September - October 2015
  • Day31

    Gondola ride then home

    October 10, 2015 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    Last day. We had ummed and ahed about getting a Gondola ride, but decided that despite the cost, we just had to do it. We had to check out and start making our way to the airport in the late morning, so we made sure we were up fairly early, packed our bags and checked out of our rooms in enough time to go for a gondola ride first. We weren't disappointed. It was THE iconic thing to do in Venice and we would have been so disappointed if we'd missed it! How peaceful and quiet it was rolling past the houses and streets, waving at the tourists and occasionally being serenaded by our Gondolier. He even pointed out to us where Marco Polo lived.

    And then it was over... we made our way back for our bags and headed to the bus station which transported us to Venice airport for the long haul home.
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  • Day30

    Last full day in Venice

    October 9, 2015 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 19 °C

    With our friends continuing on their car trip, Rae and I had one full day more to explore Venice. Not much to report other than that we decided to do one full circuit of the Grand Canal and ended up getting out at Academia which we hadn't explored yet. The canal trip took us around past the cruise ship port, and we also encountered a few rude tourists, trying to squeeze past us to give themselves a better view, and consequently blocking ours. Rae decided enough was enough and told them so, and when they eventually got off, several others heartily congratulated him!

    I was continually fascinated by the 'back door' of many of the dwellings, or delivery entrance - straight off a canal. On foot, I continued to take photo after photo, we wandered inside museums theaters and churches and marveled at the extent of the sights. We stopped at a hotel and asked could we get a coffee - it was a most elaborate presentation of pots, jugs, cups, saucers, cookies, tea bags, sugar, all presented in silverware and on a sliver tray. Can't remember how much it cost!!

    We continued to explore and eventually stopped to eat at Ostaria al Garanghelo to enjoy our last evening dinner in Venice.
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  • Day29

    A day in Venice with friends

    October 8, 2015 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 21 °C

    We had come to Venice via Salzburg, but our friends Gael, Helen, Garry and Vince had travelled here by car, and were staying across the water in Venice Mestra. We knew that we would have one day in common in Venice, so we agreed to meet them at St Marks today at an appointed time.

    Rae and I were keen again to explore. This place has so much to offer, so we made our way on foot, along a slightly different route, passing churches, statues, squares, canals, and of course many tourists and many shops! It was quite hot, but it was easy to take refuge in the shops when needed. We arrived in St Marks, but it was a while before the others arrived, but we eventually they arrived and we had a joyous reunion. We spent a lot of time browsing through shops - everyone was looking for souvenirs to take home, and when a group gets bigger, there's a lot of waiting around for the perfect gift. We were also keen not to get ripped off, and some of the shops seemed a lot more expensive than others. There were many selling masks, and many selling glass and we eventually found a couple with reasonable prices.

    All this shopping of course made us hungry, and we found a square and a cafe that suited us, although we were out in the sun. Helen and Garry decided to buy a couple of hats.

    Rae had also worked up a thirst so asked for a large beer. Large it definitely was - probably a couple of pints worth. We sat around and had a great laugh before we explored more, shopped more and ended up exhausted! What great memories we'll have of this day!
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  • Day28

    Train from Salzburg to Venice

    October 7, 2015 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 19 °C

    We would have gladly stayed in Salzburg longer, but we were up early the next morning for our train trip to Venice. Caught a cab the short distance to the station. This time it was on an OBB train, and noted again the warning signs on the information displays that there were no trains entering Germany from Salzburg (due to the refugee crisis).

    We took our seat, but I wasn't in it for long. This train trip proved to be one of the most picturesque I have ever been on, past beautiful lush agricultural land, alpine huts, rivers, babbling brooks, glacial valleys, ski runs, and of course, the alps themselves. I hardly sat down, and the other tourists on the train were the same. Around every bend was a new view to marvel at. Several hours later we pulled into the main train station of Venice, a promise fulfilled for Rae. We immediately sorted out a multi-use canal ticket and made our way up to Rialto to look for the Hotel Bartolomeo. It was no mean feat finding it, with Venice's tiny crooked alleys and waterways not seeming to correspond well with our map.

    Rae left me parked with our cases as we went up and back a couple of alleys, fighting to get past the tourists. We thought it best to look for it unencumbered, and it wasn't long before he found it, tucked around a few bends, only a short walk from where we got off the ferry.

    Rae was rather dismayed to find we were on the fifth floor, with no lift, but we made it after a while. Well, this is Venice, and most of the places have orders slapped on them preventing any sort of construction. The room was small, but adequate, and we were keen to leave our bags and start exploring. Explore we did! Up one alley, down another. Past one canal, alongside another. We gradually got to know the place better, but we figured you'd need to be here a lot longer to avoid being lost, since direct foot routes are not possible because of the way the canals criss-cross everything.

    We eventually settled down at a cafe quite near the Rialto for a glass of wine and eventually some dinner. Again I had the feeling that I had to pinch myself to believe that I was really here, and not dreaming. Night descended and the place took on a very pretty romantic feel, and we hopped on a ferry to do a tour of the Grand Canal, passing building after building of ancient, grand architecture.

    Getting off at St Marks Square, i was surprised to find it not too busy - we were somewhere between the throngs of daytime tourists and the evening diners, so it was a good time to be here. We were able to stroll around without being pushed. St marks was also quite pretty. Some musicians were set up in the square outside one of the exclusive restaurants where you have to pay to sit, whether you want to order anything or not.

    Eventually the day caught up with us and we made our way back to our digs. What a day to remember!
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  • Day27

    Around Salzburg and the fortress

    October 6, 2015 in Austria ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C

    Our aim today was to see as much of Salzburg as we could. The big news of the morning however, was that my sister, Marie's daughter had given birth to a little baby boy, so there were excited phonecalls, conversations and congratulations to be made.

    Buoyed by the news we headed off to explore Salzburg. From our hotel we made our way across the Salzach river via a bridge suffering the weight of many thousands of love locks. I wondered how many more could be added before it would collapse like one in France had done fairly recently, prompting the removal of many similar installations around the world!

    We skirted around the old town cliff face where we were once again fascinated by the buildings backing up to the rock and in some cases built into it.We found the so called oldest inn in Europe ('It is claimed to be the oldest inn in Central Europe because of a supposed documentary mention of it by the scholar Alcuin in 803 AD')

    We didn't want to 'over - church' ourselves, which would be easy to do here, but we did go into the Salzburg Cathedral and have a good walk around, astonished once again by the size and extent of work that went into the construction of these buildings and the art works they contain. It's a captivating little place, and no wonder it's a UNESCO listed heritage site with several palaces, parks and museums to explore. With only one full day for us to explore, a casual walk around was all we could really manage.

    We took the funicular railway up to the fortress. Visibility was great from the top, and we took many photos of the iconic view down toward the township and the river, as well as many other views from a circuit of the ramparts. We had a browse around the historic displays inside, including a rather extensive Marionette one. The view from the back of the fortress was equally stunning, with beautiful green cultivated fields and farms leading toward the rocky alps in the distance. More selfies!

    Back down in the town we continued our exploration, again past the many horse and carriage rides available. One highlight was discovering the graves of several of Mozart's relatives!

    Another magical day to remember for quite some time!
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  • Day26

    Vienna to Salzburg

    October 5, 2015 in Austria ⋅ ☀️ 14 °C

    And so our touring adventure on our own begins. I wished we could take with us breakfast for the coming week from the buffet provided at the hotel, but enjoyed what we had, checked out and walked up to the platform in plenty of time for our train to Salzburg.

    I had research the transport options from home many months before and found that people reported that the Westbahn company was newer and better than the older but much more extensive OEBB ,and from my reading decided we should book a Westbahn train. However I was disappointed to find that I couldn't book via the website, but a couple of emails back and forward revealed that I was trying to book too early! As it turned out, the booked carriage that we boarded had only two other people in it, so my concern about not getting a seat was well and truly unfounded!

    We were both excited about the trip, it was a nice day, and we passed through some interesting countryside, both happy to just gaze out the window. We were a bit dismayed when we arrived at Salzburg to see a large group of refugees being escorted somewhere by police. Because there were no trains going from here to Germany, a lot of them were stuck, a little bit of reality impinging on what was otherwise a fairy tale trip for us.

    We managed to get a cab the short distance to the Mirabellplatz am Hotel, chatting pleasantly with the cab driver. It was a lovely spacious room, finished with polished wood, and we knew we would be very comfortable here for a couple of days. After settling in, we were itching to explore Salzburg and so set off on foot from the hotel. The fortress was easily visible from most parts of the town, and we thought we would leave it till tomorrow to get up there. We had a coffee in one of the famous squares in the town, again with beautiful wood finished panels and chandeliers inside. Everything seemed well maintained, and I guess this is important in a place where income is almost 100% from tourism.

    Of course we wanted to find our way to Mozart's famous birthplace. It was surprising hard for us to find - we actually walked past it at first, not looking in the right direction! Of course we wanted to explore the building which is now a museum and Mozart memorial. As musicians, being here felt extremely special, to walk the rooms in which he lived and composed in, even at a young age before he left for bigger places and possibilities.

    After the Mozart museum, we continued to explore all the alleyways, shops, churches, etc. A horse and carriage business concentrated in the main square looked very well established, and everything in the place seems to focus on music and Mozart - even the bakery had musical notation shaped breads. The township is interesting in that it seems squeezed between the Danube and a huge cliff on which stands a fortress. There are small cave like dwellings built into the side of the cliff face, and an unusual cemetery in the old town section.Of all things we found a nice fish and chip cafe for lunch and came back the next day because we liked it so much - we were still getting over the stodgy Hungarian food of the previous weeks

    We found the famous marionette theatre, as well as a few places that were used in the 'Sound of Music'. Had a coffee in another lovely little cafe alongside the Danube and generally enjoyed exploring the quaint little shops.

    We found a pub to have dinner in, and started talking to an American couple and their young kids - both parents professional musicians. I guess it's like a pilgrimage for many musicians!
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  • Day25

    Free day in Vienna

    October 4, 2015 in Austria ⋅ ⛅ 13 °C

    So far we had been in or near Vienna four times without seeing too much of it other than the one day drip with the band from Sopron, so Rae and I had decided that when the tour ended, we would stay here another night and explore the city on our own. Although the tour had been great, it still is a work situation for Rae, at times putting out fires and having to pull things together. So in many ways for him, today was the chance to start to wind down and enjoy himself.

    Having been on a diet of Hungarian food for a fortnight, I was pleased that the buffet breakfast at the hotel was far less restrictive and much more to our preference, with lots to choose from – it was very good, in fact!

    After saying good-bye to the remaining people from the tour who continued to dribble away, we opted to catch the train into the centre of the city. It was only a few stops, really, but as we would probably be walking around sightseeing, we decided it would be good to save our legs. We had been told about a Mass (with choir) being held in St Augustin’s church at 11:00 am, so we were definitely going to check that out. We were also advised to get there early to get a seat.

    We worked out which station to get out at, and made for the church, getting there in plenty of time. The singing was beautiful choral music which always sounds fantastic in the acoustics of a large church. However, as it was a full mass, the service with the music added went on and on, so we quietly departed after we’d been there for about an hour and it was still in full swing.

    We were excited to have a whole day pleasing no-one but ourselves in such a beautiful, historic city. We walked past the Hofburg Palace and Lipizzaner Museum again, as well as the Parliament Building, browsing the stylish shops, the statues, the Mozart tourist shops, the street museums, and so on.

    We couldn’t walk past the Mozart Café opposite the Vienna opera, so we stopped there for a drink, hoping our credit cards wouldn’t be broken! We were so excited and had to pinch ourselves at the thought of where we were. The café appeared to be authentically furnished in sumptuous wooden panelling and high ceilings with chandeliers, with attentive but pleasant waiters. We struck up a conversation with a young couple who actually gave us their city map. They had been here for the weekend and were about to fly home, not requiring their map any more. They even offered to take a photo of us, which we gladly reciprocated.

    After further browsing and trinket shopping, we found a café for lunch, and found ourselves in the area of St Stephens, an enormous cathedral which we had a good look around. We walked outside, and a small brass quintet began to play. After the quintet had finished we noticed a lot of people with dogs had started to assemble. We were a little baffled as they started to grow in numbers, and we decided to ask someone what was going on. Apparently, it was the feat of St Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals, and there was going to be a special blessing service held. Weird!

    We didn’t hang around, and decided to head back for the hotel.
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  • Day24

    End of tour and back to Vienna

    October 3, 2015 in Austria ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    And thus the band tour ended. We packed our bags and departed from the Hotel Flamenco bound for Vienna. We stopped for a lunch break at the border between Hungary and Austria, called Hegyeshalom, also not far from the border with Slovakia. it seemed quite barren and flat, with very little of interest to be seen, perhaps because we basically just stopped at a fuel station with an attached cafe.

    Nevertherless we were still served with a decent meal, and it was here that the committee had decided to present Zoltan, Norbet and the driver with some thank you cards, plaques and tips, and of course thank them profusely for a wonderful tour.

    On to Vienna and our hotel, the One Wien-Westbahnhof, right next to one of the main railway stations in Vienna.

    It was quite a nice hotel with for some reason, a large horse statue in the entrance. We sorted out our bags and then went into the bar to socialize for a little while, as we were all about to scatter in various directions. Some folk were already about to leave for the airport almost straight away. Having been in mainland Europe for two weeks, we had seen no sign at all of the flood of refugees fleeing the middle east conflict, but it was definitely in evidence here in Vienna, particularly right here at the railway station. Several groups, families and individuals appeared to be ensconced around the place. There were blankets and clothes that had been delivered, and inside the railway station even a sort of child minding centre. We noticed a bit of an argument break out, and we worked out that someone was having a go at a local hobo for helping himself to stuff that had been left for the refugees. I'm not sure how you differentiate who had the right to what when people are homeless for different reasons.Interesting.

    Rae and I decided to check out the railway station as we were booked on a train a couple of days later. We wanted to be sure we knew exactly where we had to go and could read all the necessary instructions. No dramas there. However, we found out that Les, who was going to Germany couldn't get the train he wanted because they had stopped all trains going to Germany (due to the refugee issue). He eventually got to where he wanted, although it was via a pretty circuitous route.

    A few of the ones who were staying overnight decided to go out walking, to primarily find a place for dinner, but also to generally explore. We found a bar to relax and have a drink for a while, then decided on a German style place for dinner, not far from the hotel.
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  • Day23

    Visegrad

    October 2, 2015 in Hungary ⋅ ☀️ 16 °C

    Visegrad is a small town 40 km north of Budapest where the Danube winds around through the hills and takes a sharp turn. Of great historic and strategic importance, there are several ancient buildings here. The Romans built a fortress here, but the one that still stands was built by King Bela IV. There is also the Renaissance palace of King Matthias.

    We entered at the bottom level, and climbed up several footpaths and stairways, getting a pretty good sense of what it would have been like hundreds of years ago. Inside (King Matthias Museum) were lots of different displays and information panels about Hungary's history, wars and so on.

    We eventually climbed to the top of what is called King Solomon's Tower, a hexagonal structure from which you have a 360 degree view. From here we could see a bobsled ground in the distance. Of course, also, from here we were rewarded by magnificent views of the Danube. Also for our efforts we were rewarded with a good cup of Bull's Blood (red wine). Some of us - those getting on a bit found the climbing quite a challenge. We weren't really warned that there would be quite so much climbing involved!

    Solomon's Tower provided us with a perfect backdrop to the medieval display of fighting skills that was presented. It was quite an amusing show, with Rae and someone from another tour group getting to be King and Queen, dressing up accordingly, and being encouraged to play the part. James got to be jester. An eagle impressively flew in across the courtyard and landed on one of the actor's arms. After the display, the audience were invited to have a go at archery, spear throwing etc. All great entertainment. Rae was a bit miffed that he had to be king and sit on the throne. He would have liked to try his hand at the ancient sports!

    Next we were taken back down the hill to the Renaissance restaurant where we were presented with a medieval feast. The place is decked out accordingly, with a guy in costume sitting playing the lute and singing. we were all given cardboard crowns to wear. There was an enormous amount of food and drink provided - it really was a feast!

    Toward the end of the meal, the people from Musik Land thanked us for booking our tour through them and presented us with a few gifts. We had planned to do a similar presentation the next day, but in hindsight, this would have been a better time.

    We had all thoroughly enjoyed our time in Hungary, and thanked them for their hospitality. All the accommodation, travelling, meals and guides had been organised by them, and it had proven to be quite economic for us as well, so we thanked them warmly.
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  • Day23

    Szentendre

    October 2, 2015 in Hungary ⋅ ☀️ 17 °C

    Today was the last day of the tour, given that tomorrow we would basically be making our way back to Vienna, and for most of the band, home (but not us!)

    We drove north to Szentendre, passing at one point a number of Roman ruins which I hurriedly tried to snap from inside the coach. It was a perfect day weather wise, and a lovely day to explore yet another beautiful village on the Danube with a quaint pedestrian precinct. Again, the cobbled walkways were lined with shops designed to bring in the tourist dollars, but it was clean and quiet and a magical place to be. Rae and I started with a coffee at a cafe by the river and then explored up and down, searching for souvenirs. I was also looking for a replacement handbag, and there were plenty to choose from.

    There was an optional visit to the Pottery museum which Rae and I decided to skip, since it was a perfect day for enjoying a stroll in the sun. We met the others for lunch in the Labirintus Etterem. As the name suggests, it was a bit like a Labyrinth, and we were led upstairs to a loft/ attic where we were seated away from the other patrons. Obviously our Aussie reputation had preceded us?

    Sadly, we had to leave this beautiful place, with the next stop being Visegrad, a place of great historic and strategic importance further to the north.
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