Dieppe – A Canadian Tragedy

11 11 2010
Dieppe was a horrendous loss of Canadian lives.
From http://www.rpi.edu/~fiscap/history_files/dieppe.htm

Operation Jubilee ended with drastic results: the allies counted 1,380 dead (913 Canadians), 1,600 wounded and over 2,000 taken prisoner. The air battle was just as devastating. The Royal Air Force lost 107 aircraft; more than any other one day battle that Britain was involved in. In contrast, the Germans only lost about forty aircraft. In the area of Dieppe, among the civilians, the count was 48 dead and 100 wounded. The Germans had 345 dead or missing and 268 wounded. Thus, in less than ten hours’ battle, almost 1,800 people lost their lives, which shows clearly the murderous intensity of the Battle of Dieppe.

Here are a few photos of Dieppe as it stands today with many Canadian memorials and its imposing cliffs.

Head to Head by DragonSpeed, on Flickr

Killing Fields by DragonSpeed, on Flickr

Les Fusiliers Mont Royal by DragonSpeed, on Flickr

Rows upon Rows by DragonSpeed, on Flickr

More can be found at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dragons…7625237905365/

May we never forget the horrors of war!

At the Going Down of the Sun and in the Morning…

10 11 2010

We Shall Remember Them!

War is not glory. War means dying in some field or valley or on some ridge, often alone, wishing you had never come. War is horrifying and sad.

The people that fight the wars for our governments, so that we don’t have to, are brave and courageous.


American Cemetery at Normandie by DragonSpeed, on Flickr

The Unknown German Soldier by DragonSpeed, on Flickr

Words of Valour by DragonSpeed, on Flickr

Omaha Beach by DragonSpeed, on Flickr

Too Many Graves by DragonSpeed, on Flickr

More in the whole set: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dragons…7625352684670/

The Weather we encountered on our European Trip

3 08 2010
Location/Date High Low Precipitation
Prague/May 25 19C 10C 0mm
Prague/May 26 19C 10C 0mm
Karlovy Vary/May 27 14C 10C 0.3mm
Ceske Budejovice/May 28 20.2 5.3C 0.5mm
Cesky Krumlov/May 29 15.8C 7.2C 0.3mm
Cesky Krumlov/May 30 15.8C 11C 5.8mm
Salzburg/May 31 11C 2.8C 25.91mm
Salzburg/June 1 10.3C 3C 14.99mm
Sankt Wolfgang/June 2 11.2C 9.2C 20.07mm
Obertraun/June 3 14C 6.6C 39.62mm
Hallstatt/June 4 21C 10C 1.02mm
Graz/June 5 25.3C 5C 0mm
Dreznik Grad/June 6 26.3C 11.2C 0mm
Dreznik Grad/June 7 29.6C 13.0C 0mm
Seebersdorf/June 8 28.3C 14.6C 0mm
Vienna/June 9 31.3C 18.8C 0mm
Vienna/June 10 31.2C 19.0C 0mm
Budapest/June 11 31C 18C 0mm
Budapest/June 12 32C 19C 0mm
Szentendre/June 13 32C 20C 0mm


As you can see we had weather that was all over the charts.  Definitely VERY cold in Salzburg and VERY hot in Vienna/Budapest. All temperatures were recorded at the closest weather station that I could find near where we stayed.

June 13, 2010 Szentendre, Hungary

3 08 2010

We got up today for for our last full day of our vacation.  It has been a long vacation with a LOT of travelling and walking and some wacky weather.  I’m ready for this to be the last day.

We all skipped breakfast this morning and headed out to catch the metro down to the Urban train station.  We got off at Batthany Ter.  The urban train to Szentendre was about 1500 HuF but since part of the ride was covered by our Budapest card we probably only paid about 900HuF.  We had more or less just missed a train so we had a little time to look around.  There was a bakery selling little mini danishes.  We bought 10 or so and I think it probably cost us about $2CAD. Cheap.  Finally – something cheap :)  The little danishes were quite tasty.  Some had apple, while others had strawberry or blueberry.   A quick bite on a Sunday morning. They were selling quite well too!

We hung out on the platform and waited while another train was getting ready to leave.  Some helpful local guy wanted to make sure we didn’t take that train.  He tried very hard to explain that it wasn’t the train to Szentendre.  We already figured that out but thanked him for helping us as he got his train and away they went.  Not long after that, our train arrived at the station.

The train runs every about every 30 minutes so it arrived quite soon.   The whole ride on the train is only about 40-45 minutes so we arrived at our destination around 1000.  We disembarked and it took a little bit to figure out where we were going.  It was easy to follow the rule of thumb and “Follow the masses”  If you weren’t meeting someone that was picking you up by car or something you were going to be walking into the main “village” area.  We walked with everyone else, into the village.  The sun was sizzling already.  This early summer weather is HOT!

The village itself was quite quiet at this time.  I think it only really wakes up, businesswise, around 1000.  Some vendors were setting up their displays at their shops and talking to each other, probably about the thing neighbours talk about.  I imagine the weather, business and what so-and-so did last night 😉

One of the few places open early was a “Marzipan museum”.  The line to enter wasn’t very long and the cost was reasonable so we went in.  Upon entering, we discovered that it basically felt like someone’s cramped 2 floor home that had been converted to a factory/store/museum and the second floor was all these marzipan figures.  They had a life-sized Princess Diana, a whole fish pond scene, dogs and various recreations in marzipan.  It’s not too surprising when you consider it.  marzipan pretty much has the consistency of soft clay and is just as moldable.   While the museum was interesting, even at this early time in the day the upstairs was becoming a sweat lodge.  We hastened our visit and headed down to the exit – coincidentally through the store section.  The store part was a madhouse.  You’d have thought that the last almonds had died and that no more marzipan would ever be made.  People were buying KILOS of the stuff and many of them were buying pre-made marzipan sculptures… It was crazy.  We squeezed through the teeming throngs and managed to get out of the store.

By the time we got out of the “museum” it was closer to 1100 and we wandered down the one “touristy” street.  EVERY store had souvenirs, crystal or some other thing that they were hoping you’d plunk down your forints for.  If there had been only 10% of the stores, the variety would have been no less.  Wow – how many people can sell the same thing for same price???  I felt like I was trapped in some twilight zone episode where a new Hell had descended upon a pretty little village and Satan was lengthening the street as I walked.  It seemed that it would never end. 

There were a few little side streets that gave a glimpse into the locals’ lives.  Streets that weren’t crowded with tourists that had fun coloured shutters and neat window boxes down one while another had a place with broken windows and long forgotten gates and doors.  This was the interesting part of the village for me.

Back to the main drag…   There was a town square with the obligatory statue, but try as I might, I couldn’t find a good angle in the harsh midday sun.  Down at the end of the street we found out where all the other tourists came from… It was the drop off point for the tour buses.  There must have been 15 coaches there.  So much for the “little village away from the crowds” 😦

As we wandered the streets we stopped for some danishes and then at a little outdoor place that sold “lemonade” by the litre.  Just the thing, we thought.  It turned out to be REAL lemonade.  They took lemons, limes, and oranges and crushed them in with some ice and sprite.  It made for a wonderfully relaxing drink on the hot afternoon!

We wandered a bit more but we really had seen the whole town, so it was time to head back home.  One last stop along the way… there were about 3 Serbian Orthodox churches in the town.  There was one along the main drag but it wanted 300HuF to enter. The others had had enough churches, I think, so I was the only one to go in.  It was probably a very pretty little church in its time, but it has aged poorly. I was glad that I had paid to go in, as I hoped the money would go to helping restore the church.  It’s unfortunate to see the hard work of people from the past slowly deteriorate.

We took the train back home and I think most, if not all, of us slept on the way back. The heat was tough.  We went back to our hotel and freshened up.  We were heading for our last afternoon/evening in Budapest.

After refreshing ourselves, we headed in two groups down the main shopping street “Vaci Utca”.  The street is about 10 blocks long and lined with souvenir shops, t-shirt vendors and restaurants.  Personally, having seen the first block, I was pretty sure the other 9 blocks would be the same… I was right.  After having walked all the way to the Great Market Hall at the end of the street, we turned around and headed back. Mrs Dragonspeed was having a great time checking out the different shops.   We stopped into one little t-shirt vendor and bought matching “Hungary” T-shirts.  There – I finally bought a souvenir.  I had held off for so long, but they finally broke me 😉

We met up with the other three as we were on our return and we all ended up looking at stores together and Mrs D showed the others some of the places she had found and vice-versa.  I wandered a bit ahead of the shoppers, I really was tired of the whole shopping thing.

It was because I was walking ahead (alone) that something interesting happened…

As I was walking, these two women approached me and asked if I knew where an air conditioned bar was along the street.  They said they were from Hungary, but not Budapest so didn’t know the area well.  Well, I’m not exactly a “prize fish” so I was doubtful about their story… Why would these two young women be hitting on me?  I think it was a “come, let us take you to a bar and slip you a little something in your drink” sort of plan.   Well, I turned down the offer to help them find a bar ;)  Funny how your senses just say “This is SO WRONG”.  I saw the same two women about 5 minutes later seemingly selecting their next “friend”.  Well – dodged that one.

We had dinner at a cafe/restaurant that was along the road.  We watched the Montreal Grand Prix and some World Cup action.  It’s too bad our trip is ending as the games are starting.  It could be really fun to watch over here… Europeans are more interested in soccer than North Americans.  The food at the restaurant was “OK” but it was nothing exceptional. It WAS expensive.  We did the group share thing and it helped keep the costs down a bit.

With dinner finished and our shopping complete, we headed back to our hotel.  Mrs D and I had an early flight out in the morning, while the others were leaving at 1800.

After much packing and repacking we got it all fitted in the suitcases.  We went up to the other room and talked with the others and said our good-byes.  It was likely that we wouldn’t be seeing them in the morning.

We went to bed with the mixed happiness and sadness that you often feel at the end of a long vacation.  Our trip to Central Europe was complete.

Thanks for following us through the journey.  I hope you enjoyed the trip with us through the blog and the pictures.

June 12, 2010 Budapest Hungary

19 07 2010

Sleep came pretty quickly when I went to sleep.  As usual, Mrs D was up and about before I was (of course she went to sleep 2 hours before me too 🙂 )  With breakfast not included in the stay at this hotel, we were on our own to forage for food.  We went for the granola bars that we had packed in Vancouver.  It was a nice quick, light breakfast to get you going.

Maggie was the first up and awake from the other room, so she came and visited for a while as we waited for the others.  By around 0930 we were up and off.

We headed out to the “Great Market Hall”.  It was a few metro stops away on the M3 so we made our transfer over at Deak Ferenc again before long we were off the train and walked up the stairs.

As we came out of the metro, I thought we had arrived at a train station.  The large Quonset style building looked, on the outside, very much like I thought the main train station would look had I turned back when we got to town.  I had heard that it was a large “Farmers market” style place and that there would be a lot of produce etc.  By 10:30 when we entered the building, it was a hive of activity with many locals carrying bags of produce while tourists mingled in and about soaking up the “atmosphere”. 

The market hall really was “Great”.  There were probably 20 different vendors selling Hungarian Salami and at each vendor there were probably 20 different types to try.  There were butchers and produce vendors and it was all laid out in a series of corridors that you could wander up and down to check out the shops. Then, there was an upstairs! The souvenir vendors and artisans seemed to be concentrated on the upper Mezzanine.  They ringed the hall on the second floor and you could see down into the bustling area below.  Our group went into shopping mode.  I dutifully kept along with them but I was really wearying of this whole shopping thing. While the downstairs was hot, the upstairs was even hotter and with the crowds it really made it quite uncomfortable.  Some vendors had fans that blew onto a light jet of water to help cool via the “swamp cooler” effect and other sections felt like the same hot air had been there all morning – the air just didn’t want to move.

Along the upstairs were also various delis.  We stopped at one and put together a lunch that was quite good and relatively inexpensive.  The primary drawback being that while you ate lunch people pushed by you in the narrow walkway, constantly bumping you while you ate. Not so enjoyable.Food good. Price good. Atmosphere poor. 

We shopped for a bit more, but shortly after lunch we headed out.  We were going to Buda Castle today. I looked up onto the cliffs above the river and asked “There???”  “Yup.”

We decided to wing it a bit on our way to the castle.  We hopped on the first tram that took us across the Liberty bridge and followed it all the way along the route toward the castle until the tram seemed to diverge from the castle direction at which point we hopped out and figured “It’s just short walk up the hill and we’ll be there.”  The heat would have us thinking otherwise pretty quickly as we hiked up the stairs from the bottom of the castle hill.  We came across a bevy of tour buses which had obviously dropped off their charges earlier in the morning.  The drivers were hanging out in the shade, smoking and eating lunch.  I approached one and asked “Castle?” while pointing in the direction I figured the castle was.  He pointed further up and over.  We weren’t TOO far it seemed but boy were we hot.

Not long afterwards we summitted onto the road that ran through the castle complex.  The area was quite large and I really didn’t get the feeling that I was in a castle area.   The actual palace (Palace vs Castle is a long discussion apparently) is on the eastern end of castle hill.  The building has been rebuilt more often than you can count.   It has undergone a LOT of changes and most recently had the interiors finished in 1980 despite the fact that the castle first started out there in the 1500’s.

We walked over to the top of the funicular and overlooked the Danube river and Pest on the other side.  We hid in the shade and rested.  These past two days in Budapest must certainly be the hottest of all the days!  We along the fortification wall high above the riverside and enjoyed the view.  We weren’t the only ones enjoying the view… A wedding party came up to take pictures of the bride and groom overlooking the city below as well.   Probably made for some really lovely pictures.  We headed into the main palace building and found that it was actually a museum.  Most importantly, it was Air Conditioned!  There was a small cafe so we stopped in and had ice coffee.  It was a delightful treat on this sweltering day.

Refreshed, we walked back out and around the palace.  We saw the magnificent “Hunting Fountain” commemorating King Matthias and there was even a place where you could try your hand at archery (for a ridiculously expensive amount)  There was even a little set of souvenir stands that the women HAD to check out 😉

We headed over to the other side of the palace complex and found ourselves over at the Fisherman’s Bastion and Matthias Church.  For about 700 HUF we got a ticket that let us into the Matthias Church and the Fisherman’s Bastion.  The church is undergoing renovations (like everywhere!) and so the museum area wasn’t open.  The actual insides of the church are quite lovely and have been rebuilt a number of times due to the various conquests that have targeted the area.  The cool interior of the church offered a welcome respite from the heat of the day.  I noticed that women who were “provocatively” dressed were given simple shawls with which to cover their shoulders…  Similar to mosques.  This is the first church on our trip in which I noticed this.

The Fisherman’s bastion is basically an elevated walkway between various little “turrets”.  From the walkway there was a beautiful view of Pest down below and the Gothic styled Houses of Parliament next to the river.  The view was lovely if a bit hazy in the heat. 

We completed our visit to the castle complex and took a tram down the mountain to the metro and back to our hotel in no time.  We had found a little corner store near the hotel and it was nice to be able to buy large bottles of drinks for cheap instead of “restaurant pricing”

Back at the hotel, we asked the desk clerk if they knew a good “inexpensive” place for dinner.  They suggested a place a few blocks away and said that it was quite reasonable.  We made reservations and headed up to our rooms for a couple of hours to rest and cool down in the A/C.

Dinner time had us walking down the way to a restaurant boasting a selection of over 100 Hungarian wines and “Live Gypsy Music”.  I had my doubts about the “inexpensive price” part.    The atmosphere was nice – you kind of felt like you were in a wine cellar, and the musicians were playing some pleasant background tunes that were up tempo enough but not so loud that they dominated the room.

We looked at the menu and soon realized that “inexpensive” at the hotel doesn’t translate to “inexpensive” in our minds :)  No worries, we were going to enjoy one of our last dinners out in Hungary and we had various fish, pasta and beef dishes that we shared (confusing the poor waitress again) and desserts.  The dinner was quite pleasant.  At the table next to us there were two Norwegian ladies who were visiting town and they were quite friendly and sociable.  One indicator of their “sociability” might have been the 6 or so empty glasses on their table :D  They had definitely been trying out smattering of the 100 types of Hungarian wines. LOL.

Even though dinner was expensive, when you split up 4 plates among 5 people it becomes much more affordable.  The overall per person price turned out to be quite good, and the food was very tasty as well as filling.  The entertainers were enjoyable and we had a good time.

After dinner we headed out to the shore of the Danube to get some night shots of the Buda Castle and the Chain bridge illuminated.  We wound our way down to the walkway along the river.  It was quite high, but definitely lower than it had been the previous days with all the rain.  We found a nice spot along the edge to set up the tripod.  Francis took a few shots and while he was shooting, we noticed a bunch of brass shoes cemented into the shoreline where we were standing.  Further lookup on the ‘Net – It was a memorial to the Jews that had been shot by “Arrow Cross Militiamen” during the second world war and left to fall into the icy Danube.  Eww.

As Francis finished a few shots we all noticed that there were swarms of mosquitoes along the river.  It seems the high water from earlier had left more than a few puddles around for the little blood suckers to breed.  They started landing and biting.  It wasn’t pleasant.  I set up the tripod and began to shoot, but the others had had enough.  They were practically running down the bank to escape the blood sucking swarm.  I got a few shots as I tried to keep up.  I would stop periodically and try a different exposure and while the camera exposed, I would dance my “anti-mosquito” jig to try and keep them off me.  Reviewing the photos on the PC back in the hotel room – I was glad I suffered a bit… Some of the shots were great!

We beat a hasty retreat to our hotel (while we still had some blood left in us) with Mrs D and I stopping to take a few night shots of St Stehpen’s Basilica.

We are coming down to the end of the trip. One more full day and that’s it.  It seems like it’s been so quick and yet sometimes it seemed like it would take forever…

Good Night.

June 11, 2010 Vienna to Budapest Hungary

13 07 2010

After a good night’s sleep in our COOL room we had our little buffet breakfast with Francis, Maggie and Iris in their room.  The little hotel gives you trays to take the food back to your room and eat since there isn’t much of a lobby and definitely no dining area.  We were aiming for the 10:05 train out of town, so we had to be up and going a bit earlier.  Vienna has a number of train stations and ours was a couple of metros to transfer until we were at the Wien Meidling station.  Travelling at rush hour with our luggage proved to be quite manageable.  The train we were travelling on was a “Railjet”  train.  It was comfortable, modern and well equipped.  There were status screens (two or three in every car) updating you with the GPS position of the train and the scheduled time of arrival at the next station vis. the actual estimate based on train speed etc.  It was interesting and helped pass the time. 

Due to the seating availability in the train, Mrs D and I sat up a few rows from where the other three were.  While the seats were comfortable, it wasn’t really the greatest position in which to sleep, so for the duration of the trip I drifted in and out of sleep as the train made its many stops along the way.   The windows were Mylar coated to keep out the sun (the train had A/C!) which was great as it was going to be another hot day. The problem is that the SPOT can’t track through the window then.  This means that we’re going to see a big jump from Vienna to Budapest when we get another track point in Budapest finally.

There was no fanfare, no announcement that we entered Hungary as we went along in the train.  There may have been a sign, but I missed that too, so at some point the various signs in towns became illegible and I figured we were in Hungary.  Kind of anticlimactic crossing boarders in the EU where the Shengen Agreement is in place.

The ride to Budapest was about 2:45 long. We arrived in the train station just about 1300.  The station was a classic old station with a HUGE arching roof and the platforms being all open to the elements.  Basically it was a stop and start point for trains covered by a large half cylinder 🙂

Mrs D and I went to the bank to get take some money out.  The smallest denomination the ATM gave me was 20,000 Forints!  We then went into the bank to get some smaller denominations.  That was a slow process.  Bankers are the same everywhere I guess.

After blowing off that 30 odd minutes to get money, we went back to meet the other three that were waiting in the station.  We had gone back and forth a few times on whether to take the metro, and use the Budapest card or to take the Taxi.  We had settled on metro before we left.  When we had returned, it had swung back to “Taxi”.  I guess I was getting tired and sounded a bit gruff because according to Mrs D, I kind of snapped along the lines of “WHY?  Why are we changing our minds AGAIN?”  Thankfully the group didn’t just leave me there and they reverted to “metro” and getting the Budapest card.  Another 25 Euros…  We’ll have to see if this fares as well as or better than the Vienna Card did.

We went out to find the metro and realized that they were very subtle about these things in Budapest.  We couldn’t FIND a metro station.  Hmmm. Check the map.  Check the street.  Check the map again.  After a bit of that, we found it to be just around the corner.  They use a funky stylised “M” to indicate the metro and it’s really not that obvious.  Unlike Vienna, the way down into the metro involved STAIRS.  We had to haul our luggage down the stairs to the platform.  We were greeted by two ticket checkers that verified that our Budapest Card was dated correctly and valid.

The metro felt old.  the platform was nice enough and the walls were tiled nicely.  The benches and booths all matched and seemed to be of a maple. It was all very quaint.  Then the train rolled in.  It was a dingy grey-green colour.  There was some graffiti on the cars (what subway system DOESN’T?) and when you got in you felt like you joined the subways of the ‘70s collection.  Budapest is in desperate need of some spruced up subway cars.  Sigh.

We took the train two stops and then transferred to another.  After one stop we got out – we should be fairly close to our hotel.  Even though we may have been fairly close, we were also sweltering and as such the walk seemed interminable.  We dragged our luggage along the sidewalks and sounded again like a wagon train coming to town.  It was with a sigh of joy that Iris pointed out our hotel, just two more blocks away.  I felt the heat lessen a bit at that moment and felt like racing to the hotel.

We had walked through some very non-descript streets with offices and some that just didn’t seem to have any spark on our way to the hotel. Imagine our surprise when, like the hotel in Prague, we looked in the front glass doors of the hotel to find a luxurious, modern, steel, leather and glass furnished hotel – completed just 3 months earlier.  And it was Air Conditioned! :)  We got our rooms (Mrs D and I were on the 1st floor while the other three were on the 5th floor)  How hard can it REALLY be to put two rooms near each other?  After settling, we went out for lunch. It was a late lunch but better than not eating!

We stopped in a restaurant that we had seen while walking from the Metro.  Wow… the prices in downtown Budapest were a bit more expensive than we had expected.  As we ate our food the restaurant staff were installing new TV’s for the World Cup.  It had started already and it was good to be able to watch a game while we ate.  No tap water available here either.  “Sparkling or Still?”  “Beer please.”

We finished up our Lupper and went over to see St. Stephen’s Basilica.  Our hotel is about a 5-10 minute walk from the church so it was going to be good to get out and shoot at night (Already planning).  We got into the Basilica just as they were preparing for a Mass so we didn’t have a lot of time.  By now we had the church shooting thing worked out pretty well.  It didn’t take us too long to cover the whole building.  We just barely squeaked into St. Stephen’s chapel

where the Holy relic of his right hand was preserved.  After us, they stopped letting people in.  Mass preparation.  JUST  in time!  I moved right up to one of the barriers to get a picture of the ceiling of the church in one of the side halls and was admonished by a gentlemen in quiet Hungarian.  I sheepishly backed off and apologised.  He then smiled and pointed past the barricade… As long as I was quick and quiet, he was happy to let me shoot.  Politeness goes a long way.

The Basilica is a lovely structure and probably one of the most modern churches we have seen during our trip.  The use of red/pink marble really gave it a warmer tone than many of the other churches we had seen.

With a warm evening ahead of us Francis led us off to the Square of Heroes.  Exciting! Well – at least interesting ;)  I have to admit…with this being almost the last day of the trip, my touring desires have been pretty well satiated.  We’ll see what the square holds.

We walked over to the local metro and went down into the station.  I really couldn’t shake the quaint kitchen fell of the station.  We took the metro to Deák Ferenc tér where the M1, M2 and M3 lines all cross.  We then took the M1, the Yellow line, up to Hosok Tere.  The stations along the M1 line are divided for each direction.  To go the other direction on the train, you have to go up to the street, cross and go back down into the station. Weird.  The M1 line was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.  It has been running since 1896!

We climbed up the stairs and found ourselves across the street from a great open plaza with a magnificent column and two quarter arches embracing it.  The style was similar to the one we saw in Vienna.   I wondered if there was a commonality.  The arches around the monument had 13 statues.  They are representative of the Magyar tribes that came together after being converted to Christianity by the Archangel Gabriel and formed Hungary. King Stephen was the first King of Hungary and he was crowned on Christmas day, 1000AD.

In a more modern vein, the square seems to be a bit of a hangout for the skater crowd.  While we were there, about a dozen skaters were practicing their tricks.  It made for a fun diversion to try and shoot them while in the air.  I got a wicked shot of one “d00d” as he was grabbing some air coming off the edge of the monument.  Nice to see that it isn’t ALL stodgy old stuff 🙂

Behind Heroes’ Square is the Budapest City Park. It was one of the first European parks opened to the public for the purpose of relaxation, while most parks at the time had been purpose built for specific activities.  We walked across the bridge of what would have been the lake (it was drained) and over to the park.  We could hear a brass band playing in the distance and the evening was cooling off as the sun lowered in its trip towards the horizon.  We wandered over toward a castle.  The castle, Vajdahunyad Castle, was originally built of cardboard and wood for the Millennial exhibit in 1896 but it became so popular that it was rebuilt from Stone and Brick. These days it’s a museum and since we were pretty late in the day it was closed.  It was still a pretty cool place. 

We continued our meander and found ourselves at a Wine Festival!  I tasted a few Hungarian wines.  Some, I wish I hadn’t but others were quite tasty.  We stopped for a while and enjoyed the atmosphere before going back to our metro (on the other side of the street) and heading back to our little bit of luxury in the middle of Pest.

Another long day in the books.  We are heading up to Buda tomorrow and the Castle district.

June 10, 2010 Vienna Austria

5 07 2010

We woke up and talked to the reception.  We said we NEEDED to have another room.  I had no desire to sleep with a fan blowing hot air across me for another night.  We were assured that we would have another room when we came back. Also, our laundry came back while we were having breakfast.  It was a little damp, but nothing that a little hanging couldn’t fix.

Today we headed out to see Schloß Schönbrunn.  The imperial residence of of the Hapsburg family.  We took a metro to about 2 blocks from the palace.  The weather was getting hot already by 0930 when we arrived.  This was tourist mecca.  Yuck.  Everywhere you turned, there were tour buses unloading and groups of tourists filing into the palace.  We pondered for a while as to which ticket would be best for us and settled upon the “Grand Tour”  The whole thing isn’t too terribly clear about what gets you what, but we figured that with the discount of the Salzburg card that the Grand Tour would be a reasonable price and it got us the 40 room tour as well as entry into the “Gloriette” and the “Privy Gardens”.  We got our tickets and were told we’d have to check our packpacks.

“WHAT?”  With all my photo equipment in my bag, I had no desire to leave it to some part time student with a summer job to ensure that my bag would have its original contents when I returned.  I rearranged various stuff with Mrs D and managed to get my lenses into her smaller bag which WAS allowed.  Being much heavier now, I carried that bag.  It was about 10 metres later that we saw the “No photos” sign when we really sighed.  Grrr.  Another place trying to make sure it had a monopoly on its images.  It would have been nice to know BEFORE we headed out.  This kind of stuff should be listed on websites and tourist books.

We got our audioguides and began the walk through the palace.  The tour took us through the different rooms of Emperor Franz Joseph and Empress Maria Theresa.  It was interesting to learn about the Hapsburg dynasty and the effect they had on all of Europe.  The rooms were lovely and the palace resembled a “poor man’s Versailles” The direct comparison was not kind to  Schönbrunn as Versailles outclassed it totally.  I think that had they not tried to be an “Austrian Versailles” it would have been better.  One serious drawback to the tour was that there were many HUGE tour groups going through.  It really made it difficult to enjoy the small rooms with groups of 20-40 people milling around you all the time.

After the inside tour we went out to see the gardens after getting back our backpacks.  Wow, was it hot.  We planned our walk up to the top of the gardens based on the availability of shade.  That’s how hot it was!  The flowers in the garden didn’t seem very bright or full.  Perhaps we were in between blooms?  There was a massive shelter being constructed in the middle of the gardens so that the view of the garden from the palace or the view of the palace from the garden was obstructed.  I’m not sure what they were building but my guess is some sort of “summer concert” area.

We walked up to the “Gloriette”, a strange sort of monument.  I’ll let the palace website describe it for you. Our “Grand Tour” included admission to the viewing platform so we figured we should go up and check it out.  We climbed up the stairs and enjoyed the slight breeze that wafted over us.  The view of Vienna was nice although the heat induced haze made photos less than spectacular.  I tried a panorama of the view.  We’ll see how it turned out.  What you COULD notice from up here was that the garden flowers had been arranged in the form of the Austrian Coat of Arms.  Cool.

We considered taking the little train back to the palace but decided that we could walk down in the shade via one of the side “alleys” in the bushes and trees.  Our walk took us down next to the zoo.  It would have been nice to visit but nobody really seemed to be too interested in that idea.  Down below the Zoo was the labyrinth(admission also included in the “Grand Tour”.  Actually 4 labyrinths.  We stopped for some cold ice cream and took a brief rest.  Mrs D and I tackled one labyrinth while the others looked on from the shade.  It’s surprisingly hard to walk through a maze when you don’t know where you are going. One maze was enough for us.  We moved on to see the Privy Garden next.

Upon arriving in the garden we were shocked to see that the first 1/3 of the garden was citrus trees.  In Austria!!!   There were lemons and oranges visible on the trees.   We walked along under ivy covered trellises that kept you shaded and cooler and afforded periodic glimpses out onto the garden.  At the far end of the garden was a viewing area where you could ascend and have a more overarching view of the garden and the palace.  The garden was very nicely kept and had a clean and very uniform design element.It had been a long morning/afternoon touring the palace.  We were now pretty tired and ready to move on.  We were headed for Hundertwasserhaus Wien.  It was a subway and a tram to get there and the neighbourhood in which we disembarked from the tram really didn’t seem like the kind of place that tourists would frequent unless lost. 

We got our bearings and headed up a few more blocks and then left into Hundertwasserstrasse. We were immediately greeted by the apartment complex.  It was multicoloured and had plants growing OUT of it.  It was really very funky.  There were strange ceramic inlays that tracked along the building in different places and each apartment had its own cube of colour.  The building was built in 1986 and has quickly become one of the “must see” attractions in Vienna.  Apparently even the floors in the apartments aren’t flat.  In the words of the architect:

"an uneven floor is a divine melody to the feet"

Yeah.  And not being able to put a chest of drawers anywhere is a pain for the movers 🙂

The building was nice and fountain nearby was a gathering area for the large group of tourists that were there checking things out.  Of course a tourist attraction would be nothing without a cluster of tourist shops to hawk their wares to you after you have seen the sites.  The group shopped for a while and I rested.  Walking around in this hot weather was really dragging me down.  I found a small shop that sold 2L of Ice Tea for 2 Euros. At that relative deal (most places 300ml of Coke was costing 2 Euros!) I snapped it up and worked at replenishing the liquids I’d sweated off at the palace.

Now that our various “out of town” visiting was complete, we returned to the center of the city.  We got off the metro at our usual stop, Stefansplatz. The cathedral is quite lovely.  We took some more shots but I was dismayed at the fact that it, too, was under renovations.  We had passed a Swarovski store previously and it was apparently well worth the visit.  I had my doubts.  I was pleasantly surprised.  It was a lovely store with three floors displaying different things.  The bottom floor was the one that I found interesting – it had the actual crystal ornaments that made Swarovski famous.  They also had some really esoteric stuff that was really cool but that I couldn’t really imagine myself owning.  Pictures of crystal don’t quite do them justice unfortunately.

The other item on our list of “must do” items was to visit Sacher Cafe.  While the other three headed directly to the cafe Mrs D and I dropped in on the info center to get our Budapest Train tickets.  Finally the ticket system was working.  Wow – it’s close and cheap. Only 2.5 hour train trip would bring us there.  Enough about the boring train stuff – back to the food! Some of us had been to the Sacher Cafe in Salzburg but we were going to go to the Vienna one so that we’d all have the chance to visit the Sacher Cafe.  While apparently the Vienna Sacher Hotel was the original, we found the one in Salzburg to be more “high end”.



  • Seat yourself
  • Please wait to be seated
  • Tourist in T-shirts and shorts
  • Older local folks dressed for afternoon tea
  • Lively , almost boisterous
  • Quiet, refined – you could hear the pages of a newspaper turning
  • Staff: Friendly and cheery.
  • Staff: Friendly but in a formal way.
  • Atmosphere – cheap
  • Atmosphere – old school rich.

The food was quite excellent but we were disappointed (or more specifically Francis was disappointed) that they didn’t have Kaiserschmarren.  The Ice Coffees sure helped though!

We split up again – Mrs Dan and I were going to go back to the hotel and rest (I was going to catch up on some blogging) and Francis, Maggie and Iris were heading out to the Secession museum.   I can’t vouch for what they did but I can tell you that we were happy to spend a bit of time moving into a new room with FUNCTIONING air con!!  I got the laptop set up and the the Live Sync was busy syncing again.   The rest in the cool air conditioning did us wonders. The temps had gone up to 35C and it FELT like it! We had until about 1800 to rest as we were going to meet for dinner down on the Naschmarkt street.

We had doddled a bit in the room (man that cool conditioning is addictive) and it was already 1815 when we realized we’d have to rush out to meet the others.  I brought the tripod with me as I had plans for some night photography after dinner!  We stepped out of the front door of the hotel and there were the other three!  They had been to the museum (and were a bit disappointed) and were wandering around the area with the plan to head down to the Naschmarkt but were sidetracked by some window shopping.

We stopped in a few shops near the hotel and then we headed down to the Market street together.  It’s surprisingly faster when you know where you’re going instead of wandering aimlessly 🙂

We walked up and down the restaurant zone a couple of times.  The choices were varied.  It seemed that the preference was heading toward seafood.  Of course, isn’t Vienna renowned for its seafood?? ;)  We managed to find a place that could shoehorn us into a little corner.  It was hot and the air wasn’t really circulating much so it felt hotter.  With the great luck that we had, we managed to be seated right next to a table of chain smoking business men who just kept lighting up one cigarette after another.  Disgusting habit that the Europeans haven’t got smart enough to ban from their restaurants yet.  Yeach!  When the wind DID blow, it blew the smoke right over to our table.  Sigh.

The menu items were pretty pricey.  We were wondering if we had made the right decision with the smoke and the cost of the food.  We saw a plate or two come to other people and realized that we could probably make do with 4 plates for 5 of us as the portions seemed quite large.  We had two sampler plates of seafood and one that had a tasty white fish of some sort (Hey – it was all in German!)  We managed to enjoy our meal despite the smoke and the heat.  The food itself really was quite tasty and between the sharing and large portions we also managed to enjoy the bill 😉

We were glad to get up and walk about and let the cooler evening air cool us down.  I led the group down towards the Russian Monument for some night pictures and we took a tram to Karlplatz where we caught the metro to Stefansplatz.  Stefansdom  was sitting quite gloriously lit as we came out allowing for a couple of cool night lit shots on our last evening in Vienna.

It was about 2130 when we arrived back at the hotel.  The others all went in while I had decided I was going to try to get a few shots of the Hofburg Palace with night lighting.  It was bound to be well lit.  I had seen a few postcards with it that way 😉

While out shooting, I noticed that there was a building in the distance with some beautiful spires.  I had assumed it was a church.  When I got home tonight I figured out that it was the Rathaus (City Hall).  The one scare in Vienna came this evening.  I was engrossed in getting my shots when all of a sudden a voice chimes up behind me.  I turn and see two guys and a girl eyeing my camera.  They start asking “what are you shooting with?” etc and I start to make sure I know where my backpack is (between my legs) and that I am aware of the rest of my surroundings.  It was a few minutes before I could ascertain that they were just locals that had been out having a few drinks and really WERE just trying to help the tourist get the good shot.  They turned out to be quite nice, but it was an important reminder to me that I need to keep my wits about me – particularly when shooting at night.

With my night photography adventure complete, I headed back to the hotel so that we could get everything packed.  I got home at about 2230.  Mrs D was repacking and rearranging all the goods as we’d be travelling by train tomorrow – you can’t just throw your stuff in the extra car seat :)  We went to bed around midnight.  Tomorrow we were heading to Budapest, Hungary!  Highs of 35C-38C predicted.  Yikes.

June 9, 2010 Seebersdorf to Vienna Austria

30 06 2010

We awoke from our luxurious slumber in the wonderful bed around 0630.  The sun was already risen and throwing dappled rays onto the grounds outside the window.  It was going to be another sunny and hot day. 

We met with the group and headed down to breakfast at 0830.  As we arrived a gentleman was leaving.  I found out that we were the last of the clients.  We basically had the castle to ourselves.  Everyone here was working for us.  Kind of like nobility ;)  The walls in the dining room had frescos painted on them and the pastel blue of the background was very calming.  The entire design of the dining area brought you back to the 18th century.  Nicely done.  Breakfast was nice and fresh.  They brought you coffee in your own little coffee pot and there was a delicious bowl of fruit salad.   I had the usual meat/cheese/bread breakfast but added to it with a huge helping of fruit salad.  Yum!

With breakfast finished and a few more shots of the castle area we were loaded and ready to go.  One stop would be required…  We had to buy some pumpkin seed oil.  Apparently this was “THE” place to get pumpkinseed oil.  We stopped at the little shop that the hotel receptionist had recommended. While there, I decided to hang out in the van while they got their oil.  Not long after, they came out and said, “We don’t know which one is the good one – it’s all in German.  Can you come help?”

I had no idea of pumpkinseed oil brands and didn’t have enough german knowledge so I said “Go buy the most expensive… probably the better one.” I hope I was right.  We’ll have to have some when we get home to make that determination I guess.

While sitting in the van, I saw a hawk (or eagle) land and perch on a power pole across a field.  When everyone came back I said I wanted to try to go over and shoot the bird.  I drove over that way but was disappointed to determine that the pole was really in the MIDDLE of the field. We weren’t going to be getting close to this bird any time soon 😦

I looped the van back around and in no time we found ourselves close to a stork working a freshly cut field.  I wonder what they eat…  Anyway, this one was kind enough to allow me to get some decent shots of him in the field with the 100-400 before we decided to move on.   The other four agreed that we should head quickly back into Bad Waltersdorf to take some pictures of the beautiful stork nest that we saw last night.

We zipped over and parked near the bank.  While Francis and I staked out the Stork nest, the three women went and shopped in a few little shops (wow – MORE shopping!)  I saw at least two young storks in the nest but they didn’t poke their heads up very high.  Mom kept watch over them and made sure all was OK.  While we were watching the female stork started making all kinds of noise, moving her head around and generally acting strange.  We looked up to see the male stork flying in and circling the nest.  I figured we’d get some great shots of him landing and the two of them in the nest.  No love.  He landed up on the church above us and only after we had been outwaited for 15 minutes did he decide to fly off and NOT land in the nest.  Boo.

I was happy that I had a couple of decent BiF shots of the stork and one or two of mom and a baby’s head.  We were good to go.  We stopped in the bank to use the ATM and get some Euros.  Away we went!

Vienna was close.  This is a good thing.  We had spent some significant time in Bad Waltersdorf and by the time we hit Vienna it was noon.  Our plan was to drive to the Schloss Schönbrunn since it was out of the core of the city and then return the vehicle and head to our hotel.

Those plans fell apart.  I had plugged in the address that I could find for the palace only to end up in the middle of downtown and circling in busy streets with one ways, Do-Not-Enters and all likes of traffic restrictions.  The GPS was NOT helpful at this point.  I was getting pretty frustrated with traffic so I found somewhere to park so that we could get a bearing on where we were and where we wanted to go.  The palace idea wasn’t panning out so well.  We got out and walked a bit while trying to find our bearings.  It was SMOKIN’ hot.  We found a pizza restaurant and ate lunch while re-evaluating our idea. 

New plan.

We decided to find the hotel and unload our gear and then take the vehicle back as we were to have it back by 1700 that day.  I plugged in the address of the hotel into our GPS and it came back with “Your destination is in a restricted area”  Oh Goodie.  I followed the twisting roads that are Vienna around some that were pretty narrow until I came to the “restricted road”  The sign said “Taxis, Limousines and buses only”  (or something like that – it was in German!)  I wasn’t about to get my first international traffic ticket today so I pulled off to the side of the road and Francis and Iris headed over to find the hotel and check in.  We might just have to carry our gear from here.  Whatever.  At least we’d be settled for more than a day.  After waiting for what seemed an eternity I was assured that we could drive down the road and pull over to unload as long as the driver stayed with the vehicle.  Ooookay…  We found a spot just down from the hotel and I pulled over while the other four unloaded some of the gear to take up to the rooms.  It turns out that our “hotel” for the night was one floor of a 5 floor commercial building and that the entire “hotel” was about nine rooms (all fully booked that night – I might add)  I waited down at the van.  And waited.  And waited.  It seemed again to be an eternity before anyone came back and I could unload the rest of the gear from the van.  We had to make sure it was absolutely empty because we were returning it.

With the van unloaded and everything in the rooms, they all came down together to return the van with me.  Not exactly what I had been expecting but hey… why not.  I plugged my one last address into the GPS – the Europcar address, and we were off.   The twisty maze of restricted streets, combination car/tram roads etc meant that we probably drove twice the actual distance to get where we needed to be, but we found it.  At the office the nice guy at the desk pointed out that the drop off is just down the block but due to construction I’d have to make a big loop around 4 or 5 blocks and come back at the garage from another angle.  This seemed easy enough.  I hopped back in the van and started driving.  It was then that we realized the map that they had given us with big black arrows had the arrows blacking out the street names, so we were pretty much out of luck for that approach.  No problem, thought I,  I’ll plug the address of the parking garage into the GPS and it’ll get us there.  After a few turns things were looking good until I realized that the GPS wanted to take me down the road with construction and had simply brought me right back to where I started.  I was getting frustrated.  I’m not a big fan of driving in downtown traffic when I don’t know where I’m going or how to get there.  After another 15 minutes of driving far enough down the way to get the GPS NOT to take us down the construction road we finally arrived at the drop off and said goodbye to the van.  It was going to be feet,buses, subways and trains from here on in again.

We took our little tourist maps of Vienna and tried to figure out which way was which and where the info centre was as well as our hotel.  Francis led the way and we  headed back towards the hotel.  It looked like it was about 2-3 km away.  Not bad but definitely a good walk given the temperature today.

We weren’t too far from the hotel when we came upon the info centre. It was cool inside.  Thank God.  The 4 others went over to buy the Vienna card (it had worked well in Salzburg…  the plan was to use it here too and get good value.  I went over to the other cash and inquired about buying tickets to Budapest.  After figuring out the time and price, I went ahead and placed my order.  After much waiting and humming and hahing… “Sorry, it appears the system is down” was the answer.

So, we left the info center with better directions, a tourist guide, Vienna cards and no train tickets yet for Mrs D and I.  At this point we split the group up.  Mrs D and I headed back to the hotel to see about getting our laundry done while the others were going to go shop (I didn’t really feel like I was going to miss much 🙂 )

Mrs D and I got back to the room to find that our room was surprisingly warm compared to the reception area.  On top of that, I couldn’t seem to get the A/C controls working.  I went over to the reception and inquired.  Apparently the A/C was broken. There would be someone in to fix it on Friday (shortly AFTER we were leaving).  Bummer.  We asked about laundry and they said “We can do it”.  I said that we would prefer to wash our own as it would be cheaper and I asked for the location of a Laundromat.  Apparently we weren’t too far away from one and the directions were pretty straight forward. 

Mrs D and I packed up the small suitcase with all our dirty laundry and proceeded to trundle across the cobblestone roads, dragging the luggage with us.  While the walk was short, the sun was hot and we were glad when we came to the intersection where the laundry was supposed to be.  We  looked around and couldn’t find any Laundromat.  Then Mrs D mentioned that the little door on the corner was for a Dry Cleaners – perhaps THAT is what the hotel meant?  We went into the cleaners and asked if there was a “self-serve” laundry around.  In her broken English (which is WAY better than my German) she explained that there were no Laudromats in downtown Vienna.   Only dry cleaners.  People either have their own or share some in an apartment building.  Tourists usually have the hotel do it for them.  Boy – the look I got from Mrs D was priceless. 

With our newfound knowledge of the state of clothes washing in Vienna we headed back to the hotel to sheepishly ask for the rate for laundry.

“25 Euros for one load of 8Kg.  You’ll probably want two loads because you have whites and colours”

Wow! I can see a business opportunity.  Someone’s got to be able to do it for MUCH less than that!  I hate hotels and their services.  They know they’ve got you… it’s a monopoly.  Urgh.

“Um, we’re OK with it all together… nothing is THAT new.  When will we be able to get our laundry back?”

There was NO way I was going to spend 50 Euros doing LAUNDRY.  I think I could BUY enough clean clothes to last me for the trip for less than that!

“Probably at the end of the day tomorrow.”

Wow!  24 hours to do one load of laundry.  Urgh.

“Great! If it’s done a little earlier, could you drop it by our room?”

And with that, we emptied our clothing and hoped to see it again before we left.

As it was now dinner time and we were pretty tired, we texted the other 3 and told them that we were just going to be hanging back at our hotel room and having instant noodles for dinner (the cursed chinese instant noodles that we HAVE to bring on every trip).  We would see the others again when they came back later at night.

After the ever satisfying noodles, we headed out to see a bit of the city on our own.  We wandered down towards where we had dropped off the van.  We walked along streets and saw a lot of lovely architecture.  The interesting part was that so many of the beautiful old buildings had very modern stores and businesses.  It took away from the feeling of quaint old, but I suppose if you’re going to be a big city you can’t let all your old buildings just be souvenir shops.  I still didn’t like it a lot but that’s life.  Vienna wasn’t about to change for me.

We walked down towards a monument and fountain.  The monument was covered in Cyrillic writing.  I figured it was a communist monument or something from the past.  It turns out we had found the Russian Liberation Monument to celebrate the liberation of Austria from Nazi rule by the Russian forces in WWII.  Cool.  I took a few shots but it really needed the ND filter to get my shutter speed slow enough to get some good effects.  I thought that this might make for a nice shot at night.

Mrs D wanted to work our way over to the “MuseumsQuartier” so that we could see what the whole thing was about.  After checking our map we wandered down the road and passed by Karlsplatz and went into St. Charles’ Church briefly.  It’s a beautiful church with some odd parts including two spiralling columns based on “Trajan’s Column” in Rome.   The  church has a magnificent dome, the view of which is quite unfortunately spoiled by a bunch of scaffolding at the time.  No matter it was a lovely view inside the church.

We continued our wanderings and then came across a street restaurant scene.  There was a length of  almost a kilometre of restaurants jammed into the width of a street the whole length.  There must have been 20-30 different restaurants and they were all pretty busy.  Seafood, asian, traditional Austrian… it was all there.  We wandered through the cacophony of dinner sounds and medley of aromas it was quite something to behold.  I felt like I was in one of those Discovery Channel documentaries.  I learned later that the area was called the “Naschmarkt” and that during the day it’s a very busy market area.

Two blocks later we emerged and refound our bearings.  We would have to duck up through a few blocks to get to the MuseumsQuartier.  Off we went.  Not all streets in Vienna feel touristy and the one that we found ourselves on was much more local.  There were old looking apartments, a few teens on skateboards and a tattoo parlour.  It seemed like it might not be the neighbourhood to hang out in at night :(  We hurried a bit through there.  Not long away we found ourselves at the edge of the MuseumsQuartier.  We went in.

The MuseumsQuartier is basically just a large quadrangle with museums fronting it on all sides.  The museums ranged from major to less so and is touted as the eighth largest cultural area in the world.  Basically to me it seemed like just one large place for a bunch of University students and hipsters to hang out.  If it had been in Vancouver there would have been an unmistakable odour of weed.  I wasn’t overly impressed.

We left the area and started heading back to our hotel.  We walked past the Hofburg Palace as the sun was setting but we were about 15 minutes too late, the shadows of other buildings were already being thrown on the facade.  It was a very interesting building and again I thought to myself that this would likely be cool at night.  We continued through various archways with some very cool sculptures until we found ourselves just few blocks from home.

With the sun pretty much set it was a good time to finish what had definitely turned into a pretty long day.  We knew the other three weren’t too far from home too as the “Spot” was on Francis and they had a check in just 5 minutes ago about 3 blocks away.  Sure enough they came back shortly after us.

We went over to talk as a group and realized that the other room’s A/C worked.  It appears that it was just OUR room that had non-working A/C  Man – we were not having much luck.  Blown power in Prague, overheating in Salzburg and now no A/C in Vienna when the temp was over 30C in the day.  There was a fan in the room but it didn’t help much.  We would be asking reception to move to a new room tomorrow!

With another blog entry done we slipped off to uncomfortably warm sleep.  Tomorrow we would see the Schonbrunn Palace.

June 8, 2010 Drežnik Grad to Seebersdorf Austria

23 06 2010

We are definitely getting used to the “wake up and go” routine.  Mrs D has become an expert repacker.  If you’re having troubles fitting things in your suitcase while on vacation, just give her a shout and she’ll, I’m sure, Be happy to pop over and repack your suitcase so that it all fits – for a modest fee 😉

While we managed to fit everything into the bags we haven’t managed to make them any lighter. It definitely is getting harder to carry these things up and down stairs.

We went over to the restaurant and again raised our cholesterol with Ham, Cheese, eggs and bread.  It was all quite tasty. After the food, we checked out of our rooms and by paying in cash we were able to get a 5% discount – a definite plus!  We were aiming to get to the nearby caves for 1000 when they opened so that we could be on our way quickly after that so we beetled on over.  I had the GPS turned on for the drive there and noticed that most of the roads on which we drove weren’t on the GPS.  Croatia is very poorly mapped digitally. Too bad, it would be nice to know that you could comfortably cruise around the different little roads with the knowledge that you’d be able to find your way out later.

We arrived at a parking lot with one car and a dirt road leading down from it.  The sign posted implied this was the place.  It certainly wasn’t big on the marketing or publicity scale… I had my doubts and thought this might be a bit of a mickey mouse operation.  I figured, though, that for $5 you can’t go terribly wrong.

It was a warm walk down the 500m to get to the hut where two people were already waiting to go. They were Dutch.  As we waited another couple came and joined us – French.  For once, as a group of eight we would be the majority and the tour would be in English. w00t!

Our guide spoke English well, but with a fairly thick accent. I wonder if all in our group understood.  She gave us a great bit of history of the caves as she led us up to the upper cave which would be the one that we were going to see.  These caves were not as long and extensive as the Dachstein caves and our walk into the cave would only be about 500m.  I was disappointed when I heard that but hoped that we’d be going for quality instead of quantity.

We were equipped with helmets this time – a definite sign (to me) that we’d be likely in closer “cave-like” quarters.  It was looking good.  As we approached the cave entrance we began to see bats flying out.  We were the first people there and as such the bats that settled in for a nice day’s sleep were disturbed by us as we came in and flew around. I found it really amazing. Many in our group weren’t quite so enchanted by having little flying mammals zipping around them as they flew their zig-zag path to somewhere that didn’t include people.  They stopped in crevasses a few times but since we weren’t allowed to use flash in the cave, the chances of actually catching on in flight was going to be about nil.  We continued past the entrance of the cave and immediately I could see that this was nothing like the “Mammoth cave” in Dachstein.  There were visible limestone columns and also definitely ridges/tubes as well as some stalagmites and stalactites.  All this and we had barely even STARTED!

The cave was a cool 7C and as we wandered through we saw some beautiful ceilings of stalactites, some of which had been broken off due to “souvenir” hounds and possibly just due to earthquakes and other ground shaking. (bombs anyone?)  The lighting in the cave was pretty dim, I was thankful for my 7D and being able to shoot at 12800. I don’t think I would have had ANY decent shots if it weren’t for that (and the 2.8 lens). One of the structures actually resembled a ghost face, they named it – appropriately – Casper 😉 The cave was more like caves I’d seen in BC.  There were little holes that disappeared down into the darkness and there were big holes that were clearly deep and deadly. I imagined being an explorer when they first found the caves using the acetylene lamps and hoping that the next step you take doesn’t have a drop into death.

Our guide explained that in this cave, like many in Croatia, they had found skeletal remains along with military equipment.  It was likely that during an earlier war that a soldier had used the cave for refuge and had either been too injured to survive or got lost in the pitch black of the cave and never found his way out again.  Creepy. They had also found bones from a prehistoric cave bear which would have been about 2-3x the size of the current bears. Yikes.  I would have hated to run into THOSE teeth when I was exploring the cave!

Our tour of 45 minutes was just enough to make you want to find more caves and see them, but my mild inner claustrophobia balanced that desire nicely.  Already I had hit my head on the ceiling.  I don’t know that I could imagine myself squeezing through some narrow passageway…  It was good to get back out to the entrance.  At the entrance to the cave, we were allowed to use our flash again on the cameras and I got a nice shot of 6 bats sleeping on the ceiling.  I think they’re cute. 🙂

With the cave visit wrapped up we hiked up the now scorching hill in 30+C sun and scrambled into the cool air conditioning of our van. Oh, thank God for A/C!   I plugged in our hotel address in (a castle in Seebersdorf Austria) and we were off!

The caves seemed like a nice diversion from a day of driving, it would be about 4.5 hours drive to Seebersdorf and it was hot and sunny. I figured we’d be able to get to the castle by about 1500.  Plenty of time to relax and enjoy our destination.  Wrong.

On our way into Croatia we had passed a “Fashion Outlet Mall” along the highway.  I was informed that we’d be stopping there.  Sure – the caves had been my idea, now it was time to compromise and let them have some shopping time. (Of course the caves were 7C – the outlet mall was 35C but heck…we’re going!)  We arrived at the mall around 1300 and the midday heat was busy turning the pedestrian walkway into a giant frying pan. It was midweek so things were quiet and to top it off, the mall was so new that many of the stores hadn’t even officially opened. I was glad for that – less places to shop meant a faster getaway :)  Wrong AGAIN. I was amazed at the care and attention that our shopping women were able to give to all the different stores.  While it took me about 10 minutes to check out the two possible stores, they were going to make sure they didn’t miss out on a good deal ANWHERE.  About an hour or so later we were free.  Two of the women had bags of stuff in hand and there was a happy Croatian merchant.  Finally – back into my Air Conditioning.

The drive to Seebersdorf was uneventful, paying tolls, whipping along at 130kph and generally just hoofing it along to make it to a place for the night.  We found our castle at 1715.  Not exactly the 1500 I had hoped for.  We began our usual routine of “unpack and head for dinner”.  First though a word about our castle…

Wow… what a cool place.  The driveway up from the road took us through one arch and past a series of buildings (restaurant apparently) for about 200 ft and up to a big arch that had large wooden doors and was definitely the last gate you drove to.  The place was quiet.  We met the receptionist and checked in.  They gave you one of those old keys that felt like you were going to be opening a cell somewhere. Big, iron and unwieldy.  Each room had a name.  Mrs D and I would be staying in the Lichtenstein room.  As any good castle would, this one had a courtyard that was a nice size with grass and some lawn chairs and tables.  The height of the surrounding building meant that the scorching sun was well off the ground by the time we arrived keeping things a bit cooler within the confines of the castle walls.  The place even had a small “lift” which was a feature on their advertising. LOL!  That lift came in handy when we were hauling our luggage up to our rooms –that’s for sure!

The rooms were something else again.  They were HUGE.  The furnishings were either antique or made nicely to look like antiques.  Solid wood armoires and beautiful parquet flooring.  The other room even had a four poster bed and a fantastic chandelier!  The rooms were cool despite having no air con.  Whew.

We realized that we were pretty hungry – having skipped lunch, so it was time to venture out and find food.  The problem was that we were pretty much in the middle of nowhere… where to go?  We asked at the front desk and they gave us some directions to look for a place with green lamps, or the one near the church.  Simple enough.  Off we went.

We drove out  and through the roundabout into Seebersdorf.  We went one way and then another… no church. No green lamps.  Hmm.. We went the last remaining way and ended up starting to wind up quite a steep little hill.  Nowhere to turn around and a long way to the “church” we saw in the distance.  Of course there are churches about every 5 miles – I forgot about that little detail when the desk clerk was talking about a “church”.  We turned off on a driveway figuring to turn around and it was a restaurant… Hmm… we were pretty hungry so we figured we’d stop in and give it a go.

The restaurant turned out to be a Tapas bar.  In the middle of southern Austria we find probably the only Tapas bar for hours in any direction.  Hah!  We get a table on the patio overlooking the beautiful valley below us.  The sun is beginning to head for the hills so it is throwing a lovely glow onto the valley although the haze of the day is not helping.  There was a light breeze cooling us down and the only real problem we had was that none of us had ever had tapas before.  The owner was a really nice guy and we said to him “Just pick what you think we’ll like” for food and we all had a beer.  At least I had a beer.  The rest tried a “Radler”  Kind of a shandy.  Beer mixed with lemonade.  Either way it was a refreshing drink, making things even better.   I could easily have spent my whole evening there sipping beer watching the sun slip away.  I asked the owner about the Jet fighters I had heard earlier in the day – apparently there’s an air base about 1.5 hours from here and they were testing the new Eurofighter today.  THAT would have been a cool stop.  Darn – missed it.

The food was sort of a European Dim Sum.  Little samplers of food in various taste combinations.  We had 8 little plates and the edge had been taken off our hunger while our taste buds had been delighted.  Food with zing!  Quite different than the usual schnitzels etc.  The decision at this point was – do we stay and eat more (it wasn’t exactly cheap) or do we go back and try and find the “right” place?  We went for the “find the restaurant”. 

We drove back down to the castle and tried our directions again.  This time I had a better idea of the roads and knew where we went wrong.  We headed into Bad Waltersdorf this time… It wasn’t long before we found the restaurant with green lamps – CLOSED on Tuesday (but of course – why not?)  We went down the street and parked near the restaurant “by the church”.  There was a HUGE stork nest on top of the building and there was a stork inside.  Two of us kept trying to convince me that it was fake. I stuck to my guns and was rewarded when a second stork flew in to join the first and they moved.  It WAS real! 🙂

The restaurant was an old in dating back to 1507.  The atmosphere was classic older Austrian and the greetings of Grüß Gott could be heard amongst friends and patrons. Wow – what a throwback some of these places are.   The food was hearty and filling.  I even had a salad bar to go with my meal but not much salad.. mostly potato, bean, pickled cabbage. I had a big plate of lettuce with some tomatoes and cucumber and put what I thought was oil and vinegar on it all.  Turns out I had seasoned my salad with a regional specialty “pumpkinseed oil”  It was tasty but a bit of a surprise when you’re expecting balsamic vinegar flavouring 😉

We definitely ate too much at this point as it was our second “dinner” for the day.  We were well sated and ready to go back and pass out.

We got back and took some night shots of the hotel and area.  Mrs D and I hung out for a while with Maggie, Francis and Iris before going back to our room to sleep.  No Internet connectivity in the rooms.

Tomorrow – Vienna!

Europe 2010 Trip posts

21 06 2010

The GPS track of my Europe 2010 trip:

My Europe 2010 Trip posts Table of Contents (un-hyperlinked posts are still coming):

May 25, 2010
May 26, 2010
May 27, 2010
May 28, 2010
May 29, 2010
May 30, 2010
May 31, 2010
June 1, 2010
June 2, 2010
June 3, 2010
June 4, 2010
June 5, 2010
June 6, 2010
June 7, 2010
June 8, 2010
June 9, 2010
June 10, 2010
June 11, 2010
June 12, 2010
June 13, 2010
June 14, 2010 – Nothing for this day… spent it in an airplane 😉

Photos can be seen here:

Places visited: 

  • Praha
  • Karlovy Vary
  • Cesky Budejovice
  • Cesky Krumlov
  • Salzburg
  • Innsbruck
  • Sankt Wolfgang
  • Obertraun
  • Hallstatt
  • Graz
  • Dreznik Grad
  • Plitvicka Jezera
  • Seebersdorf
  • Vienna
  • Budapest
  • Szentendre

Other Stats

  • Days travelling: 21
  • People in group: 8
  • Currencies used: 5
  • Photos taken: 17GB of JPG
  • Languages understood: 0
  • Overall rating on a scale of 1-10:  8.5

June 7, 2010 Hiking in Plitvicka Jezera

17 06 2010

We woke up to what was already becoming a warm day.  It was going to be a hot one.  Not exactly what I had been hoping for when the plan was to be hiking for most of the day.

We had laid out our plans last night.  We were ready for our attack and the plethora of waterfalls meant that we’d be bringing the tripod and the ND filters to see if we could get the silky flow look going even in the more full sun of the midday.

We headed over to the hotel restaurant for breakfast.  We had powdered Orange Juice (yeach!) and rather than a buffet like many other breakfasts had been, this was an a la carte one.  After looking through the menu, most of us had variations of omelettes – ham and cheese, ham and mushroom etc.  I think it was Maggie that ordered the scrambled eggs and sausage.  As usual, bread was abundant, but there was no butter or jam.  We really had begun to wonder if people just ate their bread dry (yeach again!)

The poor waitress was pretty overworked so breakfast was a bit slow.  That’s OK, we had started early to ensure we’d be moving early enough before the heat of the day. It was going to go up to 32C today!  When our omelettes showed up, they were HUGE.  I’m pretty sure they were 3 egg omelettes.  Shortly after them, the butter and jam for the bread.  Now we had a feast to finish.  The eggs and sausages ended up being basically big pieces of kielbasa sausage cooked up and next to the scrambled eggs.  There was enough cholesterol and fat to put you into cardiac arrest right there and then.  We finished as much as we could and then scrambled out to the van to head up to lakes.

The drive up was quick as we were about 15 minutes at most from the parking lot.  We found a shady place to park the van which we knew would be a small oven later otherwise.  Cameras? Check. Water? Check. Tripod? Check.  Off we went.  The cost to enter the park was 110 Croatian Kruna/person which seemed like a lot.  Then we learned that it would include the cost of bus transportation within the park as well as the boat ride. Well, now it seemed like pretty swell deal!

We walked about 2km over to the pickup point for the “bus”.  We were heading off from ST2 and would head up to ST4 and begin our hike down the lakes, returning to where we had started.  The plan was that the hike would be more downhill than up that way.  The map of the lakes helps you to understand this.  We were going to head from the top left corner down to the bottom right.  It was an ambitious plan that would have us hiking for 4-6 hours according to the park ranger to whom we spoke. The ranger also assured us that there was somewhere along the way that we would be able to buy and eat lunch – which was nice.  No need to pack in lunch!

At ST2 where we were catching our bus we found things that looked a bit like trains with wheels. I should have taken a picture as it’s hard to describe.  They call them “panoramic trains”  The front of the “train” is a bit like a transport truck cab and it’s attached to a passenger compartment that holds about 16 or so people, very much like a normal bus.  Then they chain on 2 or 3 more “cars” which are passenger compartments that hold about 20 people each.  This train then takes you up for a 20 minute drive through the forest and you realize that it’s going to be a lot of walking until you get back to where this thing came from!  We disembarked at ST4 and were immediately fascinated by the beautifully clear water running in the creek near the stop and the sound of what I thought were ducks quacking.  We began our hike at 0950.

Wow!  What can I say?  Words cannot accurately describe the wonderful walk through shaded paths and boardwalks along such a well maintained trail that wound its way around azure and aquamarine lakes that were so clear you could see 14” fish cruising even when they dropped down 10-15 feet into the depths.  Too bad no fishing is allowed. ;)  We were treated to waterfall after waterfall which varied from cliffs to small rivulets.  All the while we stopped and clicked. And Clicked. And Clicked some more. The photo opportunities just kept on rolling.  These lakes are a water landscape photographer’s dream!

It wasn’t all roses though.  One drawback to such natural beauty is that it attracts many tourists. It’s not too hard to shoot around them, but the boardwalks are designed such that a tourist 50 feet away makes your tripod bounce while you are trying to get that 5” water blur shot.  This was annoying.  The only real thing that they could do to stop this would be to build more supports into their boardwalks. Not a HUGE pain but a nit, and one of which I was acutely aware around some of the busier viewpoints.  All the people on the trail were all very well mannered and respectful of photographers – even the group of 30 less than quiet school kids that were on trip.

We got down to the boat launch to catch our boat across the big lake and have lunch.  The boat arrived. We were ready.  Two of us were missing!  Oh no! The boat schedule said it travelled every 30 minutes.  We weren’t looking forward to a 30 minute wait.  Our two companions arrived – late.  We had missed the boat.  Apparently the call of nature had been a bit too much with the sound of all the rushing water. Hehe.  We were lucky.  Since we were into peak season, the boats ran every 15 minutes and one seemed to arrive even sooner.  Without much delay we packed onto the boat and enjoyed a leisurely 20 minute boat ride over to the side of the lake.

As we approached the far shore of the lake you could see one thing.  MASSES of people!  It was crazy… tour after tour of people were all eating lunch, playing games…  You name it. The serene quiet of the lakes was totally SHATTERED!   By now we were around 1300 and the sun was coming straight down from above and working at frying anything exposed into a little sunburnt crisp.  We were anxious to find shade in which we could settle down and eat lunch.  We split up and continued to scan the tables for people that appeared to be leaving.  We set up on a few groups that appeared to be tidying up and we scooped in just in time before another group got a premium table – in the shade and near the cafeteria line.  I went with the classic schnitzel while others had a chicken leg.  Drinks went down really easily and this was one of those times that you were glad that they sold drinks by the bottle and not some tiny glassfull.  While we ate, the school kids moved on and things became a bit more relaxed, but the heat kept us hiding in the protection of the shelter.

We continued our hike down and were treated to more spectacular views and quiet waters.  This continued until we got to the end and went to the “big waterfall”.  It was REALLY tall, and consisted of a group of about 10 different stream points all flowing off the cliff edge.  In the sun, the mist shone and when the wind blew up we all hid our cameras to protect them from the water :)  Due to the angle of the sun, it was tough to get a group shot in front of the falls but we tried and had some moderate success.  We then began our ascent up the steep walk to ST1 where we were going to catch the little bus/train back to ST2.  The walk was open and exposed, making this the hottest part of the whole hike.  It was hot, exposed and uphill.  When we got to the top we were pretty happy to find a little stand where we could buy popsicles and pop.  Wow did we need them!

We pretty much finished our hike around 1550.  All tolled we took 6 hours to walk the walk.  Lot’s of photos!

After getting back to the van we drove home and all took showers to cool down and clean off after the hot day of hiking.  I went out to see if I could find a snake or two or maybe a bird.  No love.

We went over to the hotel restaurant and had dinner before going back to our rooms to review our day’s pictures and activities.  Tomorrow we would drive towards Vienna with a stop at some Austrian castle for the night.  Should be interesting.

Going to be a long day driving…off to sleep.

June 6, 2010 Graz to Drežnik Grad Croatia

12 06 2010

Our stop in Graz came to an end today.  One night to see the scenes and then head down to Drežnik Grad.  Graz had primarily been put in the itinerary as a break in the drive.  Good thing.  It was another four hours according to the GPS until we would get to the lake district in Croatia.

Mrs D and I had a quick energy bar for breakfast and a cappuccino down stairs while the other three went with the Austrian breakfast. I have to admit, it seems that yes, there is a limit to how much ham and cheese I can have every morning :)  We were packed and ready to go pretty early. We had decided last night to make a point of stopping at the mausoleum of emperor Ferdinand II before we left as it opened at 1030.  We drove over to the general area of the mausoleum and found a parking spot.  This is all MUCH easier when executed on a Sunday morning.

While waiting for the mausoleum to open we found the famous double spiral staircase that was built in 1499.  I’ve got admit, I’m not much for staircases but this one was pretty cool.  Pictures just didn’t do it justice.  Two interwoven opposite spirals meeting at each floor – probably not very practical, but very interesting.   We took a few pictures of the outside of the lovely Katarinakirche next to the mausoleum but were unable to enter as Sunday mass was being held.

At 1030 on the nose, we were the first visitors for the mausoleum of the day.  The air had that cool musty smell of something that had been closed for a long time in a basement.  It would soon dissipate as the heat of the day warmed the building’s insides.  The inside was huge, ornate, luxurious. One might say “over the top”   I can’t imagine having something like this built for me BEFORE dying.    Seems a bit narcissistic. To our benefit, Ferdinand II had some lovely frescos all over ceilings and gilded statues adorning the corners and peaks of just about anywhere with an edge.  Being the first people in gave us the luxury of setting up our photos and being able to get some pretty fine shots.

Down in the bottom of the mausoleum lay the crypt of the emperor with ornate marble carvings of himself and his wife on the top of the tomb.  The floor appeared to be the original floor with very little restoration work done, and as such it was cordoned off.  They had installed mirrors on the walls that allowed you to see (and photograph) the top of the tomb and to see the detail of the carved effigies on the tomb.

The last place to visit was the bell tower.  Heck, who DOESN’T want  a mausoleum complete with bell tower?  It was a long winding walk up staircase but once we were up, it afforded some nice views of the golden adornments atop the neighbouring Katarinakirche.   Iris nearly jumped out of her skin when the 1115 bell rang.  We all had a good laugh and headed down as it was getting on in the morning and we had a four hour drive ahead still.

As we left the mausoleum we found ourselves in the middle of a marathon through the old town of Graz.  The poor runners were running in some pretty sweltering heat and had some real hills to contend with along their run.  We cheered them on for a bit and then headed off to continue our own marathon.

Francis took the wheel and drove for a while.  The GPS seemed to be a bit behind at times and it would say “turn right now”, just as we crossed through an intersection.  As a result we got a bit of a grand tour of Graz while we wound our way out of the city.  It was a real treat to be able to relax a bit more and not have my eyes peeled on the road or have to remember the clutch while slowing down (damned clutch 😉 )  It was interesting to see that Francis suffered a bit from “oncoming traffic aversion” just as I had in England.  It seems that the tendency is to want to push over to the passenger side more due to the awkward feeling of being on the other side of the road from normal.  This isn’t too bad, except when cyclists and narrow roads are along your path.  Francis did well and didn’t smack any cyclists or drive us off the road.  Better than my British “mirror incident” of 2008.  The GPS happily directed us out and along to a piece of road that would lead us onto the highway, if the highway had still been there.  It seemed the maps were a bit out of date and as such we had a detour along a few country roads before finally finding our way onto the highway.  No worries.  We would get there, just not quite as quickly.  After an hour or so of driving we took a break off of a small road and I switched with Francis. I know it can be quite nerve-wracking to drive on you unusual side of the road, so was happy to take over. 

We drove down some pretty narrow route until we started to arrive at the Slovenian border.  There was no customs, but there were tolls.  The Europeans have it right.  You want a fast highway(130kph)… you pay the toll.  You don’t want to pay the toll, you drive the windy roads. We stopped in Slovenia for gas and food.  Thankfully they accepted Euros as we didn’t have any Slovenian currency with us.  The Slovenian leg of the trip seemed to consist of a gazillion tunnels.  The tunnels were really nice and modern and well lit, but you still had to switch from sunglasses to regular and back again as some of the tunnels were 6km long!  Electronic road info signs that had updatable speed limits also informed us of the temperature as we drove along.  30C! It was a scorcher!

Croatia is not an EU country so when we hit the Croatian border it was a different story.  The  Slovenian exit check was quick but the Croatian entry was more thorough.  It was a Sunday and line up of cars coming OUT of Croatia was huge.  Probably Slovenians, Austrians and Germans coming back from their lake vacations.  The Croatian Customs agent spent quite a bit of time determining whether or not the HK passports needed visas.  Now I know what it feels like to be the car that everyone is waiting for :)  No issues, just time and we were off to the lakes!  It wasn’t long until we left the highway and the road started winding.  If you weren’t lucky, you got stuck behind a big truck for the next hour.  As we were moving against the flow of traffic things went pretty well for us.

We followed the GPS right to the parking area of the National Park.  Whoops.  I’m guessing we overshot the hotel?  Francis got out and got some information about the park and also some directions for the hotel.  Back a few km.  This makes sense as the GPS coverage of Croatia is only about 60% :(  We backtracked on the road and within about 5-10 minutes we were turning into a very nice little hotel/resort, Plitvicka Sedra.  Being a larger group and having two rooms (a 2 person and a 3 person) we were put in the “annex building” and had the second (european first) floor to ourselves with the two rooms having a common entry door.  Maggie, Francis and Iris got right to their laundry and in no time their half of the flat looked a bit like a Hong Kong apartment 🙂

We got some information about activities and the lakes from the receptionist… There was a nice 2km hike nearby that we could do and the lakes (about 6 hours of hiking) as well as some nearby caves and horseback riding.  I brought the info back to the group and we all agreed to go for the 2km hike.  It wasn’t much of a hike :(  The weather was so hot and we were all quite tired so it was abbreviated into about a 1km hike and retreat into our air conditioned van to get home.  

We went for dinner to the hotel restaurant as it was close.  More meat!  It was good food but everyone seems to want to overcook their meat. After dinner I wandered around a bit to see what I could see near the hotel.  I found a “red backed shrike”  He was kind enough to pose a bit for me.  Another new bird for me.

To go wander the fields I had to pass a sign warning of snakes.  Snakes?  Yes, as it turns out Croatia has a number of poisonous snakes and the receptionist says that they had to put the sign up after seeing some not long ago.  Excellent – snake shots? None today :(  It would have been cool to see a horn-nosed viper or a common adder!  No luck.

Another late night to sleep after trying to catch up on the blog.


June 5, 2010 Hallstatt to Graz Austria

10 06 2010

By the time I got up and showered Francis, Maggie and her sister were already out and about going to shoot around the town before breakfast.  Mrs D and I went out and I took Mrs D over to where she could get the “postcard” shot:

Hallstatt Austria Salt

As we arrived at the spot, there were the others, already trying various shots and angles as well as some portraits with the town as a backdrop.  We wandered down towards the other side of town and saw a swan taking off across the lake – (s)he was magnificent with the wing tips just touching the water enough to leave little circles with every beat.  Unfortunately I had the wrong lens. The 17-55 just wasn’t going to be able to cut it 😦  No worries.  The early morning walk and snap was still fun.

By 0830 we had all woken up and we gathered for breakfast in the hotel while overlooking the lake.   The day was sunny and promised to be hot.  Too bad we were losing three members this morning.  The last few days had been so cold and it was just promising to get better!  After our classic Austrian breakfast, it was last minute shopping for the three that were leaving us.  We had to get them on a 1107 train to Salzburg and the station was BACK in Obertraun.

With shopping complete, we started moving the luggage down from the top floor where we were down to the lobby.  After hauling down Mrs D’s an my bags, I went up to get the van so that we could load.  I whipped around to the end of the tunnel and then back so that I could get into the village and discovered that the gate which had been open when we arrived was closed – and you needed a ticket to open it. I didn’t have one of those…  Ack. To make matters worse, someone had come in behind me and was waiting.  I threw the van into reverse and let it slowly creep slowly backwards.  The car behind got the hind and moved right off.  Back into the tunnel to try and find my free parking spot and back down to the hotel get the ticket so that I can reverse the procedure all over again.  I brought Francis with me this time.  We came back around to the gate again, this time armed with the ticket and we watched as some small Winnebago-like vehicle had just experienced the same lesson we did.  The backing up and the rearranging of cars was quite comical.  I just pulled out of line and went for a spin in the handicapped parking area while the Winnebago dude played his game.  It felt quietly good inside to know that I wasn’t the only poor guy to have this happen.  some sort of signage would go a long way. I drove down the little windy road of the town and through the narrow clearance area and arrived to find that 3 other vehicles were loading in front of our hotel.  The town square was beginning to look like a parking lot.

We loaded the van and we all hopped in.  I made a loop around the town square (about 80 feet in diameter) and figured I’d go around the other parked cars and into the narrow passage.  Coming at the passage from an angle meant the already narrow passage got even narrower with plants and people all around.  I was just about there when another car came through from the other side.  Back out… try again.  Ugh.  By now, two other cars had left the area where we were parked, so I could get a nice straight run at the passage.  Success!  We were were on our way out of Hallstatt.  Thankfully, no mirrors scraped or pedestrians hit on the way out.  We made it to the train station in Obertraun with about 7 minutes to spare, so we took some pictures and said all our good-byes.  The train was punctual and was in the station for about a total of one minute and then it whisked the three women away from us as we waved them on their way.  We were sad to see them go.  It did mean one thing though… More space in the van!!!  We now had a van for 9 with only 5 people in it.  It was downright luxury 🙂

From Obertraun we drove the route up into the hills above and then along winding roads in the pre-alps that afforded beautiful views of the surrounding mountains. I found one opportunity to turn out and take some pictures, but for the large part there was no chance to stop.  The drive was about 2.5 hours and getting to our hotel in Graz was pretty straightforward thanks to the GPS.

The hotel was located right near the train station (far enough that you didn’t hear it though) and directly next to a strip club.  We had great jokes at Iris’ expense about her choice of hotel locations.  The hotel name was “Daniel” and it was a nice new “boutique” hotel.  The rooms were furnished in modern “Ikea” styling and there were big bean bags in the lobby with an iMac for surfing.  The one really odd thing about the rooms (and we wonder if the strip club proximity had anything to do with the design) was that the shower had a full length glass window onto the bedroom.  That’s right.  You could sit in bed and watch someone shower.  Weird.  The room with Francis, Maggie and Iris managed to work around this problem by stacking up their beanbag chair and some luggage against the window so that people could shower in private.  It really was odd.

We walked down to the old town of Graz shortly after arriving.  The was about 2km but it was hot and it felt longer.  Temperature had begun to creep upwards and was about 25-28C today.  We did our best to try and follow an old town walking tour as suggested by the guide book.  The second stop brought us to the Graz armoury.  The largest European collection of war items from pre 19th century.  30,000 items!  It was really cool.  The armoury is 4 floors high and on the 2nd floor we ran into a staff member that was VERY keen on cameras and was happy to talk about all the different armour and its design while also discussing the latest in Canon cameras.  He was super helpful, unlike the woman on the first floor that just kind of said “Hello” and “Don’t touch’”  What a difference.  It was cool to learn about the different type of armour you got if you were just a peasant fighting for the king or if you were someone with some money, in which case your armour had a bit more design involved and wasn’t jus a hammered out piece of metal.  On the top floor, they let you put on a couple of “prop” helmets (the real ones would probably have been too heavy) and wield a sword.  You could take pictures of yourself looking goofy 😉

We followed the old town route some more and we decided to veer off it and head up to the bell tower.  Of course, like any good part of any ex-castle, the bell tower was atop a hill which meant more climbing. Calves and thighs were reminding me of that.  The bell tower used to be part of a fortification here but when Napoleon came to town and ruled things he had the previous castle razed to the ground and the only thing that spared the bell tower was the townspeople paying a hefty amount to keep it there.  Typical government.  Everything is overpriced  🙂

The view over Graz from the Bell Tower was great.  We had timed our arrival with sunset so we enjoyed using the golden light of the setting sun for various portraits in the rose garden below the tower.  Some shots were great – others – not so much.  I managed a nice panorama shot of Graz but won’t know how it turns out until I get home and can stitch it together.

We headed back down from the bell tower and had another late dinner at around 2100.  More classic Austrian food, this time Styrian. Some good beer!

By the time we got back to the hotel it was quite late and we said our goodnights and agreed to be up and ready to go by 0830.

Sleep came easily again after blogging.

June 4, 2010 Obertraun to Hallstatt Austria

9 06 2010

We moved 5 minutes down the road today.  To Hallstatt from Obertraun. 

The plan had been to go visit the Salt mines and then go shopping in Hallstatt for the remainder of the day.

We had our typical buffet breakfast of meat, cheese, bread, yogurt, juice and cereal at the SeeHotel.   We had noticed the waters receding last night and by this morning the road to the hotel was actually dry. We didn’t need to walk along benches to get to our vehicle this morning.  Yipee.   Packing up was much faster this morning since we hadn’t brought all our luggage in, just a garbage bag of essentials.  Way easier.

A short run down the road to Halstatt and we headed directly to P2 where we knew from yesterday that we’d be close to the funicular to take us up to the salt mines.

We headed up on a 0930 run up the mountain.  This thing smoked…  5 m/s up the hill, and it was a STEEP hill.  In no time we were up at the top of the lift, in and around the clouds of the morning.  The weather forecast said that things should improve.  It had stopped raining but there were DEFINITELY no shortage of clouds shrouding the alp peaks and the lying in the valleys now below us.

From the funicular there was a 10-15 minute walk explaining the history of the salt mining in this area for the past 7000 years.  Archaeologists had found hundreds of people buried as well as tools dating back thousands of years.  It had been a rich source of knowledge about the Hallstatt people.  The salt mine had been so successful that Hallstatt became a key centre of commerce long before Christ.  The only thing that apparently really sunk the salt business was a mine collapse that sealed the mines for almost 100 years.   By the time the mines reopened another mine had become the major salt producer.  This collapse marked the end of the “Hallstatt period” as historians have come to call it.

We arrived at the mine entrance just in time for a tour.  Since the majority of visitors were German speaking, the tour took place in German and the guide gave us an English bit before moving on.  The English was REALLY abbreviated from the German. I don’t know a lot of German, but I could recognize many terms and descriptions that WEREN’T in the English one.  This place really seems to cater to the Austrian and German tourists that come here in the summer to escape the heat of the cities.  Even so, the tour was quite interesting and we learned a lot about olden day salt mining and the methods they use today, in these same mines.  While on the tour we got to slide down these big wooden slides to go to a lower level, just as the miners had done for thousands of years before us.  It made for a bit of fun.  The group was fairly large at 40 or so and I was surprised to learn that the groups in the busy season go up to 70!  We finished out our tour of the mine with a ride on a mine train (A long series bench with wheels that you straddle) and we whizzed 600m back to the daylight at the end of the horizontal shaft.  With our tour complete, they gave us little samples of Hallstatt salt and tried to sell us pictures of ourselves going down the slides.  I didn’t like mine, but some of our group shelled out the 5 Euros for their picture.

When we got out and began our walk down to the funicular we were reacquainted with an old friend – the SUN!!!  The sun was slowly breaking through the clouds and the village of Obertraun, below, became visible clearly from up where we were.  We took pictures with the sunny meadows behind us and generally soaked up the warmth and life that the sun brings.  We were so happy!

It was at this point that I threw out my idea for a “plan B”.  If you recall, the original plan had us spending the afternoon wandering through Hallstatt buying a bunch of overpriced and largely worthless souvenirs.  I threw out my idea.  I figured they could go shop until they drop but I was going to go check out the Dachstein Caves.  They looked quite interesting and one of them was an ICE cave!  After some discussion around the group it was agreed – The Dachstein caves would be the activity for all of us.  (So much for being a rebel – apparently I ended up as a leader 🙂 ) 

The road to the caves was back to Obertraun and then off along a new route that led pretty quickly uphill.  It wasn’t long before we swung around a corner and the gondola system that would take us up to the caves was visible.  Wow!  It went a LONG way up.  The gondola takes people even higher than the caves for those that want to get up to 2990m and do some serious alpine hiking or mountaineering.  We were just going to go up to the first station.  Strangely, this is the time that I found out that Clara is afraid of heights… She was going to tough it out on the gondola though as she was NOT going to miss these caves.  The cost to see both the “Mammoth Cave” and the “Ice Cave” was 15.50 Euros. It was pricey, but I was sure it would be worth it.

We all boarded the gondola at around 1345 and we went to the ticket office to be assigned to a group for our cave tours.   We found out that we would be seeing the Mammoth Cave first and then over to the ice cave.  No problem.

The man at the ticket counter said it would take approx 15 minutes to walk to the Mammoth cave and that our tour started in 30 minutes.  Ack.  We hadn’t had any lunch and it looked like we weren’t going to have any lunch either :(  The group hit the little souvenir shop and grabbed ice creams for a quick energy boost.  I bought a milk chocolate bar and a snickers which I could have later.  We left in a hurry and started up the hill towards the mammoth cave.  The walk wasn’t strenuous but it was a constant gentle uphill.  By the time we got to the mammoth cave we were pretty hot since by now the clouds had given up any pretence of being able to stop the sun.  It was a sunny, hot day and we were starting to cook in our fleeces and jackets which we wore in anticipation of cold wet weather on the mountain.

Within about 10 minutes of our arrival our guide came out and introduced himself. It seems again that as the English speakers we were in the minority but this time the guide would talk to us as we walked from point to point and then address the mostly German speaking crowd at the specific locations.

The cave was huge. It actually goes on for over 60km in the ground but our tour was only 800m  The weather in the area is generally cooler than in many places which means that water evaporation is not as quick.   The slow evaporation meant that stalactite and stalagmite growth conditions weren’t favourable.  The impressive things about the cave were its sheer size in volume and the formations that formed as the underground prehistoric river flowed through it.  It was very interesting and nice to be in the “climate controlled” 8C. The tour was quite informative and it definitely made me wonder what the other 99.8% of the cave would be like.

With our caving appetite whetted we were excited to see the Ice cave.  Good thing too, since we would have to book it down and then back up to ice cave which was even higher up the mountain as the last ice cave tour would be starting in about 25 minutes.  Cathy wasn’t feeling well and her knees were bothering her, so she decided to stay down below at the little restaurant while the other seven us headed up, and SERIOUSLY UP.  Switchback after steep switchback eventually led us to the entrance of the ice cave.  We had just enough time to breathe and congratulate ourselves for making it up when our guide appeared.  Our tour group was much smaller this time and we had an English tour since we were the predominant group.  The ice cave was amazing!  There was a start where you walked along and he gave you the same basic information about karst formations and caves but then he opened yet another door and we entered a frozen wonderland.  Wow!  Icicles hanging right next to you as you walked along the boardwalk.   Ice flows that looked like frozen rivers that had solidified hundreds of years ago and now stood still for us to gaze at in wonder and amazement.  There were ice columns that extended over 40 feet.  There were ice curtains…even a frozen waterfall.  The tour ended with a view into a pit of ice that really made you think that if you slipped off the walk that you might just come out in some mythical land.  What a great tour.

After finishing our tour we had about 25 minutes to get down to the gondola as the last ride down would be at 1710.  Again we didn’t have much time to rest but headed directly down and got in line.  The 1700 gondola was full but we DID get into the 1710.  Shortly, we were back down at the parking lot and climbing into our van and tuning the now quite necessary Air Conditioning.

Next stop: Hallstatt.  We drove back down our now familiar little road to Hallstatt and with the flooding subsided were able to drive right down into the centre of the village which was where our hotel was situated.  At on point on the road we passed between two buildings and I swear there was no more than 6” total to spare for the van!

We unloaded and I went up to park the van.  I had to go back out via the narrow passage and all the walking tourists so that I could go and park up above the village in the free parking.  Of course free parking came with a price.  I had to hike DOWN the stairs again to get back to the hotel.  My feet and knees had just about had enough of all this.

At the hotel I learned that we were up on the 3rd floor (that’s 4 floors up for we North American folks) so we were about to haul our luggage up the stairs when the girl at reception had a young lad come up and help with the carrying.  Most excellent.  The rooms were spacious and nicely decorated in a period style.  The floors creaked liked you’d expect of a 300 year old building.  There would be no sneaking in our out from THIS place.

We headed out for dinner to a little place Maggie and Francis had eaten at the last time they were here.  The gentleman serving us was quite friendly (almost a little too casual) and we had a challenge getting him to stop chatting with the other clients so that we could order. That being said – he was a nice enough fellow and easy to get along with.  We ordered a bottle of wine to share as this was the last night that Clara, Cathy and Maggie’s sister would be with us.  They were beginning their journey back to Hong Kong tomorrow.  We feasted on fish pork and beef after having started with soups and salads.  Desert was different.  We had some puffy egg-centric dessert that I liked while the others gave a mixed review.  We also had found Francis’ new favourite desert – Kaiserschmarren. 

By the time we finished dinner – we were stuffed.  We walked across the small town square back to our hotel rooms and we called it a night.  With no Internet available I got lazy and didn’t write the blog… I started falling further behind 😦

We had a long day ahead of us the next day as we would be heading to Graz so I took advantage of the quieter evening to get some better shuteye.  Soon we would be heading to Croatia!

Good Night!

June 3, 2010 Sankt Wolfgang to Obertraun, Austria

8 06 2010

0600… Boom, boom boom.  Ratatatat.  What the Heck was that!?!?  I sprang out of bed and my first thought was “OMG Earthquake!”  Then I realized… it’s a marching band.  At 0600!!

“Quick! Camera!”, I yelled at Mrs D.  We ran over to Maggie and Francis’ room to see a band of about 50 people pass by.  It seems that the Corpus Christi celebrations begin a bit earlier than 0830. Hah.  I went to the window below and got some pictures of the band as they came back from up the street, headed to the church.  Thankfully the rain from the day previous seemed to have stopped.  It was all done in about 10 minutes and then it was off to sleep again.  Breakfast time would be upon us soon.

Sleep was out of the question really though, so after a shower and shave, Mrs D and I headed down to the church with Clara and Maggie’s sister.  We wanted to see the celebrations. As we got down to the church we saw the band again!   They were coming down the street towards the church with simply a drummer for cadence.  I shot a movie this time.  First movie on the 7D. We walked over and into the church and saw the beautiful ornate decorations.  Saint Wolfgang seems to have been a wood cutter or something since all the depictions of him were with an axe as well as a shepherd’s crook. 

We went down for breakfast and the atmosphere was very old-school, conservative.  You really felt that you didn’t dare make too much noise or risk being scolded.  You should have heard the owner when Maggie and Francis came back in the evening with a few bottles of water.  “Not in the restaurant!  That MUST go to your room!"  It really didn’t feel like he was saying “Whenever you want”  There was a feeling of “You will do it now, or I’ll throw you out of my hotel” to it.  There was a British couple in the restaurant at breakfast this morning making for a bit of inter table conversation and lightening things up a bit.  Francis went to make some toast and was admonished for playing with the darkness dial.  “You just put the toast in – Don’t play with the toaster”.  Francis ended up with basically warm bread, but we were afraid to make any changes to the toaster.

With breakfast complete, we all headed down to the church and village centre.  The men were arriving in their traditional vests, leather pants and felt hats.  The women came in lovely dresses that had delicate white lacy edging.  Very Austrian!  Some women had a large gold hat on as well while the children looked the perfect image of Austria.

While the church service went on, we wandered the shops around the town and the group bought more souvenirs.  We made careful note of the time as we had told the hotel owner that we would be out by 1100.  Austrians and Germans are very punctual. We wanted to make sure that we weren’t seen as impolite.  As the church service ended we saw a wide of array of traditional Austrian outfits as well as a few groups of men with standards with various pennants hanging from them.  I’m not sure of the significance of them but I managed to get a group of them together to get a shot.  Shortly afterwards Maggie managed to get two young girls to pose for her and very shortly there was a cluster of photographers around the girls – shooting like the paparazzi.  Their mother was quite patient to let us shoot.

We walked down the town main street to see what possible candids we could come up with when I noticed a lady with the gold hat waiting for a ride with (presumably) her daughter.  I approached and asked if I could take their picture.  They happily obliged and I ended up with a great picture of a mother and daughter in the good dress outfits.  Our girls, meanwhile, kept shopping.  I was able to get back into the church again, now that the service had ended and tried to find out why they had branches in the church and why people brought part of those branches home with them. Unfortunately the German explanation escaped me – remember, my German is pitiful.

At 1045, we headed back to the hotel and managed to get our bags down to the lobby by 1100.  Whew!  Just in time!   We stashed all our luggage in the van and the women went back to shopping. AGAIN.   We went down to a shop near the church that had something that one our party wanted to buy.  Unfortunately the shop was closed until 1230 so we hung out in the area and killed time by doing some “Everybody jump” pictures.  They were kind of fun and good practice for shooting animals.

1230 seemed to take forever to come around.  When it finally did and the shop opened we poured into the tiny space like water from a freshly opened floodgate. I’m not sure the poor lady was ready for us.  I decided it best to stay outside and wait since, with my backpack, I was a bit large for the space available.  It turns out that the shopkeeper was quite happy that we stopped by.  I think almost everyone bought something there!

With our shopping done, we loaded into the van, bid Sankt Wolfgang “Goodbye”  and headed for Obertraun.  We covered the distance in about 45 minutes.   Somehow it had started raining again.  It seems that God kept things clear and dry for the celebrations.  Coincidence?    As we approached the area where our hotel was situated, it became clear fairly quickly that we were in for a bit of an unusual stay.  You see, the SeeHotel in Obertraun was not only BY the lake, but it appears to have ended up IN the lake!!  The road to the hotel was flooded!  We had to park about a half block from the hotel and walk across a walkway made of planks over benches.  Definitely a first in my hotel experiences.  Mrs D and I had a ground floor room and were reassured that we wouldn’t need lifejackets as well as sheets :)  The others were up on the 1st and 2nd floors…we were pretty scattered around the hotel.

After checking in, we were ready for our late lunch.  The restaurant was closed.  Sigh.  Apparently we COULD go over about one block to the restaurant/bowling alley.  We ate a pretty typical Austrian lunch and then we drive down the 5 minutes to Hallstatt.  We tried to find parking but ended up driving up and down the tunnel a couple of times looking for free parking.  We ended up over in “P2”, paying about 4 Euro/hour.  We made a mental note that the Funicular for the salt mines was right near here.  P2 would be THE place to park tomorrow.  We walked over to the “core” of town.  It took about 5 minutes from the parking, so it wasn’t too bad.  It was quite fun watching people navigate the flooded roads.  The town of Hallstatt only has about 500 inhabitants but apparently that number swells to a few thousand during tourist season.  Everyone wants to come and see the town that has been mining salt for seven thousand years.    Hallstatt was a pretty town and exists between the sharp walls of the alps and the lake, Hallstattsee.  This situation really means that Hallstatt is just a thin strip along the water’s edge.  It’s quite surprising that a town can exist here at all.  In the rain, we wandered all the way down and found our hotel for tomorrow.  it was right in the centre of town.  How the heck was I going to get the van down there with the luggage??? 

While others wandered through shops, I headed to the far end of town to get a vantage point that would give me a “postcard Hallstatt” shot.  On my way there, I ran into an apparently flightless duck, and a salamander.  Strange but interesting.  I took some good shots and finally met up with the others close to the core where I had left them.  I swear they had only moved about two shops while I was gone.  With an idea of the wheres and whats of Hallstatt under our belts we headed back to Obertraun.  It already seemed that the water levels were dropping.  A good sign. 

Dinner was in the hotel, and the restaurant was full of people.  One large group was celebrating a birthday and it leant a jovial feeling to the evening’s dinner.

Not much to do after dinner.  I banged out another day of the blog and got some pictures uploaded.   Surprisingly, I found myself going to sleep after midnight AGAIN.


June 2, 2010 Salzburg to Sankt Wolfgang Austria – Via Innsbruck???

6 06 2010

It was finally time to get our our vehicle and be the masters of our own destiny.  No more having our schedule dictated to us, it was our time to make decisions about when and where we would go.  Today we were destined for Sankt Wolfgang by the Wolfgangsee in the Austrian alps.  It would be a 60km drive and we would have much of the day to relax.  Perfect.

(Sound of record scratching…..)

Or so I thought.

Last night the screws were getting put on pretty tight (actually just a lot of whining) and everyone (except me apparently) wanted to head to the Swarovski factory in Innsbruck.  So, by popular demand we would be heading about 150km out of our way so that we could come back those same 150km to go the new total of about 360km to Sankt Wolfgang.  How do these sorts of things happen to me?

The wake up routine the same and we were packed and in the lobby by 0845 ready to have the reception call for the rental car.  “I’m sorry sir – you’ll have to go down and pick up the car”

“Oh, the lady yesterday said that they would come and pick us up.”

“No, sir, the rental car company requires you to come down.”

And – On that note we had them call a Taxi for us to take us down to Europcar where our transportation awaited us.

Francis, Mrs D and I got down to the Europcar office about 7 Euros lighter and around 0930 with a pretty constant rain falling. Rain.  More of it!

The process of rental was painstaking. I had the feeling that the poor girl that ended up with us had never had an out of EU rental before.  There was a lot of paper shuffling and typing of stuff into her terminal.  At the end of the process, however, we came out with a lovely silver Porsche 9 passenger van.  We would be the envy of the Autobahn.

Our first test was to tell the GPS unit to get us back to our hotel.  Programming was pretty easy.  The stupid thing seemed to be stuck in a 2D – North is up mode though which really wasn’t the way I was used to seeing my GPS.  Oh well.. perhaps later.

Back at the hotel, the rest of the group had been bringing bags down to the lobby and would be waiting anxiously for our arrival.  I pulled up in the “Hotel” zone and we loaded up the van… I swear it felt like we were loading up for a rock band road trip.  So many little things and so much HEAVY luggage which was getting heavier by the day.

It must have been about 1100 by the time we finally pulled out and were on our way for the Innsbruck detour to St. Wolfgang.  The rain was coming down pretty hard and the GPS in it’s weird orientation was winding me through morning traffic on my way to the highway.

Once on the highway things were wonderfully monotonous.  While trying to keep up at 130kph we were left standing periodically by vehicles passing us.   I wondered if they simply had a direct withdrawal system with the various police forces along the way.  Nonetheless we managed to book it pretty well in the van.  I noticed that the speed on the speedometer was generous.  It appears that someone has tires that are too small on the vehicle.  I learned to trust the GPS speed more than the speedometer.  The rain came down so hard at times as to be deafening on the large steel roof of the van.  My efforts to find any sort of either decent classic rock or quasi top-40 station to combat it were in vain.  Next time – bring CD’s.

After driving in the tiring rain for about 2 hours we found ourselves at the Swarovski factory near Innsbruck and the Swarovski Kristallwelten.  We paid 9.50 Euros each with the potential of a 2 Euro refund if you bought something in the store at the end.  (That’s like telling a Vancouver home buyer he’ll get $1000 off his new home price – Whoopee!)

The Kristallwelten was a collection of various modern art that was put together with Swarovski Crystal included in the process.  Kill me.  Please.  Or at least give me back my 9.50 Euros.  It was odd.  There were VERY few examples of significant amount of crystals being used.  It was odd.  There was some crap quote from CNN about it being just as fascinating as one of the seven wonders of the world.  Perhaps if you’ve never left your basement.  My opinion of CNN as a reputable source of info just plummeted.  We wandered through the various exhibits, and to be honest, the driving thought within me was “There has got to be an end to this god forsaken underground labyrinth.”  The words “You are in a maze of tiny passages that all look alike” came to mind at one point.

Thankfully I found the end.  A GIANT Swarovski store.  Ugh.  I hid in the cafe having a 3 Euro 250ml sprite and a 6.50 Euro Maraschino cherry sundae.  Boy, things weren’t exactly looking up :(  About 45 minutes later the gaggle of shoppers came out and some crystal on some ledger in Swarovski’s books shone just a little brighter.  They had contributed to the European economy, and not in a small way.  We ate an outrageously expensive lunch (like having my left nut for a piece of glass wasn’t enough) and got out of there before I had to mortgage the house to buy something.

Back down the road.  In the rain. No good music.  Everything looked familiar – it should…we were backtracking about 90% of the way.  Finally as we approached Salzburg in rush hour we veered south and headed toward Wolfgangsee to vacation among the Salzburgers that call this their summer home and the rest of the tour groups that want to be like the Salzburgers too.  The road was winding and fun.  I’m sure the drive would have been lovely if the rain hadn’t kept coming down in buckets.  It seemed like there might be some nice views if the clouds would lift from the current ceiling of 10 feet over the top of the van.  Francis and Maggie had been here before.  The GPS and the state of Austria also had a good idea of where St. Wolfgang was.  As we drove down past the scenic little towns full of “pensions” and B&B’s we got to the point (somewhere past St. Gilgen) where Francis and Maggie diverged from the GPS.  While I like Francis and Maggie very much, I had to overrule them and go with what the Austrian Highways department and our GPS were telling us about where St. Wolfgang were.  I don’t think it was a popular decision, but hey – you gotta trust the government not to go around moving their towns.

We did find St. Wolfgang and it appears that the Maggie/Francis route would have been faster.  Why did the GPS and Government want us to go the other way? Who knows.  Perhaps it was fate protecting us from having to swim part way there with all the water on the various roads?  After a couple of loops through a 1km long tunnel, we found the hotel.  A lovely little place next to the dark ominous lake in the downpour of rain.  Goodie ;)  Unload, check in, park.  Relax.  We were here!  The hotel didn’t have stairs (why have stairs in a 100 year old hotel?) so we hauled our bags up to the absolutely highest rooms in the place.  They were lovely rooms.  Overlooking the lake on one side and the top of St. Wolfgang on the other.

We agreed to have dinner in the hotel at 2015 since the kitchen would be closing by 2030.  Francis and Maggie went out in search of some snacks and water as it had also been decided that there would be some Big 2 later in the night.

The bulk of us arrived for dinner on time and the hotel owner told us that our friends had recently driven off and that they would probably be late (with a disapproving tone).  We told him that we would order without them and that they no doubt would be by soon as they were just getting some drinks and snacks for later.

“A party?”

“No, just some cards.”

“OK then…”

I felt like we had to get approval to stay up late even.  The atmosphere was that of a very conservative Christian Austrian home.  Light reading on the third floor was the New Testament.  Wow.

During a couple of pop-bys to determine how dinner was, we determined from the owner that tomorrow was a holiday.  Some long German name.  Still don’t know THAT name.  It was Corpus Christi and it was an actual holiday in Austria.  There would be celebrations down by the church at 0830.  This should be fun, we thought.

After dinner, I headed back to my room to work on my blog and photos.  No WiFi so I did some prep work and then passed out for the night.  Mrs D came back from the other room around midnight and joined me in my slumber.

June 1, 2010 Salzburg, Austria

5 06 2010

I woke up at 0645 to the poke of Mrs D.  Always a great way to wake up.  The room hadn’t cooled down at all and it was still 26C   An oven.   We had all decided to go it on our own for breakfast due to the high cost of food.  Mrs D and I had Oatmeal bars that we had packed back in Vancouver.

When we got outside we found it less rainy and cold but it certainly hadn’t given it up.  The rain was working hard at dampening our holiday.  We all bundled up and began our trek out to the fortress.

On our way there, we stopped at the Dom Cathedral.  The cathedral is a magnificent church with lovely frescos and beautiful artwork befitting a cathedral in Salzburg.  I figured out new and creative ways to use my backpack as a tripod, resulting in some great long exposure shots down the centre aisle and some of the ceiling.  We continued on our journey to the Fortress funicular.  Once there, our Salzburg card saved us another 19 Euros and we zipped up the hillside much faster than anything had ever done during the days of the fortress’ glory, I’m sure.

The fortress tour was strange.  We had to go in a guided group but the tour was done by audio guide.  So you listened to the tour and some gentleman ushered you along on your tour.  We saw rooms such as the torture room (having never actually been used for torture) and the dungeon (which actually HAD been a dungeon)  Eek!  We went all the way up to the top of the highest tower and were buffeted by rain and wind. It was tough to hear the audio guide, keep you hat from flying off and take pictures.  We managed :)  As we descended, we crossed across various additions that had been included by various bishops that lived there over the centuries.  Salzburg fortress had never been taken by force, but that didn’t stop the owner of the day from spending the local money and building more and better fortifications, due to the trendy threat of the time.

At noon, we sat down for some “lunch” In all honesty it was tea, coffee and cake as well as Kaiserschmarr’n.  Hard to describe what Kaisersharr’n is other than “VERY good!”  After our repose from the cold and with some energy inside us we headed for the walk down the footpath toward the bottom of the hill on which the fortress stands.

On the way down the path there were more good views of Salzburg.  I’ve decided I like Czech towns better.  Their red tiled roofs are bright and colourful, even in the rain.   The black steel/slate of Austrian towns left things looking pretty monotone and drab.    The rest of the group kept stopping and taking pictures of each other so I just headed down and waited at the bottom of the hill for them.  Good thing too – they took another 10-15 minutes to get there!  They stopped and talked, so I started into the ornate graveyard of St. Peter’s Cathedral.   It really is amazing the grave decorations that the Austrians use with/instead of regular tombstones that we in North America use. 

Mrs D caught up with me and we entered the catacombs at a cost of 1 euro.  Had I known it was covered by my Salzburg card, I wouldn’t have had to pay anything.  A donation to the church – no harm.  To enter the catacomb you climbed a series of steps that were basically carved into the cliff side.  At the first level, you went over to the right and found a lovely, but simple altar.  Going back to the stairs and further up, you came to a more decorative altar and stone casket (long empty).  There was an inscription on a stone in Latin.  I could make out the date 473 AD.  We took some pictures and headed down while the other members of our group were coming up.  At the bottom, I asked the caretaker what the date of the catacombs was and he confirmed what I had seem.  They were from the 5th century!!! Wow – I can imagine early Christians keeping their worship quiet to avoid being killed by pagans.  Perhaps I have my historical periods wrong, but that’s what _I_ was imagining.  While the group sat and talked at the base of the catacombs I decided to head into St. Peter’s Cathedral.  I told one of the girls and headed off.

St. Peter’s is quite an unassuming church from the outside. No fancy buttresses on the outside and it is generally overall quite simple.  When you walk inside, on the other hand, you are wowed by the ornate gilded work, the various chapels and the detailed, lovely paintings adoring the walls of the chapels and the ceilings.  Like other cathedrals, St. Peter’s had an amazing pipe organ.  It really must be something to hear it play.  It would be amazing to hear an organ concert in this or many other churches that we’d seen to date.  I was in the midst of taking some photographs and admiring the hundreds of years of craftsmanship when Mrs D came in and scolded me for taking off without telling anyone. Sigh.  I guess they were all too busy talking to hear me tell them of my plans.

Next on our list was the Royal Residences.  The tour of the residences was in the form of an audio guide again, this time without a tour guide/chaperone.  As we walked from bedroom to anteroom, to waiting room, to audience room, I was reminded very much of Versailles.  There were some incredible pieces of furniture dating from the 18th century and some paintings dated from the 17th century.  As with any royal home – Excess seems to be the word of the day.

The Residences took us quite a while and we realized that we’d be cutting it close to get the Museum in with our Salzburg card within the 24 hour period.  We rain in the rain over to the museum only to find out it was closed on Tuesdays.  why?  I dunno, but it meant that our Salzburg card had definitely come to an end, having got us into approximately 28 euros of attractions for the cost of 25 euros.  I suppose it was worth it. 

There was a faction among us (and Mrs D was one of them) that wanted to go shopping.  Maggie, Francis, Iris and I headed off to find Sachers to buy some Sacher Torte and some hot chocolate.  We couldn’t pass up an opportunity to try their delicious offerings so found ourselves in their cafe next.  We felt a bit underdressed but apparently a lot of the “old” protocol is gone, as were simply told to seat ourselves rather than being seated.  We ate Kaisersschmarr’n again as well as a Viennese Orange and ginger cake while sipping on ice coffees.  It was all quite refined.  By the time we finished, we barely had enough time to go back and meet the others for dinner.

We ate dinner at a restaurant associated with St. Peter’s.  The building had been there since 700AD.  The atmosphere was pretty highbrow but we managed to survive.  The food was great and the ambience was a very good addition.  Dinner was a winner.

We were pretty stuffed after dinner so we all walked back to our hotel and made some brief plans for tomorrow.  We would have to rent the van tomorrow so we had to make sure we had SOME idea what we were doing.

Back in our room, we found the temperature to be a balmy 26 or so – AGAIN.  The hotel reception clerk said that the AC doesn’t kick in when the temperature is cold outside – Sorry it sucks to be you. Other members of our party had opened their windows the night before.  We did so tonight and were serenaded to sleep by the sounds of heavy machinery working on the rail line and bridge just outside our hotel.  This earned this place the lowest rank on our trip so far.

Good Night!

May 31, 2010 Cesky Krumlov, CZ to Salzburg, Austria

3 06 2010

The day began like the previous departure days.  We got up and packed, then headed down to have breakfast with the group.  I made sure I got my OJ early as yesterday they ran out.   Yesterday’s eggs had seemed powdered so I wasn’t going to venture forth and try them today.  Francis was a bit more daring and told me that they were good.  I decided to pass still :)  They were out of flavoured yogurt so I tried the plain yogurt.  Last time.  Ick.

We were to catch our minibus down by the bridge at 1000 so we bumped along the cobblestones out to the meeting point in time for 0950.  It was cold.  About 10 degrees C cold.   Wow – nice summer vacation ;)  The minibus showed up about 3 minutes late.  It was a nice sized bus that could hold about 13 people, and there would be 11 on the trip to Salzburg.  Our luggage went into a little steel box on wheels calling itself a trailer.  I had visions of our luggage spewing forth on the highway.

I don’t know if I mentioned it previously but the original plan was to take the train to Salzburg.  For 6 of us it would have been included (as they had purchased their Eastern Europe rail pass) while for Mrs D and I, it definitely made more sense to take the shuttle.  The pickup was much closer to our hotel and the cost was actually about the same or less than the train.  The others had decided to join us on the shuttle because for the $20 they were going to have to pay, it was worth the convenience to not have to drag their luggage back UP the cobblestone streets!

Well, back to our shuttle.  The driver was a really nice guy and relatively talkative.  He asked about where we were from and what things are like back in Canada.  We talked about the Olympics and hockey.  The Czechs having just won the worlds this past week – it made the national paper front page.  There are many Czechs that are as hockey crazy as Canadians.   After our discussions about the weather, environment etc, I slowly nodded off.  I probably managed to grab about an hour’s sleep on the three hour trip.  The others in the back of the bus seemed to just live in a state of sleep.  Every time I turned around I saw 10 people with their eyes closed.

As we approached Salzburg, the weather took a definite turn for the colder.  It was cold, windy and at times the rain came down HARD.  Oh goodie.  Just like winter back home.

The minibus dropped us off at the train station despite my plea to drop us off a kilometre down the road at our hotel.   My pleading skills seem to have fallen off as I’ve aged.  We found ourselves at the train station and really no idea as to where we had to go next.  Francis and I ventured forth to find some information.

We came upon a booth with a big “i” on it (like one you’d find on an info booth)  and figured we’d go in to get some information.  Once inside, I read a sign that loosely translates to “No tourist information” and I could here a woman repeating it to some poor traveller.  Yikes.  I approached the other person at the desk and decided to take my chances.  Apparently street directions are OK.  He pointed out that we were already on the street that I was looking for and that we simply had to walk down about 1km.  Excellent.  We bundled up against the rain and the wind and headed down to our hotel for the next two nights, the hotel Stiegelbrau – a Best Western hotel.

The hotel was surprisingly busy for 1400 and we were told that we’d have to wait for a while before we could get into our rooms.  That was find for us, we were hungry so we popped into the hotel restaurant for a bite. Wow… sticker shock!  8 EUROS for a club sandwich!!!.  We shared 4 club sandwiches among eight of us and put some food in our stomachs. 

We returned around 1500 to get our rooms and were disappointed to learn that two of the rooms were ready and that our room would take a while longer again… “Perhaps 30 minutes.” said the clerk.

I explained that I had already waited 30 minutes up to this point and that this is what the LAST clerk said.  He seemed fairly unfazed and offered his apologies but no deviation from when the room would be ready.  Since the other two rooms WERE ready, we left our luggage in one of them and then as a group we headed down to the old town.

The old town basically is a piece of Salzburg that sits in the shadow of the fortress of Salzburg, and is comprised of very narrow streets, churches, cemeteries and historical buildings.  Today we would find ourselves doing some window shopping and then deciding to purchase the “Salzburg” card, 24 hour version for 25 Euros.  We promptly started using it at 1630 for a visit to Mozart’s birthplace.

The museum was nice and showcased various historical aspects of Mozart’s life.  It was interesting, but I don’t know if it was really worth the 7 Euros that they wanted for admission.

Next we went shopping.  Wonderful.  It was cold, wet, rainy and we were shopping.  What more could I ask for?  Interestingly, all the shops along the street had little signs that hung outside their shops much like in the olden day.  The cool thing is that even McDonalds had one!  After shopping for what seemed to be an eternity, we stopped for dinner at a place called “NordSee”.  It was all about seafood.  I was really tired and probably more than a bit dehydrated.  My only desire was for a rest.  While the others determined what dinner would be, I sat upstairs and enjoyed some peace and quiet.  The actual food was quite nice, but I just was so tired it was hard for me to enjoy.

After dinner, Mrs D and I walked back to the hotel while the others shopped some more.  It turned out to be about 7C on the way home.  Man was it cold.  I was so happy to get back to the hotel.

Finally, our hotel room was ready!!!  We took our stuff from the other room and moved into ours.  It was quite nice and quiet despite the construction going on just outside our window. We settled.  I got myself logged into my laptop and had planned to get my photos copying.  4000ms pings and dropping 2 out of every 3 packets meant that any dreams I had of using the internet just vanished in horrendous latency.  Damn.

I gave up on the Internet and Mrs D and I headed out to find a Laundromat to wash our clothing from the past week.  The hotel clerk said it was just across from the train station… Off we went.  Shouldn’t be too hard we thought.  Upon arriving at the train station, we realized that “across” could mean many different things and none of them seemed to be what we we expected.  Bummer.  I asked at a “sports bar” (basically a sports betting establishment with TV’’s showing different bettable events) and they didn’t know.  We tried to ask two women and they actually started running from us.  I was beginning to wonder if we’d EVER find the Laundromat when we asked at the Burger King.  The young man working there didn’t know either but he asked his colleagues and one knew where and gave us directions… Saved by BK.

The Laundromat was located in a mall complex with a group of cinemas being the dominant feature and the Laundromat being off to the side.  There was NO way we would have stumbled upon this place.  We went in and stared somewhat dumfounded at the machines.  It all seemed much more complicated than “put your money here”.  Luckily a family from Winnipeg was there doing their laundry and had already learned the laundry routine through trial and error and walked us through it.

4.50 Euro for the wash and 1.40 Euro/10 minutes later we had clean, dry clothing and had enjoyed a good conversation with the Winnipeggers.  Even more strange – we ran into a Singapore couple that we had met on the Train to Cesky Budejovice (actually during the bus shuttle between stations).  It was nice to talk to them again and see how their vacation had been going for them. It really is a small world (cue the music)

On the way back, the rain had subsided somewhat and it was good to get back into our warm hotel.

Little did I realise that it would STAY our warm hotel, despite setting the thermostat to 14C.  The room stayed warm – very warm.  Sleep came happily, but also with great warmth.  My watch was showing the room temp as 26C.  Morning would be coming too soon, so I didn’t fight the temperature, I just passed out.

May 30, 2010 Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

1 06 2010

We had talked about getting up to see the sunrise on the tower.  Since sunrise is at 0406, I figured we could get away with getting out the door by 0430 to shoot.  Francis and Maggie joined me in my early morning venture.  As we walked out the front door we were disappointed to find the sky heavy with clouds.  There would be no sunrise shoot :(  We decided to wander the streets and alleys a bit to see what we could shoot. I was amazed at the large number of partiers coming HOME at that time.

We called it a shoot at 0530 and I fell quickly back into a deep and blissful slumber…  to be disturbed by Mrs D poking me at 0730… “Get up for breakfast”

We enjoyed ground poppy seed paste on little danishes and an assortment of fruit, cheese, meat and eggs.  I tried the eggs and I swear to God that they were powdered.  Yeach!  I had a nice yogurt and some OJ to round out my breakfast.  I then headed up to my room to ensure that my photos were transferring while waiting for the others to finish their breakfasts.

Today we headed up to the castle.  It wasn’t too bad a walk.  In the “moat” around the castle, there are 3 bears.  It looks like 1 black and 2 grizzly bears.  Apparently a tradition for the last 300-400 years We paid our entrance and climbed the winding staircase to the top of the castle tower.  The view was wonderful.  Cesky Krumlov sat below us like some small medieval train set laid out below with its red clay roof tiles.  Picture postcard perfect.  Of course, I took LOTS of pictures 😉

After enjoying the tower we descended to the castle proper to see what we could see.  When we got to the ticket booth we were informed that castle admission is only available as part of a tour.  No unattended visitors.  This was different than what Maggie had remembered last time but it’s not like we had any choice.  We forked over our money and waited for the tour.   While waiting, I met a group of professors from Atlanta that were on a tour of the Czech Republic and area. It was interesting to see them actually taking NOTES during the tour.   Our tour guide was quite nice although her accent and mannerism in her English reminded me of a stereotypical “Russian communist guard” from the old days.  “You Vill see to the riiight……”  It was quite the intimidating voice despite her charming smile.  The accent made it a bit hard to hear in the cavernous walls of the castle as she led us from room to room.  There were no photos allowed.  That sucked as there were some beautiful works hanging on the walls as well as in the rooms.  I’m not sure how they manage to preserve the items in the castle as there appeared to be no climate control at all.  There were no lights in most rooms and natural light was your source for seeing as you went through the tour.  It really gave you a feeling of how the rulers lived.

After our castle tour was complete we headed up in the now heavier rain to the castle gardens.  I’m sure in July they will be beautiful, but today the plants were quite small and the colder weather certainly didn’t coax them to grow any faster.  As we made our way from the gardens to the castle pond we encountered a “theatre under the stars”.  The seating was on a revolving amphitheatre and it appears that the different acts of the play would be played out in the fields using natural props.  As each scene changed, the amphitheatre simply rotated to the next point.  Interesting.  would have been neat to watch a play there.

The castle pond was great for me… I found a new duck species – a tufted duck!  I’ll post it later in my pictures. 

We wandered back down through town and ate lunch at 1400 after which Francis and I decided that a nap would be wise thing.  I  was practically falling asleep on my feet.  We agreed to meet the women at the bridge near our hotel at 1730.

I woke in a panic at 1725 and was just getting my wits about me as Francis knocked on the door.  “Coming!!” I said, as I quickly got ready and headed out.  We ended up being a bit late but Mrs D and Cathy had settled in to some hot chocolate so weren’t that picky about the fact that we weren’t quite on time.

We all wandered down to the riverside to walk along the river while watching the sun set on the town.  Some very interesting photos were available with the sun setting against some dark cloud backgrounds.  We had a good time playing with off camera flash and a bit of posing.

The walk brought us around in time to make it to our destination for dinner.  An old medieval tavern.  It really was the same as it had been in the 16th century.  Dark, low rocky ceilings with various weaponry adorning the walls.  The atmosphere was perfect and I could easily imagine coming in from working for the prince to have some good pork and cup of mead to satisfy your belly.

Coincidently, that’s what I had :)  We had pork knee, bratwurst, pike, onion soup and garlic soup – both served in bread bowls.  I drank a cup of hot mead. Most excellent!  I don’t think I can explain it other than it warmed me with it’s aroma flavour and alcohol content.  Wonderful drink for a cold wet day.

We finished around 2115 and were back to our hotel by 2130.  That gave me some time to upload photos and update the blog.  (which is getting further and further behind 😦 )

We went out at 2200 to try some night shots of the tower from a different angle than last night with varying degress of success.

When I got back.. it was photo update time until 0100.

Finally Sleep.

May 29, 2010 Cesky Budejovice to Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

30 05 2010

I don’t think I mentioned it in yesterday’s blog, but we stayed in a really nice two bedroom loft apartment in Cesky Budejovice.  The decor was lovely and the design was quite nice.   It would certainly have been a great place to stay if I were to be staying for a week.  Unfortunately we were there for just one night. 

We got up early and headed down with Maggie and Francis for breakfast.  Breakfast was totally a la carte and included in the night’s stay.  We ordered omelettes and toast as well as OJ.  They made us fresh squeezed Veggie/Orange Juice that was delicious as well as coffees and hot chocolates… Great service!  We walked around the hotel for a bit and did a bit more shopping (surprisingly, there was more shopping to do!)  The girls headed back to the Bata store (shoes) and managed to find even more stuff to buy.

We had arranged that we could “check out” at 10:30 and move our luggage all to one room so that we could walk along the riverside and shop some more.  When I talked to the clerk/cook/waiter/all in one guy, he talked to the cleaning girl who told me, “No problem, you can put your bags all up in the 3rd floor room that you used”.  That was the one that Mrs D, Francis, Maggie and I had stayed in.  The vote of the women in our group was “No way in Hell am I going to carry my luggage UP those stairs again just to haul it back down”.

We politely declined to offer to let us store our bags in one of the rooms.  We left Maggie and Cathy watching the luggage and enjoying coffee and ice cream while the rest of us wandered down to the riverside for some relaxing views. We started walking down the side of the river and I had the 100-400 out in the hope of catching a bird or two.  I was walking about 50m ahead so that they wouldn’t scare away my birds.

About 10 minutes into our walk down the river, Mrs D calls me back.  “We’re going back to the hotel”


“We’re going back – we don’t want to leave Maggie and Cathy there abandoned.”

Personally, THEY made the choice to not carry up their luggage.  They made the choice to stay and now we cut our riverside walk short.  Grumble.

“OK dear”, really – what else was I going to say.

We made it down to the bus station in plenty of time to catch the 1320 bus. It is a short ride, shorter than the regular 50 minute ride, this one is only 35 minutes!  We got on the large coach to find that Cesky Budejovice isn’t the first stop and that the bus is fairly full.  We get our seats and I watch cartoons (Tom and Jerry) on the bus TV while drifting in and out of sleep.  As we start slowing down the “guide” on the bus announces in English and Czech something about the next stop.  Maggie says “We get off here!”

We got off the bus, and then quickly showed someone our map and asked “Is this the stop that we just got off at?”

“No, Next stop.” came the answer.

I turned to the woman that had announced things earlier and asked “Can we get back on – we’re at the wrong stop?”

“You should have listened” she says bitterly.

“Sorry… we didn’t hear the announcement well”, I say, holding back the comment about her accent being so thick you could cut it with a knife, and where does she get off being so rude to me.

“Can we get back on?” I repeat.


You’ve got to be kidding me?!?!?!  Why?  Because we’re at the wrong stop, you horse’s ass! 

My real reaction was just to stand there dumbfounded.

She then motioned to put our bags back on the bus, I wasn’t going to wait for anything nicer.  I didn’t want to walk and extra 2km uphill in the rain.  We loaded our bags feverishly back on the bus and timidly found seats for the short ride.  People seemed to be understanding that the dumb tourists were at the wrong stop.  I’m guessing this wasn’t the first time this happened.

We got off at the RIGHT stop about 5 minutes later and unloaded from the bus – AGAIN.  We settled in with our rain gear and starting pulling our luggage along the cobblestones again.  Someone would make a killing if they make luggage with wheels that handle cobblestones better.  We trundled down the narrow roads and had a glimpse of the castle tower while descending.  We walked, and walked and walked some more.  Eventually we pulled up to our lovely little home for the next two days, the Alchymy Hotel.  Being a beautiful building from sometime in the 19th century it meant that elevators were out of the question.  Good stairs, while optional back then, didn’t make it into this place either.  Uneven wooden stairs wound their way up to our places on the European 2nd and 3rd floors (The ground floor is Floor Zero).  The rooms were lovely.  nicely decorated in period style furniture and floors must have been 100 years old if they were a day.

After settling into our hotel at around 1500 we decided to split up and wander on our own to see and explore Cesky Krumlov (UNESCO World Heritage Site) I thought this would be a great time to take time and shoot things with Mrs D.  Not so.  She stopped at almost EVERY shop along the way.  So, I managed to escape from the group shopping and ended up in my own personal shopping hell.  There are way too many crappy souvenir and crafty art stores in town…  We ended up with more for the house.  I did get SOME shots, but so many tourists cramming in and around made it tough.

After freshening up at our hotel rooms at 1800 we headed out and found a good place for dinner that served a good South Bohemian cuisine.  We had roast duck, fried cheese, salad, Pork knee and a platter simply called “Mixed Grill”   It made me wonder how many cariovascular surgeons live near the town… I imagine that one or more tourists has maxed out on meat and cholesterol at some time 😉

When we got back to the hotel there was no reception dude.. .no dude meant not being able to get Internet.  No internet means that today’s photos and today’s blog will end up being posted tomorrow.  Bummer.

We were home by 2200.  At that point I went out on my own and shot some night shots of the castle tower and the square as well as an alley or two.  Overall – quite successful.  I am really pleased with some of the results.

I got to sleep by 0030… making me happy – I was planning to heading out to shoot the tower castle at sunrise at 0430 with Francis.  hope.  For that there would have to be a sunrise. I went to sleep quickly in anticipation of the morning photo shoot.

The photos are a day or so behind… they can be found at:


or http://www.fotothing.com/albums.php?action=viewphotos&albumid=3592

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