Where We're Going

Where We're Going

Friday, 18 July 2008

Happy Bollards, Schwip Schwap & Minge Coffee

We awoke after one of the best sleeps of the trip and tried our luck at the breakfast buffet, which we got for free again, woop! We started our walk the same way as yesteray but decided to walk along the river to the east in order to get a better view of the Molecule Men. We walked past them and further to the east until we found ourselves in a really run down area, with a Lidl smack bang in the middle of nothing. We bought juice and noticed an orange and cola drink named Schwip Schwap. Bizarre. A lot of the surrounding buildings were deliberately wonky, they were very colourful and kind of nice to look at but I can't imagine what they can be used for. We saw a poster for Monkey Island Festival before finding ourselves really quite lost in East East Berlin. John had his trusty map and we were soon back on course (ish).

After having seen dozens of men with accordions on this trip, John has decided he wants to learn how to play one and we both yelped with joy when we passed a musical instrument shop selling them in all shapes and sizes: old ones, miniature ones, childrens ones. There was also a gigantic harmonica that we would have like to buy for Elliot but it would have needed a backpack all on its own it was so big. We discussed the likelihood of being able to find Take That music for the accordion and hoped that someone, somewhere, had the brilliant idea of arranging it for an accordionist.

We came home, packed and re-shuffled our bags around and I re-packed the snowstorms, carefully wrapping them in t-shirts and pillowcases to keep them safe. It was very odd to pack up for the final time knowing that tomorrow would be the end of our adventure. It's exciting to think about unpacking them all in our flat but still weird to come to somewhere that has been home to someone else for 2 months.

I finished the book I had been reading and we went to the common room to find another to pass the time while the weather was miserable outside. We had hoped to meet up with our friend San San while we were in Berlin but both of our phones decide to die on us, so we had no way of contacting her :( one of the guys from our dorm, a posh, camp Australian with glasses and dreadlocks came bounding over to us while we sat on a sofa, while one of his friends collapsed in the one nearest us. The only book I could find in English was about Stone Cold Steve Austin, the WWE wrestler, so I was quite happy to be interrupted by them. They started quoting Invader Zim and I couldn't hide my excitement at finding people who had heard of it, let alone who could quote it! They were equally excited and continued animatedly quoting until the one closest to us fell asleep and the dreadlocked one went to talk to the American headbangers from yesterday.

Although our time here has been short and relatively calm, it was the perfect place to end our perfect adventure.

Porkfish, Giraffe Car & Alphabet Biscuits

I slept soundly but when John awoke he told tales of the snoring man on the top bunk next to him, and his failed attempts (after much umbrella-poking) to stop him from doing so. We breakfasted at the buffet bar downstairs, and for doing so would normally cost €3 each, but as it was the hostels 10th year there was a tiny note on one of the flyers saying that if your birthday was on the 10th of any month you and the people with whom you booked would get a free breakfast! Hurrah for John! The guy at the desk didn't know what we were talking about, but after showing him the small print we got our free breakfasts that turned out not to be worth the €3 anyway.

We walked south from the hostel, over the River Spree and saw the Molecule Men near the next bridge along. We only crossed the river so we could see the cool bridge that had been designed to look like a castle, it was crenelated and had turrets. We crossed back over the river and walked westwards along Mühlenstraβe past the East Side Gallery where John was attacked by a crocodile (!), and read lots of the graffitied comments, including "Make Love Not Walls" and a mural of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and subsequently had the theme tune stuck in my head all day. We re-crossed the river, walked past a huge church which must have looked very phallic from above, and ended up on Orienstraβe. We passed a food stall called "Food Bag" and then had a little sit down in a park, where we saw baby sparrows and I fell asleep in the sun for a little while. I woke up when it started to get colder and we made a move past the horde of tourists at Checkpoint Charlie towards Brandenburg Gate and The Reichstag, just in case the sun would still be shining when we got there as we'd only ever seen it on cloudy days. We stopped in a huge souvenir shop, and saw snowstorms which had small glittery balls instead of snow, some with small gold coins and the worst tie EVER made: it was yellow and had a picture (a term I use loosely) of Berlin which consisted of a rubbish blurred black and white image of what could have been any city, with construction cranes in the background. Most odd. The shop had some lovely Christmas decorations but I don't think they would have survived the journey home.

By the time we got to Unter den Linden the wind had picked up, and although it meant all the flags were looking great, it had also brought dark clouds and it wasn't long before the rain came. Walking towards Alexanderplatz we saw a 6-person bike and encountered some gypsies who we, when asked if we spoke English, couldn't resist doing a "Big Train" sketch at them, which you can see here. We neared the TV Tower and John took some "arty" jaunty photos. We saw a bear with a curly moustache (a Chap bear?) and were lured into a shopping centre with the promise of 'The Best Toilet In Town!', were hugely disappointed and in protest John used the free disabled loo instead. After having been walking for 7 hours we walked homeward along our favourite street, Karl-Marx-Allee, seeing what looked like a wizard who had fallen on hard times asleep in a bush.

Dinner was trusty falafel again and for pudding John had a Nogger ice cream, which was very much like a Feast but with vanilla ice cream rather than chocolate. Back at the hostel I dozed while reading. I think our bodies are finally telling us to slow down, which we will be doing very very soon! Refreshed from naps we went to the common room where we sat on a comfy sofa, ate biscuits and laughed at some American girls "rocking out" to the rubbish metal music being played. After a (messy) pint of wheat beer, John's new favourite, we went for a nighttime wander, taking photos of fun stuff and passing some interesting clothes shops, one with a t-shirt depicting Darth Vader with a medallion and a boombox. We discussed art and ethical value systems, then after being briefly locked out of our dorm, bedded it up.

Hot D&G Soup, Hippo Fountain & Tardis Toiletten

Our morning train wasn't until 10:36 so we were fairly leisurely in our getting up. Toast was devoured, bags were packed and a bus was caught. The Prague rush hour seems to be between 9am-10am annoyingly, so the bus was crammed and I fell on top of a man in front when the bus turned a sharp corner. The Metro was a more comfortable ride and we were at the station in no time. Unfortunately, so were hundreds of other people who were also going to Berlin it turned out. We got a seat in a compartment with a couple of people younger than us. The journey was nice and we passed 3 castles between Bad Schandau and Dresden alone! The further we got into Germany, however, the worse the weather became and by the time we pulled up in Berlin it was full-blown raining. We caught an S-Bahn and then walked to the hostel past lots of kebab shops and cafes. The hostel common room was quiet and full of books with suits of armour statues flanking the entrance, and it looks as though it was a warehouse before being a hostel.

We're finishing our adventure in a city we know and love and a hostel that is big and clean, so it'll be a great end to a great trip. We left our bags to dry and went for a wander in the rain. We chose this hostel because of its location in an area we already know pretty well, so it was nice to walk around and know where we're going rather than clinging to a map. The city has never disappointed us, and even in the rain we had fun. We saw lots of fun things in our first short wander, including funny graffiti, a shop called "Ass Style", some cool fountains, a packet of liquorice "kitten paws", anti-pickle patches and discovered that public toilet booths look just like Tardises! We stopped for dinner at a kebab shop where I had ring-shaped falafel and John had some kind of meat and chips, a delicacy he had been craving for weeks. They gave us our food on real plates and we sat and ate in the shop, in the only seats that were available on a table with a guy our age. He asked where we were from and we told him about our adventure. He told us he was working as a voluntary event manager to get some experience in the field and we had a nice chat about London, kebabs, pigeons and all sorts.

We left happy, our bellies satisfied and our hearts happy to be back here, where strangers strike up conversations over kebabs. We walked to our old haunt, Karl-Marx-Allee then back to the hostel when the weather got worse, and met the other people in our dorm, a Dutch guy, a couple of French guys and an Asian guy. I started reading a book by Josie Dew in which she cycles across America, and John scoured maps of Berlin, Amsterdam, Riga, Krakow and Vilinus, just in case.

A Door of Heads, Goose in a Beret & Tramp on a Scooter

We slept in, then after a breakfast of toast and jam (fruit! Yippee!) we caught a train to Karlstejn, where we saw a woman and her son who we had seen the previous day in Kutna Hora! The train took only 35 minutes and the sun was shining when we left the train. The roads leading towards the castle were lined with souvenir shops, mainly the same old stuff we'd seen in Prague. There were a couple of Karlstejn snowstorms but they looked a bit too tacky and I was still more than happy with my Holy Infant one. One of the few things we saw that we hadn't seen in Prague were some clothes peg animals, giraffes and kangaroos, that I can't describe very well but were very cool. We walked up to the castle and found that we could only see it if we were on a tour group with a guide, so we joined an English speaking tour group full of, you guessed it, bloody tourists! The girl leading the tour was the youngest guide imaginable, she must've been no older than 21, but she was very good and kept saying what we thought were funny things in a complete deadpan voice, it was hilarious and other people looked at us when we giggled. We were sure to restrain ourselves while she was actually talking though, mainly because the history was very interesting, but also because we weren't as rude as all the other pepole who just decided to talk over her whenever they wanted.

The castle is huge and grand and magnificent and awesome. We saw lots of bits and pieces from the 14th Century, including some old playing cards, one depicting a unicorn! In one of the rooms was a lute player with the largest instrument I have ever seen. I didn't ask, but I think his must have been an angelica, a type of Baroque lute. He played for us as we looked around and it was lovely. In one of the rooms were lots of portraits and a 14th Century statue of St Catherine of Alexandria standing on top of a King. Michaela, the guide, told us the story: the King wanted to marry Catherine but she refused because he was a Pagan, so she was condemned to death on the breaking wheel. When the time came, the wheels broke and she was beheaded instead and became a martyr. The statue is supposed to represent the defeat of paganism by Christianity, but it's a bit of a weird one. The castle shop had lots of desirable things, but we had to be sensible so John bought a map and I bought a postcard.

On our walk back through town we saw a stall selling a "Bohemian Speciality" called Trdelník consisting of sweet dough wrapped around a metal cylinder and then grilled over a flame and rolled in a mix of sugar, cinnamon and almonds. It was delicious, and the wasps swarmed around us getting high on the sugar scent. On the train back to Prague there was some graffiti saying "Bear Grog" and we imagined what that could possibly taste like. Later on the Metro we saw a guy with a feather stuck on his head (it wasn't supposed to be there) and were reminded of the silly pigeons we had seen with fluffy white feathers on their heads in the park. We Metroed to Muzeum, where we saw the National Museum and walked up Wenceslas Square, which is actually a long stretch of road, then headed north to the market that had been closed the other day. It was completely full of crap, like being in East London again - stalls of t-shirts, pants, weapons (including shuriken) and bits of tat. We passed a shop sign in neon Comic Sans (shudder) and walked for the last time past "The Brick Project". It is a charity "sculpture" made up of lots of thin white bricks which have been bought for a few Euros then decorated and laid in a circle then built upwards in layers, kind of like a chimney. The notice on it says: "The proceeds in this years collection will be used for extension of a work centre to reconstruct a social-therapeutical centre producing marinated cheese and pickled sausages". Nice.

We stopped at Billa to pick up some mushrooms (surprisingly hard to find!) and some eggs for an omelette we had promised to make Ben, then headed back to the hostel for our last night in Prague. When we got into our dorm there was a note on my bed and a little box - Ben had bought us some chocolate kitten tongues! I had only ever seen them in Germany and Austria so it was quite a treat having Czech ones as well. We ate some then napped until Ben got in an hour later. He told me all the things he had learned at language school while John was still sleeping, and I learned a new phrase: "Moja jeptiska!" We chatted about lots of things, including British biscuits (he'd never heard of a Jaffa Cake!), and I made our omelette. It wasn't as good as it would have been at home, but it was OK. Two guys from Plymouth, Max and Joe, have been at the hostel for the last couple of days and we have watched in amazement each dinnertime as they've been making grilled chicken with fresh pesto sauce and sausage casseroles and other culinary delights. It turns out they are not "travelling" but just on a break for a few days, which explains it. After 2 months the only things we can afford to do are pasta, soup and omelette. We have stopped doing the bread-for-every-meal thing after our bellies complained. We ate our omelette and Joe made a big playing card tower on the table next to us. After we'd all eaten we decided to play card games and were taught two by Ben, Ten and Egyptian Ratscrew which were lots of fun. A couple of Canadian girls joined the table and we played poker with the huge jar of sweets which is kept at the front desk as chips. After many, many rounds (most of which ended in us going all in) John and I eventually won! Hurrah! We played until past midnight and it turned out to be our favourite night in Prague.

The Bone Church & a Bubble-Wrapped Jesus

A good night's sleep was had by all, despite a guy in the middle of the room snoring like a pig, and we woke at 8am to a cloudy, but dry, Prague. We broke our fast with cereal and then left to get our train to Kutna Hora. There were lots of cleaners at the station, and one of them had a small child with her in a uniform also sweeping. We wondered if it was Take Your Child To Work Day or if the child labour laws here are just really slack. We boarded a double-decker "City Elefant" train and left the city. We didn't see much on the two hour trip, me especially as I slept for half of it, and there was more grey sky when we reached our destination. The first place we wanted to go to was the famous "Bone Church". I memorised loads of interesting facts about it, but if you read the link you'll get all the info there :) The ossuary was amazing, if a little macabre, and John had no idea it even existed, despite it being pretty famous, so he enjoyed it there and was very snap-happy. We left the church, passing a souvenir shop with the most incredible thing I've seen in a while: a Holy Infant snowstorm!!!! I had searched all over Prague and they didn't have any anywhere! It was hideous. I immediately loved it and had to have it.

We walked to the Cathedral of the Assumption of Our Lady and St. John the Baptist, which was being done up inside (internal scaffolding!) so there were plastic sheets over the famous and precious 18th Century paintings and on the altar. There wasn't much to see, apart from a drunk-looking Jesus on a cross, and we walked the 3km to Kutna Hora, which I recently discovered to be twinned with Stamford in the UK and Eger in Hungary where we were only weeks ago. Since 1995 the "city centre" has been a UNESCO World Heritage site, and it really is a pretty little place. I had a very weird coloured Tutti Frutti icecream (peach and turquoise swirled together) and we walked to St. Barbara Church, passing an estate agents window with local houses costing under 50,000 pounds. The church (or cathedral as they call it) was partly under scaffolding, but we weren't disappointed as the views over the town from the hill on which it stands were wonderful.

The rain got too much so we went to an Albert and picnicked on our purchases under an umbrella near the ossuary. We caught a fast train back to Prague, where the sun was shining! We came back to the hostel and, after having heard the UK Eurovision entry on the radio for the second time that day, spent the next 5 hours chatting with Ben about his first day at "school", music, comedy (again), his family, the state of the education system in the UK and America, the monarchy, the bone church, nuns, hedgehogs and other stuff too. We ate pasta and soup (a speciality Ben had not tried before) and then went to bed knackered after our very long day.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Mole Window, Beer Cheese & Giggling Guards

The lovely ambience was shattered when a group of Northern lads came in loudly in the early hours, followed by another group of lads who decided to turn on all the lights, fall over everything, swear and shout at each other at around 3am. This lasted a good hour or so, and once the lights had eventually been turned off, one got out a torch and proceeded to shine it directly at John and me, which was nice of him. By now I was super awake and it took another hour or so to get back to sleep. It felt like only minutes had passed when I woke to my 8am alarm going off next to me. Up I trotted to see if I would have any luck in the shower. I won't give you details (you wouldn't want them) but the female shower room was utterly disgusting. John had a similarly bad experience, slipping over on the wet floor and cutting his finger badly on the showerhead. I knew that I'd brought antiseptic wipes and plasters for a reason and now was the time for Nurse Vixie to spring into action!

The "free breakfast buffet" was disappointing, and we found that someone had opened our milk and helped themselves to it then left it out so it was all warm. I do not like people here. We ate lots of cereal to set us up for the day and headed out into a very wet Prague. We took a metro (and some very fast escalators) to Vltarská where the biggest market in Prague is located. But not on Sundays :( From there we walked past a pizzeria called Pizza Go Home and towards a park right at the north of the city called Stromovka, where there was a planetarium and the really cool looking Exhibition Hall which had a small clock tower on legs on top of the main building with a small spiral staircase leading up from the main building, between the legs and up into the clock tower. I had hoped to see an interesting fountain I had read about nearby, but we couldn't find it. The area has been built up a lot since the map I have was drawn, so maybe it no longer exists :(

We walked past a Segway shop on our way to get a tram, and there were lots of Czech chavs at the tram stop. We trammed it up to another park in the north called Letenské Sady where the main attraction is a big red metronome. As we climbed the steps to see it up close we saw some graffiti saying "Piss Cat Ears" ( the most random we have come across) and noticed that the power cable running above it has lots of pairs of shoes hanging from it, and even some womens heeled boots. Continuing in a south westerly direction we walked to Pražský hrad. The castle grounds include the Basilica of St George and St. Vitus Cathedral as well as a dozen other buildings, and while the castle looked pretty in tact there was scaffolding covering the cathedral. We bought postcards and wandered around in the drizzle, admiring the trees that looked like Mark Rothko paintings. We saw two old women in plastic ponchos who looked like wizards and then watched the changing of the guard at the Spanish Hall entrance. While we were watching them one started laughing, which set another one off, and it was amusing seeing them trying to control their giggles.

We left the castle and walked towards town, spying the Petřin Tower, which looks like a miniature Eiffel Tower, on a hillside above the city. We ate ice cream, John had a Choco Dream and I had a pistachio Magnum equivalent. No gelato today. We walked past St Nicolaus Church and stopped at the Church of The Holy Infant of Prague (its real name is the Church of Our Lady Victorious), a Baroque church with the most amazing decoration inside. We've been to a lot of churches and cathedrals, and even more because of this trip, an I think this is my favourite, both because of the ornate, ridiculously over the top decoration and because the story of the Holy Infant is so cool. A wax figure of Jesus was given to the church in Prague in 1628 and is paid homage to by pilgrims who come from all over the world, inc. South America, Spain, Vietnam and China, after people said that they had seen the Baby Jesus and that miracles had occured after praying to the Holy Infant in Prague. Other things we've read have said that the church made up lots of these stories in order to get people to visit the church, but of course Catholics cannot deny people saying that they've seen apparitions so it had to be believed. I love Catholics. Above the church, up some windy stone steps, is a small museum showing all the different hand-embroidered silk outfits that have been made for the wax figure, and they are incredible. There is also a little photo gallery of the Holy Infant wearing each of the outfits and all over the city you can buy miniature replicas of him. I think they're wonderful, but John thinks they're hideous. If only there was a snowstorm with him inside, it would be perfect!

We walked over Charles Bridge (with scaffolding), saw the National Theatre (scaffolding) and walked into Stare Mesto where we passed the biggest shop of Russian dolls we've ever seen. They had lots of fairly normal dolls but also dolls of all of the teams in the Premier League and all the divisions, as well as all the British rugby teams and lots of American baseball teams. Pretty incredible. We also saw a set of Pope dolls, but they were vastly expensive so we gave them a (sad) miss. We stopped by Albert to get some cheese, and after getting drenched, headed back to the hostel to dry off and have another late lunch (4pm again, silly us). We met the new guy in our dorm, his name is Ben, he's from New York and he's here for 2 weeks doing a language course after making friends with some Czechs over online chess. We ended up chatting with him for 6 hours, about everything. We started on Catholicism (good ol' Holy Infant) moving to British comedy and from there to politics to history to schools (he's a maths teacher) to accents to crisp flavours and finished at Top Gear, with everything else inbetween. We were having so much fun that we forgot to have dinner before bed.

Rocking Horse Cats, Snake Benches & Flirt Dessert

Waking late, we ran to the train station in order to catch our early-morning train to Prague. The station was packed, as expected, and we spent our last few coins on some water for the journey. The ride was pleasant enough and we had fun playing musical chairs again. There wasn't all that much to see out of our windows but lots of greenery. We passed a village called Levice which has a small castle high on a hill overlooking the village, and about an hour later passed what looked like a building site with a big pile of sand or stones, I couldn't tell, with three towers which were made to look like turrets with little flags on top. We also passed lots of pretty churches and an army vehicle junk yard full of broken helicopters, planes and tanks, at which John wanted to stop (especially after a guy we had met in Munich told us that his Dad had bought a tank for only £1000) but unfortunately (!) we whizzed right past it and further into the Czech Republic. The journey was pretty long, 4½ hours, and when not moving seats or gazing out of the window at castles, I spent the time making lists.

It was a refreshing (supposed) 19 degrees when we got to Prague, though it still felt quite muggy and warm under the blanket of clouds. We took a Metro (so clean!) and then a bus to our hostel and checked into the largest and most full dorm in the universe - 14 beds, though by the mess you'd think it was more like 40 - and headed straight back into the city. Near the bus stop we saw some graffiti of a reclining nude signed by "Kickasso" and a man with a ferret in his satchel.

Prague is very pretty, though it was so full of people we didn't really get to enjoy it much initially. We got such an early train that we forgot to have both breakfast and lunch so at around 3pm we decided we should probably eat something and stopped at a pizzeria to have a cheap meal. It was such a nice change from pasta and soup! Walking through the streets you are surrounded by tourists and souvenir shops, and we ended up going into a couple simply because I could no longer resist the Bohemian Crystal and its taunting sparkles! More glass animals awaited us, we saw a sausage dog and, not a pentapus, but a quadropus (or a demipus if you like) and masses of other sparkly bits and pieces. Prague certainly knows how to do tourist tat, it is wonderful! The few snowstorms we saw were all a bit too nice, quite fancy in fact, and this was evident from the price. I will have to resist until I see a tackier (and cheaper) version, I think. We were drawn into a shop full of beautifully carved wooden chess sets, daggers, shields, mini crossbows and a crossbow pistol. John was tempted, but I'm pretty sure we wouldn't be able to get it through customs... On the other half of the same shop were long lines of utterly gorgeous, intricately-painted Russian dolls. Passing picture shops and galleries along a side street, we spied some very cool 3D postcards and a cat-themed gallery.

We stopped at a supermarket called Albert, which had a fruit and vegetable covered painted cow at the main entrance, fish in tanks at the back of the shop and a travellator in the centre. I could faintly hear 'The Winner Takes It All' by Abba being played and was relieved to hear that I wasn't the only person singing along when I overheard a lady singing in the dairy section. We saw another purple-rinsed old lady, the most vivid purple yet, some water bottles that looked like hand-grenades and bought some cereal with a weasel in a hat on the box. The day was further brightened when I received a text from Miss Kaz Tew, and very much hope that she a splendid time at the Chap Olympics with Mr Biddle, Mr Kennington and Mr Dean. We were thinking of you all, but didn't so much as see a moustache today, most disappointing.

We bussed back to the hostel in the rain, where we drank Slice Cola and sorted out our bunks. The room is, as I said, very full and smells distinctly of socks and students. It's not only the most unpleasant smell we have encountered on our travels, but also the least ventilated room in existence. We sat in the lounge in the evening, as people milled around, and John enjoyed both of our free "welcome" beers while reading about castles nearby. Unfortunately, as well as being stinky, a lot of the people here are obnoxious and rude. It's such a shame as Prague was one of the places I was most looking forward to coming to and I wouldn't like to think that horrible people will taint our stay. We have three castles to enjoy while we're here so I don't think John will even notice!

We had a nice night time wander around the immediate area and I phoned William to get the lowdown on the Olympics. He sounded in highest of spirits (could that have been down to the G&T?) and said that a marvellous time was had by all.

Everyone in our dorm was out for the night so we settled down to another early night, to the wonderful sound of silence.

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Weather-controlling buses, a Lovely Castle & Purple Ladies

After another eventful night of comings, goings and squeaky bunks, we breakfasted on bread and chocolate spread in the garden then walked towards the Danube to get a bus to Devín, one of "The 55 Loveliest Places in Slovakia", according to a book of the same name. On the way we passed the park with the cool musical instrument - basically there were nine metal squares and when you jumped on them they made different sounds, quite like a xylophone. We played on it happily for a while then continued on our journey. We very nearly didn't even realise it was there, I read nothing about it anywhere and there's no plaque or anything near it, except on one of the squares it said that it was designed by Alfons Van Leggelo. The only reason we knew it was there was because of the woman we saw the other day playing on it. I love her for enlightening us. We stopped by the Post Office, got a little lost inside, but came out with stamps, hurrah! Pity I forgot to write Anglia on some of the postcards before I sent them, so sorry if you've not got a postcard, that would be my silly fault...

We got to the bus terminal below the UFO bridge and noticed on the side of one of the buses a sticker which looked like a wizard with a cloud with a cross through it and determined it must mean one of these things: a) the bus is not a weather-controlling bus, b) there is no climate control or c) the driver is not a wizard.

There were no signs to the castle and the bus stop was not marked as Hrad Devín so we and a Mexican guy had to guess when we should get off. It turned out we were right, but it took us until we had left the castle to realise that. We got off the bus and went in the "logical" direction, walked around in a big circle in the scorching heat (33 degrees) for 20 minutes until we eventually found the entrance. The castle was a ruin (no scaffolding, hurrah!) but a really good one, and there was loads of information (in English!) as we walked past various chapel areas, towers and past settlements. There were also a number of museums, some underground, within the castle grounds showing a detailed history of the area and ownership of the castle, as well as lots of artefacts that have been found on various digs at the castle. While we were there we saw some archaeologists excavating an area of the castle grounds, and it was really exciting to think that stuff is still being discovered there.

According to the museum there has been a settlement on the grounds since the Stone Age and it was still a "proper" castle until 1809 when Napoleon's men burned it down. This was our third castle in Slovakia, and all three of them were burned down by Napoleon, the naughty beggar! All documentation, records, plans and maps of Devín castle were also destroyed so there was no way of re-building it accurately and it has been a ruin since. The actual grounds of the castle are huge and there are lots of separate parts, all of which we explored with interest. The views over the Danube and the miles of forest were beautiful and we were only about a mile away from the Austrian border. We sat on the only bench we could find in the shade for a long while and didn't see any other people for at least half an hour. It was like our own little Jixie Tower!

There were a couple of souvenir shops shops in the grounds, but no luck on the snowstorm front. After our bus journey back to town, where we met the first ticket inspector of the entire trip, we went to buy some soup for dinner, spotting two nuns dressed in black on the way. The first black-wearing nuns we've seen in Slovakia! In Tesco we noticed that all the white-haired old ladies in Bratislava dye their hair with a dark purple rinse rather than the usual blue one, and I helped one of these purple ladies (who had very fluffy hair like a duck) at the checkout. Soup was purchased and then so was ice cream, cookies flavour today.

On our last night in the city we went for a final wander. It was 9pm and the temperature was still 29 degrees! The central square in front of the Old Town Hall was full of people, there were performers inside a huge ring of spectators, who were skipping and dancing and all sorts. The music floated through the city, but disappointingly none of the pretty buildings we had hoped would be lit up were. We settled down to an early night while people outside bustled until the early hours.

Friday, 11 July 2008

Zombie Tramps, The Force Bin & Ice cream with a beard

A grey sky greeted us as we walked to the train station to catch a train to Trenčín, a town to the north east of Bratislava. The sky became increasingly bluer and the clouds less frequent as we neared our destination. The journey was like a big game of musical chairs, first we moved because we were accidentally sat in reserved seats, and then we moved again to let two old ladies sit down. Our third carriage compartment was nicer, so we didn't mind too much. The scenery on the journey was lovely again and we passed some fantastic photo opps (like three huge chimneys with a face painted across all three of them) but were unable to photograph them from the train. We passed lots more sunflower fields, some mountains, a castle in Beckov (a village nearby which had no train line going to it, sadly) and lots and lots of greenery. The guy in our compartment, who had been asleep when we first got there, opened one eye and started watching us, laughing to himself whenever we got excited about something outside the window. He seemed really interested in us, like he'd never seen Brits before, and asked where we were from, we told him and he asked John if I was from there as well. He tried his hardest to speak in English to us, and though his English was poor, it was lovely that he made the effort.

Our first stop was the castle, naturally, and as we were walking up towards it we saw another couple. The guy kept stopping to take photos, as did John, and the girl who was with him gave me a silent knowing glance and a quick roll of her eyes. It was subtle, but very amusing. The poor girl; going out with a castle addict is never easy. The castle was a really good one, one of my favourites. There was a lot of work being done to it (scaffolding-o-rama) but there was also lots that was open and awesome. The castle that was still there was from the 14th Century, but parts of it were Moravian, from the 9th and 10th Centuries. Just inside the entrance was a well called "The Well of Love" which was built between 1528 and 1570 after the legend of Omar and Fatima. As we were walking around the castle there was music playing from a tourist information booth, which we immediately recognised as River Dance! Nice traditional Slovak music...

Up towards the first main tower of the castle were some falcons and other birds, sitting around looking pretty (and one was being incredibly loud), and I got to hold one of them! The lady who was looking after the birds looked (and was dressed like) a blood elf from World of Warcraft. At the back of the castle was a part called Barbara Palace, which was built in 1430 for Queen Barbara of Celje, who was the wife of Emperor Sigismund of Luxembourg. That part of the castle was now an exhibition space, showing armour, weapons and lots of paintings of coats of arms. We walked up some very steep and very narrow windy steps to Matúš Tower, which was a little scary but totally worth it for the views over the town. Back down on the ground we saw a tree covered in red shield beetles, and then saw that the ground was carpeted in them too.

We left the castle, content that we'd got our £3 worth and walked through the town where we passed the coolest fountain we've seen so far - it was a statue of a man wearing a top hat coming out of a well and the water was coming from his mouth in an arc and then "bouncing" off the ground and making another arc, then another. The fountains here in Slovakia, and the ones in Hungary, have been far and away the most interesting and original fountains we've ever come across. On our way back to the train station we saw a Museum of Wheels and a boy wearing a t-shirt saying "Perhaps it's time you left" and below it had an arrow pointing to the right.

Bratislava train station is the busiest station I have ever been to, of its capacity. It's not a big station and getting in or out of it is like trying to swim against a current, where the sea is full of huge barriers, in this case, people-shaped ones. The souvenir shop in the station was the last place on my list to check for snowstorms, and I did find one. Unfortunately, it was of a crappy bear, not a good bear, and it didn't even say Bratislava on it! So they do know what snowstorms are here, they just don't want anything to do with them, despite having such pretty castles and buildings which would look perfect in them! Never mind, maybe next time we're here they will have broadened their horizons.

It was still light so we strolled into town, and saw a woman wearing a t-shirt saying "I love greens. Respond. Fashion", a priest, and noticed for the first time a big interactive musical instrument in a park on the edge of town. There was a woman playing on it when we walked past, but tomorrow that will be me! We had forgotten to have lunch, and suddenly noticed how late it was so treated ourselves to falafel and sat in a park while we ate. There was a big LED screen telling us that it was 27 degrees, even though it was nearly 7pm by then! Near the falafel shop was another clothes market so we went exploring - Bratislava is like the clothes equivalent of Aladdin's Cave. Weeks ago I wrote about a t-shirt I'd seen on a girl which said "For You Splendid Smile" - just imagine my delight when I found that t-shirt in one of the sales! It is both hideous and curiously wonderful! We saw a girl wearing another great t-shirt saying "Cute and Happpy" - she must have been REALLY happy if she gave herself an extra P!

Walking home after our long day of exploring we passed the Slovakian radio station building which looks like a giant upside-down pyramid. We had read about it in on of the tour guides, and it's funny to think that we did/learned more in/about Bratislava than all of those tour group people.

we win.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Nuns with trolleys, Incredible T-shirts & cola-flavoured lemonade

People came in and out literally all night/morning and the squeaking drove us both mad so we got up early to explore the city, just to make sure we hadn't missed anything. We have a small guide book about Bratislava and the translations are wonderful! I know it must be really hard to translate things with accuracy and they have done a really good job, but there are some gems:

"From Bratislava you can buy many souvenirs... figures from ear leaves"

"During Christmas fair... products from wood, leather, wicker and ceramics attract each eye" ...separately?

I am in love with the translator.

We walked into town passing the Presidential Palace, where there were 5 guards when we usually only saw 2. We watched for a while and realised they were taking part in the changing of the guard ceremony. They looked very dapper in their grey trousers, beautifully laced blue jackets and dark grey hats with huge white feathers. The gates were wide open so we could see the whole thing close-up. The fountain outside the palace was on today (it hadn't been before) and was sparkling in the morning sunlight, so we took more fountain photos and set off for the castle. We passed some good graffiti on the way up, and the banks beside the outer castle walls were speckled with small blue flowers. The castle is very modern; it was first mentioned in records from before the 10th Century but it has been re-built and added to a lot since then. Passing a long crenelated area as we walked towards the main part of the castle, John started singing "Celebrate" but replaced the title word with "crennelate". The main part of the castle had lots of barriers because bits were still being re-built. Cue scaffolding.

Walking down the hill from the castle to town we noticed (after seeing it on a postcard and wondering where it was) a bridge with what looked like a stereotypical UFO on top of it. It has a revolving restaurant at the top, I read somewhere. When we were back in town we saw graffiti on the pavement making it look as though the paving slabs had been stitched together, a sperm-inspired fountain and a huge (12 foot high) silver sculpture of a woman bending over wearing a cowboy hat, which reminded me of Nico Robin.

There are a huge number of tramps in Bratislava and nearly all of them have yellow shopping bags from a supermarket called 'Billa'. When we had our lunch, John couldn't help but buy one and sit on a bench looking "trampish". Unfortunately, now he has shaved off his beard he doesn't quite pull it off, though he has not had a haircut in nearly 5 months so he's not too far off! While sitting there eating our lunch, not being trampish, we saw our first nun of the day, wearing brown, and 4 priests. We talked about Catholicism and Christian philosophy for nearly an hour then moved to a nicer spot outside the Old Town Hall (which has a beautiful yellow and green tiled roof), I ate a caramel flavoured ice cream and we saw another 3 blue-clad nuns, one of whom had a trolley.

The sky overhead was a beautiful blue, lightly dusted with fluffy white clouds, yet somehow it started raining while we were nun-watching. We took shelter and looked again for snowstorms (just in case) but I don't think they exist in Slovakia, despite the capital being only an hour away from Snowstorm HQ in Vienna. Walking away from the town centre we saw 3 more nuns and the nun with the trolley again! We also saw a man wearing a t-shirt saying "Smog Excellent Options" and somehow found ourselves in the seedy area of town. We quickly turned around, saw another nun, and noticed the second shop in town with a big London Underground sign.

After all the wonderful t-shirt slogans we have seen in Europe, I couldn't help but wander into a tacky-looking clothes market and we were not disappointed! The first stall had boxer shorts which said "Be Man Which Wants to Woman" and other stalls further in had more awesome t-shirts, including ones emblazoned with the wonderfulness that is: "Don't Get Wormy" and "I'm You'r Hot Not". We couldn't help but sing along when one of the stallholders' phones went off and the market was filled with the sound of David Hasselhoff singing 'Looking for Freedom'. We thought that that would be it as far as t-shirts went until we saw the most wonderful item I have ever seen. You'll have to wait and see it, but I can assure you it is AMAZING! We left the market and passed a shop selling small glass animals, in the window they also had glass mermaids, an Adam and Eve, an Elvis and a priest, but no nuns :(

We stopped by Tesco and noticed a picture of an old man with a stick with a big cross through it - no old people allowed in Tesco! John remarked that it was because it was a "youth-ermarket" and it took a long time to forgive him such an awful pun. We walked through a different park on our way home and noticed that the gardeners wear, not only red trousers, but red dungarees! We had a picnic in the garden when we got back, which consisted of bread, cheese, crisps, apple and blackcurrant juice and chocolate yoghurt. It was very nearly ruined by the horrible bulldog who lives at the hostel who (possibly after being fed beer by the Aussies last night) was ill in the garden. Everyone who was here yesterday had checked out and headed to new places, treating Bratislava as a stopover only, and it's funny to think we still have 3 more nights here when most people we've spoken to have told us they "did" Bratislava in 2 hours. I think they're lying - they can't have seen many nuns in that short time!

Nun Count: 8

Tramp Parties, Mozart drink & Spleen jewellery

Unfortunately, the new people in our dorm on our last night were horrible, unfriendly, inconsiderate kids who stayed up talking, shouting and squawking until the early hours. They completely ignored the fact that we were all in bed and made no effort to be quiet. It was such a shame as this was the first time we'd shared a dorm with anyone rude in the whole time we've been travelling. We got up early to go with Nicole, Rob and Hannah to the train station and although we walked and they took a train, we beat them there! We waited for them for a while, but noticed an earlier train to Bratislava so we hopped on. The train only took an hour, and again we passed lots of pretty countryside, yet more fields of sunflowers, a field full of hares and some goats sitting on a small shelter near the tracks.

From the main train station, where we saw two nuns, it was only a 5 minute walk to our hostel. There are lots of rooms and they are all named after a country, we were in the Croatia room, which is nice as we love Croatia! There was a nice girl from the Netherlands there who is doing a "proper" south east Europe adventure (it's her second time) including Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova and Ukraine. Maybe next time. We walked into town, which was only 10 minutes away, and saw the entire "Historical Centre" during our first day in the city. It was completely empty until we stumbled upon a church off the central square (which was not marked on the map) out of which people were pouring! We thought it was a wedding to begin with, but there were no obvious bride/groom characters, and then we noticed that people were holding certificates and they all had a bouquet of flowers, even the men. We stood and watched while we tried to work out what was going on (we eventually gave up) and we saw 10 more nuns!!!!!!!!!! There were also 6 monks and 2 priests, it was incredible! We had only been in the city an hour and already our nun count had surpassed any other Nun Day!

Walking around town we also saw "The Restaurant at the End of the Galaxy", made friends with another family of sparrows, saw lots of "modern art" but, despite all the tourist shops, not a single snowstorm. The touristy places are all really nice and sell folk art: pretty ceramics and wooden angels and things, which are all very nice but not even a speck of glitter in sight! As we were walking around town we walked through a "park" called "Nam. Slobody" which was full of benches, most of them inhabited by tramps, had a huge Communist-style sculpture in the centre and blue stencilled fish on the steps leading down towards the sculpture. It's not a very pretty park, but it's one of our favourites :) the city reminds us a lot of Belgrade - there's a real mix of old and new in the city and sometimes when in a rundown area of town you'll come across a beautiful building right in the midst of it all.

After buying lunch we sat outside a market, ate apricot flavoured jaffa cakes with "chocolate-like" coating, and saw another nun. The benches in Bratislava aren't like the single person benches in Hungary, but they're the exact right size for two people, no more. There are a lot of statues in the city, pretty much all of the tourist tat that isn't folk art are bronze figurines of these statues. There is one called "Rubberneck" which is of a man leaning out of a manhole, one of a spying man called "Taunter" and one of Schöner Náci who was an eccentric dandy from the early 20th Century who wore a top hat and tails everywhere, and who gave flowers to ladies in the street and apparently sometimes also sang to them! On our way back to the hostel we passed a bank which was also a coffee shop and an old woman wearing a t-shirt saying "Illegal Night Show". I shudder to think.

We stayed in on our first night in the city, and sat in the dungeon-themed hostel bar (blood and limbs everywhere) with a couple of Brits, a couple of Americans who were hilarious and should have had their own TV show, Tom Green style, a few Australians and the nice Dutch girl we'd met earlier - only the second European we have met on the entire trip. We chatted merrily for hours about many things, including Jedi ranch-hands, then the drinking games began. Deciding not to even attempt to beat the Aussies we snuck upstairs to our 10-bed dorm (the largest so far) and snuggled down in our squeaky bunks.

Nun Count: 13!

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Montag ist Bananetag

We had a very lazy Sunday morning, despite very loud church bells ringing from down the road early in the morning. We set out for breakfast not realising that Vienna is closed on Sundays. We finally came to a bakery in the centre of the city and breakfasted outside the Hofburg, while watching lots of horses (wearing ear hats) and carts, and listening to the haunting sound of a young boy playing a recorder/keyboard type instrument. There were hundreds of tour groups around, but when we went 100 metres to the north of the city there was no one there. We decided to go and see a pretty building we had seen lit up the night before and it turned out to be the Rathaus building. We wandered all around and also saw Parliament and Votivkirche, a really pretty church with scaffolding on...

The entire area was full of really grand buildings and there were very few people there, it was like our own little corner of the city. We sat in Rathauspark, saw some men with sausage dogs and were laughed at while playing in the park by an old man on a bench. We walked back to town, passing a shop called "Bags With IQ" and went on a search for a snowstorm. It didn't take long and, content with our purchase, we stopped for ice cream (hazelnut and amaretto semi-freddo) and slowly walked back to the hostel. We saw a shop called "Handy John" on the way back to the hostel, and passed a night club called "Your House".

We had a new guy in our hostel that night, a young French guy called Martin who has been hitch-hiking around Europe and is planning to head from here to south-east Europe. So there were 7 of us in the dorm - Nicole & Rob, the guys from Kansas, Tiffany & Tamara, sisters from California, us and Martin. We had a really nice night in just chatting about art and photography (in which Nicole majored) and watching ridiculous shows on MTV while trying to explain what was happening to Martin, who had fairly limited English. We had a great night in (one of my favourites of the whole trip) and, after doing some laundry in the bathroom sink, we snacked on bread and chocolate spread. At around 11pm a guy from reception came up and asked us to keep the noise down and we felt like schoolkids. We finally went to bed after another lightning storm, but the Americans stayed up another couple of hours. I, however, fell fast asleep to the soothing sound of the rain on the windowsill.

Martin left early the next morning, to hitch-hike to Budapest, and the Americans went out early too. We eventually got up and, after all the walking we have done lately, we decided to treat ourselves to a tram ride! The tram was really bizarre, it went underground and the stations were like tube stations. We had a 10 minute journey down to the south west of the city, the only part we had not yet visited. The entire area looked really rundown and when we tried to find a Lomo shop it ended up being just a warehouse :( from there we walked to Schloss Schonbrunn, where we saw a nun wearing a pale grey skirt suit. We picnicked under an arch of the palace while it rained all around us. We dropped a couple of crisps and watched in fascination as a mass of ants enveloped them and, instead of moving them anywhere, it looked like they were holding on and sucking all the flavour off. We watched for about 15 minutes then went for a rainy walk around the palace grounds. The gardens were really pretty, lots of fountains and beautifully patterned flowerbeds. In a corner at the far end of the palace grounds was a zoo called the Imperial Zoo, so John and I did what can only be expected of us, very bad Darth Vader impressions along the lines of: "Luke, I am your father... Now let us see the pandas."

We passed loads of fountains, took obligatory fountain impression photos and saw ducks racing in one of them. The rain got much worse so we headed back under cover, stopping by the ants to check their progress. The crisps were significantly lighter in colour than they were, so they must have sucked them dry! The toilet at the palace was really swanky and the middle-aged assistant at the front entrance had a computer on which she was playing some kind of role-play game. The other cool thing about the toilet was that after it flushed the toilet seat rotated and a bit shot out of the cistern bit to wipe the seat as it rotated! The rain progressed into a big ol' storm so we sat under cover and people and lightning watched. We saw a man with the highest waisted trousers ever, a huge grasshopper jump onto the head of a young girl and the fattest pigeons we have ever seen. The air was really warm and muggy and the lightning was cracking right above us, but we got impatient and (armed with our huge Ljubljana umbrella) braved the rain and headed to the centre of town through the "alternative" area of Vienna. We got to the Hofburg just in time to meet Nicole, Rob, Tiffany, Tamara and Hannah for dinner. We went to a Turkish/Mediterranean restaurant and had another lovely evening. They were all very amused when I remarked that I was quite fond of John (which I am!) and we made a plan to have a USA road trip next year as a Room 206 reunion. Tiffany and Tam left to get their bus to Venice and John and I walked back to the hostel for a quiet night in on our last night in Vienna.

On our way back we passed a billboard poster advertising the Imperial Zoo, which had a big picture of a panda and a speech bubble saying "Hello, Little One. How nice it is to see you LIVE!" This made me glad we hadn't gone to the zoo after all.

The Opera Toilet, Impossible Rain & Extreme Theatre

After a weird night (where I had sneezing fits every few hours and the guy above me, after getting in at 4am, sleep-talked the whole morning) we checked out and went to get our train. We were 40 minutes early so we did a bit of people-watching to pass the time. We've seen more goths here than anywhere else on our trip, and some more brilliant t-shirt slogans:

"Inside the Downtown perfect"
"Turtle On Me"
"Check it, Wear it or Leave it Alone!"
"Win Some Cash!"
and the best one ever, "Privileged Snack"

There were 3 old men on the edge of one of the platforms, all with chess boards set out for a game. A couple of people went up and had high-speed games with them and I couldn't tell if they were paying for the privilege or paying up because they had lost the game. The announcements at the train station were really pretty and melodic. Our train to Vienna was completely packed, no compartment just for us this time! We met some other Interraillers, though they looked very clean and tidy and I noticed on their tickets that this was only their second journey so that would explain it. We looked like that once... I slept most of the 3 hour journey, and there was no passport check at the border, which was a shame as we wanted more stamps in our passports.

The weather in Vienna was lovely and we U-Bahned it to our hostel, which turned out to be another of those hotel/hostel jobbies, and our room was huge! Bags were dumped and we left for an afternoon wander. We walked to the centre of town and saw Stephansdom, a beautiful cathedral in the heart of the city. There was only scaffolding on it, wasn't there? We made our way inside, despite all the tour groups, and it really was very pretty, there were candles everywhere and when we peeked around the corner into the praying area we saw two nuns - one dressed in black and one in pale blue. Further into the cathedral we saw another three nuns, all in pale blue. We walked to the west of the city and saw the Hofburg and the Musuem Quarter. We spied some snowstorms, but they cost 15 Euros, and walked pastVienna's Opera Toilet. On the sign outside it said "The Opera Toilet welcomes you with the Danube Waltz by Johann Strauss! A theatrical ambience for nature's call!"

We walked home, getting lost along the way, and bought falafel from The Snack Academy and apple juice from Billa - a fine feast! We saw three odd and grumpy-looking teenage boys (separately) who were all wearing t-shirts saying "Smile if you're Horny". We have seen these t-shirts before, but never on such depressed looking people. Back at the hostel we were joined by an Argentinian couple, a German guy who's training to be a doctor, and an American guy.

After a fairly peaceful sleep (no sleep-talking but very odd mattresses) we took to the city again. We started by going to Schloss Belvedere, a very pretty palace surrounded by botanical gardens and lakes. We walked through the gardens and up to Schwarzenburg Palace at the other side of the gardens, then up through the east of the city towards Prater Park in the north east corner of the city. We had read that there was a big ferris wheel there, but there were also another 200 or so fairground attractions. We used an entire roll of film there alone, there were so many pretty flashing lights and loads of really odd sculptures. We ate pistachio ice cream and wandered among all the stalls. There were a few souvenir shops, but all the snowstorms were crazy expensive again. We read in one of the tourist places that snowstorms were actually invented in Vienna, so we had to get one from here, no matter how much it cost!

After leaving the fair (and walking through Antifascismplatz) we headed back to the centre of town, ate bread and crisps, drank Trendy Cola and watched lots of old men walk down the street beside us talking to themselves. The weather was around 28 degrees and the sky was bright blue, not a cloud in the sky, so imagine our surprise when it started raining! Coming up to the cathedral we noticed lots of women dressed as Mozart, and decided to slowly wander home while people-watching again. We saw a man in a pink shirt with a Burberry tie, passed a Friends of The Earth stall pumping out jungle music (get it?) and an amusing French Canadian doing, in his own words, "Extreme Theatre". We found another Hotel Bristol, and watched as two young women proudly posed outside it while photos were taken. I'm tempted to start a Hotel Bristol Quest for our next adventure - to visit each one and see what all the hype is about!

We took a route that would pass by Karlskirche, the prettiest church in the city in my opinion, and saw a shop window full of novelty toilet-brush holders, including lots of dogs, ducks and a snail, and realised that in order to get to the hostel we had to walk up "Favourite Street". Dinner was pastay and soupy and we met the new guys in our dorm - 4 more Americans and 2 Chinese ladies. We went for another wander in town just as it was getting dark, as we wanted to see the city by night. We were expecting the cathedral to be all lit up and pretty like in lots of postcards we had seen, but it wasn't. The extreme theatre guy was still there though, and had a vast crowd this time. The laughing filled the entire square and we slowly walked home for an early night.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

A day trip to Eger and the castle and a half

On our fourth day in Budapest we decided to take a day trip to Eger, to the north east of the city, as we had read about the castle there and simply couldn't resist! The journey took 2½ hours and was absolutely beautiful. The train ride into Hungary had been so disappointingly dull that we hadn't been expecting much, but it was lovely. We passed lots of huge fields full of sunflowers, some very pretty houses and lots and lots of countryside. The first thing we saw when we got off the train in Eger were some swallowtail butterflies, which made me very happy. Eger is such a pretty town, kind of like a very concentrated and compact version of Budapest, with lots of elaborate and very unique looking buildings, my favourite being the big Orthodox church in the centre where we sat and ate granita and listened to the pretty chimes of the clock tower. While sitting there we also saw a nun, some men with fantastic moustaches and more people wearing red trousers than I have ever seen in my life.

The castle in Eger, the main reason we went there, lived up to the hype. A lot of it was being done up, but the bits we saw were really pretty and from there we had great views over the entire town. I can't get across in words how good it was, so you'll all have to wait for the photos.

The touristy shops in the town were far more obvious than in Budapest, where we'd only seen a couple, but I'm sad to report we did not find a single snowstorm. However, they did have wine in small fun bottles shaped like boots and horses! Wine horse strikes again! We walked through town after seeing the cathedral and various churches and noticed that the road crossings don't beep like they normally do, they instead have a man's voice saying something in Hungarian, l imagine it's "please cross now", and he sounds just like Emperor Palpatine!

The train ride back to Budapest was crazy hot, but the scenery was nice and we'd picked up a big bottle of water from a Tesco (!) in Eger, so we were OK. Back in Budapest we attempted to locate the Chinese market we had read about, but the heat was so intense that we had to give up. We had a nice walk back to the Metro and saw a pair of old ladies with matching embroidered red boots and counted 6 women with their arms in slings.

A family came onto the Metro the stop after us who smelled just like powdered jelly, and when we got back to the hostel John shaved off his beard :(

Jam Pub, Gorilla Biscuits & Evangelical Gymnasium

We both slept well the next night, despite the heat, waking only once to the American guy in the bunk above me sleep-talking. Our first stop of the day was the Buda Royal Palace, which was incredibly pretty. We had wondered why we hadn't seen any tourists in the city so far, but we found it was because they were all up there, scores of them! We found a snowstorm (woo!), took some photos for some tourists and ate apple pie ice cream, while enjoying the beautiful views over the Danube. We headed down the hill towards the Fisherman's Bastion and Mathias Church which, as we had been expecting, was covered in scaffolding. I have no idea why the whole of Europe chose summer '08 to do all their renovations, but it is incredibly annoying! We sat on a bench by the river and after seeing all the tramps in the city I was inspired and had a tiny nap. We continued by walking over Széchenyi Iánchid (chain bridge) to Pest and took in the huge parliament building before heading to the south of the city for yet more wandering.

We picnicked on a wall near the National Museum, eating egg sandwiches and crisps which looked and tasted (I imagine) like those packaging foam things you get in parcels that look like Wotsits. On the Metro back we noticed the lovely atmospheric lighting on the trains for the first time, they are so much prettier than London tubes, and saw a teenage boy wearing a backpack saying "100 years of aspirin! The future has just begun!"

While buying postcards, tickets and other things we have found that most people will speak to us in French when it's obvious that we don't speak Hungarian, which we have really appreciated, as it's so much easier to understand! Everyone we have met here has been so helpful; we had read about Hungarians being some of the most helpful people in Europe, but they've gone out of their way to help us out, whether it's letting us in front of them in a queue or helping us buy tickets, they've all been lovely!

On our way to town later that evening we saw some note-worthy t-shirts:

"All Spots On Me"
"I'm your most basic assistant"
and "Incomplete, Different, Daring, Shy"


Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Heavy Tools and Zwack Unicum

We were driven from Lačaves to Ormož by possibly the youngest taxi driver in the world. The 6 hour train journey to Budapest was the most uneventful we've had so far, there was nothing interesting about it apart from a large field full of sunflowers, which was beautiful. All the places we passed through looked run-down and dingy and in fact, that was my initial impression of Budapest itself until we'd been there a few hours. We arrived mid-afternoon and headed to the nearest ATM so we could get a tram to our hostel. It took 6 cash machines before we decided enough was enough and went and asked a man in a bank why our cards wouldn't work. We were told that English cards didn't work in Hungary and that our only option was the one bank we hadn't yet tried... thank goodness it worked, but by that time (we'd been traipsing around for an hour already) we (I) were (was) annoyed and tired and hurting. We walked a couple of km to the nearest Metro and hopped on a tram. Looking like lost tourists, it was no wonder that an old lady sitting opposite us asked us if we needed any help (in perfect English I must add). It turned out that yes, we did need help, as we had just missed our stop. We finally got to the hostel after 2 and a half hours of near panic (on my part) in Budapest. After a quick rest we walked back to the city. I'm amazed we didn't collapse, we had walked over 5 miles in our first couple of hours of being in the city, 2 of which were done with heavy backpacks. The evening was warm and Budapest was pretty, but everything seemed to close early on Monday nights so we headed back to sleep off all the walking we had done. A small (and gross) example of how much walking we did: the entire soles of my feel peeled off in the shower that night. They were not happy bunnies.

The next morning (after a great sleep) I woke with excrutiating pain in my right leg. I have no idea what it was, whether I had slept awkwardly or had pulled a muscle, but my god did it hurt. After a couple of paracetamol I decided to risk it and we set off on what was to be (though we hadn't planned it to be) the longest walk of our entire trip. We toured nearly the whole city (somehow forgetting to go to the "city centre"), we saw Szt. Istaván Basilica, the Opera House, went to the city park and saw Hösök Tér (Heroes Square), and the beautiful Vajdahunyad Castle (where snowstorms cost €12!). This not being enough of a schlep for us, we decided to walk home through all the back streets, in order to get a "real" feel of the city. We ate blackberry ice cream then stopped at Mammut, a shopping mall with a huge bronze mammoth outside it, to buy some real food. The place was amazing! Neither of us like shopping malls as a rule, but his one was perfectly designed and so calming, the layout and lighting were spot on and there were pretty silver decorations hanging from the 4 floor high ceilings, which twisted and sparkled in the light. In the central area on the ground floor was an interactive fountain which had buttons at the sides that you could press and it would determine what the fountain did next. We watched it from the second floor and the central flow of water shot up so high that we could almost reach it from where we were standing over the balcony! The mall also had a big mirrored ceiling area on one of the floors above the escalators which had huge white polar bears and a stag which were hanging down from the ceiling so that when you looked up into the mirrors they looked the right way up, as though they were looking into their own reflections in a pool of water.

Outside the shopping centre we noticed that instead of having "normal" benches, the benches here were for one person only, and they were dotted along the street, sometimes on their own, sometimes up to three in a row. We had a lovely evening wander after dinner and saw the world's largest egg-timer (apparently).

Total walking distance for the 2 days: 20km, phew!

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Taste My Rust!

Breakfast the next morning was another splendid affair, this time served in the ornate Venetian Room. Unfortunately we were unable to see Edward, my Granny Kate's brother, as he had had to fly to London on short notice, and his flight back to Salzburg got in at the exact time our first train of the day left :( the first train of the day, to Linz, was a little late and packed full of Austrian football fans from Innsbruck on their way to Vienna for the match against Germany. Sat opposite us was a man with an Austrian football shirt, lederhosen, long red socks and traditional-looking fringed shoes. On his knee was a Tyrolean mountain hat, which we had been tempted to buy in Innsbruck, with a huge pheasant feather sticking out of it. On our second train we picnicked and I sang about sweetcorn and insects to pass the time. Our passports were not checked as we left Austria and entered Slovenia, like they haven't been for the last few borders we have crossed. Our final train, from Maribor to Ormož, was brightly grafittied on the outside and full of students. We nearly missed the station, as each one has only a small sign informing you of where you are. When we got off the train it was completely empty apart from the two other people who got off the train when we did. The station appeared to be closed, there were no timetables and no staff. We got a taxi to our village, Lačaves, and were met by the neighbour's son, Jerry. The house is perched on a hillside with vineyards all around it and behind it down the sloped garden. We spent our first few days there getting ourselves used to the area and took walks between the vines where we later saw a young deer. Outside the house are two large cherry trees, one of which is home to a family of blue tits, who we watched with interest the whole time we were there.

We stayed at the house in Slovenia for 2 weeks, but had no access to the internet so you'll have to have the whole lot in one go...

After dusting off the bikes we found in the spare room we headed out for a ride, our first being a mere 5km, the second trip being over 15km! We were very impressed since it's been about ten years since either of us cycled! During these bike rides I taught John the names of all the flowers, birds, insects and butterflies and we made friends with a small grasshopper who hopped onto John's belly and from there onto my head! In a bit of a role switch, I also had to mend his bike chain twice during our rides, silly John!

We tried all the local wines, the ones from the vineyard outside the house and some from the neighbour's vineyards too. We had been given bottles of the stuff by the neighbours and been told to help ourselves to the cellar in the house, woop!

After a few days we decided to take a long ride to the nearest big supermarket, nearly ten kilometres away, but foolishly didn't think to take our backpack and were given only shoddy bags which broke after a couple of kilometres. What a sight I must have looked with a packet of Jaffa Cakes poking out of each of my side pockets and a huge tin of peach slices down my vest top! Cycling around here (preferably sans peaches) is just perfect - whizzing past vineyards and patchwork fields on either side of the roads, the air perfumed with sweet figs and rosehips.

The first few days at the house were thundery but the second week was crazy hot, and eventually became too hot to go for bike rides during the day and we had to resort to watching Adriatic MTV (it was awesome!) and a local channel which showed people playing the accordion no matter what time of the day or night. During the thunderstorm that night we watched tacky-looking Latin American soaps and read. In the time we were there I got through 9 books, including 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime', 'Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress' and 'The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency' which had reviews on its front cover from, amongst others, my great aunt Shena and Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers, which was an odd combination to come across!

One of my favourite memories of the entire time we spent there was a warm, stormy evening (after the week of crazy sun when it was too hot to do anything except read) when we were entertained by the biggest and most beautiful storm either of us have ever seen. The lightning started just in the sky, volleying between the clouds, highlighting them in golds and pinks, then when it finally started raining it came down in silver streaks, lighting up the rain and making it look like glitter falling from the sky. The storm caused most of the TV channels to die so we stood on the balcony and watched the storm play out above us until the rain got too much and we retreated to watch it from the sofa. I have never seen a storm as pretty as that, the lightning wasn't like "normal" lightning, instead of heading down to the ground from the sky it moved between the clouds, zigzagging across the sky horizontally, in single streaks, in forked streaks and one time spread out like the veins of a leaf. The thunder rumbled for hours and the lightning struck pretty much constantly. After a number of hours it finally stopped and the silence was filled with the chirruping of a hundred grasshoppers.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Funk Taxi, Bar Flip & mermaid horses

A long overdue Salzburg catch-up...

We woke to sun streaming through our windows and excitedly went to breakfast in the Great Hall. We were not disappointed: breads, jams, yoghurt, cereal, fruit, nuts, chesse, cold meats, sausages, bacon, scrambled eggs and cake! Guests from the wedding trickled in, but we had a table to ourselves. I drank Assam tea and multivitamin juice and devoured an entire plate of eggs on toast, and John was as happy as Larry with all the meat he was now able to have.

We took a stroll around the lake after breakfasting, where we saw dozens of pretty blue dragonflies, lots of geese and a coot family with a couple of ducklings who followed us up the road for a good 10m, as though we were coot pied pipers. I was amused to see other "grown-ups" making goose and duck sounds at the birds, and relieved that it wasn't just us. We walked the circumference of the lake then past wild strawberry-lined hedges towards the Festung Hohensalzburg. Typically, part of the fortress had scaffolding on - that stuff seems to follow us! Regardless, it was a really awesome castle, there were rooms full of weaponary, armour and medals, a Golden Chamber, a gallery of torture devices and a museum called 'Welt der Marionetten' which was fairly freakish. During our walk around the fortress we saw a woman dressed all in Burberry, shoes and all, and learned about Archbishop Leonardus whose coat of arms has a turnip on it. We walked up to the highest point of the fortress, the viewing platform, and giggled as an angry Japanese man was being told off by a tour guide for not smiling in his photos.

We walked to the main part of town through the Fan Zone and saw a poster advertising bands who were due to be playing there later in the week. Our favourite band was Pond Pirates who were apparently an amalgamation of rock, jazz, ska, reggae and polka. We walked past a lovely shop called 'Christmas in Salzburg' and got all excited about it, despite it being 191 days away and passed YET ANOTHER Hotel Bristol, the swankiest we have seen so far. Heading towards the train station we passed Elmo Cafe, a sign saying 'Space Invaders Against Sexism' and a woman on a bike wearing what used to be a floppy straw hat but had been cut into a baseball cap.

After reserving our seats we walked through the city, now almost empty of fans, and saw a baby bluetit, a hoover shop with the "Vampyr Power" hoover in the window and a Hotel Sacher van with a pun on the numberplate. Having had such a nice day we rewarded ourselves with some warm food (more falafel for me!) and wondered why English takeaways don't also wrap the food in foil to keep it warm. We saw two nuns, neither singing, one of whom was dashing somewhere at great speed. We took a shortcut back to the Palace, and on the way saw a horse with an emo hairstyle and a foal, a pond full of flamingoes, some baby goats and piglets, and two ducks with blue beaks (they are called ruddy ducks)! We took a final walk around the Palace grounds and met another family of ducks, this time with ELEVEN tiny ducklings!

The Cow of Music, Fingerlos Cafe & brooms with glasses

We caught an early train to Salzburg and arrived to beautiful blue skies and sunshine. Despite having looked for a hostel months in advance we were unable to find anywhere to stay (unaware at this time that the football was on) and it had looked for a while as though we would have to remove Salzburg from our itinerary, until I was reminded that my Granny Kate's brother and wife live here. We contacted him and arranged to stay with him here, at Schloss Leopoldskron. Some of you might recognise the Palace, as it was used in the filming of The Sound of Music! It is a really beautiful building. We knew we would enjoy Salzburg, but having somewhere so magnificent to stay really does help!

The palace is only 15 minutes away from town so we checked in and headed straight back out again. The streets were flooded with Russian and Greek football fans and it was impossible to get a real sense of the city when it was so full. We walked through the old part of town, over one of the bridges and through the Mirabellgarten, which was also filmed at, and found ourselves in a dwarf-filled garden. It wasn't so much a garden as a patch of grass with a path lined with stone dwarves circling it. There were lots of people taking "wacky" pictures of themselves with the dwarves but we refrained from doing so. I could not resist, however, having my photo taken with one of the huge stone unicorns we later spotted. I expected that picture to be my favourite of the trip, little knowing that the actual best picture of the trip was waiting for me just around the corner... Sat on a bench were not one, not two, but THREE NUNS! I know some of you will no doubt shudder with embarrassment at what I am about to tell you, but I simply couldn't walk past them without asking to have my photo taken with them. Even with my poor German I was able to ask them and they laughed, I think in disbelief that I would want to have my photo taken with them. They shuffled up, I sat down and we chatted in broken German/English about our trip and they chuckled when we told them England weren't in the football because they are rubbish. I wanted to hug them to say thank you as we left, but wasn't sure how appropriate that would be. If only they had sung to me, my Nun Quest would be complete.

Skipping through the streets, as only a nun-obsessed Vixie can, we reached a fairly dull looking modern area of town which we would have walked straight past had we not noticed what looked like the Crystal Dome from The Crystal Maze. Never wanting to miss a good photo opportunity, and obviously not having had enough excitement so far, we stepped into the "art" and had obligatory photos taken. Thinking things could not get any better we walked up a street where two women were playing badminton, right in the middle of the road. Salzburg is an odd place.

Because of all the football fans it was hard to get through town and see it properly, so we walked back to the Palace we'll be calling home for the next couple of days. When we got back we saw lots of people in wedding attire. Wondering how awesome it would be to have your wedding in a palace, we remembered how perfect our own wedding was (even sans palace) and went to bed happy and content.

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Ich habe nur meine lederhosen vergessen!

On the way to the station to catch our train to Munich we passed, for the last time, my favourite shop in Innsbruck: 'Feeling Fashion - Trendy clothes for Trendy people'. The shop contains my favourite t-shirt slogan of the entire trip...

Secret Service Days
55 Days
Eddie Tigger
Secret Service

...written in silver on a turquoise t-shirt. Had it not been €35 I would have bought one for everyone I know.

Seeing another nun on the way to the station brought the Innsbruck Nun Count to an abysmal 2. She did not board the train, and instead we were joined by a dozen German football fans. As they sat down we noticed one had an enormous gash in his head, one had underpants on his head and one had an incredibly rude (but I don't think he knew that) slogan on his t-shirt. They ate sausages from a jar during the two hour journey.

We pulled into Munich earlier than scheduled, dumped our bags at the hostel (fifth floor with no working lift, gah) and set off to explore. The first shop of note was called 'Wormland' so we knew we'd like it here. Further down the street we walked past a Muslim woman whose headscarf was interesting to say the least, there were four motifs printed repeatedly on the scarf fabric and these were: a pair of lips with a big cross through them, an envelope with the words 'love letter' on it with a big cross through it, the word 'love' with a big cross through it, and a telephone with a big cross through it. I was desperate to ask where she had got it, but was distracted when we walked past a chocolate shop with chocolate ladybirds in the window. We went in and it was incredible! We bought what looked like a dark chocolate Colorado beetle decorated with milk and white chocolate, the size of my palm. Thinking it would be hollow, imagine our delight when we bit his tail off and found two little individual chocolates nestled inside! One was a fudge and one was a pistachio/marzipan affair - both were delicious.

We sat eating him on some steps where we also saw a priest with a briefcase and a man with a hat, beard AND pipe! I don't know if anyone else is familiar with the game 'hat, beard, pipe' but basically one receives points for men with hats, beards or pipes, double points if they have two of the above and bonus points for three of the above. It is a rarity, and you can only imagine how hard it was for me to contain my excitement. We also saw a man with a motorised push-bike sailing up a hill while other people were pedalling furiously, a van with a picture of a "rapper" and the slogan 'Pimp Juice' and a poster advertising 'pheromone clubbing'.

We saw lots of pretty buildings, the Theater Kirche, Staatskanzlei, Haus der Kunst and various other things before deciding to cross the river and head towards the Maximilianeum. The hedges that lined the road across the river were swarming with pretty yellow ladybirds and while looking at them we noticed a tramp washing his feet in the river below us.

We walked back to town through the Englischer Garten and stopped off at a supermarket which had cool shopping-trolley-basket contraptions, where we noticed that the eggs come painted fun colours, they sell McDonalds brand ketchup and you can buy chocolate katzenzungens (kitten tongues!)

We watched the Croatia - Germany match in the bar below the hostel and as soon as it had finished there was an enormous thunderstorm. The other bar opened shortly after the match finished and we went there for a free beer tasting. The guy running it, Pete, is awesome. He has a degree in the history of beer, and man does he know his beer. He explained to us all about the Bavarian monks who were the ones who made the beer and how all the peasants were starving to death because the monks were using all the best barley and yeast for beer-making. During Lent the monks had to fast, but they invented a "fasting beer" and they were permitted to drink 3 litres of it a day, and one litre of water. We met an Australian girl called Elise (and her huge stuffed crocodile, Barry) at the bar and we sat and watched Austria - Poland and drank with them until bedtime.

After having the best nights sleep I have had this entire trip, we wandered into a very grey looking Munich. We passed a shop we hadn't noticed the day before called 'Christ'. I wondered what it would sell, but was disappointed to find it was only rubbishy jewellery and I'm not entirely sure the Son of God would put his name to that. We ate chocolate beetles for lunch and continued wandering around in the rain.

We had another fun time that night with Elise, Pete and more beer tasting. We met the old man who lives across the road and comes in for a drink every night without fail. We saw him briefly last night, but he was in high spirits tonight and wanted to join us. For some reason he singled me out of the group, and decided to show me pictures from his wallet of various "sexy" ladies, and some very old newspaper articles along the same theme.

After the beer tasting had finished and the old man had gone home, conversation naturally turned to unicorns, and we were able to show Elise the wonder that is Planet Unicorn. She came to the conclusion that we were insane and I had to remind her that she wouldn't have had as much fun in Munich had it not been for us. We drank and ate pizza into the night, and had a grand old time.

Flying Power & number "0" buses

Breakfast at the hotel was the biggest luxury we have had so far: croissants, jam, nice bread, yoghurt, multivitamin juice, eggs for me and ham for John. We ate as much as we could manage, it was free after all, then set off to catch our train to Austria.

The first thing we came across on the train was a topless fat man with a tattoo on his huge upper arm saying simply, "SPACE BEER". This train terminated at Brenner, which is 45 minutes away from Innsbruck. All the signs in the station were in both Italian and German so we had no idea which country we were actually in. We had had no passport checks during the entire journey and everyone there looked bewildered when we attempted to speak Italian to them, so we assumed we were in Austria. The second train was more like a London bus than a train, it had bendy bits, handles coming from the ceiling and fold down seats, but unlike London buses it was full of people dressed in lederhosen! What more could I have asked for? It was like an Austrian dream come true.

The change in temperature hit us immediately, and we were helpfully notified by an LED display outside the station that it was 23 degrees. Walking through Innsbruck we noticed crowds of people wearing red and yellow, and were curious until we realised that the football was actually being played there that night. Our hostel (technically a B&B) was in the old part of the city, above a café. We dropped our bags, grabbed a map and made our way out for a wander. We had been told by the ladies at the hostel to help ourselves to anything we could find in the kitchen, and spying some chocolate milkshake powder we couldn't help but go out to get milk. In the supermarket queue ahead of us was a guy around our age wearing a t-shirt saying "Best of Pork".

As soon as we left the supermarket, milk in hand, the rain started. All the fans watching the big screens must have been drenched, it was a pretty big downpour. We didn't sit to watch either of the matches, but we walked past lots of people huddled under umbrellas watching it, including a large group of Spanish fans outside a café next door to our hostel. As we walked past we noticed two old ladies walk slowly between them and the screen, and they must have thought the funnily-dressed people with flags were waving at them because they stopped, laughed and waved back, staying there for a good minute or two before realising that they weren't waving but telling them to get out of the way of the screen! Old ladies are funny everywhere in Europe!

People in the streets were singing various chants and we felt a little left out, so we decided to join in, shouting and singing the word "milk" (for it was still in our hands) in as many tunes as we could think of. I think it made us fit in :)

As you'd expect there were scores of street vendors, all the usual suspects, but it was the first time I have ever seen a street stall serving champagne by the glass. Austria is so civilized, even the football fans who came into the hostel late that night were sure to be quiet, as they knew we were tucked up for the night.

Breakfast the next morning was yet another treat: bread rolls, delicious homemade jam, creamy hot chocolate, cereal and CAKE! The morning had started so well, until some Scousers came down for breakfast - even the brash American girls shut up when they boisterously entered the room. Listening to them grunting and snorting their food made me think I should pretend to be from Sweden in future. It was like they were speaking in another language, and as they belched their way through breakfast the café quickly emptied.

We did the usual tourist shop expedition, finding only ridiculously over-priced snowstorms. Again, my little heart fell until John suggested that we buy a tiny, kitsch little cuckoo clock instead! I love the man more every day, and I am now the very proud owner of possibly the tackiest, and yet somehow cutest, plastic cuckoo clock ever! It is so awful that it is actually, in fact, sans cuckoo. But I think that adds to the charm and I love it! After dropping it off at the hostel (I don't want it to get damaged now, do I?) we went for another wander, steering clear of the tourists as best we could. We saw yet more signs of how civilized a place this is: the youth spit not on the floor but into bins, and the silhouette men on the roadsigns are wearing hats!

Our nun count was a very disappointing 1, but we did see a fat priest chatting with some football fans and a priest dressed all in white who looked like the Angel Islington from "Neverwhere". We have also seen some Christmas themed graffiti so I think it makes up for it.

Remembering the demand to eat the food in the kitchen, we dutifully responded by eating almost our own weight in free pasta. Lacking any kind of sauce, we headed to the Aldi up the road (they call them 'Hofer' here) where we saw chess piece shaped biscuits and dragon shaped crisps and were served by an A. Unterberger, the fastest checkout girl I have ever seen. It was as though she was possessed - she ran through the items at crazy speed then, inevitably, had to wait ages for people to fiddle with their change, but she even predicted with which coins they would pay and had their change ready before they had even opened their purses. We fooled her by paying for something costing €1.99 with a €10 note.

We also bought some chocolate (the first for ages) and took it with us when we visited Schloss Ambras, the castle just outside the city. We had one of most fun days there: we watched a peacock eat an entire lawn of buttercups, saw a goose chalet, met a hyper-intelligent duck with an enormous head, cheered on a duck dance-off, saw a tiny woodpecker and fed a duckling. Not all of our fun was bird-related, but the majority was. After feeding the duckling and a couple of dancing geese we sat down on a nearby bench to have our chocolate. A squawking sound stopped us mid-bite and we looked around to see another peacock marching towards us. I think he must have been annoyed about not being given any seeds, as he came over and snatched the chocolate out of my hand with his beak! Luckily, it was only a couple of squares, but he swallowed it in one go and then ran off! We finished the remaining chocolate and on the last piece he came back and tried it on again, the cheeky scamp! We quickly hurried on, fearing he might come back and peck at us regardless of whether or not we had chocolate, and stumbled across a bloody great waterfall! Not the kind of thing you expect to run into, but there it was tucked behind the trees, hidden from view like a sneaky assassin. Looking at the map at the entrance when we left, we saw that we had barely walked a third of the actual grounds of the place.

After yet more pasta we walked to the Swarovski shop near our hostel, which was holding an exhibition called 'Winter Wonderland'. Ooh, it was so sparkly! The exhibition itself wasn't as interesting as just walking through the shop seeing all the pretty crystal sculptures, including a tiny purple pufferfish and a tiny green and red cactus.

Unfortunately, our hostel room has no window to the outside world so we are not able to sit and people-watch at our leisure, we have to actually leave the house. The whole city has embraced football fever, every shop has incorporated the theme into their window displays, my favourite being a ladies fashion shop whose mannequins are dressed in pretty floral dresses, shin pads, socks and football boots and made to stand in various football-y poses. Hung from nearly every window of every building in the centre of town are flags of all the participating nations, and fans walk around in their full regalia whether or not their country is playing that day. We decided to watch the Switzerland - Turkey match in a café in town, and found one with a horde of Swedes. We do like Swedes, so we knew we'd have fun. I think we must have watched them more than we watched the football to be honest, they were so entertaining! They were all singing and chanting and having a great time. They had one song in particular that we especially enjoyed: it was to the tune of 'Go West' and it sounded as though they were singing "Stand up, be a unicorn! Stand up, be a unicorn!" We couldn't help but join in the singing, and I wished Toby was with us.

Pope TV & Crock Da Shock!

We left Venice for Verona on a super swanky double-decker train. Verona is the most expensive place on our trip, accomodation-wise, so we only spent one night there. When I booked the place I had no idea that it was actually a 2 star hotel that I was booking! No wonder it was a bit pricey, but it was nice to have a bit of luxury instead of the usual dorm rooms. The hotel itself was lovely, as was the guy at reception when we arrived who thought we must be brother and sister as we looked much too young to be married.

The city is beautiful and, naturally, incredibly romantic. We walked the 3km from the hotel to town in the afternoon sun, passing small lizards left, right and centre, and soon found ourselves at the castle. There wasn't a lot to it, but the views were very pretty. We walked further into town and stumbled across a very famous balcony in a very famous house that belonged to a very famous young lady named Giulietta. The doors and walls leading to the house were absolutely covered in declarations of love and the gates were covered with brightly coloured padlocks inscribed with people's names.

Amazingly, even after looking for snowstorms in all the touristy shops and seeing THE balcony, John still didn't realise why I had wanted to visit Verona, and assumed it was something to do with the castle or the arena, which were his highlights. I couldn't find any snowstorms that had the castle or anything on them, apart from Romeo and Juliet, and the ones I did find were so expensive that I began to wonder if snowstorms are even worth all the hassle!

The sun was still strong (28 degrees apparently) and we "mutually" decided it was ice-cream time. We had Nutella and Crema Biscotti flavours. While eating ice-cream we watched out for nuns, seeing only two in the end, one dressed all in blue and one with a big suitcase. After our short break, we walked past the arena and down towards the river to stroll hand-in-hand in the early evening sun.

On our evening supermarket adventure, this time to look for peanut butter (there was none, but there was hazelnut butter), we saw in the toiletries aisle milkshake-scented and tea-scented body spray! I couldn't help but buy the tea one, mmm tea.

That night we watched the Italy - Netherlands match and felt glad that we hadn't decided to go out to watch it with the Italians of Verona.