Travel Diary 26/6/16

Not quite so much to report this time around, except that I can’t really afford to be in Switzerland right now…

Day 81
Copenhagen is a lovely, quiet little city. I spent the morning walking around, checking out the various sights of the city, including the famously underwhelming Little Mermaid Statue (I did have to come back in the afternoon, as the lighting kind of ruined every photo I took of her). I looked at the various castles and palaces, and it made sense that Princess Mary decided to marry Freddie and leave Tasmania. Although, I can’t blame her for leaving Tasmania.

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I find that if you go in with low expectations, The Little Mermaid statue isn't really that bad.

In the afternoon, I decided to take advantage of Copenhagen’s position and cross another country off my list, crossing over the Øresund Bridge into Malmö, Sweden. Malmö is a thoroughly unremarkable town, to be perfectly honest, but I got to cross Sweden off for the time being. I would love to get a chance to check out Stockholm and Gothenburg some time in the future.

So I returned to Copenhagen, and took another walk around parts of the city, before heading back to my hostel.

Day 82
Another travel day, I ventured back into Germany, but this time to Hamburg.

Day 83
I really wish I had discovered Free Walking Tours sooner. I mean, I knew what they were, but when you get to a city and you’re not sure what to do, they’re really the best starting point.

Which is why I took a free walking tour here. Alas, my favourite Hostel Culture haven’t expanded to Hamburg yet. However, the ever-present Sandemans are. And the tour was pretty great. My group’s tour guide had the cutest little service dog along with her, which just made things a hundred times better.

The thing about Hamburg is: a lot of the historic centre has been destroyed in one way or another. A series of fires in the city’s history, including one in the 19th century have destroyed great sections of the city, and of course, whatever was left didn’t survive World War 2. Hamburg being a major north-western port (second busiest in Europe), it was of course a major Allied target. Around 85% of the city was destroyed during the war.

There are a few older buildings, at least pre-1940s that did survive, including the City Hall and St Peter’s Church, the latter of which was partially built using bricks from the previous St Peter’s Church, which was destroyed in the last Great Fire.

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If you couldn't see the Neuschwanstein Castle/Sleeping Beauty's Castle connection from my photos in Bavaria, try the model version, during the simulated night time. You can hear the Disney intro too, can't you?

The highest-rated attraction in Hamburg on Trip Advisor is Miniatur Wunderland. The world’s largest miniature railway. It sounds kind of lame, I know, but it is pretty amazing. Miles and miles of model railway tracks weave through brilliantly constructed models, through variously themed sections. I spent over three hours there, and honestly, if I ever find myself back in Hamburg, I’ll go again, because they’re constantly building more sections and expanding their railway.

Day 84
I didn’t get up to much today. It was State of Origin back home, so I loaded up the stream and spent my afternoon watching that. After which, I spent the day on Youtube, catching up on the various things I’ve missed.

Day 85
Travel day. This time I travelled to Frankfurt, arriving in the afternoon.

Day 86
I probably should have researched Frankfurt before booking this section of my trip. There’s not really a lot for tourists here. It’s a commercial hub, and a large city, there’s just not that much to see. I spent the day at the hostel, because I really need to save money at this stage in the trip.

Day 87
Travel day. This time I caught the bus from Frankfurt to Zurich. Heavy traffic meant that I didn’t get into Zurich until it was almost dark.

Day 88
Which brings us to today. I found another free walking tour, and it wasn’t really that good. I had the choice between the standard tour and the historical tour, and decided on the historical tour, so I could have some context. Big mistake.

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Nice view though.

I did get to see some nice buildings, but nothing I wouldn’t have headed to on my own initiative. Zurich is a nice enough city, except it is obscenely expensive. I saw places on the street selling kebabs for 15 Swiss francs. Check the exchange rate on a Swiss franc. Go on, I’ll wait… … See what I mean?

So tomorrow I pick up my hire car, and drive to Interlaken. There is a very good chance I’m going to take a pretty large detour to cross over into Liechtenstein, just to cross off another country. I’m a little nervous about driving on the wrong side of the road, so this could get interesting. I also haven’t driven anywhere for about three months.

Travel Diary 18/6/16

Berlin is, quite frankly, amazing. I need to spend at least another week there. At least. But I’ve moved on to Copenhagen now, so I guess I’ll just have to go back… What’s so great about Berlin you ask? Well…

Day 74
Travel day! I caught a train from Prague to Berlin, it was pretty uneventful, which is exactly what you want out of a train journey. Got some reading done, watched some TV shows. A nice way to decompress.

Of course, when I found out that I was staying about two blocks from Checkpoint Charlie, I had to go check it out. I resisted the urge to get my passport stamped there. Good thing, because apparently it can void your passport. It’s a little surreal, this partial military checkpoint in the middle of the city.

It’s a reconstruction, metres away from the actual site, the only original part is the sign warning you that you are entering the American sector. The museum nearby is very interesting, but definitely not worth the €12.50 if you’re on a budget, like I certainly am right now.

Day 75
Berlin Zoo is world-famous, and rightfully so. They claim to be the most species-diverse zoo in the world, and I’m not about to oppose that claim, especially if you count the aquarium on the grounds.

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Fun fact: Three of the species on display can be found in my backyard at home, the Bluetongue Lizard (Skink), the Redback Spider and the Australian (White-Backed) Magpie. It was nice to have a reminder of home, among the more exotic animals.

One small note: Buy the Aquarium ticket with your Zoo ticket, because the reptiles and insects are both upstairs in the aquarium, and, quite frankly, an essential part of any zoo visit.

Also: Despite the huge statue of an Iguanadon, and the Triceratops carved into the top of the doorway, there are no dinosaurs in the Aquarium. I know, I was disappointed too.

Day 76
Today I sought out the Hostel Culture Walking Tours again, since I was so happy with them in Prague and Budapest. I was not disappointed. They offer four free tours in Berlin: the City Tour, Alternative Tour, Cold War Tour and Third Reich Tour.

Since I’m a glutton for punishment, I decided to take all four tours. In two days.

I started out with the Alternative Tour, which took us through the Jewish Quarter, in East Berlin. The tourguide showed us a variety of street art by locals and international artists, while giving us a history of the city, and the artists themselves.

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I followed up with the Third Reich Tour, which was one of those information-rich walking tours. It focussed more on the rise of the Nazis, and the effects on the city, without delving too deeply into the atrocities, which was a nice change from the usual narrative of the events.

Day 77
Aching legs aside, I was ready to go for two more walking tours.

Just quietly, I probably could have skipped the City Tour, as it’s kind of a catch-all tour, that squeezes the highlights of the other tours into one. However, the tour guide was great, and I still managed to learn some things I hadn’t picked up on the others.

The Cold War Tour was a great insight into the life behind the Berlin Wall, the escape attempts, the Stasi’s rule and the general history of the city during the Cold War years. And, without one mention of Ronald Reagan.

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Day 78
After all that walking, it’s time for a quiet day of doing nothing… Right?

Nope. Museum Island calls. Five museums, one ticket. Do not buy a ticket to just one museum, it’s absolutely not worth it, and for just 50% more, you can get the Island Pass. The museums are kind of small when you compare them individually to, say, the British Museum, or The Louvre.

But as a package deal, they’re more than a match. There are extensive building projects going on at the moment, so I couldn’t see the Pergamon Altar. I did get to see the Ishtar Gate though, which was awe-inspiring. No wonder it was once a Wonder of the World (and is still on my list, due to the possibly fictional-nature of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon).

The other major highlight of Museum Island is the bust of Nefertiti, which you’re not allowed to take photos of. And it’s a lot harder to get a good shot with my 42x zoom lens than I thought it would be.

Day 79
Only one museum today, and quite frankly, my favourite. The Natural History Museum. 99% because they have the largest reconstructed dinosaur skeleton in the world. the museum still has it classified as a Brachiosaurus sub-species, but Wikipedia says it was recently discovered that it was a member of another species, the Giraffatitan.

They also have what is widely considered to be the most complete, best preserved fossil of an Archaeopteryx, the earliest known species of bird.

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I could go on and on about the dinosaurs, because I never grew out of that phase as a kid. But I won’t. The museum also has an extensive taxidermy collection, and a section about space, including a 250 kg meteorite, which you can touch.

Day 80
Phileas Fogg can eat it. 80 days is not long enough to see the world. I did, however, spend the day travelling. This time, across the Baltic to Copenhagen, where I am sitting right now. It’s 11.30, and i’m pretty sure there was still light in the sky an hour ago. Also, the internet is fantastic, I have a lot of photos from Berlin (close to 1000, HQ files), and they’re uploading incredibly fast. Of course, Google Drive keeps crashing because of memory issues, so it’s taking a bit longer.

Tomorrow I’m going to check out the city, and the day after I leave for Hamburg. The end is getting closer and closer. Just two weeks or so until I’m in the UK and I have to get back to reality.

Travel Diary 11/6/16

Finishing up my time in Central Europe, on the other side of the Iron Curtain. Sad to see it go, but kind of looking forward to being able to half-understand the language again. So here’s what I’ve been up to for the past week or so…

Day 66
Not going to lie, I actually spent a fair portion of this day watching a stream of the rugby league from Australia. I did, however, go on a fantastic walking tour through the city, starting at St Stephen’s Cathedral. It was at least three hours long, the guide, whose name escapes me, was absolutely fantastic, both knowledgeable and charming. The tour was run by Hostel Culture, who run free walking tours in many cities. It’s a great way to see the sights in the city, especially on your first day.

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Hungarian Parliament

I also made sure to eat proper Hungarian food for dinner at least once. I hit all the classics: goulash, chicken paprikash and a shot of palinka to wash it down.

Day 67
Another slow beginning. I ran out of clothes, and had to spend the morning doing laundry.

I did get time to do another great walking tour, this time highlighting the Communist past of the city. It was more informative than about seeing sights. Another Hostel Culture tour, I can’t recommend it enough.

Day 68
Travel day. I crossed Slovakia on a bus, I saw some gorgeous landscapes on my way into Poland. I really regret not taking an extra day or two in Krakow, it seems like a lovely place. There’s always next time.

But I was in Krakow for one thing…

Day 69
Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II (Birkenau). The sites of the most evil events that have possibly ever occurred. Home to more death and suffering than anywhere else.

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I hate to say it, but it was a little underwhelming after Dachau. Auschwitz I was originally a Polish army barracks, and that’s what it looks like. Auschwitz II has mostly been dismantled, the materials were needed to reconstruct Warsaw after the war, and lush grass covers the ground between the foundations. Compared to the stark greys of Dachau, it just didn’t really have the impact I expected

It’s still a must-see, and I really want to stress how interesting it is, it just doesn’t quite meet expectations.

Day 70
Another travel day, this time from Krakow to Prague. I travelled by Leo Express, and it really seemed like a first-class experience, I was pleasantly surprised.

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i can almost hear that saxophone solo...

Day 71
Every now and then, I have to let my tragic nerd side show. Today was one of those times. Legends of Australian rock, INXS, filmed the video for their classic ballad Never Tear Us Apart in the streets of Prague. I found a map and spent the day walking the same streets as Michael Hutchence and the others. It also happened to carry me past a number of Prague’s main sights, Prague Castle, the Old Town Square, the Charles Bridge and so on.

That night, I watched a short concert by the Parnas Ensemble, a string quintet featuring members of the Prague Symphony Orchestra and other top-level Czech musicians, performing a selection of classical and operatic pieces.

Day 72
Another bucket list item got crossed off today. Unfortunately, the travel time was far greater than the time spent at the location. The Sedlec Ossuary in Kutna Hora, about an hour’s train ride from Prague Main Station.

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That's a whole lot of dead guys.

Of course, the famous Bone Chandelier is currently being restored, but the other decorations in the church crypt, made entirely out of human bones, are still super-creepy.

Day 73
Again, I took the chance to catch a game of rugby from home, before going out and seeing the city. I took another Hostel Culture walking tour. The tour didn’t seem to go far from the Old Town Square, venturing into the Jewish Quarter for the last half hour or so. While it took me to many sights I had already seen, the tour guide shared a wealth of knowledge that really made it worthwhile.

Which brings us to this moment. Tomorrow I travel to Berlin, where I’ll be spending about a week. I’m really looking forward to it.

Travel Diary 3/6/16

I’m writing this on a bus, as it leaves Vienna (although, there is probably a chance I’ll be out of Austria by the time I finish). I’ll post it as soon as I get settled in Budapest.

Day 59
Like I said in the last entry, I spent most of today on a bus. Fourteen hours or so by the end of it. On the brightside, I reached Munich. At like, 1 AM.

Day 60
Munich is a pretty nice place, all things told. I took a walk through the middle of the city. Within minutes of leaving my hostel, I discovered a parade of old fire trucks going through Karlsplatz. At least a hundred of them, from all eras. It was really cool, and totally unexpected.

I couldn’t go to Munich and not see the Frauenkirche, which is, as so many things have been, currently being restored. Inside it is kind of underwhelming, but the outside, with the two large towers, is quite impressive.

The Neue Rathaus is an interesting building, although I’m a little disappointed that I just missed the glockenspiel show. By mere minutes when I came back that evening.

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Missed the last show by five minutes.

I climbed to the top of St Peter’s for the full panoramic view of Munich, which was nice. Well worth 300 steps (I actually remembered to count this time).

I took a walk through the Hofgarten, I went to Odeonsplatz, which is where the infamous Beerhall Putsch took place. I then spent a few hours in the museum at the Munich Residence of the Bavarian monarchs.

That night at the hostel bar, I joined up with a group of English guys on a Stag Weekend, and we went to the Lowenbrauhaus for dinner, and on to a couple of other bars. Because what’s the point of being an Aussie in Munich without a spot of binge drinking?

Day 61
This was a grim day in more ways than one. First up, my hangover kept me in bed past midday. By the time I managed to drag myself onto a train, I didn’t reach my destination until 3 pm.

The destination? Dachau Concentration Camp. The two hours I spent there didn’t do it justice. The atrocities that were committed there still echo through the halls. It’s really moving, and not always in a good way. Well worth the visit.

A word of advice though: Don’t bring your bloody kids. I saw so many families there. There are things a child shouldn’t see, and the photos on display can be fairly graphic.

Day 62
And now for something completely different. A four hour round trip from Munich is the town of Fussen. 3 km out of Fussen is Neuschwannstein Castle. Built in the ninteenth century by mad King Ludwig as his perfect ideal of a medieval castle. It’s like something out of a fairytale. So much so that Walt Disney himself based Sleeping Beauty’s Castle on it.

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When you wish upon a star...

It’s absolutely gorgeous, and an absolute must-see if you’re in Bavaria.

Day 63
Another travel day. Something like ten hours on a bus, with an hour delay. But I got to Vienna at around 10.30 PM. Managed to score a six-bed dorm to myself at the hostel too, so I guess it was a pretty good day.

Day 64
I wish I had given myself more time in Vienna. The city is absolutely beautiful. The best word I can use to describe it is ‘Grand’. The buildings are just gorgeous. I know exactly nothing about architecture, so I can’t really describe what I mean, except that it looks like my idea of a nineteenth century metropolis, and the center of the last great European Empire.

I found my way into two museums. Yet again I found a city trying to pass off one museum, with three distinct sections, as three museums. The Hofburg is divided into the Silver Collection, which is a snoozefest after a while, the Sisi Museum, dedicated to the beloved Empress Elisabeth, and the Imperial Apartments. Apart from the Silver Collection, which does have a few cool pieces, it’s really interesting.

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See? Grand.

As I’ve been discovering while travelling in this region, Empress Elisabeth is something of a legend in these parts. Her apartments at the Doge’s Palace in Venice are on display. She was born in Bavaria, so she is on postcards in Munich. She warrants her own museum in Vienna. And since she was instrumental in having Hungary’s independence recognised, changing the Austrian Empire into the Austro-Hungarian Empire, I expect to find her honored in Budapest too.

I finished my day at the Technical Museum, which is really cool. Obviously geared towards kids in a lot of ways, there is plenty to interest adults. Hands-on displays keep the kids entertained while educating them, while machinery from times gone by is absolutely fascinating.

Day 65
And here we are. On a bus, from Vienna to Budapest. I should get into Budapest in the afternoon, which means I can clean up this diary, including adding photos and fact-checking, and have it posted before dinner.