Kangaroo hopping: Germany, Prague & Budapest

Trip Start Jan 22, 2013
Trip End Jun 03, 2013

Flag of Hungary  , Budapest,
Monday, February 25, 2013

According to my calculations, it's only been about 9 days since I wrote about Berlin, but since then we have jumped all over Europe (even aptly staying in a backpackers called the Kangaroo Hop hostel - would recommend it!) - we have seen so much in a short time!

After we left Berlin, we went to Leipzig, home of one of my favourite composers, J.S. Bach! He worked in a church in Leipzig, which I got to visit, which was pretty cool. There is also a statue of Mendelssohn there (whose work I also LOVE) so I need to research it but I think he has a connection to Leipzig too.

Apart from visiting St Thomas Church (where the composers worked), Leipzig was a bit of a washout for us. Not that there is anything wrong with Leipzig - it looked like a great place to explore - but Steve got a cold and so couldn't do much, and I stupidly got involved in the Great Passport Saga, which I won't detail too much on my blog for fear of getting fined, but it did involve me heading back on a bus to Berlin the morning after we arrived in Leipzig in order to be reunited with it. (And some phone calls and emails to the embassy). Let's just say that I have Learnt My Lesson and I promise never to be so stupid in future!

So anyway, moving forward, (ah that brings back great Labor party memories for you, doesn't it?), we headed on to Dresden, where we stayed in our very favourite hostel, the Kangaroo Hop! Super friendly people (and dogs), full of good old Australian memorabilia that we keep in our houses like boomerangs, trees, stuffed kangaroos, etc. Dresden is a very cute little town, and even though we had only one night here, we had a good time. It was very snowy while we were there, so everything looked pretty white, but it was nice.

Next stop, PRAGUE! Oh wow, Prague is breathtaking. The centre (near the Prague Castle) is so beautiful. The grungy area we were staying in, not so much, but it was conveniently located near the tram and underground trains, so for the price it was great! I can't really describe Prague because you have to go there, but basically it is a really beautiful, special old city. In fact, apparently Hitler loved Prague, and planned to retire there, so that's one theory as to why it is still so beautiful today (it was bombed less than the other places). Like other countries round the area, the Czechs have had a hard time - it wasn't long after the Nazis left Prague that they were taken over by Communists - so they have had a bit of a hard time getting back on their feet. But it is growing better and better by the day, and it is becoming one of Europe's most popular cities and has a roaring tourist trade.

We had three nights in Prague, and we crammed a lot in, so I wish we had had a bit more time to really soak up the city and just enjoy it, but that's okay. The first morning we were there, we did a walking tour with this funny Czech guy called Karel who showed us the main sights of the city and we learnt a lot about the history of Prague, the Czech Republic (Czechoslovakia and Bohemia as well). We were absolutely freezing in our tour because it was snowing heavily by the end, but we enjoyed it because Karel was a great guide. That night, we did a beer tour of Prague, where we were entertained by a Czech/British guy called Adam who took us to four places where we tried crazy beers like raspberry beer, blueberry beer, chocolate beer and unfiltered, unpreserved beer straight from the microbrewery in the pub (my FAVOURITE!) Slid down soooo easily. Oh, and you could order food at that same place and we ate possibly the best apple strudel ever (although we will be tasting others that we find around Europe, just to ensure that we haven't made a mistake). We did our tour with a really great bunch of people - a guy from Hong Kong, a girl from Missouri, U.S. and two Argentinian girls. It was a small group but it was really fun.

The next day we did a tour of Prague Castle, apparently the biggest castle in Europe. It is very beautiful, but we think they are cheating a little because it's really like a castle city - a group of different buildings rather than just the one. I don't know though, I'm no Castle Expert. It seems like every city can claim their little piece of the Guinness Book of World Records :-P Anyway. We were even more freezing this day, even though I wore three pairs of pants, two jackets, two jumpers, two beanies and thick socks - my feet have never been colder! It was snowing ridiculously by the end but we pushed through and had a good time. We saw the changing of the guard (less over the top than the one in London, although apparently the one at noon has music and stuff like that), got to explore lots of places in the castle and had another great guide. That night we ended up going out for dinner and drinks with two Brazilian girls (one who lived in Sydney), and we ended randomly in the same place with the unfiltered beer and amazing apple strudel from the night before. So we were happy. Very happy. Oh, and we ordered a giant plate of meat to share (see the pictures). Did I mention that we were happy?

The day after, it was even more freezing and very snowy, but we had already paid to do a tour of Kutna Hora, a mining town outside of Prague that looked really cool. We showed up to meet our guide, who happened to be a very loud American ex-pat who couldn't speak much Czech despite living here for four years - and I don't want anyone to think I don't like Americans, because we have met some lovely ones on our trip....but this guy was the typical annoying stereotype that many are well known in the travelling world for. I had turned to Steve and said that it wasn't too late to leave now, but he said we already paid our money so we may as well do it. Fair enough. And I did really want to see the bones cathedral so we went along. Hmmms. Probably should have trusted our first instincts. First up, there was a small delay on our first train, due to the snow (only a few minutes) but that resulted in us missing our connecting train (although the Spanish group from the same tour company didn't have the same problem). So then we had to trudge through the snow for a few km to get to the town. Then, the guide kept telling us he was a bit rusty because he hadn't done the tour in a while, so he kept having to look at his "cheat sheet". Oh, and we would be staying an hour later because of the delay. Then, somehow we were even more late, so we didn't get to eat lunch until 3:30. To his credit, he did take us to the bones cathedral where he kept going on about how cool all the dead human bones were and so forth, and we did get to see St Barbara's cathedral, which was beautiful, and the Italian court. He did actually know a little bit about the area. Lunch was absolutely delicious - really good beef goulash with dumplings (the first Bavarian style dumplings I have really enjoyed) and I am sure we spent a lot longer at lunch than we were supposed to, but anyhoo. We were really cold so it was nice to warm up. After that, he took us round to some more places, where he must have lost track of the time, because he got a phone call from the Spanish guide asking where we were because we were meant to be at the train to go home. He said, it's cool, we're staying later because we were delayed, and then the Spanish guide said well the trains are delayed an hour so it's going to be a while. So then our guide relayed this to us, and said, it's cool, we can go to the pub and drink! And I said, when is the next train (because by this point I was not believing that he had any idea of what time the trains left, and there was no way I wanted to be stuck in a pub with this guy all night). Anyway, long story cut short(ish), we ended up finally getting our first train station, only to find we would have to wait an hour, to which he said, let's go drink. I said, how far is it to walk to the next train station. He said, oh, only about two k. Our group replied, we'll walk it (at this point, no one wanted to be stuck in a pub with this guy). Turns out, it was a LOT longer than 2k, and our little guide friend had no idea how to get to the train station. He had a map, but he couldn't read it, so a few times he stopped to get instructions from locals, but he couldn't speak the language so he couldn't communicate with them. The worst part was that we were all cold, tired and grumpy but he kept wanting to liven the mood by saying what an adventure we were having. Finally we found a Czech lady who gave us a few visual pointers with her arms and some Czech words (to which our guide reckons he understood about 75%2525 of what she was saying, because he knew one word and could read her hand signals. So could we, funnily enough). The unfunny thing was that even with the hand signals, he still managed to lead us down the garden path and we ended up making three wrong turns and had to keep turning around (by this stage it was dark, cold and snowy). We ended up having to keep correcting him and found our own way back to the train station (after an hour walking in the snow). Anyway, we were very relieved to make it this far - the Australian lady who worked in the embassy in China had started to have political debates with him about America's involvement in world events, the guide kept having a go at the non-drinking, non-smiling Irish couple (who once the train pulled into the station in Prague said, let's get off and run) and the French couple just couldn't stop laughing about him. When we got off in Prague, the guide said he was sad he hadn't gotten to hang out much with the Australians (us) and we said, we're very boring, and swiftly got on our train home in the opposite direction. What a day! Ended up back in Prague about three hours later than we should have. Oh well, we met some nice people, ate some great food and saw what we wanted to see. And had a good laugh :-)

From here we headed on the overnight train from Prague to Budapest, Hungary. Budapest was great! We only had one night here, which was a shame, because there was a lot to do, but we got to go to the state opera (fun! Heaps of people, they'd "moderned up" Xerxes and the orchestra, music and sets were great! Plus got to go inside a very old, beautiful opera house. Also, understood the plot a lot more once we googled it when we got back to the hostel ;-), walked up the hill to the citadel to get a great view of the place (looked like a postcard), and spent a few hours soaking in the Baths (very cool thing to do - you just go from pool to pool lying around in warm water in these old bath houses. Awesome!) Would definitely recommend Budapest! A shame not to get to spend more time here, but have to keep moving because there's so much on our list that we want to see, and you don't get to do trips like this very often!

As I write, we are in Vienna, but I will leave writing about that until my next entry. It's totally gorgeous so will probably have a million more photos by then :-)

Love to everyone at home!

Ps. The app I am using (that I keep whinging about) has put all my photos out of order, so I guess you will kangaroo hop through them as well - a bit of Prague, then Germany, then Prague, then Budapest, then Prague, etc. They're totally out of order. Sorry about that, I don't think this is app is able to switch them once they are in and redoing it will take too long. Sorry!)

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