Wednesday, 23 September 2015

11/09/2015 - Berlin and Munich, Germany

11/09/2015 - Berlin

Our first night in Berlin and we headed to an Italian Restaurant close to our Hotel.  I think this was one of the best (and most fattening) pastas I have ever had.  I had the Spaghetti with Parmesan Cheese, Cognac and Truffles...  The pasta is partially cooked then placed in a parmesan wheel - with a lot of freshly shaved parmesan than cognac is added (which is lit) and then truffles are added.  Then placed in a huge bowl with slices of more truffles - it was very very delicious...

12/09/2015 - Berlin

Today we set off to do our city walking tour.  It is amazing how they are confronting their past.  There are some amazing sights and stories.

After our walking tour the guide suggested a good place to go for a steak (Dave has been craving a good steak) he hasn't been able to get too many over here.  We sat down at the restaurant and Dave says that the lady sitting next to us looks like Pam Beauchamp (Emma Beauchamp's Mum - Emma is a great friend of Louise's and also The Elford's lived across the road from them at one stage) and after looking and listening Dave decided it was them and we said hello.  Unbelievable, we have both travelled half way around the world and we find ourselves sitting next to each other at a restaurant in Berlin.  So after a chat and a few wines / beers it's time to go home.

Of course Dave and I are now on the other side of the city and to get home we have worked out (with the help of a homeless person who lives in the station) that we need to catch three trains - we were lucky that we didn't fall asleep and that we made it home - neither of us can remember the whole trip home, but we both woke up in the same bed in our hotel....

13/09/2015 - Berlin

We did the Hop On Hop Off bus tour today, whilst it is great to be able to give you a perspective of the city, we have decided that when it is an audio tour you really don't get as much out of them as when there is a tour guide on the bus.  We can understand the need for the audio tours with so many visitors speaking different languages, but this trip we have found the walking tours to be a lot more informative and interesting.  However, that being said we did enjoy the Paris Hop on Hop off as the sights are more spread out.

14/09/2015 - Berlin

Today is the walking tour of the Third Reich.  It is interesting to listen to the stories and see the actual location of the events from history.

German (Nazi) architecture is designed to be imposing.  All the windows, doors and rooms are oversized in order to make you feel small.   Good news is that if you tripped as you came up to the door  you wouldn't chip your teeth on the door knob...

This was the Russian war memorial set up in West Germany after WWII.  (The Russians lost about 7 million soldiers in the war and Russian soldiers were the ones that liberated Germany.)

So after another hard day its off to the Hofbrau House for our first try of their famous Pork Knuckle and 1 litre Steins of beer - and we were not disappointed.  Even for Dave and I one meal would of been enough - oh and one beer probably would of been enough too - but whilst we didn't finish our meals - we were able to finish off a few beers - even I'm enjoying the beer over here, not sure if its the beer or the fact that the wine isn't so great.

17/09/2015 - Munich

So our first day in Munich is spent on the walking tour of the city.  And wow this city has a completely different vibe than that of Berlin - you feel comfortable straight away here and the old town is very pretty, with many a beer hall - think we are going to enjoy Munich.  Our tour guide did give us some interesting facts regarding Oktoberfest.  The nationality of the most number of visitors (other then German) is Australian.   Australian's lose more passports than any other nationality, so a temporary Australian Embassy has been set-up in the British Embassy to deal with the Australians.  Munich has a population of approx 1.5m people but when Oktoberfest is on it swells to over 7m people.  No wonder our accommodation was so expensive....

On the tour we visited one of the churches where you were not allowed to take photos, eat, etc oh and you are not allowed to have your hands in your pockets - because the devil lives there....

Well after the walking tour we met up with 3 young men.  One from the US, one from Canada, and one from Australia, they were travelling by themselves.  (Sounds like a joke... An Americian, Canadian and Australian walk into a bar....)  So we all decided to head on over to the Hofbrau House for A BEER - well lets just say that ONE BEER turned into many beers and we had a long night of drinking beer, the men were drinking 1 litre steins whilst I was only to handle 1/2 litre beers.  Not sure how many we had, but we left there about 6 hours later and we were all very very happy when we left.  Dave and I still need to catch public transport back to the hotel but at least this time it is only two trains - and the system seems a lot easier to understand in Munich, no need to ask for help from the homeless.  Oh and did I mention that the alcohol content is 6 - 7 %.

18/09/2015 - Munich

Lets just say that the 18th was a rest day.  I couldn't even eat the free breakfast and didn't venture out of bed until dinner time.  Whilst Dave did manage to eat breakfast and to watch the Rugby League - oh yes our travelling is determined by when the footy is on.

19/09/2015 - Munich

After a good nights sleep we are both feeling a lot better, of course we can't venture out until after the football has finished - congratulations Cowboys.

This was not one of Dave's best days - I had decided that it was about time we visited a Castle / Palace and go inside....  So after a two hour drive 6 Euro for parking, 45 minutes to wait for the bus, 20 minutes to wait until our Audio Tour - we finally made it into the Neuschwanstein Castle and received our Audio Tour, well 20 minutes later that was the end of the audio tour - I think we got to visit 4 rooms - oh and we still have a two hour drive home - oh boy did I hear about it ALL the way home.  But the rooms we did visit were spectacular - but I can't show you any because no photos of inside were allowed.  Neuschwanstein Castle was built for King Ludwig II between 1869 and 1886.  The only consolation was that the drive out there and back was spectacular, some of the greenest scenery we have ever seen.  Oh and did I mention that it rained the whole way home.

20/09/2015 - Munich

Today is the day to hand the car back - we have driven 15,896kms.  They will probably have to take another look at their business model.  Not sure whether they expect people to travel that far. After we handed the car back in, we caught the train to the Oktoberfest.

Octoberfest is a celebration of a wedding feast from days gone.  It is very similar to the Calgary Stampede except instead of jeans, cowboy hats and belt buckles the size of dinner plates the majority of people wear traditional Trachten dress of Lederhosen for the men and Drindi dress for the women. The majority of people dress up for the occasion.  So if your coming get the costume before you arrive.  Otherwise you pay tourist prices.

In total the beer tents cater for over 100,000 people.  (Some individual tents hold up to 10,000 drinkers.)  Last year there was 6.9million litres of beer drunk.  And as tempting as it was to partake in a few steins we knew from our recent past experiences in German drinking halls it is impossible for us to stop until you can't drink any more.  We also knew we had a flight the next morning so for once common sense took over - we didn't want to tempt ourselves so we stayed outside the tents and just enjoyed the festivities.  

Fish on a stick... Beautiful.

Take a look at the security detail in front of the Beer Tent.

This beer tent is the Augustiner Brewhouse which is regarded as one of the two best brew houses in Munich.  We were told it was Pope Benedict XVI favourite.  Pope Benedict XVI was the Archbishop of Munich before he became Pope.

We both agreed that you could have a really really good time here - and it would help if you were with a group of friends.  Might need to pack a lot of Panadol though....

21/09/2015 - Munich to Finland

Basically today is the today we start our journey home.  We have 4 days in Finland and then 3 days in Hong Kong.  We are both getting excited to coming home, catching up with friends and family, and getting back into our own bed....

If you would like to see more photos clink on this link.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

29/08/2015 Croatia - Austria - Polland - Czech Republic

29/08/2015 - 02/08/2015 - Makarska, Croatia

Our final few days of our trip in Croatia were spent in Makarska - and not quietly.  The drive heading back up the coast is still spectacular and is definitely the best coastal drive we have ever done.

When we first arrived we headed down to the water for a swim and we found a cave bar, right on the beach - what a great surprise, so of course we just had to try it out.  The cave had air conditioning and cold beer so all was good.

Our 2nd day was spent Zip lining the Cetina Canyon - of course it took us a while to get going because they couldn't find a helmet big enough for the Big Fella, so it wasn't until one of the guides offered their helmet up that we would begin - and even it didn't quite fit.  The first zip line was bit nerve racking we travelled up to speeds of 60kms an hour, 150 meters above the ground.  But after this it was all fun.  Once we were comfortable with the zip lining we could actually look around and enough the beautiful sights of the Canyon.   Overall we did 8 wires and a total distance of over 2kms.

We had planned on making a trip over to one of the islands, but by the time we got up and going all the boats had been rented - so what to do.  Oh well lets just go for a walk down the beach.  We see they have a setup for bungee jumping down a bit further and decide to wander down and have a look, at this stage I turn to the Big Fella and ask if he would like to give it another go, he said no I've already done it - have you.  Mmmm is that a challenge, so stupidly I wander over and ask how much it is - only $50AUD thats cheap and ask what time they will be opening, hoping they will say something like tomorrow, which is when we need to leave, but oh no they say we are open, do you want to jump - oh sh*t never thought it would come to this - but of course being a little competitive I say sure, there is another lady who is also waiting, so I think this is good she can jump first and at least this way I will know what to expect, but no I'm strapped in and taken up by the crane first.  So half way up there is a bit of a problem with the crane (now I'm starting to worry) and Dave pops into my head - I wander what sort of safety standards they have here.  The crane gets moving again and up we go - it feels like I am 100 meters in the air, but no only 40 meters.  What am I doing up here - I keep asking myself and I'm really not sure if I will be able to take that final step, fall / dive.  Well after a couple of minutes I literally fall (and not gracefully) out of the crane, and with my heart in my mouth I fall the very long 40 meters, bouncing up and down and it feels like a hundred times but I think it was only a couple, and of course the way I stumbled out I am spinning like a spinning top.  I have never been so happy to be pulled to Terra Firma.  It was the scariest activity I have ever done and if you ask me if I will ever do it again, the answer is a firm NO, but I am glad I have done it and crossed it of my bucket list.  So now Dave doesn't have one over me.

In a way it was said to leave Croatia, but we were also looking forward to see some more of Europe.

03/09/2015 - 05/09/2015 - Salzburg, Austria

Our first stop in Austria is Salzburg.  The big fella (as usual) turns to me and asks whats to see in Salzburg - so I tell him we are doing a bike tour of the Sound of Music movie making sights - mmm he looks at me, and he says, mmm are WE - and I say yes we are.  So I gather he will be doing this under sufferance. At least its a bike ride.  The morning we spent wandering around the old town and exploring the sights - wow it really is so much better than I had expected.  It is a beautiful city and one that has a great vibe to it.  To tour Salzburg I was the guide, I had bought a book from the Information Centre and decided to take on the job of guide as we didn't have a lot of time before our bike ride.  Dave was happy with my guide until he realised that we had been going around in circles, I may have taken a wrong turn or two.

So after a bit of a walk, we decide to have lunch before our bike ride and the Big Fella decides that he should try the Salzburg Sausage - really I didn't know there was a Salzburg Sausage, turns out there isn't, but it sounded good at the time - so off he went to buy his sausage from the van - not sure which one he got, but he loved it so much he sent back for a 2nd.  I tried the fish soup and both meals were delicious - so now we have energy for our bike ride.

The Fraulein Maria's (yep that was the name of the tour company) bike tour was everything that I expected it to be - I loved it - and even the Big Fella had to say that he enjoyed it.  It wasn't just about the Sound of Music we also took in some of the Salzburg sights - overall it was about 8 miles long.  Oh we were also encouraged to sing along to the songs - so of course in my best voice I belted out the songs as we rode along - I'm sure this was the Big Fellas favourite part - so much so that he let others ride behind me to enjoy my beautiful voice.  He was way down the back of the pack - he is such a gentleman.

Overall we loved Salzburg, it has been one of our favourite cities so far.

05/09/2015 - 07/09/2015 - Vienna, Austria

This time we have booked a walking tour around Vienna to learn some of the history.  Vienna is another great city - with oh so much history, it really makes me realise how young Australia is.

After a great walking tour we ask our tour guide where to go for a good Vienna Schnitzel - he directs us to a restaurant down a lane - we got there just in time to get the last table, after us they were turning people away saying they were fully booked - so we think this is a good size.  So we are both looking at the menu - don't know why we are going to order the Vienna Schnitzel and we read that the original Vienna Schnitzel was made from Pork not Veal - I am learning so much oaths trip.  We order our meals and about 10 minutes later out they come - they are the biggest Schnitzels I have ever seen, we could of shared one - nearly - and yes they were yummy.  The Big Fella did ask were the gravy / sauce was, so I told him to just squeeze the lemon over the top, after a bit of a delay he did and even admitted that he enjoyed it with the lemon.

As with Salzburg we really enjoyed Vienna.

07/09/2015 - 09/09/2015 - Auschwitz / Oswiecim, Polland

It was one of the places that Dave was interested to learn more about and explore.  We had decided that we would buy a book and walk through ourselves with me as tour guide again.  We at least have arrows and numbers to follow this time.

Auschwitz is the site of the German Nazi concentration and extermination camps were approx 1.4million people were murdered.

"Auschwitz I is where the Nazis opened the first Auschwitz camps for men and women, where they carried out the first experiments at using Zyklon B to put people to death, where they murdered the first mass transports of Jews, where they conducted the first criminal experiments on prisoners, where they carried out most of the executions by shooting, where the central jail for prisoners from all over the camp complex was located in Block No. 11, and where the camp commandant's office and most of the SS offices were located. From here, the camp administration directed the further expansion of the camp complex.

Birkenau is where the Nazis erected most of the machinery of mass extermination in which they murdered approximately one million European Jews. At the same time, Birkenau was the largest concentration camp (with nearly 300 primitive barracks, most of them wooden). Over a hundred thousand prisoners were here in 1944: Jews, Poles, Roma, and others. The nearly 200 hectares of grounds include the ruins of the gas chambers and crematoria and places filled with human ashes. There are primitive prisoner barracks and kilometers of fences and roads."

Whilst it was a worthwhile trip, it was also quite a traumatic experience and we were both mentally exhausted by the time we finished. I can see now why you need to be over 14 to visit.  I must admit that after the 1st camp we didn't want to go to the 2nd camp, but realised that it was something that we should see.

We only took the above two photos as it felt inappropriate to do any more.  It was a very emotional day.

09/09/2015 - 11/09/2015 - Prague, Czech Republic

Wow - after visiting Auschwitz we definitely needed something less intense, and what a great city to visit.  We started the day off by joining a 3 hour walking tour mainly of the old and new town.  On this tour the guide started of telling us about the astronomical clock - (apparently voted the 2nd  most disappointing sight in Europe, one behind the Mona Lisa.  Of course Dave was fascinated so after hearing all about it - he decided we still needed to go back on the hour, to see the show - that lasts for a whole 15 seconds, he did tell me this is a long time - mmm something I've heard before.

At the end of tour our guide told us about a pub called "The Pub" - seemed like a good idea at the time.  Here you sit at a table with 4 self servicing taps for pouring beer.  Each table has a number and up on display at the end of each room is a screen (continuously updating) with a tally of beer consumption (in 1/2 litres) for each table and then another tally for each of "The Pubs" located in Czech Republic and other countries there was at least 15 Hotels involved.  Luckily for us we were able to get a table, but we needed to leave by 7:00pm - which looking back on it now was a good idea, I think this saved us from a really bad hangover.  The beer cost $4 litre and they are the country that consumes more beer per capita than any other.  Being a little competitive we did make our way up to 4th spot in our Pub, but unfortunately we just couldn't make it to a podium finish.  You can have up to 10 people per table, so as there was only two of us - we didn't do to bad.  So after we stumbled out we headed back to our hotel for some dinner and an early night.  

We fell in love with Prague and would of liked to spend some more time here - we would of liked to explore more of the sights outside the Old and New Town, but unfortunately our hotel was booked out - so we decided to keep to our plan and head to Berlin.  The food and alcohol in Prague was sensational and very cheap - no wonder we loved it so much.

11/09/2015 - Prague to Germany

After a slow start to the morning - we start our journey to Berlin.  When we first started driving in France and the speed limits went up to 130 kms per hour - Dave thought it was ridiculous to have speeds this high - mmm he certainly has changed his mind, on the autobahn in Germany I look over to see the speedo hit 190km - arghhh.  The traffic seems to flow well so long as you keep an eye on the traffic coming behind.  At one stage we were travelling at around 180kph in the slow lane only to be passed by several cars doing well over 220kph.