Cath and Ian’s travels 2018

Friday 26th October

Travel day today.

We were catching the train to Berlin at 12.44 from Prague station so no hurry to get ready this morning. We still woke early though and were ready packed by 9 so went out for breakfast into Wenceslas square for the final time. Prague has been a great adventure over our 4 night stay.

We checked out at 1030 and got our 50 euro deposit back for the keys and left our comments on about the grotty old shower curtain and the broken blinds. Apart from that the apartment was good and in ideal location right in the square.

We again managed to walk to the station despite our growing luggage in about 15 minutes and then had to wait an hour to get on the lovely modern train to Berlin. A 4 hour trip. Most of the time you could hear a pin drop whilst the train sped along. We crossed over into Germany after about 90 minutes, stopping in Dresden and another dozen unpronounceable smaller towns on our way to Berlin arriving around 4.45 in the afternoon. Taxi to hotel 15 Euros – not bad.

Checked in to what appears to be a very swank hotel called Hotel Bristol ( wonder if there is a Hotel Berlin in Bristol). Unpacked as we are here for 5 nights.

We asked if we needed to make a booking for the evening meal in their restaurant and was told no you won’t need to, just walk in when you are ready.

So we did and discovered it was fully booked. Now we were pretty tired so when the restaurant manager said no, no room fully booked and simply waved us away and turned his back we were a little peeved. Cath went back to check in and very quickly communicated our experience not about the fact it was full but the way it had been communicated to us. Lots of apologies and apparently we should expect a sorry gift in our room today. Learning from this is don’t mess with Cath when she is tired and hungry.

Anyway, we put on the coats and wandered outside to discover hundreds of restaurant choices and ended up with some Thai food which was excellent and a welcome change over the goulash and pastries of last few days.

Looking forward to start exploring Berlin in the morning.

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Cath and Ian’s travels 2018

Thursday 25th October

Our last full day in Prague. Started the day with breakfast at Paul the French Patisserie just up the street from us in Wenceslas square. Pain aux raisins and coffee again.

Weather today was still grey but no rain and around 14 degrees so much more pleasant and no need for scarves and beanies.

Met the free tour at the old square and as a group 6 it was fantastic being able hear the guide easily ( sometimes hard if it’s a large group) and also meant it was easier to ask questions.

The tour ran for 2 hours and concentrated around the old city and into the area known as the Jewish quarter. Our guide Zac was a young American guy from Colorado who commenced his back packing adventure many years ago but had fallen in love with Prague and has now been here for 5 years. He knew his stuff though and was able to mix his knowledge of European history with lots of humour and advice about the best and worst restaurants , exchange rates and local customs.

In visiting the Jewish quarter we saw the Synagogue, now about 3 metres below street level reflecting that originally the area was 3 metres lower and in a bend of the river. It seems the Jewish community was confined to the worse parts of town, which seemed to be the norm historically. In this case the area was prone to regular flooding.

We visited Pragues famous astrological clock which does a little show on the hour. Thousands of people wait to see a skeleton, representing death, ring a little bell and 3 other characters, representing vanity, greed and lust, shaking their heads whilst several of the apostles appear in 2 windows and a golden chicken lifts its wings and crows. Our guide advised us to take our pictures of the disappointment on the crowds faces rather then the clock itself. Still hundreds roll up each hour to see this event.

Our walk finished and our group gave him his well earned tip and we went our seperate ways.

We then found our way to a butchers Nase Maso that also sells burgers and pulled meat sandwiches. This place had been recommended to us by a friend in Melbourne and it was well worth the visit.

We were back at ‘home’ by 230 today so we could prepare for the next stage of our travels.

In summary we go to Berlin tomorrow, then fly to Dublin and eventually back to London before flying home on the 6th November.

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Cath and Ian’s travels 2018

Wednesday 24th October

Another day in Prague.

We awoke to the cold and rain this morning so decided to do go on a 6 hour tour out of town to Kutna Hora which is situated in the central Bohemian region of today’s Czech Republic. We figured it would be warmer and drier in a bus today.

Kutna Hora has a long complex history. My effort of summarising it is – It started with a monastery in the 1100’s but with the discovery of silver in the area became wealthy and prosperous and during the 13th to 16th century competed with Prague economically as the centre for trade. It became part of the Austrian empire in the 16th century and remained that way until the carve up of countries at the end of WW1 when it became part of Czechoslovakia. Then in 1993 it became part of the Czech Republic following the end of the communist period.

These countries have such complicated and sad histories. What must it be like to live through such major and often violent changes?

Apparently, also during the history of this town some soil had been brought from Jerusalem to be placed in the local cemetery which meant at some point the place was consecrated by Rome. This made it attractive to have yourself buried here.

I struggle to understand this part of the history of this town but it does mean today there is a huge church known as the church of St Barbara and a smaller church known as the church of bones.

It’s took about 90 minutes to drive to Kutna Hora on the bus and it was still raining on arrival so on with our raincoats for the first time in weeks. We explored the church of bones which was weird to say the least and then the massive St Barbara church which we were told had been built to show off the wealth of the region ( silver mines).

By 1 o’clock we were cold, damp and hungry and the tour group had a chance to eat in the village before we headed back to Prague.

This place is cold I bought a beanie on our return to keep my ears warm.

Another great day today. As we start off on the various tours we often wonder what we have got ourselves into but in all cases so far we end the experience thinking that was great.

Tomorrow will be our last full day in Prague so we are hoping for no rain as we want to go on a free walking tour within the old city and Jewish quarter that starts at 10 in the morning.

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Cath and Ian’s travels 2018

Tuesday 23rd October

After quick breakfast of coffee and croissants we found our way to the main square and signed up for a 3 hour organised tour. There were about 8 in our group with a guide who worked very hard as he explained things in English then repeated it all again in Spanish. We travelled by bus through the old city before climbing up to the Castle which is more like a town of dozens of buildings and architectural styles surrounded by walls with several entry and exit points all guarded by serious military types (with guns) as well as the usual security checks that we have in airports.

We left the bus at this point and explored the castle. The flag was flying which showed the President was in his office somewhere in the mass of buildings.

The cathedral within the castle was massive with spectacular stained glass windows. One of the pictures below show the range of architectural styles in the castle in one view.

I forgot to mention a building pointed out to us whilst in the bus. It sat high above the surrounding buildings, and was simply a large grey box structure constructed under the communist period – a style referred to as “communist realism”.

We left the castle on foot and moved slowly down the hill finally crossing the famous 14th century Charles bridge, ending up at our starting point in the old city square.

It was a very cold day today and whilst we made the distance it was at times unpleasant as we were exposed to the icy wind within the castle and again crossing the bridge.

At the end of the tour we sought warming goulash and dumplings together with apple strudel.

I am getting a cold so hope to shake it off so we continue our exploration of this amazing place tomorrow.


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Cath and Ian’s travels 2018

Monday 22nd October

Off to the train station by taxi ready for the 10.10 train to Prague. We have been looking forward to Prague for a long time. We bought first class tickets for around 20 Euros extra and it certainly avoided the traffic jam trying to get onto the train in the few minutes it stopped at the station. Whilst we didn’t get a numbered seat we had the choice of half the carriage to choose from so it was a very pleasant trip. Our train was actually in its way right through to Hamburg in Germany so on arrival in Prague it was only stopping for couple of minutes so again had to get our growing number of bags off quickly.

On checking the sat nav on google maps on our faithful iPad we decided to walk or drag everything to the hotel which was in Wenceslas Square. It paid off and we managed to find it in about 15 minutes. We knew it was next to a Marks and Spencer store so that helped as a landmark.

We have an apartment here for 4 nights before we leave Prague on Friday. It has lots of room with a kitchen, washing machine. Luxury.

It was now late afternoon so after checking in we left everything ‘at home’ and had took a quick walk about the square. There were thousands of people wandering about and despite the cold we sat outside at one of the dozens of cafes and had goulash again for an early dinner.

Today was again mainly travelling and we were very tired so bought some ice cream, tea bags and milk at Marks and Spencer’s downstairs and had an early night.

Tomorrow we intend to go on a 3 hour city and castle tour which is initially in a bus but finishes with a 4 k walk through the castle and back to the old city.

We are considering making Berlin our last major stop in Europe before finishing in London on next Saturday week.

Above is view from our apartment window

Our apartment is the 3rd floor of the building with the small window panes over my left shoulder or above the tram.

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Cath and Ian’s travels 2018

Sunday 21st October

Today was our only full day in Bratislava so we wanted to fit in as much as we could.

We had breakfast at the hotel as it was included in the tariff and got out in the streets about 9 o’clock. It was very cold and we were wearing beanies and thermals for the first time.

It turned out the old city and main square was only a 5 minute walk and we were able to buy 2 tickets for a 90 minute bus trip around the old city and castle overlooking the city. These bus trips are great in that they give you an overview of the major sites and historical locations. Also you are given earpieces and simply select your language. I like the descriptions they provide not only of the locations but the summarised history of the country and city. As with most European cities, Bratislava still has remnants of city walls and gates.

The bus ride also stopped on 2 occasions to allow for photos and a closer inspection of both the castle and the memorial to the red army and its sacrifices when freeing Bratislava towards the end of WW2. It seems this was case in many of the places we have visited in recent weeks and it’s understandable why the Russians were welcomed at the time. The issue though seems to be they were then reluctant to leave afterwards.

The bus tour ended around 1230pm back at the square and we wandered around the great old city, ending up have goulash and beer (wine) for lunch.

We discovered there was a walking tour at 4pm so we went back to hotel for an hours rest and then increased our clothing layers and added scarves and gloves to join the tour.

There were about 40 people who met at the squares statue of a poet guy. This was a standard model walking tour where they are free but they look for a tip based on how much you enjoy the tour. As usual many people fall by the wayside towards the end of the circuit we think to avoid paying anything.

Anyway, Juro, our guide was great and took us all over the place mixing talks about historic locations with cultural explanations (usually very comical) and the 20th century Slovakian history including his no holds barred comments about their love hate relationship with the Czech republic and Prague. He also educated the group on the Slovakian history as part of Hungary.

In answering a question about whether Slovakian people prefer the current democratic ways of the old communist regime he explained the majority certainly do but there are still many older people who look back on those days with nostalgia and are much worse off financially. When they worked under communist rule they had their accommodation, health care and income guaranteed. Whilst they were never in a position to save or own things back then they were able to enjoy a frugal and consistent life.

When democracy was declared their consistency of income, their guaranteed accommodation and health care stopped overnight and in the cases of the now older people they had no savings, superannuation or physical assets to fall back upon. So I can understand them seeing life better then than now. Only many years under the democratic system will reduce this worry.

The walk finished around 7 and it was now very very cold so we were glad to get back to the hotel where we skipped dinner, found an English speaking channel on tv – pity it was showing strictly ballroom and fell asleep.

Travelling again tomorrow by train on the way to Prague for a 4 night stay.

Home in just over 2 weeks. We are missing our family and Pooki.

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Cath and Ian’s travels 2018

Saturday 20th October

Today we were travelling from Budapest, Hungary to Bratislava in Slovenia.

We had no tickets booked for the train so made our way to the station by taxi intending to catch the 11.40am train. We had at least an hour to get tickets sorted.

After finding the international ticket area we had to take a ticket to be served in turn. Finally at 11.35 am we were called up and purchased our tickets with about 3 minutes to get to platform 5 with all luggage. Platform 5 turned out to be about a 500 metre walk to the other side of the station (which had at least 24 platforms).

Of course, we missed the train and then had to wait another 2 hours for the next. The time went quickly as we watched the people and trains come and go similar to what we imagine it would have looked like 20 or 30 years ago. The station was very old school Eastern Europe and it felt as if we were still experiencing the remnants of the communist period.

Anyway we were soon on the train and heading west towards Bratislava arriving just after 4pm. We witnessed 2 Brit’s being removed from the train at some remote village as they had no tickets and were arguing the web site didn’t work properly when they tried to book them online (maybe our one hour wait to buy them at the station wasn’t so bad after all). Taxi ride at 20 Euros got us to our hotel next to the Danube river and a very short walk to the old town which we intend to explore tomorrow. Dinner in hotel.

Overall today was one of those very tiring days of travel where lot of time is spent figuring out which platform, carriage and seats to sit on.

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Cath and Ian’s travels 2018

Friday 19th October

Our second full day in Budapest.

After breakfast we decided to walk to the Synagogue and Hungarian Jewish Heritage museum which was only about a kilometre from our hotel.

It is a very large Synagogue, I think the second largest in the world.

We had a great guide explaining first the Synagogue and then the history of the Jewish community in Budapest. It was so sad to hear about the creation of the Ghetto and the stories about the murders and the poor orphaned children. We heard that 600,000 Hungarian Jews were killed during the Holocaust, many here in Budapest but the majority in Poland at Auschwitz Birkenau.

In the heroes garden (as it is now called) adjacent to the Synagogue here in Budapest around 2200 were buried in 24 mass graves. We were right there looking at these what now look like beautiful garden beds with lots of plaques with peoples names ( although most of those buried here are unnamed).

I hope the world has learnt what can happen when people don’t see other people as equals.

We left the Synagogue around 130pm with smiles though after seeing a terrific band playing Hungarian folk songs (reminded me of Gypsy music). All up beat and positive with clear middle eastern influences.

We then found our way to the famous New York Palace Cafe for lunch of hamburgers and ice cream which was great. This is a special place with a long history. They even have live music playing in the background.

Tomorrow we are off to Bratislava for 2 days on the train before heading for Prague for a highly anticipated 4 days.

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Cath and Ian’s travels 2018

Thursday 18th October

In Budapest for full day today.

Had a great nights sleep and didn’t get out in the streets until 930 this morning. Found a Vodaphone shop so sorted out the SIM card issue for the iPad.

Back on the bus we took the route that took us alongside the Danube river and into the markets area. After about an hour we left the bus to visit the produce market and had a wander around seeing the locals buy their fruit veg and meats. Fantastic atmosphere and then we moved up to the mezzanine level which was full of clothing, bags and gifts of every kind ( some tacky and some not). We bought some things to remember our time in Budapest including another bag to make it easier to carry our increasing ‘stuff’ to get home.

Then back on the bus to get back to base. Then decided to walk to the recommended Gerbaud cafe for what was now a late lunch. Impressive very old cafe where Cath had strudel and I had cheese and ham toastie.

After another wander through the streets and some of the department shops we got back to our hotel at 4 to rest the legs after another day of walking on the hard cobblestone and paved laneways everywhere we go.

Yesterday, when we arrived in Budapest, tired after the night on the train we felt it to be a bit chaotic and perhaps a little intimidating. Today however, we felt much more at home and started to appreciate its history and excitement. The Danube river is huge (compared to the Yarra) and the boats are everywhere. A lot of visitors to Budapest actually arrive here by boat along the river from the neighbouring countries. There are international docks in the centre of town.

Looking forward to another full day here tomorrow.


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Cath and Ian’s travels 2018

Wednesday 17th October

So we arrived in Budapest at 830am on the overnight train from Krakow.

Trailing our cases through the station we were approached by the many taxi drivers wanting our business. We managed to fend them all off as we couldn’t check into hotel until 3 in the afternoon so we needed to kill some time.

We discovered my SIM card was not working ( very frustrating as it was Vodafone UK and was supposed to work everywhere we were going) but found a free wifi throughout the station.

We then took 60000 Forints out of the ATM (about $350) for our time here but soon discovered they were also more than happy to take Euros or pounds. We worked on a rough formulae in our heads of 1000 is about $6 Aust. Generally things seem cheaper than home.

Eventually we got to the hotel which we found is situated nice and central, surrounded by lots of cafes, bars and transport. The city has the usual Hop on Hop off bus system and is broken into 4 different routes but all of them meet at stop 1 which is just 100 metres from our place so for us a great and cheap way to get about. We bought a 48hour pass for 6500 ($40) and that gets us everywhere.

We checked in our bags and went on the first bus ride to get our bearings. Finally were able to check into our room at 2pm. It’s probably the biggest and nicest room we have so far on the trip, so pleased with that.

Sorted out our bags in the afternoon and keep trying to fix the SIM card but no luck.

We were given a 10% discount for dinner at the restaurant next door which was great until we discovered a 12% service charge. Still overall the meals were excellent and in total cost us about $65 including drinks.

We were looking forward to a real sleep after last night on the train.

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