Österreich – Wien

Just a few days after our return from Slovenia, I was back at it again. This time, bound for Vienna, esteemed capital of the Hapsburg dynasty. With May having turned to June, travelling was getting more expensive, so instead of the usual flight I opted for a train ride. 7 hours stood between me and my destination. With a long weekend ahead of me I boarded the train just after work and was on my way.

I had seat reservations the whole time and had brought along my laptop to get a little work and research done. The ICE trains in Germany feature WiFi, which made being productive (or unproductive) easy. I had a changeover in Munich. The highlight of my brief stop there was when I was able to buy something from a vending machine paying exclusively with 5-cent pieces. It was very satisfying to get rid of all that change.

Despite my best intentions I did nap on the second train a bit. This turned out to be okay however, as my scheduled arrival wasn’t until 12:30AM and the train ran about 30 minutes late. Arriving at the train station was a little disorienting. I was looking for the S-bahn (street train). I had assumed it would be above ground, but the station was actually underground connected to the train station through a tunnel.

Eventually I found my way, bought a ticket, and rode a few stops north towards my hostel. Unfortunately I had a 30 minute walk or so after my ride, because while the U-bahn would have taken me closer, it was no longer running this late at night. I got into the hostel, paid, and collapsed onto my bed around 2:30AM. I suppose the nap wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

Between the nap and the late bedtime I managed to get enough sleep to be out of the hostel by a respectable 9:00AM or so. I was in Vienna alone, so the first item on my agenda was an audio tour to get me oriented. The tour started south of the city, so I made my way to the opera house. The building was done in an intricate baroque style in an grandiose scale. I didn’t peek inside but took some time admiring all the sculptures and statues adorning the exterior. Vienna is somewhat of a musical capital in Europe; historically, great composers performed in the halls around the city. Nowadays, the Opera House still hosts shows daily, and standing-room tickets are actually really affordable.

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The Vienna Opera House

After surveying the Opera House, I stopped by a few ritzy cafes nearby. Elegant interior decorations framed rich cakes, coffees, and patrons. I can’t remember the last time someone served me wearing a tuxedo, but here you could have the luxury experience for just the price of a cup. Too bad I don’t like coffee. I moved on.

My next stop on the self-guided tour was St. Stephen’s cathedral. Vienna feels like it radiates outwards from this impressive church. I did a lap of the church, taking in all the intricate carvings, the dirt which had accumulated on the church walls, and all the gawking tourists staring upwards at the colorful roof and elegant spires.

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St. Stephen’s iconic tiled roof

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While there I learned a bit about the history of the cathedral- the building was in many ways responsible for the rise of Vienna as an important city. Rather than being built here because the town was notable, locals erected the church to stand out in the eyes of the church to attain prominence.

Inside the cathedral I faced a gloomily lit lofty interior, flanked by rows of carved saints forming pillars to hold up the roof. I spent some time admiring art near the front entrance but opted not to pay to enter the main part of the church.

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The gloomy organ

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Continuing on with my self-guided tour, I settled down for lunch at a recommended spot. I was treated to a tasty mix of stewed beef and potatoes. While it was good it was perhaps a little heavy for a lunchtime meal, but I made up for it with a light dinner later. After lunch I dipped into a nearby baroque church which had some really intricate decorations on the inside.

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Well then aren’t you fancy?
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Might as well lecture in style
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The domed roof

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Near my lunch spot was the Hofburg Palace, ruling seat of the Hapsburgs. Besides being an impressive example of Baroque architecture, the palace hosts several museums, including the famous Treasury. There, precious artifacts including gilded vestments, crown jewels, decadent everyday items like cribs and chairs, and even (alleged) nails from the cross of Christ are on display.

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At Hofburg palace

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I grabbed a new audio guide and made my way through the treasury. I learned a bit more about the history of the Hapsburgs, their ties with religious powers of the time, and got a sense for the wealth and splendor they indulged in in their empire. Dark rooms contrasted starkly with shining gilded objects on display.

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For some reason they wouldn’t let me try it on
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Care for a drink?

The treasury was divided into two halves: one each for secular and religious artifacts. I surveyed the secular artifacts first, and found a few curiosities among the more conventional items. They had a “unicorn horn” (really a narwhal tusk) on display. Apparently it was thought that unicorn horn had healing properties and was therefore very rare and valuable at the time. Who knew?

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Not pictured: unicorn

Making my way through the treasury, I found myself gaining an appreciation for the Hapsburg empire. While it may not be as well known as some of the ruling dynasties in France, England, or Italy, the Austrio-Hungarian regime had plenty of power, wealth, and influence. The remnants of that time here on display serve as a testament to their once-great status.

 

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I made my way out of the treasury but decided I would check out some of the other exhibits in a different wing of the palace. A short walk later brought me into the armory, a far less crowded yet (in my eyes) equally impressive display of arms and armor.

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At the armory entrance

I geeked out for awhile admiring all the weaponry and regalia. It was a little strange being there myself as there was no audio guide this time, so I was left to wrestle with the German descriptions where I needed any explanation and just look on without them otherwise. There were lots of different arms and armor on display, from purely-functional pieces to highly ornate ceremonial suits. Armor for sport and jousting dominated some rooms, while others’ held more battle-ready pieces. I liked some of the odd ones- breastplates for overweight men, strange faces in helmets, and unusual weapons such as flails and maces all ensured there was something interesting to keep your attention.

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The armory also held a large collection of classical instruments. I didn’t spend as long here as I did with the arms and armor, but it was still neat to check out and here too I noticed some unusual pieces. Horns in shapes I had not seen before, harpsichords and pianos in strange forms, and lots of finely decorated string instruments graced the halls. Sadly, none were being played, but my imagination filled the air in this city of classical music. Like in the armory, the exhibit was not crowded so I was free to explore at my own pace and get up close to the objects.

Alongside the armory there were a few Greek statues and works of art. It seemed a little out of place there in the same museum, but I took a quick walk through regardless. The collection was small and modest, but featured a few pretty statues and again, no crowds. It was nice to appreciate the art without hoards of tourists gawking at everything.

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Baby grandpa? Can I get you something?
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I’m told this is how I look in the morning

I exited the museum. The afternoon was winding down but I had a few more spots to check out before heading back to the hostel. I swung by the Museum Quarter to do some people-watching and appreciate the ambiance. Bushes and fountains with wide paths hosted children playing, musicians, buskers, and others relaxing in the afternoon sun. To either side, an imposing facade framed another museum – an art gallery to the left and the museum of natural history to the right. I didn’t spend time to go into these but stood for a bit and watched kids playing with some sculptures outside the natural history museum for a few minutes.

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The Rathaus

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After strolling through the open square I began a winding journey back to the hostel. I made a pit stop by the impressive Rathaus (city hall), where I saw a few skaters trying tricks and seating being set up for an outdoor event. I snapped a few pictures then continued along the ring road surrounding Vienna until I made my way back to the Danube river. There, I grabbed a quick sausage dinner and headed back to the hostel for the night.

After a long first day in Vienna I was tired. But I had a long weekend ahead of me, and lots more to explore. Stay tuned.

Best wishes and safe travels everyone,

– Ben

Deutschland – Berchtesgaden

We crossed the border back into Germany and found ourselves in rolling highland, with the alps looming behind us. A few short turns later brought us to the tiny town where we had booked lodging. The apartment sat atop a huge steep inclined hill. We drove up and the car struggled – I wasn’t sure what we would do if another vehicle came as the road was definitely not wide enough for two cars.

We parked and met our hosts, a local couple. They assumed my German was far better than it actually was, and I struggled to keep up with them. They showed us our apartment, which was beautiful: it included a sauna, modern kitchen and furniture, a luxurious bed, and a gorgeous view of the surrounding mountain tops. The apartment was also right at a small trail head, though we didn’t know exactly where it went.

We got settled in and researched a spot for dinner, back in the main town of Berchtesgaden. It was a short drive away, so we hopped back in the car, made our way down the narrow lane, and drove a short way to town. We found a parking spot without much trouble which was pleasantly surprising, and found the restaurant after a few tries. For dinner, I had a German take on roast beef with stewed potatoes as we sat outside overlooking the place’s beer garden.

We took our time with dinner. Afterwards we of course made the necessary gelato stop; I got a flavor I’ve seen a few times, “milcheis.” Literally “milk ice,” it tastes just like sweetened frozen milk. After dessert we headed back to the apartment, where we took a few pictures, then hopped in the sauna for a little relaxation therapy before heading to bed.

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View from the front lawn
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The charming little apartment where we stayed

The next day was the last of our trip. With Chelsea’s knee not feeling 100% we skipped our hiking plans for the area. While it would have been beautiful to see, we felt it was more important that she was rested and healed up before her summer adventure. With no need to be out on the trail early we slept in a bit, departing late in the morning after taking some time to grab breakfast at a nearby bakery.

Or rather, we tried to leave. About 10 minutes into our journey we received a call from the hosts. It turns out we had forgotten some clothes in the apartment – thankfully we were not far away, so we turned back and retrieved our stuff before setting off properly. Amusingly, our route took us back across the Austrian border almost immediately, so we literally crossed a country border to fetch our dirty laundry.

We had no further issues on the trip after that. We took the opportunity to practice our road-trip karaoke, and I frequently practiced my breath-holding skills through the many tunnels. We arrived back in Stuttgart around 2PM or so with plenty of time in the afternoon to clean up, pack, and get organized. We had plans to attend a potluck dinner that evening and consequently had to make a grocery run. There we picked up some dessert; we had been planning to bake but were concerned we wouldn’t have sufficient time to do so. We picked up a Black Forest cherry cake and some ice cream. The ice cream didn’t make it to the potluck 🙂

We caught a bus over to the apartment where the dinner party was being held. There, we spent a few hours talking, I introduced Chelsea to everyone and we spent time catching up, discussing our trip and hearing about other places people had been. There was pasta and pizza as well as a few other dishes, but mostly it was just nice to hang out and get to see everyone.

We left around 10PM. Chelsea was all set to leave in the morning, so we made an early night of it so that we wouldn’t be too tired. The next day I had work but was able to drop Chelsea off at the train station before heading into the office. Goodbyes are always difficult, but I know we’ll both be so busy doing great things in the month until we meet again.

With Chelsea on her way home I solemnly drove into work, missing her already. Fortunately I had a short week ahead of me, and even more travel plans looming on the horizon. More about that next time! Until then, as always,

Best wishes and safe travels everyone,

– Ben

Slowenien – Seen

The next day we slept in a little, due to a forecast of rain. Unsure how to spend the grey day, we spent the morning researching some options before settling on a recommendation from a local: checking out a nearby waterfall.

We ate a small breakfast before heading out. We were staying very close to the lake, so after a very short drive we found ourselves ready to begin. Our walk started out uneventful; we talked about random different things, circling the lake and making our way through alternating patches of grass and forest alongside the lake shore. It was a grey day and not many people were outside, though we saw a few families playing in the park. When we reached the far side of the lake we crossed a beautiful bright-crystal stream. Our goal was to make it upstream where the water feeds into lake Bohinj.

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Bohinj

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We walked uphill from there, passing a few small hotels and neighborhoods. It seemed a little odd that the park was so developed with inhabitants, but I suppose many of them likely lived there before the park existed. We climbed until Chelsea began having pain in her knee, having tweaked it from canyoning the day before. Naturally she wanted to keep going, so we pressed on for a bit until I made her sit down and rest. While she was taking it easy I ran ahead to see if the falls were close, but after a few hundred meters I decided to turn back because it was evident she was in considerable pain walking. She took some painkillers and I helped support some of her weight as we started the return journey, because she wouldn’t let me carry her.

Doubling back, we ran into an older couple from California. We didn’t think much of it at first but I eventually decided we should try to ask them for a ride, since our hike had been farther than we’d realized and we ended up walking about 5 miles from our car. I ran ahead again and they were happy to help. The man talked to us about our academic backgrounds a bit and explained he was a computer engineer who had done a lot of work in automation. I was grateful that they took us back to our car, as it would have been a long walk back for Chelsea to manage.

After our mistaken hike, we actually did have a rest day. We spent most of the rest of the inside. We looked up a few things on my computer, talked and just hung out. Even though we were in a beautiful vacation destination, I enjoyed a bit of normalcy in our day. Chelsea and I don’t get to do that together often, since we tend to have plans whenever we see each other.

We had one more activity planned in Slovenia for the next day: paddleboarding on Lake bled! Our morning began much like the other days, with a drive out to our meeting point. This time we were on the other side of Bled, near the little island with the church. Our goal was to make it to that island. We got out of the car and walked a short way to a rowing center, where instructions said we would meet our guide outside. We ended up beating the guide there by a few minutes and were consequently confused when we couldn’t find anyone. Eventually a small hatchback with boards strapped to the top drove up, and we met our guide, a small woman from a nearby town who was very friendly and helpful.

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She got us set up with wet suits (which was good, seeing as the water was cold) and explained the technique. She helped us onto our boards and before long we were on our way. At first, I stayed on my knees for a bit as I got used to the feeling of the board beneath me. There are fins underneath which greatly help with stability, but I still felt like I was a bit heavy for the board and had to be cautious with where I shifted my weight.

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Easy does it..

We made our way from the dock timidly around to the shore nearby. After a little bit I decided to try my hand at standing, and found that with considerable effort I was able to. Chelsea later informed me that women tend to have an easier time with this, because more of their weight is distributed lower towards the board. I had to be very careful with my footing and balance and had a few near-misses just on the way over towards the shore. Our guide and Chelsea didn’t seem to be having as hard a time as I was.

At the nearby shore we stopped briefly at a small little pier. With solid ground (ok, maybe wood) under me I took the opportunity to admire the scenery. We didn’t stay long at the dock however and before long we were back at it again, this time with the island in our sights. During this stretch of paddling I decided that it was a good idea to get a more intimate experience with the water (ahem) and fell in. Twice. It was cold but I wasn’t too upset, it actually felt quite refreshing due to the wet suit providing some insulation.

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Despite my dips in the lake we did eventually make it to the island and pulled our boards ashore. Our first priority as we landed was of course gelato. Our guide treated us, something I wasn’t sure how to handle. Was this included in what we had paid for the excursion? I had brought my wallet along thinking we might snack on the island. It was a little awkward to say the least as I wasn’t sure whether to offer to pay. Nonetheless we enjoyed the treat sitting in the shade surrounded by pristine waters and crowds of tourists. Our guide explained how many Korean and Chinese visitors came to the island every summer. We were seeing just the first of them in mid-May.

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After our ice cream we did a quick lap of the island. Our guide’s husband ran one of the larger boats, rowing groups of tourists across the lake. She explained how she sometimes would hang out here with her son, who was an aspiring fisherman. We walked by the shoreline and the church, where we learned weddings and major Catholic holidays were celebrated.

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We rounded the island near the shore and hopped back on the paddle boards. The wind was against us now, making steering and control that much more difficult. I’m happy to say I only fell in once on the return journey, but Chelsea and I also decided (intentionally!) to take a dip in the lake, so it was twice in the water for me again.

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Fighting the wind, we made our way back to the rowing center and climbed onto the pier. We changed out of the wet suits and packed up the equipment, taking a minute to dip our feet in the water and enjoy the cool sensation. As we were getting ready to leave the guide kindly offered to give us a ride back to our car. We took her up on this, and she made an even nicer offer: suggesting we take a slight detour to check out a nearby viewpoint. She drove us through a small neighborhood we never would have found on our own, then parked at a small trail head next to someone’s house. A short (3 minute) walk treated us to the following splendid view of lake Bled:

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Lake Bled from above

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After we took in the view, we got dropped off at our car. Following a recommendation from our guide, we went around to the other side of the lake to check out a festival going on to grab some lunch. There we tried a few local dishes, enjoyed the music, and took our time doing some people-watching as well as window-shopping. There was some kind of accordion theme going on and we saw hundreds of people playing their instruments, parading, and having fun. It was a neat experience to see music so different than contemporary popular music being so celebrated and admired.

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I was good, I promise

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We spent a few hours at the festival, after which we got in the car to continue our return journey. We were bound for Germany, but only barely. We’d picked a place to stay just a few kilometers past the Austrian border. First we had to cross the last few kilometers in Slovenia and all of Austria, however. Our toll vignette expired the prior day, but given that we had only a few minutes ride in the car in Slovenia I decided to chance it. My gamble paid off, but not without a bit of stress – we actually did get stopped at the Austrian border but when we told him we were coming from Bled we were let off with a warning. Score!

Next time, we’ll be wrapping up my vacation with Chelsea.

Slowenien – der Canyon

We left Croatia. Due to how we had planned out our drive we didn’t have too far to go, as we had been working our way back north all week. We passed Ljubljana on the highway, and before we knew it we found ourselves passing lake Bled on our way towards lodging. We had picked out an apartment within the boundaries of Triglav National Park in the tiny little village of Stara Fužina. We made our way to the town only to find that all the street names were literally just “Stara Fužina”. Tiny alleyways, narrow passages, and sharp turns made the whole layout all the more confusing. Eventually we managed to find our apartment and checked in by getting the key from a neighbor. Chelsea got out to the car and walked to find the place because the roads were so tight. The place was cozy with room for 4 or 5 guests and a full kitchen.

After checking in we looked up a place for dinner and settled on a pizza joint a few minutes down the road back towards Bled. I ordered a strange pizza with onions, mushrooms, peppers, sausage, and other toppings. Chelsea got pasta with hot-dogs mixed in.  The food was good and we both liked the atmosphere, if not the decorations. We spent some time at dinner picking out the artwork on the walls to determine whether we’d want them hanging in our apartments. We usually said no, but in some cases we agreed that the art looked good when presented in the appropriate context.

After dinner we didn’t have much else planned – we set up our bags for the next day and went to bed in anticipation of an early start the following day.

The next day started with a quick fruit breakfast before we drove to Bled where we had made prior arrangements. Our destination was actually back in Triglav NP, but our guided excursion departed from Bled. When we arrived in town we parked on the street near the office, only to find that we couldn’t stay parked there. Our first challenge of the day was finding parking – I trusted Chelsea to find the lot and we only got lost a little 🙂 We found a lot nearby which cost 5EUR for daily parking but we had beaten the attendant to the lot and consequently didn’t have to pay.

Returning to the office, we took care of some paperwork, Chelsea paid (thank you!) and we got off on our way. We were spending the morning with another couple, whose names were Matt and Jess, who happened to be from Atlanta. Shortly before we got in the van I saw one of them had left a wallet in the office, it was lucky I noticed and was able to return it to them. We had about an hour drive out to our destination, during which our guide discussed Slovenia, activities and natural features in the area, and asked us about our background in the United States. The drive actually passed through Italy before passing back into Slovenia. Our guide talked about the skiing and climbing culture in the area. Given the staggering rock walls surrounding us as we drove, it was easy to see why the alpine culture ran deep in this part of Slovenia.

We passed a beautiful hidden lake banked by steep mountains on all sides. Shortly after that we arrived at our destination in Triglav NP, an unassuming valley with a small village nearby. Our guide parked on an open patch of gravel and laid out our equipment for the day: wet-suits, helmets, and shoes with decent grip. Our task for the day? Canyoning!

For the unfamiliar, canyoning is a recreational sport of following a river through a canyon (hence the name). It entails sliding, jumping, and climbing down waterfalls, brief bouts of swimming, and lots of climbing and scrambling. We started off with some easier obstacles; short slides, climbing over rocks, and wading through the stream. Before long we faced our first large waterfall. Unfortunately we had to be lowered down this. Our guide skillfully prepared the rope and deftly lowered us one by one.

After our first big descent we continued on. We crossed several more pools and took on more slides. We did a few that were taller than before, where our guide lowered us partially before allowing us to plunge into the icy cold water. It was a blast and the pristine blue waters and white rocks framed the experience beautifully.

Two parts of the trip stand out as being even more memorable than the rest. Our trip down the canyon featured a 50m waterfall descent. Obviously this is too high to jump or slide, so our guide tied us to a long stretch of rope we’d brought along and lowered us down. Hanging in the air with frigid water pouring over my head, I admit I worried about the integrity of his knots. It was one of the few times in recent memory I can recall fearing for my life. If something in that rope failed, I’d surely have died as there were rocks directly below the falls. The harness dug into my legs a little as it supported my weight, but I was treated to a beautiful alpine view in the clearing ahead. I was the first one down and watched as the rest of our group was lowered one-by-one. Afterwards, the guide skillfully made his way down quickly, hoisting himself.

The other experience that stuck out was when we were allowed to jump into one of the pools, skipping the waterfall entirely. I can recall vividly the rapid surge of icy water as I plunged into the deep little nook. I surfaced beaming, breathing heavily from the shock. The others followed me (though a few opted to slide rather than jump) and we pressed on.

We continued sliding, climbing, and weaving our way through the canyon. As we neared the end, things started to flatten out a little. While it was slightly disappointing that we were nearing the end, the widening of the canyon brought more spectacular views of the valley enveloping us.

We reached the end. We had survived – we thanked our guide and exchanged contact information with the other couple. As we were climbing out of our wet suits our ride back to Bled arrived. He had brought cold beer for us, and I indulged as Chelsea didn’t seem too interested in trying the alcohol. On the ride back we talked with the guide a bit about different things. Education came up and we learned he spoke at least 4 or 5 languages. His child was learning several at once as well. Europe always impresses me with its members’ tolerance of other cultures and languages.

We arrived back in Bled and found a nearby pizza place for lunch. We were eating late, so we had the place more-or-less to ourselves. The quiet atmosphere was a nice change after an exciting morning.

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After lunch we spent some time walking around lake Bled. We climbed up to the castle entrance but found that the admittance was too expensive for our taste, so we circled back down and hung out by the shore for a bit. We didn’t stay too late before heading back to the apartment to relax and prep for the following day. We spent the evening by the nearby lake (Bohinj) skipping stones and enjoying a small picnic.

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We’d only had a day in Slovenia, but we’d already had the opportunity to experience so much beauty and adventure. Next time I’ll tell you about the following two days we had in Slovenia and what else we got up to. Until then,

Best wishes and safe travels everyone,

– Ben

 

Note: We have pictures of the canyoning from the other couple we went with, but as they have not yet uploaded the pictures I haven’t been able to include them. I’ll edit this post accordingly when I have access to the photos.

Kroatien – Plitvice und Opatija

We drove for around 2 hours before reaching our hotel near Plitvice (pronounced Plit-vit-sah). I hadn’t known when we’d booked, but this place was actually a campsite as well as a hotel. It featured a small market and restaurant as well as RV hookups, outdoor bathrooms, and laundry facilities. We were living in luxury however and had a private cabin to ourselves. After checking in we quickly looked up a good place for dinner and made the short drive there. I had tasty cheese Gnocchi and a schnitzel-like fried turkey dish. After dinner we had gelato. Needless to say it was good, I had hazelnut and a vanilla flavor.
We had actually rearranged our trip to be here on a Wednesday. Plitvice is the biggest tourist-draw in Croatia and we knew if we’d been here on a weekend we’d be fighting crowds. Consequently, we made it a priority to get up and out of the cabin early. We got a few groceries at the market for lunch, then made it to the park around 8:00 AM.
Entering the park, we found ourselves in what felt like an alien world. Surrounded by waterfalls, crystal-clear lakes, and charming wooden pathways, we had the place nearly to ourselves for the first hour or two.

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View near the park entrance

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Water everywhere!

We took the opportunity to explore the more-popular lower falls first, which glistened in the morning sun. I was ecstatic to see the place so empty, as I had seen nightmarish-pictures of crowded walkways packed with tourists. We took the long way around and crossed several sets of falls – tall ones, wide ones, and walls of water elegantly cascading through rocks and plants looking like fissures in the earth.

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We took a few breaks with some views

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There were so many waterfalls we occasionally noticed that some of them had been covered up by the walkway, as if they weren’t pretty enough to warrant a view given the surroundings. We continued up past the lower falls (which were growing more crowded now) and went to the larger upper lakes. We took a winding trail circling the biggest lake and were delighted to find it nearly empty. The path alternated between shady forest and fleeting glimpses of the lake, dotted by more waterfalls. We unfortunately forgot the sunscreen in the car, so the shade offered by the trees was a big benefit for us.

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More curtains of water

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Pristine lakeside views
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Our videographer at work
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Look at that blue!

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Our path took us up above one of the most impressive falls in the park. With such a nice view, we of course opted to stop for a picnic. We were only occasionally interrupted by other visitors who wanted us to take pictures for them. I would say it was the best view in the whole park – high praise for such a beautiful place. Another hiker pointed out a brilliantly camouflaged lizard which we surely would have missed otherwise. I grabbed a few pictures before Chelsea scared it off with her GoPro.

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Our lunch view
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Lizard buddies

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We climbed down from our vantage point and found the park had filled up significantly. We wandered some of the boardwalks to get an up-close view, occasionally fighting through crowds to do so. We took a couple of ferries to access different areas of the park, and found even more to explore in the seemingly endless maze of crystalline water and lush greenery.

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We witnessed an altercation between a German-speaking tour guide and an old woman who seemed Italian. The tour guide insisted that her group go together, splitting up the woman’s party onto two boats. She was very upset and made a lot of sarcastic comments. I caught the tour guide calling the woman crazy to her group.

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Even in the afternoon there were a few open trails!
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Our view on the ferry

It was striking just how densely concentrated all the beautiful waterfalls were. Chelsea noted that it was hard to properly appreciate all of it; whenever you saw something pretty another beautiful scene caught your eye. The afternoon light illuminated the lakes with a bright blue hue, making the whole park look a little surreal. Chelsea also pointed out how ironic it was that any of these waterfalls could be the highlight or main attraction of a different park, but here some of them were covered up and others given no special attention. We had a bit of a drive ahead of us to get to the next place, so we left the park around 4 or 5 PM after a quick stop for a postcard.

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Our next lodging was out in the middle of nowhere. Our drive took us through a lot of farmland and tiny villages. We took the opportunity to knock out a Croatian must- obtaining roadside cheese! We stopped at a tiny shack with a hand-written sign and were greeted by a tiny dog with lots of enthusiasm. The man working at the stand offered us two options – sheep+cow cheese or goat+cow. The sheep seemed stranger to me so I opted for that one. I got the smallest quantity they’d sell me (about 10 EUR worth) and gave it a try – I liked it! Maybe it tasted better because it had a little character, but I enjoyed the mix of flavors and textures.
We arrived at a small guesthouse in a little village called Japodi. This was the closest we could stay to the hike we’d picked out for the next day. A medium-sized dog with a ton of energy bounded out to greet us and a smile spread across my face as I played with the dog and chased her a bit. The guest-house was very nice with elegant wood decoration and lots of space.

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Unfortunately there was no real option for dinner that we could find in town, but luckily our hosts had prepared dinner for us! If there’s one thing I like better than dinner it’s a surprise dinner served where you’ll be sleeping. Two French-Canadian women were also staying there, we ate with them. Chelsea didn’t care for the food much – I felt bad for her but didn’t see a viable alternative as we weren’t likely to find any restaurant nearby. I ate quite well (a 3-course meal) and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Thankfully we had some groceries left over from before so I went out and fetched food for her afterwards.
We went to bed shortly afterwards.

The next day our hosts served a breakfast which Chelsea found much more agreeable. She enjoyed croissants, rolls, and eggs while I had some meat and cheese. We had been planning to hike (Bijele I Samarske) but Chelsea’s knee wasn’t feeling 100%, so we opted for a rest day instead. Per a recommendation from our host, we drove over to check out the coastal town of Opatija (Oh-patch-yah). The town is close to Italy and consequently had an Italian feel to it, with white buildings capped by orange roofs. We spent most of our time walking along the coast, where a wide walkway connected the towns and featured all sorts of restaurants, artisans, and yes, gelato shops.

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Our host had told us to walk to the next town over, so we went west without a second thought for about 2 miles till we reached the town, only to find it pretty dead with not much going on. Only later we realized she had meant the town to the East. We wandered around the town and didn’t find much to do. We noticed a trail head sign and decided we’d climb up a bit to get a nice view overlooking the water. As a bonus, it seemed like we could take a higher trail back to Opatija to form a nice loop. Therefore, on our rest day from hiking, we set off hiking. Yep.

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The hike was actually tougher than either of us had realized when we’d started. With a 450m climb through twisting city roads, we were forced to take some breaks due to the hot sun and lack of wind. We (unknowingly) passed the point where we were supposed to make our turn and continued to climb into a nearby park. We continued for a while before growing frustrated and eventually turning around. It was good that we did as we were now pretty far from the car with no clear direction on how to get to any decent viewpoint. Chelsea got frustrated that the time posted at the trail head seemed to be faster than we were capable of.

We made our way back to Opatija and stopped at an art stand where I bought Chelsea a few handmade paintings. Croatia turned out to be more beautiful than we could have imagined. Afterwards we set off to leave Croatia for our next stop: Triglav National Park in Slovenia. You’ll hear about our time there in my next post!

Until then,

Best wishes and safe travels everyone,

– Ben (+ Chelsea)

Kroatien – Paklenica

Another weekend, another trip. This time, I had planned a longer itinerary than usual as I had some special company – Chelsea, my girlfriend, was flying over from the US to visit for a week!

My journey began with an early wake-up and drive to our rendezvous point – the airport in Munich. Her flight landed around 8:00 AM, so I had to leave my apartment around 6:00 to meet her on-time. I had packed and intentionally deprived myself of sleep the day before so that I could get to bed early and not be too tired for the long drive ahead.

With the sun shining bright and early I took off on the autobahn, hindered only by the occasional spot of construction. Shortly before 8:00, I pulled into the parking near her terminal and got out to pick her up. I wasn’t waiting long when I received a surprise hug, just as I was checking my phone to get an update on her flight status.  I was ecstatic! While we had done okay with long-distance, not seeing someone for 4.5 months is bound to be difficult. We had been 6 hours offset with time zones too, which made the distance feel that much harder. We talked for a long while and took our time getting back to the car. It felt good to be reunited.

Eventually we got settled and I punched in our destination into the GPS – a small town in Croatia! The drive-time was about 8 hours (not counting the two behind me). With the open road ahead, we set out and were on our way. Chelsea and I spent the morning catching up, talking about stupid random things, and doing a bit of planning for the days ahead. She did great given the jet-lag and didn’t nap before lunch. We stopped at a small gas station near the Austrian border to buy a toll vignette (sticker) and again for lunch somewhere in Austria. I ordered Kasespätzle (a delightful style of cheesy noodles). Chelsea didn’t like it but I gave her credit for trying.

After lunch jet-lag got the better of Chelsea and she took a short nap (around 1.5 hours).  Naturally I took the opportunity to rock some music as we continued to drive. We had to stop again when we entered Slovenia for another toll sticker but otherwise had no major issues crossing through the small country. Exiting Slovenia we faced a controlled border, as Croatia isn’t in the Schengen zone (despite being in the EU- who knows!). Chelsea got an exit and entry stamp and was pleased. I received neither, I suppose because I had the German work-visa. Ah well.

With several more hours driving (and more tolls) we finally arrived at the apartment Chelsea had picked out. It was early evening by the time we arrived. Fortunately my phone worked, as we had to call the host to have the neighbor let us in. The apartment was fairly simple but we hadn’t picked it for its furnishings – the view was incredible and the location was convenient for us with easy access to hiking and other activities. It had a porch which was along the sea.

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View from the apartment

I was tired from the long drive, and Chelsea was tired from an even longer day (flight + car ride). We picked out a place nearby for dinner where I had some grilled fish, she ordered a steak but the waiter said they only had pork, so she went with a “cheese” omelette but did not eat the cheese. After dinner it didn’t take long for us to get to bed. We wanted to have a reasonably early wake-up the next day and had a lot of exploring ahead of us.

The next morning we went to get some groceries to make dinner. I also stopped by an ATM as Croatia is not on the Euro but instead uses the Kuna. We picked up a little chicken and some pasta (food that Chelsea will eat :]), dropped off the stuff at the apartment, and headed out for a hike in Paklenica national park.

After the shopping run, we got off to a bit of a later start than we had anticipated. Undeterred, we made the “smart” decision to pick out one of the longer and more strenuous hikes the park had to offer. Our planned route would take us through both main canyons in the park as well as traverse some highland between them. Our best decision of the morning was to buy a park map which proved to be invaluable.

Map in hand, we set off on our hike around 11:00AM. Our map informed us the hike would take 6 hours. The park entrance is the mouth of one of the canyons, both of which open up to the seafront. Climbers seemed to be everywhere near the park entrance, some scaling walls which looked easy and many others attempting difficult rock faces. Some of them looked really tiny, giving a sense of scale for the massive park. We walked through forested paths and began our own ascent up the canyon, winding back and forth along switchbacks to approach the far canyon wall. After an hour or two the trees started to break and we were treated to views of the opposite canyon wall as well as the canyon’s mouth spilling into the Adriatic sea and the small town of Starigrad which sprouted up around the park.

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Climbers, climbers everywhere!

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Near our lunch spot

We stopped for a picnic lunch with that nice view and enjoyed taking in the scenery. Afterwards our trail dipped away from the canyon opening, and we entered a new world: we left a scene of high cliffs, grey rocks, and the distant sea and found ourselves walking among grassy fields, small ruins of buildings, and dense forests. It hardly seemed like we were up high, though the flat ground was a welcome respite from our climb. There were a few intersections up between the canyons and we expect we may have taken a wrong turn somewhere. Eventually we found a path which began to descend into the other canyon. We had some more nice views as we went down, but the trail eventually left us right in the semi-dry riverbed. At first we were concerned we had lost the trail until we spotted another trail marker and found that the trail *was* the riverbed. We were tasked with climbing up rocks, scrambling, and making our slow way down-river to continue our trek.

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More canyon views
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Nothing  but trail ahead

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In the riverbed

The river-trail proved to be fun for awhile but as the afternoon wore on we began to worry about impending darkness. I’ll point out that Chelsea was more worried than I was, but we had some difficulty finding obscure trail markers and did not want to be outside after dark with loose footholds and unknown terrain.

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Maybe it’s this way?

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The scariest part was probably when we lost the trail completely and had to backtrack for about 10 minutes until we found it again. By then it was starting to get dark and we didn’t know how much of the trail we had left to complete. Chelsea was thoroughly stressed by now, and when I tried to make light of the situation I was shut down immediately – she was in survival mode, so I got serious and just tried to cover ground as quickly and safely as possible.

Just as the sun was setting, our trail flattened out and turned into a wide footpath. We didn’t know it yet, but we had made it. We were practically running along the wide easy path as we were not sure if more uneven ground followed it, and we wanted to stretch every last bit of daylight as much as possible. Before long we reached the second park entrance and realized we wouldn’t be dealing with any more tough terrain. Chelsea calmed down a good bit after that, and we took our time making a leisurely walk back to the car. By the time we reached the car we had taken around 9 hours. While we stopped for lunch and some photos Chelsea and I consider ourselves fairly good hikers in reasonable shape. Assuming we did the hike we thought we’d picked out, we weren’t sure how someone would complete it in 6 hours without being incredibly fast.

It was fortunate that we had bought groceries before setting out on the hike, as we arrived home so late that not many restaurants would be open. We were also lucky that I had decided to get two packs of Chicken, because we were both thoroughly hungry by the time we finished cooking dinner (around 11:00PM). After we ate, we slept, exhausted from a long day.

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Ready for rafting

The next morning we woke up a little earlier to head out for the day’s adventure: a rafting trip! The trip was a fun way to spend the afternoon – Chelsea and I had a small boat to ourselves and were free to maneuver on our own. I started off steering and got a good bit of well-deserved flak as I kept forgetting which way my steering motions would turn the boat. I was pretty bad at first but we progressively got more smooth as the trip continued. There was an 11-meter waterfall about halfway through the journey. They didn’t let us drop down the falls but had us get out to walk down and take a short break. The guides then let the rafts fall down the waterfall without anyone in them. Chelsea and I found a rock in the river the hang out and grab a snack we had brought with us.

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Not a bad place to stop for a snack

We switched places and Chelsea tried her hand at steering only to find it was not so easy 🙂 I switched her back and after a lot of practice I got fairly good at steering the boat.  We reached a 6-meter waterfall and were told that only one of us (per boat) would be allowed to ride over it. We both offered to let the other ride, but in the end I took the boat down the falls. It was exciting but not difficult as a guide made sure you went over the safest part of the falls.

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Up and over!

After the large waterfall the trip was fairly tame. We had a few more minutes of rowing and took the opportunity to swim. Or rather, I told Chelsea I would swim and flipped her into the water before she was ready 🙂 I jumped in afterwards to avoid retribution and found the water cold (40°F) and refreshing, Our guide took the chance to explain a bit of history of the region and point out some old structures to us before the trip ended.

After rafting we went back to our apartment without much of a firm plan. Wary to hike late in the day after the prior day’s experience, we decided to take our afternoon and do a bit of planning and just hanging out. We had each brought one nice set of clothes for a date night and decided we would do it that night because we had time to clean up and find a nice place.

We went to a steakhouse right near the water. I enjoyed the meal – I had a sirloin and some grilled veggies. Chelsea and I had done “dates” but it isn’t really the same over Skype, especially when we had to meet in my evenings which places our remote dates squarely in the afternoon EST. After dinner we went home pretty early with enough time to mess around with our cameras for sunset and night photography. We were able to get a few cool pictures before we called it a night:

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The next day was our last in the area. We had recovered from our first long hike and were ready to go to Paklenica again. This time, we drove the car up to a high pass and hiked from there, eager to get some cool views of the park. This hike was very different than the prior one – there was some scrambling and plenty of walking, but this area of the park provided yet another look at the surrounding landscape. Our hike was an out-and-back trip to two viewpoints. It was overcast and windy as we left the car to follow the road back to our trailhead. We started with a steep but short climb from the road followed by relatively flat terrain until we got to the rocky area. We started to go down into a small bowl of the rocks when I happened to discover the first branch in the trail which went out to the first lookout.

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The climb up was steep and at some times narrow. This, coupled with the wind, made Chelsea a bit nervous. There was one particularly troublesome section where you had to slide along a narrow ledge without much protection, but we both made it up. We ran into an older couple who seemed like rock climbers (given their equipment). Chelsea was more comfortable at the first peak but I opted to continue on to the “real” viewpoint on the second one. The wind was really whipping, adding to the excitement. One of the climbers leaned into the wind over a big ledge, suspending himself over the open air. They hiked down, leaving us alone at the lookout. We ate lunch, grabbed a few pictures, and enjoyed the wind and sun, taking our time before heading back down.

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She looks a bit lonely over there
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Views from the ridge

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From the first view we crossed the “bowl” formed by the rocks and began a second climb. This one was even steeper; chains were provided to facilitate hoisting yourself up the mountain. We were a little more sheltered from the wind here though, so I think the ascent was easier overall. The second viewpoint provided a full 360 degree panoramic view. Around 100 degrees was dominated by the Adriatic coast while the rest featured spanning peaks and canyons. At the top the wind was stronger than the last peak. Chelsea was blown slightly, and my camera suffered an accident (the tripod blew over despite being weighed down with our packs). We were worried the camera was irreversibly damaged, but fortunately a quick power cycle fixed things. The screen is a little chipped now. With love, from Paklenica.

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Up, up, up
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360 views!

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At the edge of the world!

We made our way back down into the bowl and worked back towards the car. We missed the trail again here, taking a brief foray into some woods until we realized we needed to turn back. We corrected our course and made it back to the car without incident. After the long winding drive down, we went back to the main park entrance to quickly grab a postcard and set off for our next destination.

Our trip had just begun, but we were already thrilled. The Croatian coast proved as beautiful and challenging as we could have hoped for, With much more to come, we couldn’t wait to see what else was in store for us. You, however, will have to wait for that. Until then,

Best wishes and safe travels everyone,

– Ben (+ Chelsea)

Ungarn – Budapest

This weekend I had the east in my sights. Budapest, capital of Hungary, is a lively city renowned for its architecture, nightlife, and natural beauty. Unfortunately I couldn’t devote more time than just a weekend here, but I took the opportunity to at least see some of the main highlights.

My journey began by train. I caught an inter-city express up to the Frankfurt airport where I made my own connection to a direct flight from Frankfurt to Budapest. The train ride was uneventful; I brought my laptop with me and took advantage of the free wifi offered on board the train. At the airport I grabbed a snack before the relatively short flight to land in Budapest. Upon arrival I went to the ATM to withdraw some local currency. By mistake, I requested 100,000 HUF instead of the 10,000 I had meant to start with (~350$ versus ~35). I paid a few dollars later to change some of the money back, but it was funny to have gotten out so much money. Hungary had one of the weakest currencies of anywhere I’d ever traveled, but that didn’t stop me from feeling like a big deal with 100,000 in my pocket.

I caught a bus and then the metro to get into town. Fortunately they make things pretty easy, and while Hungarian is completely incomprehensible to me, all the signage has English posted as a second language. The metro car I got on seemed straight out of the USSR; it was old, rickety, and had a very grungy industrial feel to it. I helped a stranger on the metro find where he was going. It turns out he had been on my flight from Frankfurt and coincidentally he was staying at an apartment with the same address as my hostel, so after saying goodbye to him on the train I bumped into him again as I found the building. Small world.

The hostel was a cozy little loft space up on the fourth floor. Although I arrived around midnight there were several backpackers up talking and playing with those little cast-iron 3D puzzles you fidget with. I joined them, we made introductions and discussed our background and recent travels. We stayed up later than I anticipated due to good conversations; I rolled into bed around 2AM.

I had a lot to see and not a whole lot of time to spend in the city, so I planned out a circular route to check out the highlights. My first stop was the central market. A very brief walk took me to the large re-purposed train station which houses the market stalls. Seeing endless rows of crowded shops reminded me a little of Marrakesh, although the scene here wasn’t quite as chaotic. Still, lots of locals and visitors choked he passageways checking out the wares. Spices, sausage, breads, and produce were all popular options. Upstairs, shops cater more to tourists’ wants, offering trinkets, clothing, and souvenirs. I also had my breakfast upstairs where there were a few options for prepared food. I had heard the food to try was Lángos, a deep-fried flatbread. I ordered mine with garlic and cheese topping. If deep-fried bread with garlic and cheese sounds appealing to you, I’m happy to report that it didn’t disappoint. I was served a full plate with a small mountain of cheese and had no trouble finishing the whole serving.

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The market building

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Mmm.. what’s not to like?

After my meal I stocked up on some water and left the market. My next stop was Sziklatemplom, a famous church and monastery carved into caves in a large hillside. My visit inside was fairly brief but I took the time to admire some intricate carvings as well as the dynamic between the natural and artificial. The monks had left some of the original cave features intact, including some stalagmites and stalactites. Only a few rooms of the main church and monastery were open to visitors, so I ran out of places to see before long and headed back outside.

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He doesn’t approve of my photography

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I left the church and began my climb up Gellért Hill towards the citadel which tops it. A few shady paths later I arrived at the top with an awesome view of the city laid out below me. I think the nicest views were of the river Danube and the Pest side, although it’s also possible to see the castle and other parts of the city fanning away from the river. The citadel itself is unoccupied and closed to visitors, although there is a famous Soviet statue dominating the skyline from the vantage point. The statue was erected following the WWII liberation from the fascist government, though the text has since been changed after the fall of the Soviet Union.

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View from the citadel

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I spent longer on the walk down than I had on the hike up, taking time to relax in the park and catch a bit more shade before my next climb. I was bound for the Castle Quarter atop a smaller hill on this side of the river. There, I circled Buda Castle and the Royal Palace. I opted not to go inside to save some time, though I enjoyed more nice city views and also overlooked the palace gardens.

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One unlucky visitor had the misfortune of watching her phone drop around 30 feet. She had been posing with a “selfie stick” holding it over a ledge to get a picture with the city in the background when the mechanism broke loose and let the phone fall. The phone fell onto stone but it was cushioned slightly by a small pile of leaves. I didn’t stick around to see if the phone survived the fall or not.

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Grand statues at the palace

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Near the Royal Palace was Alexander Palace, wish some impressive facades. They do not allow visitors as its the current president’s residence, although I got to admire the gardens, statues, and official-looking guards. Continuing on, I followed the street until reaching Matthias Church, a well known Gothic cathedral. While the architecture looks somewhat similar to other European churches, I enjoyed one aspect above all else: the roof. Decked out in bright colors, the patterned tiles offer a delightful contrast to the stark white stone walls.

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At least the guards don’t look so silly?
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Matthias Church

Near the church stands the Fisherman’s Bastion. The marble structure offered even better views of the city than I had previously seen. I didn’t linger, but as usual I made sure to take a little time to appreciate the view.

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Fisherman’s Bastion

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There was a movie being filmed in Budapest during my visit. I saw a bridge and tunnel closed for the filming as well as a few hundred people go by on motorcycles. I’m not sure what the film is about, but people have told me filming in Budapest is quite common due to lower costs than western Europe.

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I hope he was with the movie..

I crossed the Chain-Bridge, a well known landmark, to leave the Buda side of town and enter into Pest. There, I joined a guided tour to learn more about the impact communism had on Hungary in the 20th century. The tour was not fantastic as we didn’t actually see that many sights, but a few notable points were explained to me. There’s a controversial statue near the Parliament building which is touted as a Holocaust memorial, depicting a fearsome-looking Eagle (Nazi Germany) terrorizing an Angel (Hungary). This has been called-out as an attempt to white-wash history. Dissenters argue that the statue is misleading because it ignores the Hungarian government’s willingness to join the Axis and comply with the Germans prior to the brief occupation.

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The chain bridge!
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Controversy in marble and bronze

Our guide also explained the current political climate in the country which was interesting to hear. The country is now democratic, but many voters do not exercise voting rights due to the long Soviet occupation, according to her point of view. For many years, the communists held “elections” with only one party being allowed to run. So many feel jaded about the electoral process and therefore don’t believe their voice has any real influence.

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A car from communist Hungary. Fits a family of four!

The tour ended at the square around the massive house of Parliament I’d been photographing all day. I thanked the guide and took the opportunity to walk around and see some of the nearby statues and memorials in the late afternoon sun. There were memorials for the 1956 revolution (an attempt to overthrow the communists), for the Holocaust victims, and another Soviet statue honoring the fallen soldiers of the Red Army in WWII.

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Parliament
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The Soviet WWII memorial, just outside the US embassy

After checking out the buildings nearby and the monuments, I completed my city-loop back to the hostel via the promenade along the Danube. With the sun setting over the mountains to the West, I followed the river back until turning off at the hostel near the main market.

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Back at the hostel shortly before dinner time, I met up with some of the backpackers at the hostel to go eat. Before dinner, we went and checked out a small festival going on on the far side of the river. We thought it was some celebration regarding a crew race which had taken place earlier in the day. There was a free concert; lots of people were just hanging out sipping on drinks and enjoying the atmosphere.

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We went to a nearby restaurant our hosts at the hostel had recommended. For around 10$ I had a beer, some goulash (naturally), and a tasty steak dinner with a heap of fried potato wedges. All things considered it was a pretty good meal, and having the company was a nice change from travelling alone.

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I joined the group for a few drinks after dinner. We started at a place nearby which had a special on some kind of local liquor, though I skipped it and just had a beer. We talked for awhile longer before deciding to check out the famous nightlife in Budapest, Ruin Bars. These bars exist in alleys, abandoned apartments, and other odd places in the former Jewish quarter. We went to the most well-known bar, Szimpla Kert (Simple Garden). There, odd and seemingly out-of-place items decorated the walls and ceilings, giving the place a junkyard vibe. A few side-rooms offered a unique selection at the different bars, and a large open area towards the back actually opened up into an old alley. It was a pretty unique bar experience; I liked that it wasn’t a club with dancing, although it was pretty crowded with loud music unless you dipped into one of the side rooms. I would have preferred somewhere a little less crowded, but it was definitely more to my liking than most places.

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In “the bar” AKA an alleyway

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Two German guys I had eaten dinner with from the hostel were ready to leave after a few drinks. I joined them and they made a pit-stop for a Kebab right near the bar. I didn’t partake although they said it was tasty. We got home around 2:00 and I slept pretty quickly afterwards.

The next day I had a a few more sights to see before heading back to Germany. I woke up a little late, checked out and hopped on the metro towards my first destination: Hero’s Square. The monument was built for the 1000th anniversary of the settlement of the area in 1896. The monument features a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the 7 Magyar Chieftains, and historic leaders in Hungary’s more recent past. The square was a little crowded with visitors and there was a bit of rain, so I didn’t spend much time dipping into the park which branches off from the square, although it looked nice.

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To get out of the rain I took the metro back towards downtown, bound for the Dohány Street Synagogue. The temple is the largest in Europe and the second-largest in the world, boasting an impressive interior and interesting Moorish style exterior. The interior of the temple is quite interesting as it looks more like a church in many ways. For example, lots of colors decorate the roof, and pulpits line the sides of the pews, which are also unusual. 3 rows of benches are divided by two aisles, similar to the layout of many Christian churches.

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The temple also had a sad aspect: during WWII the Jewish population was confined to a run-down ghetto adjacent to the synagogue. Thousands died of starvation and disease. Without permission or the area to give them a proper burial, people began piling bodies up in a small courtyard next to the synagogue. After the war, many victims were identified and given proper burials in a separate cemetery. However, many could not be identified, leading to the creation of a mass grave, holding about 7,000 dead.

For lunch, the German guys had recommended I try a place nearby, “The Hummus Bar”. I am a sucker for chickpeas, and this place did not disappoint. I ordered a big plate with hummus and chicken (served with pitas) and was very happy with the meal.

My last to-do in Budapest was revisiting the basilica to see the impressive interior, catch tower views, and check out “the Holy Right”. The tower experience was similar to many I had had elsewhere. The dome was high, but not so high as to offer a significantly better view than I had had across the river. The interior of the church was more striking, combining elements of eastern and western churches. Rather than feeling pointy, narrow, and Gothic, the interior was wide and boxy, more like an Orthodox church. However it was certainly decked out like you’d expect a Catholic church to be, with gold, high sweeping arches, and stained glass alongside fine artwork.

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The view from the dome

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View inside the dome from below

Inside the church there was a relic – a mummified hand of a St. Stephen, a Hungarian monarch. Housed in a golden chamber, it was strange seeing human remains venerated like that. At least the display looked nice I suppose.

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Can I get a hand?

With my tour of the basilica complete, I made my way to the airport and eventually home. On the flight I had starting writing this post but noticed the man sitting next to me struggling with some basic C code. I helped him out slightly – it was a unique experience to be able to help a foreign stranger with something I was familiar with.

I got home around 11, unpacked, and went to bed. Budapest was beautiful with so much to see I unfortunately had to rush through many of the sites and skip several others. The city is definitely work a re-visit sometime in the future when I have a little more time to dive in and see what else the city has to offer. Communist statues, thermal baths, and more stunning architecture await me back in Budapest. For now though, I have other places to explore.

Best wishes and safe travels everyone

– Ben