Of course, when I said I’d get better about posting these, I actually meant worse.
Turns out Bourbon Street isn’t so bad at night, after a full afternoon of drinking with new friends. It’s definitely an experience everyone should have at least once, but that heavy partying scene isn’t really for me.
Day 24 Travel day. Early bus out of New Orleans to Austin, with a connection in Houston. Got in pretty late.
Austin is wonderful. It’s just a chill, laid back kind of place. The weather is nice, it’s clean, there are parks, galleries and trendy bars. I’m kind of glad I missed SXSW, because I think I’m too old for festivals (but ask me again after I go to GTM Bendigo next month).
I checked out the Mexic-arte Museum, which celebrates art by Lantinx artists. It’s a cool little place, well worth price of entry.
Day 26 Today I made the trek to Castle Hill Graffiti Park, which was pretty cool. A lot of it is just kind of a mess of people tagging on top of each other, but there was some seriously cool art. Apparently it’s scheduled to be demolished and relocated soon, so I’m glad I saw the original.
Also, Austin is home to the largest urban bat colony in the world. So just after sunset you can see them emerge from under the Congress Bridge. There’s a viewing area set up and everything.
Travel day. And it was a doozy. All through the night until…
The reason we’re all here. Because to get where we’re going, there’s one place we’ve got to go past. And you can’t go the wrong way, because who knows where you’ll end up?
I am of course referring to this blog’s namesake, That Left Turn At Albuquerque. Bane of the early trans-continental traveller’s existence, and subject of one of Bugs Bunny’s lesser known catchphrases.
Albuquerque is a pretty cool little city, and their zoo is impressive for the size of the place. I can see why Weird Al wrote that one song about it.
Day 29 Travel day. This time I traded in the slow, quiet atmosphere in Albuquerque for the bright lights of Las Vegas.
But the Strip was going to have to wait, because I had a bucket list item to tick off.
I’ll admit, until now, I’d looked at pictures of the Grand Canyon, and just shrugged. It’s a hole in the ground. It looks pretty cool, but is it really a ‘Wonder’?
Well, I’m here to say, no pictures do it justice. No picture can really depict the sheer scale of the canyon. Can’t capture the array of colours in the rock. Can’t convey the awe-inspiring feeling of just how small we really are compared to the world.
Go to the Grand Canyon y’all. If you only ever go to one of the places I’ve told you about, make it this one.
I’m not a gambler. The entire sex industry really creeps me out (but hey, do whatever you want with your own body). And I’m not into drinking on my own. So really, Las Vegas didn’t have much to offer me.
I hit the buffet at the MGM Grand in the morning, and couldn’t really move again until the sun went down. I walked the Sunset Strip, and watched the Bellagio Fountain for hours (and got pretty close to the actual Stanley Cup while they were shooting promo videos for the upcoming NHL Playoffs).
Las Vegas is definitely a spectacle, but if I was to come back, it would have to be with other people.
Which brings us to today, which was another travel day. I left Vegas in the morning, and despite my bus being in a minor accident somewhere near San Bernardino, I am now in Anaheim, within walking distance of the Happiest Place On Earth, Disneyland.
Depending on how tight my LA hostel is with letting me use their facilities after I check out, my last diary might actually be written after I get home. Unless I shock everyone and write one that’s just about Disney. Which is probably the only thing that could improve my post rate.
Ok, I’m getting lazier with these. But I’m here now, everything is alright.
When I last checked in, I had just got to Buffalo, so it made sense that my first stop would be the one thing in the Buffalo area: Niagara Falls.
The Canadian side is supposed to be much nicer, but I didn’t want to add an extra border crossing to my week, no point complicating things. The American side was still quite spectacular, though not as loud as I expected.
The rest of the night is a blur, because the only thing to do in Buffalo at this time of the year is drink. And, since it was actually St Patrick’s Day, it was certainly the day for it.
For some reason, the St Patrick’s Day Parade is held the day after St Patrick’s Day, so today was a continuation of the previous night’s drinking, though somewhat more cautious than the night before. Not much to report travel-wise, Buffalo might be full of great people, but it’s not much for the sights.
Time for another travel day, crossing over into the Great White North, Canada. Of course, I didn’t see a bit of snow the whole time I was there, which was quite a nice change from New York state (and London the week before).
I spent the rest of the afternoon recovering from Buffalo.
Another day, another bucket list item (I will get around to updating the list, maybe today even?). This time it was the one-time tallest building in the world, the CN Tower.
The view from the main viewing area (in that middle bubble part) is pretty spectacular, especially over Lake Ontario. The elevator windows certainly make the trip up to that section much more exciting than other tall towers.
However, the topmost viewing area is a little… Underwhelming. The windows are small, it’s cramped and covered in graffiti.
In hindsight, I probably could have done a diary that afternoon, since I spent it chilling out at the hostel, which was a pretty cool little place called The Only Backpacker’s Hostel.
Day 15 You know what I love? Dinosaurs. Because I’ll never stop being a five year old. So a trip to the Royal Ontario Museum was in order. It’s more of a catch-all museum than the places I had visited in New York, or London, so it had quite a collection of artifacts from multiple cultures, in addition to a nice collection of dinosaur bones.
Fun fact, it took longer for me to pass US Customs at the Canadian border than it did coming in at JFK.
Massive travel day to Chicago, via Detroit, so I basically got to the hostel and crashed.
Both the CN Tower and the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower claim to be the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. The CN Tower is taller, but a lot of sources don’t count the spire. Even so, One World Trade Center is taller than the Willis Tower.
I think this is my last tall building for a while, because I don’t much feel like paying for a view. The view of Chicago is nice enough, and the weather was clearer, so looking out over Lake Michigan was nicer than looking out over Lake Ontario. Apparently on a very clear day, you can see into four states. Unfortunately, they don’t exactly mark the borders on the ground, so I can’t confirm or deny.
I continued channeling my inner Cameron from Ferris Bueller and made my way over to the Art Institute of Chicago to look at some paintings. Sidenote: The CityPass is 100% worth it if you have a few days. I actually used everything in it this time.
I also managed to go to the former Public Library, which is now a Cultural center, though the beautiful entrance hall and upper halls are fully intact and quite stunning.
Day 18 Today I, uh, went to see some dinosaurs. But not just any dinosaurs. A dinosaur celebrity. The one. The only. The largest, most complete and best preserved Tyrannosaurus Rex. The gender-neutral pronoun-using Twitter personality, Sue the T-Rex.
The museum are actually in the process of moving them into a new room, to make way for a massive Titanosaur in their main hall, but they know Sue is the main draw, so you can see the progress being made in reconstructing their skeleton.
There’s a heap of other cool stuff at the Field Museum, including the famous man-eating Tsavo Lions. But I just really like dinosaurs y’all.
Since it was on my CityPass, I headed over to the Chicago Science and Industry museum, which is definitely aimed at kids. But I’m a child at heart, so it was a pretty cool day. I didn’t learn much, but they also had a three-storey smoke vortex. And some trains. And a bunch of cool anatomy samples.
Folks, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of checking your travel dates. Otherwise you do things like end up in heavily ‘Irish’ cities on St Patrick’s Day when you hate crowds. Or go to Aquariums on the first day of Spring Break.
I have a lot of friends who are teachers, and I don’t know how they deal with kids all day long. Same goes for parents. Honestly, the Shedd Aquarium is pretty cool as far as aquariums go, but it’s a nightmare when it’s packed with kids. I got to see a beluga whale, so it was a pretty cool day.
I also had an afternoon to kill, so I went to the movies. Y’all should go see A Wrinkle In Time if it’s still out.
And thus began the longest travel day I’ve had since that very first flight out of Australia.
Trains are my favourite way to travel. But I’m cheap, and bought a seat instead of a sleeper ticket. And the water was high in the Mississippi, so a spillway was opened, which means the City of New Orleans service from Chicago to New Orleans was a bus service from Jackson, Mississippi. Which landed me in New Orleans two hours later than planned.
But I survived, met some nice folks at the hostel, and had a nice night drinking.
Hey y’all, the French Quarter kind of smells like a toilet. It’s not so bad if you get a couple of blocks away from Bourbon Street. But it’s pretty bad.
I love the old buildings, but underneath that, Bourbon Street just looks like the main street in any town known for tourists and getting drunk. I did check out the Museum of Death and the Voodoo Museum, which were kind of cool. I even made a wish in the Wishing Stump.
Which brings us to now. I promise the next one will be sooner than this. Maybe in Vegas?
Alright, I’m on the road again, which means y’all get to live vicariously through my travel diaries. Let’s get going.
First travel day doesn’t count. Gatwick Airport was probably the easiest airport experience of my life, even being an international flight.
I had forgotten that I booked the emergency exit row, so I had a nice surprise, and legroom for days. Norwegian is a pretty good airline if you’re ever given the choice, I got my ticket on sale. Movie selection was a bit rubbish, but I got through it.
We landed at JFK earlier than we were scheduled, so I was actually at my hotel at around 11 that night, which was better than I expected. If you’re not in a hurry, don’t spring for a cab from the airport, use a shuttle service instead. It’s half the price, and you’ll need that extra cash because New York is expensive. Not London expensive, but still, pretty pricey.
I woke up fairly early, because I didn’t beat jetlag quite as much as I thought I had. No complaints, because at this point, the snow was still nice. But more on the weather later.
Since I was staying a block away, the obvious first destination was Central Park. It’s quite beautiful in the snow, though I can only imagine how nice it is in spring.
I worked my way downtown, switching to the subway about halfway down the park. I picked up my New York Pass at Times Square (Much like the London and Paris passes, I highly recommend it if you’re hitting a heap of paid attractions in a limited period of time), and went to The Met.
Since I’d been to the British Museum less than a week before, I must admit I was a little underwhelmed by their collection, though it is objectively quite impressive. Especially the Egyptian collection, which definitely rivals the collection across the pond.
Of course, while I was at The Met, the Nor’easter really blew in, and my journey home was wet, cold and miserable.
Day 2 The weather cleared up nicely, though the snow stayed on the ground for days after, which was quite nice after the slush.
I got to cross off a bucket list item today, when I went to the Natural History Museum. If you follow the Instagram feed (or my personal accounts), you know I love dinosaurs. And space. And since ‘Natural History Museum’ basically means ‘Dinosaurs and Space Museum (With Rocks and Taxidermy)’, I was in my element.
Again, I can’t help but compare it to its London counterpart, but this time the New York version won out. Between the incredibly impressive Titanosaur and their taxidermied animals actually being in action poses, it’s just way cooler. The London one will forever have my heart as one of my favourite buildings though.
I am a little uncomfortable that they included non-European human history at the Natural History Museum, which is definitely problematic.
I spent the rest of the afternoon on a hop-on, hop-off bus tour of Downtown Manhattan, which was great for planning my week more than anything else.
I started my day off with one of my favourite activities: a walking tour. Of course, being in the crown jewel of capitalism, gone are my beloved free walking tours, instead I only took walking tours that were on my New York Pass.
Today’s tour was of Soho, Little Italy and Chinatown, where our charming tour guide taught us about the history of the area, especially the waves of immigration that basically built the city of New York. I was also introduced to one of the cheapest eateries in the city, which certainly came in handy. It’s a tiny shop on Mosco St in Chinatown, where you get five pork dumplings for $1.25, or, since the lady at the counter doesn’t like giving change, eight dumplings for $2 (or, apparently, 20 for $5 unless you specify you want change).
While I was in the area, I went to the Tenement Museum, which wasn’t on my pass, but well worth the price of entry. I suggest you book ahead, since I was quite lucky to get a spot on a tour. Even though the tour I took wasn’t my first choice, it as still a very interesting look into life as an exploited immigrant over a century ago.
And finally, I got to cross off another bucket list item, the Empire State Building. I got up just in time to catch the sunset, and waited around for some nighttime views of the city. It was well worth the risk of frostbite in the wintery wind.
Day 4 Today I took another walking tour, this time over the iconic Brooklyn Bridge, and around the DUMBO neighbourhood in Brooklyn. The tour guide gave us a rundown of the building of the bridge, courtesy of John, Washington and Emily Roebling. He also gave us an insight into the gentrification of downtown Brooklyn.
While I as in Brooklyn, I headed over to the Transit Museum, which is actually inside an old subway station. I’m going to let you in on a secret: I like trains y’all. It was cool to see the history of mass transit in the city, but it’s not exactly extensive. They do have a bunch of cool old subway carriages though.
The Intrepid Museum is set on the World War 2 era aircraft carrier Intrepid, which is notable for several reasons, but it isn’t the real draw. Neither is the submarine Growler. Both are really cool, but they kind of pale in comparison to what’s on the flight deck of the Intrepid.
Not one of the helicopters. Not one of the planes (though the Blackbird is cool). A thousand times more impressive is the Space Shuttle Enterprise. An actual space shuttle. One of three remaining shuttles (and there’s another in Los Angeles, so I might get to see two). Space stuff rules guys, and it doesn’t get spacier than this.
I spent the afternoon wandering around Greenwich Village, retracing the steps of Bob Dylan, who is one of my favourite musicians. I also stopped off in Washington Square Park, because it’s the location of one of my favourite comic book scenes (from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman).
That evening, I took a Circle Lines tour, which had beautiful views of the city lights. It is probably much nicer in the summer, when it’s not around zero degrees Celsius.
I started off my day with a disappointment. I had a tour guide not show up for my walking tour. But I did make friends with a couple of cool Canadian ladies, who also missed out on the tour.
So we went to the Statue of Liberty, which is a must-see. We didn’t do any of the museums, so it really didn’t take that much time.
Next up we headed to the 9/11 Memorial site and museum, which was of course very sombre and moving. There are a lot of ways the museum could have gone in the wrong direction, but it is very tasteful.
We finished up at the Museum of Sex, which was… interesting. It’s pretty much what it says on the tin, though the current special exhibition is a little… weird.
Today I hit another must-see and went to MoMA, the Museum of Modern Art. I’m not an art person for the most part, so I could have skipped all but the fifth floor here. But the fifth floor is worth the price of entry. Because one of the most famous paintings in the world is there, and probably my favourite: Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh. (They also have the melty clock one by Dali, but it’s not on display right now)
My new friends wanted to check out Radio City Music Hall, and it was on my pass, so I joined them, and it was well worth almost being late for my walking tour later. I had no knowledge of the theatre before, but it’s grand. I love art deco style, and it is practically dripping in it.
Then I rushed to Trinity Church to take the Hamilton Happy Hour tour, which is a brief walking tour around the financial district, focusing on Alexander Hamilton, founding father and first Secretary of the Treasury. And of course, subject of a massively popular musical. And really, while the play does take some liberties and leave some things out, there’s not much you learn from the tour that you don’t know by paying attention to the soundtrack. It was still pretty cool to be ‘in the room where it happened’ so to speak.
That night I headed out to Brooklyn again for a book launch by one of my favourite poets. I was very happy to find out that my dates lined up for this, as I missed out on seeing my favourite singer/songwriter by only a few days.
At this point, my pass had ran out, so I limited myself to free attractions. I started out at the New York Public Library, where I took the free tour. It’s an absolutely gorgeous building, and exactly the kind of place I would love to hang out at all the time.
I then walked a block or two to Grand Central Station, to take a look at the Main Concourse, which is that Beaux-Arts style that I loved about Paris.
I then walked the Chelsea High Line, which definitely would have been better at any other time of year. Parks and winter don’t really mix, and there was a lot of maintenance going on. It was cool walking between buildings at the level of the old freight railway line though, and the street art looked great.
My last real day in New York City, and I decided to take it easy. I had one goal remaining, as far as food went in New York City. I’d had a hot dog. I’d had a bagel. I’d had a slice. All I had left was a New York deli meal, and where better than Katz’s Delicatessen on the Lower East Side?
I wanted to cover all my bases, so I had half a corned beef sandwich and matzo ball soup. Definitely the best thing I’ve had to eat in weeks, maybe months.
I then made a quick trip into Brooklyn to check out the Superhero Supply Store, which is a pretty cool novelty shop, which funds 826NYC, which is a non-profit helping kids with creative writing.
That brings me to today, which was a travel day. Now I’m in Buffalo. Not much to report there. I got in after 6pm, so I’m just hanging out at the hostel.
I’m sitting in a London cafe, ostensibly an ‘Australian-style’ cafe, who can’t make a decent flat white to save themselves (or latte, this was a two-coffee diary). My odyssey is over, but the search for good coffee continues.
Anyway, this is dated 3/7, but I probably won’t get to post it until tomorrow, when my hostel fixes their wifi.
Switzerland may be expensive, but honestly, the scenery is worth paying an arm and a leg for a cup of coffee. Sorry, coffee on the brain today.
Short of the Queensland coast, Switzerland is probably the most beautiful place I have ever been. The mountains, the cold, blue water. The snow, in the middle of summer. Everywhere you turn it’s a postcard view.
I did take that detour into Liechtenstein. It was nice, I guess. The capital Vaduz is a very small city, because there’s not much else that would fit inside those tiny borders.
Honestly the highlight was driving through the mountains, past those gorgeous lakes and alpine waterfalls. And, turns out driving on the opposite side of the road isn’t that hard. Who’d have thought?
I arrived in Interlaken in the afternoon, it’s a nice little town, situated right in the middle of an outdoorsperson’s dream. In summer, there’s mountainbike riding, hiking, white water rafting, skydiving and in winter, there’s all your various winter sports.
But, you probably know, I’m not the outdoorsy type. I was in Interlaken because of its connection to the Jungfraujoch, the highest railway station in the world. I woke up early, at least by my standards. I was the first one to breakfast at my hostel, and I’m lucky the hostel was right next to the train station, or I’d have had to skip breakfast entirely.
From Interlaken-Ost, I caught a train to Grindelwald, which tickled the Harry Potter fan in me. From Grindelwald, it was another train ride to Kleine Scheidegg. And that’s the starting point for the train through the mountain.
The majority of the train journey goes through the mountain itself, in a tunnel hewn out over a century ago. There are two stations inside the mountain itself, before the final destination, these stops provide panoramic views of the mountain and glaciers. The final station, and the complex it is a part of, aren’t actually on top of the Jungfrau, but a ridge between it and a neighbouring mountain. The views from the 3500m+ viewing platform are unparalleled. There is an outdoor section, ‘The Plateau’, where you can walk out onto the snow, which was a novelty for the Australian who has only been to the snow twice in his life.
Inside the building you can find all the Swiss icons: Lindt Chocolate, Victorinox Swiss Army Knives and Swiss watches. The cafe inside accepts not only the local Swiss francs, and Euros, but Pounds Sterling and Yen as well, although they only give change in francs. Or chocolate. You can guess which option I took.
Travel days are so much easier when you have a car. I should keep that in mind, if I ever have the money to stop classing myself as a ‘budget traveller’. You know, when I win the lottery.
I got into the city of Bern at around 10am, found a carpark and dropped my bag at my hostel. I honestly didn’t plan this end of my trip so well, I had no idea what to do in Bern. So I went to my old friend WikiTravel, and saw the words ‘Bern Bärenpark’. For those without my rudimentary knowledge of German: Bern Bear Park.
On the other side of the river from the Old Town, is the Bear Park, a riverside habitat for the city’s mascots: a family of brown bears. Not so long ago, the bears of the city were confined to pits, but in 2009, their home was extended to include a large section of land adjacent to the nearby Aare River.
Bern’s Old Town itself deserves a mention. A grid of streets, with identical covered arcade walkways on either side, it is rather striking.
I also swung by the Bern Cathedral, and the Swiss Parliament, took some snaps and moved on.
By far the coolest sight was the Einsteinhaus, where Albert Einstein lived with his wife and child, while he was working as a patent clerk… And penning his Nobel Prize-winning paper on the photo-electric effect.
Another easy travel day, this time to the French-speaking city of Geneva. I checked into my hotel (I decided to treat myself to a private room), and went out into the city.
Something I haven’t mentioned, in Interlaken, Bern and Geneva the Visitor’s Tax that you are charged covers free access to public transport. As far as I know, this isn’t the case in Zurich.
I admit, I got distracted, and missed what is probably the biggest attraction in Geneva, but I’ll get to that.
Not so far from my hotel was St Pierre Cathedral, so I caught a tram there. Or as near as I could, Geneva’s public transport isn’t great. St Pierre’s is worth a visit, make sure you swing by the chapel of the Maccabees.
From there, I walked to Lake Leman, where I caught a boat across to the other side, getting some great views of the Jet d’Eau, a pressure outlet for a nearby hydroelectric project that the townspeople liked so much they made permanent.
I caught a bus to the United Nations Headquarters, previously the League of Nations Headquarters. On the way I discovered that I wasn’t going to make it before closing time. But I took some nice pictures from outside the gates.
Back on the train like a chump. This time from Geneva to Paris.
I only had a couple of hours in Paris, so I made sure to get somewhere I hadn’t made it last time. Shakespeare and Company is the largest English-language bookstore in Paris, and is world-famous. In 93 days, I have managed to walk past almost every bookshop I have come across, and the few I actually browsed, I managed to not buy anything (Tintin notebook notwithstanding).
So I decided to treat myself. I’ll probably mail the book home when I read it, rather than risk damaging it in my bag.
From Paris, I caught another train to Calais. Calais seems a nice little port town, but it was raining, so I didn’t really get to look around too much.
Of course, from Calais, there’s not many places to go but England. I caught the ferry over to Dover, and from there a coach to London.
Well, not really. It’s the end of the travel diary portion of this blog. Until the next trip. But it’s not the end of the blog. I’m not going on hiatus. While my focus right now has to be on looking for a job, somewhere to live, basically surviving, I’m not going to be neglecting my adoring readers.
Basically, from here That Left Turn At Albuquerque is going to be a proper travel blog. Travel tips, articles, clickbait links. The usual. So stay tuned, I’m going to try to maintain a weekly posting schedule. Thanks for sticking around this long, be sure to tell your friends, like and share on Facebook and so on.
Not quite so much to report this time around, except that I can’t really afford to be in Switzerland right now…
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.
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.
Another travel day, I ventured back into Germany, but this time to Hamburg.
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.
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.
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.
Travel day. This time I travelled to Frankfurt, arriving in the afternoon.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
It’s absolutely gorgeous, and an absolute must-see if you’re in Bavaria.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Slightly earlier than usual, here’s a travel diary. Won’t be much to report this time around, mostly some do-nothing days. All this travelling is hard work, you have to relax sometimes.
My last full day in Rome, I figured I should make the most of it. First up I trekked my way over to the Catacombs of St Callixtus, one of five underground cemeteries in Rome. I suggest you take the bus, as the walk from the nearest Metro stop is not as easy as Google Maps would suggest. I got onto the last English tour before they closed at noon (to reopen at two pm, like so many other places in Italy). it was really interesting, however, unlike the famous Paris Catacombs, the bodies have been removed from the publicly accessible tombs, including more than a few Popes.
After taking another ill-thought out walk, I found my way back into the city proper, and went to the Spanish Steps… which are currently under extensive restoration. You can see the steps through the transparent barriers, but I think I’ll save the photos for next time.
From there, it was a short jaunt to the Pantheon, which is quite impressive. Not sure what I was expecting, it’s one of those sights you know you have to see when you’re in Rome, but I don’t know, I never had a coherent picture of it in my mind. But yeah, another big, ancient church to cross off my list.
I made the most of my ten o’clock checkout, and slept in. At this point, I want to plug the place I stayed in Rome, Hard Rock Rooms. It’s a tiny place, an apartment converted into a two-dorm hostel. It’s a minute away from the Metro, the staff are incredibly friendly and helpful, and in addition to the standard free hostel breakfast, they provide a pasta dinner every night. It’s almost like a big family dinner, with everyone around the small table. By far the best place I’ve stayed.
Anyway, I took an afternoon train to Naples, found my way to my hostel, and didn’t do much else with my day.
A bucket list item got crossed off today, one of the big ones: Pompeii. Getting there is easy enough, despite Italy’s famously poor rail system.
One thing I didn’t know is just how enormous Pompeii is. A lot of it is kind of same-y after a while, and the distance between the points of interest are kind of long, especially for someone of my fitness level. It also rained. But all in all, I’d say a good day. Pompeii is just too cool to be any other kind of day.
I decided to have a look around Naples today, I climbed up to St Elmo’s Castle, or at least the square in front of it, for an amazing panoramic view of the city. I then hiked all the way down to Castle Nuovo on the waterfront. I didn’t go into either, because I thought they were impressive enough from outside, and I’m trying to save a little money at this stage in my trip, since I overspent in that first month.
I did spend money checking out ancient Greek/Roman aqueduct under the city, which was converted to a bomb shelter in the 1940s. The two-hour tour only cost €10, and was fantastic.
A couple of do-nothing days, caught up on laundry, uploaded some photos watched some TV and read some comics. Basically just recharged my batteries, before catching the overnight ferry to Palermo…
I got into Palermo at around 6.30 am, having got around three hours sleep on the ship. So I found my way to the hostel, which was easy enough, and dropped off my bag. I then proceeded to wander the city for the morning, until I could check into the hostel. I didn’t accomplish much of anything, to be perfectly honest. Too tired.
I think fifty days is an achievement in itself, and to celebrate (because I definitely knew I was fifty days in), I had another lazy day, this time heading to the beach for a few hours. Which brings us to this exact moment, as I have returned to the hostel now, since it has clouded over a little, and I am relaying my week to all of you adoring readers.
Tomorrow I’ll do some proper sightseeing in Palermo, it’s really a nice city. And maybe some more the day after, since I am once again waiting for a night ferry back to the mainland.
Terrible WiFi in Florence meant I couldn’t do a photo upload, which in turn meant no blog post, and also a photo backlog. I’ve caught up now, I’m halfway through my time in Rome, so here we are, only slightly later than usual.
Primarily a travel day, I left Milan for Levanto. Levanto is at the northwest end of the Cinque Terre, and is a great starting point for any trip into the famed Five Lands. A few of the hiking trails into the Cinque Terre start here, but since I was only spending one night here, and, quite frankly, do not have a body built for hiking, I just went down to the beach to watch the sunset.
Today I left Levanto for La Spezia. Italy’s primary naval port, and a beautiful city, where the ocean meets the mountains, with absolutely gorgeous panoramas. Another perfect launching point for Cinque Terre adventures, which is exactly what I used it for.
Always check the difficulty of a hiking trail before you take it. Because just looking at a trail up a mountain and thinking “That doesn’t look that high” is not an accurate way to judge. That’s what I did. Turns out the mountain trail between Riomaggiore and Manarola is one of the more difficult trails. The scenery is absolutely worth the pain, and honestly, if I can do it without equipment, and carrying 100+ kilograms of human, then there’s a fair chance you can too.
Many of the trails in the Cinque Terre aren’t in great condition, whether from the 2011 floods that wiped out the famous Via Dell’Amore, or just general lack of maintenance. It certainly makes things more difficult. I also checked out Corniglia today.
No hiking today, I learned my lesson. I did check out the remaining two towns in the Cinque Terre though, Vernazza and Monterosso. Monterosso is the only town with a proper beach, so I spent some time down there, while Vernazza has that postcard perfect harbour. Of course, to get that perfect shot, you have to climb halfway up the mountain, and sorry, I’m just not that committed.
Another travel day, but with an important stopover. The Leaning Tower of Pisa is absolutely beautiful. But once you’ve seen it… There’s not a lot else to do in Pisa. So I hopped back onto the train and continued to Florence.
Florence’s historical centre is beautiful, like so many other European cities. The Florence Duomo is one of the most beautiful churches in Europe. The Academie di Belle Arti is absolutely worth waiting in line for, because Michaelangelo’s David is amazing. It is way bigger than it looks in photos. Around three times taller than me, and is elevated to make it seem even taller.
No trip to Florence would be complete without a visit to the Uffizi Gallery, home to a number of Renaissance masterpieces. Unfortunately, da Vinci’s Adoration of the Magi is currently in restoration, but the gallery’s other main drawcard, Botticelli’s Birth of Venus is still on display, and is still amazing.
I arrived in Rome today, and after I’d dropped my bag at the hostel, I made a beeline for the Trevi Fountain, which is probably the highlight of my trip so far. The recent restoration works means the fountain practically shines in the sun. I, naturally, made a wish in the fountain.
My hostel is situated about ten minutes away from the Colosseum. It’s more than a little surreal to just round a corner and see the Colosseum right there in front of you. While I was there, I checked out the nearby Forum and Palatine Hill, some very extensive Roman ruins, right in the middle of the city, in almost a park setting (if parks had an entry fee).
I practically walked all the way around a country today, and crossed the border about six times. Granted, that country was the Vatican City. I saw the Pope… doing Pope things. I don’t speak Italian (Latin?), so I’m not sure what he was saying, but there was a blessing and so on. St Peter’s Basilica is huge, you could practically play football inside (Australian Rules football, not soccer). The Sistine Chapel is well worth the price of entry to the Vatican Museum. It’s very high up, and photos aren’t allowed, which makes it kind of hard to see the detail (or take a sneaky photo). It’s strange to see all these frescoes on high ceilings, so much effort for something barely anyone will see in great detail.
Every now and then, on a long trip like this, it pays to have a quiet day. One day where you’re not rushing to get to the next sight, or standing in line for hours. So, today I’m doing laundry and catching up on Youtube. And writing this blog. Tomorrow I’ll see the other Roman sights, The Spanish Steps, the Pantheon, and whatever else I think of between now and then. And after that, it’s Naples, then Palermo. Hopefully it won’t be another week before I post again.