Monday, 24 February 2014

Winter spirit day 14-15 Budapest

Day 14: Vienna to Budapest via Bratislava
Today we had breakfast in Austria, lunch in Slovakia and dinner in Hungary!  We stopped at the castle in Bratislava to have a view over the city, before heading into the city for lunch. 
We walked through the streets to find a restaurant, and unfortunately couldn't find platzky, a delicious potato pancake the Slovak chef in England made for us. So good! I had dumplings with cheese and spek and it was ok.
We got back on the road to Budapest, where we met 13 more people at the hostel before heading on a driving tour of the city. We walked up to a view point next to a beautiful church that had a great view over the huge parliament next to the river.
Back at the hostel we got ready to head out to dinner, and after a 15 minute walk and a wait that felt like eternity, we got massive portions for dinner! I had crispy pork leg, and it seriously was a whole pork leg, with enough pasta to feed a small county. It was delicious though!
After dinner most of the group went out, but it was late so I went to bed instead.

Day 15: Budapest
Today we started off the day with a walk to the House of Terror. We learnt a lot about the history of nazi and soviet occupation of Hungary, as both the nazis and soviets used the building as headquarters. It was very intense and at the end of the museum you to down into the basement where they kept and executed many Hungarians. Most of the information was in Hungarian, but there were information sheets in English that had a lot of writing!
After that we walked over the the market, which took a lot longer than we thought it would, and met up with Maree. We couldn't find the food part of the markets, so went across the road to Burger King for lunch. After lunch we walked along to river to the castle, and after deciding the funicular was too expensive (it wasn't) we walked up the hill! The views from the top were amazing! We got to witness the changing of the guard, which was pretty cool, and also had a to at some archery.
We walked back to the hostel, back along the bridge that has 4 lions on each corner. It has a good story, when the bridge was unveiled, people wondered why the lions didn't have any tongues, and the architect was so embarrassed he forgot the tongues that he jumped off the bridge. Luckily he didn't die, because they found out the tongues were just not in view, on the bottom of the lions mouths!
We found a Thai noodle in a box place for dinner and I got the hottest sauce they had, which may have been a mistake (but it was delicious anyway). I bought a bottle of peach shnapps to try and use up our forints, and had a few drinks at the bar, and had some impromptu sing alongs.

Winter Spirit day 11-13 Austria.

HDay 11: Venice to Salzburg
Today we left Italy for Austria. We headed up through the mountains and started seeing snow again!! It even snowed for part of the journey. We discovered that Austrian rest stop restaurants
are even more confusing than Italian ones. Even though the food is delicious, it's quite expensive and confusing to work out how the buffet system works, and kind do has me wishing they had macdonalds at every stop like back home.
We got to Salzburg with a little time to spare before we started the walking tour, which was spent trying to organise a group to go skiing in the morning. The tour took us past a site used in the sound of music, along the river, to the birthplace of Mozart, along the main shopping street and to a square. I had a headache at this point so wasn't paying much attention, which I definitely regret now.
We went to a restaurant for dinner where we had tomato soup, veal schnitzel and strudel. An early night tonight for the skiers, but a group went out to a bar.

Day 12: Salzburg
Today we went skiing at a resort called Flachau in the Amade. We took a free shuttle from the center of Salzburg, (FYI, you can hire ski clothing from them, and you also buy your lift pass from them) and met a rather eccentric young English guy. We chatted the way up before getting our skis and heading up the mountain on the chairlift. Visibility wasn't great so there wasn't spectacular views on the way up. We wanted to warm up on an easy run because most of us hadn't skied in a while, but our new English friend overestimated our abilities and took us on a really long run, and we ended up getting split up straight away. This particular run took me almost 2 hours to get down, because I wasn't confident enough in most parts and I didn't have Toby to encourage me. Luckily the Austrians on the run were kind enough to give me a little help when I looked like I needed it. After some time I ended up finding Toby where we got off the first chair lift and we went down the long run again, and after fixing my boots and regaining some confidence, I had a lot of fun! Unfortunately that's when I started to get a headache and couldn't ski anymore so we stopped for some chips and a Mars bar. By that time the clouds had cleared and the views were incredible, so we stood outside for a while before it was time to take the chair lift back down for the bus back to town. Ok, it may seem like that was a big waste of money only going down 2 runs, but they were very long ones, and I'm the end I did enjoy the day and would have regretted staying in town. The snow was so soft compared to the snow in Australia, and when I fell over I slid for over a meter sometimes.
Back at the hostel we had a free dinner with our beer, and €1 salad bar, and spent the night chatting with everyone.

Day 13: Salzburg to Vienna
Vienna was only a few hours away from Salzburg so we only stopped once, for lunch. We stopped at the Schönbrunn palace for 45 minutes to look around. This is where the Austrian royal family spent their summer months, and is also where the zoo is located. I didn't find out how old the zoo is, but it supposed to be one of the oldest zoos, which I find interesting as Marie Antoinette was responsible for the 'zoo' at Versailles, and she was a member of the Austrian royal family.

We then went on a driving tour of the city, past concert halls, museums, churches and the town hall. We saw some ice skating that looked really interesting and decided we'd go there during our free time in the afternoon. It turned out to be a great idea and 6 of us spent a good hour skating around the 2 rinks and the lanes that connected them. Yep, there wasn't just one rink! There were lanes that connected the 2 and were kind of like a maze, and really fun to zoom around! 
It started getting dark and Toby and I, the last of the group left on the ice decided to go back to the hostel and get some food (and I had a headache again so didn't feel like skating more). We found another of the group and walked for what felt like forever to get back. We got a little lost towards the end but thanks to all the free wifi around the place it wasn't too bad! We ended up at KFC for dinner, and relaxed in the hostel.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Winter Spirit day 9-10: Venice

Day 9: Rome to Venice via Verona
Today is valentines day and we are headed to Venice, after a stop at Verona. I woke up feeling a little better, but still not great. There were a few tears after breakfast when we had to say goodbye to those who's tour ended in Rome, and then we were on the road to Verona. Lunch at another service stop where I had salad bar, trying to get some vegetables to make myself feel better. At Verona we walked over to the colosseum there, then over to Juliet's balcony. It was very crowded as it was valentines day, and I found the balcony a little underwhelming. The walls were covered in chewing gum. We gave the statue of Juliet's boob a rub (apparently that's a thing) and wrote our names on the wall, before walking to the markets for souvenir shopping, and found some gelato. 
Once in Venice we had dinner and an early night, and I finally got to paint my nails again!

Day 10: Venice!
Our accommodation in Venice wasn't on the island, so to get there we got the people mover. Our group leader took us on a walking tour of the city, crossing many pretty bridges and stopping at a few squares and the impressive Basillica di San Marco.
We finished the tour with a lace presentation, and then a gondola ride where we went onto the grand canal. We found somewhere for lunch, which was quite expensive but good food. We went up the bell tower, which had a lift! The views from the top were spectacular.
 After that we went to the markets on the Rialto bridge to find masks for the masquerade ball. There were plenty of masks stalls and everyone walking around had masks on. We ended up taking the water ferry (Vaporetto) back to the bus, and went back to the camping for dinner. The pizzas were massive and delicious. We had a masquerade party that night which was small because not everyone came, but we had lots of fun anyway.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Winter Spirit day 7-8: Rome

Day 7: Florence to Rome
Luckily again I was feeling ok this morning, except for a cough, sore legs from walking up the tower and dancing all night, and no voice. We headed off to a little village on a hill called Orvieto, and saw a beautiful Duomo which had an intricate front and the sides had stripes. 
We had delicious gelato (tiramisu, cappuccino and bacio). After stopping at a service station for a lunch of pasta, we arrived at Rome to start a walking tour. The bus dropped us off at the station and we took the train into the city, to our first stop, the Spanish stairs. We walked to the Trevi fountain with its beautiful blue water, and learnt the story of the ghost in the top right window. Then it started absolutely pouring with rain, but I still managed to throw some coins in! 
When the rain eased off we continued on to the Pantheon, an impressive church with a hole in the roof that allowed the rain to come in! The group met again at a gelato shop with 150 flavours! I had my second gelato for the day, panacotta and Nutella. We continued around to see front of the Capitoline museums, the roman forums, and finished the tour outside the colosseum. Between the rain we has some lovely light to take some beautiful photos of the city.
We took the train back to the camping we were staying in for the 2 nights, and had a delicious feast which included pizza and pasta. Everyone was still very tired from partying for the last 2 nights so went to bed early.

Day 8: Roma.
Today we were going on a tour of the Vatican. We had to get there early to meet a guide and get in before the rest of the public. Our tour guide was very captivating and we saw some interesting things, the highlight for me was seeing the roof of the Sistine Chapel, which was incredible. We ended the tour a St Peters Basillica, which has the most impressive inside of all the churches I've been to, all of the 'paintings' are actually mosaics. After walking around the Basillica, we stopped at a cafe outside Vatican City for a quick lunch, and I got a cappuccino and penette alla vodka, delicious!
We took the train to the colosseum after stopping by some stalls to pick up some jewellery which the boys weren't too happy with. When we got to the colosseum we stood on a hill to take some pictures before we joined the line. We skipped the line to get a guided tour, to find the tour just left as we were buying tickets, so we got an audio guide instead, which was probably for the best for our Mexican friend, he got a guide in Spanish. It was very impressive but I had started feeling quite sick by this time, thanks to the infamous topdeck cough that founds it's way though our group much earlier than normal.
We walked down to the hand of truth, a statue that is supposed to cut off the hand of liars when they put their hand in the mouth. There was a big line so we didn't put our hand in it. From there we walked back to the Trevi fountain again to see it without all the rain. We passed many souvenir shops and stopped at most of them. We went back to the camp site then, stopping at the supermarket across the road for some arancino balls, and cheese and crackers for dinner. I went to bed early so I could sleep away my cold and get my voice back. Everyone else had a toga party because we were losing 13 of our group in the morning.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Winter Spirit day 5-6: Florence

Day 5: lauterbrunnen to Florence via Pisa!
After an early breakfast we hopped on the bus for another long drive to Italia! We stopped in the mountains for a quick group photo. 
The snow continued until our first rest stop where we got 20 minutes to play around and throw snow at each other.
After a lunch break at a weird Italian service stop, we arrived in Pisa to pouring rain! We rushed to take a quick photo of the tower and then got straight back on the bus to Florence!
We arrived, had dinner, antipasto, a mixed grill, and lemon gelato. We then headed into the bar for our free welcome shots! 1 turned into 4, which turned into 8, and then a bucket of cocktail! We had a fun night dancing and singing into the early hours of the morning.

Day 6: Florence
I leant my lesson from Paris and today woke up feeling reasonably ok. We headed off for a walking tour of the city, starting at the incredible Duomo. Duomo is Italian for cathedral, and the one in Florence, the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore is one of the largest in Italy and the architecture is stunning.
 We then walked through the main square, down to the river and to the Ponte Vecchio, a bridge with many jewellery shops. 
We walked past the Uffizi gallery, and ended in the Piazza della Signoria, where there is a fake Michelangelo's David After the tour we ended at a leather shop for a quick demonstration and went to a restaurant for a Florentine steak! They come in 1kg, so we decided to share with Maree. Because there were 3 of us they offered us a 1.2kg steak! It was really delicious but we probably would have been ok with just the 1kg one. We had chicken liver pate on crostini for a starter and had some spinach to go with the steak, as the steak was just served by itself.
After lunch we walked back to the Duomo to walk up the Campanile di Giotto, or bell tower! We went inside the Duomo first to see the beautiful mural that's under the dome before climbing the tower. It was tough climb but the views over the city at the top were incredible. 
We visited the baptistry and then the Duomo museum to see the beautiful gold doors that were once on the baptistry. We had gelato, then went to Accademia to see the real statue of David. We met up with Maree and another guy and walked around, they got coffee and gelato again while I tried to find a cash machine. We went back to the hostel, went to the pool, decided it was way too cold to swim, then went out to have pizza for dinner. We found a pizzeria near the Duomo which sold slices by weight and was really cheap, and really, really delicious! After dinner we headed to karaoke to meet the rest of the group. It was a really fun night, we were all dancing, singing and drinking! It was quite late when we decided to head home, which was quite a challenge when we didn't really know where we were, we couldn't really read the map, and we'd had a bit to drink. It took a lot longer than it should have and we we were also a bit louder than we should have been, but we made it back safely.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Winter Spirit day 3-4: Lauterbrunnen

Day 3: Paris to Lauterbrunnen (Switzerland)
Again we for up for an early breakfast and departure. I felt like death. The bus ride was basically hell. I started feeling better as the scenery started changing to beautiful mountains! Just before we crossed the Swiss border we started seeing snow!! We arrived just before 7 for dinner where we had soup and pork with green beans and taters. Then we went outside to play in the snow! Our accommodation was in a valley in a little town called Lauterbrunnen and it was like a dream, high cliffs surrounded us, covered in snowy trees and waterfalls running down them. The snow wasn't great for playing because the top and melted and refrozen so it was ice, but we managed to build a pretty great snow man and had a snow ball fight! We walked up to town while everyone else was in the bar and ate snow and Maree made a snow angel. We walked to the church and then it started snowing! It was sleet at first but by the time we got back to the backpackers it was snow! We had a drink in the bar but decided to have a bit of an early night so we could make the most of the next day (and Maree was going skydiving!)

Day 4 Lauterbrunnen and the Jungfrau railway!
Today we took the railway up the mountain to Jungfraujoch. Jungfraujoch Europe's highest railway station, and it is quite pricy to go up there, but definitely worth it!  The trip took 2 hours and a change of trains but it felt like no time at all because the view was spectacular! We had our eyes (and lenses) looking out the window the entire time with our jaws wide open. The pictures really don't do the place justice. We saw people skiing, snowboarding and tobogganing the whole way up. 
When we got up the top we were all a bit wobbly from the altitude (11700 ft) but we did the tour around the station and went up to the view point with 2 other guys (a South African and a Mexican!) and our tour leader. There was a sign saying it was -18.5*c outside but with the wind chill factor I think it was a lot colder! It was quite cloudy at the top, but we did see a bit of a view when the clouds cleared for a bit and it was beautiful. We couldn't stay out for long because the wind was blowing snow everywhere and freezing our noses and fingers, but the snow was really soft! We went to the ice palace to see ice sculptures of polar bears, penguins and eagles, and slid around the whole time, almost as fun as ice skating! 
Then we went out to another view point which is usually a path to the top of the mountain, but it was so windy it was closed off. We got a picture of all of us, but it was so cold that when we smiled our teeth hurt! We went and had lunch, veal sausage with loads of fries, and then made the most of the free wifi they had. We sent a postcard back to the pub, and took another magical train ride down so we had time to look around lauterbrunnen. Unfortunately a lot of things were closed because it was Sunday (like the supermarket) but the souvenir shops were open and we bought lots do things. Toby got a green Swiss Army knife, a colour you can only get in Switzerland, and I got a rubber duck in the shape of a cow!! 
We walked around, took pictures, made snow angels and threw snowballs before heading back for dinner which was a delicious cheese fondue, and veal sausage again! We went to play in the snow a bit before having a few drinks in the bar and went to bed at a much more reasonable hour than in Paris.