It was a wet Berlin day on Tuesday 25 June 2013 and I became very glad that at the beginning of this trip I had made 2 promises to myself;
1) Always keep my finger on the ‘Don’t Panic’ button (after all, although not hitch hiking through the galaxy, I was travelling with very few plans) and
2) Do not rush, allow lots of time to get places and think things through, while being totally flexible.
So, when five minutes before my train was scheduled to leave Berlin it hadn’t arrived yet, I didn’t panic. An announcement came over saying that the train for Wroclaw (Breslau) at 9.41 had been cancelled ‘we apologise for any inconvenience’. I waited, they said it again. Already my head was spinning trying to figure out how to get to some accommodation again, how to let my friend in Poland know etc etc. There were 2 Polish ladies who only spoke Polish so they had no clue what was going on and were asking me what the problem was. I don’t speak Polish but I do speak Russian and English (with a small smattering of a few other languages including German) so between their Polish, my Russian and a lot of body language we managed to communicate. Eventually I noticed an official looking guy who was speaking in English to another traveller. He said, ‘get that train on platform 2, travel 1 station get off, cross the platform and your train will be there’. Ok, interesting as it was supposed to be cancelled! Anyway, it turned out it wasn’t cancelled only diverted for some undisclosed reason. It would have helped if they’d said so. It would also have helped if the announcements were made in Polish as well as German and English seeing as the train was heading to Poland and also if they had given us the proper instructions.
The Polish ladies decided to stick with me as they figured that I knew what I was doing (ha ha) and eventually yes, we did what the fellow said and ended up on the right train heading in the right direction – lucky I didn’t panic and leave the platform. As a result, four hours later, I arrived in Wroclaw an hour late, my lovely friend had patiently waited in the wind and the rain, I’d had no way to let her know what had happened so luckily she stayed and waited.
The city of 100 bridges aka the Venice of Poland.
In the past this city (built on 12 islands, surrounded by many rivers and canals with over 100 bridges) has been part of the Kingdom of Poland, Bohemia, the Austrian Empire, Prussia, and Germany; it became part of Poland again under Communist rule in 1945, as a result of border changes after World War II. The city’s history probably explains the interesting architecture, design and culture. It is also known as Breslau (the German name) so if you see that name be aware that it is one and the same city.
First stop was my friend Ewa’s apartment for a catch up. I dumped my luggage then we were off to dinner at the Four Seasons restaurant, a lovely little place with awesome food. The owners, a husband and wife team, love Russian music and often have live performances there. We spent a very pleasant evening listening to music, chatting to the owners (as it was a quiet night) and eating fantastic food prepared by the husband. I was reminded of many of our family gatherings with friends where more than one language was being used around the table (often at least four languages) here at the restaurant it was only 3, Russian, Polish and English. Such a delightful evening, thank you so much to Ewa for a wonderful start to my Poland experience. This ended up to also be one of the last places I visited 10 days later to say farewell.
I hoped that the weather would improve quickly it was 12 degrees Centigrade that first night in Wroclaw at the end of June!
The following day was an amazing experience for this travelling golden oldie! Ewa took me (without mentioning where we were going) to the Panorama of the Battle of Raclawice, there is only one word – WOW! OK, there are probably a few more words like – stunning, amazing, incredible and brilliant!
This panorama was painted by 2 artists back in 1894, it took 9 months to complete and it is massive (114 metres long by 15 metres high). It’s been placed in a circular building built specifically to house the panorama. As you stand in the centre or move around the rotunda the battle of Raclawice (and the ultimate victory over the Russians in 1794) seems to rage around you, such is the 3D effect. There is so much more to the story of what the painting went through as well as the history of the battle, there are many websites describing this place and giving some history, so if you wish here is one that may interest you;
We spent quite some time there, a stunning experience from the minute they walk you through the entrance in silence to the minute you leave. Such wonderful art work, be sure to leave plenty of time when visiting this attraction. My photos do not do it justice.
Next it was off to the oldest restaurant in Europe, gorgeous place, huge, with real atmosphere and great food. This is what I had been looking for. Now, if you look online and search for ‘the oldest restaurant’ this becomes a contentious issue. There seem to be several restaurants claiming to be the oldest. The only one that has got a Guiness world book of records guernsey is a restaurant in Madrid. However, it is said , that the reason that none of the other claimants have been acknowledged is because they don’t have enough paperwork dating back far enough (or maybe they don’t want to be in the World Book?) I don’t know the answer but I do know that Piwnica Swidnicka (dating back to 1273) in Wroclaw is one awesome place to visit, eat and drink beer. It is underneath the Ratusz (Town Hall), has 4 eating halls some with large tables and benches reminiscent of medieval times and others suitable for just 2-4 people, and of course a bar. A plaque at the entrance lists some of the famous people who have been their including Kaiser Sigismund, now that’s some claim to fame because ‘Sigismund of Luxemburg (14 February 1368 – 9 December 1437) (an Aquarian!)was Prince-elector of Brandenburg from 1378 until 1388 and from 1411 until 1415, King of Hungary and Croatia from 1387, King of Bohemia from 1419, and Holy Roman Emperor for four years from 1433 until 1437, the last male member of the House of Luxemburg. He was also King of Italy from 1431, and of Germany from 1411. He was regarded as highly educated, spoke several languages (among them French, German, Hungarian, Italian, and Latin) and was – unlike his father Charles – an outgoing person who also took pleasure in the tournament.
Sigismund was one of the driving forces behind the Council of Constance that ended the Papal Schism, but which in the end also led to the Hussite Wars that dominated the later period of Sigismund’s life.’ quoted from Wikipedia .
Chopin and Goethe are also on the list. The food was spectacular, I ordered the pork ribs which arrived on a wooden platter with a large knife and fork sticking out of them – a medieval touch. The meal was fantastic and the cold beer was a perfect accompaniment.
Speaking of food, I had been blaming the tourist trade for the sameness of the taste of food in Europe, however, I was told that apparently there are rules in the European Union about food to make import/export easier and more uniform, this apparently has contributed to the ‘sameness’. So I always became a little excited when we would find places that either grew their own or sourced organic produce and created traditional flavours.
Wroclaw – City of Gnomes
Berlin has Buddy Bears, Wroclaw has Gnomes. It is said that there are about 300 of them currently. Whether you are young or old, a solo traveller a group or a family, going in search for these little guys is a terrific way of seeing this beautiful city. We found them in all sorts of places even on a river cruise boat.
Depending on how many good cold Polish beers you have drunk in any of the wonderful restaurants and bars these little guys just might end up performing for you.
Speaking of river cruises another big day lay ahead with lots of surprises, we walked up to the river Oder (Odra in Polish) near the zoo, and on the pretext of only asking about the river cruises Ewa actually got us onto a cruise, which happened to be the first of the ‘Underwater Wroclaw’ festival The Underwater Festival constitutes over 20 cruises on the river, each has a concert, an exhibition or a performance, of some sort. Pretty cool, we were treated to a satire of what it’s like to be a model surrounded by people and paparazzi as well as a nice cruise on the river Oder. We the passengers were asked to make this an interactive show by being the paparazzi with our many cameras. That boat (The Viktoria) was where we found a surprise gnome – the ship’s captain gnome.
After the very pleasant river cruise we found a really lovely family restaurant that serves Ukrainian, Russian and Crimean food then early evening found us at the ‘Pergola’ an ivy-covered colonnade wending it’s way past the spectacular multi-media fountain. The light show was stunningly beautiful and even included holograms within the colourful water. This fountain has all sorts of capabilities including pyrotechnics, so this experience is also a must for a wonderful display of light, sound, holograms and colour. Check the daily schedule and get there early for the night displays otherwise you’ll be standing for the whole performance
There is so much to see and do all in one city! The 1st of July was allocated to the Japanese gardens, such a beautiful spot, designed according to all the rules of Japanese public gardens with imported trees, plants and fish. It was so peaceful (mostly) wandering through the gardens, along the water’s edge and over bridges to waterfalls and ponds. The only annoying moments happened when a few of us were photographing a gorgeous squirrel and waiting to get a better shot, when along came a noisy family some of whom ran up to the seat and of course scared the animal off. They fully knew what we were doing but obviously didn’t care, so all the photographers moved on growling at the intruders, some spoke up and told them they were rude, but they didn’t care, so sad that some tourists are so disrespectful at times. However, I wasn’t about to allow that to ruin our experience.
Lunch at the Sphinx restaurant was followed by an evening of awesome music at the arsenal building provided by the Wratislavia Chamber Orchestra and saxophonist (that night on the soprano sax) Pawel Gusnar. Now, normally the soprano sax is not my favourite saxophone (I much prefer the lower sounds of the alto and others) and as I had no clue what was on the musical menu I was a little concerned that it might be the one style of jazz I’m not keen on, the very discordant chords of some improvised jazz is not my favourite sound but, oh boy, did these guys play some beautiful music. It’s such a delight to listen to musicians who so obviously love what they do and put a whole lot of feeling into what they play. Some awesome renditions with works from Gershwin and Chopin plus others – Such a treat! The evening ended with a couple of beers with Ewa and 4 of her friends before heading home. Having a local to show you around has lots of advantages, you get to see things you may not find otherwise.
The next day was reasonably easy, a trip to the main bus station to find out about buses to Krakow and coffee and cake at Europejska Kawiarnia. This restaurant is fascinating. A lot of reviews by other travellers tend to say that it is very 70’s and I guess it is. In fact the cute floral fine china tea and coffee cups and saucers remind me of the 50’s, long before the horrid ubiquitous mug arrived on the scene, I found it very pleasant to drink from delicate china for a change and my cake was nice.
To walk off the calories we went on to the Market Hall, what an awesome place. The Market Hall is huge and colourful, you can find almost anything there, most of all fruit, vegetables and flowers.
A spot of lunch and then relaxing before heading off to have a look at Krakow for a couple of days (which will be in Pt 2 of my Poland experience), way to go!
But before I get to the end of my story and the last couple of days in Wroclaw after being in Krakow, I just have to make some comments on this city. This is a seriously beautiful city and if you haven’t been here you simply must come. We walked a lot (best way to both see and feel any place) and I was stunned by the architecture, spaciousness, style, history and amazing sculptures. I even found my Knight in Shining armour! Oh, stop my fluttering heart! Rather than words I’m just going to put a few more photos than usual in the blog and let you see for yourselves.
Well! The 5th of July, it was time to return to Wroclaw and what started out as 2 very tired women just making their way back from Krakow on the bus and doing nothing else turned into one heck of an entertaining evening! We thought we had better go back to the Four seasons restaurant (the first one Ewa took me to when I arrived in this city 10 days earlier) to have dinner, return the book the hosts lent us and to say goodbye. We had a beautiful dinner, then a couple of people with a guitar came in (usually this couple was there with a friend on a Wednesday not a Friday, so we were lucky). They entertained us for ages singing Polish, Russian and English language songs (even Moonshadow, fancy, and they didn’t even know my nickname!) The guy is a High School teacher of Biology, sings in a choir and has a great voice. His guitar has a beautiful mellow tone and his partner should sing more, she has a lovely voice, but she’s a little fearful. Then we were introduced to a professor of something or rather but as I, sadly, don’t speak Polish I focused on chatting to the owner of the restaurant who speaks Russian, is an artist and both he and his wife are absolute sweethearts. He even gave me copies of two of his dog sketches, two pets previously owned by him and his wife, a Borzoi and a St Bernard (I so wish I had asked him to sign them). Sad to say goodbye to such lovely people, but that’s travel!
My penultimate day in Wroclaw, July 6th 2013 dawned. It was different, no sightseeing, well not ordinary run of the mill city sightseeing. We had been invited to a Polish BBQ on a farm. We hopped on a bus for a 1 hour ride out to the township of Sobotka, then we were picked up for a 7 km drive to Ewa’s friend’s property in the village of Sady. Such a charming place and the property was gorgeous, bordered at the back by a National park and dotted throughout with fruit and other trees and of course a massive vegie garden. The food was yummy, eventually those who spoke English began gravitating to get some practice in and that led to some wonderful conversations. A couple who owns a vineyard came along with some of their wine and a Polish concoction that I’d never tried before – a tincture of pine with honey – after the initial shock it’s really awfully nice, several shot sized glasses of that went down rather easily. And then the cooking of sausages over an open fire (hadn’t done anything like that in an eternity!) Farewells included some old fashioned Polish hand kissing (that was really sweet) and a lift home, all in all a lovely day that reminded me so much of childhood, the farm and visiting days when people would rock up and party.
My trip to Wroclaw was always going to be a little different to any other part of my grand tour. Firstly I was visiting my friend Ewa who had lived in Australia for quite some time and secondly she was a close friend of my late parents (particularly my mother). And so, still clutching the original container of Mum’s ashes I made my way to Ewa’s beautiful city. Ewa had asked whether I would allow her to keep some of Mum with her and of course that was fine with me, Mum would have loved that, she was already in Dalmatia, Serbia and Slovenia so why not with the person she used to call her ‘adopted daughter,’ in Poland? Mum had never been to that country in life – although I believe her maternal Grandfather had Polish heritage, so now I felt that it was one way of taking her around the world. So part of our wanderings included keeping an eye out for a suitable container for the ashes I wanted to bring home. Although we didn’t do ‘shopping’ as such we did get to some interesting shops and markets as well as an open air antiques market, where I finally found just the right containers. Those two small silver plated containers continued my trip with me, while the large one stayed in Wroclaw.
The next day was farewell to beautiful Wroclaw and my friend as I made my way towards one of the rare, previously planned destinations.
My friend in Poland had also sent a list of things to see and do in Berlin, some of which I had never heard of, those places were located in Potsdam. That meant I needed to find my way out there. How much could I get done in one day? I had no idea but off I went on the next adventure..
What an education I had that day. I had no idea of the goings on in Potsdam over the centuries. But wow, a choir gifted to the Kaiser by the Tsar, Alexandrowka a Siberian style village built to house the choir, the cutest little chocolate box Russian Orthodox church in the forest, palaces, spies, KGB, cloak and dagger stuff, nasty prisons and all amongst some of the most amazing architecture and history as well as construction achievements. And that was only a part of what is there to see and experience.
Apparently a lot of the island was a swampland so the Dutch were called in to design and stabilise the ground before building could commence, so pretty much a large part of Potsdam is sitting on thousands of logs just like Venice. Sadly there wasn’t enough time to cover everything and although I wanted to go back the next day I didn’t make it.
I caught the S-Bahn train from Berlin to Potsdam (there are 2 different trains to catch, the Regional Express takes 20 minutes and the S-Bahn takes 40 minutes). At Hauptbahnhof Potsdam there was, of course, the obligatory coffee and breakfast first then off to the information centre. I realised that the only way I would see a reasonable amount of Potsdam was to get on the local hop on hop off bus.
Now here was where I first came across the possibility that not everything that the guides on the buses say is true, or perhaps it’s that not everything you look up in Google is true. The world has become a place where we can never be sure what is true and what isn’t and what may be embellished, as they say ‘never let the truth get in the way of a good story’. I guess like all history it changes according to who is telling the story. I feel the same frustration sometimes (as I try to verify information from my trip) as I did when researching for history essays in university. Back then I could throw the books at walls as they each contradicted each other, can’t do that with a computer, it would be a very expensive exercise, and anyway it’s not the computers fault.
On the bus they told us that when Queen Louise died her husband King Friedrich Wilhelm III was given a 62 man choir by his friend Tsar Alexander I of Russia because the king was deeply mourning his wife and the Tsar knew how much he loved the melancholic Russian songs. The internet version dates back to 1812 when the Prussians were forced by Napoleon to support him in his attack on Russia. The Prussians took a number of Russian prisoners and out of those 62 men became the choir, performing for the King. Eventually The King and the Tsar became friends and the choir stayed in Potsdam. After the Tsar died the King built the village of Alexandrowka in the style of Siberian architecture to house the surviving 12 singers. There is a much longer story to all of this and I’m still not sure which one is the right one but I tend to believe the Napoleonic War version. The other one is cute though and so much more romantic. There are many websites with information so I won’t go into a full history lesson here.
First stop the Potsdam Brandenburg Gate (not to be confused with the one of the same name in Berlin). Rather interesting architecturally as it has two different sides caused by it being created by two architects.
Next stop Glienecker Bridge which crosses the Havel river. The Glienicke Bridge was a restricted border crossing between the eastern bloc and the American sector of West Berlin. The Americans and Soviets used it for the exchange of captured spies during the Cold War and it soon became known as the “Bridge of Spies” (Nice little word play on the Bridge of Sighs in Venice)
The first exchange took place on 10 February 1962 (I was only 11 years old and living on a farm so no wonder I didn’t know much about this and only picked up on bits and pieces later). The Americans released Soviet spy Colonel Rudolf Abel in exchange for American spy-plane pilot Francis Gary Powers captured by the USSR after shooting down his U-2 spy plane in Soviet air space.
Of course walking across the bridge was a must. The border between east and west ran across the middle of the bridge, you can tell where the middle is because the bridge is painted in two shades of green, the east in light green and the west in dark green. I walked the length of the bridge then walked under the bridge and wondered how many people may have tried to swim across the river to escape, that would not have been an easy task. For more historical information have a look at; http://www.glienicke-bridge.com/index.html the private Homepage by Thomas Blees
Author of the book “Glienicker Brücke – Ausufernde Geschichten”
While I was there a parade of army Jeeps passed by, I suspect that they are probably a tour or perhaps enthusiasts, more likely a tour company.
My next major stop was the cute village of Alexandrowka, I was interested in the houses and the whole concept of a reproduced Russian village in the middle of Potsdam. I’ve mentioned the alternative histories earlier so won’t repeat that. It was quite a walk from the bus stop but well worth it, cute little houses, so well maintained with family names on each house, I haven’t been able to find out if those names are of the original inhabitants, perhaps someone can enlighten me on that. The village is built in the shape of St Andrews Cross (patron saint of Russia) and had massive orchards and gardens.
I wanted to find the Alexander Nevski church which apparently was built so the choir members had somewhere to worship, so off I went, map in hand up Nedlitzer Strasse towards Kapellenberg hill. It took a while walking the length of Alexandrowka then up the road, turning right onto a forest path and there, in amongst the trees is the cutest little chocolate box church I have ever seen. I only noticed the ‘no photography’ sign inside the church after I’d taken a couple of photos – ooops.
I had a chat with the lady selling candles, did the right thing and placed a few in the candle holders and discovered that they also sold icons. I found two which are normally hard to find, my Mother’s saint (Tamara) and a Ukrainian friend’s saint (Lydia). You see the Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox church can not christen a child within the church unless they are given an Orthodox saint’s name, so we all have a saint and a name day to celebrate. Other Orthodox cultures aren’t so strict on their naming style eg the Serbs have a family saint rather than an individual one. So after paying my respects to the still operating church (it apparently still has 90 or so parishioners and is affiliated with the Holy Synod in Minsk) it was a long walk back through the forest and the village to the bus stop.
It was getting late in the day and I realised that there was no way I would be able to visit the Sanssouci Palace, what a shame I was looking forward to that. I thought I would get back there the next day (my last day in Berlin) but that didn’t happen, I said the phrase ‘oh well you can’t do it all’ many times during my trip.
The bus drove past the Palace and it was quite obvious that you would need quite a bit of time to see it properly, rather like the Schonbrunn in Vienna which took the better part of a day to experience.
They pointed out the KGB headquarters and prison, the Dutch Quarter built from 1733 for the Dutch craftsmen, the hunting lodge, the parks and so on. There is so much to see and do in Potsdam that one day is just not enough.
Potsdam is definitely one place I really want to go back to. Next time I think I will stay in Potsdam itself for a few days so I can get to see all that it has to offer and enjoy the Russian café, the Dutch restaurants and go inside all of the historical buildings and the surrounding areas that were also recommended.
I was very grateful to both my friends for the lists of things to see and do in both Berlin and Potsdam and one day I will go back and see the rest. Yes, Potsdam and Berlin are calling.
Ah Berlin! What can I say about Berlin? Berlin was, and still is, an enigma to me but I sure had a great time there. Starting with bears, ending with antiquities and everything in between captured my attention. The unknown reason for the bear as Berlin’s heraldic animal adds to the mystery of this city. It is no longer known why the bear was chosen, there are many myths, but it did spawn a wonderful street art idea of Buddy bears and now you can find them everywhere, look for the bears, they lead you to all sorts of discoveries and put a smile on your face.
Berlin, city of contradictions and variety. So many of my friends raved about loving Berlin when they read that I was there, but it was difficult to pin down their reasons. Luckily one friend sent a list of places that were meaningful to him so that helped to focus my attention and start getting a ‘feel’ for the city. With that I embarked on my 10 day adventure on Friday 14th of June 2013. So I once again ask you to settle back, grab a lager or a curry wurst, relax and join me.
Making Friends Weekend
The first weekend was taken up with making friends with dorm mates and charging around Berlin on trains and trams tracking down the few places we each wanted to experience first. There was dinner in trendy Friedrichshain on the eastern side on Friday night, it took several trams to get there (mainly because we got lost a lot) and a lot of searching for typical German food without any luck so settled for Asian. Saturday morning was allocated for coffee exploration. A quick search online brought up a place listed in the top 10 cafes in Berlin. West Berlin this time on 2 trains followed by a long walk finally arriving at Bonanza Coffee Heroes – hard to find but oh so worth it! look for them on Oderberger Strasse.
Saturday night we were joined by a young hitch hiking Aussie who had hitched from Italy. Even though we had many discussions on how to get to our destination it took 4 U trains and a long walk to get to the Yorckschloesschen jazz and blues bar. High adventure on the railway when we didn’t get off at what turned out to be the last station to change trains and ended up sitting at the end of the line in a tunnel for a little while till the train went back again. The guard who knocked on the window at the end of the line in the tunnel had the ‘oh, no, more crazy tourists’ look on his face as he motioned for us to stay there and wait.
The jazz bar was rocking by the time we got there at 11pm. We ended up sitting outside for several reasons, it was really loud inside and there was no sitting room left. The backpackers were all broke so didn’t want to pay the 6 Euro cover charge. However, it was just as nice outside and we could talk, eat and still hear the music. I can recommend this place for a great evenings entertainment, just get there early if you want a seat inside.
At 1am we were on the move again this time in search of underground bars. We never did find one, after all you don’t just find those places, you have to know where they are, I’ve been told you should ask a taxi driver, they know. We found some Goth looking place, but there were only 3 or 4 other people there, one drink and we moved on. The next bar was equally as boring. By 3am I gave up and caught a cab home leaving the young ones to continue their search.
Sunday was allocated to myself and to exploring the Classic Remise. This happens on the odd Sundays of the month. So it was up early and a 2-train trip and a very long walk, made longer by initially walking in the wrong direction, to this amazing place. The Classic Remise Berlin is a centre for vintage and classic cars. It was opened in 2003 in a historic tram depot. This building now houses workshops, retailers for all things related to classic cars and the Trofeo restaurant. Beautiful machines are on display, most in the open areas and some are enclosed in glass show cases on two levels. It was such a lovely way to spend a Sunday, and something very different. An all you can eat brunch that turned into lunch, a glass of Prosecco, a few hours of live jazz from the Sunday Stompers and lots of awesome cars to inspect, not something I had even dreamed of finding in Berlin. If you are a car enthusiast I recommend that you put this on your must see list
Impressions and advice from my first weekend.
Research! Originally I was going to Berlin with a friend who had lived there, unfortunately she couldn’t make it so I went solo. I didn’t think to do proper research and so didn’t realise what it would take to see Berlin. If it is your first visit this is one place where I recommend you do proper research and talk to people who have been there. Berlin was very different to any other place I had so far been, very relaxed about some things that would never be allowed at home like the drinking on the trains. Trains run 24/7 so the party people travel cheaply and they all take their roadies with them, seems the parties just carry on in the trains as people travel from one lot of entertainment to the next. At 1am on Saturday night it was like peak hour with booze in the U train. At other times there are very strict rules eg don’t be on the train with the wrong ticket, especially from the airport! Our young hitchhiking Aussie was fined 40 Euros for having the wrong sector ticket, an expensive exercise.
Hop on Hop off Bus Berlin
It was time to put the list of interesting places received from my friend back home to use. What better way to find everything than to do what was becoming my favourite way of orientating myself in a new city, the hop on hop off bus tour.
Hint: These tours are worth spending the extra money if you can’t handle all the walking like me. In the main I find them informative and it certainly saves your legs and a lot of time particularly in a city like Berlin which is so spread out. Possibly because of the wall and the various regions there are interesting places to experience all over this vast city.
My young Indian dorm mate decided to join me on the first day, it was nice to have the company and to discuss points of interest. Also it is always useful to have someone else to take photos of you. Every now and again we would part ways when one or the other wanted to hop off and then we would come across each other again on another bus. You learn a lot on the buses (mostly true, but be aware that some of the guides in some cities just make stuff up for entertainment value). I learned that the previous East Berlin has trams and the previous West Berlin mostly doesn’t have trams, it has trains. so it’s reasonably easy to know which part of old Berlin you are in.
There was an important mission that first morning. I was determined to find a particular café, one that a friend back home had mentioned as being an important memory. To find it we needed to get off at the Brandenburg Gate and walk past the Jewish memorial to No 1 Eberstrasse, corner of Lennestrasse. The name of the café was different to the one my friend had given me, it had changed to Lebensart since his time there. One thing I have discovered about that particular café since, and unfortunately didn’t notice at the time as we sat outside, is that if the Berlin wall were still there it would run right through the middle of the café. So apparently the café is in two different colours signifying the two sides of the wall. This little deed planted the seed of what I think I was missing and that is an emotional connection to Berlin. Unlike Dresden, Split and Belgrade and Slovenia I had no family stories to connect to. Starting to see the city through the eyes of another helped to begin building a connection. On the way back to the bus stop we took the opportunity to take photos at the Jewish Memorial. It is so large that it would have been impossible to get a decent selfie. More on that memorial later.
It was the afternoon when we got off the bus with the intention of going into the Reichstag building . We stood in line for about half an hour to get the free tickets and chatted to other tourists, only to find out, as we got to the front, that you had to have your passport with you (this reminded me of my time in Milan in 2006 when, having found the San Siro stadium and stood in line I discovered I needed my passport to buy tickets to the game). Neither of us had our passports so we didn’t get tickets. I never did get back to the Reichstag. I usually don’t carry my passport with me but unfortunately there is the odd place where it’s needed, perhaps better research would help. So remember to take your passport if you want to get inside the Reichstag.
Instead I wandered off exploring the Tiergarten. I came across the Soviet memorial, a massive structure obviously enjoyed by young skateboarders, the sad memorial to the Sinti and Roma people who also went through a holocaust during the war and the unofficial memorial to those who died trying to escape over the Berlin wall near the Brandenburg Gate. I hope it is still there as apparently the Council wanted it removed.
Day 2 of the hop on hop off dawned and although I think I averaged about 2 hours sleep I had to get stuck into it and get all the ‘hopping off’ done. Have I mentioned how huge Berlin is and how much there is to experience? I was on my own this time. First stop the Victory column with its crowning glory of a golden statue of Victoria. It is located at the Großer Stern (Great Star), a large intersection of roads within the Tiergarten. You access the column via underground tunnels and for those who want to you can climb up internal stairs to the top, must be an awesome view from up there. Opposite is the Café Viktoria so breakfast was in order. It was so pleasant chatting to the sparrows who joined me and polished off my crumbs. What a way to start a day, German breakfast, visiting sparrows, the amazing column and surrounded by the spectacular Tiergarten, I wondered what everyone else was doing at that moment.
Next, Charlottenburg where the largest existing palace in Berlin is found. I chose not to enter the palace as there was so much more walking to be done in other places and my time was limited if I wanted to do all the planned ‘hopping off’. Instead I roamed the street of antique shops in Charlottenburg and discovered a few other interesting places, like the Russian supermarket with endless varieties of Vodka and the book store, on my way to the next bus stop. You could tell it was a very hot Summer’s day,the dogs were fast asleep at the front of shops.
Back on the bus and off to the East gallery and Checkpoint Charlie. The East Side Gallery (a 1.3 km long section of the Berlin Wall) is where artists were invited to depict their thoughts and feelings. It is an international memorial for freedom. It really is a must to visit and spend some time contemplating the artworks. I only saw a small section of it with the various artistic expressions of feelings about Berlin, the wall and freedom. In a way the painted areas didn’t have as deep an effect on me as the much shorter unpainted section I saw from the bus. Stark, blackened with time and threatening, exuding a feeling of depression. I could not imagine having to live behind that wall and seeing it on a daily basis. On the bus we were told that the real Checkpoint Charlie is now in a museum and that the tourist attraction is a replica and of course if you want a photo with the ‘guards’ there is a fee. Still, it is interesting to stop and look and read.
On Wednesday 19 June 2013 President Obama was in town so I headed off in the opposite direction to the crowds (the security was massive around the Brandenburg Gate where he was to speak, I could see it building over the previous 2 days) and I don’t like large crowds. There were also armoured police vehicles, other police vehicles and street barricades along Potsdamer Platz, so possibly he would be there too. I was tired from lack of sleep and the cough that had attacked me so I thought I’d do as little as possible. I decided on Cafe Chagall for lunch in Prenzlauer Berg. This place originally started as a Russian cafe 20 years ago and has kept some of the original menu items – yum yum, good food, terrific Bohemian atmosphere and such friendly staff. Next time I’m going to go at night.
Next item on the to do list was KaDeWe (Kaufhaus des Westens). Now, one thing I hate (other than massive crowds) is shopping! And spending my holidays window shopping is one of my greatest pet hates, but even I just had to go and check out what all the hype was about. Apparently it is the second largest department store in Europe, beaten only by Harrods. None of the clothes grabbed my attention but the shoes! And the food on the top level! Then the porcelain and stuffed animals wow! There was a very cool modern coffee set I was tempted by, but no, you can’t carry crockery around the world and sending it home was out of the budget. Yes, KaDeWe deserves the hype, all seven storeys of it. The Sony building close by is a spectacular piece of architecture worth visiting and the giraffe out the front of the Lego building caught my eye too.
So, I had been been pondering on Berlin. Apart from extending my stay and realising how much more I still needed to do, see and experience I came up with a realisation. I think this city needs to be shared especially if it is a first visit. I mentioned this thought to my young dorm mate and he too had come to the same conclusion, that to fully experience Berlin it would be best to share it with someone you care about or at least with someone who really loves Berlin. Why? I don’t know, it’s one of those feeling things, but this was the first time I had felt that in any place. Interesting how different places have a different affect.
Following the List.
Well what a journey I was taken on thanks to that list from my friend. Thursday it was off to the Pergamon Museum on Museum Island. I purposely didn’t research, I wanted to see why this was on the list, Well! Did I have an education, I’ve always known I should have listened more in ancient history classes and every time I go to things like this I wish I had followed through on my interest in archaeology. Anyway, I was not expecting the jaw-dropping vision I saw upon entering the museum. I was greeted by a complete replica of the altar of Pergamon, then the gates of Ishtar followed by Uruk. Who knew there was such an advanced civilisation called Uruk 5000 years ago? Not me! Indescribably stunning stuff. The photos don’t do the displays justice. Sadly there were no Egyptians anywhere in sight, they appear to have moved to another museum. I definitely understood why this museum was on the list and sent a silent thank you through the air.
Before walking home to give my feet and back a rest I took the one hour boat trip on the river Spree, which was included in the bus tour ticket. it was so pleasant enjoying the warmth of the Summer sun while gliding past both old and new buildings on the waters edge.
On the walk home I came across all sorts of things, shops with massive stuffed animals (bears featured a lot), bridges, Trabi tours, a pop-up shop grand opening, fountains and the paddling pool which was fully operational that day. What an exhilarating day that was, Berlin was starting to get me.
My Friday morning thought was ‘I will find something easy to do today’ Ha! Did I forget I was in Berlin and wherever you go will end up requiring some mega walking? Especially for me who gets distracted easily and before I know it I’ve gone off my planned track? And so Friday started with ‘I’ll just go out to Roststatte a cafe in Ackerstrasse Mitte recommended for coffee and then perhaps the Gallery of Modern Art, opposite directions but the U-Bahn will get me there.’ That would have been fine if I’d stuck to the plan! However, I got to the art gallery and wasn’t even keen on the building (OK, so I’m probably a Philistine, but really it did remind me of a disused petrol station). I decided I wouldn’t risk not being keen on the art as well, which appeared to be down at least one flight of stairs. I thought some quiet time in the Tiergarten would be nice, and it was, and it required walking and walking and walking to get there! Then lots more walking through the gardens to get back to the Brandenburg Gate.
On the way I found some beautiful architecture especially doors, more beautiful sections of the gardens, ponds, statues, flowers and stumbled across a small crowd of people gathered around interesting looking rocks. On closer inspection I discovered that this was the Global Stone Project a place where people gather to celebrate the Summer Solstice on 21 June. I’d missed the exact time of the celebration but it was nice to have discovered this peaceful place and to join in the overall feeling for a little while. The rocks stand for Peace, Love, Awakening, Hope and Forgiveness and come from 5 different continents. To explain the concept would take too long so I urge you to have a look at the creator’s website with his full explanation at;
After the Stones I discovered that I was across the road from the cafe on Ebertstrasse so it was back to #1 and thinking of friends.
The next day I found myself going to Potsdam. There is too much to say about Potsdam and so I will leave it for it’s own story in the next episode.
The End of the Visit
My last full day in Berlin arrived on Sunday 23rd. The plan was to go back to Potsdam, however, on waking up I really didn’t feel up to it. Instead I decided that perhaps a quiet day in the Tiergarten and revisiting the stones would be a better idea. First, coffee on Unter Den Linden. Having fortified myself I decided that this was the day to check the information centre to the Holocaust memorial on my way to the Stone Project. The museum is underneath the “Field of Stelae”, the above ground area containing over 2,500 geometrically arranged concrete pillars, which I’d visited on my first day. The pillars are all at different levels and so are the paved paths in between. Walking through this area where some of the blocks were higher than my head and others lower, gave me a feeling I cannot describe adequately. In the underground museum, all the emotions rose up. As I read some of the names of victims and their last letters and notes tears welled. The notes were scribbled on whatever materials the prisoners could find once they realised what was happening. It was just so overwhelming that I couldn’t stay there for very long. Notes from children to parents, parents to children and so on, many of these are embedded in the floor under glass, a very moving experience and I just had to get out of there before I completely broke down.
So off to the Tiergarten to clear the emotions, well that didn’t quite go to plan. I was so disappointed in the condition of that beautiful area. I’m not sure who were the offenders, there had been a concert on the Friday night and the Gay Pride gathering on the Saturday. Mountains of rubbish everywhere especially close to the park benches. So sad. I wish that people gathering in big mobs would respect their surroundings and leave the beautiful parks and gardens as beautiful and neat as they found them so others can enjoy the area too – take your rubbish home people. Rather sad that this should be my last image of the gardens.
And so it was back to my hostel to pack and rest before moving on the next day.
It is only now as I compose this blog and go through each photo I am starting to put together my impressions and feelings. I wasn’t ‘grabbed’ by Berlin immediately as I was by some other places nor do I think I left my heart there, as I did in other places, but I do want to go back. I think I am more enthralled than ‘in love’ after my first visit and that fascination draws me to want to see and feel Berlin with eyes and heart that have been there and need to go again to find more understanding. So, what is it that epitomises Berlin for me? I don’t think that I can bring it down to just one thing, the suburban wading pool, bears, the guy in a wedding dress in Alexanderplatz, the incredible antiquities at the Pergamon, the food and coffee culture, fashion, history, spies, palaces, architecture and so much more all mesh together in this enigmatic city of contrasts called Berlin which draws you to itself with mysterious, inexplicable energy. Until we meet again, Berlin, farewell.
Yay! Halleljah! I entered my room for one, I could make a racket, I could eat in bed and the wifi worked! Yes I had arrived in Dresden and as all the hostels were booked out when I was looking for accommodation I shouted myself the Ibis hotel. It’s budget, so still much cheaper than others (by about half the price of the other cheapest hotels) and is right in the middle of the old town. Clean, basic and modern, unfortunately it also had a TV and I have no will power.
I was glad that my accommodation had worked out the way it did, I realised that I needed some time out to myself and I suspected that there may be some emotional moments which would have made life in a dormitory a little difficult. Sometimes you just need to let the emotions flow instead of having to have the social face on all the time. Dresden I knew would be challenging, firstly, because of my Mother’s war experiences in the labour camp close by in Oppach and secondly the devastation of Dresden in 1945.
Friday 7 June 2013
Now to the events of that day. Firstly, thanks to all those who expressed concern regarding the floods at the time. I had no clue about the floods until after I’d booked both the train and the room, someone happened to say something along the lines of ‘are you sure you can get through?’ followed by being informed and brought up to date (this is what happens when you choose not to watch any TV or bother with newspapers, eventually someone will tell you what’s going on. Sometimes I wish they wouldn’t like the lady in the hostel in Ljubljana who insisted on telling me all about the plane crash in England the day I’d put my son on a plane to London, even though I told her I wasn’t interested and why. Some people just don’t have a clue). I decided to trust that even if the lines were cut that by time I was due to travel the water would be receding and anyway, surely the Austrian railways would have sorted something out. So off I went, scored a business class compartment all to myself (because it was chaos in the carriage where I was supposed to sit). People had no idea where their seats were so took whatever was available including mine, so I found elsewhere. I checked with the guard if this was OK and found that the seats were not reserved so, bonus, business class all the way to Dresden
The train pulled out of Vienna and headed north-west for a total of 9 exhausting hours. As we approached Prague I noticed the swollen river (I hadn’t noticed before because I was fast asleep). The river Vltava was running fast and obviously much wider than normal. It was getting higher and higher in places and very close to the railway line. I found out later that it was only the day before that the water had receded enough from the tracks to allow trains through. Village after village was underwater, devastation was everywhere, I understood that the constant showers in Vienna were the edge of the rain which caused these floods.
As we neared Germany the situation just got worse, visions of Queensland and Queanbeyan came to mind. In one place I noticed a lady looking out of the opposite side window shaking here head and muttering, so I thought I’d take a look and saw that in that spot both sides of the tracks were flooded, the river side and the entire township as well, everything except the rail tracks was under at least 5 feet of water, probably more.
We reached Dresden safely, the railway station there is quite outstanding with an interesting structure. The Ibis turned out to be a good choice!. A clean and modern, hotel quite adequate and right on the main street in the old town so most of the points of interest were in walking distance . There is a massive mall underneath for supermarkets and general shopping, I thought I’d never find my way out of there! In fact I don’t think I ever found my way back to the same door through which I entered during my entire stay. Conveniently there is also a tram stop right in front of the hotel.
After what should have been a quick visit to the mall (I spent ages finding the way out as I tend to get very disoriented in large malls) and getting acquainted with how everything worked in my room, I went off for a walk. The first amazing building I found was Frauenkirche, that church is just stunning! I took lots of photos, of course, and would return there many times, it is a focal point of the old town.
Saturday 8 June 2013
Drawing parallels and comparisons.
When Ginski and I first got to Ljubljana, and we went for our walk in search of dinner, his first comment was ‘it looks like it’s been built for a Hollywood set’. When I got back there and spent a couple of days exploring by myself I could see what he meant, there was a feeling of unreality and being too perfect. I got a bit of that feeling again as I wandered around parts of Dresden. So I started wondering why that might be and it seems to me that perhaps it’s because both cities have been rebuilt after destructive disasters. In Ljubljana it was the 1895 earthquake, and although ‘only’ 10% of the city was destroyed, whole areas were rebuilt and new buildings designed and created. The centre of Dresden, as we know, had to be almost totally rebuilt after that horrific bombing and although there is charred and blackened re-used sandstone in almost every building it has a similar feel. Not as strongly as in Ljubljana but it’s still there. So hard to explain in words, it’s just a weird feeling of unreality.
I went back to my room and did a quick Wikipedia read of the justifications for the bombing of Dresden, and I still didn’t get it! I probably never will understand it. Why on earth did it have to be so bad? Why destroy such beautiful old buildings? Why not just go for the strategic stuff if that is what was supposedly needed? From what I understand most of that wasn’t in the old town. My mother described her experience of the bombing of Dresden in her memoir. Prior to the bombing the labour camp inmates had the feeling that Germany was losing the war as rules at the camp had been slackened to the point where even the gates were no longer locked, however, to quote from that memoir;
‘On 13th February 1945, an order was given to lock our gate. We were watching how, that day, from early morning to late evening, column after column was passing our camp. First came the German Army, then Vlasow’s army (Soviet Russians on the German side), civilians, concentration camp men in striped pyjamas, and barefoot Jewish women. They were all going to Dresden.
The night was dark. We couldn’t see the bombers, but a formation of them, like a black cloud, was passing over our heads. Squadron after squadron flew over. Then, all of a sudden a blinding light illuminated the whole town. Loud explosions followed. We held each other in a grip. Unbelievable thunder was shaking the ground. Eventually, we realised that Dresden had been bombed. From where we stood, a distance of 75kms, we saw flames rising to the sky and small objects flying around us. The Allied forces had used phosphorous bombs, with the attack continuing for some hours non-stop. At dawn, everything went quiet – only the scream of ambulances driving to Dresden could be heard. The ground around the camp was covered in ashes and fragments of torn books and lots of aluminium ribbons.
The men were picked up to clean up Dresden. The horror they saw is beyond description.’ (Jermolajew, Tamara 2005, It Can’t Be Forever pp 44-45, Ginninderra Press, ACT)
Interestingly my mother made no mention of the ongoing bombings of 15 February. Perhaps the chaos at the camp and their escape to join the March of Millions wiped it from her memory or perhaps she didn’t want to go into more detail of bombings and wanted to convey what was happening at a more personal level on the march. This is one of the many things I need to read about to fill in the gaps.
Off I went for a more in depth walk and on the way found out about the castle tours and took a better look at all the sad burnt buildings. Tears welled as I looked at this lovely old town and the re-used charred sandstone blocks in so many of the buildings. All I can say to the citizens is good on you for the massive effort to rebuild and move on beyond what to me is a senseless action. Yes, I know there are many, many senseless actions during wars, this one is just a little more personal I guess, seeing as my parents and the older of my two brothers could so easily have been caught up in it and been wiped out and that would have meant that I wouldn’t have existed.
I wandered down to the Elbe to see what was happening there as a result of the flood. The sandbagging was holding well but the river was extremely high and flowing very fast. Street signs were only just sticking up above the rushing river, they were the only indication that somewhere underneath there was a road. Boats and ferries were inundated, the water was so high that there was absolutely no possibility of any boat passing under the bridges.
Sunset found many tourists (including me) on the Augustus bridge. Cameras clicked madly to capture the incredible scene of a flaming red sun setting over the flooded Elbe.
That done I wandered back to the central square and sat around waiting till dark to get photos of Frauenkirche lit up at night. It was a delight to just sit and people watch for a while. Such a normal sight, people leaving work, people going to restaurants for dinner, waiters preparing the outside tables for the incoming crowds, tourists wandering around snapping photos, a violin was being played beautifully somewhere in the square and towering above this peaceful scene were the charred sandstone blocks.
Sunday 9 June 2013
It seemed that spending time in Austria and Germany was definitely helping to bring back my High School Germana bit, so I managed to order breakfast without a single English word – well done me! ‘Eine cappucino Italiano, eine kleine espresso UND einen pflaumkuchen bitte’ ok, simple but better than nothing.
That was followed by a walk to Zwinger Palace which is famous for its beautiful baroque architecture. It was built in 1709. Originally it was an open area surrounded by wooden buildings which was used by the Saxon nobility for tournaments and other courtly events. The sandstone palace was built between 1710 and 1719.
It certainly is a stunning work of architecture and a peaceful place to visit (even when it is full of tourists). The reconstruction of Zwinger was completed before the re-unification of Germany. It was supported by the Soviet military administration, and work began in 1945. The beautiful Zwinger Palace had been largely restored to its pre-war state by 1963.
Having had my fill of wandering through baroque halls and nymph gardens I needed to figure out which tram to catch to the main railway station, then to find out how to get to Oppach, followed by another tram to see the Yenidze building, now that was a strange concept so it is deserving of a bit of description. Yenidze is the name of a former cigarette factory building. It was built between 1907 and 1909 and is used today as an office building.
“Yenidze” was the name of a tobacco company which was started by the entrepreneur Hugo Zietz. The company imported tobacco from Yenidze in the Ottoman Empire. In order to publicise the origin of the tobacco the factory was designed in the Oriental style and to me looks very much like a mosque. Unfortunately you can’t go inside but the outside is certainly worthy of a photograph or two.
This was followed by a long walk back to the hotel, I was quite proud of myself and my orientation abilities. It’s funny what you can miss at times, I found a Mexican restaurant I hadn’t noticed before right opposite the Ibis. I went there for dinner and was sorely disappointed mainly because everything was covered in pepper. The meal itself I guess was ok but I couldn’t really tell because all I could taste was pepper. Oh well it was back to more exploring for decent food, preferably of the German variety.
Monday 10 June 2013
This day was interesting. I went in search of the Military Museum. First stop however was the VW factory. Another interesting building all glass so you can see what is going on inside. This factory is purely for the building of the top of the range VW Phaeton. The parking for the completed cars is in a multi storied round glass parking station. This is where I first heard of the Curry Wurst. The claim is that it was invented in the VW factory restaurant, true or not, the claim is there. I wasn’t interested in giving the curry wurst a try though, I had visions of the curried sausages we had to make in the staff canteen when I worked with my mother as her Second cook. We both hated the sight of those brown sausages floating in yellow curry sauce (not the most appetising looking concoction) and my mother’s description of them (in private) was also very unappetising, however, the customers loved them. So I wasn’t particularly interested in ending up with something similar. Of course I discovered later that the Curry Wurst doesn’t look like that at all but still………….
Back on the tram and off to find the Military Museum. It took ages to find it and I needed to ask for directions in a couple of places. Eventually I found the entrance and went in. It was full of interesting information and of course I had several ‘moments’ afterwards on my walk back to the tram stop.
The museum was actually interesting (although the weird leaning internal walls and asymmetry did my head in). The information was very balanced and at no point did they say anything that was accusatory of the Allied Forces and their attack on Dresden. There were just two simple displays of flagstones from both Rotterdam in 1940 and Dresden in 1945 with just the facts of both events.
It all got a bit much for me that day. After being in the war museum and walking back to the tram I so missed Mum and wanted to be able to talk to her, just wanted to hear her voice, to talk to her more about her life back then, even just writing this at the time brought tears to the eyes. I so wished that I’d asked more questions when she was with us.
Tuesday 11 June 2013
I was going to check out the Royal Palace but discovered that it is closed on Tuesdays so, change of plan, I decided to walk over the bridge to have a look at the golden rider, and the New Market. The golden rider is indeed VERY golden, sparkling in the sunshine. The statue which is in the middle of the Market Square is of a gilded Augustus the Strong seated on a rearing golden horse. It was created by Jean Joseph Vinache and placed there in 1736. Apparently the statue was hidden in a cave during World War II, thus it escaped the bombing.
I can’t say I was impressed with the actual market, lovely building but pretty much the same old stuff as everywhere, a few clothes shops and some fruit and vegetables stores, not much though. Nothing like Naschtmarkt in Vienna.
So I figured I’d go and find the Pfund Dairy (Pfunds Molkerei), apparently it’s in the Guiness World book of Records as the most beautiful dairy in the world. Well, that was some walk! Part of the way I walked along the river, there is a café near the river called Kaffe Rosegarten that was destroyed by the flood. The garden was certainly still under water and the inside looked devastated. I guess that all the flood precautions created to protect the main part of the city didn’t help this area of the river. It was so sad to see because it looked like a beautiful café and lovely rose garden.
I finally found my way to the dairy at 79 Bautzner Strasse, and yes it is lovely! Totally covered in beautiful scenic tiles. Unfortunately, again, you aren’t allowed to take photos, so I had to buy a couple of postcards instead and take photos of those. I’d love to go back one day and have the time to stop and have a milkshake. These days it is more a gift shop/milk bar but they do still have a dairy elsewhere and use the milk from there to make various products like milk grappa and milk soap as well as the milk shakes and coffee. I tried to be sneaky and use my long lens once I got outside and across the street but there are so many roadworks and large pieces of equipment around that it was impossible.
Then it was another long walk to the tram stop. Due to the road works the tram lines were also dug up and the tram stop on Bautzner Strasse was not in service so I had to walk back to Albert Platz where there are some stunning fountains. I was beginning to become orientated in this town.
Finally I got back to the hotel and after a bit of a rest I decided that I should check out the 2 churches that I hadn’t visited yet, the Kreuzkirche and the Hofkirche. The Kreuzkirche is the Protestant cathedral the seat of the regional bishop. The church holds close to 4000 people. Kreuzkirche was yet another building destroyed in 1945 then rebuilt and finally re-consectracted in 1955, there is quite a history to this old church.
The Hofkirche is Catholic. Yes, also badly damaged in the bombing and although the reconstruction was begun soon after the war it wasn’t fully completed until 1987. There is a story that the reason the Hofkirche has a double aisle is because Catholics were only allowed to have services in an inner room, I’m not sure about this and I can’t find any reference to that story other than what was in the local tourist information. Perhaps you lovely readers can help out with this one. And that was enough for one day, I was hoping to go to Oppach the next day.
Wednesday 12 June 2013
The plan was to go to Oppach, a 75 km train and a bus trip to where mum was in the labour camp and my brother Victor was born. But I woke up thinking that I shouldn’t go. It wasn’t laziness, just this real feeling of I shouldn’t go, I lay in bed and thought it through and couldn’t even make myself get up and get moving. Finally I realised that this is one of those intuitive feelings I should pay attention to.
My philosophy in life has always been ‘if in doubt, don’t’ and whenever I’ve gone against that I have struggled and ended up unhappy or unsafe. So decision was made, not to go. Out of bed and showered, next decision, where to have breakfast and what to do instead of the trip. I did find out later that it was probably a good thing I didn’t go, as out there it was rare to find English speakers and although that in itself is not a huge problem there was also the possibility of no bus back and no accommodation to stay the night. I may be adventurous to a point but taking that risk on my own wasn’t a good idea. Glad my intuition kicked in.
And so it became Royal Palace day instead. Coffee and croissant (favourite breakfast) across the alley from the palace at Emil Reiman Café then the palace with the 2 treasury vaults. Wow! Those vaults! What incredible works of art were collected. In those days everything was a work of art really, from paintings and statues to crockery and cutlery – spectacular.
Of course this is Dresden, and you can’t avoid reminders of the destruction. This poor castle was almost totally destroyed, however, miraculously some rooms and their contents were untouched, mainly because of it’s structure and being on the outside wall. Had they been facing the internal square they would no doubt also have been destroyed by the extremely high temperatures of the fires. Luckily so much survived for us to see, and for that which didn’t survive, there were paintings, photos and descriptions so they could be replicated.
Thursday 13 June
I woke up out of a couple of weird dreams, one an unpleasant one about spiders and the other about a friend and my sons. At the same time I was singing La vie En Rose in my head. What a strange combination.
I needed to get the image of spiders out of my head so turned my ipod on with Pablo Neruda and others’ poems for a little while, that got me back into writing mode. I ended up writing a couple of poems of my experiences, the following is one of them;
I walk along cobblestones
Looking neither right nor left,
Walking forward to yet another monument.
I don’t want to feel, yet feelings come
Tears well in my eyes of memory
As I think of the past,
My past, their past,
I see pictures of shattered destruction
And I think of my mother,
I think of losses, of love,
I think of my past
And tears keep welling,
Amongst the rebuilding of lives,
Mine, theirs, the worlds,
But I’m avoiding feelings,
Yet feelings come in emotional waves
Almost drowning me, but not quite,
And continue toward yet another monument.
Thursday 13 June 2013
I think I should do this more often, ie not rush into the day but spend a little time thinking and writing.
Friday 14 June
Isn’t that the way? My last few hours in Dresden and I finally found the best cappuccino, the best espresso and the best croissant in Dresden, at Café Am Schloss. Such a nice way to finish a trip to this chilled out city. Not quite as chilled out as Belgrade but seriously, not many people are in a hurry here, perhaps it’s because what you see most of are older German tourists, but even so it’s a feeling. So don’t be in a hurry in Dresden especially in cafes.
Farewell beautiful Dresden, time to hop on the train, next stop Berlin.
Hello again, OK friends, go and get a cup of coffee or a looooooong drink, settle back and relax for we are going on a 10 day trip to Vienna. I did a lot in Vienna in a short time, regardless of the weather conditions.
Tuesday 28 May 2013
And so it was time to leave Ljubljana for Vienna, this time on my own as my son Ginski had to leave a few days earlier, heading back to Utila. It had taken a few days to decide where to go next. This was the beginning of a pattern that would continue for the rest of my travel. I left the ideas up to the gods and followed my intuition, in that way I always ended up in fascinating places that I may not have even thought of had I over-planned the trip.
First a taxi to Ljubljana station, yes it’s a walkable distance but now that I was on my own I had to deal with my own luggage. When I was getting ready for this first leg of solo travel my son Nick’s question to me in Italy ‘How are you going to manage all your luggage when you are on your own?’ rang in my ears. Up until this next bit of travel I had my kids with me and so there was lots of help. Now, on my own, I had to re-organise myself. The first decision was to take care of my physical health especially my back and so, sensibly, I decided that the cost of taxis to railway stations was worth the money, rather than spoiling my trip with discomfort from over-doing it. I only had 2 pieces of luggage, a wheeled carry on bag and a larger wheeled backpack. However, over a distance these become heavy and unpleasant to manoeuvre along footpaths, apart from which I still had the container with the remainder of Mum’s ashes and that didn’t fit into the luggage, so taxi decision was made.
The train pulled out of Ljubljana station at 9.30am, we changed at Maribor. Next time I find myself in Slovenia, Maribor will be a definite stop. From all the images I have seen it is a beautiful city in the midst of wine country. However, last year was not the time. At first the scenery was quite normal, pretty and green of course but not spectacular (by now I’d been spoiled by the scenery of Lakes Bled and Bohinj) and then, there it was! That view out of the train window as we crossed into Austria. The villages tucked into the folds of the hills or placed wherever there was some flat farming land, the red roofs contrasting the bare escarpments and the many shades of green trees. The white of the snow on the peaks in the distance accentuated by the green of the forests in the foothills. It was a journey through a postcard, stunningly beautiful and vibrant. I was sad when it was all left behind as the wheels clattered on to Vienna, but then there was the beauty of that city to see. Ah, travel! So much to see, so much to do and those constant farewells and hellos.
My stop in Vienna was Wien Meidling, a nothing sort of station but it was replacing the main station which was being re-built. I can only assume that the main station is (or will be) more organised and better sign posted than the temporary replacement.
There were no useful signs for taxis anywhere near the station and no recognisable taxi stand. I thought this was very un-Austrian. There are still smatterings of High School German left in my head, so I knew that I wasn’t misreading anything. I wandered around a bit and asked a few people where I could find a cab, most had no idea, luckily one helpful local lady flagged one down for me.
I arrived at the hostel and started my usual thing of orientating myself through maps and questions. Anyway, after all that walking the previous day in Ljubljana and dragging my suitcases on and off trains that day I wasn’t about to go off exploring just yet.
The hostel I was booked into was a large one and this chain of hostels doesn’t number their beds which is a nuisance because you can’t book a lower bunk. As I get older top bunks become no fun (actually I never liked top bunks, having had a tendency to fall out of bed as a child so have always avoided them where possible). Luckily I was first into that room so grabbed a lower bunk. I made a decision that in future unless I could book a lower bunk ahead of time I would stay in a different hostel. The unknown of bunk location can create unnecessary uncertainness, best to check ahead.
This place had a kitchen, dining room and a bar but I was in that ‘couldn’t be bothered cooking’ mode, nor was I interested in going to the bar. They had breakfast for 3.80 euro, an all you can eat style with cereals, fruit, yoghurt toast, coffee tea etc etc but, unfortunately, I don’t normally eat that early in the morning so couldn’t get past coffee, and a bit of muesli with yoghurt. I rarely get my money’s worth in those all you can eat meals. However, Austria is an expensive country and I suspected that the hostel breakfast was actually good value.
A piece of useful information from one of the receptionists was about the culture of the people in Vienna. I didn’t at first believe her but eventually I understood what she meant. Her advice was that if people appeared to be arrogant, rude or off-handish to ignore it, that’s just how people are in Vienna. I did eventually understand, there does tend to be a bit of an off-handed and overbearing manner in general but especially in retail and hospitality, even at that hostel and definitely at my second hostel.
Wednesday 29 May 2013
After a good nights sleep I awoke refreshed and decided to figure out the underground train system and go exploring the old town. Wow! I didn’t know where to look next. All the buildings are spectacular, beautiful old architecture (I’m not keen on the boring rectangular shapes and glass and cement of modern buildings) . As I was walking along Babenbergenstrasse I couldn’t take my eyes off the architecture and decoration of the massive building I was passing. I wondered what it could be but couldn’t find an entrance or name. It was only after I turned left onto Burgring that I discovered that I’d been walking along the back of the Art History museum (Kunsthistorisches Museum) I decided that this was definitely going on the list of ‘must pay money and enter’ items. Matching it across Maria-Theresien Platz (a rectangular park with beautiful statues, fountains and a massive sculpture of Maria-Theresa) is the Natural History Museum. It apparently has the largest collection of meteors in the world, however I didn’t get to go there this time, maybe on another trip to Vienna. I was learning quickly that you can’t do it all and proritising is a must.
I started heading towards the Spanish riding school and noticed that there were horse drawn carriage rides going from there as well as an old looking tourist train thing (similar to the one I rode up to the castle in Ljubljana). Then I noticed the hop-on-hop- off sign. Although one of the girls at the hostel said not to bother with it that it was useless, I still prefer them for orientation. So for 20 euro I bought a ticket for all three lines and off we went. Of course if I were even ten years younger let alone 20 or thirty, I would have walked the entire city.
Well! I was almost immediately thrilled that I’d decided to not take the girl’s advice. One of the first buildings we went past was the Parliament – a massive Grecian temple! And it just continued in the same vein. I ended up doing a huge amount of walking anyway as there were places I knew I wouldn’t get back to without doing the hop off part of the bus ride.
First was the statue of Field Marshal Joseph Radetzky von Radetz, yes the one in honour of whom Johann Strauss Snr wrote the Radetzky March. Then St. Stephen’s Cathedral (more commonly known by its German title Stephansdom) the church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vienna and the seat of the Archbishop of Vienna. It stands in all it’s Romanesque and Gothic glory in Stephansplatz. I believe that the funeral of the Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi was held there. Inside I was amazed to be greeted not by silence, gloom and candles but a vibrant colourful light show – amazing.
A bit of walking around that area (there was a cool shop with large Smurfs not far away) then on to Stadtpark. A beautiful park with plenty of seating and cool areas for people to sit and chat, out of the heat of the sun. Lakes, ducks, statues and flowers abounded. It was sheer delight to walk through, even though my poor old back was starting to complain bitterly. I came across what I have since found out is one of the most famous statues of a musician, the golden statue of Mozart. It is indeed stunning. Not far away was a restaurant and as it was definitely past eating time the decision was made, anyway I desperately needed a rest. A most unsatisfying experience unfortunately. The coffee was OK, that’s where I discovered the Vienna Melange, a sort of cappuccino, but the food! The waiter raved about their cevapcici (a Serbian traditional dish that I love) so I thought that would be a reasonable thing to have. Dreadful! They were like rubber bullets and inedible. He apologised and reduced my bill which was rather decent of him.
By the end of the 3rd bus line I knew I would never cover Vienna in just 4 days. So when I got back to the hostel I wanted to extend another week, but they could only extend for 2 extra days, till Sunday, so the search was on for alternative accommodation.
Now that was a massive day!
Thursday 30 May 2013
A cold, wet miserable day, I decided to stay indoors relax and do some research online. Little did I know that this rain was the edge of the European flooding rains of 2013 and that the rest of my stay would require either getting wet or not seeing Vienna.
There was supposed to be a free philharmonic concert on the lawns at Schonbrunn castle that night but the website said that if it was bad weather they would move it to Friday night. It was bad weather! I was checking with the people at reception (just in case my German was lacking) about the concert and they also said that it would not go ahead in bad weather and so I stayed mainly indoors only poking my head outside to go to the supermarket at the railway station to buy supplies. The rest of the time there were chats with my dorm mates. One of the lovely girls was a Swedish architecture student. She was so excited when she looked out of the window and saw a building that was used as an example of the best art nouveau style.
Friday 31 May 2013 I woke up to another cold and wet Viennese day. I went downstairs to find out when the concert will be and found that although the weather was bad they still went ahead with the concert the previous night, drat! The reason being that the weather forecast for Friday was even worse. I wonder how many other people missed a once a year concert because of their confusing website information. However, when I thought about it, given the weather I probably wouldn’t have gone anyway, it would have been quite miserable sitting out in the open in the freezing night rain.
So what does one do on a cold damp Friday in Vienna? Why, go to the Art History Museum of course. On the way I came across a massive sports clothing store and gave in and bought a bright blue light all weather jacket, put my Bundaberg rum plastic poncho over the top and I was ready for exploring in the wet.
Now, I’m no art connoisseur but I do like to go and investigate and see what I like and what I don’t. Well! Was I impressed ! The building alone is a work of art, inside and out. I was so grateful and thought it was very decent of Vienna to have re-opened the museum to the public on 1 March 2013, just in time for me to visit and experience.
On entering and looking up the massive marble staircase there is a huge beautiful white sculpture of Theseus slaying the Centaur then came
the gilt, the paintings on the ceiling, the domed hall – oh what an introduction to magnificence.
The collections are incredible, loads of Raphael, Titian, Caravaggio, Van Eyck, Tintoretto, Rembrandt, Pieter Brueghel the Elder and the one that captured me the most? Giuseppe Arcimboldo, what a quirky artist, no wonder his Seasons paintings caught my eye. How awesome for a non-art person to have the opportunity to see and be educated in art that I may never see in real life back home. Yes our National Gallery in my home town of Canberra has some incredible collections and regularly has special exhibitions of various masters from around the world, but that is minimal compared to what is housed in the museums in Europe. I was amazed that this museum allows current artists to set up their easels and copy some of the paintings. There was a fellow working on a copy of a painting of the castle while I was there. I was also amazed that they allow photography, it is a museum that believes that the art belongs to the people and should be seen whether people can get there in person or not.
It took me most of the day just to explore the Masters and Egyptian galleries so I didn’t get to see much of the sculptures and the Greek and Roman antiquities, and none of the coin collection nor the library.
However there was one very important place I wasn’t going to miss experiencing, yes, the café and restaurant. Luckily I went there mid-afternoon and so didn’t have to wait very long for a seat. Coffee, of course, a Wiener Melange (the closest thing to one of our awesome cappuccinos) and a piece of spectacular looking Mozart Bombe. I’d never had a cake covered in bright green icing before. This is the closest I got to the real Sacher torte as the base of the Mozart Bombe is Sacher, chocolate, pistachio and to top it off a covering of green marzipan. I’ve tried to find a recipe but haven’t succeeded yet although there are plenty of images of this wonder on line. I guess just as the real Sacher torte is a very closely kept secret so may the Mozart Bombe also be. A wonderful day and worth every penny.
Saturday 1 June 2013
Good heavens! I opened my eyes to a dry morning, even the sun was trying to shine, which it eventually did. So I decided to go out to Schonbrunn.
The castle was only a few train stations and a very short walk away from the hostel, so off I went. The first sight of the building was incredible, like most Viennese architecture, beautiful and ornate. There was the obligatory ‘living statue’ on the footpath at the entrance, Mozart in spectacular gold.
I had a little time to kill before my ticket time for the castle so of course off I went exploring a little of the grounds and found a café for coffee and an icecream. The rest of the grounds would be covered after the castle.
The time came for me to enter the magnificent edifice. Sadly, of course no photos allowed so I later bought postcards and took photos of them. Inside, the castle was even more spectacular. Seriously, after the Art Museum I didn’t think that one could get more ornate, but oh yes, this was even more so. To think how many architects, artists, painters and builders were required to create this world of art, glamour and brocade. No words can describe it so below is a photo of one of the postcards instead.
The visit into the ornateness of the castle over (even the bathrooms were decorated, although in a somewhat more unusual style)
it was time to explore the grounds further.
Walking along the tree lined avenues with horses and carriages passing I was swept back to another era. If it wasn’t for the noisy tourists in modern dress it would have been easy to imagine oneself surrounded by princes, courtiers, kings and queens.
I came to the treillage around the privy garden and as I walked in it’s shade the poet in me was finally inspired, so I sat and pondered a while, imagining the comings and goings of royalty, the peace in the shade and the colours of Autumn.
Privy Garden Schonbrunn Palace Vienna
Arched treillage, cool and green,
Oasis from summer heat,
Matted ornamental grape
Surrounds this wooden seat,
Visions clothed in cloaks and gowns
Tiptoe through your arch.
Perhaps a lovers secret kiss
Before he must depart.
Powdered wigs and skirts that rustle
Satins, silks and lace,
Red waistcoats and matching roses
A smile upon the face.
Then I picture you in Autumn
When the sun will lose its fire,
Green summer leaves turning crimson,
Heralding Winters desire.
Saturday 1 June 2013
The geometry of the Privy Garden was just beautiful and quite a sight from the viewing platform above. The rose gardens, the orangerie and there were those giant lemons again, the same sort we had seen in Naples. A lovely Russian couple was wandering around taking photos of each other, I offered to take a photo of them together (as you do when you travel) and they very kindly took one of me.
Time came to move up the hill to the Gloriette. It was built in 1775 and is both a focal point and a lookout point. To get there you walk through a massive expanse of gravelled estate flanked by Romanesque statues,along treed avenues past the ‘Roman ruin’ folly, past another expansive geometric garden, along a winding track up the hill, past an astounding fountain to the beautiful Gloriette. From there looking back at the castle the view was magnificent. Schonbrunn and Vienna and at your feet, what beautiful design ideas they had back in those days.
Sunday 2 June 2013
The Third Man and More
I moved from my first hostel to it’s sister hostel at Naschmarkt. This hostel is a couple of stations closer to the centre of town, a walkable distance on a good day, and was available for my extended time needs.
Again it was cold and wet (thank goodness for the previous day and the opportunity to go to the palace)
What to do today? I had discovered in my reading that ‘The Third Man’ movie has quite a cult following in Vienna. I hadn’t realised that it was actually filmed there in it’s entirety. So this 1948 Orson Welles original is shown at the Burg Kino 3 times a week, one session is at 2pm on Sunday so off I went. I don’t know why on earth I went as early as I did, it’s one thing to be early to find a place but quite another to be 3 hours early! Mind you it did take me a while to find it but I was still 21/2 hours early on a wet Sunday in Vienna!. So I wandered on and found a lovely South American restaurant called Maredo on Opernring. A little expensive for my budget but after living on salami and cheese for quite a while it was time to shout myself a proper lunch. So exciting, they had lamb! And it came with pan fried vegetables and potato – yum. I may not have mentioned yet but lamb is my absolute favourite red meat and it’s not easy to find outside of Australia. The lunch was very nice indeed. So then I shouted myself a dessert and coffee as well. I stretched it out as long as I could and then headed back to the cinema. The interior of the restaurant was very pleasant and decorated with taste and interest, so it wasn’t hard to spend time there.
Back at the cinema after waiting a little while for it to open, I discovered that there were balcony tickets. What a delight to enter a cinema to the sight of red velvet seats on the balcony. Most of the people, including me, immediately headed to the front row of the balcony (for old times sake) only to discover that either the seats were too low or the balcony rail too high and from there we could only see half the screen. So there was a mass move to the 3rd and 4th rows.
I do believe that I may never have watched this movie before, or if I had I’ve totally forgotten. And there it all was, all the bits of Vienna I’d seen from the bus, the ferris wheel, the streets, the parks, OK, I hadn’t been in the sewers and did not intend to go. There are actually Third Man tours of Vienna that take you to all the places in the movie including sewer tours. I really enjoyed spending that wet afternoon watching a classic old movie.
And so it was back to the hostel to chill and plan the next day. To my horror, I discovered that this hostel sends an online message at 7pm that the wifi will be shut down from 7-8 and everyone has to go to the bar to socialise. Well! You can possibly imagine that this was not going to sit well with me. Off I stomped to reception to complain, all I got was a shrug of the shoulders, the explanation being ‘it is the company policy’. When I said that the other hostel in the chain didn’t do this the answer was ‘they will’. So there I was, no wifi and not wanting to go to a very noisy bar with lots of people getting drunk. Don’t get me wrong, I love socialising and do enjoy the odd bar but I don’t like being forced into it and I dislike large noisy bars where it is impossible to talk to anyone and all I end up with is a headache. I understand the theory behind this policy but not everyone wants to spend every evening in the bar, not even all the young travellers want to do that, I know, I talked to my dorm mates. A very inconvenient policy indeed. So out came the book and the ipod because needless to say the wifi didn’t come back on at 8pm as promised, I gave up trying at 10. Apart from that issue these hostels are very good and I hope they have re-thought that wifi policy.
Tip: check everything before booking eg can you pre-book a lower bunk, is there wifi, does the wifi get shut down at any time, etc etc. I generally found that the bigger the hostel the more impersonal they are.
Monday 3 June 2013
My Own Walking Tour of Vienna (a fun way to spend my Name Day)
I walk on my own. Although it would probably be nice to join a walking tour group I know my physical limitations and there is not much time in those groups to take a break every 45 minutes, they just keep on moving. For those travellers who don’t have any limitations in how far they can walk those groups are usually wonderful, cheap and informative.
Even though this was yet another cold and wet day I headed off for my own history walk around the old town. I had the map and I knew what I wanted to see so off I went, clothed in my new weatherproof jacket, Bundaberg rain poncho and a souvenir umbrella clutched firmly in my hands. I might as well not have taken the umbrella, the wind was ferocious so in no time the umbrella was turned inside out. My clothes felt clammy as the wind blew them against my body, but I wasn’t going to be deterred and I still managed to get to most of the places in which I was interested.
Firstly, the Spanish Riding School. I found that there would be no performances while I was in Vienna, had I checked this earlier I would have been able to catch one on the weekend – oh well! However, the public can buy tickets to the morning training sessions as well as go on a guided tour of the facilities, so I decided to do that the next day (Monday is a rest day for the horses). Memories of going to El Caballo Blanco in Sydney with my young son and my parents flooded back. It’s gone now so seeing the original was going to be a treat.
Next was a quick stop by the small area of Roman ruins in the middle of Michaelerplatz to get a better photo of the explanation. I had taken photos the previous day but had forgotten to photograph the plaque, photos are my memory bank after all.
Tip: Always take photos of the explanatory plaques right before or straight after the photo of the object. Trust me, you may think you will remember what you took, but a few years after your trip you can find yourself wondering what is in the photo and why did you ever take it.
Next goal was to find the Volksgarten (People’s Garden) laid out by Ludwig Remy in 1821 and opened to the public in 1823, success! A beautifully symmetrical garden of mainly roses. In there I discovered the Theseus Temple. This is what I love about not knowing too much about a place (just enough to get me out there exploring and stumbling across amazing things that cause me excitement and reasons to explore and learn more). This temple, completed in 1821, was created by Pietro di Nobile in the neoclassical style. It is a small replica of the temple of Hephaestus in Athens (which I had been thrilled to see back in 2006) and was originally designed to house Antonio Canova’s statue of Theseus which was moved to the Museum of Fine Arts (Kunsthistorisches Museum) in 1890. Yes that same sculpture of Theseus slaying the Centaur that enthralled me on the steps of the art museum.
So, through the park, stopping to take heaps of photos of beautiful roses, across Dr Karl-Renner-Ring to the magnificent Parliament House built in the classic Grecian style. What an amazing structure and I thought rather unusual to find in Austria. However there is a reason for the choice of design. When the Imperial Commission was appointed to consider the design it was influenced by the industrialist/politician Nikolaus Dumba who preferred the Greek classical style. After all, it was a style conducive to and appropriate for a parliament, given its connection to the seat of democracy. The successful architect was Theophil Hansen and thus this amazing Greek temple stands in Vienna serving the parliament.
Rain and wind not withstanding I continued along Rathausplatz to City Hall, a gothic style building designed by Friedrich von Schmidt and built between 1872 and 1883. I loved the arches and spent quite some time trying to get a few good shots, not sure that I succeeded but it was fun and at least I was under cover for a little while.
Playtime amongst the arches over, it was forward again up Reichsratsstrasse, past the university, across Universitatsstrasse to the Neo-Gothic Votivkirche (Votive Church). The concept for this church came from a failed assassination attempt on Emperor Franz Joseph by Hungarian nationalist Janos Libenyi on 18 February 1853. The Emperors brother Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph, who later became Emperor of Mexico, asked for donations from all in the Austro-Hungarian Empire in order to build this church in honour of the rescue of the Emperor.
By this time the weather was worsening and I’d had enough of being cold and wet so wandered back towards the railway station and back to the hostel
Walking from the station I noticed that the markets were on. The young lady at reception on Sunday told me they were only on Saturdays – darn it, could have been cooking cheap meals for a couple of days.
Tuesday 4 June 2013
The Joy of the Spanish Riding School and the Lipizaner horses.
The Spanish Riding School was today’s entertainment. I ended up sitting in the second level of the viewing area, which is pretty high up in that arena. So beautiful to watch those lovely horses being trained. They did half hour sessions with 5 horses at a time. The riders look so smart and the horses look regal. The arena is huge but not originally built for the public. The Emperor created it to be used as entertainment for the royals and their guests. As a result some seating doesn’t have the best view of the arena.
In the afternoon I joined the guided tour and learned heaps that I didn’t know;
The horses are all born grey (except the throwbacks to the original breeds which can be brown or black). As they age they turn white, that can happen any time after the age of 4.
It takes about 6 years to fully train a horse and almost double that time to train the rider to full competency, what a commitment! The arena has a mix of sawdust and fabric under which is a layer of rubber sitting on natural clay, this makes the whole thing softer for the horses.
Sadly we weren’t allowed to take photos in the arena however this was permitted in the tackle room, better than nothing as proof of being there.
The excitement of the horses over off I went for more walking, searching and exploring. After quite a walk following my map I finally found the oldest church in Vienna which dates from the 11th Century. Ruprechtskirche is a dark and stark church. Unfortunately you can’t go in so I have no idea what the inside looks like, no doubt also rather stark judging by the exterior. Of course in amongst all that walking there were coffee stops and finding various shopping streets not the least of which was the very famous shopping pedestrian street Graben, the centre of Vienna.
Wednesday 5 June 2013
One of my long held dreams was to walk in the Vienna Woods. Why? Well, ever since first hearing Strauss’s evocative Tales From the Vienna Woods’ I have wanted to go tree hugging there. Thanks to a friend from my poetry group who lived in Vienna for some years I had the directions to the Lainzer Tiergarten part of the Vienna Woods. From Westbahnfof the U4 to Hutteldorf cross the bridge to the left, go down the curved ramp and continue walking through a little park area between houses on the left and the motorway on the right. After you pass the railway crossing take the next street left then the first right, keep walking till you see the green sign for Lainzer Tiergarten to the left (it’s not far) turn left and at the end of that short cul de sac is a wall with a wooden gate and door, this is the Nikolaitor (Nikolai Gate, called that because of the old tiny St Nicholas chapel just near there).
Once inside the wall there is a little wooden building as well as a feature with lots of information about the nature park. Lainzer Tiregarten started life as a private hunting ground for Frederic I when he decided to wall off 6,054 acres of the Vienna Woods for his personal family hunting ground, now it is a protected nature reserve where the only threat to the animals’ peace and quiet are joggers, picnickers or tourists with cameras.
I was lucky to see a Mouflon, a wild sheep species, pity I didn’t manage to get a photo, he was a beauty with massive backward curled horns. He stood and watched me while I changed to my long lens and just as I lifted the camera he took off at high speed through the trees. Drat! What amazed me was why he would feel threatened by a person standing still changing lenses as slowly and quietly as possible, had he been threatened in some way in this peaceful park? Then there was a herd of wild pigs with heaps of babies, a few beetles, birds and squirrels. There is a whole lot more wild life there as depicted on the many educational notices along the way, but unfortunately I wasn’t blessed to see all of them that day.
I certainly knew there were lots more birds there as the twittering got louder and more varied as I got further from the noise of the traffic. Even the small area I saw in the few hours I had was just stunning. It was a cool misty day, on the verge of more rain, so the Woods had that rain-forest feel and smell to them – oh heaven! I could see how woods like these gave birth to amazing fairy stories. I really did expect Little Red Riding Hood, to come skipping out of a clearing, or the wolf to come loping out of the trees, perhaps even Hansel and Gretel running away from the wicked witch. I’m glad it wasn’t sunny and warm, I walked for several kilometres and the atmosphere was spectacular – I think sun would have caused a totally different feel.
I thoroughly enjoyed that little nature break in my holiday. So if you are in Vienna, and you have had enough of tar and cement, take yourself away from all of that and head to the Vienna Woods, you’ll be very pleased you did.
That night I met an awesome lady – 10 years older than I am, from Brisbane doing a similar trip to mine for similar reasons, she’s just been dong it for a little longer. Her mother also passed away and she has been travelling ever since, also on her own going where the wind blows. She admitted to being lost in her life, it gets a bit that way when there’s very little family left. She was a wonderful person to chat to, so full of life and adventure. It’s a tough gig this getting beyond the stress and grief of mothers dying and siblings and other family being callous greedy individuals. Meaningful or not it was interesting that I should meet her on the 33rd anniversary of my favourite brother’s passing!
Thursday 6 June 2013
The central cemetery
The morning was taken up with a sleep in (after 2 sleepless nights) and packing as tomorrow I leave Vienna.
At breakfast I ran into the new friend I’d met the previous night and I happened to mention that there was just one more thing I wanted to really do before leaving Vienna. That thing was to go to the Central Cemetery and find the graves of the composers buried there, so she asked if she could join me. We set off in the afternoon after getting directions from the reception staff. The U4 to Karlsplatz the tram #71 all the way to Zentralfriedhof Tor 3, then a short walk into the cemetery. So off we went to the ends of Vienna, hoping that we knew what we were doing, it was rather refreshing having a fellow solo adventurer with me.
We picked up a map of the cemetery knowing that we would never find our way without one, it is such a huge place. First we wandered a little through the Jewish cemetery. Very sad to see so many who’s death was just listed as Auschwitz.
We then headed off to find the composers.
We got to the huge Church of St Borromeo (also know as the Dr Karl Lueger church) it is a very large beautiful church topped with a gorgeous copper dome. Unfortunately it was closed so we couldn’t get a peek inside.
Not far from the church we noticed a rehearsal of some sort happening so we sat and listened for a little while. A dear lady told us (lucky I have a little German left) that there was a free concert starting at 5 going till 7, it was 4 so we rushed off to find the composers. Using the map proved to be very unhelpful, we looked for ages and found lots of interesting headstones but not the composers. Then we decided to use our intuition and go back to where we had seen a group of tourists with a guide. Yes! That was where the composers were, the map had given the wrong section number. That achieved we were back at the concert by 5 and settled into our seats. Now, seriously, opera, Queen and New Orleans jazz in the cemetery – who would have thought! Set up in front of the massive church and right next to the graves of Strauss, Brahms Beethoven etc. What a treat! Coming across this made up for missing the one at Schonbrunn! Great things just kept happening on that trip. Next time I think I’ll do the tour, the cemetery is so big and there is so much history buried there that it is impossible to do it all alone.
And so ended 10 glorious days in Vienna, albeit very wet and chilly days. Probably rather fitting that the last thing I did was to visit the cemetery! Yes, it rained most of the time but I learned back in 2006 (when it rained every second day in every country I visited to the point that by the end of six weeks my shoes were rotting) that rain will happen, that is no reason to miss out on sight seeing. My mother’s words often come to me on rainy days ‘you aren’t made of sugar, you won’t melt if you get a little wet’.
The evening was spent taking photos in reception, finishing the packing and getting ready for the next day’s long 9 hour trip to Dresden by train. One day I hope to return and I hope to hear how my adventuring new friend gets on as well.
And so, farewell beautiful Vienna I now understand why that lovely song ‘Wien Wien Nur Du Allein’ was composed.
I’m changing to past tense in all future blogs about the Golden Oldie Travels of 2013. After all, I am now home from my adventures and trailing in my writing by a year, oh dear, sorry folks but I was having way too much fun and the writing took second place, but……. I am loving reliving my travels through the blogs and I do hope you are enjoying them with me.
Our day to leave Belgrade dawned, the online timetable said that there was a 5.30 am train to Zagreb so I suggested we catch that one instead of the 10.30 train as there was only a half hour connection window between the Belgrade train arriving in Zagreb and the Ljubljana one leaving. So after a night of no sleep (Ginski I could understand as he got up at 4pm, but why me? I’d had bad sleeps for 3 nights in a row!) we got up, organised ourselves in the dark of the dormitory and caught a cab to the station, bought our tickets and waited and waited. Ginski went off to buy food for the train while I stayed with the luggage. Needless to say the beggars appeared, several approached me for money so I was glad when my son returned, train and bus stations are a little difficult to handle at times. We waited some more and the train on Platform 1 started making warming up noises. Ginski asked someone about the train that was there and it turned out to be the one for Budapest. Finally the information office opened and I found out that there was only the 10.30 train! The 5.30 train didn’t exist. So back to the hostel, we weren’t going to hang around the station for 5 hours.
As an aside, some information for the rookie traveller in Serbia, or at least Belgrade….. While in Naples the first thing that the hotel pointed out to us was the places not to go because they were too dangerous, in Belgrade, when we asked the question, we were told that it is a safe city, the only thieves are the taxi drivers. So we had been clued up.
The first drive from the hostel to the railway station cost us 400 dinars, when we needed a cab to take us back he loaded our luggage in the boot, then told us that the charge was 1200 dinars just for the luggage! Well we weren’t going to put up with that, then they started the game that cabbies often play where 3 or 4 of them will try to convince you that the quote is correct and when you still say no and go to walk away another one will pop up and offer to do it for half the price. I’m so familiar with that one from trips to Asia, there I had to argue with every taxi driver and if you weren’t on your toes you got done big time! My son is also a very experienced traveller, so these guys weren’t going to get the better of us! We ended up agreeing to 600 dinars even though I wasn’t happy but walking was not an option. Funnily enough our return trip to the station 5 hours later only cost 350! Yes you have to watch those cabbies pretty much all over the world. What I did learn was that if you got your accommodation to book the cab it was always cheaper because the drivers know that you will have been told how much it should cost. That piece of information was very useful during the rest of my solo travels.
Finally we got on that train and we were on our way. A pretty uneventful trip although we were warned by other backpackers that it is very slow, and so it was. That train stops at almost every station between Belgrade and Zagreb as well as a lengthy stop at the border.
There are several things you need to know in order to have a smooth exit from Serbia. Firstly, and possibly most importantly, your accommodation has to provide you with a slip of paper that proves that you are a legitimate tourist and stayed in proper accommodation, so make sure you get that and keep it safe, for without that bit of paper you could have problems at the border (although I have since spoken to people who have visited and stayed with family and they didn’t need the slip of paper and didn’t have any problems about that, go figure). The other is to keep your tickets and passport handy on the train. The first check of course, is your ticket when you get on, then there is the one on the Serbian side of the border when they check your ticket, take that precious piece of paper and stamp your passport with the exit stamp. On the other side of the border the Croatians check your ticket and stamp the passport with an entry stamp. That whole process is repeated on the Zagreb to Ljubljana leg. So all in all we had 6 ticket checks and 4 passport checks.
We got to Zagreb and because for some reason we couldn’t get a ticket through to Ljubljana from Belgrade it was a mad dash off the train to go and buy tickets with only minutes till the train left. As it happened it was the same train that we had come in on, so I really don’t know why we were told that we couldn’t get a through ticket, perhaps a language barrier thing or a political inter country thing. It’s worth double checking that information, along with their timetables, because I don’t recommend doing that dash if you are travelling solo with luggage, we succeeded only because my son was with me and he did the dash while I watched the luggage. Or, plan to spend some time in Zagreb before moving on, we didn’t have that luxury of time.
The rest of the journey was again smooth and easy with not so many stops, the longest was of course at the border but otherwise only a few along the way.
The scenery changed dramatically after the border to Slovenia. I had become accustomed to the flatness of Serbia and most of Croatia , Serbia in particular only gets mountainous as you get closer to the coast with only a few hills in the middle at Fruska Gora (and beautiful hills they are!). Slovenia on the other hand is pretty much mostly hills and mountains and you have to look for the flat bits. All three countries are very green and I’d even risk saying that they may challenge Ireland for the 40 shades of green title, but as I’ve only seen photos of Ireland and not been there yet I probably can’t compare, perhaps those who have been to both can comment.
Very soon after the border into Slovenia the hills appeared, forested, green and beautiful. The train travels through the valley alongside the Sava River all the way to Ljubljana. I fell in love with the country there and then, just from what I saw out of the window. I was listening to my ipod most of the time and can highly recommend soft saxophone music to accompany the view, I happened to have had the foresight to download two albums, one called Sax and Candlelight and the other Sax and Romance both with Dennis Solee on the saxophone and they proved to be perfect for sitting on a train watching the Slovenian hills get taller and greener while the river just did it’s own thing rushing over rocks creating little rapids in places and in others just smoothly flowing by, minding it’s own business. I wish I could have heard the gurgle of the water in real life, but I have a good imagination so the gurgle was there in my mind behind the saxophone.
We arrived in Ljubljana at dusk– it’s light here for a lot longer than it is back home, and headed off to the hotel only a few blocks from the railway station. We checked in and headed to our room on the 8th floor. As soon as we opened the door the overpowering smell of stale cigarette smoke hit us, so we left our luggage and took off back to the desk to sort this out, I had, after all, booked a non-smoking room. Luckily the clerk was a nice guy and fixed it immediately by moving us to the 5th floor. When I entered that room I also realised that the one on the 8th floor didn’t even have the same bed configuration I had booked, whereas the one on the 5th floor did. No big problem, just one more thing that was fixed rather easily. I won’t mention the name of the hotel, it may have been a one-off mistake, however I wouldn’t stay there again.
Dinner in Ljubljana
So here it was 10.00pm and we hadn’t really eaten properly all day, cold pitta and a couple of packets of crisps don’t count, so we went in search of real food. It seemed easy to get around the centre as it is one massive pedestrian area along both sides of the river with restaurants and bars all along the way. We did notice something peculiar and that was that we couldn’t see anyone eating dinner. They were all either drinking cocktails or eating ice cream. In fact most of the places along the way were actually ice creameries or bars. We finally found a restaurant with real food and sat down only to be told that the kitchen closed at 10pm. Hmmmm. The waiter did say he’d check, maybe the kitchen could rustle up a salad, but we wanted real food after a day of travelling. We asked if there was anywhere that would be open and he suggested ‘maybe the pizzeria around the corner’ oh no not pizza! Oh well, when hungry pizza will do. We found the place and discovered that not only do they stay open till midnight but they had local food as well as pizza. Not knowing anything about Slovenian food it was a bit of a lottery, but we ended up with very nice meals, tasty and satisfying. I liked the taste of Ginski’s meal better than mine, I had chosen a dish with smoked pork, although nice it wasn’t spectacular and I later found out that Slovenians have a ‘thing’ about smoked pork, it’s everywhere!
Thursday 23 May 2013
We found a place to rent a car and picked it up at 10am – an Opel Corsa – lucky they found one with GPS. Ginski was a happy lad, loved the feel of the car and it had some speed as well. And so, GPS sorted we drove out to Hrastovec. We passed through the most beautiful vibrant green countryside and several tunnels, which are quite different in style to ours, and finally reached our destination.
Our destination was part of our search for my mother’s schools, a Slovenian castle that was gifted or perhaps lent to the Russian émigré schools (by the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes) after the schools escaped from the Russian Revolution and Communist take-over. Having found her first monastery school in Fruska Gora in the Staro Hopovo Monastery and her Third school in Bela Crkva in Serbia (these are described in previous stories) we were on a mission to find Mum’s second school. She was too young to move on to the Marinski Donskoi Institut in Bela Crkva after her first 5 years in Staro Hopovo and so was enrolled in the School at Hrastovec in Slovenia. She only spent one year there but her amazing memory retained the information extremely clearly, just like everything else in her life.
Such excitement, we found the castle, unfortunately it became a psychiatric institution at some point (and still is one) so we couldn’t even get out of the car let alone see the inside. I’ve heard that Slovenia is planning to move all psychiatric institutions out of the castles where they have been for ages and into more appropriate accommodation, then turn the castles into tourist destinations. I do hope that this happens while I am still able to travel, I want to see the inside of that place as Mum had said that in her time there the ceilings were covered with cloth. As an adult, after thinking about the possible reason for this, she suspected that perhaps the ceilings were covered in ‘inappropriate’ art for young eyes. As most castles and palaces in Europe have very ornate paintings on ceilings, often of nudes. I think she may have been right in her supposition. I would really like to see what is on those ceilings if they haven’t been ruined over the years.
As we couldn’t see the inside Ginski drove around and we found places where we could take great photos of the outside (thank goodness for long range lenses, make sure you pack one in your luggage). After the initial photos we drove on and found another spot on a hill where son took photos of the castle while I concentrated on the village. I’m not sure if the village was for the workers or for ‘out patients’. They had little gardens and cute village cottages. We were rather closely watched by a lady sitting on a stool outside one of the cottages, probably her home. Then we found yet another spot on a hill, this time I concentrated on the surrounding forest and flowers and Ginski did more castle (after all he is the professional with the much better camera).
Eventually we had done all we could do there and so drove on to Lake Bled, reaching there at around 4.00pm. At that point it struck me how short distances are in Europe compared to Australia. We found our accommodation at the Vila Viktorijah, and we were on the 2nd floor! No lift, eek! 55 steps! Luckily Ginski was there to take my luggage up. The hosts were nice, young and friendly. I didn’t realise that towels weren’t included in the price – 3euros a day! Breakfast was 2,50 euros but was actually worth it, a ‘health jar’ of muesli with yoghurt and banana plus a glass of raspberry drink, a strange combination as I’m pretty sure that drink was cordial. When we left they very nicely only charged a one day fee for the towels. Normally a traveller should always have their own towel when staying in hostels, but I’d run out of room in my luggage.
I climbed those stairs at least 4 times on day 1. At least the same on day 2 and twice on day 3 so that’s 550 steps minimum in 3 days (if my maths is correct), not bad for an overweight old duck.
Bled is very hilly and I couldn’t see myself doing much walking, lucky we had the car. We drove around the lake to see if Ginski could run all the way around – there was a path so he could have. Initial impressions were a bit disappointing as it has become so commercialised for tourism and there are so many modern hotels on the foreshores. The architecture simply doesn’t fit with the landscape, I’m sure they could have designed better looking buildings to serve the growing tourist trade instead of the square or rectangular white and glass boxes. We stopped and had a look at the castle, on the banks overlooking the lake, very pretty with the water views and swans. However, it was 8 euros to get inside and apparently there is only a restaurant and wedding venue in there so gave it a miss. Slovenia is a rather expensive country so be prepared to spend money, but do not miss this country it is seriously gorgeous.
Friday 24 May 2013
Our last full day in Bled. I woke up late but still made it to breakfast.
It was a drizzly morning but we decided to drive to Bohinj lake anyway, there was nothing much to do in Bled on a rainy day and neither of us is great at sitting around all day. Lake Bohinj is 3 times larger than Bled and ¾ of it is in the national park so I figured that it would also be less commercialised and built out.
So off we went, we decided warm clothes weren’t necessary (not that either of us had much in the way of warm clothes anyway) and that as I had my camera Ginski didn’t take his, we regretted those decisions. Half way there son said ‘ that rain is hitting the windscreen like snow’ I looked and replied ‘probably because…..yes! It IS snow!’ This we couldn’t believe, it was the 24th of May for goodness sake! So a decision was made to drive back to the Vila to get Ginski’s camera and whatever we had in warmer clothes. I was so glad we did that because we had a ball taking heaps of snow photos, I don’t know how much snow fell that day but there was enough to make the 24th of May 2013 memorable!! On the way we noticed a group of people just coming off the lake with their canoes, now that’s commitment to your sport. The cows on local properties didn’t appear to be very impressed with the weather at all. All other living beings must have found shelter as there wasn’t anything else that was living and breathing to be seen.
The evening was spent back in Bled at the Kult Klub with Fiona, Sally and Skye, a lovely group of ladies, friends of my son who just happened to be in the same place at the same time. It was such a fun evening and a bit too much wine went down, not too mention the first shot of local Slivovic type stuff to warm us, as previously mentioned, we didn’t have warm clothes with us and it was freezing! Games of thumb wars, dinner of pizza all overseen by a wall of famous performers.
The Kult Klub is an interesting place, although it is quite obviously a club for drinking there is also an area set aside for children, with toys and giant pictures of story characters on the wall. The only thing I could relate this to was our Australian beer gardens where children are allowed, this one though was indoors in the same bar area. Perhaps this is because of the much colder weather.
25 May 2013 (Towel Day)
Up in the morning and packing, time to leave Bled and head back to Ljublana so Ginski could fly out to London on his way back to Utila where a friend had started an underwater filming project and wanted him back with his skills.
So out to the airport with the car to return it, had a meal there and sat around waiting for a few hours for Ginski’s flight, poor man was so very tired, way too much partying the night before.
I then got the shuttle back to Ljubljana, it cost 9 euros but he did take me straight to the hostel I had booked for myself, or as close as possible as it’s all pedestrian area. The Tresor Hostel was an interesting place. An old bank building that was transfoemed into a hostel. In the process they wanted to maintain the concept of the bank so my room (although a 10 bunk dormitory) was broken up into cells of one double bunk in each cell. Every door to a dormitory also had a symbol of a world currency on it. Fascinating. Very difficult to describe in words.
And now I was on my own for the first time on this trip.
Sunday 26 May 2013.
Phase 2 of my trip began, alignment of Body, Mind and Spirit through solo travel. Spending almost 3 years in the doldrums had taken its toll. The first year of that period was total stress from the abusive treatment at work and the passing of my beloved mother, then 2 years of legal stress. I was a mess on the inside. I had put on weight, ruined my back and was totally unfit, not to mention very unhappy and very lost, so it was time to get over it and get on with it, I’m not really the type to stay stuck for too long.
One good thing that came out of the previous few years was stumbling across the principle of the Law of Attraction as well as the Abraham books. I liked the concept, it suited my belief systems and I had started working with those principles even before I’d left home. Now it was time for me to follow the advice on re-alignment more closely. So I decided that for the rest of my trip I would spend the last minutes of every evening and the first minutes of every morning doing the suggested thinking exercises.
Decision made I decided to go for a walk, I thought the markets would be open but Ljubljana is old fashioned so only eating places are open on a Sunday, no markets and no other shops, what a shame, I was rather looking forward to some sumptuous strawberries.
I read the legend about Jason and the Dragon at reception and then went to see the Dragon bridge with its sculptures. I realised the next day that what I thought was the Dragon Bridge was in fact, the Butchers Bridge. I had mis-read the map. This explained the pretty gruesome sculptures that I found there. The bridges in Ljubljan are generally named after the trades that were clustered in that particular area. I found that walking around Ljubljana is really easy, the old town is reasonably small, on both sides of the river. There are lots of musicians around busking and they are all good. A band near the market area, a small band near a bridge by the river and a saxophonist near the tourist train, he was really good.
I stumbled across the Russian Cultural Centre which I visited the next day and yet another Church of St Nicholas, only because I noticed it’s amazing heavy brass or bronze door with carvings of bishops heads and a beautiful handle.
I caught the cute little tourist train to go up to the castle and spent some time up there wandering around, sadly I discovered that my height ‘thing’ hadn’t been cleared up regarding climbing up stairs to high places, or any other heights. What a waste of money that hypnotherapist back home was. Darn it! I still have that challenge and really want to fix it. One day I’ll find exactly the right help.
The castle itself was interesting, the cells where they locked people up must have caused great angst to the prisoners. I have added a photo with the explanation so I hope you can read it, there is far too much information for me to write it up within the blog. The gardens around the castle are very meditative and pretty with a lovely view of the city below.
I caught the little tourist train back for lunch at around 2 o’clock . By the time I went out again it had rained and turned cold! But I still went for another walk in a different direction and eventually ended up at the river again. This time I decided to test the ice cream, very nice indeed.
And so ended my first day on my own. I had been trying to figure out which country or city to go to next but nothing was making itself clear to me. Finally I decided to go to Austria by train. It turned out that I couldn’t book a train ticket online, something about the website needing more than 3 days notice so that was an issue to solve the next day.
Monday 27 May 2013
So much to do that day! Firstly I didn’t want to go out until I had done my washing and had booked both the train to Vienna and accommodation. Booking the train online was all too confusing and seemingly impossible due to the time frame, so I asked the lady at reception, she had troubles too. That meant that I didn’t want to book accommodation until the train was sorted, so instead off I went to talk to the people at the Russian Cultural Centre ,that I’d stumbled across the day before, about much more interesting subjects. I walked via the markets. Yum! Those beautiful strawberries and cherries!
I had a wonderful long chat with the people at the centre, including the director. The ladies didn’t know much but the director was quite knowledgeable about the school in Hrastovec and the welcoming of Russian refugees before and during the revolution and war. It seems that the communist era in Russia managed to obliterate all memory of the Russia they took over. I went away having shared some information with them and they gave me the website for the Russian House in Moscow which collects lots of information on the earlier period and I promised to send them the info that I had received from Dejan in Maribor University, which I did. I also sent photos to Bela Crkva as promised. So then I went wandering off to see Parliament and to find the Orthodox church, I was hoping it might be Russian but it was Serbian, the beautiful church of Sts Ciril and Methodius, unfortunately it was locked, so I couldn’t look inside. Along the way I saw the American Embassy, another lovely old building. Ljubljana is full of beautiful old architecture.
I sauntered back into town and stopped at McCafe (yes, McDonalds really is everywhere) for a coffee. Well, it had to be done, couldn’t visit a city without having a coffee to test and photograph, my fans who were following my stories and photos would have been most disappointed with me. Actually, most friends would have probably preferred no coffee photos. I had the 2.20 euro deal of coffee and cake, not bad but not spectacular. After a bit of a rest, off I went walking again this time on the other side of the river. Ended up back at the Republik Square where the day before they were setting up barriers and a stage. Turned out that it was the University student bands performing all day in front of both the university building and the philharmonicorum building. I just caught the end of one band that sounded pretty good, unfortunately the next one was doing way too much screaming for my liking. But it was rather cool watching these guys right in front of the Uni buildings with the castle on the hill overlooking it all.
I continued on and found the BMW art car, in front of another museum. Had I known I could have seen their display of 5200 years of the wheel – however, that day it was closed! Drat! Not to worry you can’t do it all. That whole area seems to house parts of the University, I noticed that the architectural faculty building was in the same vicinity.
At the end of the street I turned for home, almost back at the hostel I stopped to look at some postcards and realized that the bridge that I thought was the Dragon Bridge – wasn’t! It was the Butcher’s Bridge! So off I went to find the Dragon Bridge which was further on. On the way I found a sports store and bought one of those lamps to wear on my head like Ginski had (that was the best piece of advice my son had ever given me), makes life a lot easier in the dorms. I successfully found the Dragon Bridge and it was certainly worthy of lots more photos, then headed home. The beautiful statues of dragons on that bridge are incredible, such great artistic work. I was so thankful for the chance reading of a postcard.
Back at the hostel I asked the guy on duty if he knew anything more about the trains and when he looked it up there was heaps of information. For example, there were some special tickets for 29 euros and I could also get a discount being retired. But that meant hoofing it up to the railway station! Man I was already suffering from all the walking, but it had to be done so off I went. And yes there were specials but the 29 euro one was for the 4pm train, I wasn’t keen as that would mean getting to Vienna at 10pm, so I opted for the 2nd special 47 euros for the 8am train, even better than the discounted seniors ticket at 54 euros and certainly better than the full price of 72 euros.
On the way back to the hostel, I decided to buy a Doner kebab. First mouthful and I was coughing and spluttering! Thank goodness I’d said ‘only a little chilli’ it would have been inedible if I’d just said yes to the chilli question.
And so, the train was booked, Wombat hostel – The Lounge in Vienna was booked, I was pretty much packed and the next day it was farewell to Ljubljana. As always I hadn’t managed to see everything but then, as I keep saying, you can’t do it all, the main reason for coming to Slovenia (finding my mother’s school) had been achieved and it was time to move on. I had decided I wanted to get to Vienna then Dresden and (hopefully) Oppach in Germany before heading up to Poland.
And so another country, city and week on the Great Trek came to a close. I was so glad that I had visited this beautiful country. I was also very grateful that Ginski was with me, it meant so much to have him there sharing the experience with me and hopefully he has some awesome memories of visiting his grandmother’s history. Next chapter ….Vienna, see you there.
Two days in LA, so a lot to do! First off my accommodation. While searching for somewhere to stay, in a convenient location I stumbled across Podshare. The concept made me want to try it out. I found it to be a really cool place. Seriously, to begin with I didn’t have to do my usual personal email to ask for a lower bunk because the ‘pods’ are built into the wall. This means that to get to the second level of pods there are real stairs, just a few, not a rickety vertical ladder.
The pods are big enough to hold all your bags, each one has a TV for gaming or movies, whatever, there is a shelf, night light and plenty of power points. Fully equipped kitchen with some food items provided. A full bathroom also with shampoo, conditioner, body wash and toothpaste provided. A totally different concept to anywhere else. Of course wifi and computers provided. I guess given that LA is a ‘different’ town then it makes sense that someone would come up with a ‘different’ accommodation concept. Located just off Hollywood Boulevard on Cosmo Street.
The staff members are awesome and make sure that everyone is introduced to each other, they invite you to come along to get meals together, a whole lot of fun and conversations to be had. There are only 10 pods so it’s small and cosy.
A quote from Podshare’s website ‘PODSHARE IS NOT A HOSTEL. IT’S A PLATFORM. AN INCUBATOR. A GLOBALIZATION SIMULATION’. So different, so much fun. Check it out. Website: thepodshare.com
LA itself had to be covered in a day an a half, no easy feat, so the Hop on Hop off bus got a good work out. One entire day bussing through Hollywood, Santa Monica and Venice Beach. Hopped off at Santa Monica for a walk on the boardwalk, lunch (the best fish and chips) at Danny’s and checked out the skate bowl and beach view. Venice was a half hour stop to check out the Marina, some dream yachts, a great ice cream and a bit of Brazilian jazz. That took all day. Oh and of course a walk along Hollywood Boulevard and the walk of fame.
Along came my last day of my 12 month trip in places other than Australia and there was so much more to see. So back on the bus for the celebrity home tour. That was a whole lot of fun. I’d been told that there is nothing much to see in La and 2 days was enough, well…….nooooooooo! I could easily spend more time here as there was no time to people watch, walk down Rodeo drive, go somewhere famous for dinner etc etc Oh well, maybe there will be a next time.
So tonight I’m off on my flight back to Australia, 12 months out in the world have flown by and I am way behind on my blog stories, hopefully when I get home I’ll catch up. So until I get to Sydney to continue my trip before heading home to Canberra, fare thee well from the Golden Oldie.
And so on Tuesday 14 May Grisha ( aka Ginski) and I flew Turkish airlines via Istanbul to Belgrade . And that is a whole different episode!
It took a while to figure out the cheapest and easiest way to get to Belgrade from Naples. Not an easy task. Taking the train to Rome and then an Alitalia flight to Belgrade was going to be costly because not only is Alitalia an expensive airline but there was no connection on the same day so we would have had to stay in Rome overnight – more expense. Normally I would say ‘Oh well let’s spend a couple of days in Rome’ but I didn’t want that extra expense. Anyway, when I go back to Rome I want more than a couple of days. So it turned out that Turkish airlines was the way to go but that meant spending 2 extra days in Naples. Yes I know that sounds strange but 2 nights in Naples in our hostel was cheaper and easier than one night in Rome and a whole lot less frustration and running around, in case you haven’t noticed I’m into travelling with the least amount of hassle.
This part of my story is going to prove a little difficult for 2 reasons,
1: I was in Serbia on three separate occasions this year so there is a lot of information and 2, it’s part of my research on Mum and Dad, so it’s all a little emotional, but I’ll try to clean up the personal emotional aspect while leaving enough in to make it all relevant. Again, I’m keeping the daily journal format otherwise I’ll never get this written, and I’ll probably end up doing each week separately although I’m toying with the possibility of rolling it all together, we’ll see what happens.
14 May 2013
So here we are in Belgrade, via Istanbul airport. Arrived about 7.30pm, checked into the Hedonist Hostel (the guys there seem really helpful and fun) had dinner in the Tri Shashira (that means 3 Hats) restaurant recommended by the guys at the Hedonist. It is in Skadarlija, the cobbled street in the old quarter that was once the haunt of poets, writers and artists, now full of tourists, and I’m already liking this place. A street filled with restaurants and music. The sort of thing I expected to find in Italy and Croatia but didn’t. The meal we had was enormous ! We went a little overboard, we were hungry but didn’t realise how big the meals are. Grisha had chevapcici and chips, we had a Shopska salad each and I had a Karadjorge (rolled veal stuffed with ham, butter garlic, crumbed and deep fried)– yum! If we come here again we will order one meal and share! So looking forward to exploring the rest of the city and especially the 2 rivers Sava and Danube, Mum and Dad spoke of their walks along the rivers with great fondness.
Ok, so now to figure out how to actually have a decent sleep in a top bunk! I hate top bunks! This could be interesting.
Tip: if staying in hostels and booking through one of the online agencies and sleeping in a dorm, always contact the hostel separately and ask for a lower bunk (unless of course you are a much more agile oldie than I am). I’ve never had a problem doing this since but this was the first dorm for me and I didn’t think of that bit of information.
15 May 2013
The guys at the hostel are awesome, Turkish (Serbian) coffee made for me! Yay! Thanks guys.
Beograd! I’m liking you more and more. Today we did the overview walk just to see where things are, where Grisha might want to run (yes I have a crazy son who runs) and places I might want to go back to for a better look. This is such a chilled out city. When we first walked into the massive pedestrian plaza (Knez Mihailova) we stopped, looked at each other and pretty much both said something like ‘ This feels so chilled out!’. There are heaps of restaurants and the shopping area with every shop you can think of. I remembered my mother saying that when she was young and living in Belgrade the city was considered the Paris of Yugoslavia. Still no Turkish coffee in any cafe but we did find a place called something like Kings of Turkey with heaps of baklava and other awesome sweets so might try them one day. Also discovered that there is a place called the Russian House so going to check that out tomorrow for some of that history I’m searching for. We have already extended by one night, I think we’ll need more time, loving it.
So, briefly we discovered the wonderful pedestrian plaza, walked all the way up to the fort (Kalemagdan), saw the convergence of the Sava and Danube rivers that my parents talked about often in their reminiscences, found a public fountain in the pedestrian plaza. Now, I have to stop for a minute and rave about that. What a great idea! This beautiful fountain with multiple outlets of perfectly clear drinking water, there for all to use. The locals, the tourists and definitely the homeless. All free, and under each outlet is a basin that holds water as well so those who may want to splash water or wash something could do so. Marvelous public service, so basically I only had to buy one bottle of water and then refilled it at the fountain every time we passed..
Yay! Great excitement, moved to a lower bunk tonight, loving that, got a curtain to hide behind too! Did I happen to mention that the guys at the Hedonist are awesome?
Thursday 16 May
More exploring on foot, went to find the Russian House to find out if they have any information on the Russian community during the time my parents were there only to find out that the library was closed. The woman at reception knew nothing about anything, but did give us the phone number of a lady she thought might be able to help (that ended up being an interesting conversation, more later). There is a little souvenir shop in the building and so as not to have wasted a trip I bought some imported Russian chocolate.
17 May 2013
Today we started our search for Mum’s history in earnest. We hopped into the little green machine that we hired and drove off to Fruska Gora, 95 kilometres from Belgrade in the direction of Hungary.
Novo Hopovo monastery in Fruska Gora Serbia is where mum went to school from age 5-10. It wasn’t too hard to find, the highways in Serbia are really good and well sign posted.
The area is stunningly beautiful with green rolling hills, vineyards and forests. We first saw Novo Hopovo, which I was pretty sure was Mum’s school but there were signs to Staro Hopovo 2 kilometres further on so we decided to check that out just in case. I am so glad we did, the road wound through forests to this pretty little church and bell tower.
I quote from another traveller’s description – Staro Hopovo Monastery (staro meaning “old”) is a short 2 km drive away from Novo Hopovo. It was built between 1496 and 1520. The original church, also dedicated to St. Nicholas, was ruined by an earthquake in 1751 and a new one of cut stone and brick with a ten-sided dome was built. It was dedicated to St. Panteleimon. Robert C Trip Advisor
Grisha and I had a wander around and took some photos, it would have been nice to have time to walk in the woods but we needed to go to Mum’s school as obviously this one was not it.
So back up the two kilometres to the other building, a large yellow edifice. We wandered in and came across a priest (or monk, not sure which) walking along the cloister. Language wasn’t easy but we got enough to figure out that he knew nothing about the Russian era of this monastery but was happy for us to have a look in the church.
Again I quote from Robert C – Novo Hopovo (novo meaning “new”) is a Serbian Orthodox Monastery located in Fruska Gora National Park south of Novi Sad in Vojvodina. The yellow monastery buildings with red roofs are accented by a bell tower that was completed in 1760. The yellow monastery buildings surround the real gem, the beautiful old St. Nicholas church, which was built in 1576 . The frescoes around the altar and nave were frescoed in 1608 and the narthex in 1654. The wood iconostasis was built in 1776. The monastery was founded between 1496 and 1502 on the site of a previous church built in the 10th century. The church and iconstasis were heavily damaged in World War II and the treasury and its objects looted. Reconstruction took some 30 years. Robert C Trip Advisor
Between 1920 and 1943 the nuns of the monasteries were almost all from Russia, as they had to flee during the October Revolution (just like my father). In front of the entrance of the monastery is the tomb of Mother Jekaterina who was the head of the monastery of Hopovo. She was Russian and grew up near the House of the Romanov family. http://sajkaca.blogspot.com/2010/02/monatsery-novo-hopovo-in-fruska-gora.html
Next thing we noticed was that the monks make their own rakijah for sale, with their own label, nice!. In retrospect we probably should have bought one.
The beautiful little church is in the central courtyard, surrounded on all sides by the monastery. It is ancient, the frescoes partially destroyed but still absolutely amazing. I stood there for a long time in awe of the age, the beautiful decorations and the thought that my mother stood in this church as a little girl and now I was standing in the same church. She talked of this monastery so often during my life I could almost feel her presence. I wondered where she may have stood. I’m sure there would have been some order to where the
classes stood. I also wondered whether the icon of Mary where the girls used to hide all their personal requests to her was still there.
My dear son as always took many photos (love having a professional camera man in the family) this was an important trip for both of us bringing to life my Mother’s stories. I would have loved to have attended a service there, perhaps I’ll go again one day. After much time soaking up the energy and the history, we finally left, walked around the church and along part of the cloister where Mum would have walked to and from the school to the church.
The church stands within the square surrounded on all four sides by the monastery building, a beautiful space. The cloisters serene and beautiful, I could just see all the girls in their Sunday uniforms filing from the monastery to the church along these cloisters. Once we’d had our fill of the church we retrieved Mum’s ashes from the car and found a lovely copse of ten trees and left a little bit of mum at the foot of one of those trees, I hope it grows even more beautiful and strong, Mum loved all living things and particularly loved the forest around this monastery. And so it was time to drive back, 95 kilometres and a life time away from Mum’s childhood.
17 May 2013
Totally away from the topic of Mum and my research……..
Yay!!!! Eurovison on Serbian TV – this’ll be good. Basically I’ve got it all to myself, everyone else has vanished. Reckon that Eurovison has cleared the hostel! However I watch it every year even though Australia can’t be involved, it’s so much fun. I think since the days of Abba some people in Australia have held a soft spot for Eurovision. Now it pretty much has a cult following with Eurovision parties and drinking games and SBS has done an awesome job of televising the event and now creating a live chat line – just plain good fun! So here I was in Serbia watching it on my own!
18 May 2013
Trip to Bela Crkva to track down mum’s third and last school. Well was that a surprise! Yes I know, I have skipped from school #1 to school #3, that is because school #2 is in Slovenia and we had yet to get there.
Now back to that phone call I mentioned earlier. I guess it’s a cultural thing, but I rang the number given to me by The Russian House, a woman answered, I introduced myself by my first name and told her how I got her number and why I was calling. The first thing I got was:
‘And who are you?’
I repeated my name,
‘Yes, but that is just your first name! What is your surname and your patronymic? You haven’t given me those!’
At which point I’m thinking ‘Gosh, have I rung the Secret Service or something?’ Anyway, finally after giving her my full Russian name (why she needed it I have no idea, she certainly didn’t use it and wouldn’t have known who I was anyway) she admitted to knowing nothing about the schools but gave me the name and an approximate address of a gentleman in Bela Crkva the town where Mum went to her final school who apparently had a ‘museum’ based on the Crimean Cadet Corps in Bela Crkva with which mum’s school had connections, so I was hoping we would have some luck there.
The trip there was quite fun, apart from the fact that Ginski is fun to travel with, laid back, just as photo mad as I am (just professional with much better results) fun conversationalist and a good driver, travelling distances in other countries is always fascinating. We came across, trucks, tractors hauling various loads, horses and carts, hay wagons all a challenge on the narrow roads. No wild life but the dogs and cats play chicken with the traffic quite a bit, so you need to be alert. Road kill unfortunately tends to be cats.
There was great excitement when I finally saw a whole field of red poppies, thank you Universe. There had been lots along the side of the road but not a full field, so I happened to mention to Ginski that I hoped there would be a whole field of them and then there it was! The car came to a screaming halt, son jumped out of the car as I handed him the camera and off he went doing what he does best. Take a look at the result!
We made it to Bela Crkva and found the Russian church, unfortunately locked. So on we went to find the address of the guy. When we first arrived I got a little concerned because I thought it would be a wild goose chase after the trip. But we struck gold!
The town initially seemed run down (like a lot of towns in Serbia I’ve noticed), once it was a large centre but seems a lot of people have left or died and many buildings are abandoned and fallen into disrepair. So my hopes were fading. I also wasn’t sure whether the address that the strange Russian woman in Belgrade gave me was real, at the very least she wasn’t sure of the street number. So we drove down Partizanskaja street, found the number and all the doors onto the street looked locked. The street looked deserted. It’s a bit like that here, there are no front yards, all the houses are right on the footpath and they have large double doors that lead into courtyards, all gates and doors appeared to be locked.
I noticed that a couple of doors down there was something that looked like a shop so I thought I’d go in and ask, after all the Belgrade woman said that everyone knew this guy. As I got closer I heard voices inside, entered, to find that it was a restaurant. I asked the waiter who approached us if he knew a Mr Kastelyanov – Strike me pink! But he immediately turned to a gentleman at a table of people having lunch and said ‘ I think this is for you’. Yes it was the man we were looking for! You could have knocked me down with a feather. He was as amazed as we were. After a brief explanation of what, who and why we were, apologising for interrupting his lunch and offering to come back at another time, it was agreed that we would stay in the restaurant, have a cup of coffee and wait till his lunch was over. It was in fact a 12 month memorial lunch for one of their friends (the Orthodox people have memorial services followed by lunch 40 days after a death then a year after the death. Some people carry on and have annual memorials)
So I had my first proper Serbian (Turkish) coffee in this restaurant along with some really nice traditional cake. I’ve been looking for the ‘Turkish’ coffee ever since we arrived in Croatia and have been told no-one serves it in cafes, particularly in the cities. What the waiter in Bela Crkva told me is that they no longer call it ‘Turkish’ coffee it’s Serbian coffee in Serbia, so I guess it’s Croatian coffee in Croatia. The 2 slices of cake that came with it must have been from the memorial lunch – awesomely yummy rich cakes, again took me back to my youth and mums cooking.
Mr Kastelyanov proved to be a delight and a mine of information. He took us back to his house where we met his wife as well. They both speak perfect Russian although born in Serbia, so communication was easy. The ‘museum’ (he prefers to call it a memorabilia room) was chock-a-block full of photos, items, paintings, books etc related to the Crimean Cadet Corps which had escaped the Russian revolutions and based themselves in Bela Crkva. The Kingdom of Serbs Croats and Slovenes (later the Kingdom of Yugoslavia) (particularly individuals starting with the king and his family and other royal relatives) was very generous to the White Russian migrants who escaped and settled in the area. They donated buildings, monasteries and castles to the Russian schools which had nowhere to set up their educational system.
Two of those schools were the Crimean Cadet Corps and the Marinski Donskoi Womens Institute. They were housed in massive buildings in Bela Crkva and the two schools shared important occasions like religious festivals, balls, choir performances. At other times communication between the boys and the girls was strictly forbidden (needless to say they managed to get written messages to each other in secret).
Mr and Mrs Kastelyanov had associations with the cadet corps through their families, particularly Mrs Kastelyanov whose grandfather was an artist and documented their escape from Russia in paintings. Her father was a cadet at the school. As a result of all their memorabilia and the connection between the two schools they also had quite a bit of information about mum’s school., even a photo from 1938 of a joint gathering, it is quite possible that mum may be in that photo – impossible to know though because she had no photos of herself as a young girl, so I have no idea what she looked like. Here is one of the sad things about wars and migration – Mum and Dad had no evidence of their youth, no photos, no papers, nothing. Sadly I didn’t get to do this trip until after mum passed away, so I can’t show her the photos to find out if she is there. War messes up lives for many generations! I wish human beings could resolve their differences without violence.
After telling me everything he could Mr Kastyelanov took us to see the building where mums school had been. It was massive. Unfortunately totally unused for 5 years and and parts of it unused for much longer than that, so it has fallen into dis-repair.
As we walked around we found that someone had created a large hole in the fence that was supposed to protect the back of the building, so in I went. After his first shock that I was going through the hole in the fence our guide decided to join me. After a little while he loosened up and began enjoying breaking into the back of the place. The dear man was like a kid again eyes sparkling at doing something ‘naughty’ I love when people just go with the flow and decide to enjoy themselves.
As a result of clambering through the fence I managed to walk in the courtyard where Mum would have walked and played. There is the remnant of a basket ball court, I don’t know if it was there when she was there or whether it was created later, whatever, this area was her playground. I suspect that they would possibly have had a tennis court there as she used to tell me how she loved to play tennis
We had a good wander around, he showed us where there had been a restaurant for a few years and we even had a bit of a look inside, but it is all falling apart and way too dangerous to go too far in, how I would have loved to have seen the place the way it was when Mum was there. I always find it sad when beautiful old buildings fall into dis-repair.
After the school he took us to the Cadet corps school which you can’t enter because it is still used by the Serbian Army. Best we could do is stand at the boom gate and look at bits of buildings through trees while he spoke with the guard, no photos either!
That done we went off to the cemetery where many of the Russian migrants are buried, some are people of the royal court.
The cemetery is also in a state of disrepair, but now cadets from Russia (they have finally realised there is important history here) go there annually for tours and do some volunteer work in the cemetery so piece by piece it is getting improved.
Back at the house he excitedly told his wife all about our naughty entering into the back yard of the old school and even managing to get inside the building.
Oh what a day! (although probably even more questions have arisen) Thank you to Vladimir and Valentina Kastelyanov for spending hours with us explaining all they could.
Sitting at the kitchen table back at the hostel, after our exciting day, playing around on FB, and around me I hear German, Spanish, English in various accents and a touch of Serbian now and again, some of the people speaking those languages are from the relevant countries, others are not, it’s just awesome! Last night we had Russian as well. Loving this multicultural melding. The best part is that all these people are young, perhaps there is hope for our world through all these great people sharing lives, languages and traditions.
19 May 2013
Drove out to Novi Sad and Kikinda. Started out late, stopped in a little place and got Serbian coffee. Didn’t like that town much, pretty typical rough edged Serbian men in singlets sitting around smoking and drinking – the Serb version of Bogan – got to Novi Sad, larger than I expected and it would have been nice to explore properly but we discovered that Kikinda (our final destination) was another 80kms away. So we couldn’t stick around in Novi Sad.
80 kms of country road, the road itself wasn’t too bad but a much slower trip of course with only one lane each way and dealing with horses, tractors and slow bomby cars. One town on the way was rather interesting only in the fact that it mainly consisted of this one road and stretched for several kms – wouldn’t want to ‘go for a stroll in the main street’!
Somewhere along the way I noticed first a fellow shepherding a flock of sheep along the road and then a couple of young lads minding another flock in a field, my mind immediately went to the stories I’d heard Dad tell of his days minding his bosses cattle. For some people nothing has changed I guess. There are still very few fences here so shepherds and cowherds are still needed and this is where the children are used..
The other thing is that they have many signs warning of deer on the roads, didn’t see one! I guess they must come out at night, but there also wasn’t any road kill either (other than cats) maybe if a deer gets hit it gets eaten? That’s my theory because unlike our Australian roads that are strewn with various dead wild life I saw nothing!
Kikinda itself looked interesting but their civic maps and heritage signs were a bit lacking in information. Also it was Sunday so the Info centre wasn’t open – even if we could have found it! No-one had ever heard of a Russian church let alone a school and we couldn’t get hold of a city map either, oh well I suppose I wasn’t meant to find my Auntie’s school in Kikinda. The day was getting on and we had a long way to drive back to Belgrade so decided to give up on the school search and thought we’d find the ‘Kikinda Mammoth’ as we’d seen signs for that, Hmmmmm all the signs ran out as we got to the centre so we had no idea how far we had to walk to find the thing, or even in which direction so gave up on that too. Final decision was to have a look at the horse driven mill that we had actually seen on the way in, so off we went, found the mill, not sure if it is still used but it still smells of horse so wouldn’t be surprised if it is still used even if only as a tourist attraction, but it was Sunday so no way of finding anything out.
It would have been great to see it in action, massive place, but we took a few photos and headed back. We did notice that we must have been reasonably close to Hungary as the place names were not only in Cyrillic and Latin letters but also in Hungarian, mind you this was all part of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire. We also noticed that from Novi Sad on to Kikinda there were a lot more Catholic churches so I guess that is a reflection of the past as well.
The other thing we noticed in our drives over the past few days is just how flat Serbia is, apart from Fruska Gora we saw no hills except for the Romanian hills from Bela Crkva. The mountainous area is where Serbia becomes Monte Negro (Crna Gora) I’m told it is just stunning, but unfortunately I’m not going to get there this time.
We were going to have dinner on the way back at Zenum, the old town on the banks of the Danube but it was getting late and we figured that perhaps just going back to the hostel and going to the Bohemian Quarter would be a better idea.
20 May 2013
So I knew I would live to regret yesterday’s decision to have a Serbian coffee at 2.30 pm followed by an excessively strong (even in my terms) cappucino at 4-ish! Sleep eluded me till about 4 am, looks like we’ll just have to go get one of those chimney cakes if I’m to survive on 4 hours sleep!
Returned the car, it was a lovely ride, took us very smoothly through the countryside, bye bye green machine.
Wanted to see the residence of Princess Ljubica but it was closed, maybe tomorrow. Did get chimney cake though! The franchise comes from Hungary and I was told by another backpacker at the Hedonist hostel that they are in Prague as well, such a yummy creation!
Lunch, Grisha decided to get the Goulash y Lepine (goulash in a large bread roll , they dig out the middle of the roll and fill with a goulash). Unfortunately not to Grisha’s liking as the goulash was made of kidney’s (I liked the bits that I stole as he didn’t want them).
Dinner, Grisha went and bought all the vegies he needs and cooked up a storm with his vegie dish and this time included the local cabanosi – proper flavours, yum! That dish of his is a life saver for backpacker travel.
21 May 2013
guess I’d better get out of this bunk cave and get the day started, last day in Belgrade, time to move on.
Chill out day – 2pm and Grisha is still asleep! He woke up at 4pm. We didn’t do much other than go get some dinner at the Sesir Moj, a Karadjorge, but it wasn’t nearly as good as the first one at the Tri Sesira. Also there was this annoying woman dressed in period costume constantly talking to a table of young ladies and telling them that she was an actress and then sang to them (awful) then continued talking. We ate and got out of there as it was impossible to talk with her constant chatter.
Hello all! Good morning! Good evening. Awake now! 2nd Serbian coffee for the day – made this one myself, time I got back into practice I guess and a yummy cake thingy that the hostel guys just gave me – yuuuuum! Spoilt as the Mama? Just a bit.
22 May 2013
It’s sad but in 51/2 hours we’ll be on the train out of this lovely city of Belgrade and on our way to Ljubljana via Zagreb – hope it lives up to all the descriptions I’ve heard. Farewell Belgrade, I leave not having managed to do, see, eat or drink everything you have on offer, but you never know, I may come back one day and get to finish all of this.
One of the most challenging feats of this trip? Other than climbing up to a top bunk? Sitting on a lower bunk doubled over trying to drink beer out of a rather large tinny of Jelen!
Oh wow! Running Down a Dream has just come on the local radio station that is on in the hostel – how appropriate!
And so Episode One of Belgrade ends. I did come back on my own, unexpectedly, however that is another story. We will meet again in the next episode when my Ginski and I continue our research in Slovenia, see you all in Ljubljana.
‘She’s gone’ and with those words my life was torn asunder. I had spent many years taking care of my mother and the last 4 had slowly become more and more difficult for both of us. Mum was suffering physically and I could see her slowly fading away. The last year was the worst (of course) as she became weaker and sicker eventually having a stroke and passing on to a better world.
After the stress and trauma of Mum’s passing I started thinking what I would do, I had no plans as my whole life had been work, children then looking after parents (although there had been a lot of travel dreaming over my life time and a little bit of actual travel). Then more drama, which cut my planning short, the last surviving member of my family of origin took legal action on Mum’s will. Being stunned is an understatement. We had lost our brother way back in 1980, a musician with great talent gone too early. Then our father in 2001 and our mother in 2010. I thought that perhaps being the last ones left would have drawn us closer, but no. Then, a bit more than a year into the legal action this brother also died. This really threw me. Now there was no-one left from my family of origin, no-one who knew me as a child, no-one from my family of origin to love or even be angry at! What was I to do?
Yes, I have 2 sons, but they each have their own lives. One was building several businesses and had a life partner also with business ventures, they are busy creating their lives (exactly as it should be), the other one had kicked off his shoes and was travelling somewhere in the wilds of Central America, when would be the next time that I would see him? No idea! And that is as it should be too. Sometimes I wish I’d done the same – but then……I wouldn’t have these 2 awesome sons and I wouldn’t be who I am, my life would have been different.
Then I took a long hard look at my life, no life partner, no family of origin left, no-one available to travel with (at least not outside of Australia) a house that wasn’t earning me any money and to all intents and purposes no future with much fun in it, except on those odd occasions when I would get together with friends. Yes I have amazing friends who will always be there for me and I love them all dearly, I have my writing and connections with fellow poets and writers, but they all have lives, responsibilities and families of their own. It seemed that I was the only one with no good reason to stay in one place.
So many people get to this point in their lives, a vague future with little or no purpose nothing to do except gardening and reading (and a few other hobbies here and there). There is a time and place for that, but I wasn’t ready for it yet. I was an emotional mess after many years of stress and sitting around at home wasn’t going to help.
Once all the legal problems with my brother’s family were over I re-assessed my situation. I could stay in my house and do the daily routine thing but I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want to sit around waiting for someone to be available for social time. There were too many memories and too much sorrow, too much grief and way too much thinking time – not only was my family of origin gone to greener pastures but so were many dear friends – life is short, life is unpredictable, and yet life should still be fun.
I became the Golden Oldie traveller.
I rented out my house.
I packed my bags.
I hugged my friends farewell.
I started writing a blog.
And took off on a life mission for 12 months to see the world and re-align my body, mind and spirit.
I had dreamed of this all my life and here I was doing it. Much later than I would have wished, perhaps it would also have been nice to have a travelling partner but none around, however, I am mobile and not too old, so I can still do some fun stuff, with only a few limitations and I’ll be darned if I’m going to not do things just because there is no-one to share it with. Anyway, travelling with others can be a tricky business as I found out in some earlier, shorter travel, you have to be very careful with whom you choose to travel, sometimes it is better to just go alone. So off I went, initially with my 2 sons and daughter – in – law for a few weeks to take part of my mother’s ashes home to Dalmatia, then off on my own, exploring the world.
6 cities, 1 conference and a whole lot of music and poetry to go, before returning home at the end of 12 months for further re-assessment.
I have seen places I never planned to see, I have been to places I have dreamed of all my life. I heard Andrea Bocelli sing under the Tuscan moon, walked on soil where ancient gods and goddesses walked. I have seen palaces and villages and fields of red poppies, I hugged trees in the Vienna woods, saw the devastation of the 2013 European floods, saw the results of WWII in Dresden, stood on the spy bridge in Potsdam, had some of the best coffee and some of the worst. I have walked on Elvis’ carpets, touched his school friend, stayed where the Delta blues were born and got more than a little drunk on Hand Grenades. I met some of the most amazing people in my travels, of all ages (including an inspirational 90 year old solo traveller) many of these people are now lifelong friends. I shared the realisation of my dream of the Blue grotto with my children and spent much time exploring Serbia, the land where my parents grew up, I walked in their footsteps. I stayed with friends I haven’t seen in a lifetime, sang silly Swedish crayfish songs, road tripped with an old school friend in the USA, ate breakfast while watching mini eruptions from a volcano, listened to some of the best music in the most unlikely places, saw sunrises and sunsets all over the world, managed to catch up with the children one more time and turned 63 in Antigua Guatemala.
Of course, I photographed absolutely everything I could. A nice mix of travelling with people, travelling alone and being supported by my friends at home via the magic of social networking, so I knew that they were all travelling with me in spirit and they knew I was safe.
Yes, I have escaped God’s Waiting Room, and I would like to invite every other Golden Oldie out there to join me in more travel. It doesn’t have to be for 12 months, you just have to get out of that front door and go somewhere, anywhere that is different, for whatever length of time you want. More than likely I won’t do 12 months again, it’s a long time to be away from home, but travel I will, knowing that my Australia will be waiting for me each time I return.
So God’s waiting room will just have to wait a little longer for me, there is a world out here to explore, come join me. And perhaps my favourite chorus lines from that beautiful Rowland Salley song performed by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss will relate to you too….
‘Somebody said they saw me, swinging the world by the tail
Bouncing over a white cloud, killing the blues.’
Sunday 10 November New Orleans
Yep, at an airport again, New Orleans, Louis Armstrong, Alice has left for NY via Dallas and I’m waiting for my flight to Miami, on the road again, really looking forward to a beach now!
Monday 11 November
Finally back to cooking my own backpackers special a la Ginski! Yay! So over the Southern fried everything. I guess I should explain because I don’t think I did much of a job of it in the Naples episode, if at all. Grisha (my son) aka Ginski, and I had a vegetable cook off in the Naples Hostel of the Sun (I love hostels, you can cook decent cheap food when you want to) and he won. Why did he win? Because mine needed an Italian tomato based sauce (extra expense and not always easy to find) and his didn’t. I give credit to my Mum and myself that my boys can both cook and come up with brilliant recipes of their own (it’s one of those mother/grandmother stories, but none of us could lose given that my Mum was a chef). So, I got to Miami Hostel, chatted to lovely Derick and found out where everything was located and hotfooted off to the Wholefoods down the road. I bought up a ton of vegetables and some really nice minced steak for rissoles, Wholefoods is not the cheapest place for shopping ( pretty expensive really if you are on a tight budget) but it is mainly organic so the food is good. The exciting thing was that in Miami they sell dill in massive bunches, for someone who was raised with a lot of Russian food dill is an essential ingredient and it’s not always easy to find. The down side was they only had giant Mexican garlic which isn’t quite right in flavour but better than nothing. I had a wonderful time cooking enough food for a week for me.
Tuesday 12 November Miami
Up at 5 to get down to the beach for sunrise, figuring out the shower here at that time of morning was a challenge, so gave up. Sadly the clouds were low and kept getting in the way of sunrise over the Atlantic so I didn’t get the sunrise I wanted but the one I got was pretty cool.
Tip: Enjoy what you get. Sometimes we over – plan and over-expect and miss that which is a blessing and is right in front of us.
The birds at that time of morning are fascinating, so are the other people on the beach! Most of them are crazy photographers like me, there is the odd vagrant and then there are the young guys thinking they can pick up a middle aged woman on the beach at sunrise! Oh sigh! But I have all my answers ready. These guys can be found all over the world, a girlfriend and I encountered two of them in a shopping mall in Singapore! I encountered one on South Beach. Mostly they seem to be of African descent, very suave and have their patter all figured out, there are probably others from other backgrounds but I can only talk about what I have experienced.
Tip: Have a repertoire of lines ready for all occasions and be definite when delivering them – ‘No I am not single’ My husband/boyfriend/girlfriend is just getting the coffee’ etc etc (unless of course you want to be picked up by a young fellow, then you figure that one out for yourself).
A very expensive coffee from a 24/7 cafe on the beach kept me warm while I waited. The sunrise really was beautiful. Slowly the dark began to lighten and what were specks of light out on the water became recognisable shapes of ships. Behind the dark clouds the apricot of the dawn broke through, the French call it crepiscule, a beautiful, indescribable shade of dawn. Slowly it became a darker orange and the first birds appeared. Fast little guys with long beaks catching some miniscule life form in the sand. the sun struggled, and just as I thought it would break through a bank of clouds would get blown in and shade the sunrise again. Then the seagulls flew in and they and the fast little guys kept my attention for a while as the sunrise was still struggling. And then, bit by bit the sun beat the clouds at their game! By the time it did, though, it was quite high and had lost it’s early morning colour, but the game was quite dramatic and the colours caused by the dark clouds against the apricot sky were worth the viewing. Bit by bit the sky became bluer and the sun lighter, the apricot and the dark grey were gone, the chill had moved on and it was morning. All the photographers, packed up their cameras and moved on as early morning swimmers and workers came to join the seagulls. The beach is beautiful, and as an Aussie from the land of beautiful beaches, I can honestly say South Beach rates highly.
And finally the sun breaks through
After the sunrise effort I took myself off on a Hop onHop off trip around Miami, both the beach and the city. Interesting city this. I’m really not sure what the population is, the bus guide said 5 million people, but Google says 413,000 plus, who do you believe? It certainly doesn’t feel like millions but perhaps that’s because travelling from South Beach I didn’t have to go through all the suburbs to get to the interesting places.
There are 23 islands, 22 of them are fully man-made and the 23rd used to be connected to South Beach but they cut through it to create the channel for shipping to come through and turned it into an island, it is the most expensive of all of them and so elite that you can only get there by ferry or helicopter, and you can only go if invited by a resident, like Oprah. Two of the other islands are also populated by stars of various sorts like Shakira, Shaqil O’Neall and a whole bunch of others, Al Capone’s old holiday home is on Palm Island (that house just sold for $22mil). Another island is the zoo, which unfortunately I didn’t get to, can’t do everything.
There is a whole art deco area in the beach suburbs, very interesting buildings that are worth seeing. Over the bridge in the city area there are plenty of interesting places to see and visit. Little Havana with it’s Cuban cigar factories (as they say, as it is illegal in the States to import Cuban cigars, the next best thing is a cigar made by a Cuban). Downtown is the 3rd largest skyscraper area in the USA, Coral Gables (another elite suburb) – and yet it feels sort of chilled out, weird.
I now also have another hostel to recommend to those of you who hostel, that’s 3 so far – The Hedonist in Belgrade tops the list, Hostel of the Sun in Naples and now Miami Hostel in Miami South Beach both rate highly with cool staff and good facilities. This place reminds me of the Hedonist, nice people, chilled atmosphere, nice common rooms, a bar, a kitchen, everything you could possibly need. It’s really quiet at the moment but there are enough guests around to have conversations, mainly Spanish speakers but a couple of Greek girls and 2 American guys are here as well, nice. Oh, and I finally had some American football explained to me as the Miami Dolphins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers were playing – still don’t really get it, but at least a couple of things are a bit clearer.
I also learned that 11/11 is Veterans Day here, also commemorated at 11a.m for the same reason as we do.
Tuesday 12 November cont’d
I’m liking this Miami place! Everything happens here, everyone lives or visits here and it’s warm! My European tan is returning after 6 weeks in long sleeves and my ears are tuning into Spanish, you hear so little English here it’s crazy. Seriously, Miami is definitely worth visiting and exploring, my brain can’t hold all the information, just about every second hotel has featured in movies and TV shows along with most streets, it’s almost like living in a movie with the stories of murders and mayhem, stars and their businesses. Gloria Estefan features a lot around the place.
You will notice that I went out of my way to get photos of cars for my Summernats friends – I think I left a lot of drool behind. Ocean Drive is the people and car spotting street. It is also the street where Gianni Versace was shot down in front of his mansion (which has now been bought and will be another very elite hotel). Found very nice espresso and cappuccino on Washington Ave and stopped in Little Havana to try the Cuban coffee and some Cuban food.
Cuban coffee is interesting, very, very strong with lots of sugar, somewhere between espresso and Turkish. Supposedly they make it that strong so you can share, darn that! my shot of coffee is all mine! Tomorrow I’m off to Key West for the day, should be interesting.
At the end of the day I hopped off close to the convention centre as I’d noticed that the International car show was on, and of course, being just a little car mad I had to go and have a look , more drool left behind. No concept cars but a lot of beautiful machinery past and present.
Came home to find I have a dorm mate, lovely Georgia from Australia. We hit it off well, she is a delightful young lady also travelling on her own but meeting up with family in South America. She valiantly helped me polish off my bottle of honeysuckle vodka from Clarksdale, what some travellers will do to help out other traveller is just amazing! Happy travels Georgia.
Wednesday 13 November – Key West
Fun day at Key West and one day is not enough! My main wish was to see Ernest Hemingway’s house and the Southernmost point of the USA and discovered so much more in the process, just didn’t have time to do much of it. A 4 hour drive from Miami Beach on a coach and we got to Key West, unfortunately it is impossible to get shots of the road that joins all the keys out of a bus window. Had lunch at Amigos, the hugest plate of nachos appeared before me, no hope of getting through that! And then it was on to the trolley tour to get to the places I wanted.
Ernest Hemingway’s house (well I guess it was really his wife Pauline’s house) was interesting to visit, and being able to view his writing studio in the coach house, where he wrote 70% of his life’s work was indeed special for someone who is a writer (although I am a poet not an author). It was very special being in the place where so many of his works were written and even the original typewriter is still there, the whole place is just as it was when he lived there. And then there are the famous 6-toed cats. Apparently Hemingway was not fond of cats but a friend gave hime a six toed cat called Snowball and Hemingway’s heart was won over. The house at Key West is not just an Ernest Hemingway museum, they still have anything up to 50 of the original Snowball’s descendants many of them are polydactyl and one of them has 6 toes on each paw.
There are heaps of chickens and roosters running around the gardens and streets, not sure why but it’s all rather charming. Of course there are also masses of tourists, but where did Merlin come from? That is Melin isn’t it?
The southernmost point was busy of course with everyone waiting to get a photo with the sign ’90 miles from Cuba’. So I opted to take one of the structure and a ‘selfie’ and be done with it (not a very good one so I will not be displaying that, I do have a bit of vanity), I didn’t have anyone with me to take a photo anyway (of course I could have asked another traveller, but selfies work). A long walk back checking out the shops, the key lime pie (a very nice pastry indeed, if you are on the east coast you must try one). An interesting story told to us by the guide regarding Sloppy Joes and Capt’n Tony’s. The original Sloppy Joes bar was where Capt’n Tony’s now is and that’s where Ernest Hemingway used to hang out every afternoon. When the lease was up the owner of Sloppy Joes didn’t like the increase so he bought the current place and one day he and all his customers picked up their drinks and the bar and moved everything a few doors down to the new building, love that story but I’m not sure if it’s true, I take what guides on those buses say with a huge grain of salt after discovering that sometimes they just make some stuff up.
Thursday 14 November Miami
Tomorrow I am travelling again and it will be farewell to Miami so today is a day of getting organised. The laundry took much longer than I expected, had to go to the post office and send all the stuff I bought along the way, home (plus all the Elvis souvenirs for my dear friend who is Australia’s number one Elvis fan) and packing day, off to Guatamala tomorrow Friday 15th November.
Finishing off my vegetables I discovered that I still had way too much so shared with on of the guests. His comment was that they were the best vegetables he had ever eaten in his life! Go the Ginski backpacker method (and the Miami dill) I do wonder though what that poor man has been eating all his life.
And so it will be farewell to Miami, nice knowing you, thanks for the fun time.