The Never Ending Story.

Trip Start Aug 14, 2013
Trip End Jul 19, 2014

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Flag of Austria  , Vienna,
Friday, November 1, 2013

As we pick up our story we travel from Venice, Italy to Vienna, the capital of Austria. It is early evening by the time we arrive and set straight off to the Schoenberg Palace enjoying the cool fresh air, warm sun and beautiful place gardens. The lovely yellow brick palace stands nobly overlooking the stately gardens with their green lawns, trimmed hedges and rows of bare trees lined up perfectly with military precision. It may seem like a poetic description but the summer palace congers up images of grandeur and romance. The rest evening was spent at a local pub enjoying authentic Wiener Schnitzel and beer. A nice way to finish off the evening.
The following day was a public holiday and as we walked from our hostel into town we passed through streets lined with clothing and department stores which were, to my pleasure, closed. After exploring local cathedrals and museum buildings we arrived at The Imperial (Hofburg) Palace to discover that the holiday being celebrated was the Austrian Independence Day. The balcony where Hitler once stood in 1938 addressing the Viennese to announce the annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany is now by contrast overlooking a family fair. The Austrian army has provided much of the entertainment designed for the children and families, with rock climbing and abseiling walls, a flying fox, races and games and a tank for the kids to climb on. Thanks to face painters and army medics children exit the first aid tent with butterflies or whiskers painted on their faces and covered head to toe in bandages and plaster. Food vendors provided authentic Austro-Hungarian delicacies, including several types of bratwurst, kifli (a type of pastry), giant pretzels, goulash and mulled wine (gluvine). Not to mention gingerbread, donuts, cakes and did I mention the mulled wine? Incredibly delicious. We spent the day exploring the fairs activities and trying to get sneaky photos of the Austrian soldiers. What can I say, we were 4 mostly single girls enjoying the natural beauty of Austria. I make no excuses and no apologies :)
At the end of the day we walked back to our hostel to change and prepare for an evening of class and culture. We were taken to the one of the cities many palaces where we enjoyed a beautiful meal and attended a concert from the traditional Viennese Chamber Orchestra, complete with champagne. We fall asleep that night humming the sounds of Mozart, Beethoven, Bach and Strauss.

The next day we head east and travel to Slovakia, a relatively young country which only gained independence in 1993. We stop for lunch in the capital city of Bratislava, enjoying a quick bite to eat a little window shopping.
From here we continue on towards Hungry, finally arriving in the twin cities of Buda and Pest, which sit on opposing sides of the mighty Danube River. Together these cities make the beautiful Hungarian capital of Budapest. After settling into our hostel we quickly board the bus again and enjoy a driving tour of the city, taking in the incredible sites of the National Palace, Heroes Square, Parliament House and Fisherman's Bastion (Halaszbastya). The view from the Castle Hill (Varhegy) offers an incredible view over the entire city as the Danube river cuts its way through the center. That evening we eat diner at the hostel before heading off to see one of the cites many 'Dive' bars. Dark and dingy with all manner of "art"and paraphernalia hanging on the walls. An interesting cultural experience if you are ever find yourself in this part of the world. There are just some places like this that must be experienced, because words simply cannot explain.
The next day we wake to another chilly but sunny day. A small group of us walk into town to see the impressive Jewish synagogue, through the food and crafts market near the old square and down to the river. As we walk along the river bank we stop at the 'Shoes on the Danube Promenade', an incredibly simple and moving monument to the many Jews who were executed there and their bodies thrown into the river leaving nothing but their shoes on the rivers edge. As we stand looking at the row of shoes it was heartbreaking to think about the people who had once owned these shoes. What is that they say about walking in another mans shoes? However, it is the sight of a small pair of lace up boots placed neatly beside a pair women's high heels that I suddenly feel a lump in my throat and the sting of tears in my eyes. While I can resign myself to the fact that men and women were treated and killed so cruelly, it is unacceptable in my mind that a child, one so small as to fit in these tiny shoes, could have also died this way. The monument is small and unassuming but it is incredibly powerful.
From here I leave the other girls and escape another afternoon shopping to cross the 'Liberty Bridge' and visit the 'Hospital in the Rock'. The walk is long and chaotic but I eventually find myself in a quite peaceful part of town, I have of course taken the long way round to my destination but it is worth it in the end. I explore the cobble streets of the Castle Hill district before heading into the mountain caves to see the hospital which was carved into rock to treat and protect the wounded during the Second World War. The tour was quite interesting with a fascinating history, although the wax figure manikins were not quite up to Madame Tussaud's standards, but it did help demonstrate the cramped and uncomfortable conditions the medical teams worked in during the war. The hospital operated (in secret from the enemy) a 60 bed hospital complete with theaters, which at the height of the war was housing over 200 patients plus hospital staff. It is not an attraction that would appeal to everyone but if you're a history buff or in the medical profession you might find it interesting. It doesn't hurt that nurses and other health professionals also get a discount off the entrance fee. Bargain!
That evening we ate a late dinner in a small wine bar close to our hotel. The atmosphere there was amazing and if we're were not all so sick it could have been a great 'girls night out', but alas tired and aching bodies prevailed and we fell into bed hoping for a good nights rest.

It is important to note here that there was a respiratory virus making its way through our tour bus since the start of the tour and I'm ashamed to say that it was quite possible that I may have been patient '0'. But sharing is caring and the girls in my hostel room sounded a symphony of coughing spasms and runny noses which lasted throughout the night. It was my experience that this virus lasted 5 full weeks which peaked with a severe case of tonsillitis I developed towards the end of the tour. It took 5 Boxes of decongestants, 3 boxes of antipyretics, nasal spray, 8 Packets of throat loungers, numerous tissue boxes, one course of oral antibiotics and a Ventolin inhaler to see me through. At one point early on in the incubation phase, my ever compassionate sister offered me a French fry to aid me in one of my coughing episodes. While I appreciate her generosity it would not have helped restore my ability to suck air into my lungs and thus the offer was this declined. Thankfully she is not perusing a future in the nursing profession, however in all other respects she is a excellent sister.
But, the show must go on and just because you are traveling does not mean you will not get sick, in fact it only makes you more perceptible to illness. But thankfully you can always count on a nurse to travel with a well stocked pharmacy.

Returning to our adventure we then made our way to the polish city of Krakow. This previously unknown city turned out to be one of my favorite places on the entire tour. This small and quaint old town is nestled away from the growth of modern development. It is steeped in history and contains endless old school charm, ancient architecture and mouth watering food. While the country of Poland was decimated during WW2 the ancient city of Krakow miraculously escaped the worst of the war. We step back into the Middle Ages and explore all that this little town has to offer.
Dinner that evening was quite an unexpected surprise. As we walked around the town square looking for an affordable but traditional polish restaurant, we were stopped by a spruiker advertising her somewhat American styled restaurant. When we explained that we were after Polish food she happily directed us to a fellow spruiker who worked in a different establishment.
As he guided the small group (6 girls) down a small dark ally way and into a narrow street one block behind the main square we were directed through the door of a small shop front and into a beautiful courtyard where we were seated and ordered the most delicious meal. Between us we ate several types of Pierogi (dumplings), Kielbasa (sausage) and sauerkraut. And all at such a reasonable price. This restaurant, whose name I wish I remembered, was quite the find and proof that it sometimes pays to get away from the main square filled with tourists and hefty prices and aim to go where the locals would go. On the way back to our bus we stopped at a small cafe for ice cream.
The following day we were free to explore the old city and Lisa had made plans to catch up with a school friend who serendipitously happened to be there at the same time. Without wifi it seemed difficult to arrange a meeting time and place until, as luck would have it, we happen to walk right past her on out way into the town. From there it was a day of surprise, fun and reminiscing. The tour breaks up into small groups and we enjoy the atmosphere of the main square. We find a delightful little cafe and sample the treats of chocolate and cakes while enjoying the sun and watching the parade of the police marching band pass us by. There are sometimes good reasons to stay near the main square also. Then we wander the craft markets and contemplate lunch, which turns out to be another smorgasbord of dumplings and a bottle of wine. For a relatively small town there is plenty to explore and the best way to see everything is to take a horse and carriage ride. Five of us piled into the carriage and watched the world go by, listening to the clipping of hooves along the cobbled stone streets. We admired cathedrals and castles and wandered the narrow roads of the old Jewish quarter. A walk around Wawel Castle, exploring the dragons dungeon and eating another ice cream follow, all before saying goodbye to Lisa's friend Sarah and then it's back to the hostel for an included dinner.
There is plenty to do in Krakow if you keep to a slow and relaxed pace, it's not a town to rush through the day. There are a few things of interest here and it would have been nice to have a few more days to explore and enjoy the relaxed, small town atmosphere. Should anyone ever find themselves in Krakow and if I ever get back there myself, be sure to check out the Wawel castle, the nearby Wieliczka Salt Mine and tour the 'Schindler Factory' and Jewish ghettos. I'm told they are all worth the visit.

The following morning was another day and another story but you are just going to have to wait a little longer to read about it.

Until then my friends.......

Love Erin :)
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