Saturday, December 30, 2006

Baggage at Heathrow

Baggage at Heathrow Terminal 1. When we arrived back from Prague, Terminal 1 arrivals was full of baggage. Our baggage was a bit late, so we walked around looking at who had lost their bags for Christmas. Warsaw, Edinburgh, Paris - many people had missing presents and clothes. In a way it was funny, but you had to feel for the people. Most of the baggage was due to the fog delays of the previous days.

Fast-forward two days and we are back at Heathrow Terminal 4. Check-in is packed with people and the baggage check-in carousels have broken down. We have four large bags, the remainder of our life from London. We check-in, our bags are tagged... and dumped in a pile in the middle of the terminal. I think we both knew that our previous giggle had just come back to haunt us.

We all know what happens next. We arrive after 7.5 hours at JFK, minus our baggage! Not a single piece of baggage made it onto our flight, only 50% the flight before and none of the flight after. Our first US queue experience is for the British Airways baggage desk.

Here is the upside:

  • Storing our bags at JFK while we were in New York - not required!
  • Storing our bags at LAX while in LA - not required!
  • Collecting baggage at any airport - not required!
  • Clearing customs - not required!
  • Shopping in New York sales. With nothing but clothes on our back we hit the sales in New York to find something to wear!

We still don't have our baggage, and we don't know where it is. But we are arriving home on the 8th and hopefully we will get our baggage sometime after that.

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Leaving London

Packing up to leave London. It is with a twinge of sadness that we pack our three suitcases, two backpacks and two daypacks (!) with the remainder of our gear from London. We have had a great time living in London and being able to travel and see parts of Europe. There are things that we will certainly miss, and things that we won't. And, right on queue, it started drizzling as we left Dave and Karen's house and dragged our bags up to the Angel tube.

Yes, we did get some strange looks from people on the tube. Many wondered 'what the bloody hell are you doing?', others probably 'they will have to pay excess luggage for sure!'. A few even pitied us and helped us get the bags on and off the trains before they were crushed in the doors.

At least we had a plane to get onto. There were a few people in the terminal who had cancelled or delayed flights. The heavy skies that marked our departure from the UK helped add to the delays and chaos in the airport.
Once we had checked in there was nothing left to do but enjoy our flight to JFK. The bags were at the mercy of British Airways. We still have 9 days of holidays in the US before we have to worry about anything.

Walking down the gangway for our last departure from the UK... for the moment. It is a good feeling to be going home!

Thursday, December 28, 2006


Weary after two weeks on the road we hit Prague. It was relief to find our 4-star hotel (our Christmas treat) after all of the hostels and pensions on the way.

Christmas in Prague:

  • No snow just cold - but we did see the snow in Melbourne on the news
  • Christmas markets - we are market old hats at this stage and nothing could surprise us
  • Wandering around the town - town hall, bric-a-brac shops, cobbled streets, locals and the Jewish quarter
  • Christmas breakfast in the hotel and dinner with champagne desert
  • Prague Castle - a somewhat disappointing castle after all of the hype that it received. It has nice views of the city though
  • Charles Bridge - a very nice bridge to look at
  • Vysehrad gardens - peaceful gardens in the middle of the city with beautiful views up and down the river

Click on the photo to see more of Prague

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to everyone from Prague!

We are spending our Christmas Day in Prague, Czech Republic, just the two of us. Our white Christmas hasn't occured, but it is still below freezing. Quite different to Christmas in Brisbane and the rest of Australia, I'm sure.

We hope that everyone has a great day and enjoy your time with your family and friends.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Cesky Krumlov

Today we left Vienna and headed north west into the Czech Republic. We caught a train from Vienna to Gmund on the Austria-Czech border where we had to change trains. In Gmund there was a little coffee shop where we had some lunch and off-loaded what remaining Euros we could.

Arriving in Cesky Krumlov by train leaves you with a 20 minute walk down hill to the town centre. It is no problem though, just probably not the nicest walk in the dark. Cesky Krumlov is a medieval town in the south-west of Czech Republic. We had heard glowing reports about the town so decided to use it as a stop-over between Vienna and Prague to avoid a 6+ hour train journey.

Cesky Krumlov is really a beautiful town. It has a compact old town centre that is on a bend in the river and there is the second largest castle in Czech looming over it. We have traditional Czech dishes for dinner in the town and have a walk around after dark. The town has many little stores that sell original products. As the town is in the heart of Bohemia there are many stores selling glass and crystal. It is quite cheap, but with our suitcases already overflowing back in London there is no way we can get more stuff to take home. Next time I think we will have to come over with some very empty suitcases.

As the town is only a stop-over for us we catch the midday bus to Prague the next day. The bus driver is insane, driving in the middle of the road with a smoke and mobile phone in his hands. Never-the-less we see some great country side on the way to Prague and we get there without incident.

Click on the photo to see more of Cesky Krumlov


Retracing our path to Bratislava, we catch a train back to Vienna. Surprisingly the train ticket on the way back is 50% cheaper. We have booked two nights in Vienna, however we end up staying for a third. Three nights in Vienna:

  • The first night we arrive at the hostel at 7pm. There is a Christmas market and pub crawl advertised to start at 7, so we quickly drop the bags and join the crawl. On the crawl we have 3 Americans, 6 Aussies, 1 Italian and 1 Austrian, who organised it. It was a long night but we had a good time.
  • The second night we go to the Volksoper to see an opera of Hansel and Gretel. Volksoper is a nice opera hall and the opera is enjoyable. We booked 5 euro tickets at the back of the balcony boxes, which were really quite terrible seats. Fortunately the people who booked the seats at the front of the balcony didn't show up, so we sat in the good seats for the whole show!
  • We enjoyed our first opera in Vienna and decided to see a second one at the Staatsoper (State Opera). For this we lined up to get standing tickets which were only 3.50 euros and we had a really good view. The only downside is that you stand up for the whole 3.5 hour show. It is a more professional production and there are a lot more stage props.

During the days we walked around the city looking at the architecture and sights of Vienna. The Spanish Riding School is in the centre of the city and they have exercise sessions everyday. We snuck in to get a look at one of the exercise sessions. Vienna was a relaxing, laid-back couple of days for us.

Click on the photo to see more of Vienna

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


The train to Bratislava leaves from south Vienna and takes one hour to get to Petrzalka, where we catch a bus to Bratislava old town. After finding the B&B we hit the Christmas markets to find some quick and cheap dinner of chicken burgers and gluhwein. And boy was it cheap - our total dinner menu equates to around 3 euros.

Many of the things that can be bought in Bratislava are relatively cheap by EU standards. Slovakia and Czech Republics have both joined the EU and will be introducing the euro.

Around 9pm in the markets a group of four young fellows appeared with an accordian, violin and guitar and started singing traditional Slovakian songs in a tent of the markets. It was completely impromptu and soon a crowd formed with a Slovakian shin-dig ensuing. It was wonderful watching and listening to the music, even as the rain fell.

Something that has to be mentioned about our accommodation is the telephony and bathroom. The telephone has just slipped out of the 60s and the toilet door could not be shut completely if the toilet was to be used in either of the regular positions - sitting or standing.

The main interest points in Bratislava are the Old Town and the castle, which we walked around and through. There are not many tourist attractions in the city and that is not what drew us. It was the culture and people that were different from many of the other parts of Europe that we have seen. So far all of our European travel has been in EU affiliated countries. Slovakia has joined the EU but from what we saw they have not become EU-ised, which was quite refreshing.

We had some great meals in the city by just walking into a random restaurant. Once we got off the main town square the meals were cheap and the restaurants very homely.

For the quirky side of Bratislava you need to look for the statues that are dotted around the town square and surrounding streets. There is paparazzi, a helmeted peeper, a Frenchman and some other entertainer guy.

We had two nights in Bratislava and we really enjoyed our time there. By the end of the second day we had seen all of the sights, but most importantly we experienced the local culture. We both left hoping that the spread of the EU through countries like Slovakia would not destroy the uniqueness that they offer.

Click on the photo to see more of Bratislava

Monday, December 18, 2006

Central Austria

Salzburg to Vienna. Originally we were thinking of catching a train west to east from Salzburg to Vienna. Upon learning the price of two tickets however we decided to hire a car and drive, which ends up being the same price, including petrol.

We get off the A1 at Mondsee, where we saw the Sound of Music wedding church the other day. The road winds around Mondsee and over the mountains between there and Traunsee. There is a heavy frost on much of the road and on the southern sides of the lakes. Basically anywhere that doesn't get sun has a very heavy frost. It is a very cool sight. The lakes and mountains district of Austria is beautiful. There are large mountains that drop straight into the lakes, which are crystal clear and cold.

The drive takes us through Ebensee, Traunkirchen and Gmunden. Ebensee doesn't have much except spectacular views of the lake, mountains and valley. There was an outpost of the Mauthausen concentration camp here. Traunkirchen has a church and a perfectly placed chapel on top of a rocky outcrop into the lake. Gmunden has a castle built on a rocky island, accessible by a traditional wooden bridge.

It was a really great detour off the A1 with spectacular views of the mountains and lakes.

Back on the A1 we drive through to St Florian. Just before Linz we hit very thick fog and the temperature drops from 3 degrees to -1.0 in one kilometer. St Florian has a large abbey, Augustiner Chorherrenstift, which we look at in the dense fog.

Just north is the Mauthausen concentration camp. In this camp over 100,000 prisoners died from 1938 to 1945. Some of the original barracks and buildings still remain. It is very eerie looking around the camp with the fog as you can see from the photos. The woman at the ticket desk was just amazed that anyone wanted to walk around in -3 degrees, heavy fog and light drizzle to see the camp. To add to her amazement was the fact that we were from Australia, in Austria for a week and wanted to dedicate such an awful afternoon to this camp. We topped it off by mentioning that we saw Dachau camp just a few days earlier. (Sometimes it is easier to not straighten out some details with the language barrier!)

We spend the night in St. Polten, which has Christmas markets and a nice B&B. On the way to St Polten we are pulled over by a nice policemen who wanted to check all of our car papers, passport etc! Our first encounter with the police since we left Australia!


Continuing on our trip to Vienna we drive through the Danube Valley. This is one of the prettier areas of the Danube, with the river being flanked by vineyards and cliffs. It is quite similar to the Moselle Valley in Luxembourg. Of note in the valley is Stift Melk, the Benedictine abbey of Melk. This is a massive building looms over the town of Melk. The church inside has a magnificently painted dome and all of the walls are dripping with gold.

Fantastic find of the drive - Schloss Schallaburg, a Renaissance castle set away from any large towns. The castle is supposed to be shut so we want a look at the outside. When we arrive the first, second and third car parks are overflowing with cars. There is a Christmas Advent market on this weekend. Despite the number of markets seen already it provides a nice place to get some lunch.

Sights in the Danube Valley include castle ruins where Richard the Lionheart was incarcerated for a year and the site where a 25,000 year old sandstone statuette of Venus was discovered.

Our final stop is Krems an der Donau which is a nice town to walk around. From there we head straight for Vienna, to find a train to Bratislava in Slovakia.

Click on the photo to see more of Central Austria

Sunday, December 17, 2006



We arrived in Salzburg after a one hour train trip from Munich. After dropping our bags at the hostel we head for (surprise!) the Christmas markets. Much like the markets from
Ulm or Munich these have Christmas gifts and decorations with food and mulled wine. Here we find dinner of corn on a cob, baked potato and Gluhwein.


Waking up in Salzburg. The breakfast for the hostel is quite good - standard fare of cereal, bread, jam, ham, egg, cheese and coffee. There is a frost outside, and in the daylight we can look at the view from the hostel, which is the Fortung Hohensalzburg perched on the cliffs. Today we have booked a tour for the
Sound of Music film sites.

For the afternoon we look through the Mozart museum. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born and lived in Salzburg. The museum is interesting, but doesn't get many points for coherency in the presentation.

Salzburg is nestled in between two cliffs, the Monchsburg and Kapuzinberg. At dusk we ascend the Kapuzinberg cliffs to get a good view of the city. We go back to the old town and peek inside the cathedral. For dinner we have a quick, but good curry meal, no frills and cheap. By accident we stumble across two stores, Easter in Salzburg and Christmas in Salzburg. They sell painted eggs and Christmas baubles of all kinds.

Tonight we spend some time planning the next few days. Once again the Sound of Music movie is on at 8pm, and we are sitting in the common room of the hostel planning our trip, but half watching the movie. Now that we have the inside information and have visited the movies sites the movie takes on a different appearance.


Another glorious day in Salzburg. Today the plan is to ascend the cliff on the other side of Salzburg, the one with the fortress and abbey. 144 stairs and halfway up the Monchsburg cliffs is the abbey that was used in the filming of the Sound of Music. It is also in its own right a very nice chapel. The haze has lifted a bit today and we are offered great views of the mountains around Salzburg.

From the abbey it is a steep walk up to the fortress. The fortress was not set out as a normal castle re-creation, it is mostly a museum. The views from the ramparts were stunning. The fortress is well known for being impenetrable, it has never been taken by force in all of its time.

After the castle we walked along the ridge that castle is on where we found a nice cafe for lunch - beer, hot chocolate, pork schnitzel and views. Down the other side of the ridge is the Augustiner beer hall. This beer hall brews its own beers and serves them in stone mugs. We nip in of course for a quick one before wandering back through the old town for dinner.

Our original plan was to only be in Salzburg for two nights, but we loved the city so much that we decided to stay for a third. Unfortunately the room we had was booked and we had to move to a shared dorm. For travellers like us this made for quite an experience.


Our night in a shared dorm in Salzburg. There were a couple of guys that could really snore. It was not much fun having to be quiet when moving around the room.

Today we leave Salzburg, which is a city that we really enjoyed. The scenery is just so beautiful and the town is peaceful and easy to get around. We pick up a car today to drive from Salzburg to Vienna.

Click on the photo to see more of Salzburg

Friday, December 15, 2006

The Sound of Music

The hills were alive... every night at 8pm in the hostel we stayed in. For the three nights and days that we spent in Salzburg I think that both Kelly and I were humming, singing or playing in our head the soundtrack to The Sound of Music. It didn't help that everywhere we looked in town there was a scene from the movie to be spotted. Movie repetitions aside, it was interesting to grit the teeth and watch bits of the movie each night to point out more of the movie scenes that we had found that day.

On our first day in Salzburg we signed up for one of the three 'official' Sound of Music tours that bus you between the sights and scenes from the movie. Of course it had the obligatory stops and a souvenir shop or two. The tour covered

  • Mirabell Gardens where the Do-re-mi smash-hit video clip was filmed,
  • Frohnburg Castle, the front of the movie house,
  • Garden Gazebo for Sixteen Going on Seventeen,
  • Leopoldskron Castle, the back of the movie house and the lake the kids fall off the boat into,
  • Untersberg, the mountain peak that the family escapes to Switzerland over. Ironically, on the other side of the peak is actually Germany, the Switzerland border is 300km to the south,
  • Mondsee which has the church that the movie wedding was filmed in,
  • Tree lined street where the kids hang out of the trees,
  • The real Von Trapp family house

In addition there are numerous sights around Salzburg that we found on foot. If you keep your eyes open around Salzberg you will likely see every outdoor scene from the movie

  • Nonnberg Abbey, which was the abbey for the movie
  • Mozart Bridge and the path along the river, again for Do-re-mi
  • Scenes in the old town

It was really interesting seeing the places from the movie. Most are still in the same condition as when shot, however a lot are now private residences so tours of the ground or getting too close to the buildings is not possible. Most of the inside scenes were shot in the studios anyway.

Click on the photo to see more of The Sound of Music
(Audio not available... Sorry!)

Thursday, December 14, 2006


It had been cold for the last few days. Not so cold for the locals, but coming from sultry London it was cold for us. This morning we woke up to snow! For the morning there were extremely large flakes of snow falling, enough to dust the fields with a white coat. Driving down to Ulm we borrowed some internet to find out where we are going to stay tonight.

Then we basically just drove to Munich on the autobahn. Steven and Richelle came to Munich with us on their way to catching a train to Nurenburg. We had a little 1.2L car with four of us and luggage stuffed in, but it still managed to sit on 150-160km/h for the main stretch of the road. You know when you drive the M1 from Brisbane to the Gold Coast and you hit the 110km/h section of road and it is just sweet relief from the slowness of 100km/h? Well, reverse that feeling and multiply it by 10 when you hit a 120km/h section after 160km/h. It is just painfully slow!

Coming into Munich, Steve's eyes lit up and nostrils flared as he smelt the Augustiner brewery in town. Before too long we were there in our first Munich beer hall, which is attached to one of the oldest brewerys in Munich. Everyone had a round of 1L beers which went down just a bit too easily for some.

A quick train ride to town brought us to the Marienplatz, the main square of Munich. The square was filled with more Christmas markets. What would have been good is to go up the town hall tower. However it seems that closing time was 30 minutes earlier than stated so we missed out. Tonight we spent our time wandering around the markets and town centre, having some Gluhwein and Bratwurst.


This morning we had a look around Munich before leaving Germany. Our bags are stored at the train station and we head back to the main town square, Marienplatz. First thing is to watch the end of the disappointing glockenspiel performance of the town clock before we get the lift to the town hall tower for the outlook that we couldn't get last night. The view of Munich is good, but we can't see to the Bavarian alps due to the haze.

Today we pass the Hofbrauhaus (a famous beer house) and decide to stop in for a sneaky drop. The Hofbrauhaus is a tourist mecca, much different from the Augustiner beer house yesterday. We can definitely understand how this, and every other drinking establishment, could be jam packed to the rafters with beer swizzlers during Oktoberfest.

We continued wandering around the Munich sights before boarding a train to Salzburg mid afternoon.

Click the photo to see more of Munich.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


A bit of a slow start today. With moving, finishing jobs and a week of parties and catchups we need to ease into this holiday. Carolin and Steven provide us with a great German breakfast with meats, little baby Jesus cheeses, eggs, spreads and breads. Once we did get going we all jumped in the car to drive around the eastern area of Baden-Wastermann, where there are a number of castles and castle ruins.

First though we stopped at Blaubeuren where there is Der Blautopf. This is a spring that is fed from under the pre-Alpine ranges, many kilometres away. At its lowest flow it is 310L/sec, but at snow break this can get up to 32000L/sec. The spring is 20m deep and the water is an amazing pure blue with great visibility to the bottom. We have a look and take a few photos. Just near the spring is an abbey that is just picture perfect.

Leaving Blabeuren we drive around the area and to the castle ruins. The first stop is a restored castle on the edge of a valley. Unfortunately it is shut for the winter, but we are able to amuse ourselves on a flying fox and with some apple trees. The apples taste great, made even better by the fact that we have to throw other apples at them to get them down. Ah, its the little things that amuse.

Next stop in the valley is a castle ruin. The ruin is in a spectacular position on a rocky outcrop into the valley. Continuing on we find a guest house that is open, as opposed to the countless that we had passed that were shut. Here we find a well earned coffee and beer.

We head home to dinner with Steven, Carolin and Richelle.

Click on the photo to see more of Ulm.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Dachau Concentration Camp

Today we start our Christmas trip. Everything is packed and stored at Dave and Karen's and we leave with our backpacks on. The flight from Heathrow to Munich is a bumpy one, so much so that we can't even get a hot drink.

We get a car in Munich and head straight to Dachau. Dachau is an industrial town outside of Munich. It has one of largest and first concentration camps used by the SS from 1936-1945. Many of the original buildings and non-camp areas no longer remain, but it has been built back up as a remembrance site. The guard towers still dot the perimeter and the original gatehouse is constructed to give visitors the feeling of being led into the camp - through gates that read 'Arbeit macht frei' - Work brings freedom.

What strikes you about the camp is that it is such a large area. There are prisoner barracks lined towards the back of the camp, each barrack being 10x100m. Each barrack had sleeping quarters and a living area. The sleeping quarters had bunks three high and the beds were no wider than 2-3 feet.

The barracks are separated from the main building by a roll call area, which is a wide expanse where prisoners would stand for hours on end at the whim of an SS officer. The main building now has a museum. Towards the back of the camp are memorials from some of the main religious groups involved in the camp - Jewish, Catholic, Protestant.

Outside the main camp area is the crematorium. It is here that the bodies of dead prisioners were incinerated. In the 'new' crematorium are the gas chambers. Although there is no record of these particular ones ever be used, they were obviously designed for mass murder of prisoners, who would then be incinerated.

The memorial site is a sobering area, one of the many throughout the German occupation. In memory to the attrocities performed in camps like these there is a simple message on the memorials - Never again.

Click on the photo to see more of Dachau

We left Dachau and drove west through Bavaria to Ulm. These winter days aren't going to offer us much light for sight seeing. We arrive in Ulm at Steven and Carolin's. Ulm has Christmas markets on in the main square and we sample some Gluhwein to warm ourselves up. It is much liked mulled wine. Ulm is quite cold and we head to a restaurant in the fish area for some dinner and beers.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Respecting the Fallen

This year we have walked many miles around London, the UK and Europe. Today, as we prepare to pack everything, respect must be paid to the fallen heros who won't be returning to Australia.

These brave soles from the Colorado battalion have served us tirelessly.

Well travelled shoe companions, we salute you! Posted by Picasa