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Austria, Hungary, Slovakia : Tale of 3 Towns

Monday, 12th May 2008

We started the day with breakfast in Budapest (Hungary), took the train at 09:30 and arrived in Bratislava (Slovakia) at 12:15. We only had a few minutes to find a hostel, check in, drop our bags and get the 13:00 1-hour train to Vienna (Austria). So we covered 3 capitals in 4,5 hours..

Photos of Vienna here
Photos of Bratislava here

Like we said before, Budapest is a wonderful city to explore with loads to offer. Moving on to Slovakia, we never expected too much from Bratislava, which is why we decided to take a quick afternoon trip to Vienna. Of course Vienna is lovely and has some amazing sights, but in the end we only zipped through the main part of town in about 3+ hours to get a good feel for the place.

Catching the 17:30 back to Bratislava (where we’re staying tonight), we thought we’d have enough time to see the 1 or 2 sights here. We were wrong, Bratislava exceeded our expectations and is also a really lovely city with plenty of pedestrianised streets, lovely coffee shops and a wonderful atmosphere. These capitals are so close together and all have great things to offer that we highly recommended it for a long-weekend trip.

Easter weekend seems to follow us around – from Greece all the way to Slovakia we’ve hit public holidays. So far we’ve been lucky that it hasn’t affected train schedules too badly.

We’ve now seen and crossed the Danube river for the 5th time, but we have yet to take a cruise on it (too expensive so far). Eastern Europe have been a real eye-opener for us and countryside and people are lovely.

As a result of the extra countries we included in South-Eastern Europe we were 7 days behind schedule, but we managed to make up 1 day by cutting our stay in Budapest short with a day. We are fairly flexible, but have a maximum of +-15 days to play with because of our Vietnam visas.

Tonight will be spent in Hostel Possonium which has a great location for us – literally 800m from the train station – which is exactly what we needed today. We had never heard of them, but saw them advertised in the train station and walked straight here. Our room is a 10-bed dorm and unfortunately some of the other occupants are currently downstairs in the bar getting warmed up..

Tomorrow we are booked on the 10:00 train to Poprad from where we’re hoping to get the bus to Levoca to see a bit of the Slovakian countryside.

Vienna slideshow

If you can’t see the slideshow above click here.

Photos of Bratislava here

Greece, Macedonia : Kick’n Skopje

Friday, 25th April 2008

Because of the Easter weekend coming up in Greece, the trains were absolutely packed and we could not get a place on any of the ones to Thessaloniki yesterday afternoon.

We finally managed to get two seats on last night’s overnight train at 23:59 which arrived at 6:50 am in Thessaloniki. The train journey was quiet a dog show with 2 guys almost attacking each other right behind us due to a dispute over an open window, 2 women screaming at each other because the one started smoking in her seat (!!) and people standing everywhere in the corridors (even when the trains are full, they still sell standing tickets – 7 hours overnight!).

We then just had 9 hours to kill before our subsequent train straight through to Skopje in Macedonia. In Thessaloniki we spent the first few hours sleeping in various uncomfortable positions on benches inside the station before we were asked to stop doing so by station attendants. At noon we finally decided to lock away our bags and went for a quick stroll through the central part of town. We took in a few of the sights, but unfortunately there was a constant drizzle, which put a bit of a damper on things. The town is OK, but in the end we were glad not to have spent a night there.

We left Thessaloniki at 16:15 and after very long-winded passport checks going through the border from Greece to Macedonia we arrived more than an hour late at 9pm in Skopje. We thrashed around a bit at first to find our way to the Youth Hostel, which we had picked out before-hand, and got mobbed by the usual over-eager taxi driver squad.. But we’re finally in our little Hostel (actually called Hostel Hostel) and it’s very nice with kitchen facilities and free net access again.

We’re currently alone in a 6 bed shared dorm room, but the manager, Ajet, a really top guy, said he’ll try his best to keep it empty for us.

We’re planning on staying here for two nights and have already booked bus tickets to make a day trip to Ohrid (Macedonia’s highlight) tomorrow – a beautiful lake that forms part of the border with Albania.

Greece : Athens to Thessaloniki

Thursday, 24th April 2008

After 3 wonderful days in Santorini, we left the island yesterday afternoon around 3:30pm. The ferry took about 8 hours and we arrived in Athens at 11:45pm. We went straight to the Athens International Youth Hostel again and luckily got a shared room to ourselves.

We are hoping to get on the 2:50pm train to Thessaloniki, but it is Easter in Greece and all the trains are very busy. We might have to stand all the way (6 hours), so we’ll just camp out in one of the corridors (true backpackers style!).

PS: we have uploaded some more photos of Santorini (see all the previous posts on Santorini).

Thessaloniki slideshow

If you can’t see the slideshow above click here.

Greece : Santorini day 3

Tuesday, 22nd April 2008

Last night we were invited to join a few friends we met in Santorini to have a bottle of wine on the beach. Two of them, Grace (American) and Ian (French Canadian) are staying at our guest house and Monica (Mexican) joined us. We only started at 11pm and got to bed at 1:30am! It was great fun though and later one of the chefs from a little restaurant on the beach joined us too. Monica, we hope your head is okay this morning after the fall.

This morning we had another late start and after we dropped off our laundry at the local shop, we headed up the mountain for a view from the monastery. The church was closed and the view was great, but unfortunately the weather was a bit hazy.

After that we went to explore the capital of Santorini, Fira, and walked around the cobbled streets. The town is beautiful, but it was extremely windy – we couldn’t even put the backpack down as it would just blow away.

We started to become used to our siestas in the afternoon and today was no exception. We’re planning on posting a few photos tonight if we have time, but we’ll let you know.

Thanks for all the messages today, it is really great!

If you can’t see the slideshow above click here.

Greece : Santorini day 2

Monday, 21st April 2008

After updating the blog yesterday afternoon, we decided to hire a scooter from the internet place (they gave us a good deal for 3 days). We must’ve covered 40km yesterday afternoon alone and went to Oia, the very Northern tip of the island, for the sunset. It’s just like on the postcards – hopefully our photos will do it justice.

Oia is absolutely stunning with all its typical Greek white houses and blue doors. We easily could’ve wondered the streets for hours, but it was getting dark and we had a 45 minute ride back to Villa Mihalis (our little oasis).

This morning we slept in and only left the room at 11am. We got on the bike again and explored the various southern sights. Our first stop was the Red Beach with its unusual black volcanic sand mixed with red stones from the red cliffs around it. We haven’t quite braved the water yet.

From there we explored different little towns and ancient settlements. We turned at the lighthouse, at the Southern tip of the island, and made a quick grocery stop on the way back (there is a Lidl on the island!).

The scooter is great fun and for a change Marizanne has to carry the huge bag with all the camera equipment on her back, while Jan is driving. We look like real tourists, because non of the locals wear helmets (and we got a fine looking red one a very funky little silver one for Jan – wait for the photos!) and unfortunately in true Pomm-style Jan got a smashing sunburn today.
We love Santorini! Still not sure if we are staying 3 or 4 nights, or perhaps more!

If you can’t see the slideshow above click here.

Greece : Soothing Santorini

Sunday, 20th April 2008

The alarm clock went off at 05:30 this morning and we left the hostel just after 6am to catch the 07:25 ferry to Santorini. It took 7 hours but it was worth the wait – we’ve just arrived and it is absolute bliss..

We met a man at the port from one of the hostel in Perissa beach and he offered us a private room at 7 EUR each. When we got to the area, it turns out the hostel is closed for refurbishment and he offered us a room in his guest house. It is way better than any hostel we’ve ever had – even with a swimmingpool!

At this stage we have booked for 3 nights, but we’re considering staying longer. Santorini is beautiful (the parts we saw from the ferry) and we are looking forward exploring the little island further.

We’ll see if we can rent a scooter so that we can get around a bit easier. The weather is great and we are off to the beach now.

If you can’t see the slideshow above click here.

Greece : Ancient Athens

Saturday, 19th April 2008

After a very good night sleep (we had the room all to ourselves) we walked into town in time for the changing of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. From there we followed the walking route specified by the Lonely Planet, which took us through many old and interesting parts of town – particularly Plaka.

We bought combined tickets for the Acropolis including access to a few other sites and museums. The Acropolis and Temples are quite spectacular and the weather played along too. We had a very nice, warm and sunny day, which made the whole day so much more enjoyable.

As luck would have it, we walked passed the ferry reservation offices in town and managed to pre-book our tickets for tomorrow morning. We were lucky to get a discount with our Interail tickets, which helped a lot. The ferry leaves Pireaus (just outside Athens) at 07:25 and arrives in Santorini at 15:00.

Another Australian couple just checked into our room at the hostel, but they seem very nice. We are about to upload some more photos and will then grab a quick bite to eat.

Hope to make contact again from Santorini.

If you can’t see the slideshow above click here.

1. Western Europe : Stats so far

Friday, 18th April 2008

This is our 24th day of travel. Until now we’ve boarded 23 long haul trains, 7 long haul buses, 3 ferries and countless Metro & undergroud trains, local busses and taxis.

We’ve crossed international borders 9 times, visited 6 countries, stayed in 10 different Hotels or Hostels and have taken 7 over-night trips on 5 trains, 1 bus and 1 ferry.

A breakdown of our budget sheet & spending figures is available on request ;)

Greece is the last of the Western European countries on our itinerary. From here we will enter Eastern Europe through Bulgaria and work our way North until we hit Finland. Then beyond..

Greece : Filling in the gaps

Friday, 18th April 2008

YahSU from Athens!

We arrived in Athens this evening at about 7pm after a 4.5 hour bustrip from Olympia. We found an excellent hostel, Athens International Youth Hostel, with free internet. Internet cafes are very expensive in Greece (up to 5 EUR per hour!) so we now have plenty of time for a proper update.

Naples was a real disappointment to say the least. Before even getting there, we decided to stay for 5 nights, instead of the original 3 (because of all the little towns in the area) – our first mistake. We arrived late afternoon and decided to go for a stroll through town – second mistake. It is dirty and well dodgy with washing hanging all over the place. We just did not feel comfortable there at all.

Our youth hostel was a little out of the center of town but we thought it was okay, until we decided to only stay 3 nights (after we already paid for 5). It was a real mission to get them to refund the extra 2 nights, but after many discussions and a phone call to the director (from a payphone on Capri) we succeeded!

The second day we took the train to Pompeii and spent the morning wondering the ruins. We enjoyed it and it was quiet an experience, but troubling to see the lack of care that is taken to preserve the ruins and the area. We considered visiting Herculaneum too, but our “backpackers budget” couldn’t afford another 11EUR entrance fee for one day.

At Pompeii train station we found that the next train was for Sorrento and decided to make a quick detour before heading back to nasty Naples. We were pleasantly surprised by how upmarket Sorrento was and after walking through the little town, we caught the train back to Naples.

Capri was next on the list, but unfortunately we got the worst weather ever and our “island experience” was not as idillic as expected – especially with the Blue Grotto being closed! We still wanted to visit Anacapri, but it was so cold and miserable that we decided on having a pizza in a little restaurant and just sat there waiting for the ferry back to Naples.

The next morning we got on the 08:55 train to Caserta where we had to wait about 1 hour for a train to Bari. We got to Bari around 3pm and this was where we caught the overnight ferry to Greece (instead of Albania as originally planned). The ferry to Patras was much cheaper (than Albania) with our Interail tickets, and we expected it to be very basic, as our tickets was only for “deck” access. When we got on the massive boat, it looked like a luxury cruise ship – even with butlers greeting you on board! We discovered that “deck” means outside in the wind and weather, but luckily we managed to get seets in one of the lounges (yes, there were more than one with about 3 different restaurants and a swimming pool!). In true backpacking style we camped out on the floor with our sleeping bags and the friendly waiters left us alone all night.

The boat arrived in Patras at noon and we had to make our way to the bus station as trains in Greece are not as well connected. With the extra 3 days we gained by not going to Albania and Macedonia, we decided to visit Olympia. We caught a bus from Patras and arrived in Olympia at 4pm and went straigt to the only hostel (as per the Lonely Planet), the Olympia Youth Hostel. A little old Greek lady greeted us (that also lives in the hostel) and gave us a double room for the night.

We fell in love with the small, peaceful Olympia straight way. It was like a breath of fresh air after Naples and travelling from 9am the previous morning. We were really happy that we decided to make the trip. We had a traditional Greek dinner – Mousaka and Greek salad with yogurt and honey for dessert – for only 6 EUR! This morning we visited the ancient Olympic site and it was quiet amazing to see where the olympic games started with buildings from 3rd and 4th century BC.

At 11:45 we had to catch a local bus to Pyrgos and from there another bus at 14:45 to Athens, which took 4 hours. From the bus station we made our way to the hostel and checked into a dorm room. At the moment it is just the 2 of us in the room (4 beds), so we are hoping it stays like that – wishfull thinking..

















Capri & Sorento

























Greece : Straight to Greece

Thursday, 17th April 2008

After a ‘deur-nag’ ferry from Bari, we’ve just arrived in Patras and found this lovely Information Office with free internet – a nice change.

With the three days that we’ve ‘won’ by skipping Albania & Macedonia we’ve decided to spend some time in the Peloponese area. We’ve just bought bus tickets to Olympia where we’ll stay over tonight and see the sights. Tomorrow we’ll probably move on towards Nefplio if we can get thereĀ – supposedly the prettiest town in Greece.

We’re not sure about these places as they are off our planning and Marizanne obviously didn’t do any research on it. We’ll, I guess we can do it like normal backpackers for a few days.

So far the weather looks much better than what we had in Italy – fingers crossed!