Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Denmark: From New Zealand to old Zealand

So after finding a seat on the train (from Hamburg to Odense), I got talking to the person I was sitting next to, and the two people facing me. I was sitting next to a rather attractive German girl, and the two guys were older Australian men (whom I can only assume were gay, as one was camp, but not OTT, they were travelling together, and had a ridiculous amount of luggage). It ended up being quite a good conversation regarding travel, languages, accounting, New Zealand, and Australia. Once we crossed the border into Denmark, we had to change trains, the men struggled a little with all their luggage, meanwhile me and the German girl went and found a seat - which worked well for me, as then I had her conversation all to myself.

I got off the train at Odense, on the Island of Funan, and had a bit of a look around before being met by my friend Peter - which was interesting, as we hadn't seen each other since 1994.

We went to have a look at the train museum, but unfortunately it was closing in a short while, so we went to check out Hans Christian Anderson's house - which we saw from the outside, but again was almost closing time. So we headed back to Peter's house - which was across the bridge on the western side of Zealand (the same island as Copenhagen, but Copenhagen is on the east coast).

The next two weeks are a little bit of a blur chronologically, but I do remember that on the first day there I took the dog for a walk through the local woods, admiring the local landscape - which was rather flat, and strangely looked like the default wallpaper of Windows xp. That afternoon Peter came home early, and took me to the viking village museum nearby. The other things I did in my time there included:

- Going to Helsingor - aka Elsinore - Hamlet's castle - which you can see Sweden from - in fact my phone got a little confused on the far side of the castle and told me I was in Sweden. - Peter took me to Roskilde - to the viking ship museum.

- Peter's dad took me for a bit of a drive, including a stop at an ancient tomb, and to a lighthouse on the Northwest tip of Zealand, which through a telescope, had good views of the bridge that crossed the Great Belt (the channel between Funan and Zealand.) - On one of the Fridays Peter took me down to some chalk cliffs which were on the South east of Zealand, which were cool, it was also interesting to see an old watchtower/radar station that was put there during the cold war to keep an eye on Ocean traffic (that would be coming from Russia)

-The middle weekend I went back to Odense and went to the open air museum, which was cool, as I got to see the inside of a watermill and windmill (we had visited several windmills, but none were open, due to it being winter.) From there I walked into town and went to the train museum. - several times I went with Peter to his work, and then made my way to Copenhagen, and saw almost all you could see there, including the little mermaid, the outside of Tivoli gardens (shut for the winter) the palaces, Christiania free town- which was an experience in itself - rather scary - its basically a squatter's village, but the police leave them alone as long as there is no trouble, so they sell marijuana openly - but not my type of place, seemed like I'd walked into a gang headquarters or something.The last time I went to Copenhagen, I went over to Malmo (Sweden) for the day - checked out the town, and went to the Clogg museum (small ships). I came back to Copenhagen and stayed the night at a hostel. I went out to a Karaoke bar by myself, it was relatively quiet, so I sung a few songs, quite liberating when you can have no shame like that.

After two and a half weeks I flew back to London Gatwick, arriving approximately 2 months and 2 days after I had first set off to Spain.

Hamburg, Germany

To be honest, I didn't do and think much of Hamburg - not all its fault, as I got there at 9pm, probably didn't get to have a look around until 11pm, and then slept in the next day, and it was raining, so didn't really feel like sight-seeing. The following day I headed to Denmark, reasonably early so no chance to look around then. Basically it was a den of iniquity, and the highlight was probably a conversation I had with a homeless guy, who didn't have a ulterior motive.

Stuttgart, Germany

So we made it to Stuttgart, on the walk to the hostel we where pleasantly surprised at how nice it was (I guess I was expecting a very industrial dirty town, as I know it is the home of Porsche and Mercedes Benz) and we decided to book an extra night there, to round it up to 3 days. We sorted out our gear, and did our washing, and had a reasonably quiet one.
The next day we went to the Porsche museum - and finally had a question I had playing on my mind for ages answered - they pronounce it like Portia or Poor-sha, rather than like porch. From the museum we headed down to the festival grounds, drank some beer and stayed until about 11 or 12, early enough to get the subway back to the hostel. It was a good night, hanging with the locals, and paying less than in Munich.The following day we got up and headed to the grounds, but took it easy. On the way back to the hostel we sorted out trains to our next destinations. When we got back there were a couple of German's staying in our room, who offered us some more beer, and had they had travelled around Australia and New Zealand, and so we had quite a good conversation with them.
The next day we hopped on our train - Anthony was heading to Berlin, I was heading to Hamburg, but most of the Journey we actually were on the same train, so it worked out well. There were multiple changes, and the trip took about 12 hours, however it was the cheapest option, and I was time-rich, money-poor.

Munich, Germany

From Salzburg I got a train to Munich- which wasn't much more than an hour away. Once I got there, naturally I went and found the toilet, which was 80 euro cents to use - you could say it was a bit s....., they were taking the p..... you get the picture. I then found the tourist office, and found out where my hostel was, and walked there.

I was the first person into my room, so I claimed the best bed, ie the inner-most bottom bunk in the inner room. I went and had some lunch of a hamburger and a beer - the hamburger was literally the patty. Shortly after me at the hostel came a kiwi girl, who ended up had been to medical school with one of my mates.

I went downstairs and used the internet for a bit, to catch up, and transfer over some money. While I was doing that, I got talking to an Australian guy. After finishing up, me, the Aussie, and the Kiwi girl went down to the Oktoberfest grounds- the tents were already full, so we ended drinking outside, at a carousel bar thing, and generally checked out the grounds.The following day, well lets just say I don't remember much of it.Lowenbrau - 'Lion Brown' LOL

The following day I did a walking tour of Munich, and then got a bit lost afterwards, doing my own little tour.The next day Anthony, the Australian, and I went on a tour to Neuswanstein castle. The tour guide was great, but the castle itself was a little bit of a let down, as they only let you go through the rooms that were finished which was about 5-7 of them, and you can't even climb the tower.When we got back to the hostel, there were no cheap rooms left, when we had left in the morning we figured we wouldn't have any trouble getting one as Oktoberfest had finished, not so. We ended up pacing around Munich in the rain trying to find a couple of beds, but ended up back at our hostel, and managed a discount on a twin room which was still expensive for us, but better than the street.Anthony was also heading towards Denmark and Sweden, so we decided to travel together as long as it was convenient. So the next day we head to Stuttgart, to enjoy another beerfest, albeit more locals, and cheaper prices.

Salzburg, Austria

After sorting myself out, planning and organising some trips whilst in Salzburg, and having some dinner, it had gotten to late to go and check out the castle and Abbey, so instead I went for a walk, to check some of the pubs down by the river. It was pretty quiet, but I ended up having a kebab and a couple of beers with a couple of Austrian guys before heading back to the hostel.The following day I did a sound of music tour, that I had booked. It was alright, but in retrospect I would have done the biking tour, as it would have covered some of the sights better, in closer detail, for example not as we were driving by -that's where the scene where xyz was filmed. In saying that, there was a majorly hot Australian girl on the bus, whom I managed to capture in this picture (not the one with the baby!). As you may have guessed, this is the pavilion where they did the 16 going on 17 song and dance, it looks a lot smaller in reality.

Afterwards, I walked back to the hostel with the foxy girl and another attractive Australian girl.

The next day I went to a place called Werfen - by train. It is famous for it's ice caves and a castle. To get to the caves, you must catch a shuttle bus that takes you high into the alps, then they drop you at the ticket counter, you purchase the ticket for the caves, and if you wanted included - the ticket for the cable car - which I opted for, the French Canadian couple I got to know in the mini-bus decided to walk it instead. It was a 15 minute trek to the cable car, then a 1000 metre ascent, and probably another 15 minute trek to the cave entrance - this picture is taken from outside the cave entrance looking back at the last part of the last walk. The tour inside the cave took about an hour - it was OK, but really was just a cave with ice in it (funny that). They seem to prolong the tourist season by keeping the door closed on the cave (hence it stays cold in there.) By the time I had come out of the cave, the Canadians had reached the entrance, which was a good effort. On the way back I met 2 older Texan couples who were by the ticket office, and asked how to get to the caves, after telling them that it involved quite a bit of uphill walking, they thought better of it. I got the minibus to drop me off at the castle on the way back, and then met my Texan friends again there. The castle was interesting, it had a load of military equipment, torture equipment, and on the way back to the station, I passed all their falcons as well. I managed to met the Canadians again at the station, so we travelled back to Salzburg together.

The following day I went about checking out all the film locations that I missed on the walking tour - such as this bit of path, which we only saw from a distance- which I think is a fundamental part (the Von Trapp house would be on the left, this is where Maria skips down singing 'I have confidence in confidence in me...' as she is on her way from the Abbey to the Von Trapp's for the very first time. Similarly the next photo is the fountain she passes earlier in the song just as she has left the abbey. One of the houses used as the Von Trapp house (the opposite side from that which you would see in the above picture - in this picture you will see a terrace - this lake is where the children and Maria are in the boat and it tips out, similarly there is another scene where the adults are drinking pink 'lemonade'.This is the church where the Captain and Maria get married, which is a little way out of Salzburg.
The following day, before leaving Salzburg, I went to the airport, as there is a Hanger there called Hangar 7 - which is where the Red Bull team have all their planes and racing cars etc - and you can check it out for free.

Linz, Austria

From Vienna - I caught the train to Linz, to spend several days with Katharina's parents.

Her dad met me at the train station, it was humorously awkward, as we didn't have a common language, however he took me for a drive to show me the outskirts of Linz, however his good efforts were hindered by the city's smog. That night at dinner, I met Katharina's sister and her partner Gernot - which was great, as they knew English and therefore could interpret as well.
The next day the parents took me to Mathausen Concentration camp - which was sombre, and to be honest something in retrospect I would have rather done on my own, as I felt bad that I was making them take me to a memorial of the lowest point in their country's history.
This is the only picture I took at Mathusen, as I didn't think it was a good idea to take anymore than that, in respect to those died there etc. as it should be a reminder to the world about man's in humanity to man, not treated as another sight to see.Following that, we went for a drive, and had lunch at a brewery, which was quite nice, quaint, and picturesque. Just across the road from the brewery was a castle, which we had a look at as well, before walking down the hill a little bit to a cathedral/church - which was semi-famous for its altar-piece - which was carved. Then proceeded back to their home. Something that was nice was eating mutton again, after 7 or 8 months without it, it was rather nice. (As I right this, I have just made myself crave and miss it). After dinner Kathi's auntie and uncle came around.

The following day, the parents had a wedding to attend to, so they dropped me in town. I went to the castle - which was now a museum. Because I had timed it right, I got in free - as certain days of the month are free entry. It was very good, and I ended up talking to some of the staff.
From there I caught a bus up the hill to a prominent church on the skyline, and then came down via the tram. I checked out a couple more museums, including and interactive one which had a Ferris wheel on the roof - which scared the hell out of me to be honest - probably due to a combination of the height and speed.
Once I was finished there, I met up again with Gernot, and Katharina's cousin (the son of the auntie and uncle)- and enjoyed several beers with them, and also went and had some Leberkaus - which is an Austrian specialty, looks like ham, apparently made with various meats, including liver - which generally I'm not keen on, however this was rather nice.

The next day was a local election day - Kathi's father was running as a candidate - so I made myself scarce again, and finished having a look at the museums and stuff in town, including the Ars Electronica centre. The Next day Kathi's parent's took me to Salzburg, via Halstatt - where there were salt mines - to get to them you had to take a rail car up the mountain about a 1000metres. The mines were quite interesting, to get out of them there were several slides- which apparently genuinely were used back in the day. It clocked your speed coming down them - I got about 2nd or 3rd of the group (the guide was 1st naturally) with a speed of 31.6kph which I was rather proud of. After coming back down from the mountain, we checked out the town/village centre - which was on the edge of a large lake (just how you would picture Austria - alps and lakes) - and checked out the Bone House - basically where they had dug up people (due to over-crowding of the cemetery on the side of the hill,) and had decorated the skulls with the owners name and birth and death dates.From there, Kathi's parents took me to Salzburg, and dropped me at the hostel I was going to stay at.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Bratislava, Slovakia

While at Vienna - I did a day trip to Bratislava - which is in Slovakia - which for those not in the know, is part of the former Czechoslovakia (which has split into the Czech Republic, and Slovakia)
The day I decided to go, I woke up slightly later than planned, so decided to do it via train, rather than the bus - which was still pretty cheap -11 euros return.

It took all of about an hour, or an hour and a half to get to Bratislava. Once I got there I headed up the nearest hill, as there was a Russian war memorial there.
From there I walked down the hill to the Bratislava castle - which was closed - one for maintenance works, but also because I believe the day I chose to visit was also the day the museums close, which was a pain. Anyhow, I walked around the grounds, admired the scenery, as it had a good view of the rest of the city, including the old town on one side of the river, and then the blocks of flats on the other.

I then walked down from there to the old town - and across to the church - which also had a crypt, although not dark and full of bones like the one in Vienna. Next to the church was the Jewish Holocaust memorial. I then proceeded to check out the sights of the old town, such as the various comical statues, and the Blue church.

As demonstrated by this picture, which was cleverly disguised as a sightseeing picture - and if you look at the 'supposed' subject, its kind of ironic - Slovakia lives up to its reputation for beautiful women, even mentioned in the Lonely Planet. It just seemed as though the girl to guy ratio was very good, they were all young, and also beautiful.
Before hopping back on the train I decided to buy some diarrhoea medication - I figured that a chemist would understand, and the word would be universal, turns out, not so. It ended up the lady at the desk rang her daughter to translate, slightly embarrassing, considering her daughter was probably a hot 20 year old.