Austria! Well, then. G’day mate! Let’s put another shrimp on the barbie

2 August 2014

After our short stopover in Ljubljana we hoped on an early morning train ride towards Vienna. We had what turned out to be a rushed departure as it took a little longer than we thought it would to get some breakfast at the train station. With about 10 minutes before our train was scheduled to depart we thought we had plenty of time to pick up some takeaway and make our way to our platform which from the signs we assumed were right outside the door. Unfortunately breakfast took a few minutes longer than we thought to prepare, and then as we walked through the doors to the platforms we had a panic stricken realization that in order to get to our platform we had to go a few hundred meters down the track to reach an underpass. At this point the departure board had blinking lights showing for our train which we can only assume meant we had to get a move on so we took off at a run (or as fast as you can move with two backpacks strapped to you) and somehow managed to make it onto our train with about 30 seconds to spare. Quite a fun start to the morning.

After several hours we soon were pulling into Vienna and hopping on the metro to get to our hotel.

In the evening we made our way out to Zahel Heuriger to taste some local wines and eat some traditional dishes. Heurigers are local wineries that back in royal times were allowed to open up inside the city center. The wineries specialize in produce young wines so that they only sell what they produced last year. Last time we were in Vienna we had visited a Heuriger that was aimed more at tourists so the wine and food unfortunately weren’t the best. This time we did a little more research and had to travel a little longer on the metro and trams to reach a local establishment and were we glad we did. I opted for the meat stew with potatoes and some veggies and of course sauerkraut (which is really good here, not the crap you find in the stores in the US), while Adam ended up getting the schnitzel which was easily bigger than his face but very delicious. Also the wine actually tasted like wine this time as opposed to the almost cider like variety we had last time.

Today’s Travel: We were back on the train for a six hour trip from Ljublijana to Vienna with a brief stop in Villach to change trains. Once in the city we took the U6 to the U3 to the U2 and walked up the street to our hotel. Later that evening it was on the tram to the metro to a neighborhood just passed the summer palace.

Accommodations: Pension Baroness. Although the hotel does show some age it’s still very clean and quite impressive in its Victorian styling. Also the rooms are seriously large, it’s close to several tram lines and the metro, and has some breakfast options and groceries close by.

Dragons and castles

1 August 2014

With just one full day in the city we didn’t have time for many of the recommended museums (nor to be honest did we really want to go) so we stuck with the main attractions of the city, the dragon bridge and castle.

After breakfast we were once again in travel planning mode for a few hours. Looking at our options for Austria, we decided spending an extra $200+ to see a new city, Salzburg, was not worth the money so we made plans to travel back to Vienna.

For lunch our timing proved to be genius as every Friday from 8am-8pm the square in front of the main church turns into a lively market.

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On one end there are vendors selling fruits and vegetables, in the center hall there is the standard meat, cheese and bread vendors and on the opposite end local restaurants set up shop to serve two to three specialty dishes along with beer and wine vendors.

Yep, bear salami

Yep, bear salami

They even have a vending machine for milk, how quaint

They even have a vending machine for milk, how quaint

For us it was beyond perfect as we were able to try a few dishes and at a very reasonable price. Of course we started with a delicious dessert of fried dough and berries, it was almost like a pancake but with way more butter and sugar but it had fruit, an apple and wild berry compote, so it was perfectly fine to start with!

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After enjoying our meal and wandering through the rest of the market, we walked a few dozen feet and were soon at the Dragon Bridge (this town really is that small where everything is within a minute or two walk).

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In the late afternoon we walked up to the castle. With dark clouds looming out in the distance the weather was actually humid which made us feel like we were traveling in the summer again. After all the rain, cold and dry weather it was actually a welcome feeling even walking up the steep hill in the direct sunlight. Clearly I am absolutely delusional now as anything below 70 without humidity I might as well dress in a snow suit. These next few months of travel should help me adjust back to the temperatures when we return home.

From the castle grounds you could see so many mountain tops out in the distance and the dense green forests that were found within pockets of the city. It still amazes me how quickly the terrain has changed. Just yesterday we were looking out at rolling foothills and now we could see some very high mountain tops.

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Seeing something going on in one of the city parks from the view at the castle, we headed down to investigate what was going on. To our surprise in the center of the park was a beach volleyball court set up to host an amateur competition. Just past the volleyball court, there was another great set up in the park to just hang out and read. Lounge chairs, cushions and books were spread out on the lawn as part of the city’s summer reading program. We had seen a similar set up at the castle which I thought was just an isolated occurrence but it turns out there are set ups all over the city. Checking it out briefly we continued on our walk to Tivoli Park.

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Tivoli Park and their outdoor photo exhibition

Tivoli Park and their outdoor photo exhibition

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For dinner we made our way back to the market. There were just too many restaurants to try to not make it back for dinner. Plus we had eyed up the vendors selling beer and wine at great prices so no restaurant price could compete. When trying to live $150 or less a day we take every opportunity to enjoy what the city has to offer on the cheap. Plus it provided some of the best people watching as this market didn’t seem to attract many tourists.

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With some time to kill before the evening movie we were going to see we made our way back to the main bridge in town where a group of musicians were just about to start to play. I assumed it was a group of student musicians from the local university as they all had some real talent. They started out with some jazz standards but quickly moved on to some modern pop including a fun rendition of Britney’s ‘Toxic.’

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That evening we made our way back up to the castle for the under the stars showing of the movie ‘Gravity.’ 2014 is shaping up to be the year we actually go to the movies. At 9 euro for two the price was right and the setting was great.

Today’s Travel:  Around Ljublijana

Accommodations: Ginger Rooms

Ciao Croatia!

31 July 2014

Knowing that we were planning on taking an early afternoon train to our next destination of Ljubljana we got an early start on the morning to go out and explore Zagreb. We first made our way to the nearby train station to pick up our tickets and some breakfast at a nearby bakery we quickly set off to wander the downtown area.

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We soon found our way to the Zagreb Cathedral and explored the church as well as the surrounding squares.

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We luckily stumbled across a nearby produce market where we decided it would be a good place to spend our remaining Kuna so we didn’t have anything left to convert. We picked up some local produce and some homemade cookies. The produce was only ok, but the cookies were delicious so I guess we made out pretty good.

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We then stumbled across a burger place called Yellow Submarine that we thought looked pretty decent so we popped in for a quick lunch before we had to catch our train. This turned out to be one of the best decisions we made as the burger craving that I’ve randomly be having over the past few months was finally satisfied.

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The burgers here were easily some of the best that we have ever had and I don’t think our In-and-Out deprivation has anything to do with that statement. If you do find yourself in Zagreb with a burger craving I can’t recommend coming here enough.

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After filling our stomachs we made our way to the train station to start our ride to Ljubljana. On the train ride the view from the windows turned from rolling foothills and corn fields to a story book like mountain ranges and valleys with church steeples standing tall above the valley floor but in the shadows of the mountain tops in the near distance.

We arrived at the border where we took a pause as immigration boarded and stamped us back into the EU. Croatia’s borders aren’t completely secure so unlike other countries in the EU where you pass freely without anyone even caring if you have a passport, when leaving Croatia they do, which is great for us because if it was we would have had to apply for a different visa to stay more than 90 days in the EU countries under the Schengen treaty. Once this was all completed the train started up again and we were soon rolling through the Slovenian countryside. The difference was stark as gone were houses with red tile roofs (pretty much every house in Croatia has this) to be replaced with alpine looking residences so that it felt like we were all of a sudden transported to a large alpine village.

We arrived in Ljubljana and walked a few quick blocks to our hotel. Once in our room, we heard loud chants and were curious about their origin. So we took a little walk up the street and found a small protest happening in front of what appeared to be some government building. We have officially arrived, rain and a protest, it is what we bring to almost every city we visit.

In Ljublijana we walked around a portion of the city center including the area where the Friday market was held and the dragon bridge. As we wandered we couldn’t help but feel that this is one of the most quintessential Europe towns. After about 5 minutes we had almost walked the entire city center, which of course was closed off to cars, so we could walk slow, snap pictures and just look up at the building design while completely relaxed.

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While there were a handful of tourist, the city didn’t have the feeling like it was overrun with tourists and that most people were out and about going about their business and meeting with friends and as a travelers we didn’t feel like businesses were out to capture our attention. I guess that is what added to so the easy going feel of this city and why we instantly felt right and home. There is much in town in terms of sightseeing but there is a whole lot of charm plus with the endless amount of cafes/bars this is a place where you could sit and watch the world go by for days.

Today’s Travel: We walked around Zagreb before taking the train to Ljubljana. Once in Ljubljana we strolled around a few sections of the city center.

Accommodations: Ginger Rooms. By far this is one of the best budget accommodations we have found. Located almost precisely between the city center and the train station the location could have not been more perfect. After we checked in and received information on the sites and recommendations on where to eat from reception we quickly settled into our room. There was plenty of space to place our clothes in the closet along with room to store our back packs. The bed was as per usual two twin mattresses within a single frame to create a ‘king’ sized bed which was very comfortable. Included in the room was a bigger than average mini fridge along with a TV much larger than the one we have at home with endless English language channels. This is a place I would recommend to any type of travelers. I only wish they had more properties around Europe.