A six week loop around Central Europe on Bus About inclusing a week of sailing in Croatia.
I've never taken the eurostar before and to be honest I found it a really easy way to travel even if a bit expensive having only booked it the night before (not that flights would have been any better). It was especially easy since I was crashing with some mates that have an apartment in the old hotel right in the station! What made it harder was that Mark had his birthday that night so I got to sleep at about 5am and had to be up at 8am with a stunning hangover.
+31/07/2010Not a great start
So my last minute arrangements kind of bit me in the arse. I arrived in Brussels tired and hungover and had a battle trying to find the train to Bruges. I knew I had a valid ticket as the eurostar ticket let's you go anywhere in Belgium but finding a person to tell me which train to catch was a mission.
Once that was sorted and I got to Bruges it was pissing down, the tourist info had just closed shop and I didn't have a place booked to stay. Thankfully there was wifi and !20 later I'd found a place though it cost over !100 as that night was almost fully booked out. Second night was in St Christophers Inn where busabout leave from and at a much more acceptable rate.
Bruges itself is as lovely as everyone says it is. Charming little buildings with spires jutting out all over the place, winding canals and narrow cobblestone alleys make it a lovely place to visit. I really enjoyed the day or so I had just wandering round the streets and enjoying the atmosphere. It is admittedly full of tourists but they don't detract from it that much and it's easy enough to wander away from the crowded spots and find your own relaxed little corner. Took a climb up the bell tower, a cruise round the canals (doesn't get more touristy but well worth it), had some Belgium waffles and sampled a few fair Belgium beers. Very pleasant all round.
+02/08/2010Didn't really want to come here but I do like it
Amsterdam is a place I've been to a bit recently due to having worked in Utrecht for three months so wasn't at the top of places I wanted to visit but was the next busabout stop. Even so it's a place I like a lot so it wasn't that bad that I found myself back here.
It was lovely being back in Utrecht, I really do like the place. Came down for the day to catch up with Steve, a work mate that I haven't seen since last year, and had a fair few pints at the Irish pub. Also managed to have a bit of a wander around Utrecht in the sun beforehand and check out some of the places i went to while here, it really is great place.
+04/08/2010Not so adventurous
I didn't make much of my time in Amsterdam to be honest. I've been a few times before - mainly while working in Utrecht last year - and the fact that it rained for the entire day that I was here put me off doing much. I had a vague plan to at least visit the coffee shop just round the corner but just wasn't really in the mood for it. Even so I did enjoy an evening sitting by the canal sampling some of the beers and while I'm kinda over the central really touristy part I do like this city a lot.
Berlin is a city I've never really had a desire to visit - haven't really been interested in Germany at all - but I'm really glad my path took me here. Berlin is an awesome place full of history and culture but also all sorts of random little places. It's a great place to just walk around with cafes, bars and galleries hidden away all over the place. Walking down an empty looking street you pass by all sorts of interesting places. I had two full days here and spent most of them wandering round museums, galleries and the like.
First day was a trip up the tv tower then a gander round the Pergamonmuseum - gates of babylon are pretty cool - before heading down to the brandenburg gate. I was going to head up to the top of the parliament building to check out the glass dome at the top (meant to be a symbol of the transparency of the government) when the heavens opened and I had to take shelter in a pub. When it turned to drizzle made my way back to museum island to check out a couple of other museums, Bode-museum, Alte Nationalgalerie and the Neues museum. I almost gave up on the last as the ticket was for a fixed time and I had to wait around half an hour but it's good I did, was by the far the impressive that I saw. Not only is the building itself fantastic but I found the contents far more interesting being full of Egyptian relics at the time. Far more interesting than religious paintings and portraits in my opinion.
Second day took me down to the East Side Gallery which is 1.3km of Berlin wall covered in grafiti art. Some of the paintings were really cool actually. After that crossed the river and took a wander through some areas full of cafes and shops to checkpoint Charlie where you get an idea of what happened during the cold war. Followed this with a trip to the Topographie des Terrors - about the Nazi period - which I found not only better but done also free. From there it wasn't far to Potsdamer Platz and then the Holocaust memorial which given that it consists of just a bunch of concrete blocks is quite fascinating. The blocks are all in a massive grid but of varying heights and in the centre are twice as tall as me. Last stop of interest on the way back was the square where the Nazis burned 20000 books and the memorial is a small glass window in the centre of the room looking into a room full of empty shelves below.
So turns out that apart from the massive lines to get into places (hour to get up the tv tower and an hour and a half to get museum ticket) Berlin is fantastic. Lots to see, ridiculous number of places to eat and drink, could definitely come back. And the currywurst is great.
Dresden was flattened at the end of WWII by the Allies during three days of bombing just after the peace treaty with Germany had been signed. It's been rebuilt obviously and the old part is very nice. Thing is I had two days to spend here and after the first afternoon I'd seen everything I'd wanted to. Not such a bad thing as after Berlin I was feeling quite knackered and happy to take a break.
￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼The old part is quite small and easy to get around with some impressive buildings though there's not much of the original materials left in them. It's on the southern side of the Elbe which was flooding the banks of the river a bit while I was here. The hostel I stayed in is north of the Elbe in the new part and there was a definite alternative vibe to the area.
While it's a nice enough place I think a day here is enough and it's not a place I'd bother to come back to.
Terezin, Czech Republic
On the way south to Prague we stopped off at Terezin which was used by the Nazis during WWII as a prison. The tour was an hour long and while not a pleasant subject it was actually very interesting and kept me engaged for the whole thing.
The part of the camp we saw was pretty small and based in part of the old fortress build during the 18th century or something. We were shown rhe cramped conditions they lived as well as given a description of the occupants were treated which sounded pretty damn unpleasant. Puts things we complain of in perspective a bit. Last part was a treck through some tunnel about a km long, well lit and I could stand in most of the time so not as claustrophobic as orders I've been through, pretty pleasant walk really.
Prague, Czech Republic
Arrived in the afternoon so didn't get around to doing much but the next day walked down to the castle to have a look around. I've rented a tram pass from the hostel but to be honest it's not really necessary and I haven't used it yet.
The castle was a bit of disappointment to be honest. I've got a different idea of what a castle is meant to look like and this was just a huge arse church surrounded by some tall buildings. Don't get me wrong, very impressive and beautiful but castles are meant to have parapets and towers and the like.
After strolling around the grounds and gardens for a bit headed up to the old monastery a bit further up the hill then onto the mini Eiffel tower or whatever it's called. The views from the top were stunning with a 360 view and a great sight of both the castle and the town centre from up high (it helps that this tower is on top of a hill).
After that saw the John Lennon wall which is really just a small section of concrete with the kind of grafiti you'll find back home. Crossed over the Charles bridge and then stumbled upon an outdoor exhibit called Wonders of Europe along the river. This was a bunch of wildlife and scenery photos from around Europe spaced out around a small square in an effort to raise awareness of what Europe has to offer and needs to protect. The photos were stunning and it seems like a great way to get peoples attention. Was probably the highlight of what was a really good day: http://www.wild-wonders.com/
+12/08/2010Lots of People
Prague, Czech Republic
I decided to check out the centre part of Prague today after seeing the castle and such the day before. To be honest it wasn't quite as impressive being very touristy and there people everywhere (I guess that it's the middle of school holidays doesn't help) though the sausage I grabbed from a stand for lunch was delicious. Checked out the national museum which was pretty standard as far as museums go with no really interesting or unique exhibitions to see. Tried to find the communism museum but had no luck so might try again later.
Kuta Hora, Czech Republic
Jumped on a train out to Kutna Hora to check out bone church which while pretty cool wasn't near as impressive as I remember the one in rome being. The walk into the town centre was making me think that I was wasting my time but a bit past the main square there are some nice little cobblestone streets and some impressive gothic churches.
Prague, Czech Republic
When I got back from Kutna Hora I tried out a local restaurant called Paprika and had an awesome Goulash. Was a nice quite lit toe place with only a few tables definitely worth a visit.
Prague, Czech Republic
Decided to head north to check out a park and ended up at the zoo via some random roman villa. Was a pretty decent day in all. Still not sure what I think of zoos. Understand the educational benefit but have to wonder what the feeling of being cooped up all day must be like.
Spent the evening with a Canadian couple staying in the same room who are pretty cool. Fun night but early start tomorrow, don't really like these 8am busess.
Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic
Cesky is a cute little town, kind of like a mini Prague. The main part of the old town is inside a small loop on the river with the castle on a high bluff above. It has lots of little winding roads and is a really picturesque stop.
The main activity here seems to be rafting down the river though it's pretty tame as far as rafting goes and was described more as a pub crawl on the river. It was a sunny afternoon when we got there and most people from the bus jumped onto a raft that afternoon but I was still hungover from the night before so gave it a miss which it turned out was a mistake because the next day was freezing.
Had a really nice time here though just chilling out recharging my batteries and wandering round the town.
I've only been to Austria briefly before as part of a topdeck tour and never been to vienna though it's been on the list of laces I want to visit for a while.
First day I checked out the Schloss Schönbrunn palace which is very impressive, the place is huge! Took the grand tour round onside of the palace which is well worth it and had a wander around the grounds for an hour which are pretty extensive. I didn't bother with the maze or zoo as I didn't fancy the idea of being surrounded by kids and to be honest I am zooed out after my brief visit to the one in Prague.
After that checked out the Albertina art gallery though apart from the section for Walton Ford there wasn't much I actually liked (surrealism section had some a couple of cool pieces). Audio guide was a waste of time, what a load of drivel. Walking back from that I took a wrong turn and ended up at Naschmarkt which was actually really cool, a kind of market with an impressive selection of food as well as bunch of little restaurants.
￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼On the second day the sun decided to come out and play. I must admit that I like Vienna a lot now. Got up pretty late andgrabbed some breakfast in the museum quatier just as the sun started to come out. Spent an hour or so after that soaking up the sun on these big plastic bed like things they have spread out all over the place then went for a wander around the city centre. Heade through the museums up past the parliament and Rathaus (which was set up with a bunch of outdoor seating door the film festival) to some church that they're in the process of tidying up. They seem to be doing a fair bit of that in Vienna at the moment actually, then it was back down to the Hofburg section before onto Stephansdom. From here I headed down to Stadtpark where I grabbed some sausage from a stand for lunch before making my way back up to the Kunsthist. museum.
This must be one of the best museums I've been to. The building itself is amazing and the lower floor had a cool display and on Egyptian, Greek and roman times; the kind of stuff I really like. The second floor was art, almost exclusively Christian paintings, the kind of stuff I really hate. There were a couple of really cool pieces called Summer, Fire, Water and winter though that made up for the rest of it.
Flight from Vienna to Split was straight forward on both sides. Caught bus near hostel in Vienna then had one of the easiest airport experiences ever. Split is small and the bus left just after I got there so all good.
Turned out the hostel was really convenient being only a couple minutes from the bus stop, harbour and old town, great.
Split itself is really nice. Lots of narrow winding roads both in the old palace and old town which I love. Had a nice evening wandering around before catching the bot the next morning.
Jumped on the boat on the morning and headed out of Split to Hvar at about 1pm. Boat was pretty decent though not so surprisingly were pretty cramped. There were 25 of us inboard which was a bit more than I was expecting.
Arrived in Hvar on time for dinner and no one was keen to climb up and see the fort which was a shame.
+22/08/2010Salt water lakes
When we got to Mljet we were we wouldn't be able to arrive until late as a cruise ship was ferrying people in which would mean we would miss the national park. It wasn't too far to shore so the guys grabbed the lilos and swam to shore to check it out.
Went to both lakes and took the the boat out to the island but a few of us jumped on the wrong boat back so had a bit of a walk to get back, a very nice one though.
Dubrovnik is really nice. Did the walk along the wall though heat was a killer. Had the best night out here, drank far too much though and paid the price.
Korcula was nice though there wasn't much going on. As it turned out I was back here unexpectedly a few days later anyway.
The main point for this stop apparently is the water sports. On the way in we saw a people jumping of the cliffs and that's what we ended up doing. I only did the one jump but I guess it was about 8 or 10 meters. Certainly was a long way down anyway.
Omis used to be a pirate town apparently and so we had a pirate themed party. Pretty tame to be fair with the boats closing the bars at 11 and town at 1am.
Didn't make the climb up to the fortress above which was a a shame as no one else was willing but a couple of guys did it in the morning before we left.
+27/08/2010Back to the start
And so back to Split. On the way we passed a bush fire on the mountain and watched a big bright yellow plane with splashes of red as it scooped up water from the sea then dumped it on the hill side.
The last night was pretty pathetic really with no one keen to go out. It was a slightly weird cruise to be honest with a bunch of different groups that were all nice on their own but that didn't really mesh together all that well. Still the scenery was spectacular, I loved waking up and jumping into the sea in the morning and the setting really was spectular. Still I was knackered at the end and quite happy to go my own way.
I'd decided to go to Bari as I wanted to go to Naples for some reason and the only ferry available was a 26hr trip via Dubrovnik. The ferry overnighted in Korcula and it felt really bizarre to be back there again.
I paid extra for a cabin on the ferry as it was such a long trip which turned out great as I had a four bed cabin to myself.
Back in Dubrovnik had to go through passport control which involved getting off the ferry then waiting in a crowd of a couple of hundred people to crush through a door to get back on. What a disorganized mess.
Arrived in Bari an hour late at 9pm feeling like crap. There weren't any taxis so decided to walk in but chose the wrong direction as it turned though there weren't any signs saying you couldn't get through. So backtracked and went through the old town to my hotel.
I decided to splash out on a hotel as I really wanted some space to myself and have to say it worked. Felt much better after a day of recovery. Did venture out to see the old town which is quite cool but only took a couple of hours and I spent the rest recuperating.
+31/08/2010Train turns into bus
I thought I'd be going all the way to Naples by train as I'd picked up a ticket from the machine in the train station but as it turned out when I got to Taranto I had to change over to a bus for a four hour trip to Napoli. Probably not the quickest route around but the only one I saw leaving about the time that I wanted to. I didn't see much of Taranto itself but the port looked pretty industrial on the way in and the station was pretty small and quiet.
+31/08/2010Not pretty but I like it
Naples was pretty much as described in what I'd read, dirty and covered in grafiti. The roads are small windy little things full of psychotic traffic. Even so I found a lot to like and it appealed to me a lot more than prettier cities I've been to.
I stayed at Giavano's home, a hostel that is a little tricky to find as it just has Giavano's name amongst a bunch of others on the door bell down stairs. The man himself is great giving you a pretty in depth history of Naples and describing all the sites that you can see. That along with the pasta that he cooks up makes it a great place to stay.
I'd had no idea that Pompei was just next door and would have liked a least another day so that I could climb up Mt Vesuvius and see some of the areas.
Since it was so close I had to go visit Pompei. Apparently there's a better preserved site but Pompei is name that I recognise and I so I jumped on the train and spent a few hours wandering around the ruins though I only covered about half of them, it's a large site. With the volcano in the background it's a slightly disturbing experience as for as far as I know there's no reason for it not to go off again.
In the afternoon I headed back to Naples and headed out to see the sights. There's a couple of really decent castles down near the sea and one up on top of the hill though I never made it up made to that one.
I think I'll definitely be back as there's quite a few sites I want to see including an amphitheatre that is apparently better preserved than the coleseum, this other town that was buried at the same time as Pompei, some impressive Greek ruins (Paestum I think) that are about an hour away and I have to climb that volcano and see the crater which is apparently huge.
The train up to Rome was direct and only took a couple of hours. The hostel Funny Palace was good giving me a good map and a decent summary of the must see sights plus a free bottle of wine! Sadly someone took my lonely planet from my room which I'd left on a table when I went out which left a bit of a sour taste.
I hit most of the main sights, the Colosseum and Vatican of course plus most of the rest though I did skip the Vatican museum and Michelangelo's chapel which I've seen before anyway. I enjoyed wandering around the little roads in the centre but I'm getting tired of museums at the minute and now I'm getting a really sick of churches, Rome has a lot!
Siena is a really pretty little town. I had a nice afternoon wandering up and down the hills and round the little roads but quite happy only having the one night here. Apparently the wine tasting round here is a good day out and I imagine that's what I'd have done if staying longer. Had a beer on the main square which cost !6.50 but was a very nice setting.
+06/09/2010Nicer than I remember
Not sure why but I didn't have great memories of Florence. This time however I quite liked the place even if everything was closed because it was a Monday. Had a good wander through the town enjoying the sites and the gelato. Had a pretty early night as back on busabout in the morning.
+07/09/2010Yep. it leans
One of the reasons I chose this as one of my last two bus about stops is that stops at Pisa to see the leaning tower, a site I've wanted to see but a place I'm interested in visiting. We had a half stop here to see the tower and grab some photos before moving on. I was surprised at how impressive the rest of the cathedral that the tower is a part of was as I don't think I've seen in photos before, or at least not noticed it, but it's pretty impressive in it's own right.
I wanted to check out Cinque Terre as my sister had mentioned it though I'm not sure she's actually been here. Quite a few others had mentioned it in the last few weeks of travel as well and it is a really beautiful place. The weather really wasn't fantastic while I was here but did manage to walk the whole thing (it's only 9km, takes about 3 hours if you keep moving).
+08/09/2010Favourite town in Cinque Terre
On the first day I didn't have much to do so ended up walking up to Vernazza which was almost the whole walk done. As it turned out this was a brilliant idea as over night there was a massive thunderstorm and the path from Vernazza to Corniglia was closed. So I did manage to finish of the trail by walking down from Monterosso to Vernazza (the hardest section) the
￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼next day but the girl I was with couldn't do the next section which was a shame for her. As it was a humid day with a fair bit of rain I took my wet arse back to Riomaggiore and just lazed about for the rest of the day.
+09/09/2010Rain then sun glorious sun
Arrived in Nice to find it pouring down. The site walks were like ice and it was kind of like ice skating to get to my hostel.
The next day though was glorious, blue skies without a cloud in sight. I didn't have much of a plan for Nice, and actually had a vague notion to make a day trip to Monaco, but with the sun out I had a lovely day just sitting around near the beach. Had some of the best muscles I can remember having for lunch with some wine which is probably why I enjoyed the rest of the day so much.
+11/09/2010Back to London
Not really keen to be back in London to be honest. Have to find a place to live and really not looking forward to getting back into work.
Flight from Nice was easy, decent sized airport but not too large and not crowded so actually had a painless experience. Flight was to London City which is similar so was able to breeze through pretty quickly.