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 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.


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