A Travellerspoint blog

Bratislava

rain 13 °C
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Bratislava was a quick country stop over compared to other places we have been. We have found that travelling close to weekends can often make it tricky for finding accommodation and Bratislava was no different. For the first of four nights, we stayed at the Art Hostel Taurus which was a really nice place and was located at the base of the Bratislava Castle. This gave us a good opportunity to explore the Castle. Lachie is making his own Bratislava coin and this is one of the exhibits (on jewellery from the 10th century!) that we saw.
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So far, a lot of the history we've seen in almost all of the countries we've been to has been about war (unfortunately), with various Emperors, dynasties and governments all fighting for as much land as possible. Bratislava was no exception, there was a very interesting exhibit on the First World War on one level of the castle. It's actually difficult to keep up with the history of Eastern Europe in some ways, the poor people who have lived here have undergone so many changes and difficult times. We had dinner at the Slovak Pub – recommended to us for its traditional Slovak food. It was delicious and a good choice.

For lunch the following day, we found a ‘cat’ café (Mackafé Club) which actually had quite a few cats just wandering around the place. Ash is not a big cat fan but had to admit they gave a pretty relaxing vibe to the place. The boys loved it and spent all their time chasing and patting the cats.
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We then relocated to a hotel very close to the Airport. We weren’t sure how this would go however there was a huge shopping centre nearby which gave lots of food options. There was also a chess game you could play and we gave this a good go before leaving.
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One restaurant in particular was the Wok and Sushi which offered good value all-you-can-eat buffet. The food was delicious and there was a lot of variety to choose from. The boys enjoyed not one, not two but three Tocenas – John Shand, you would have loved it!
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From our new location, we found it quite easy to get into the city centre for a look around.
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Having come from Vienna, it understandably didn’t quite have the same feel or architecture (we're also not sure what the white inflatable bunnies were all about!). Also, we both had trouble trying to describe the feeling we got from the people and/or the place. Maybe suppressed, tired and wary come to mind, if we were to think of a colour grey comes to mind. But if you break through the façade we found the people were lovely. We felt, rightly or wrongly, that this was perhaps a hangover from the former Communist times.

We may have missed a few things to see here, especially out in the countryside, however the weather wasn’t too kind and Tania was starting to get the onset of a cold. I think if we came back we would be hiring a car and seeing a bit more out of the city. After 4 nights, we boarded a bus and headed for Budapest.

Posted by tollidaytravels 13:02 Archived in Slovakia Comments (0)

Austria - Road trip

sunny 13 °C
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Our driving route (if you want to look it up) took us to Rottenmann, Bad Aussee, Hallstatt, Zell am See, Hollersbach, Krimml, Gerlostrasse mountain road, Worgl, Sankt Johan, Lofer, Berchtesgaden, Ainring/Salzburg, Wels, Melk, Vienna. We did some great exploring!

Hallstatt is an old salt mining town that generated enormous wealth for its inhabitants over a couple of thousand years. It is pretty obvious by the beautiful houses/buildings that line the lake. It is also a magnet for tourists with no shortage of buses making a stop here. You can certainly understand why when you walk around town.
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We ended up taking the ‘scenic’ road which ran through the valley of the Austrian Alps. Even though it’s just the beginning of Autumn, we could see snow on the highest of the peaks, much to the boys delight!

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We passed through Zell am See, Mittersill, Hollersbach im Pinzgau (we overnighted here) and then on to Krimml where we hiked up to see the Mit Wasserfall (the highest waterfall in Europe and fifth in the world). There was incredible amount of water even though it was at the tail end of the summer months. And what do you expect to see when you're checking out waterfalls? Some farmers herding their cattle down the path, complete with bells around their necks (the cows that is!). Watch out for the cow pats! We then went over the Gerlostrasse Mountain range to continue our journey towards Germany.

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We went on to Berchtesgaden and up to Hitler’s Lair, his mountain retreat from which he coordinated Nazi attacks. Despite the absolutely beautiful weather we had had to that point, there was a lot of cloud and light rain when we got to the top so the view was of a white wall. So much so that we had to take a photo of a photo to see what it's like (see black and white below)! We were very lucky to score about 10 minutes of clear weather for photos a little bit later. To our disappointment, Hitler’s Lair is under private ownership (and is now a restaurant!), which means access is severely limited to the external area of the property. It was still good to go nonetheless.

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On to Salzburg and our accommodation at Ainring (west side of Salzburg). It was crossing the border back into Germany where we saw our first sign of refugees in a makeshift camp on the Austrian side. Police were present picking out vehicles to inspect but we moved through without problem. Our hotel was fantastic and we discovered it had an indoor heated pool, so we booked another night.

That gave us a full day sightseeing in Salzburg. Salzburg wasn’t as big as we thought it would be and we managed to walk around the town fairly easily. This is Mozart’s home town so we managed a photo with him. The Salzburg castle is also prominent and very impressive and we managed to walk around to take in the views.

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We stopped at Bad Ischl for lunch..........

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Then we were making our way back to Vienna and stopped at Melk, in particular the Benedictine Abbey, for a look. TripAdvisor commentary gave this a thumbs up and we weren’t disappointed. Lots of history on display. There was a state room with an alfresco that made the ceiling look curved when you stood in the middle of the room. It was magnificent.

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What was truly amazing was the Chapel though. It’s times like this that you wish you had upgraded your Canon to digital so the ‘fisheye’ lens could be used. As you can see from the photos, it had been restored recently to repair its high baroque appearance and was truly amazing. We both agreed that without doubt this was the most impressive cathedral/church we had ever been too. The two skeleton saints were also quite impressive – two photos for your viewing pleasure (like the reclining pose?)

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Back to Vienna the following day to hand Benny back (much to the boys dismay) and straight on to a bus to Bratislava, Slovakia for a look around the city.

Posted by tollidaytravels 05:54 Archived in Austria Comments (0)

Austria - Vienna

semi-overcast 16 °C
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Well after a great week in Prague, we took the bus to Vienna where we had booked three nights (two full-days sightseeing). As usual, it is never enough time but we got around and saw as much as we could in Vienna’s inner circle of sightseeing destinations. We managed to find a good value and great little apartment very close to the city centre which made an ideal base for exploring (plus there was table soccer which the boys thought was very cool!).
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Plus a little pub nearby for a drink
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What really took us about Vienna was the beautiful architecture of not only the main sightseeing buildings (Opera House, Museums, Parliament house, Town Hall) but the residential buildings too. They are all about 4 storey high, probably due to some historical planning restrictions on buildings. Needless to say, they are absolutely beautiful.
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We jumped on a Vienna sightseeing bus with a 24 hour ticket and it really proved it’s worth. After doing the full circuit, we then jumped on and off at various destinations we had earmarked. Here’s a few photo’s to give you an idea.
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After some sensational work by Ash’s Mum and Dad at home to get our International Driving Permits, and by our friends John and Sharon who kindly received and delivered our IDPs to us, we were able to travel a different way and hire a car to explore the rest of Austria. A big thanks to you all! The boys nicknamed our car Benny and it had a SatNav with the voice of Kate Beckinsale which Ash loved. That will be in our next instalment…..
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Posted by tollidaytravels 11:57 Archived in Austria Comments (0)

Czech Republic - Prague

overcast 16 °C
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We had been intending to catch the bus from Pilsen to Prague, only about 1.5 hours drive (we love the fact that everything is so close here, we’re used to the distances in Australia!), but our friend John insisted on driving us so we enjoyed the luxury of being taken directly to our hotel without having to make our way from the bus terminal/train station on the public transport system (thanks John!).

We’d only booked for three nights, but realised that there was a lot we wanted to do so extended our stay to 7 nights. We also wanted to keep chipping away at the school work, so we started a routine of school in the morning, then lunch and sightseeing in the afternoon. With the incentive of ice cream the boys did a great job!
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Prague is full of amazing architecture, history, art and entertainment. We spent a lot of time walking (sorry boys!), but it’s really the only way to see Prague and enjoy it. There are particular stand-outs of course, like the Town Square with the gold Astronomical Clock and Prague Castle and its amazing views. This is probably the biggest castle complex we’ve seen, with a huge cathedral, St Vitus Cathedral, in the middle and four storey buildings all the way around.
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It looks particularly beautiful at night!
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The Opera House
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and Charles Street Bridge, (full of buskers and stalls, and a very good honky tonk band that Cameron loved!)
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but you can walk along the streets, turn the corner and have an amazing statue or building in front of you.
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Or the Czech Senate that we stumbled across, with gardens opened to the public which happened to have a small orchestra playing that we sat and listened to for a while.
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We learned about Wenceslas, of the Christmas song “Good King Wenceslas”, who is a very important historical figure to the Czech people (he lived over a thousand years ago) and who is recognised with a statue in Wenceslas Square.
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The square is an important part of Prague, the site of historical moments like the Declaration of Independence 1918, protests, and Jan Palach who set himself on fire in protest of the Russian invasion in 1968.

We enjoyed a beer every night (it’s cheaper than softdrink!), one night was along the river bank with a great view of Prague, very enjoyable!

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To try to balance out the walking and looking at churches/castle, we found a couple of parks for the boys to play in, one of which had a flying fox that they both loved. There were Czech kids there, some of whom could not speak English, but that didn’t stop them pushing each other on the flying fox, or playing hide and seek, love that! One of them pulled out an English book and Lachlan sat down and read with him.
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We met a lovely Irish family staying at the same hotel, their daughter Ava loved playing with Cameron.

After a fun week in Prague, we boarded the bus and headed to Austria (it's a great international bus system here!).

Posted by tollidaytravels 02:44 Archived in Czech Republic Comments (0)

Czech Republic - Pilsen and surrounds - part 2

semi-overcast 22 °C
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And the adventure continues!

Nadia’s House
After one working-bee day, John took us back to his sister-in-law’ (Nadia Skardova nee Kubaskova) house for lunch. Nadia is absolutely lovely and spoilt the boys with gifts and cooked us a delicious lunch. I couldn’t resist taking a photo of our eating spot. It was a beautiful day and very relaxing for us having lunch and enjoying a beer. Nadia is also an internationally recognised artist and was assistant professor of Art at the University of West Bohemia. I don’t think we really got to understand the full extent of her work. However she certainly loved Cameron’s picture of a train that he drew and agreed to paint a picture of the Pokémon character Charizard which we are looking forward to seeing sometime in future.
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Dino-park
It wasn’t all castles and old towns, we did manage to find a pretty cool Dino-Park to entertain the boys. Lachlan had a report to write for his schoolwork and took off taking photos of all sorts of Dinosaurs. The boys even had a chance to undertake some digging for dinosaur fossils in the Dino-park sand pit.
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We also found a good park with climbing walls for the boys
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Brewery Tour
Pilsen quite obviously is the home of Pilsen beer courtesy of the Pilsener Urquell brewery. We walked around the production area and got to sample the unfiltered beer straight from the barrel. Tan and Ash agreed that the filtered product was far better!
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Underground Tour
There is a fairly extensive underground passage network in the old town. This consists of around 7-8 kms of tunnels and we took a tour to have a look around. These tunnels were primarily there for food storage and safe passage during town invasions in earlier centuries.
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Tower Climb
There is a 12th century cathedral in Pilsen (as there are in nearly all towns) however this is fairly prominent with a 100 metre spire (a photo of the cathedral is in Part 1). We took a walk to the top of the tower to take some photos of the surrounding city area.
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Rokycany
After initially taking a train in the wrong direction, we ended up arriving in Rokycany to visit the Demarcation Line. This is the spot where, on the 7th May 1945, American (travelling East from Normandy) and Russian (travelling West) troops came to a common point during the last days of WWII as they liberated Europe from the Nazis. The Americans agreed with Russia to move no further East than this point. We weren’t quite sure of the exact location of the monument, however we happened to run into very friendly and helpful town police, who happily escorted us to the site. They couldn’t believe we were from Australia and we had a great interaction with them (despite my non-existent and John’s limited Czech language skills).
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So after an enjoyable stay in Pilsen, which of course flew by with everything we'd done, we are off to Prague now.......

Posted by tollidaytravels 08:02 Archived in Czech Republic Comments (0)

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