The 4 month winter European loop: West to East & back again! PART 3

A night at the opera in Vienna, Austria

(13/02/2017 – 16/02/2017)

In Vienna we stayed in our second Meininger hostel (€8.5pp/night, we like to use booking.com) just on the outskirts of town, a much bigger version than in Cologne but with a tiny kitchen barely big enough to accommodate the stove and fridge. Although Austria was more of a midway point between the Czech Republic and Hungary we still enjoyed our time there. The important buildings that surround the main square were everything you’d expect and the addition of the ice skating rink just added to the atmosphere, although we did not take part in this popular past time as we were confident we could fulfil our ice skating dreams in a more affordable country.

Other enjoyable free and affordable activities included walking through the huge palace just outside the city center, posing with Arnie and eating pay-what-you-can for traditional Indian food. To our surprise Vienna is also the place to pick up cheap opera tickets (€3pp) if you are willing to stand in line for a couple hours without knowing if you will actually get in. We were fortunate enough to be in town at the same time as Anna Netrebko, a very famous Russian soprano singer, so it seemed.

Unfortunately there was an elderly gent directly in front of us who’d long ago foregone habitual bathing. His body odour was enough to leave our eyes watering and detracted somewhat from enjoyment of an otherwise fascinating experience. You can check out the program for future performances here, just don’t forget to shower before you go! After Vienna we took our Flixbus to the much more budget friendly Budapest, Hungary (€11pp).

Bath houses in Hungary

(16/02/2017 – 20/02/2017)

NOTE: The following prices are in Euros, however the official local currency is the Forint

We had been looking forward to our time in Budapest ever since we had read that bath houses were a very popular activity with locals. Since we were still suffering the effects of the European winter we thought endulging in some hot baths for a day (€6.9pp) would be the perfect remedy. We were also pleasently surprised to find a much more affordable open air ice skating rink (€8.15pp) on the lovely frozen lake perfectly situated in front of the Vajdahunyad Castle. Although amateurs in most things snow/ice related Bonny picked up the sport with ease while Keiran struggled in the kiddies corner.

Budapest is also the perfect city to indulge in the deep fried delicacy known as langosh, traditionally served with a topping of cheese, mayonnaise and tomato sauce (starting from €1.5) it is the perfect snack at any time of day. We visited our favourite takeaway stand every night we were in Budapest. When we weren’t stuffing our faces with deep fried bread we were enjoying the cheap 1 liter tap beers (€1 each) and all you can eat buffets (€4.8pp) at Gastland Oktogon Bizstro. Budapest was a great city to take a break from self catering and enjoy a few cold weather activities without breaking the bank.

Hungary also has a very interesting but dark history and the country’s last prisoner of war was only very recently released in the year 2000, 55 years after his capture to the Red Army in 1945. The impact of the war is reflected in the way that Hungarian people go about their day, although extremely friendly the energy you might find in neighbouring countries is missing. There is a very important war museum found in Budapest, The House of Terror, where you can learn about the fascist and communist regimes in 20th century Hungary. This is definitely a must for any history buffs (€6.5pp).

On the set of Game of Thrones in Croatia

(20/02/2017 – 01/03/2017)

NOTE: The following prices are in Euros, however the official currency is the Kuna

Our first stop in Croatia was its lesser known capital, Zagreb. Aside from being the gateway to destinations more frequented by tourists, its old city and cultural attractions don’t quite meet the standard of rival cities. Although when interviewed about the city we made sure to appear like we were having a marvellous time.

Our choice of hostels (€6pp/night) may have contributed to our less than memorable experience here. This hostel seemed to house more middle aged migrating male job seekers than it did travellers, and sometimes the common areas and bedroom felt a little cliquey, crowded and even downright creepy.

Any disappointments from Zagreb were soon forgotten and forgiven upon laying eyes on nearby Plitvice Lakes, reachable by bus (€18pp return). Truly a perrenial destination, even in the depths of winter when the lake is frozen solid, the sights are spectacular and worth the slippery adventure along frozen trails to take in the views (€4.65pp entry). Once you are done walking through the national park a people mover will drive you back to the entrance where you can wave down the next bus back to Zagreb.

Our next stop was Split, a harbour city with gleaming white ruins of the Roman society that once prevailed here. The blending of the modern society amidst the well preserved structures is simply stunning. Definately a stand out when it comes to European Old Towns, it is a fun city to get lost in. There are also a few nice walks that take you up to a lookout point with views over the city and bay. During our stay a marathon just happened to be taking place which anyone fit enough could particapate in, we enjoyed the race from the sideline.

From Split we headed to Croatia’s crown jewel, Dubrovnik (€16.5pp). Boasting an ample array of familiar film sets for the Game of Thrones production, the walled Old City treats the visitor to a stunning backdrop of turquoise Adriatic Sea even if you don’t recognise the resemblance to King’s Landing. As massive fans of the series, we spent a substantial portion of our time here on a scavenger hunt to locate as many film locations as our legs allowed. This proved to be many, despite the cardio workout of the many narrow staircases that carve their way up hillsides. We also happened to find ourselves in the city during the filming of a new Robinhood television series, one that we have yet to watch.

Having endured weeks without seeing a beach worthy of swimming, we now braced ourselves for a very invigorating quick dip in the crystal clear waters beside the city walls and swore to ourselves that one day we’ll have to return during warmer months alongside the swarms of similar-minded tourists in order to take full advantage of this gorgeous coastline. There is also an abandoned hotel within walking distance of the old city, easily recognisable as the film location for the fight scene between Obyron and The Mountain in season 4. The large hotel alone is interesting enough to explore but it also offers access to a small secluded golden sanded beach which we had all to ourselves.

Taking/giving up cycling in Montenegro

(01/03/2017 -04/03/2017)

After the Croatian coastline blew our minds, Kotor, Montenegro had big shoes to fill and it certainly did not disappoint. The beautiful old town with the mountain as the backdrop is a sight to behold. Thanks to the infamous pirate history of the bay, Kotor has a very well maintained outer stone wall and climbing the old city walls up into the mountains (free) was a great day trip with rewarding views overlooking the bay from the top.

Another day trip that ruined whatever pleasent memories we had of childhood bike rides was to rent bikes (€10pp) and cycle the 65+kms around the bay, also taking a detour to checkout the touristy modern city of Tivat and its abandoned mansions. While the route is mostly flat, our mistake was leaving our accommodation without properly checking the condition of the bikes. One bike, Keirans bike, turned out to have not one, but two flat tyres and no brakes, only to be discovered on the first slightly hilly section of the loop. Only 40km into the ride, after taking the ferry crossing and suffering through the worst hill climb yet, we came across a fuel station where we could finally inflate the tyres to a normal pressure.

Unfortunately by this stage tensions were high and nothing could be done to resolve the mood. We ended up returning in the dark along unlit, narrow streets in peak hour traffic. It took us around 6 months to recover and forget this ordeal before we would touch another bike. We cannot deny the scenery on this route was breathtaking.

Although not entirely blameless over the condition of the bikes, we could not fault our hosts, who were extremely hospitable and very happy to share a glass of home distilled fire water (raki) and an array of chocolates with us anytime we crossed paths during our stay. After saying farewell to our bikes, some skin and finally Kotor we were headed further west into little known Albania.

Join us for Part 4 as we discover cheap eats in Tirana before finally making it to the Southern European Coast!

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