Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Barcelona, Valencia, Madrid & San Sebastian – Sept 20 to 30


Arriving quite late in the evening, we didn't have any daylight left to look around instead we had a quick meal of Tapas and a glass or two of sangria! 

We had been told that a great way to see Barcelona was on a bike tour – so off we went. This city is so vibrant and not at all what I expected it to be. For some reason I imagined it would be dirty and run down, quite the opposite. With the exception of the half naked prostitutes on every second corner in the few blocks surrounding our hostel, its really quite nice. Towards the end of the tour, we stopped at the beach for lunch and Sangria (hard life I know) and then after sharing 1.5L with two others, quite giggly and very relaxed – we headed off (may I add.. without any helmets - Europe has very relaxed laws). Fortunately, we all arrived back to the bike shed in one piece. Now, off to all we can drink Sangria for 10Euro – Nor do they have such a thing as responsible service of alcohol. A fun evening with the entire biking group, drinks, football in the main square (don’t ask.. all i'll say is Anna is very lucky she wasn't charged with assault with a deadly weapon), sunset on a roof top hotel bar, paella and more drinks... There was a few sore heads the following day! But me.. bright as a button – I have to save myself for the birthday celebrations with David!!

To see my big brother for the first time in over a year, on the other side of the world and on his 40th birthday.. I don’t think I’ve been so excited since I was a kid waiting for Christmas. But before I catch up with David, Anna & I headed to the Park where Gaudi built the wacky houses that resemble a gingerbreadhouse. Very very cool!
Back to the hostel to have a much needed siesta before meeting up with David at his Tourism Australia event (yes, I was crashing the party..)

At a spectacular location; roof top bar overlooking Barcelonas Marina and beach, we celebrated Davids 40th Birthday in style, compliments of T.A (and D's boss for arranging my invite), there was even fireworks! It was so nice of the city of Barcelona to put on such a display for his birthday! Ha ha. It just so happened it was the start of a festival in town.
The rest of what happened that night was a little hazy for a couple of days. It all came back over the following couple of days.

The next morning at 7.30, I was outside and waiting for the bus to Valencia.. torture! I took a motion sickness tablet (just as a precaution) and within 5 minutes of the bus departing, I was out like a light! When we arrived in Valencia, I went straight to bed and woke up only when my stomach was rumbling so loud that it woke me up! After a quick feed, I was back to bed for a 12hour sleep.
Its now September 24th and given I wasted yesterday afternoon in Valencia sleeping, I hit the pavement and walked the entire city. Quite a cool place! We made dinner and spent the evening doing our own version of a quiz night with quite a few others joining in.

After two nights in Valencia, we loaded the bus AGAIN (getting very sick of buses) and on our way to Madrid. Upon arrival, we went out to find some food.. tapas in one place then dinner at a university restaurant (staff are training so meals are super cheap). The meal didn’t disappoint but the service stank!! If only they had’ve given us the opportunity to critique, they may’ve learnt something.

Our first full day in Madrid was quite a busy one.. and quite Spanish in its structure.. Siestas & Late Nights! We were all up at a decent time, Anna & I headed off to the Reina Sophia Art Gallery (pretty impressive), Siesta, then out for the evening. A quick bite to eat which turned out to be the best pork i’ve ever eaten, then back to the venue for the show.

‘Corral De La Moreria’ - The flemenco dancing was passionate, emotional, powerful and extremely sweaty! I was sitting beside the stage and each time the lead male span around, I was sprayed with his sweat. Sounds gross I know, but the show was so exceptional that I didn’t mind too much.. it washes off and you cant get any serious diseases from someones perspiration... I hope!

Seriously, if there is one thing to do in Spain – this is it! If you don’t believe me, buy a book named ‘1000 things to do before you die’ , this show is voted #3. 

Nb. I have video clips taken from the evening, if you're wanting a look, let me know and I'll try to email the files to you as it won't let me load onto the blog.

~San Sebastian~

Already September 28th, we board the bus for San Sebastian. After quite the run around by the hostel, we were directed to our guest house in the old town. Best room we’ve stayed in thus far.. i was thrilled when I discovered we had a bathtub! Woo Hoo!!! A quick dinner then had a walk around the old town... This place is so gorgeous!
We all had a sleep in then made our way to the front beach (no waves) to enjoy what may be the last bit of sun for the summer. Quite a bit cooler than the Mediterranean Sea and the Ionian Sea, the water took some getting used to. During my last swim of the day, something stung me. Why oh why am I the only person that attracts things that sting or bite – argh! James, ever so generously offered his urine ‘just in case’ its was a deadly European Jellyfish that we didn't know about.. I told him at any point over the next couple of hours, if I passed out or started foaming at the mouth, he could pee on my knee while the others called for an ambulance!

Another Siesta (I love Spain) and then we headed out with a couple from Israel who have in the last 2 weeks walked over 260km.. yikes! Tapas, Tapas & more Tapas. Guess what i’m going to say.. yep, Amazing!! When every street and alley has multiple tapas bars, how are we to know which one is good.. 1. It is full of locals 2. You get dragged in as by a local and 3. The floor is filthy, food crumbs, tooth picks and used serviettes. We visited maybe 5 or 6 places, such a great night.

Off to the surf beach this time, located just on the opposite side of the old town where we’re staying. The water is much nicer and cleaner, still a little cold though. Little did we know that this is where most of the nudes hang out.. pardon the pun!! The nudes were mostly males and in their twilight years. Yep.. thats right – loads of grandpas sitting and walking along the beach in their birthday suites! Some things we did NOT need to know about the aging population. For the record, this was not an occasion that I complained about my failing eye sight! Blurry in these situations is very very good! After about 3 hours on the beach, we decided to call it a day and headed back to the old town to get a late lunch. The others climbed the hill to see the Jesus statue, but lazy me.. I opted for a bath, self administered pedicure and a siesta!

Next blog update.. Bordeaux, Paris (again) then St Jean De Losne to see my Aunt & Uncle, Marg and Peter Osment. Until next week xoxo

Lauterbrunnen, Nice, Monaco – Sept 14 to 19

Leaving Cinque Terre was difficult for me only having spent one full day there.. it was even tough for the others that had been there for 5 nights. A few hours on the bus and we were in Nice.. not for long though, just 1 night. We will be coming back here after Switzerland. A full day on the bus up to Lauterbrunnen, a beautiful mountain village, the views of the mountains (even from village level) were amazing. Snow covered peaks are quite a familiar sight for me having lived in Whistler, but still spectacular.

We did an easy hike (if you can even call it a hike) on Schilthram from Grutscnalp to the next village. We had discussed the previous day going up the Jungrau (tallest mountain in the Alps) but with a price tag of 140 Euros and having seen many a mountain view – I opted against it. The NZ Trio were thinking along the same lines – although we all acknowledge the Alps are something else.. we just couldn’t justify the cost. 

We caught the gondola back down – not sure whether it was the fast decent and change of altitude, I went white as a ghost, clammy and woozy! Once back to the valley level, we sat for a while so I could recover while we watched the Base Jumping qualifying finals.. Base Jumping is when people jump off a cliff and glide for a period before pulling their parachute. Apparently, Lauterbrunnen is a Base Jumpers heaven.. the finals of the world competition will be in a couple of days.  A very dangerous sport and many deaths are reported each year - apparently there was one on the day we were watching. Such a tragedy! 

Still not feeling very well – I opted for a quiet day on valley level as opposed to catching more gondolas to view waterfalls. So, I explored through the village of Lauterbrunnen, took a stroll to one of the local waterfalls and got dinner started for the others. On the bus again tomorrow... not looking forward to the windy trip down!! 

The trip to Nice from Lauterbrunnen was ordinary! I must remember to get some motion sickness tablets!
In the hostel, I woke to thunderstorms, and rain falling extremely hard - reminds me of the crazy Victorian storms we have.  We had a relaxed morning until the rain eased a little. We explored the old town and found somewhere for lunch. Someone had recommended that we try Socca, apparently amazing! Hmmm, not sure where that person had been living for the last 10 years.. it was a corn meal pancake with nothing served with it. Maybe we just lucked out, but I won't be ordering it again, thats for sure! We continued on and walked along the shore! A little disappointing that the weather was so overcast as we were very much looking forward to swimming at the beach that imports sand from Australia. Really! !! A touch of the famous Finocchios gelato (over 100 flavours) before calling it a day and returning to the hostel for a home cooked meal and few games of cards! (photo by James Sheldon) 

A new day brings much nicer weather which is ideal for our trip to Ez Village and Monaco. Ez Village was high on the ‘To Do’ list as I very much wanted to go to Fragonard Perfumery where my brother David had bought me perfume on his Contiki trip 15 years ago. The tour was great and the private demonstration/sales speil work on us a treat.. we each left the place with some goodies and of course, we were all smelling devine! We hiked down a very rough trail 45 minutes to Ez Village where we walked along the rock beach – sand is so much easier! 

Now off to Monaco. Such a small place, the grandeur impresses instantly, but the price tag for everything is considerable! The boats in the Marina made our jaw drop and James was getting quite excited by them.. Boys and their obsession with things that go fast, very entertaining!

Of course, the biggest drawcard of Monaco is the Monte Carlo Casino. We didn’t bother going inside as there is such a limited area that you can actually visit without being willing to put big money on the table! 

Some interesting facts about Monaco: (1) The pressure is on Prince Alfred and his new wife.. if they don't produce an Heir to the throne (all existing children of the family are out of wedlock and they're not eligible), the country will be returned to the French. (2) To apply for residency, the applicant is required to pay 1M Euro, if you're declined, you don't get anything back. (3) A private helicopter takes off every 15 minutes. (4) If you're a resident of Monaco, you're not permitted to gamble in the casino. 

The cars parked outside are quite impressive! I did however notice that there was one of each of the big name cars.. it makes me wonder if they are owned by customers (remember they can't be Monacan) or whether they are owned and put on show by the Casino as part of the appeal of the Casino. 

I shared the theory with a guide and a driver a few days later, and they were very intrigued - they're going to suss it out next time they're there.. shame I'll never find out! Back to Nice just as it was getting dark, such a lovely day trip.
Still more updates to come!! Spain next! xoxo

Monday, October 3, 2011

Rome, Florence & Cinque Terre – Sept 3 to Sept 13


A warm welcome by the NZ Trio (Anna, Fi & James) with drinks and nibbles! It was like catching up with old friends even though I only met some a month ago. We caught up on what everyone had been doing for the last few weeks over dinner and drinks! They left the following morning but I will be meeting up with them in Cinque Terre and travelling with them for the last month of the trip. 

When I headed into Rome (after 1 very relaxing day by the pool), I walked along the same path as the NZ trio had done during their walking tour. I visited all the standard sights... Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Colosseum, Palatine Hill, Roman Forum etc. I won’t bore you too much with the details as I’m sure you’ve all seen Angels & Demons and the Gladiator – if you don’t remember your history from high school. 

The following day, there was a public service strike so it meant all government businesses, attractions and transportation were closed, so we made the most of the camp shuttle to take us to the Vatican. The French couple staying next door had the same plan so it was nice to get to know them a little better. 

Everything about the Vatican reminds you how much money and power they once had.. its all so elaborate. I was blown away by the artwork on the walls and ceiling in the hallway leading into the Sistine chapel.. and the SC – beyond words!! Did you know.. A Japanese television company owns the rights to all photos of the Sistine Chapel as a result of them paying for the cleaning and restoration of the chapel. It is for this reason and no other that photos are not permitted. Did I sneak some photos in there? You’ll never know!

My last full day in Rome was at the Colosseum, Palatine Hill & the Roman Forum. One thing that astonishes me.. why on earth would you line up for hours at the colosseum when you can walk 200 metres to Palatine Hill and get your ticket for both in 20 minutes.. that’ll serve them right for not looking at a tourist book or googling the attractions.

An amazing day, with the exception of the stomach turning gory details of the roman history at each attraction! 

September 8th and I was off to Florence.. when we arrived we met for a brief walking tour followed by a leather demonstration on how to tell fake from real then off to dinner as a group.

The following day, I got an email from my oldest brother David telling me that he will be in Barcelona for work on the same dates I will be.. as an added bonus, I also get to celebrate his 40th birthday with him! SO very excited! 

I went to the Accademia Museum to see the original statue of Michelangelos ‘David’ – carved from a block of marble measuring 4 meters in height. Thank goodness the statue makes no resemblance to my brother otherwise I'd have a hard time looking at it - let alone appreciating the intricacies of the carved marble!!!

Michaelangelo was quoted saying ‘I don’t carve a sculpture, the sculpture is already inside the marble, I just chip away what is not needed’. (Photo is of the exact replica where the original stood before it was moved to the museum- photos of the original is not permitted... I obeyed the rules in this instance).

I hit the pavement a fellow traveller I met in Paris at the beginning of the trip.. We visited all of the cities sights (its not hard as the city is quite small); Chruch of Santo Croce (where Michelanglos remains lay), Ponte Vecchio (photo), Piazza Strozzi where I literally ran into an American celebrity whos name completely escapes me, Cathedral Maria, the Duomo, Town Hall with the fake David and many other original sculptures. Florence is lovely, glad I didn’t have more than 3 nights here though.. even as it was, i felt rested when I left. 

~Cinque Terre~

Now its September 11th and I’m headed to LaSpezia (via Pisa), the gateway to Cinque Terre (5 Villages). 

I caught the train to the 3rd village Corniglia where Anna, James & Fi are staying (the NZ Trio). To get to the village from the train, there is either a shuttle or climb 380+ stairs... Given I was loaded with my 23kg backpack, I decided to take the bus – who wouldn’t?!? Glitch was that the shuttle left as we were leaving the platform – no wonder everyone was pushing and shoving. So, rather than waiting another hour for the next shuttle – up the stairs I went.
When I arrived, I instantly wished I had more than 2 nights here as it is the most spectacular place I’ve seen.  Even as I write this, so close to the end of my trip - Cinque Terre is still one of my favourite places I've visited. 

After a drink and catch up, Anna and I had a quick dinner before our mission for the evening... climb down the stairs to the beach to set up champagne, glasses, towel and candle for James where he was to propose to Fi shortly thereafter. Quickly we climbed the stairs but we were too slow – James and Fi met us half way. Luckily, Fi was none the wiser. When they returned to the apartment, the celebrations commenced. 

The following morning was a relaxed start.. then we were off to explore the different villages.
1. Riomaggiore            2. Manorola
4. Vernazza                5. Monterosa

I walked from village 1 to 2 then trained between the rest of the villages. If I was there for longer, I would have definitely walked the length, but as it was, I didn’t return to Corniglia until after 6pm. A great home cooked meal and wine on the terrace to watch the sun set was a magnificent way to round out our time in this magical place.

After dinner we ventured off to get our last dose of Gelato.. the man serving told me that I was very beautiful and so sweet.. oh shucks! Caught completely by surprise, I got embarrassed and blushed... What am I.. 12??? ha ha

The next morning we were packing up and on the move again. I am coming back here again, that's for sure!!!!

The next installment is written and photos selected, so it will be posted within 24 hours (pending uninterrupted internet access). 


Friday, September 9, 2011

Venice, Athens & Greek Islands – Aug 19 to Sept 3

I spent three nights in Venice – what a magnificent city. The number of tourists is mental. On our first day, we arrived early afternoon so after a dip in the pool to relieve us from the 38C temperatures, we headed into town. WOW!  For our entire stay, we wandered through the city with one aim... to get lost – it was amazing! On our last day, we decided to spend it by the pool to relax. For a few hours, I can’t say I was relaxed however. Every 30 minutes or so, a very annoying and persistent Italian man keep coming over insisting I stay in Venice with him! Luckily, Claudia caught the attention of a Romanian guy who joined us with two of his friends, so after a short time, thankfully the sleaze bag didn’t return.

I stayed overnight in Rome (didn’t see anything) then flew to Athens the following morning. What a surprise Athens was!! So very dirty and seedy. I am glad I treated myself to two nights at the Novotel (love Wotif and the last minute deals). Although, the area south of the hotel was horrid... eg people shooting up in the street... It was for this reason, I didn’t venture out at night during my stay – as recommended by reception. The historic region however, was spectacular as you would expect and the Acropolis... wow!!

~Greek Islands, Mykonos, Paros, Santorini, Ios~

Early on August 25th, I made my way to Piraeus, Athens. I met up with the group for the Greek Islands Hopper. The first ferry was a long one to Mykonos, 6 hours. Seeing the first islands in passing, I was surprised to see how arid it was. Mykonos was extremely windy as its one of the most unprotected in the Cyclades, so it’s no wonder there’s no trees on it. Our accommodation was on the beach that was lined cliff to cliff in restaurants, bars & clubs.  
After a couple of hours swimming, we met up for the walking tour in the town. Along the way, we heard tales of Greek mythology, legends and debauchery. Dinner was lovely and we were joined by Petros the famous Pelican. The night continued into the night with numerous cocktails at various bars in and around the village. A late night for me these days is 2am so I didn’t dare continue drinking on the beach like some of the others. The party runs almost 24hrs and the beach at night known to turn 'X' rated! To think there are a few families staying here – not a well researched family vacation!

A nice relaxing day followed in Mykonos, a visit into the village then back to the beach... but not before I slathered myself in sunscreen. The beach was beautiful, 6euro for a sun bed, but there are ways around these things J . A relaxed dinner then drinks and games on the beach.

A morning ferry to Paros and being a very windy day and a smaller boat, the majority of the group were very unwell. We stayed at a cute little place, but the Greek/Irish lady although small and petite had the foulest mouth I’ve EVER heard. I think she does it for the shock value. When we arrived, we were greeted by her hanging over the balcony yelling... ‘What the F are you C’s doing here?’ But then one on one, she was very sweet. Interesting woman. After a few hours of free time, we met up to head out of town for a swim and dinner Krisos Beach Bar.

The beach was nothing compared to Mykonos but the sun beds with material covered cushions and curtains were a novelty! Dinner was great, not just for the Greek food, but the plate breaking and Greek dancing – such great fun! Most people had a relatively quiet night (despite the 5E cocktails) as we all need to rest up for the following day!

Our second day in Paros is one that most people had been looking forward... a day on a private boat sailing around Antiparos, stopping regularly swimming in pristine waters, snorkling into caves, bbq on a private beach.. We all had high expectations of the day, and all expectations were well and truly surpassed.

It’s now August 28th, and now off to Santorini. This is the picture perfect island that everyone (including me) associates with the Greek Islands. Our welcome night to Santorini didn’t disappoint, a beautiful meal on the cliff edge watching the sunset over the volcano on the nearby island.

The following morning, the majority of the group loaded onto the bus to see the sights of Santorini: The monastery on Mt Profiti Ilia, Perissa (The black beach with waiter ‘call’ buttons on the umbrellas – brilliant), Red Beach, Akrotiri (maybe the lost city of Atlantis?!?), the Red Beach and then the Santo Winery.

A quick stop back at the Hotel to freshen up then head to Oia for a sunset picnic. Its a public viewing point and all the visitors were watching very closely as the guide put all the food and booze out. One person came straight up and started helping herself. Someone from our group yelled 'Stranger Danger' (as you do) and she left pretty quickly after that.
Words can’t describe how amazing the views and sunset was – if you think the photos have been modified, they have not (wouldn’t know how to) and they don’t even come close to what we saw. 
Sadly, we had to leave Santorini for  Ios – why oh why didn’t I book a longer stay in Santorini???

We arrived in Ios, the party island... to the ‘Far Out Resort’. Beach front location and 2 swimming pools, bars, hammocks etc etc. Ok, not too shabby! J

Dinner at the resort before heading into town at 10pm for a few drinks before my ‘intended’ retreat to the resort on the last bus at 12.

After a great night of dancing, cocktails, attacked by a woman with fluoro paint (as did everyone else eventually - I got off lightly), dancing, shots etc etc.. I and the only two others left, thought we should head home as it was getting late. Lucky for us the sun was coming up on the walk back to the resort otherwise we would have tripped on the steep and extremely uneven path down the cliff to the resort. Jumped into bed at 7,30am fully clothed to save time having to dress at 9,30am when I needed to leave for the port to collect my iPod that I left on the ferry the day before. Lucky I had enough sense to wash off the fluoro yellow paint the night before in the club! By 1pm, I was finally back and napped for an hour before heading to the pool! When I headed back to the bungalow to get ready for dinner, I was met by my 19yo roommate... Let the 20 questions begin! Her final comment was ‘Wow... that’s impressive! The old girl can still party!’ I just laughed!

Already, it’s the final night of the trip – hard to believe. I’ve met so many amazing people! Unfortunately however, my yearning for bed wasn’t waning regardless of the fun and cheap cocktails. I bailed at 1am, not too bad for ‘an old girl’!

We returned to Athens and had an early and low key dinner nearby the hostel with the group that was staying at the hostel and then off to bed. What an amazing 9 days!!!!!!!!!

Stay tuned for the next instalment... Rome, Florence & Cinque Terre!

Ciao xox


Thursday, August 18, 2011

Netherlands, Germany, Czech Republic & Austria – Aug 4 to 18

Another very delayed entry. Always on the move and not having any down time is my excuse and I’m sticking to it. J The last 2 weeks I’ve had a blast. Now in the groove of busabout, I'm thoroughly enjoying it... not that I wasn't at the beginning. I'm meeting some awesome people along the way! Where do I start? I’ll try to keep it brief. L

Aug 4: Arrive in Amsterdam late afternoon; I arrange to meet up with Naomi whom I met in 2009 in Montreal. Being an Amsterdam local, she picked me up from the Hostel and we headed to a locals bar for a few drinks.
Aug 5: A couple of us from Busabout headed on a bike tour of Amsterdam. Navigating the vehicles on the road was simple enough; it was the cyclists that were the challenging part. The Dutch certainly like their push bikes... approximately 2.2 bikes per person living in Amsterdam. Bike tour was amazing! We travelled through the city as well as making our way through the countryside past traditional windmills and to a cheese farm – YUMMO! After 24km our rear ends were a little tender. Off to the park in the evening for a boozy picnic, boy I hope we don’t see any unexpected shows (it's a very liberal city and the guide tells us that it’s legal and very common to be walking through the park and seeing people going at it... yikes!).

Aug 6: Up early to head to the Anne Frank museum before the hoards arrive, lucky!! When we left at 10.30, the line was hundreds deep. The house and museum was very good, I had goose pimples and I was almost Moved to tears a few times– a must do when in Amsterdam. Hurrying back to the hostel to collect my things, I was off to meet up with Naomi again for her birthday celebrations and to stay with her for 2 nights. We head back into the city for the street parties for Gay Pride. A great afternoon dancing and drinking on the streets. The only issue we had was the lack of bathrooms! There are men plastic urinals on every corner but the women are not catered to at all. The businesses along the canal make some decent money by renting their bathrooms for 4Euro! The street parties stopped on the most part by torrential rain but there were many that soldiered through it! Off to spend the evening at a Carnival. By the time we got home it was 3am... a VERY long day!

Aug 8: Back to the hostel, the hike up the steep narrow stairs is a killer! At least this time I’m only on the 2nd floor. I was supposed to go with others to check out the red light district but opted for some quiet time in the hostel (if there is such a thing) and work on my blog and organising photos.

Aug 9: On the bus to Berlin, still can’t believe I’ve lost Mia’s toy! I don’t know how I’m going to break it to her. The bus ride was a long one, but very enjoyable! Got to know Anna, a Kiwi travelling with her brother James and his partner Fiona. (As I’m writing this, a week after we met, we’re two peas in a pod and we’ll be meeting up at the beginning of September again. We’ll be travelling together for the last 4 weeks of our trip). A great introduction to Berlin was a dinner with our new friends... Karina & Paula who I met in Amsterdam, Jo (from Melbourne) and the NZ Trio. A little pricier than we had planned but we had a great night.

Aug 10: The walking tour of Berlin was amazing! Very history heavy, but you expect that! We walked around the city for the best part of 4 hours taking in the sights and the brutal recent history; Death Strip, Brandenburg Gate, Holocaust Memorial, Hitler’s Bunker, Check Point Charlie, Berlin Wall, Museum Island. I must admit my knowledge of the turbulent history was limited... Not now though. After the tour, we were all a little brain dead and numb from all the information.

Taking the long way back to the hostel, a quick shower to get ready for the pub crawl. All I can say is... OUCH! Anna, Jo & I had a blast – more to do about the company than anything else, but the shots and drinks we had at each at each location made the evening very entertaining indeed... including making friends with two police officers who would’ve been very close to retirement! Don’t worry... anything untoward – we were just lost. They were having great difficulty understanding us, maybe because the spoke very little English or we were just talking too quickly... and the laughing probably didn’t help! They were trying very hard to help us... they were chuckling at our antics... I remember saying to them ‘you love us, don’t you!’ I’m still not sure whether they understood us, but I think we made their night – AND finally we got home!

Aug 11: A quick breakfast with the others to discuss the fun events of last night. Although James & Fi didn’t come along on the pub crawl, they still had some stories. The ‘Events of Room 211 on Aug11’ – Poor James & another person in the 10 bed dorm were taken on a wild ride! The two American women in question who were enjoying their male company a little too much for a couple of hours in the wee hours of the morning, looked like they wished the earth to open up and swallow them whole the next time James & gang saw them! All sleep deprived and Anna & I feeling worse for wear, we hit the pavement to find the section of wall that has been covered in street art. I really feel sorry for Fi & James, Anna & I trailing at every point along the way... if we weren’t laughing about the events of the night before then we were complaining in a childish manner ‘Are we there yet’.
When we arrived, it was completely worth the walk that seemed never to end. We returned to Checkpoint Charlie to read all the boards then by the time we meandered through the streets, stopping along the way at interesting shops we returned to the Hostel at dinner time. A cheap and cheerful meal and then it was time again to pack our bags ready for our next stop.

Aug 12: A good trip to Dresden where Jo left us then we continued onto Prague. We checked into our respective rooms and met for dinner – a unique Mexican restaurant nearby with the most amazing Czech dumplings and sauerkraut I’ve ever tasted.

Aug 13: A wonderful introduction to the city with a free walking tour... The city really is the fairy tale city I’ve heard it was. It reminded me quite a bit of Prague, but a lot bigger. Main sights included; The Astronomical Clock, Opera House where Mozart played, Old Jewish Quarter, Cemetery, Charles Bridge, Charles University, Wenceslas Square, Powder Tower. One thing I found most disturbing... Hitler loved Prague and planned to retire here, it’s because his love for this town he ordered to leave the Synagogues untouched (most were burnt to the ground on his orders) was because it was his idea that once he managed to eradicate all Jews, he was going to great a museum (not a memorial) in the Synagogues of what he did and how he did it whereby his followers could come to appreciate his ‘great’ work. After the tour (4 hours) we continued wandering the streets and revisited some of the sights. The Astronomical Clock was a huge let down as promised... hundreds of people gather at every hour to see the ‘spectacle’ and afterward, many ‘is that it?’ can be heard muttered from every direction. We parted ways, Fi & James stayed in town for dinner and Anna & I continued wandering. We were waiting to cross a street and we were promptly ushered behind orange tape. Not really sure what was going on, we obeyed. Then within a minute or so, we were ushered back in the other direction... we noticed the camera suspended from a cable high above us and an actor on the corner (we were standing beside him a few minutes earlier and we just thought he was a hottie... ha). We were (by accident) extras in a Czech movie or commercial!

Aug 14: The #1 attraction in Prague, the Castle! I joined the NZ Trio for breaky at their hostel and then we were into town... The castle was very different than others I’ve seen. It’s more of a village perched on the hill within the confines of a wall. Quite spectacular though. We hiked up the 300+ stairs up the tower which gave us a fabulous view of the old city. After a few hours, we found a location for our group dinner. We tested the beer (35cz for 0.5L which is just over 1Euro) and Greek & Czech food that was between 2 and 5Euro, with a bunch of backpackers we couldn’t go wrong. Off to find a tree to have a nap under before meeting the rest of the group. A great dinner!! Such a great bunch of people!

Aug 15: Off to Vienna, stopped at Chesky Kromlov and said bye to most of the group which was a bit sad – but I’ll be meeting back up with the NZ Trio on Sept3 in Rome. On our approach to Vienna, the rain set in... and didn’t stop! Our walking tour was cancelled so instead we went to enjoy a very LARGE schnitzel and beer. Oh my goodness – biggest damn thing I’ve ever seen!

Aug 16: Only 1 night in Vienna unfortunately as I have a deadline to make it to Rome by Sept 22 (happy birthday David). I will be back though as it looks like such a beautiful place, both the city and the countryside. Sitting next to a young Aussie girl, we were chatting about what we were going to see in Munich. I asked her if she was doing the Dachau tour. Her response was ‘My mum told me I have to do it, but I don’t want to. I’m Jewish, but it’s not like it has anything to do with me because my family fled to the US in the early 1900’s’. I could have slapped her, but instead I replied “I don’t have a drop of Jewish blood that I’m aware of, but I feel obligated to educate myself and pay respect to those that were directly impacted”. She didn’t have anything more to say on the subject.
We arrived in Munich in the early afternoon, so to make the most of our time, a few of us decided to do the Bike Tour at 4pm. As it turns out, a great decision! It was perfect weather and it woke us up from our time on the bus. We saw so many of the sites; Nationaltheatre, Residenz, Hofbrauhaus, Glockenspiel Clock, Hofgarten, Theatinerkirche, Enlishcher Gardens (be warned.. in the Nudist Meadow, only the ones you DON’T want to see are in the buff), the Munich Surfers in the canal, Staatskanzlei, Isartor, Friedensengel, Maximilianeum, Lukashirche and inbetween we had a nice beer and a sausage in the Chienisher Turm Biergarten.   
After the tour, I caught up with a friend of Martin & Laura's (Whistler boss) who picked me up from the hostel and took me out to dinner. Its always so lovely to be given a locals perspective to a city. Thanks Udo!

Aug 17: An emotionally exhausting day spent at Dachau Concentration Camp and Memorial 30 minutes out of Munich. Dachau was the first of many concentration camps opened by the Nazi in March 1933. Dachau served as a prototype and model for the other Nazi concentration camps that followed. The displays, images and stories were horrific as you would expect. Over its twelve years as a concentration camp, they recorded the intake of over 206,000 prisoners and almost 32,000 deaths. These numbers do not tell the entire story, however. If the Nazi’s didn’t intend on killing in large numbers, why did they install a gas chamber as part of the ‘new’ crematorium built in 1940?? A spine chilling and disturbing experience, but so very glad I did it. “Do Not Forget”.

After returning to Munich in a very sombre mood, a few of us headed to Augustiner Beer Garden, outside it seats 7000 people – now that is a beer garden! It took us a few hours to finish the 1L of beer! 

Aug 18: Tried to sleep in a little, but quite unsuccessfully. Two nights in a row having others in the dorm that insists on sitting around the table in the bedroom chatting and drinking at 2-3am. I am very much looking forward to my two nights in the Novotel in Athens next week! I headed out to Nymphenburg Palace – quite a spectacular building and the artwork was very impressive throughout the living quarters. Back into town after a few hours (31 today, but in the sun felt much more) we headed to Theresienwiese, the site of Oktoberfest. Still very much under construction but you could already see the ‘tents’ were quite something. They can hold up to 7000 people! 
A very quiet night in the hostel updating photos and the blog before an early bus to Venice tomorrow.

Until next time xoxo