with whole shops devoted to selling the stuff. 

Directory in the department store. You need to know that the ground floor is really floor 0 and that below 0, is -1.

Nice way of saying "please don't smoke" in a coffee shop.

More to come later!

Saturday, January 2, 2010


This post is going to be picture-free, because I'm not actually in Berlin right now. 

Berlin was yesterday. Catching the train from Heidelberg to Berlin was a little more painful than it should have been. In order to get from Heidelberg to Berlin, I needed to change at Mannheim, which would then take me straight to Berlin at a speed of 200 km/h on an ICE train. Lovely, in theory. Bad weather meant that my second train was stopped indefinitely at Frankfurt, which is not near Berlin. Another hour later and another train, I was finally on my way to Berlin. 

In short, Deutsche Bahn are great, but no-one, not even Germans, can overcome nature. 

Short stay in Berlin with Liam and Julia, where we joined them in having a traditional German dinner. We managed to do a little bit of sight-seeing, including Checkpoint Charlie, some part of the Wall and Brandenburger Tor. I also managed to work out the Berlin rail system, which uses a combination of S-Bahn and U-Bahn trains to move everyone around the city. And the snow! There is more than enough snow to make a snowman. I like the stuff...

While the trains in Berlin are quite efficient, they are also prone to CityRail-like impersonations, with delays and inconsistent arrival times. Again, German rail is good, but it's not completely foolproof. 

More about Berlin later. Prague for now.