Travel Blog Daniella and Luke's Travelblog

16Sep/10Off

Olomouc

After spending a day sightseeing in Prague, we got up early and took a train to Olomouc.  After Prague, Olomouc is the largest culturally and architecturally significant city in the Czech Republic.

Jesus has a lot of nice houses in Olomouc.  The number of churches in what is a fairly compact old city is astounding, if not baffling and the design and decor of the churches spans the scale from austere to absurd.  A little surprisingly, despite rivaling Prague in terms of architecture, Olomouc has far less tourists.  Although we bumped into a couple of large groups whilst walking around, the town seemed far less busy and in some ways, far less tainted.

Rather than elbowing through hordes at every attraction, most places seemed to either be empty or be occupied only by the occasional local.  Perhaps the best example would be the honesty system in place at the entry to St. Moris church tower; a tin box with the entry cost painted on the side is all that stands between anyone and a climb up the very old helix staircase to the top of the tower.  Reaching the top of the helix staircase you find yourself in a very functional bell tower where you climb some more stairs and push open a plastic trapdoor to access the roof.

Other attractions are similar; small signs occasionally indicate that you should exercise common sense (respect the silence of the sanctuary , no dogs, no ice-cream) but are otherwise deserted and charge no admission.  Walking around, you begin to realise that although it sounds a little conceited and selfish, this is the experience you hope for when you travel - you have the sites and experience to yourself.  No noisy tourists, no pushing, no one walking in front of your camera, no getting stuck behind oblivious slow-moving, five-wide groups in narrow alleys.

The largest spire in Moravia at 125m.

An exceptionally Baroque church.

And the interior.

A medieval-era church with enormous bell tower.  We went up.

The very long double-helix staircase.

And the view from the top - possibly one of the world's best drinking balconies.

The Holy Trinity Column in the town square.

A statue celebrating the glorious union between man and dolphin.

Olomouc would definitely be somewhere I would suggest that anyone traveling to East Europe visits.

Day done, we headed back to Prague to scrub up before joining a pub crawl.

16Sep/10Off

Prague

It's hard to pick a city that has more of a intoned mental image in the collective consciousness by name alone than Prague.  And that image was always going to be a hard one to live up to.

Traveling by bus from Vienna to Prague, my first impressions of the city were mixed; we entered through the industrial and commercial districts of Prague where large glass and steel skyscrapers give way to skylines littered with domes and spires.  The streets are busy with traffic, hectic, noisy and the buildings gray with pollution.  Our bus made it's way to the UAN Florenc station through some shabby back streets and once there, Prague begins to seem less like Budapest and more like Bucharest.

For what must be one of the bigger "must-see" cities on any travelers itinerary, Prague seems a little rougher around the edges than would be expected.  It's not the same level of urban decay and chaos that we have seen in Romania, but it's not the polished gem that one would expect for a popular destination.

We check in (to a different hotel as ours has no hot water - long story) and head out.  It's unclear if the crowds on the main street are tourists or locals out shopping.  We see cameras and hear American accents, but we see a lot of what looks like people on their way home from work.

We eat a a small pub out of the way of the tourist routes and retire before heading out sightseeing the next day.  I'm not going to embarrass myself by attempting to name the buildings in these photos, so just enjoy the image dump.


Prague National Museum.

The Jubilee Synagog.

After spending the day seeing the sights, we headed out to see a blacklight theater show.  Blacklight theater is pretty much what the name suggests; a live theater performance in which blacklight is used to create some unique special effects with props and puppetry.

At a special "student" price (I think the cashier made a judgment based on our clothes), we saw Faust.  The performance was quite good and well worth it, if a little heavy on some elements of the story.

15Sep/10Off

Trencin

Whilst in Bratislava we took a day trip by train to nearby Trencin, famous as the location of Trencin Castle.

Trencin Castle is very old, dating back to the days of the Roman Empire.  Unfortunately, like most historic buildings and castles we have visited, the appeal of old buildings is a little tarnished by the fact that most of the structures have been demolished and rebuilt several times during their history.

Whilst no one expects a building to last 2000 years without some sort of upkeep, seeing obviously new concrete, plaster and bricks on ancient buildings still takes something away from the experience.

Trencin Castle, perched high above the town.

And some of the older castle ruins from the castle gates.

One of the oldest parts of the castle is the large central tower.

And up we go...

...to the top.

And back down again.

Castle seen, we headed back to Bratislava and walking back to the hotel cam across this mushroom-cloud like monument in a park.

The next day we caught a boat up the Danube to Vienna.  As luck would have it, it had stopped raining by the time we left so we decided to sit on the upper deck.

That sucker was fast.

A slightly better view of the UFO Bridge from a river vantage point.

These castle ruins mark the border of Slovakia and Austria.

12Sep/10Off

Bratislava

I've been a little slack on updates lately due to not having reliable free internet and generally being a little lazy.  However, the bus on which we are now traveling from Vienna to Prague has free wifi, so here goes.

Bratislava is a lot like the other east-European cities we have visited; whilst it lacks the unrefined rawness of Bucharest, or the the opulent grandeur of Budapest, there are still some elements of both reflected in the city.

From the large tracts of uniform socialist-era housing blocks, to the stunning old world architecture and cobbled streets, Bratislava feels very much like a typical east-European city, albeit somewhat cleaner, less staunch and more commercial than what some may immediately imagine.

Bratislava is small.  Much smaller than any other capital we have visited so far and likely much smaller than any other capital we will visit for the remainder of our vacation.  Whilst we didn't bother venturing far into the newer side of town, the old city and city centers are compact and easily traversable on foot.

Also, Bratislava is comparatively cheap compared to it's neighbors.  1EUR buys 500ml of beer and 10EUR buys a large dinner platter for two.  For someone traveling on a budget, it's definitely a city worth a couple of days.   My only complaint would be that the city may be a little too small for anything other than a couple of days stay.  The cheap beer helps offset the boredom, but the sights are so concentrated and accessible that most attractions are likely viewable in a day or two.

The Blue Church.  Much bluer in real life than this image captured, however I don't have the time to adjust the levels in photoshop.

An excellent example of three contrasting architectural styles of spires on a church.

Michael's Gate in the Old Town section of Bratislava.

Bratislava Castle.

The courtyard of Bratislava Castle.

The Slavin Monument on a hill overlooking the city.

The Slovak Radio building - Geelongians may note the similarities to a local government building.

Parliament Palace.

View from our hotel window; in the skyline you can see the UFO Bridge, The spire of St Matthias Church and Bratislava Castle.

Traditional Slovakian fare - duck with red cabbage and potato pancakes, and dumplings with sheep's cheese.  Not pictured is the delicious garlic soup.

UFO Bridge.

And the view from the top.

And the other side showing the large rows of housing blocks.

Linux brand smokes and booze.  RMS would be turning in the filthy pile of soiled clothes that he calls a bed.

I have some more pics from Slovakia from a day trip we took to nearby Trencin Castle, but unfortunately my USB cable is in the luggage hold.  I'll try and post both them and some photos from Vienna tonight if the hotel has internet.

5Sep/10Off

Buda, Pest and Castle Hill

If you're ever planning to use public transport in Romania to meet a connecting flight or tight schedule, then good luck.  Leaving Romania on an overnight train to Budapest (craftily saving the expense of a night's accommodation) we expected to arrive at 8:10 the following morning, we didn't arrive until 10:30.

This worked out OK for us as we had several hours to waste lugging our backpacks around until we could stash them at the hotel after check-in time.  However, making the most of our time we still undertook a fairly good exploration of Pest, locating our Hotel, the Great Synagogue and Parliament before the check-in time.

Despite some initial first impressions of Hungary from rural train stations hinting at some similarities with Romania; stray dogs, border guards with close-cropped blond hair in Soviet-era reminiscent uniforms and some derelict buildings, on walking from Budapest Keleti Pu train station the difference between the two neighboring countries became markedly clearer.

Budapest is beautiful.  Every building, even the large central apartment complexes, are Baroque masterpieces, landmarks sporadically dot the city and everything twists, turns and melts into everything else in a way that a camera refuses to capture.

Something about Budapest seems strangely familiar too.  The small lane ways dotted with stores, the beautifully preserved buildings, the logical layout of streets - at some times it almost feels as if it could be some street on the Melbourne CDB.

After checking in, we headed out to explore Budapest, first walking out to Buda and then heading north to Castle Hill.   Castle Hill is big, very big.  From our vantage point at the memorial in Buda, Castle Hill seemed to house a large palatial palace.  Only after arriving in the mid-afternoon did we find that the Castle complex including the old town and Churches spans about five kilometers.

Parliament, a fantastic example of the neo-Gothic architecture.

State Opera House.

View of Castle Hill from lower Buda.

View of Parliament from Castle Hill.

Matthias Church on Castle Hill.

Fisherman's Bastion.

The following day our luck riding on the coat tails of the warm summer tourist season finally ran out.  Although it had rained a little during our stay at Brasov, we had attributed this to the high altitude, Bucharest still being relatively dry when we returned.  However, waking this morning it was noticeably cold and damp.  Undeterred, we headed out to Statue Park - home of many of many relocated communist era statues of former communist Hungary.

The statue below was clearly the pick of  the bunch.  Film fails to capture the dynamism and sense of movement and energy in this piece.

Comrade Lenin.

Marx and Engels.

Afterwards we caught the Metro out to Hero's Square; erected in honor of Hungary's conquest of the land.

And after that we relaxed in a Borozo - a wine bar in which the wines are served soup style from large steel drums with a ladle like cup for stupidly low prices.

We then strolled down a couple of blocks to find the Grand Market inexplicably closed for the weekend.

After dinner, we took the metro out to view Castle Hill and Chain Bridge by night.  The Metro escalators are incredibly steep and long.