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Hà Nội, Việt Nam (again!)

Pesky typhoons!

sunny 28 °C
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After a long time in a coffee shop waiting for our night train to Hue we went back to Ethnic Travel to get our tickets and bags and be picked up to go to the train station...

... however once at the agency they said they had tried to ring us as our train had been cancelled due to flooding and the typhoon which had hit Hue the day before. Great! For the second time in two weeks a typhoon had buggered up our plans! All the buses were full so our only option was to stay another night and get a night bus the next day. Ethnic Travel were fab though. They booked us on a bus, booked a night in a hotel with transfer from the agency and helped us ring the hotel in Hue to cancel that nights stay. All this and it came to less then the train journey so they gave us some money back!

Saying goodbye and lots of thank yous we were ready for transport to the hotel...by moped! Getting on the back of the bike with both my backpacks on was fun (I had one on the front and my big one on the back) which meant I had to sit further back and could only just hold on. Nick's rider took his front one so he was a little more stable and was able to reach the handrails behind him. No adjustments or helmets we offered, we were just off weaving our way fast through the small maze of streets in the Old Town - it was so much fun! Half way though and our riders split off in different directions which caused us some slight concern, and somehow my rider managed to beat Nick so I did have a few moments of worry that he had fallen off or been taken to a different hotel! The room at the Prince 2 was ok but it was obviously the staff room normally as there were some random pairs of shoes and toiletries in the bathroom but this was just for one night and it was clean enough.

The next morning we had a lazy start leaving our bags with the agency and we walked to the lake again in the lovely sunshine and after looked in a few shops, sending a postcard and stopping for a coffee before our pick up at 17.30 for the night bus.

Ok so this was a little confusing a mini bus picked up a lot of people (more then there were seats for) so we had a 10 minute journey squeezed in with our backpacks. We then were randomly dropped off at the side of the street where a man pointed to a small shop where chaos does not come close to describing it! Here we queued and after a bit of explaining were given a ticket. But when we headed to the big bus with everyone else it was already full and we were turned away - great! Trying to ask if there was another bus we got a kinda nod and decided to wait but we were a little worried we may have missed our bus. Luckily 20 mins later another one turned up and we were able to board. As with everywhere in Viet Nam you have to take your shoes off when entering someone's house or your hotel room, so shoes off and in little carrier bags and after being shouted at for sitting on the wrong bunk we settled in for a long and bumpy night to Hue...

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Posted by Nick-n-Charlie 17:00 Archived in Vietnam Tagged hanoi_to_hue vietnam_night_bus Comments (1)

Ha Long Bay, Việt Nam

Messing about in boats...

semi-overcast 29 °C
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An early morning start at 7:30 (well for us) we checked out of our hotel and headed to Ethic Travel to start our trip to Ha Long Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay. We arrived a little early and had to wait for a mini bus, which was fine as we started chatting to two girls also going on the tour. After a few minutes we were joined by a few more people and were ready to start our adventure. Once on the full mini bus we were told that only four of us would be doing the 2 night tour and luckily it was with the two girls we had started chatting to. This was great we would end up having the boat all to ourselves. We first had to travel the 3 hours to Ha Long Bay to drop off the other people. The trip was a little bumpy, with Nick and I sat in the front we saw the crazy but normal Vietnamese driving. Basically anything goes, overtaking, undertaking and playing chicken with on coming large trucks while avoiding stray dogs (and cows) running into the road, giant pot holes and all with hundreds of mopeds weaving between everyone! You don't even have to drive the right way on the motorway, if you see your exit or road just cut across to the wrong side and take it! Gladly once we dropped off the others the four of us could spread out in the back and carry on for over a hour to Cai Rong.

Our guide; Ker led us from the minubus to the dock through all of the fishing boats to our traditional junk. Sadly the sails were down as it was the wrong time of year for them to sail. We hopped on board and after a quick introduction settled down on the deck to enjoy the glorious sunshine and breathtaking scenery for the next couple hours. About a hour in and it was time for lunch all traditional food and sooo much of it, we got talking to the other two people a lady from Mexico, Teresa and a lady from Switzerland, Corina who were really funny and we hit it off straight away. Once our bellies were over full we all had a little sleep in the sun before mooring up at an oysters farm with no one around and beautiful scenery.

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It was now time for some kayaking! Some of you may know of our Kayak of Doom in Lake Garda, Italy a number of years ago so we were both more than a little apprehensive about getting back on one, especially in open water! We sucked it up, and followed the girls who annoyingly were naturals and sped off. We on the other-hand spent most of the time going in circles! Even so, this was fantastic with blue skies and surrounded by limestone rock formations with no one else around for miles. Amazing! After exploring for a while and getting close to the rocks (and seeing a couple of jellyfish - argh!) we made our way (slowly and zig-zagging) towards the boat where they were laughing at us attempting to try and pull up alongside them, finally having to jump in and drag us into the right position! Nick and the girls then went swimming with them all taking it in turns to jump off the boat, but the jellyfish had put me off so I stayed on deck!

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From here it was a relaxing couple of hours sailing to our home stay/guest house on a remote, tiny island in a village called Quan Lan. We were met by a tuk-tuk come pick-up truck which took us from the boat to the house (around 5 minutes) with lots of bugs flying in your face! The family welcomed us and were shown to our rooms. Ours was nice, very basic with a mosquito net and fan but was very clean and we were lucky enough to get the ensuite room. Nick got very paranoid about bugs again, covering himself in insect repellant and long clothes before heading downstairs to help make dinner. Nick and I were shown how to make spring rolls with rice paper and shredded vegetables (mushrooms, bean sprouts, carrots and garlic) they were then deep fried and tasted great! The family made the rest of our huge meal of fried shrimp, grilled shrimp, morning glory (not what your thinking), rice and sweet potato chips, and then bananas and mandarins for dessert. There was so much food we couldn't eat it all! It was shame that the family did not eat with us and it felt more like they were waiting on us, which none of us had expected. They were lovely though and kept trying to get us to eat more! Our guide Ker joined us for food and filed us in on life on the island and her village near Sapa.

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After a couple of beers and chatting, we called it an early night (about 21:00) as we had to be up for 06:00 the next day for breakfast. We both slept ok, although the electricity on the island cuts out at 23:00 so it meant we had no fan and it was so hot! After a huge breakfast of freshly made pancakes fruit and coffee - again more than we could finish - we picked up our bikes for a 10km (6 mile) bike ride to a remote beach on the other side of the island. Sadly during the night the weather had clouded over, but it was still beautiful to ride through the rice fields with their mountain backdrops, seeing water buffalo grazing. The beach was also beautiful, very remote with only a couple of local fishermen weaving nets and with lovely white sand looking like snow. Another 10 minutes on the bikes and we were back at the boat for our 3 hour trip back to Cai Rong for our mini bus connection to Ha Long Bay.

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The trip back was so relaxing with us all finding a spot to read, sunbath or sleep, again it was so remote often with our boat the only one around. Near the end however we had to go inside as the water got a little choppy and waves came through the window getting us wet! Back on the mini bus we had an hour ride to Ha Long Bay to meet up with 8 other people; 5 Brits and 3 Germans. Once onboard our next boat, we checked in to our room which was really nice with a separate bathroom and air con if we wanted it. Again it was time for more food and again it was huge and really nice. Then we cruised leaving all the other tourist boats behind to a floating village Lan Ha where there was a small school and little shops. The four of us in a small rowing boat and a very strong lady rowing us around the village. We were amazed that so many people could survive living out in the sea like this. Back on board Ker gave us some information about the village and answered all our questions. It was now time to sail out to our next stop while dinner was being prepared. While waiting Ker taught us a card game called Xam which she kept winning every time, probably because we were struggling too understand the rules. Corina, Teresa, Nick and I tried to cheat when she wasn't looking but messed it up completely and she still won!

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Once at our anchor point Hang Trong we had dinner - I think they were trying to fatten us up with more giant portions! That evening we chatted on the deck in the dark for ages and then joined the group of boys on the top of the boat, to play a game which was really fun (and I think called Mafia in the UK?) where you had to find the liars so it was hard with people you had only just met. But it was a really good laugh and a great ice breaker. It was so nice to be outside in the pitch black with only a few lights on our boat and just two other tourist boats in the area. Realising it was late and we had to be up at 06:00 we all went to bed and slept really well.

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The next morning breakfast was followed by more kayaking, being rubbish last time we stayed on the boat and took pictures for the others and watched the crew play cards - Ker winning yet again! This time they were playing a game called Phom which is a little like Rummy, I was asked to join in but kept picking up the wrong cards and one of the crew had to keep telling which card to pick up.

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It was then time for a gentle cruise back to the harbour. Upon arrival we went to a restaurant for dinner, again a huge selection of really good food. Happy and full it was time to get the mini bus back but we couldn't all fit on the first bus so Nick, Ker and I waited for another one for about 20 minutes. We said goodbye to our new friends and arranged to meet them in Hoi An in a few days. Along the journey back Ker pointed out more sites and translated the news about the typhoon which had hit Hue the day before which unfortunately was where we were heading on the night train that evening...

Posted by Nick-n-Charlie 17:00 Archived in Vietnam Tagged vietnam ha_long_bay ethnic_travel bai_tu_long_bay Comments (1)

Hà Nội, Việt Nam

sunny 31 °C
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Finally (three days later than planned) we landed in Ha Noi around 21:00. We had paid for our hotel to pick us up as we knew at the time of night we would struggle to figure it out ($18 but saved us the hassle) and about an hour later we arrived at Apple Hotel http://hanoiapplehotel.com/Room-Type.aspx?typeID=3. The hotel was fairly basic (looks a lot fancy on it's website then it is) but at £10 a night it did the job and had a great location in the heart of the Old Town.

We were up early for breakfast before setting off to explore the sights and smells of the Old Town. To say it's hectic is an understatement! It is a maze of narrow streets which are made narrower by the shops spilling out onto the pavement and then mopeds parking in front of that so you have no choice but to walk in the road and dodge the mopeds whizzing past you. The shops seemed to be grouped together depending on what they were selling, so you would have a clothes street, a toy street, a stationary street and even one that was an "industrial street" selling all sorts of mechanical parts - very strange! Everytime you walk past a shop they try and get you to buy something, picking a random item and saying "you buy? Make me happy"

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We weaved our way through for a while before walking to Hồ Hoàn Kiếm Lake which sits in the centre of Ha Noi. It's not the most picturesque lake we have seen on our trip but there is a temple on a small island called Temple of the Jade Mountain which we visited for 15,000 VND (43p) each. The name of the lake means Lake of the Returned Sword, as legend has it a turtle stole the magic sword of the king while he was boating on the lake to return it to the Golden Turtle God from once it came. For this reason there is an embalmed Giant Turtle which is huge, easily 4 feet long and 2 feet wide inside the temple. Also on the lake is the small Turtle Tower which isn't visitable but pretty to see. From here we continued walking to the end of the lake and realised we were in the French Quarter. You could tell the difference, the streets were wider, the buildings bigger, more ornate and the shops more expensive (Louis Veitton being one of them). After stopping for coffee due to the rain, we continued exploring finding the Opera House and a street with lots of English book shops. That evening we ate at a great little restaurant called New Day just round the corner of the hotel, the food was fantastic and you could go into the kitchen to chose the dishes you wanted to eat if you liked. We hand spring rolls, a rice dish, noodle dish and two local beers (which are actually really good all around Viet Nam) and it came to 200,000 VND (£5.80) bargain and it was soooo nice. Bellies full it was time for bed.

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We missed breakfast the next morning due to a lay-in whoops. We thought it was time for a bit of culture so I dragged Nick to the Women's Museum (again a bargain at 30,000 VND 80p each). The Museum was really good and interesting to compare the lives of Vietnamese women to our own. While we were starting to wear trousers more frequently in the 50's and 60's, Vietnamese laddies could only wear trousers by law until the 70's. Reading and seeing pictures of the daily routines for women through out the years was great too. Home life being the most important thing while still maintaining a job farming. The next floor down was about the Vietnam war (or American war as it's know here). Just lest then a decade after the second world war when our ladies had to really prove them selfs worthy of working in the factories. Vietnamese women were on the front line commanding troops and taking down US planes. Girls as young as 12 were joining the Guerilla's using large weapons and getting in the thick of it. Many of these ladies lost their lives but some went on to be high ranking military or political officers. While in the museum engrossed in reading an article I was suddenly the interest of a local tour group who were laughing at me. One of the ladies even came up to me and grabbed to pose for a photo with her! We decided it was either that I'm short or western but still aren't sure. After the Museum and another coffee break (coffee is really good here too) we went in search of a tour to Ha Long Bay. We knew that we wanted to do a trip during our time here but didn't know what kind of trip we wanted and it wasn't help by the fact there are hundreds of trips advertised everywhere in hotels, cafe shop and of course travel agents. We asked around getting some names and prices but when we researched further found really poor reviews. We called it quits for now hoping the hotel may be able to assist, but sadly they weren't much help either not seeming to care what you booked, as long as you booked something. As with Hong Kong the evenings came a life here. Once the shops were closed the food stalls took over, setting up in front of them shuttered shops, with tiny stools (not made for westerners) and amazing smelling food. You can't really go wrong with the street food here it all tastes great.

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Our last full day we decided to visit another temple, The Temple of Literature, dedicated to Confucius and Vietnam's first national university (only 20,000 VND 58p each). This temple was a lot larger then the one on the lake and more impressive then anything we had seen so far. Again it centred largely around turtles but was mostly about teaching. With five temples, a beautiful garden, a fish pond and five courtyards it took quiet a while to go round everything.

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The temple wasn't to far from Ho Chi Min's Mausoleum although we didn't really want to see his embalmed body we went to see the sight (as it turned out he was in russia having his annual maintenance anyway) and the One Pillar Pagoda. Emperor Lý Thái Tông was struggling to create a heir, in a dream he was handed a baby by the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara who was siting on a lotus, soon after the dream had a baby son and built the Pagoda as gratitude. Today couples come and visit the Pagoda if they want to have a baby, hence Nick and I stayed out.

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It was now time to make a decision on a tour, so we used the trusty Lonely Planet and went to all the tour companies they suggested, luckily they were fairly close by. It wasn't until we cam to the last one that they had something a little different and less touristy. umming and ahhing yet again (as we seem to be rubbish at making a decisions) we went for it, not doing any of the usual Trip Advisor research and keeping our fingers crossed it would be good as it was the next. Happy we had something booked we went for food and then back to pack for our two night trip to Ha Long Bay.

Posted by Nick-n-Charlie 17:00 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

香港, Hong Kong (again!)

Category 8!

storm 29 °C
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... However after seeing on the news that some flights had been effected by the Typhoon, we checked our flight to see if it was cancelled. Unfortunately it was and we had to ring Hong Kong Airlines to find out more. I was on hold for nearly 30 mins but once I finally got through they were really helpful. The good news they could reschedule of flight for free, bad news it wouldn't be for another 3 days!

Crap! we needed to find somewhere to stay fast! and in a city which is renown for having the most expensive accommodation. By this point we had already checked out but we needed to use the internet so we settled down on the floor (as it was the only place we could sit) and started searching. Luckily it was throwing it down outside so we didn't mind being inside. After 3 hours of searching we finally settled on an hotel, hoping it would be nice as the Typhoon warning had been given category 1 (which is the lowest, we only had to start being concerned if it got to 8 or higher) and if it got higher we may have to stay in. The rain still coming down hard we decided to get a taxi to our next hotel which was still on Hong Kong island but a few metro stops away.

We arrived at The Mingle on the Wing http://www.mingleplace.com/wing/hotel_concept.html and I wasn't so sure about it as it was quiet expensive and in need of TLC. It may have been because we had such a nice place at YWCA. By this time it was about 4pm so we dumped our bags and went to Causeway Bay in search of food and a belt for Nick. The hotel by this point had taped up their windows and put a sign saying the Typhoon was at category 4. We ended up eating Japanese in one of the department stores which was surprisingly nice and we were given a discount! Deciding we were going to head back as it was really windy and raining, we soon discovered the Typhoon category had risen to 8! However no one seemed concerned and were going about their business as usual. We on the other hand went back, via Starbucks again and settled into a room to watch a movie. The hotel was fab as it had all the latest films for free on demand which was perfect as we had to stay in for a while.

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After a very rainy and windy night we woke to discover that the typhoon had actually swerved away from Hong Kong during the night so apart from being covered in mist the city appeared to be back to normal. We had another very lazy morning waiting for the rain to stop before walking the 100 metres to the Western Market; an indoor Edwardian style market housed in a redbrick which was a former Shipping Office http://www.westernmarket.com.hk where we picked up some "breakfast". The Western Market looks surprising out of place, as it's the smallest building in the area at 3 stories high and is surrounded by high rise buildings. Inside it has a very british feel even having a red telephone box but the shops are full of tacky souvenirs and bakeries. The next floor is more interesting as it's full of fabric stalls all the way round, wear you can buy fabric in inches and yards and can buy every kind of fabric imaginable at a great price and quality. The top floor houses a restaurant which looks set up for a wedding and looks expensive.

From here we decided to walk a little further to the Golden Bauhinia Sculpture a symbol of the handover of Hong Kong back to China. The walk ended up being further then we thought as we went the long way round! While walking we could see lots of debris from that night with some area's blocked off while they cleared the paths and the lovely skyline now looked very foggy. Now it was time for a spot of shopping as this is really the reason to come to Hong Kong, you can get everything cheaper as you don't have to pay the tax! Deciding the shopping was better in Kowloon we took the famous star ferry over to the island, this is actually cheaper then the Metro and quicker at 2.50 HKD (20p!!) Heading for one of the colossal shopping malls which did the cheaper brands we settled in for shopping, coffee, dinner and a quick stop at the night markets again before getting the ferry back to Hong Kong island.

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The last day was very much a lazy day, with breakfast on the harbour, a stop at the post office and wrecky for the airport bus stop. It was actually quiet nice to chill out and not feel that we should be sight seeing every second.

The last morning again started off slow with a lay-in, a spot of packing a stop for brunch and then off to the airport to finally start our journey into South East Asia.

Posted by Nick-n-Charlie 17:00 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (0)

香港, Hong Kong

Where night times come alive

sunny 32 °C
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... So the Areoflot flight was actually ok! well apart from the Russian people pushing in and a few smelly men who were sleeping with the air-hostesses! It was a night flight but unfortunately we didn't get any sleep, maybe because there were lots of films we wanted to watch or just that we couldn't get comfortable but we ended up arriving in Hong Kong at 09:00 very sleepy with a whole day a head of us. We had good instructions from our hostel, so boarded the A21 bus 33HKD £2.50 towards Kowloon. As we would soon discover EVERYTHING, in Hong Kong is in English (normally before Cantonese) so making sure we got off at the right stop was easy. Once off the bus we were surrounded by people, traffic, advertising boards amazing smelling food and huge skyscrappers, so it was no surprise our hostel; Urban Pack http://urban-pack.com was on the 15th floor! The hostel was tiny! It was basically what would have been an apartment at one time split into a couple of dorm rooms, but it was really nicely done and the staff and all the other guests were really welcoming.

We headed out to get our bearings and find some food - fighting the urge to fall asleep. We made straight for Victoria Harbour (only a 10 minute walk) to catch our first glimpse of that legendary skyline. It is an amazing sight! From here we walked along the promenade to the Avenue of the Stars; the Hollywood Boulevard of Hong Kong. Jackie Chan, Chow Yun Fat, Michelle Yeoh and of course Bruce Lee (who also has a statue) are all honoured here for their contributions to Hong Kong cinema.

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By this time we were starting to flag and were in need of food. People at the hostel had pointed us in the direction of a good street for food and we settled on a really cheap Noodle bar where we both enjoyed large bowls of noodle soup and a couple of drinks for around £4! From here we took a short stroll through Kowloon Park seeing turtles and flamingos before needing to retreat into the comfort of an air-conditioned shopping mall! These places are enormous and are the temperature of an industrial freezer - making a nice change from the stifling 99% humidity. After a spot of window shopping and a quick trip to the TI we discovered that all museums are free on Wednesdays - we were in luck (it being Wednesday!), so we went to the Science Museum back on the harbour front. However, after about 10 mins of looking around, both Nick and I realised we were paying no attention to what we were reading and decided to call it quits. We went back to the hostel with the intention of coming back out later on to watch the Symphony of Lights (Hong Kong skyline gets lit up to music every night at 20:00!), however we both collapsed not re-surfacing until the next morning!

After a good 14 hours of sleep - we were up and feeling much more human. A quick trip to the supermarket for breakfast and we went to the closest Metro station to get our Octopus cards. The are basically the same as an Oyster card in London where you load an amount onto the card, for you to use on all pubic transport (including the Star Ferry), but also to use in shops, supermarkets etc. You pay a 150HKD, £12 for the card, 50 of which is the deposit which you get back (well you only get 41HKD, £3 back if you take back within 3 months) along with any remaining money on the card when you hand it back in. Octopus Cards in hand, we got on a Metro towards Tung Chung station on Lantau Island where we wanted to take the cable car up to Po Lin Monastery and the Tian Tan Buddha, but annoyingly when we arrived to find the cable car was closed for annual maintenance, so we had to join a very, very long queue to catch the bus instead. Now the cable car should have taken 20 minutes, but after queueing for over an hour for the bus we then had a further hour on the bus - meaning it was nearly 13.00 by the time we arrived - luckily it was worth it!

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The Tian Tan Buddha is amazing, standing 36 metres tall and atop a hillside overlooking the monastery and the Eastern Sea. You climb up 240 steep steps to be greeted by four other huge statues surrounding the main statue. http://www.plm.org.hk/eng/home.php Sadly the monastery itself is very disappointing (not helped by the fact it was covered in bamboo scaffolding) so we did not linger long before catching the bus back to Tung Chung where we stopped in a shopping mall to eat in their food court and discovered a chain called Pepper Rice. They basically give you a sizzling skillet and some raw meat and steamed rice and you cook it yourself to your liking - yummy!!

From here we caught the metro all the way back to Victoria Harbour as we were determined to catch the Symphony of Lights tonight so parked ourselves in a nearby Starbucks (yes we know - but amazingly they were the cheapest place to get good coffee and we needed some caffeine!) where we had a great view of the harbour, so simply waited for the sun to set, the Full Moon to rise and the neon to shine.

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It's the evenings this city really comes to life, with neon lights, street food and night markets. Therefore after the show we decided to go to Mong Kok metro and see the Night Markets. The streets are blocked off from traffic ready for the stalls to take over. The first market you come to is the Ladies market and aimed at tourist! You think of it and you can buy it here, clothes, souvenir tak, shoes, paintings, mobile phone covers and even naughty bedroom items. Most of the stalls are the same and you can easily haggle the price to be a 3rd less then they first say. But the best way to get a good price is to walk away and they will chase you with a calculator asking what you want to pay? From here we wondered further to the Temple Street markets, which was a little more of the same but on a smaller scale and less aggressive sales people. Realising it was now quiet late we headed back to pack.

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The next morning and it was time to check out of Urban Pack - annoyingly we had only been able to book for 2 nights so were having to move accommodation. Luckily though we were moving to a hotel on Hong Kong Island, this would be the first time in a long time we wouldn't be sharing a room and bathroom with lots of strangers. We payed a little more then we would normally but we decided we needed a little luxury if only for two nights.

The YWCA Garden View http://hotel.ywca.org.hk/eng/GardenView/GardenView_location.htm was only a few metro stops away and a short walk. This part of Hong Kong island is called the mid levels due to it being built into the mountains. We knew it would be hilly and being from Nottingham we thought we can handle it. However with an extra 4 stone to carry, 30 degree heat and 99% humidity it was a little harder then expected. After walking up a steep hill with steps we were knacked and looked up to see another hill! We realised we couldn't keep going so decided to flag down a taxi. We told the driver where we wanted to go and he said we were really close, we got in anyway and about a minute or two later we we're there and he had to go round a one way system! But it didn't matter as taxis are a bargain here 20HKD, £1.50 for the first 2km and then its metered, so you shouldn't get ripped off.

We arrived in the foyer hot and sweaty ready for checking in and were so happy when the receptionist upgraded us to a suite! It was amazing, this one room was larger then our whole hostel. It had a kitchen, living room, huge bathroom with two showers and a separate huge bedroom. Happy bunnies we went to explore the area around Central to get our bearings and something for dinner that evening.

After an early dinner we decided to go to the Mid-Autumn Festival celebrating the New Moon. We were handed a leaflet at the airport and knew most of the action was happening at Victoria Park only a short metro ride away. We were also told there was going to be a fire dragon dance in the streets surrounding the park. The dragon was 67-metre long and made up of 72,000 incense sticks and 300 dancers. Not sure where this was going to start we decided to follow the huge mass of people that greated us at the metro station and soon found ourselves on a little side street with lots of other people and police waiting for the dragon to come down. Unfortunately after an hour of waiting we we told the small street was too busy and it couldn't come down. Disappointed we tried to squeeze in down another street and this time we saw it smoking towards us with the sound of drums beating. It stopped just in front of us and the dancers started to take out the incense and hand them to the audience. If you take these home and keep them in your house you will bring good luck and prosperity to you and your family.

From here we went into Victoria Park a huge park that had been covered in lights, lanterns and then centre stage was a big dome made out of water bottles (the ones you get on water coolers). The dome light up with different colours in time to music, it was brilliant with a great atmosphere. From here we had a stop in a overly air conditioned department store to cool down before heading back to our lovely studio!

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We had a very lazy start the morning sleeping in until 11am, we felt a little guilty but not too guilty as this city really comes alive in the evenings, so hadn't missed anything. We decided to explore the Botanical Gardens on our door step. We had been using it as a cut through but hadn't walked round it. The garden was beautiful with lush greeny and flowers and then surprisingly it had a free zoo in the middle. Nick and I not being fans of zoo's decided to take a cautious look. It was actually ok. Although not the biggest of places, the animals were native and seemed to have a fair amount of space. It was mostly monkeys and they were happily swinging around from the trees and ropes.

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The night before we we're thinking of going to the peak, but after seeing the queue snake around the block with a sign saying 3 hrs wait, we thought maybe not as it would be nearly midnight by the time we arrived. We therefore decided to go early tonight (being our last night) hoping to get up and see the sunset around 18:00. Luckily going early worked and we didn't have to queue as long, only 45 mins. The peak is basically a shopping mall built on top of a hill with fantastic views. It's reachable only by an old cog tram that was built in 1888 to enable people to get to their homes, before this the only way up was by a sedan chair. Today the tram line has been slightly modified but you still get to ride the original tram from 1959. The ride was wicked through the town, then steeply uphill (at a 27 degree angle) through a forest of trees. Once there we were rewarded for waiting by a beautiful view of the Hong Kong's skyline, but you do have to fight for a good spot as there are lots of people doing the same. It costs 52 HKD £4 to go up with your octopus card and this also means you don't have to get a ticket to go through, although you do still have to queue.

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After watching the sunset and taking way to many photo's we went back down to find food. The day before we had accidentally come across the longest outdoor covered escalator and when riding it discovered it went to a great street with lots of restaurants. The escalator is great at 2,600 ft long and going up 443 ft from bottom to top, hence we wanted to ride it again and we could look out for food too. Once back at the Hotel we noticed they had put up a sign about a Typhoon warning and the direction it was heading, we had heard it was coming toward Hong Kong but it said it would be after we arrived in Viet Nam so weren't to worried.

Our next morning was again spent as a lazy one enjoying our lovely room and a naughty breakfast of croissant and jam, before heading to the airport for our flight to Ha Noi, Viet Nam ...

Posted by Nick-n-Charlie 17:00 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (1)

Москва

hmmm not the most tourist friendly place

rain 18 °C
View Honeymoon World Tour on Nick-n-Charlie's travel map.

Even though everything was in Cyrillic we easily navigated ourselves from the airport to the Hostel using the very good airport express train (320 Rubles each £6.20) and the metro (a 5 trip card is a bargain at 150 Rubles £3 and can be used up to 90 days). Transport is about the only thing that is cheap in Moscow. The metro was very similar to the one in St petersburg with amazing architecture and escalators that seemed to go on forever.

Faro Hostel http://faro-hostel.com/gallery/ was above a Torture Museum which was kinda quirky and meant it was on a main street near all the tourist spots. Unfortunately this hostel appeared to have mostly Russian occupants who were actually living in the Hostel. One guy who was a student had been there 6 months and was planning to stay for longer. This made the Hostel feel like you were intruding in someones house. The first day we sat down to do some googling the rest of the guest got up and left making us feel very insecure. It seemed to only be the younger ones that made an effort to talk to us, we soon decided we would only go back when we needed to. Rant over now to Moscow.

This was more like the Russia we were expecting to see; the buildings are massive, the roads wide and no tourist signs. After checking in we decided to go for a ‘small’ walk to get our bearings, and soon found ourselves at the Kremlin and the Red Square which looks really nice lit up at night. Now this is humungous it took nearly 10 mins to walk along one side of the fortress wall to Red Square and St Basil’s Cathedral which again looked great night. Along side Red Square there is a posh shopping mall called GUM, again super sized and lit up like as if christmas time. We decided to go inside to warm up and discovered it was as beautiful inside as well as was outside http://www.gum.ru/en/history/. Down all the aisles were small fake trees with beautiful autumnal leaves between two white benches and then in the centre where all the isles met there is a lovely fountain with water shooting up in different formations in to a smaller fountain. Apparently this is the main meeting place in Moscow like our Left Lion if you say met at the fountain they know it's this one. By this time it was getting late so we walked back in drizzly rain, popped to a supermarket and tried to settle in for a good nights sleeps...

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...however, our room mates had other ideas. Since we have been traveling neither Nick or I have slept as badly as we did in this hostel. It was smelly, all 4 four of room mates snored so loudly and there was a lot of noise from the street outside. Somehow I managed to fall asleep, but poor Nick only got about 1 hour.

Feeling pretty lousy after very little sleep and hostile Russians, we ate our breakfast (with yet more stares!). Our plan was to do the walking tour run by the same company as the St Petersburg one, but the weather was lousy. Instead we headed to The Kremlin and despite all of the warnings about giant queues we waked straight in (well through strict security first). RUB 350 (£7) each. I think both Nick and I had something very different in our heads when we pictured the Kremin thinking it was like their version of the Pentagon. How wrong we were. Kremlin simply means Walled City, meaning many of Russia’s towns and cities have their own version. It is huge and very beautiful, with ornate towers along the walls circling it. Understandably you are only able to walk around a very small part of the complex - it is where their government is housed after all. The main area is centered on Cathedral Square where 5 golden domed Russian Orthodox churches have stood in one form or another since the Middle Ages. They are beautiful in carved white marble and with every interior surface elaborately painted, however they are all virtually the same, so once you have been in one, you have kinda seen them all. You are also able to pay an extra entry fee to go to the Armory (which surprisingly does not hold any weapons) where Russia’s greatest treasures are held - the Crown Jewels, Guilted Carriages and numerous Faberge Eggs - however the entry fee was too expensive for our meager budget! Feeling a little underwhelmed, we set off to buy some extremely expensive coffee to try and warm up and dry off.

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After another sleepless night we were up and on the Metro heading to the meeting point of the walking tour, however somehow while we were underground we had managed to get ourselves turned around, coming out of the wrong exit. We then spent 15 minutes trying to find the meeting point, but by now we were far too late and were both getting very annoyed at Moscow...

..but then, I spotted what looked like a tour group not too far away. We went for it and luckily for us it was the right one. The tour guide Elena was great, welcoming us straight away, telling us what we had missed. So feeling less annoyed at Moscow we settled in for the tour which took us to another couple of churches before returning to St Basil’s and Red Square, the GUM shopping Mall, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to see the changing of the guards. Even though this route repeated some of what we had done the previous day it was great to revisit it and get some background from her.

As the tour ended we decided we would meet her again later that evening to do their Communist Russia walking tour (as we had been jilted by the one in St Petersburg!!), so after an early dinner we made it to the meeting point in plenty of time although in torrential rain! We were joined on the tour by Kalvin (another Australian - they really are everywhere!), so it was great to be in such a small group so we could ask as many questions as we waned - which we did! The tour started at the former headquarters of the KGB which is now the headquarters of the FSB (arguably the same organisation!) before heading across town. Elena explained what life was like under the Communist Regime and how brainwashed and terrified people were. She told us a story of a famous 13 year old Russian child who told the KGB that his father had made anti-Communist remarks. His father was executed! She was a fascinating guide and shared loads of personal stories about her family and how her grandparents had queued for days to get a coat. She even remembered when she was a child her parents had smuggled a Snickers bar and some cans of Coke back from a trip outside the USSR - the Snickers bar was split 5 ways and one day a month she was allowed a can of Coke - her favourite day! Really interesting!

Stalin actually did a lot of good things for the city building the metro system, creating theatres, concert halls, knocking down run down buildings (building exact replicas in their place) and even widening a busy street to help traffic flow and fit his tanks down for parades- although this meant moving a few buildings back 45 feet as he didn't want to destroy them. They dug tunnels under the buildings put them on rails and pushed them forward. Admittedly he did use the slave labour of the Russian people to do it.

Moving buildings 45 feet

Moving buildings 45 feet

Next we went to the beautiful Eliseevsky supermarket a bit like Harrods or Fortnum and Mason after the war and during the whole communist regime this was one of only a few places where so could get a variety of products although you would have to be there early and queue for for hours. Today it is a very reasonably priced supermarket, we even brought food for dinner.

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The tour finished at the worlds 3rd largest McDonalds, literally days after the iron curtain fell, the huge fast food restaurant was built and had massive queues of people wanting to experience their first ever Big Mac. Elena showed us a picture of the queues snaking round the block and commented on how similar it this looked like the queues of people going to see Lenin when he died.

Queue to Lenin's body

Queue to Lenin's body

Queue for McDonalds 1990

Queue for McDonalds 1990

Our flight the next day was an evening flight so we decided to have a lazy morning before going to the Fallen Monument Park. After getting a little lost finding the park and ending up in the beautiful Gorky Park (Moscow's Central Park) we finally arrived at this unusual place. Basically it where statues come to die. When all the statues of Stalin were torn down this is where they came, along with lots of other communist statues and other controversial statues. This place is eerie with winding paths taking you past small and incredibly large statues some which are pretty, some that are weird and some that really make you think. It was in the process of being renovated when we visited so wasn't completely open but was free to enter and will look fab when it's finished. From here we headed back collected our bags and went to the airport. Yet again we had to go through lots of security and used the last of our Rubles to buy an over priced bottle of water and sprite at £6 (we couldn't afford a coffee). Then we set off on our Areoflot flight...

Gorky Park

Gorky Park


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Posted by Nick-n-Charlie 17:00 Archived in Russia Tagged moscow fallen_monument_park communist_russia_walking_tour faro_hostel Comments (0)

Санкт-Петербург, Russia

Where East Meets West

sunny 20 °C
View Honeymoon World Tour on Nick-n-Charlie's travel map.

Up way too early we packed and walked to our airport bus which took just 45 mins to get to Arlanda airport to catch our flight from Stockholm to St Petersburg. We ended up arriving a little early to the airport, so had to wait before we could check-in. We decided to make up an airport version of the Nelly game; the Dolly game (Only a few of you will get this) to keep ourselves entertained until we could check-in. All checked in we went to get a coffee but couldn't afford one (airport prices and Sweden very expensive), so we brought bottled water instead and then proceeded through the airport rituals as usual. We went through boarding and even made it onto the bridge, where we stood for 15 mins not being allowed on the plane?? A few moments later we were turned around back to our gate and told the plane had to refuel which they couldn't do with us stood there?? By this time people needed the toilet including us and we were soon all mingled in with the other passengers at the gate waiting for other planes. 30 mins later they announced that our plane had a technical fault and it would be another hour until we boarded! In the mean time the staff were looking stressed and trying to figure out how they were going to re-board everyone. After another 30 mins they announced our flight would be delayed a further 2 hours and we would get food and drinks vouchers (which made us laugh as the only place for food was a stall with bottled drinks, coffee, crisps and chocolate bars?). They then started to board another flight from the same gate who had to go down some stairs to a bus as our plane was in the way for their plane. Seconds after the other flight had gone they suddenly announced that we were going to board now and it would take a little longer as they had to check our passes again tick us off the list. The rest of the flight went without a hitch and we ended up landing only a two hours late.

Once in the airport we knew we had to get a bus to the centre then the metro, only this airport was tiny and had no signs to buses or taxi's. So we went to the TI which was luckily right by the exit. They told us to get a different bus to the centre and then we would be within walking distance of our hostel and we could get it outside for only 35 Rubles (70p) brilliant. This bus was an upgrade to the ones in Zakopane but only jus! It was packed and we had to stand with our backpacks on the whole time. Being rather difficult to move and constantly knocking people with our bags we realised we didn't know where to get off? We knew it was going to be at least 40 mins but the bus stops had no names nor did the bus or driver announce the stops. I had managed to catch a few street signs so knew kinda where we were on our map but it was a guess as the signs were in Cyrillic and the map Latin alphabet. Eventually the bus thinned out enough for me to get to the driver and ask, to which he made a gesture of straight on! hmmm this was going to be fun. 10 mins later the bus stopped switched off it's engine and everyone got off so we assumed this must be it, which it was thank goodness and it was only about a 10 minute walk to our hostel.

Soul Kitchen, our hostel http://www.soulkitchenhostel.com was amazing, one of the best hostels we have stayed in so far. The girls who checked us in were lovely, showing us around giving us tips on where to go and what to do and inviting us to free Pasta Night that evening to help us socialise and get some free food!! There was free tea and coffee which is always a winner, and she even wrote down what Milk was in Cyrillic to prevent us buying the wrong thing (they have weird yoghurt type thing that looks like milk which she said everyone always buys by mistake). We dumped our bags in our dorm being very excited by the double bunk-beds - of course we had one each!

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We decided to go for a walk before heading to the supermarket to buy our usual provisions and could not believe how amazing the location of our hostel was! It took us seconds to get to St Isac's Cathedral and only another 5 minutes from there to The Winter Palace and the Hermitage. We made it back just in time to help make the pasta, so while I put away the shopping Nick got busy in the kitchen (I know shocking right!). While prepping we met a lovely German couple with a great sense of humour who were both translators so had perfect English. The pasta turned out to be really good and the German guys introduced us to putting raw crushed garlic on top which was really tasty but made you a little smelly. After dinner we chatted some more and decided to watch a film together in the huge living room. The hostel had a huge book of world films you could choose from, we decided on The Intouchables; a French comedy about a quadriplegic and his career. We all thought it would be on the massive 52" TV but instead they pulled down a huge screen for the projector. The film was brilliant and had us laughing the whole time, it was the perfect way to end a long day.

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The next morning we had a little bit of a lazy start getting up later then usual, we ate breakfast and went out to join our free walking tour, but were running a little late so were happy to discover our guide was too, so for once our timing was perfect! The tour took in the old town, The Hermitage, The Admiralty (which was in scaffolding), St Isac's Cathedral, The Winters Place, Place Bridge, Statue of Peter the Great, Church of the Savior on Blood and St Petersburg's history. St Petersburg used to be a swamp that belonged to Sweden but during the Russo-Swedish war, Russia claimed it back. Then when Peter the Great became Tsar of Russia he made it the capital tearing down any settlements on the land and building an amazing town based on the architecture of Paris and Florence that he greatly admired. He even went further and made all the noble families leave there homes in Moscow. They were to build new houses in St Petersburg in the same style even making them talk in French and Italian! A lot of this architecture remains today making it feel like a very European city, especially with all the canals and bridges. At the end of the tour we went to see the Church of the Savior of Blood up close as it had a 250 Rubles (£5) entrance fee so we didn't go in but took lots of photo's and took in the amazing roof.

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We then decided to visit The Hermitage at 800 Rubles (£15) each it's the most we have payed for a museum but it's a must see, it's compares to the Louvre in size and collection. We spent 2 hours in there and probably only saw a 5th of it. If you plan to visit get a map and head to the exhibits you want to see as it would take days to see it all. Once finished at the museum we stopped for a coffee and cake and then went back to find accommodation for Hong Kong (which took about 4 hours!).

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The next day we walked over the Place Bridge (which was in scaffolding) to the Island that houses the Peter and Paul Fortress; another building of Peter the Great's. Now a museum with Peter and Paul Cathedral in the centre and a beach just outside the Fortress wall it was lovely place to walk on the hot day it turned out to be. Later that day we had planned to go on another tour about the communist rule of St Petersburg so after the Fortress and a bit of mooching we headed back to make an early dinner ready to go to Lenin Square to start our tour. To get there we decided to take the famous underground as we were told they were worth a look as they are the 3rd deepest in the world and that you can't see the end of the escalator down. The metro is easy to navigate and is a bargain at 28 Rubles (55p) for a single trip anywhere in the city. You get given a token which you need to for the barrier to enter the station and then you can be on as long as you like until you exit. The metro was designed around the 1920's and built after WWII so is a beautiful art deco style with impressive chandeliers and it was true the escalators were so long that people were reading books and sitting down while waiting for it to get to the bottom. Once we arrived at Lenin Square we waited 20 minutes for our guide who never turned up (when we phoned the company they simply said "tour cancelled" - nice!), slightly annoyed as we really wanted to do this tour we decided to take an evening stroll back to hostel making up our own "facts" along the way! As soon as we got into the hostel they told us there were fresh pancakes in the kitchen and to get tucked in, they were brilliant and cheered us up. We ended up spending our last night chatting to two Aussies we had met that day until it was late and time for bed.

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The next day we spent as a lazy day getting up late and packing our bags we went our for breakfast and much to my delight were given dot to dot placemats and a pencil, I spent the whole time doing mine adding in extra detail while Nick laughed at me. After breakfast we before grabbing our bags we went up St Isaac's to see the view.

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We managed to make it back to the bus stop we needed ok and headed to the airport easy...

... however upon arriving at the airport we discovered the terminal we wanted was not at that airport but 15 mins away at another airport CRAP!! after a little panic and some help from a very nice Russian pilot we got the correct bus and ran to our terminal now running late. Russian Airports turned out to be very secure, we rushed to the entrance of the building and discovered that you had to put your luggage through a scanner and then go through a metal detector! Finally through we headed for our checkin desk where there was a huge queue for the same flight so we could relax and go for a much needed and over-priced coffee. We then had to go through security checking our bags and patting us down again and we were finally able to board our flight to Moscow.

Posted by Nick-n-Charlie 17:00 Archived in Russia Comments (1)

Stockholm, Sweden

sunny 23 °C
View Honeymoon World Tour on Nick-n-Charlie's travel map.

When we boarded the train from Gothenburg to Stockholm we understood why it was so much cheaper than the "high-speed" train (which was only actually 45 minutes faster) yet nearly double the price. You could describe our train as vintage as it would not have looked out of place in the 1960s, it was wicked, although Nick thought it was a little uncomfortable. Four hours later we arrived in sunny Stockholm!! Our hostel was only a short 10 minute walk from the central station and was pretty funky, with lots of common area's with mis matched furnishings and funky vintage items. We checked into City Backpackers; Urban Hostel http://www.citybackpackers.org, but unfortunately for Nick it was mostly underground which he didn't enjoy as he had just coped with our windowless room in Gothenburg, so did not seem keen on another 3 days without windows. I thought it was cosy, but slightly annoying that you didn't know what the weather was doing.

Bags dumped and Nick feeling slightly happier (more than likely due to the sunshine and 23 degree heat!), we grabbed a free map from reception and set off - first stop a much needed coffee! The hostel had suggested one around the corner which was really nice (and a reasonable price at £3.80 for a Latte) so nice we ended up visiting it again the next day. Feeling suitably perked up from our caffeine injection we began to wander along the large pedestrianised street Drottninggatan, or Queens Road which is basically the main shopping street with one corner that has no less than FOUR H&Ms - they are Swedish after all! The road eventually led over a bridge giving great views of some of the other islands of Stockholm as well as providing access to Gamla Stan (Old Town) with the Royal Palace at it's centre. This island is lovely with cobbled streets and old leaning buildings and at nice was a beautiful walk down all the winding lanes.

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Our first full day and the sun was shining again, so we headed to the main square to meet our free tour guide (as has become the norm - they are such a great way to get to know your way around the city, see the major sights, but more importantly get some great tips on what else there is to see and do!). The tour focused on the "new" town of Stockholm taking in the sky blue coloured Konserthuset (Concert House) where the Nobel Prizes are awarded each year as well as various other sights with funny and factual tales along the way, including seeing the sight where Stockholm Syndrome was coined, when a 6 day bank heist had the hostages siding with the robbers and pleading with the police to let them go, one hostage nearly married on of the robbers!

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where Stockholm Syndrome was coined

where Stockholm Syndrome was coined

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After the two hour tour finished we went for a picnic (and nap/sun-bathing) in a close by park (again becoming the norm!), before embarking on our second Free walking tour of the day - this time of the Old Town; Gamla Stan (which we had already seen some of the previous evening). This tour focused on the more historical side of Stockholm exploring the Royal Palaces, numerous winding cobbled alleyways, courtyards and hidden statues (including the smallest one in Stockholm a 6 inch statue of a seated boy), again with interesting facts and funny stories along the way.

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Our second day started slow as we had decided to hire bikes but had to wait until 10:00 to see if any were free. While waiting we started chatting to a lovely woman and her mom who were from Colchester and were trying to encourage us to join them that evening for Swedish meatball making. We were tempted but it was £12 each so a little expensive and I make meatballs all the time. Discovering that all the bikes had gone for the day we decided to walk our route instead and take in the Vasa Museum http://www.vasamuseet.se/en/. It's a little more then we normally spend on a museum at £13 each but was worth it, there is even a free 25min English tour and 20 min movie (with English subtitles) about the salvage. This museum was built around the full sized 17th century ship that sank on her virgin voyage in 1628 and was salvaged 333 years later in one piece. Over 98% of the ship is original and in good condition due to the brackish water surrounding Stockholm. It took nearly 13 years to preserve it in a wax solution to protect it and the thing is colossal. The museum is over 4 floors and at the top you are still not level with the crows nests. They are still studying it and analysing paint fragments to discover how it looked in it's hay day, there are some parts that still have gold on them after being water for so long.

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After the museum we decided to walk round the huge park that covered most of the island of Djurgården where the Ship is, stop for lunch and then take the bridge back over to Östermalm. Once over the over side the river (which is actually the sea) it started to look like a lake, very strange and beautiful. You could very easily forget you were in a huge capital city. We ended up walking 10km that day but it I think we do that on average most days.

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Back at the hostel we bumped back into the British ladies and they were still trying to get us to do the cooking, but we were tired and had to be up at 04:30 the next morning to get our flight to St Petersburg so declined and instead went out to have a coffee and cake. We did however end up going to a fast food place (as our tummies rumbled) called Max which is the Swedish version of McDonalds. It reminded me why I hate those places so much, I Nick enjoyed his burger though. It was then back to the hostel for much needed sleep and an early start.

Posted by Nick-n-Charlie 17:00 Archived in Sweden Tagged stockholm vasa_museum Comments (1)

Gothenburg, Sweden

sunny 23 °C
View Honeymoon World Tour on Nick-n-Charlie's travel map.

After a very relaxing couple of days we boarded our train to Gothenburg, Sweden’s second city, and only an hour and half from Båstad. We purchased a 5 Trip card from the transport desk in the station 90SEK each (£9), however we have since decided once you have dropped off your bags you can easily walk the city. After a few wrong turns figuring out whether to get a tram or a bus we arrived at our hostel Slottsskogen Hostel http://www.sov.nu/index.php/en/and checked into the smallest room we have ever stayed in. It was literally the width of me, with no window and those fold up beds like you would get on a train. It was only for two nights though and was comfortable enough and was a private room at a really reasonable price for Sweden!

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The sun was shining and it was lovely and hot (so obviously Nick was happy!), even though it was nearly 16:00 by this point. We took a short(ish) walk to Skansen Kronan (the Crowned Fort) which overlooks Haga; the Old Town of Gothenburg, before stopping for coffees and cake in a really nice cafe where we spent the next couple of hours enjoying the evening sunshine, before taking a stroll along the riverside and slowly weaving our way back towards the hostel.

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We only had one full day in Gothenburg so had already decided to try and make the most of it. We got straight on a bus to the main station to sort out our train tickets to Stockholm the next day and were horrified when the first train that came up would have cost us nearly £170!! Luckily we managed to find a cheaper train (£95 for both of us), so tickets in hand we set off to explore.

I had already read about the Röhsska Museum of Swedish Design, Fashion and Decorative Arts (http://rohsska.se/en/) and they had a temporary exhibition on Evil Design which sounded really interesting. After a short stop in a park close by to read our guidebooks and leaflets (did I not mention we had visited the Tourist information?!?), and for a quick sun-bathing stop (Nick’s idea of course!), we hit the museum.

Annoyingly, we are no longer under 25 so could not enter for £2, although the lady at the counter kindly asked if we were! The ticket price was only £4 each and the ticket was valid for one year plus you could use it in other museums so a good deal really. The museum had exhibits on Japanese and Chinese arts and crafts, as well as a timeline of Swedish Design from the 19th-21st Century, a little like the V&A's. The most interesting exhibit though was the Evil Design one (http://rohsska.se/en/aktuellt/nu-pa-rohsska-museet/64/), which took a really novel look at how design can be viewed in a negative way, for example how mass production in design through sweatshops is often overlooked, or how similar Calvin Klein adverts compare to Nazi propaganda about the perfect image of the Aryan Race (compare the two - it is quite frightening!), plus the fact that someone had designed, concentration camps and the Nazi flag and if a fashion designer say's or does something unethical does that make their clothes undesirable and therefore unpopular?. It really made you view everyday things in a new light.

Feeling successfully cultured, we walked to the “main square” to see Poseidon's Statue only to see a young student with his mouth to Poseidons special area. Apparently it is freshers week in Gothenburg and there were armies of young students being given tasks and dares to do to humiliate themselves - those were the days! From there we weaved our way to Slottskogen, a huge park in the centre of the city which is known as the Green Lung of Gothenburg which has lakes, a small petting zoo (we saw seals and even a moose!) and is where most of the locals spend their weekends. The sun was still shining and it was baking hot, so we settled down for a picnic and ended up spending the rest of the afternoon in there!

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A quick pit stop back at the hostel later that evening and we decided to go back to Haga (the old town) for a last night drink. Sadly it seems to be more of a day-time destination as many of the cafes were closed. We did find a bar though which was lovely, albeit very expensive at £6.50 a pint, so after only one drink we called it a night (much to our bank balances relief) head back to the hostel for some food and sleep as we had another early start to catch the train to Stockholm.

Posted by Nick-n-Charlie 17:00 Archived in Sweden Tagged museum gothenburg röhsska Comments (0)

Båstad, Sweden

You don't pronounce it how it looks!!

semi-overcast 22 °C
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Much earlier in our trip, Nick's friend Annika who he used to work with many years at Paul Smith has since moved back to Sweden and she had invited us to stay with her. Now she lives in a small town called Båstad which is actually pronounced Borstad, something we learnt after booking our train tickets and getting a few funny looks!

Annika met us at the train station though and it was so lovely to see her again as it has been a couple of years at a mutual friends wedding. Her flat was only a short walk from the station (as is everything in Båstad as it is so tiny!) and after dumping our things in her beautiful (and very Scandinavian looking) home we realised that she only had one bed and that she was going to be sleeping on her own sofa! We were of course mortified and had no idea that this would be the case when she had made the offer. We of course protested, but she was adamant and it turns out she slept really well on it!

Annika suggested that we all head out for a picnic and to enjoy the last of the evening sunshine before watching the sun set which sounded like a great idea to us. She gave us a short tour of the town explaining we had arrived about two weeks too late to miss the Summer Season before heading down to the marina and settling down for some food and Prosecco and watching the sun set into the Baltic Sea.

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The next morning Annika was up (very) early to go to work, so we had the day to ourselves. We decided to stay local and explored more of the town stopping for brunch at a cafe Annika had recommended before going for a walk along the coastal path and simply sitting on the end of a pier watching the world go by. It was very overcast and stormy looking but with perfectly calm waters so was beautiful and was somehow fitting for both of our moods. We were both feeling rather home sick at this point in the trip due to some sad news we had received while we were in Berlin and we were really starting to feel the distance of being away from our family and friends for so long, so it was nice to simply take some time to be together without feeling the pressure to do and see everything.

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That evening Annika cooked us a traditional Swedish dish of which I can't remember the name of, but it was a sort of chicken casserole in a creamy tomato sauce with warm bananas and peanuts served with rice which sounds very strange but delicious!! As all of us felt rather full, we decided to go for a walk along the seafront to get some fresh air before going for a beer and talking the night away. We were all a little shocked when we realised it was gone midnight and poor Annika has to be up in 6 hours to go to work!

Our final day in Båstad and Annika was going to try and finish work early to meet us and had suggested we take the train to the nearby town of Helsingborg; another sea-side town, but on a much lager scale. Nick and I woke up late, so by the time we arrived there is was already 14.00! Wearing our most colourful clothes, we set off to explore on our own for a while before meeting up with Annika and heading for coffee at an amazing, award winning coffee shop http://koppi.se where we spent ages chatting and waiting for Annika's boyfriend Patrick to meet us, before heading for food at a Mediterranean restaurant which was really good food and surprisingly cheap. Sadly Patrick had to leave after this, so the three of us headed for a stroll along the promenade for yet more coffee and to watch the sunset over the sea. It was the perfect ending to our time in Båstad and our stay with Annika.

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Unfortunately we had to do our goodbyes that night as Annika was up (stupidly) early again to be at work for 07.00, so we had the morning to ourselves - just enough time for a final walk by the sea (in glorious sunshine this time) and buy some thank you flowers for Annika before heading up to the train station (the hill did not seem that steep walking down it!!) to board our to Gothenburg to continue the Swedish leg of our trip!

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Posted by Nick-n-Charlie 17:00 Archived in Sweden Comments (0)

Copenhagen, Denmark

Mermaids and Vikings - what's not to love!

semi-overcast 15 °C
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Our flight with Norwegian Air had been surprisingly good and we landed around 18.30 and got straight onto a train into central Copenhagen which only took about 15 minutes. As usual we were armed with maps and directions and it was easy to find - to be fair you couldn't miss it as DanHostel http://www.danhostel.dk/en/hostel/danhostel-copenhagen-city Copenhagen City is the largest hostel in Europe. We checked in and were pleasantly surprised when we walked into a 6 bed dorm with en-suite as we had booked a 10 bed dorm! Sadly the rest of the hostel did not quite meet expectations as most of the common areas were pretty grim feeling more like the communal areas you would see in a prison (especially as they were in the basement!). Instead of our usual Pesto and pasta we decided we couldn't be bothered to cook (well I didn't want to) we had tuna sandwiches instead, we called it a night as it had been a long and emotional day!

Next morning and we were up and making breakfast in the ridiculously small and crowded kitchen before waiting to be picked up for yet another free walking tour. This one was another one run by Sandeman's New Europe which we have done a number of now and while waiting we got chatting to some of our fellow travellers who were also taking the tour. Campbell like most Australians seemed to have spent most of his life travelling and was on his way from Russia through Scandinavia down into Europe and gave us loads of tips and advice for both Russia and Australia. Julia was Canadian and was also on her way down from Sweden and was heading to Berlin next (so we got to give her some tips), Silvia was Italian and just visiting for a long weekend and Travis was the rather stereotypical (but nice) American "doing" Europe.

The tour got underway with our very camp, British guide, Jake, who slightly worryingly had only lived in Copenhagen for 3 months but we stuck with it as he showed us around the city seeing the Old Town Hall, Copenhagen old stock exchange, Nyhavn Harbour and the Royal Palace where Queen Margaret (apparently the coolest monarch according to our guide). Half way we stopped at a cool river side bar and had beef stew with mash potato half price thanks to being on the tour, it was at this moment the heavens opened but luckily we were inside and also luckily it stopped when we had finished. Our guide also showed us where the Royal Yacht is normally docked saying we had to use our imaginations and it was around this point that we started to loose faith in him. He soon started repeating himself making comments like "and lots of other stuff" or "don't ask me because I can't remember". By the end it was actually quite a disappointing tour, so we did not tip him. Whether this is because we have done so many now (all of which have been really good) I don't know. At least we had a better understanding of the city and it had given us some ideas on where else we could go and given us a cheap meal of traditional beef stew!

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We all decided we needed to see the famous little mermaid statue, which was erected as a homage to Hans Christian Anderson who wrote the fairy tale (before Walt) and lived in Copenhagen. The Mermaid was not as easy to find as we thought and we ended up going round an old fort by accident which was actually quiet nice. Eventually we came across a massive crowd of tourists and figured that must be the spot. I must admit I was a little disappointed firstly she was a lot smaller then I thought she would be and then she wasn't half fish, half lady, it was only her toes that were fishy. She was also really closed to shore meaning people could climb onto her to have their photo taken! From here we split up some of us heading back to the hostel and some going off on other tours or meeting friends.

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Once back at the hostel we arranged to met up with Julia and Campbell again to go out for food. We ended up going out to a district which was supposed to be a quirky arty district with lots of bars and restaurants, which to be fair it did but all of us being on a budget we ended up a kebab/pizza place with the whole menu in Danish so decided to guess at one. Campbell went for the easy choice an XXL cheese burger, Julia went for number 62 which ended up being a prawn pizza (she said she wasn't that fond of them but ate it anyway) and we went fro number 1 which was a mushroom, sweetcorn and kebab meat pizza, that was actually really nice. Bellies full we started to walk home and ended up coming across a random music festival taking place on one of the many bridges which had been closed down especially. I think the boys were willing to stay out and watch it as it was free but Julia and I were freezing as the temperature had dropped a lot. So we ended up heading back, so us girls could go to bed and the boys stayed up having a beer.

Next morning and Nick and I headed for the Nationalmuseet http://natmus.dk/en/the-national-museum-of-denmark/exhibitions/temporary-exhibitions/viking-2013/ (which is free). For once our timing was spot on as they were holding a temporary Viking exhibit - apparently the largest one they have ever held. It was fascinating - neither of us realised quite how far they had explored, making it all the way to northern Africa! It being Denmark the exhibit was all state of the art with iPads as information boards next to each display! We explored a little more of the museum looking at the Toy exhibit which had some pretty amazing dolls houses and then a really interesting exhibit with a history of Denmark showing how politics fashions, technologies etc had all moved on. We stupidly decided to stop for coffee (and cake) at the Museum Cafe which is always an expensive idea, but in Copenhagen even more so - £18! - and it wasn't even that great being served in cardboard cups!!

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After that we decided to take a walk over to Christianhavn Island to get a closer look at the Church of Our Saviour with it's famous external spiral staircase forming its steeple. The interior of the church was really pretty and surprisingly modern looking, but the climb up the spire was just too expensive, so had to admire it from below. From there we took the short walk to Christiania which we had heard about on our walking tour the day before. Basically during the 1970s, the army moved out of some old barracks and a bunch of squatters moved in and have never left. It is now a recognised separate state having it's own laws, most famously (and perhaps not surprisingly) that cannabis is legalised there. We took a very quick walk as it looked really dodgy and wasn't that exciting to look at really as now it attracts tourist they have huge signs everywhere saying "No Photos" but have a souvenir shop near the exit.

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On our last full day we woke up to heavy rain and both feeling really tired we decided to stay in bed a little long and have a slow morning getting ready before going down to the prison like kitchen to have breakfast and make lunch. Here we met a lovely Australian lady and started chatting about life, politics and Vegemite. Realising the time we said goodbye as we had to make our way to the train station to get our ticket for the next day to Båstad, Sweden. We really wanted to make the most of the day and it was already 12:00, but the day before we asked for ideas on day trips and the hostel suggested Helsingør and to visit "Hamlet's Castle". The train would only take an hour, so we decided to go for it - we are so glad we did! The town was lovely and the castle was huge and again using the latest technology (if you had your bluetooth switched on an english audio guide downloaded to your mobile and you could play them as you went from room to room) - very fancy! The best part of the castle though was the Casements deep below the castle and made from sandstone caves and tunnels. It is slightly strange we both enjoyed it so much as I'm scared of the dark and Nick is claustrophobic, so probably not the best idea for both of us to descend into dark caves under the castle but it was great and thanks to a torch app on Nick's phone not too scary. After the castle we took a short walk around the castle wall and watched the crashing waves before heading back to the station with the rain holding off. Once back in Copenhagen we decided to be naughty and eat out. I had been craving Chinese food for weeks and there was a Wagamama's next to the station so that ended up being dinner for that night.

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Our train to Båstad was not until later that afternoon, so we checked out, dumped our bags (having to pay for the privilege!) and walked over to Rosenburg Castle, close to the centre of the city. The castle was more of a fort/tower and was very pretty surrounded by a small moat and manicured gardens. It is also where they house the Danish Crown Jewels for which they charge a ridiculous amount to see, so we had to admire from the outside, making the most of the nice weather (Nick was happy the sun was shining again) to enjoy our sandwiches on a bench. After this we wandered back towards our hostel, stopping for coffee in the student area (slightly cheaper, but not by much!) before collecting our bags and catching our train to Sweden to stay with our friend Annika.

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Posted by Nick-n-Charlie 17:00 Archived in Denmark Tagged copenhagen helsingør hamlet_castle christianhavn nationalmuseet Comments (0)

Berlin, Germany

Back in Germany again...

sunny 22 °C
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The next morning we managed to get up early at 05:00 and grab all of our things without waking our room mates, fortunately our hostel was setting up the free breakfast early so we managed to get a good meal before heading for the 6 hour train to Berlin. Which for some random reason went via Frankfurt to get to Berlin, look at a map, very strange!

Upon arriving at Berlin's colossal train station (which is on 4 floors, servicing both trains, the S Bahn and the U Bahn [subway/metro]), we managed to go out the correct entrance and using our pre downloaded Google map arrived at our apartment quiet easily. The apartment was a good sized, two double bedroom basement flat in a quiet street only 10 minutes from the train station. It was entirely decorated using the Ikea catalogue, something we are getting used to with every place we stay but had everything we needed. http://www.homeaway.co.uk/p2038912

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After a little trip to the supermarket to stock up on plenty of tea and milk as Dad can easily drink gallons of it, as can I. We went back to the station to figure out how to get to the airport to pick up Mom and Dad. We decided to get a 5 person group day ticket which is a bargain at €16.70 for zones A, B and C it will take you all the way out to Schönefeld Airport and can be used on all S and U Bahn's (the best way other than walking to get round the city) until 03:00. If you are just seeing the tourist sights and you only need zones A and B and a single day ticket is around €7.00 so if there are 3 - 5 of you it's worth getting the group day ticket.

Mom and Dad's timing was perfect I was in need of a huge hug from both of them and to know they were both well. So when I saw them I think I must have crushed them with the hug I gave them. Luckily, as the train runs every hour, we managed to find them just in time for the train to be returning back to the main station. Dad especially was surprised how large, new and clean the train was, having not been on public transport since he passed his driving test some 40ish years ago. We were soon to squeeze in more public transport in 3 days then he had been on in his life. That night we decided we couldn't be bothered to make dinner so we took the S Bahn to Hackescher Markt where there is a good selection of restaurants and pubs filling the square with tables and chairs, they are a little touristy and the food is ok, but the atmosphere is really good especially in summer. We decided on an Italian for dinner and enjoyed steaks all round, a few drinks and of course cake. Before heading back home, Nick decided it might be nice to show Mom and Dad the Brandenburg Tor at night, so without telling them we jumped on the U Bahn and when we came out the station it was right in from of us all lit up, Dad was in awe.

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The next day we were up early for another Sandeman's free walking tour, the tour guide was another great guide giving us a introduction to the history of Berlin and some of the buildings around. The tour guide focus mostly on East Berlin and took us to the Brandenburg Tor, Reichstag, Holocaust Memorial, Hitler's Bunker site, Luftwaffe Head Quarters, Remaining section of the Berlin Wall, Check Point Charlie, ending at the Berliner Dom and Museum Island. In total the tour was over 3 hours in total and I think we were all very tired after it so we stopped for a beer and grabbed lunch from the train station on our way back to get ready to met our friend Isabelle, who lives in Berlin. Isabelle took us to a funky bar on the River Spree near museum island, that had a fake beach and a dance floor where they were teaching ball room dancing. After a few drinks, pizza and some brilliant conversation Isabelle suggested walking back to the main station to take in the city at night. It was a lovely walk and nice to get a good idea of how the city all links up.

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After doing so much the day before we had a lazy start and were up late. Nick managed to get up before all of us and went for a 2 hour walk in the Tiergarten (saying how much he wished he had his running gear with him), only getting lost slightly, before meeting us at the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. The church was badly damaged in a bombing raid in 1943 and is now a small (free) museum. As usual with things we really want to see it was in scaffolding (so the picture here is not ours but Google's) but you could still go in. On our way to our next stop we passed a food cart selling Bratwurst which Nick and my parents couldn't resist (you must at least have one while in Germany) and so that was lunch. After stopping for a coffee, we went back to the Holocaust Memorial and the free museum underneath it. The museum focuses on the families who went through the genocide of WWII telling the history of the Jewish people with stories of several families before and after the war using their family pictures and letters. It's well worth going to see and really brings a tear to your eyes reading the correspondence. That night we decided to stay in and cook so we headed back via the supermarket and brought supplies for grilled lamb and a huge salad.

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church


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On our final full day we decided to do a go to the Technikmuseum as it had a little of something for everyone. The place is massive and does seem to have an exhibition on all things technology but the emphasis was mostly on trains, plaines and boats, so Dad loved it! I think Mom discovered a few things of interest with the jewellery making and textiles. However the things Nick and I wanted to see were a little disappointing. The computers stopped with the invention of the CD! and the printing section (which I know is sad, but I wanted to see it as most of our kit is German or German engineering so I thought would be fun), had an old press that we happen to have a version of in our reception at work and a small section on paper making. Still we enjoyed it and while we waited for Mom and Dad to finish the section they were in, Nick and I had a sneaky coffee and cake.

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Once finished at the museum we tasked Mom and Dad to get us to our next stop the Tiergarten. So they had to navigate from the museum to the U Bahn station Gleisdreieck and then on to the Tiergarten, Mom did most of it and got us there without error, Dad seemed to be bedazzled with it. Once we arrived at the Tiergarten a huge garden in the centre of Berlin, we had a nice stroll in the sun to one of the beer gardens where we stopped for a spot of lunch, all be it with the wasps. Mom wanted to go to the Berliner Dom Church, which Dad and I were not too bothered by so we split up. Nick went with Mom and Dad with me, aiming to met up at Hackescher Markt for a drink later. Dad and I ended up there straight away and sat having a drink in the sun listening to a really good street act until Mom and Nick joined us. Mom was a little disappointed by the church as she was expecting it to be much more opulent and ornate but both her and Nick said that the views from the top were great! After a few more drinks it was getting late so we decided to eat there at one of the more Germanish places. After dinner we met Isabelle again who had very kindly brought us all a little goodbye gifts. Again we had a lovely evening chatting, but it had to end soon as we had to be up to get the 07:00 train to the airport.

Too early the next morning, we were up ready to take Mom and Dad to the train station to say an emotional goodbye, making us feel the distance yet again. After our goodbye we went back and caught up on a little more sleep before packing and taking our bags to the station to put them in storage, while we got lunch. Our plan was to get lunch and find a place with Wi-Fi so we could write some of this blog but as it happen we ended up at Friedrich Straße passing a place that had a amazing looking burgers, so used the last of our money on huge burgers and coffees. Once dinner was settled in our tummies we went back to the station, picked up our bags and headed to the airport to fly to Scandinavian.

Posted by Nick-n-Charlie 17:00 Archived in Germany Tagged berlin u_bahn s_bahn group_ticket_berlin Comments (0)

Gdansk, Poland

Some much needed Rest & Relaxation

sunny 22 °C
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We knew that 10 hours on a train was not going to be the most exciting way to spend a day, but it was that or another overnight train (NO!!), so we settled into our compartment and tried to keep ourselves entertained. Luckily after the first 4 hours it emptied out and we had it to ourselves meaning we could stretch our legs. By the time we arrived it was almost 19.00, but our hostel was fairly easy to find and seemed to be centrally located. Stay Inn was part hotel, part hostel and had only been open for 3 months when we checked in http://www.hostelbookers.com/hostels/poland/gdansk/96321/. We were shown around and were amazed and how swanky it was! For our first night we had opted for a private double as we knew we were likely to crash and burn after our epic train journey and after a quick wander and a couple of pizzas at a nice restaurant, that is exactly what we did!

St Marys Gdansk

St Marys Gdansk

Next morning feeling rested, we were up devouring free breakfast and checking out to check back into our 8 bed dorm, which was huge but slightly noisy as it looked out onto the main street (Piwo Street or Beer Street in English - you can imagine!). As usual we had discovered a free walking tour; The Alternative Gdansk Tour promised a mixture of the tourist sights and some more off the beaten track things you would never come across unless you knew they were there like some amazing graffiti wall art, and the only 3 original houses left standing in the city. Gdansk was actually the starting place of WWII where Germany invaded Poland meaning it was completely destroyed during the war. Everything that you see in the city today is actually a reconstruction built in 1953 of how it would have looked - very impressive when you think Poland was under the Communist regime where everything was matching concrete tower blocks.

Gdansk main Street

Gdansk main Street

Water Mill Gdansk

Water Mill Gdansk

Copernicus astrologer

Copernicus astrologer

Small island Gdansk

Small island Gdansk

The tour lasted about 3 hours and ended in Solidarity Square near the former shipyard where a series of increasingly violent demonstrations, fighting the forces of Soviet Communism took place. What began as protests over the price of meat, became a 10 million member Solidarity Trade Union and would eventually help see the end of Soviet Communist rule. After the tour, our guide asked if anyone would be interested in visiting the Solidarity Museum (as we could get in cheaper in a large group!). He showed us around the museum which explained life in Gdansk during Communism where you would be forced to queue for hours at a time for minute amounts of food, often with no guarantee of actually getting any, The exhibits also explained the rise of the Solidarity movement and how it helped to end Soviet rule. After that, we explored more of the town before settling down for the rest of the evening in a bar to do some much needed research and booking of hostels.

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Next morning and in glorious sunshine, we decided to take the 15 minute train ride to Sopot and spend some time on the beach. Some time turned out to be the next two days where we relaxed in the sunshine, ate at a nice restaurant (well within budget!) and caught up on some much needed rest after a hectic few weeks. Nick was even brave enough to go for a swim in the Baltic, commenting they call it the Baltic for a reason as it was bloody freezing! At first we felt a little guilty for spending so much time doing nothing as you always feel you should be out seeing and doing things every day on a trip like this, but that is why we were starting to feel tired as we were not allowing ourselves enough time to actually stop and enjoy it!

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Nick (James Bond Style) on Sopot beach

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So on our final night we went out for a couple of drinks in a local bar, then for a Zapiakana which was 52cm long (Nick was very excited by this having fallen in love with them in Krakow!), before heading to bed for a relatively early night as we had to be up at 05:00 the next morning to catch our train to Berlin to meet my parents.

52cm of Zapiekanka

52cm of Zapiekanka

The second 52cm of Zapiekanka

The second 52cm of Zapiekanka

Posted by Nick-n-Charlie 17:00 Archived in Poland Comments (1)

Kraków, Poland

Beautiful city, fascinating history and plenty of quirky bars

semi-overcast 23 °C
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After a two hour journey we arrived in Krakow bus station which was also a train station and a massive shopping mall. Once we had navigated ourselves out of the shopping mall we soon discovered our hostel. Mosquito turned out to be on the second floor of an old apartment block and was a small hostel with only 5 rooms, good sized kitchen and common room and plenty of free tea and coffee (always a bonus) http://www.mosquitohostel.com. The staff were fantastic and were very knowledgable and friendly getting you involved in the hostel activities only when you wanted to.

We had arrived just in time to make the free walking tour of the city, so walked the 5 mins through the last remaining city wall gate to the centre of town. We joined a group of other english speaking tourists and our guide Alijca for a brilliant 3 hour tour of the old town to learn about it's long history and tales (some more myth than fact) http://freewalkingtour.com/krakow,city,1.html. The town dates back to 600 AD and was once the capital of Poland so has some beautiful buildings ranging over the centuries. The town square was based on the rules of a medieval square with a slight modification to allow for an older church to remain in the centre. In recent years they were renovating the town square and discovered the remains of the city before the medieval rebuild and you can now go under the the main square and visit the excavations, (unfortunately they only let small numbers of people down and you need to book in advance, so we didn't get chance to see them).

Krakow main square

Krakow main square

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Krakow also has an old medieval castle, upon the top of Wawel (Vavel) hill. Part of the castle is also renaissance due a fire caused by a king and his alchemy tests a few centuries ago. This same castle was also home to the German governor general, Hans Frank during WW2 and the German occupation. But the most interesting tale is that of the dragon which used to live in a cave at the foot of the castle, eating all the virgins of the town. This caused the king to be very angry and he tasked anyone to kill the dragon getting his beautiful daughters hand in marriage in return. Eventually a humble cobbler came to try and made a sulphur bomb to look like a sheep, which the dragon thinking it was real ate in one swallow setting himself on fire, killing him. The humble cobbler got to marry the daughter and later became king. So now if you go to visit Kraków and wonder why there are an abundance of dragon related souvenirs you know.

Rebuild of Wawel Castle

Rebuild of Wawel Castle


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Wawel Castle

Wawel Castle

The Dragon

The Dragon

Originally there were two towns which now form Krakow, the other is Kazimierz and is today the Jewish quarter, we had been told that this area was a little run down but had some great bars, so that evening we headed out to explore. We eventually came across a bar called Singer which was an old Singer sewing machine factory before the war, the new occupiers have used the old Singer sewing machines as tables and converted it into a lovely pub where apparently you are encouraged to dance on the large tables inside. After a few beers we headed back to the hostel ready to do some exploring the next morning before taking part in a Jewish tour and Schindler's Factory.

Old Singer Sewing Factory

Old Singer Sewing Factory

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The next morning after a good free breakfast at the hostel we mooched around the town taking in the sights and searching for a souvenir pencil. Due to the prices of everything being far more affordable for our budget we also stopped at a cupcake coffee shop and tried a few of their cakes. It was then time to join our tour of the Jewish Quarter- Kazimierz and the former ghetto. This tour was a little more sobering. We had a small insight in to the lives of people living there but it was largely about the persecutions of the Jewish community and how they were moved into the ghetto across the river and later to Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps. We ended the tour at Schindler's Factory which is now a museum on the lives of the Jewish people before and during the Nazi occupation. From letters and pictures of families to propaganda posters and flyers it was both fascinating and horrifying at the same time. You could spend hours in this museum lost in letters alone. It's well worth a visit and doesn't really have anything to do with Oskar Schindler http://www.oskarschindlersfactory.com apart from a reconstruction of his office. The next day was also to be a sobering day as we had decided to join a tour of Auschwitz and Birkenau.

CAKE!

CAKE!

Jewish shop

Jewish shop

Jewish Cemetery

Jewish Cemetery

Early the next day we were on a bus to Oswiecim the town the concentration and death camp Auschwitz and Birkenau are in. We were unsure about visiting another concentration camp after Dachau as this was quiet upsetting and hard to deal with people doing this to someone. However we felt you should see all the history good and bad. The journey started with a video from the Russian liberators of the camps in 1945 and showed some horrific scenes of emaciated men, women and children, doctors autopsies on small babies and the general condition people were forced to live in. By the time we arrived at Auschwitz the mood was already somber and the group silently went around the museum with our guide. Auschwitz was a place where, men, women and children lived and worked, it comprises of mostly brick houses which looks like a small housing estate, only the houses were crowded and there was a whole building just for torture and murder. This place is very busy though with lots of tour groups, which does slightly take away from the horror of it, however it is worth a visit if you have never been to a former camp before. After Auschwitz the group headed to Birkenau which was designed solely as a extermination camp with 6 gas chambers with a scary, machine like efficiency to kill people in a clean, practical way. People were told they would be going for a shower and to label their belongings as they would be getting them back later, all adding to the physiological torture they had already received. The Nazi's recycled all they could from their prisoners and murder victims. Glasses and prosthetic limbs were giving to soldiers, gold and silver sold and human hair used to make fabric and fill bedding. This was by far the worst place I have ever seen, I can't get over to you the size of it, nor can the pictures do it justice. Standing in the centre of the camp, you could not see the boundary fences, it is that large! It was row upon row of small houses which would hold hundreds of people. At one time there were 90,000 people held in the camp, it's just so hard to get your head around. After the tour a quiet bus drove back to Krakow. We decided we needed a little walk before we headed back for free dinner at the hostel.

Auschwitz

Auschwitz

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Birkenau

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Once showered and feeling less somber we headed to the small kitchen where that nights dinner was Zapiekanka (now Nick's favourite hangover food) this is basically a french stick cut in half then covered in mushrooms and cheese and placed the oven till the cheese is melted. You can of course add other items which the hostel did and the food was soon snatched up. Whilst eating dinner the whole common area started to chat and get to know each other and it wasn't long till we were playing beer-pong (or a version of) which I was rubbish at but Nick seemed to master. After a few games Nick and I decided we would head out for a stroll and a drink before heading to bed ready to be up early for our 10 hour train journey to Gdansk.

Posted by Nick-n-Charlie 17:00 Archived in Poland Tagged auschwitz birkenau mosquito_hostel kazimierz schindler's_factory Comments (0)

Zakopane, Poland

Fresh mountain air!

sunny 20 °C
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To make our way to Poland involved a 4 hour train ride to Poprad, then a bus for 2 hours to Zakopane, which we had no idea where to get it from or where to buy tickets so once we arrived we had a frantic 10 minutes figuring it out just in time for the coach to depart. However the fun really started when we arrived in Zakopane, with only a few pictures of bus timetables from our hostel but no real instructions we had to figure it out for oursleves. We had established we needed a mini-bus from and that it was across the road from the bus station, however there were no signs on the minibuses or any obvious system (even the locals seemed unsure of which mini-bus they needed!). Eventually after showing the name of the bus stop to several drivers we managed to find the right bus...

...however had no idea how to pay for a ticket, how the journey would be and when we needed to get off! By this point is was virtually dark (not a good time to be on a bus headed for god knows where). After a tense 10 mins, we asked a fellow passenger who luckily spoke perfect English and fought his way to the front of the bus to ask the driver to shout and wait for us when we reached our stop. (If you head to Zakopane you pay for buses or mini-buses when you get off) From there it was seconds to our hostel; MTB Hostel [link] a wooden house at the foot of the wooden mountains and only a 100 yards from the road. At first Nick seemed a little disappointed, he said he had been expecting something much more remote from the description (this soon changed though).

Again we had arrived late so we made good old pasta and pesto then Skype’d our friends Dave and Amy to catch up. It was only 21:30 and our whole room (6 other people) were already in bed which is very unusual for a hostel - very early the next morning we realised why as everyone was up between 05:00 and 06:00 to go hiking.

We decided to have a “lay-in” getting up at 08:30 by which time the hostel was deserted. We had already decided not to go hiking that day but to instead explore the town of Zakopane. Our host Michal and his lovely wife recommended walking into to town via the trail along the edge of the forest. An hour later after a gentle walk we emerged next to the Ski Jump which even in Summer was a hive of active with food stalls, fair rides and even competing ski jumpers on the dry slope.

From there we walked the short distance to the main street in the centre of town which was packed due to it being a national holiday and festival weekend. By this time our stomachs were rumbling so we went in search for food (as usual it took us a while to choose a place) we settled for a traditional looking Polish restaurant, where I had a pork steak in a mushroom sauce with potato pancakes (amazing btw) and Nick had the Polish version of Chicken Kiev.

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Once our bellies were satisfied we decided to take the funicular railway to [Name] which gave spectacular views of the Tatra Mountains. At the top there were lots of market stalls with the usual souvenir tat (randomly lots of Russian dolls and a disturbing amount of fur) so we soon decided to stop for a drink (beer of course!) to take in the views.

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Whilst in town we purchase a hiking map and that night we planned a route for the next day, to our surprise all routes took a minimum of 4 hours to complete so it looked like the we would have to be up early to do a good days hiking. Now the early nights of our roommates made sense.

06:00 the next day we were up ready for breakfast and a day of hiking approx. 9hrs and by 07:00 we were on the trail to the Ridge. The trail started going up hill from the very start and after 2 hours we had climbed our way out of the woods and into the rocky mountains. Still climbing we had to navigate our way up gigantic rocks which was actually really good fun. We even came to a section which had metal chains attached and had to pull ourselves up. Unfortunately this was a hike with several false peaks, so when we came to a section which looked like the top I was not happy to see there was still 40 minutes of steep up-hill hiking to do. By this point I was very hot, hungry and snappy so was not a good hiking partner. The last bit was too much for me and I felt like it was a struggle to put one foot in front of the other. Nick on the other hand wasn’t out of breath and was making it look easy, hence unfortunately he ended up with having to deal with a few tears and my wrath when I started having a go at him about how unfair it was! Ever the dutiful husband he calmed me down and kept encouraging me all the way to the top. (However he still won’t stop telling everyone about it)

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The view from the top was stunning with perfect blue skies making it well worth all of the pain I had put myself through to get there. We took our time eating our lunch soaking up the scenery before realsiing that we had stumbled into the middle of a Mountain Marathon which was taking place that day. Unbelievably people where running along the trails I had just been struggling up! Our route followed their route for a short time and we kept having to jump out of their way before we diverted off. The next bit of the route was a tricky steep climb down, filled with large rocks the size of my legs, so therefore took nearly the same time to descend. We finally made it back to our hostel about 15.30 after nearly 9 hours of hiking, for a much needed shower and relaxation in the evening sunshine.

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The next day we decided to go for a smaller (although just as tough) hike in the foothills of the mountains through the forest. I ended up having a further strop at Nick who was already not enjoying the walk anyway as he thought the walk was boring and did not offer any views (See Lesson Number 10). After about 3 hours of walking we reached a point where our host Michal had told us you could hire bikes for the final part, so 20PLN we were riding bikes down hill weaving our way in and out of hikers and stopping for the occasional photo. We had not realised that once we handed back the bikes we still had an hours walk back to the hostel which felt even harder than the actual hike itself!

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That evening we decided to treat ourselves to a meal in Zakopane town so after a quick shower we dolled ourselves up and caught another random min-bus into town. We finally found a really nice looking restaurant and tucked into so well earned steaks followed by warm chocolate cake with cream for Nick and an enormous “Eton Mess” style dessert for me, which Nick had to finish (after already polishing off his cake!). Including beers and coffee the whole thing came to a grand total of £36!! An absolute bargain! By night time the buses hadn’t gotten any easier, we stood on the side of the road along with lots of locals who were equally confused jumping on any mini-bus type vehicle that pulled up asking if it was going to our town. Finally an hour later one was going in the correct direction and even surprised ourselves by finding our stop in the dark without having to ask anyone for help!

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Our final morning we had to be up early to catch our coach to Krakow. On our way out of the hostel we stopped to chat and say goodbye to Michal’s wife who said how nice it had been to meet us and gave us loads of tips on where to go and what to do in Krawkow even hugging us before letting us leave. Another crazy bus ride later and we were boarding our coach bound for Krakow - although this one had no personal tv set or free tea and coffee! Doh!

Posted by Nick-n-Charlie 17:00 Archived in Poland Comments (0)

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