A Travellerspoint blog

Yay, Norway!

COPENHAGEN TO OSLO

sunny 19 °C

Leaving Denmark we headed North along the West coast of Sweden, planning an overnight stop in Gothenburg (or ‘Goteborg’ pronounced yew-te-bor-ee in Swedish). On our way we looked through our Lonely Planet guide to get an idea of what there was to see and do in Gothenburg (we had only decided to stop there as it was a half way point between Copenhagen and Oslo) and upon finding that it was described as a hip, trendy, cosmopolitan city (nothing like us, lol) we made the call to miss the city entirely and head for some nature instead. We high tailed it to Aspen Camping, situated just outside the city on the edge of Aspen Lake.

Yes, they actually have Ikea in Sweden ;)
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Swedish Serenity...
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And it gets better at sunset!
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We spent a day relaxing in the sunshine and quiet of the lake before motoring on to first stop in Norway, Oslo. We set up camp just outside the city at Ekeberg Camping; a fantastic large site perched on one of the hills surrounding Oslo, giving you an amazing view down into the city.

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Now I know we have mentioned that Scandinavia was expensive, but Norway is just rude. Being that we were on the top of a hill/mini mountain, we weren’t super keen on walking or riding the bikes the 6km down into the city, walking around all day, then trudging back up the steep mountainside to the campsite, so we checked the bus schedule and prices finding that a single bus ticket per person was approx. EUR5, or roughly AU$7 to travel 6kms! As we are broke and already dipping into the credit card slightly, we decided that public transport was an unnecessary expense, we are young and fit after all… So we jumped on our bikes and took off down the mountain.

As we got further and further down, we slowly realised the effort that would be required to get back up the steep roads, but as we were already on our way, we decided to let future Paulie and future Kitty worry about that. After getting lost a couple of times, we made it to the city centre to find a thriving and multicultural metropolis that would rival any of the major cities of the world. We had expected Oslo to be similar to Copenhagen with little traffic and a small spattering of locals mixed with a reasonable dose of tourists… this is not the case. As mentioned, this city is a major one, and around the centre it’s absolutely packed with locals, tourists and everything in between. We made our way straight to the tourist info centre as per usual, with the hope of finding some interesting free sights. Gladly Oslo is sensitive to the budget traveler (anyone not from Norway) and there is enough free stuff to fill a day.

Oslo Harbour
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We started by cruising through the Akershus Fortress, getting some fantastic views of the city and the surrounding islands, before continuing down to the Opera house, which is designed in a way that the outside of the building gets as much, if not more use as the inside (Note: Something we had noticed about Scandinavia, particularly Norway, was that the government allows much of the public land and buildings to be used free of charge by the citizens. They also have a ‘right to roam’ policy in Norway which means you are free to camp, fish and hunt where ever you like, with the exception of trout and salmon fishing, which both require a fishing license.).

Akershus Fortress
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Opera House
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Making use of the Opera House...
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We then rode through to the City Hall which offers free guided tours of the building, and then on to the Royal Palace, where you can just laze about in the grounds, right next to royalty with no fences between you – I would love to see that at Buckingham Palace!

Large and very unimpressive - City Hall
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Royal Palace - look no fences!
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From the Palace we made our way though town to Frognerparken to check out Vigeland Park at its centre. Vigeland Park showcases works from Norway’s best-loved sculptor Gustav Vigeland, who, by the look of his work, loves the human figure. After soaking up some sun and art in the park, we decided that we were both spent, and should set off on our journey back up the mountain before we end up too wrecked to make it and needing to pay for an overpriced Oslo hotel.

Vigeland Park looking very 'phallic'
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Good thing we left when we did… it took 2 hours to make it back to the campsite, 90% up-hill!

On our way out of Oslo the next day, we stopped in at the Fram Museum, which is dedicated to the early exploration of the North and South poles and houses the first ship ever designed to be crushed by the arctic ice pack on its way to becoming the first to sail the Northwest passage, a ship called the Fram. Not knowing a whole lot about the subject we were keen to see if we could learn a thing or two, and the museum did not disappoint. Welcoming you into the foyer is the impressive bulk of the ship that gives its name to the museum, guiding you to the start of the very well laid out information trail. Unlike many museums, the Fram museum actually has a sequence of events that is easy to follow, leading you from one important fact or discovery to the next, telling the tale of how exploration was done in the early 1900’s. It even leads you on board the Fram so you can see first hand what the living conditions would have been like for the multi-year explorations trapped in the artic circle. There is also a whole section dedicated to the first expeditions to the south pole, detailing both the attempt of the successful Norwegian party, along with the not so successful attempt of the British party who were heading for the pole at the same time, giving first hand accounts of the bravery shown by these men under the harshest conditions imaginable. All together, a quality museum that really captures the imagination and leaves you that little bit more knowledgeable.

The Fram
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Inside...
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I do not trust this skipper!
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Kitty doing her best artic-exporler impersonation
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But the time had come to be moving on again, and as it would turn out, we would come to remember our massive trek in Olso as good preparation for the coming destination – Stavanger, and the tourist-Mecca of Preikestolen.

Posted by Mr n Mrs Awsme 11:23 Archived in Norway Comments (0)

The Colours of Copenhagen

BERLIN TO COPENHAGEN

sunny 20 °C

You can’t really miss where Germany turns Scandinavia – you drive past several tall Danish flags, with slightly shorter flags representing the other Scandinavian countries. It’s actually a really cool welcome. I’ve always thought this part of the world as clean, pretty, friendly, proud, cold and expensive and I’m right for once. If our trip to Iceland earlier this year was anything to go by we’d be in for a part of the world who seem to have it all figured out… and we would also have to somehow tighten the purse strings even more, given this is the tail end of our trip and we do need to get back to the UK somehow!

Our plan was (still is, as I’m typing this from Sweden) to alternate free stops with campsites as they take up the 2nd biggest chunk of our budget (1st being fuel but you can’t really compromise on that). Our first night in Denmark was at a roadstop behind a servo and a McDonalds. As freecamping is technically prohibited in Denmark, we kept ourselves vigilant throughout the night and moved onto City Camp in Copenhagen early the next morning. The camperstop book said it was walking distance to the city centre and had power, and this turned out to be one of those times where it was better than we could have hoped. Still pretty pricey, but they had also installed toilets, showers and had free wifi. We also didn’t expect to be as close to the city as we were – we were right next to a brand new shopping centre right on the harbour. Although there were plenty of buses going past into the city, it only took us 10min to walk so it was worth saving the money and getting the extra exercise. Still coughing and feeling ill from the virus, we sucked it up and headed towards the Town Hall to meet up for… you guessed it… a free walking tour! Yay!

We had Maria – Danish, grew up in Luxembourg, has lived in the UK, Czech Republic, etc (I lost count) and was back working for the summer as a tour guide. The first thing we noticed was that there was a lot of construction going on… a lot. She explained we would be seeing a fair bit of this as they are building new Metro stations around the place for a new Metro line, which had apparently been planned before any of the other ones had but was only just going ahead now. Quite a few hotels were also doing exterior renovations.

Our lovely walk included going past the apartment where Carlsberg was first created (the creator named it after his son, Carl). We then went past the National Museum, which was closed that day being a Monday but has free entry so we decided to go back the next day. We then went through Christiansborg Palace. This gorgeous building used to be the royal residence before it was destroyed in fires in the 1700’s. The royals didn’t want to wait until it was rebuilt, so they ended up moving to another location and the new building then became the house of parliament, which it still is to this day.

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After that, we were taken down to the waterfront for a leisurely stroll before we reached Nyhavn (or New Harbour) and got ourselves happily lost for a short time amongst the colourful houses overlooking the old boats on the water.

Lunch Break, Danish Style
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Colourful Nyhavn
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Maria then took us to Amalienborg Castle – the current residence of the royal family. This is always exciting for an Aussie girl… she first pointed out the block used for visiting family members (currently getting an exterior renovation). Then she pointed to the grand houses behind us – one is the home of Fred, Aussie Mary and their 4 young ones, the other Queen Margethe and the Prince. Maria explained that if someone is home in each of the houses, a flag is raised on top, and the people can tell who is home by the symbols on the flag. There was a flag up on the guest house (no one really cared), and a flag on top of Mary and Fred’s place. Maria was able to let us know it was Mary and the children who were home – a) because their symbol was on the flag, and Mary had been seen in Copenhagen the day before, and b) because Fred was still in London as a member of the Olympic Committee.

Mary's Place...
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Last but not least, we finished off back down on the waterfront facing the very modern Opera House over on the other side.

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We had a lunch break back at the van and caught up on the weekend’s footy from back home, before venturing back out to discover Denmark’s answer to Amsterdam…. Christiana. This little slice of “hippy heaven” is located over the harbour in a part of the city called Christianshavn, which in general is law abiding and like any other township in Europe. However, Christiania’s only 3 rules of “No photos, don’t run, have fun” become crystal clear as you pass under a large sign telling you that you’re now leaving the EU.

There are signs and pictures up all over for rule #1, letting you know that if you take any pictures, your camera will be taken off you. This leads into rule #2 – don’t run. Running indicates you may be running from a police raid, and will therefore cause panic throughout the community (not because running whilst stoned just doesn’t work). And of course, rule #3 lets you know you are in a safe place and free to enjoy the produce on offer down in the “Green Light District”. Surely you don’t need any more hints.

There are stalls all over selling all kinds of smoking aids and even though it is still technically illegal, there are plenty of other stalls with the goods to fill the smoking paraphernalia. There are bars with people chatting and hanging out, and naturally street food stalls for when the munchies inevitably hit.

As interesting as it was to see such a place just out in the open, for the most part left alone by the Danish authorities as it is regulated by a special law, the Christiania Law of 1989 which transfers parts of the supervision of the area from the municipality of Copenhagen to the state. For the most part it is policed by the community and is without too many regulations, for us it was an incredibly seedy and somewhat uncomfortable experience. I am sure there was a time that it was a oasis of peace and love, which is what we were hoping for… but sadly for us it was dirty and didn’t have the same friendly vibe somewhere like Amsterdam does – it was more of a scummy criminal feel, plus… lets just say… if any produce was sampled, it wasn’t quite up to scratch. I have a feeling part of the reason it is left alone and the reason behind the less than welcoming feel is because it’s run by a certain bikie gang. That aside, it’s definitely worth a look if you’re in Copenhagen and have a tolerant mind.

Sunset Stroll to Christiania
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Student Transport
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The following day we strolled back into the city centre to make the most of its limited free sights. I say limited because the only one they have is the National History Museum, and though it is free, it is a very well put together collection, arranged in such a way that really tells the story of Denmark’s history, right from the first cave men to modern day life.

After spending half a day walking through the history of Denmark, it was time to get moving again in the direction of Sweden, on our way to the beautiful Fjords of Norway.

Posted by Mr n Mrs Awsme 00:31 Archived in Denmark Comments (0)

Another Brick In The Wall

PRAGUE TO BERLIN

overcast 20 °C

On our way out of the Czech Republic we picked up some much needed groceries, filled the van up with diesel, and arrived at very full but cheap camperstop 15min outside of Berlin later that evening. We had no internet access here but I’d already had a look at Berlin’s public transport system and plotted our way to the meeting point at the Brandenburg Gate for yet another free walking tour. Neither of us were feeling any better, but we got ourselves up, stuffed ourselves with the little Aspirin we had left, and were ready to explore another city rich in an eventful, divided and amazing history.

Brandenburg Gate
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Our tour guide this time round was Taylor – a fellow Aussie who had been traveling around Europe few years ago, came to Berlin and loved it so much he stayed. We started by going through the Brandenburg Gate to the Reichstag, which I’ve always wanted to see in person. It is one of many free attractions in Berlin, as in it’s free to go inside and walk around the glass dome on top (which you can actually do when parliament is sitting as well). Our visit just happened to be timed with a recent terrorist threat to the building, hence anyone wishing to go inside has to first register online in advance and are given an allocated date and time. It could be the next day, or the next week depending on how busy it is. We didn’t know about this ahead of time so sadly we had to miss out ☹

Reichstag
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We next visited the Holocaust Memorial just south of the Reichstag, a strangely beautiful and peaceful collection of 2,711 grey concrete columns of equal size, but differing heights. Its official name is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. There was apparently a bit of controversy when it was in the planning stage, others thought it should remember all victims (gypsies, homosexuals, the disabled etc), but several other memorial sites are now being planned around the city to include all victims. The reason behind the design has not been revealed by it’s creator, with the intention of letting people who visit decide themselves what it means to them. We each have our own thoughts of what it means to us. Underneath the memorial is a free information centre, with real life stories of different Jewish families in all different professions and stages in life and what happened to them.

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Next, we were taken to the former site of the bunker where Hitler took a cyanide capsule at the same time as shooting himself (he wanted a warriors death, hence the gun, but was worried he would miss and just wound himself due to terrible tremors in his hands thanks to either Parkinsons disease or syphilis, so the cyanide capsule was backup). It’s now a carpark surrounded by apartment blocks. Whilst the bunker system is still underneath the ground, it was all caved in by the Soviets so that no traces would remain.

A bit further on we were greeted with the imposing ex-Luftwaffe and then ex-Soviet headquarters, a grand building created in a style that is now sometimes know as ‘Totalitarian’ thanks to it being the preference of both the Nazi’s and the Soviets. It is essentially designed to make the individual feel small, and it does a great job, especially now that it houses the German Tax Authority. While in use as the Soviet HQ, there was a mural painted on to one of the outside walls depicting the Socialist paradise that Communism should be…. As a statement against Socialism, placed on the square in front of the building there is now a photo taken from outside the building during one of the largest demonstrations against the Soviet rule, it depicts a very angry mob and mirrors the original mural in size and location, showing the reality of Communism compared to the ideals of Communism.

Luftwaffe HQ
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Ideals of Communism
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Reality...
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A little further along the same road we came to one of the remaining sections of the Berlin Wall, along with the site of the former SS and Gestapo headquarters. On this is now a free museum called the Topographie des Terrors, housing models of what originally stood there and a timeline showing who worked there and how things unfolded in Berlin from the 30’s through to the 80’s.

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Next we got to see famous Checkpoint Charlie for ourselves. It would have been overrated, if it were rated at all… I don’t think I’ve seen anything much more tacky and gaudy for a long time, but it still holds historical importance, being the final of 3 checkpoints for those in East Germany getting out into the West on visas (when it was permitted), or for people living in the West but working in the East. It’s also the centrepiece for quite a few escape attempts and therefore some entertaining stories. There is still a sign reading “You are now leaving the American Sector” on the West side, and also 2 large pictures of soldiers who were actually stationed there. One was American, the other Soviet, each now looking into the opposing territory as a symbolic gesture.

Checkpoint Charlie
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After our lunch break we checked out the old looking Konzerthaus Square, also holding 2 different churches on either side that are almost identical to each other. One is the Französischer Dom, which was built for French citizens who were enticed to help rebuild Berlin in the 1700’s, and opposite is the Deutscher Dom – of course, built for the locals because you couldn’t have a church for the French without having a church for your own people. And to show how much they loved their own people, the government at the time built the Deutscher Dom to be 1 metre taller than the Franz Dom.

Konzerthaus Square, looking at the Französischer Dom (Kitty Photo-bombing)
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We were then taken to Bebelplatz – a small but important square outside the Law Division of Humboldt University, where during the Nazi reign, 20,000 books deemed not to be in line with Nazi ideals were taken from throughout the city, including the nearby university library, and burnt. Underneath there is a really simple memorial to this – enough bookshelves to fit 20,000 books (you can see it through a window on the ground).

20,000 Books, right here...
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We finished off the tour by paying our respects to another memorial – a sculpture of a mother cradling her dead son sits above dirt taken from all the battlefields and concentration camps of WWII, with an unknown soldier and an unknown Jewish victim also buried below – then sat on the grass on Museumsinsel (Museum Island) in the shadow of the Pergamonmuseum, the Berliner Dom, and the TV Tower.

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Museumsinsel
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We had yet another enthralling day soaking up all of this history, but there was only 1 thing missing from our Berlin experience – we each had a fantastic Currywurst before we headed back to the van.

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Our next stop was one that everyone who comes to Europe should do – it was to one of the former concentration camps, Sachsenhausen, which was utilized by the Nazi’s prior to and during WWII. There is not a lot that can be put into words about visiting a place where so many known, and unknown atrocities took place. It is unsettling and brings you face to face with the past in a way that reading about it cannot. Most of the buildings had been demolished, or left to rot during the Soviet occupation, but there still standing along with a few others are Block 38 and 39, which specifically housed the Jewish population. These are now museums holding personal artifacts including diary entries detailing life in the camp. Also still standing is part of the camp prison, along with the ‘hanging poles’ used to torture prisoners by hanging them from their wrists till there shoulders dislocated. Not very pretty stuff, and I wont go into too much detail about this particular part of our travels, as it doesn’t get any easier to stomach.

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We left Sachsenhausen still feeling the effects of whatever infection we had, quite tired, achy and coughing up a lung, so we packed up that afternoon and were on our way to Denmark.

Posted by Mr n Mrs Awsme 10:35 Archived in Germany Comments (1)

Czech-ing Into Prague

BUDAPEST TO PRAGUE

overcast 25 °C

After an uneventful drive from Hungary into the Czech Republic, we arrived at our chosen campsite, Prager Camping, early on the Sunday afternoon. It was a cute little site, run by a husband and wife couple, basically in their large backyard but with lots of shade, peace and quiet (complete with foosball and ping-pong tables!). We had access to a cheap Asian market just up the road, and regular buses went past just up the road in the direction of the closest Metro station.

We had previously decided that after being robbed of the chance for a good night out in Santorini (thanks to my suspected food poisoning), there was going to be no better option for getting out amongst the crazy youth of Europe and testing some good Czech beers than Prague. We ruled out the Sunday night as I’d just started to feel a bit under the weather, and Roxy, the club we wanted to check out had free entry on Monday nights, so we just chilled with a some pilsner and TV shows on the laptop.

The next morning we headed out for our first taste of Prague – we found their public transport system is fast, modern, clean and cheap and we were able to fairly quickly navigate through the city. We at first wanted to have a look at the National Museum, it was apparently free but we lost our bearings a bit when we first got off the Metro and ended up walking about 10min in the wrong direction! These things happen ☺ When we eventually got ourselves going the right way, we found the museum, which is actually 2 buildings, one a clean, modern giant and the other a massive Gothic period masterpiece. Saddly we found the museum had a small entrance fee which we hadn’t really budgeted for at the time, but it was also getting close to meeting time for our free walking tour down in the Old Town Square so we ended up giving it a miss. It did mean we could amble down the main tourist drag if we wanted… we realised how spoilt we’d been in Budapest by having room to move and not really encountering any crowding, this main drag in Prague was filled to the brim with a very eclectic bunch of people… everyone from crackheads to socialites! We made it to the beautiful Old Town Square, filled with both amazing arcitecture and of course billions of tourists. We could tell there were people waiting for the walking tours to kick off, but there were also young ones spruiking pub crawls and a lot of people watching the clock as it was near the hour (which we found out a bit more about later on) and taking up a lot of room.

Old Town Square
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I decided I needed to have something to eat before the tour started and left Paul along with the group while I ended up getting massively ripped off by a gyros stall – sneaky bastards advertise gyros for 79kc in big fluro writing, with a small and not very visible “per 100g” sort of underneath it, then they shave off a bunch of meat and ask you if it looks alright… you say yes, and they keep you chatting while they weigh it, he mumbled a price of 195kc whilst almost whipping my 200kc note out of my hand before I had the chance to convert in my head and say” hang on, that’s EUR8… I’m not paying that, it says 79kc on the sign!” By then, he’s already given you the tiny amount of change and says too bad, it’s already been made, you said it was Ok, and I’ve already put the sale through. After having a couple of heated exchanges with this guy, I ended up taking it (running out of time, you see, and really really hungry) and telling them I’m not rich and you should be ashamed of yourselves before running back to Paul and sharing it with him (I chose not to tell him how much it cost at that time, he would have ended up making me take him to the guy for some more words). Then we got to start the tour ☺

Our guide for this one run by a company called Sandeman’s was John Paul, or JP as he asked to be called - he had lived in Europe for most of his life with his German/American parents and spoke perfect english with a very American twang. He started by showing us around the Old Town and gave us a compacted history lesson covering about 2000 years. He then took us over to the clock we’d seen people gawking up at before and found out it’s called the Astronomical Clock. I hadn’t actually heard of it before. He described it as the 2nd most disappointing major tourist attraction in Europe, with the 1st being the Mona Lisa at the Louvre (no arguments there!). Essentially it tells the time, date, moon phase and it has some great little characters adorning it, representing the most despised things of that era– Greed, Vanity, Heresy, and Death. They all come alive when the clock strike the hour. So crowds gather on the hour to watch bits and pieces move in and around the clock, over time it seems like it’s been built up to be this really cool, almost magical show, but when it starts most people put their cameras away and say “uh… that’s it?”

Astronomical Clock
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After checking out some other sights in the Old Town, we had a lunch break where a sister company were trying to enlist people for their pub-crawl that night. It was EUR15 per person and included entry into 4 bars or clubs, t-shirts and free drinks for 2 hours at the first pub – beer, wine, spirits, shots etc. Seeing as we were going to go out anyway, it seemed like a good deal and we paid a deposit and started looking forward to coming back in and getting our drink on.

The lunch break was over and JP took us into the Jewish Quarter, explaining that it used to be the ghetto of the city but is now one of the most sought after and expensive locations. He pointed out a couple of important synagouges and memorials to holocaust victims before taking us down to the river and telling us how we can get over to Prague Castle, then finishing off the tour. We had learnt a lot on this one as well and looked forward to more valuable free walking tours with Sandemans in other cities – but we couldn’t hang around, we had to head back to the van so we could have dinner and get ready to come back out again.

Spanish Synagogue
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Prague Castle
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A few hours later, we were just about ready to leave the van again and it started raining cats and dogs – that would be right! Armed with our only remaining umbrella out of the 3 we started with, and knowing we’d end up losing it not too far into the night, we tried to find the meeting point at a pub called Revolution. We must not have been very in-tune with Prague as we got ourselves very, very lost in the old town. Luckily, we came across it before we got too soaked. We gave out tickets to the girl at the desk and asked about our free t-shirts (I was so excited about getting a tacky commemorative t-shirt, something new to wear to bed), but she said that it was only free for girls, guys had to pay EUR2, and the only size they had was extra large… um, tell me how that works then?? I let Paulie have it and he tucked it into the back of his shorts.

We obtained our first free beers (they said the other free drinks didn’t kick off for another half an hour – Paul wasn’t too impressed at this point) and got chatting to a group of American guys who had been living in Prague for the last few years and therefore not part of the pub crawl (just out drinking on a Monday night). It didn’t seem like long before Paul was able to get his vodka, I was on another free beer, then another, then Paul turned up with a round of Absinthe shots…

I will take this opportunity to apologise – from here, the night gets very, very, very hazy and I’m doing my best to recall the events of the evening ☺

We made a lot of pub crawl friends from here on out… Paul a bunch of Italian guys, I got chatting to a Welsh couple and their friends, shared a hooka with banana flavoured shisha (I regretted this the next day), we met some young blokes from Manchester, one of which has family in Penrith back home, whilst waiting in the bathroom line at one of the clubs I met a lovely Indian girl who had studied at the University of Wollongong (it’s such a freaking small world), I think I chatted with a Slovakian girl who Paul thinks was trying to hit on me… before we knew it we were at Roxy, the club we were going to go to originally, and it was 5am. We had somehow managed to keep hold of the umbrella, but lost the t-shirt.

We made it back to the van safe and sound and wrote the rest of the day off.

The day after though, we did think we’d better get back into Prague and do a couple of the things we didn’t get to on our first day. Still recovering from many, many beers earlier in the week, we checked out Prague Castle and the Charles Bridge, also stumbling across the Czech Senate as we strolled. Unfortunately, we both started getting a slight niggling cough and the sniffles and headed back to the van for more sleep.

Senate
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View from The Castle
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Charles Bridge
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We both woke up the next morning feeling like we’d been hit by a truck. This is what happens when you’re over 25 and try to stay out all night – it ends up taking you a week to recover. Either that, or we’d both picked up a bug from somewhere and it hadn’t shown until our immune systems were weakened by lack of sleep. We gathered all the energy we could, packed ourselves up and began driving towards Berlin.

Posted by Mr n Mrs Awsme 09:45 Archived in Czech Republic Comments (0)

Buda and Pest

TIMISAORA TO BUDAPEST

sunny 30 °C

Traveling through more Romanian countryside, through small villages on bumpy roads, we soon got to the border of Hungary and were made to purchase a “vignette” – a road tax, sort of the same as e-toll back home whereby cameras are strategically placed and you’re snapped driving on the road and cross-checked in their database to make sure you’ve paid. Our camping book had options for 4 day, 7 day, monthly and annual options but we were only intending at that time to stay for a couple of nights. The woman at the counter let us know the structure had been changed at the start of the year and the smallest one available was a 10-day for about 13 EUR, which even though we only planned to be in Hungary for a couple of days, would be more than fair considering the distance we would be traveling and we wouldn’t need to pay any tolls (France, Italy, Portugal etc. would have cost us much more in tolls for the same distance)

Budapest is actually made up of two halves, the hills of ‘Buda’ on the west bank of the Danube, and the almost perfectly flat ‘Pest’ (pronounced ‘pesht’) on the east bank, both separate and contrasting cities. We planned to camp at a place close to the centre of Pest called Haller Camping – when we got in we were greeted by very friendly people and given a wealth of maps etc for the city. But when we drove around the site all we found was mud, no shade, and people taking up more space than they should have been. We were in no mood to be uncomfortable and treading mud through our nice clean van, so Paul got his passport back from reception and we tried option 2 – Arena Camping, also on the Pest side of the river, of course fully aware we could have very well made the wrong decision and this place would be just as bad. It ended up being one of the best calls we had made all trip – the main operator of the new Arena Camping, Michael, turned out to be one of the nicest and most helpful people we have had the pleasure of meeting in all of our travels. Upon arrival he gave us, along with a small group of Italian campers, a great little orientation in our respective languages, not missing a beat when switching from Italiano to English. He gave us the bus numbers to the nearest train station (which was also next to a big shopping complex – I was happy), and when Paul asked about a mechanic we were told there was one literally across the road who ran a very good and cheap workshop, and he even came with us to the workshop multiple times to act as our translator, what a legend! The campsite was beautiful, with lush green grass (instead of mud like our other option) with plenty of shade and a really nice ‘vibe’. They also have a deal with the university campus just across the road from them to allow campers access to their cafeteria meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) at great prices (EUR3.50 per person per 3 course meal), they also had a free washing machine (there was only one so you inevitably end up queuing for it but who cares?) Happy times!

It was a good thing the campsite was so nice as we later discovered a leak in our water tank! And no doubt if Paul had to try and deal with that along with puddles of mud everywhere and no shade, he may have just tossed in the towel! Paul spent the evening trying to patch it up which meant taking EVERYTHING out from the back and then trying to figure out how to take the damn tank out, before trying to sort out the leak. With the van pretty much empty, we took the opportunity to give it a good clean out, getting a gauge of everything we’d need to do when we get back to the UK and sell it. We also spent some time finding out the best way to see Budapest, and found a free walking tour online that looked the goods, so we planned that for the next day.

Buda
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Pest
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I set my alarm for 8 the next morning so I could get Paul out of bed, into the city by 10 and ready for our walking tour from the meeting point at Vorosmarty Square at 10:30. I knew exactly where we were going, had the maps and the rail system all sussed out – we were going to have an awesome day! The bus from the campsite to the station, then the train into town must have been remnants from the soviet era (in soviet union, bus drives you). I thought there were still a few people around for 9 in the morning, shouldn’t everyone be at work? Never mind, at least it’s nowhere near as busy as Athens or Rome… when we got off an interchange station, I looked up at the clock, then looked at my watch… I didn’t realise we’d gone back an hour when we came into Hungary. I’d gotten poor weary Paulie out of bed and into a new city an hour earlier than I needed to. After laughing it off we had a bit of a walk down on the river to get our bearings and enjoy being in a gorgeous city NOT totally packed out with tourists. After a couple of cans of Coke Zero it was finally time to meet up with our guides. The tour guides were very professional and organised, they handed out some very handy city maps marked with some great little spots to eat, bars, and the route we’d be walking that day. We were told a little about the country’s history under Nazi, then Soviet rule, and shown a couple of soviet era statues that still remain standing. We saw St Stephen’s church/basilica, where our guide informed us that while you can pay to go to the top for a great view of the city, you get an even better one from the castle district in Buda for free, which is where we’d be heading later on. We were shown soviet architecture compared to older and newer styles (it was quite obvious which was which), then after we crossed the river on the Chain Bridge to Buda we climbed the stairs up to the castle district. There aren’t actually any castles over there, but the buildings are beautiful and house museums and galleries. We got to watch yet another changing of the guard outside the Hungarian version of the White House, and just around the corner from there stands a wall riddles with bullet holes from the 1956 revolution against the soviet regime. We finally finished the tour at the Fisherman’s Bastion, which is said to be the inspiration for Walt Disney’s fairytale castle.

Chain Bridge
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Guards doing their thing...
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Fisherman's Bastion, or Fairytale Castle?
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We… were… starving after this tour! But our guide had advised us all against eating anywhere up in the castle district and the best thing to do would be to head back into Pest and as far away from the river as possible in order to get some good cheap grub, with the Jewish District as one of the best areas to go. So we headed there and looked around for somewhere that looked like they had Hungarian dishes… and we found the Holy Grail (in our opinion) at the Drum Café on Dob St. These guys have a whole lot of set menus available, different types of 3 course options for 1190HUF, which was about EUR4-5, and for that you felt nicely full afterwards. They also had an awesome variety of langos. For those of you who haven’t heard of or had langos before… it’s the ultimate street food snack in Budapest. I first had one at Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park last Christmas and promised myself if I ever got to Hungary I wouldn’t eat anything else. I’ve probably put on a few kg’s but it’s worth it.
It’s a fried dough frisbee and the classic topping is garlic, sour cream and grated cheese. The Drum Café also had pizza like toppings, ham, bacon, onion etc. But our favourite was a langos folded in half, still with the classic toppings but with chicken paprika on the inside. Delish! We ended up back there every day to try something new.

Crowd pleasers - Langosh and Gulyas (Goulash)
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The next morning, after we dropped the van into the mechanic for a service, we headed back into the city with a visit to the Nazi/Communist icon, the House of Terror on the agenda. The House of Terror is at 60 Andrassy Ave, and was used by both the Nazis and Soviets as the nations headquarters for imprisonment, planning and torture. It is of course now not just a very well put together museum to educate others, but also a very powerful memorial to the victims and everyone affected. Over the 3 floors there are lots of photos and multimedia telling the story of both occupations through an accurate timeline. It’s great for anyone who may be doing some research; in each of the rooms/displays there are information sheets you can take away with you. There are TV’s with interviews of prisoners and the families of prisoners… some of whom had their loved ones taken away and never saw them again. In the basement are the actual prison cells used, most of which have photos and tributes on the walls of people imprisoned there. As you first enter the building there is a massive wall full of faces with the heading “Victims’, and as you leave coming up from the basement there is also a gallery of “Perpetrators”. In my personal opinion though, the most confronting part was the first exhibit you enter, called “Double Occupation”. On one wall is a projection showing how much of Hungary and Europe had been eaten up by the Nazis and Soviets. There is a wall down the middle with one side dedicated to Nazi occupation footage (including the graphic video of countless bodies being bulldozed into mass graves), the other side to the Soviets. All in all it was a valuable experience, we never knew how much Hungary went through – it is definitely worth a visit to anyone heading to Budapest.

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On our 3rd day we saw to getting the shock absorbers on the van replaced (Eastern Europe roads had really done a number on them), the mechanic said this was fine and it could be done by the end of the day. So, another early morning dropping the van off with them, and we headed back into the city, this time to visit one of the numerous bathhouses. The Ottoman Empire left behind a legacy of bath culture, and it is of course a very popular option during summer. We invigorated ourselves by alternating between warm baths as hot as 38 degrees, then cold baths as low as 12 degrees. A highlight was the Finnish sauna experience of sauna at betweens 60 and 100 degrees, then jumping into a cold bath! They also have a lap-pool, but sadly headwear is mandatory if swimming (but only in the lap pool – we think it’s a joke and a bit of a scam, as they conveniently have caps available for purchase – but the kicker is the caps for purchase are nothing more than shower caps that do absolutely nothing but fall off as soon as you put your head in the water) Desperate for some physical activity, Paul purchased a ‘shower cap’ and did some laps. After lunch at Drum Café, we headed back to camp and collected the van, complete with beautiful new shockies ☺ We could have left for Prague that day, but decided we were enjoying Budapest too much and chose to stay for another full day.

Bathhouse
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Hero's Gate
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On our last full day we were in for another history lesson – we did another walking tour, with the same operators as our first walking tour here but with a Communist education theme. Our guide was Susie - in her early 40’s and therefore able to remember her youth under soviet rule. She recounted how her family had been able to leave the country due to her father obtaining a job in Sweden through his company, then they moved back in the early 80’s to be closer to family and friends who had remained behind. It was a very insightful and rewarding tour that really seemed to capture your imagination, showing you what the reality of communism was for these people, and how totalitarian oppression robbed them of their freedom, which is something that lucky Australians like us have no real concept of… Even though Paul’s grandparents had fled from Soviet Russia after WWII, his Grandmother never spoke of her experiences. He now knows why.

One of the remaining Soviet Monuments
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Actual bullet holes from the 1956 revolution
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We capped off our day and our eye-opening time in the wonderful Budapest, with a massive Hungarian beer, followed by some truly delicious Hungarian wine, and with a goodnights sleep we said goodbye to our favourite European city and set off towards the beer capitol of the world, Prague.

Posted by Mr n Mrs Awsme 01:04 Archived in Hungary Comments (0)

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