A Travellerspoint blog

July 2013

Padua & Venice, Italy

Umm TLC, air-freshner and fan needed

sunny 37 °C
View Honeymoon World Tour on Nick-n-Charlie's travel map.

Early Saturday morning we were up (in plenty of time!) and walked with one of our new friends to the train/bus station to get our 08:15 mini-bus to Mestre train station (in between Venice and Padua). We said our goodbyes and then just needed to quickly pop to the ATM to get the cash to pay, opps! it did not accept Visa card, so Nick had no choice but to run in 30 degree heat back into town a 10min run and had to try two more cash points before he could find one that accepted Visa. FYI if you have a Visa card in Slovenia not all the cash points accept them. Unfortunately Nick had ran for no reason as by the time he got back three young asian guys were faffing with bags and a wheel chair and then made us wait while they went to McDonalds to get breakfast! So our journey started in a 7 seater mini-bus with the horrible smell of egg McMuffin's (as most of you know I'm travel sick and despise McDonald's!! ), luckily I fell asleep and the air-con helped make it better for Nick in the front.

In Just two hours we were at VE Mestre station getting our 13 minute train to our 4 star hotel in Padova http://www.hotelgranditalia.it, which was located two seconds outside the station and had the most amazing breakfast that only cost €1 more, plus was cheaper than a hostel for one night, so we enjoyed a little bit of luxury for once!

After dumping our bags we headed off to explore Padova. Now it was HOT, and I'm not good with heat so I may have been a little less enthused then normal (even Nick was struggling with 37 degree heat) but it could have been such a beautiful city had it just had a bit of TLC. The buildings were lovely but dirty and the park area's where large with statues covered in bird poo and two churches which were the only real attractions were covered in scaffolding. On the up side the drinks were cheaper then other places and the restaurant our concierge (oh yea, we had a concierge!) was excellent!

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Some of you may be wondering why we were staying in Padua, the answer is because Venice was too expensive to stay in, and it was only a 20 minute train ride away, so we were up early checking out and on the train by 09.00. As soon as we left the Venice train station we were hit by a wall of heat and stench. We has been warned that it would be hot, smelly and crammed with tourists, and it was! We hit the TI which was little more than a Porta-cabin and paid the outrageous price of €2.50 for a map before setting off in the vague direction of the Rialto Bridge. Twenty minutes later after getting very lost in the tiny winding streets (many of which simply dead end either in a building, or worse at a canal with no crossing!) we finally made it. The bridge itself is beautiful, but due to the murky and smelly water and the huge crowds it was difficult to enjoy and getting a half decent photo nearly impossible!

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From the Rialto we weaved our way through more alleyways to reach Piazza San Marco and the very impressive (but again packed!) St Marks Cathedral. The square is surrounded by enormous, opulently carved Renaissance buildings and it is quite a sight to behold. As it was so hot I was wearing a boob-tube and shorts, not really appropriate for a highly Catholic church, however ever prepared I had brought a cardigan and leggings with me - although getting these OVER my shorts and trainers was a challenge and I was melting within seconds! Inside St Mark's was equally spectacular though, dripping in gold (you would expect nothing less from the Catholic Church!), but as it was a Sunday and Mass was taking place we felt a little uncomfortable so made a swift exit.

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From here we followed the Grand Canal as far as we could before re-entering the maze of alleyways to make out way to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection; an exhibit of her personal collection housed in her former home on the banks of the Canal which is somewhere I have always wanted to visit since I discovered my favourite painting (The Empire of Lights by Rene Magritte) is there. The gallery cost €14, so ever budget conscious and knowing that Nick would annoy me by rushing me through the exhibits I went in alone and was just in time for a free lecture all about Peggy Guggenheim's life which I found fascinating as she single handedly helped modern art become a recognised art movement by exhibiting artists no one else would.

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While I was immersing myself in culture, Nick was strolling around around more of Venice and guess what, yep sun-bathing - even in that heat! He even said people were giving him funny looks as he was the only one sitting in the sun when everyone else was desperately seeking shade.

Roughly two hours later we met up again and continued exploring finding some more off the beaten track canals which were much prettier and less crowded. We did not pay the ridiculous price for a Gondola ride (although Nick was tempted!) and even our pencil collection will be missing one from Venice as we could not bring ourselves to pay €9 for a pencil!

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We are both glad we have been to Venice, but are also glad we just did it as a day trip, rather than spending a couple of days there. It was beautiful in parts, grubby in others, heaving with tour groups, baking hot and horrifically over-priced (€1.5 to use a toilet!)

We got back onto a train to Padova (with no air-conditioning!!!) to collect our luggage and jump on our train bound for Milan for the third time. We spent the next day re-visiting some of Milan’s main attractions and 10 years on we finally got to see the Duomo without it being covered in Scaffolding before the heavens opened (something we were later told was a tornado hitting the city!).

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Early the next morning it was off to the airport to catch out flight(s) to Cyprus to see our beloved friends!

Posted by Nick-n-Charlie 17:00 Archived in Italy Tagged venice padova Comments (0)

Ljubljana, Slovenia

Unexpected Beauty!

sunny 36 °C
View Honeymoon World Tour on Nick-n-Charlie's travel map.

Before we set out on planning this trip we had already arranged to go on a group holiday to Cyprus with our friends at the end of July and as such booked cheap flights from Milan to Larnaca, so as we were drawing closer to the end of July we needed to head towards Italy. However we wanted to get in as much as we could before then, so got on the train sites and looked at cheap train journeys from Munich to some where in north Italy. I really wanted to explore some of the more eastern European countries after hearing and reading amazing things about them, plus I wanted to visit them before they got too touristy. As it turned out we could do a 6 hour train journey from Munich to Ljubljana (the capital of Slovenia) for €40 each. Neither of us knew much about Slovenia but thought it'll just be for 3 days so lets check it out and from there we can easily cross the boarder in to Italy. So after a 6 hour journey with a lovely America couple and an eccentric Austria lady we arrived at Ljubljana.

Along the train ride the scenery was breath taking, passing by; the Bavarian woods, into the Austrian Alps and then the mountains of Slovenia, however upon arriving we were not sure what we had let our selves in for as it was the usual run down high rise area you get around all train stations. After a mile with the child sized bags we arrived at our hostel Vila Veselova http://www.v-v.si/en/directions a beautiful old converted house with only a few rooms, a small kitchen and communal area. The hostel was fab they offered a free breakfast, a very strong shot on arrival, gave you maps and advice of what to see and do. This hostel also seemed to be the most social so far, upon arriving we had met two lovely americans, Rick who had been travelling Europe for well over a year and Darlene who was leaving that day to go back to Singapore where she now lives (who kindly offered to show us round when we get there) after dumping our bags we went for a short walk to the centre of town which had a beautiful river flowing through the middle. Later that evening while making dinner we met Daisy a lovely Australian with a similar humour to us and Ben a student form New York, who later persuaded us to go out for cocktails, Daisy, Nick and I left early as we wanted to go on the walking tour the next morning and left Ben to it.

The next morning we were up and showered met Daisy and went to the start of the tour where we discovered the majority of our hostel, all of whom talked English rather well. Rick had met friends in Bled who joined us too from another hostel and Daisy's room mate Natalia who also met a friend from another hostel Tom. So already there was a large group of us chatting about where we have been and where we were going, giving each other ideas and advice. The Tour was Fantastic with a guide who was enthusiastic and extremely knowledgeable as he was an Art History lecturer at the University (which is free to attend in Slovenia).

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After the tour a few guys went off for lunch, leaving Nick, Natalia and I who decided to explore the castle on the top of the hill. Now this was a beautiful building but not really much to see when you got up there. The castle had been turned into a restaurant and a few bars a great place for weddings and parties. You could see a virtual tour of the castle and go up the tower, but for €8 each it really wasn't worth it, so we soon headed back down. The weather was hot in it's early 30's so sight seeing and lots of walking was out of the question. We therefore decided we would explore the large park (you by now know we love a park) that was next to our hostel. We went off to the supermarket for supplies and bumped into the guys from earlier who were also heading there so tagged along and spent the afternoon chilling in the park chatting about our countries and how they differ in education, politics and culture as well as swopping stories. By 19:00 we were all peckish so headed off to town for a spot of tea, where we discovered a lovely Mexican place by the river and stayed there eating, chatting and drinking till the early hours. Again Nick and I had to leave early as we were catching an 08:00 bus to Bled so needed the sleep...

... However in the morning and due to a little be of faffing on my part we had to run to the bus station in 30 degree heat and then just missed it by minutes so had to wait an hour for the next one. We used the time however to book a minibus to Venice (yes minibus, thanks to Daisy we discovered you could go by minibus to Venice in two hours for €25 each, rather than the 7 hour journey by two trains and a bus we looking at for a little more money). Once on the bus (€14 each return) we enjoyed a nice air-con drive to Bled a large lake just two hours outside Ljubljana, where you could do, swimming, boating, hiking, walking, cycling and tobogganing. The lake was beautiful and so clear with a small island in the middle with a grand house you could visit, had we the time we would have gone as it was only €3 and a boat ride. We decided to go on a hike to get a great view of the lake, so after a trip to the TI for a map we set off. Oh my was it HOT! it was 11:00 and coming into the hight of the sun so getting to 33 degrees+ and the hike was an hour up hill. Nick seemed to be loving it but I was not a happy bunny as I was very hot, sweaty and getting bitten as it was through moist woodlands. By the time we got to the top it was worth it and the views were fantastic, so we sat an eat or lunch taking it in.

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Eventually we decided to go back down to a swimming area of the lake and just jumped in it. By now it was 36 degrees, so deciding it was too hot we settled by the lakeside and chilled. By 18:00 and still 33 degrees we got back on the bus to Ljubljana unfortunately it was our last night so we eat, packed said our goodbyes and went to sleep.

Slovenia is a wonderful country with a long and interesting history, it's architecture is some of the best we have seen so far, it has mountains, lakes and woods. I would highly recommend visiting. We wished we had more time here as there is so much to explore and see.

The next morning it was off to Padova.

Posted by Nick-n-Charlie 17:00 Archived in Slovenia Tagged slovenia ljubljana bled ljubljana_to_venice vila_veselova Comments (1)

Munich, Germany

Bavarian Beer Gardens & Bratwurst

sunny 30 °C
View Honeymoon World Tour on Nick-n-Charlie's travel map.

Our train from Vienna was straight forward enough and although our Hostel felt like a hike with our backpacks it was only actually about a 10 minute walk from the station. After being so impressed with the sister hostel in Brussels we opted for another Meininger http://www.meininger-hotels.com/en/hotels/munich/.

10 minutes with the backpacks is normally fine but the weather was getting hotter, so by the time we reached our hostel we were a little bit sweaty and in need of a glass of water. We had arrived a little early for checking in so had to store our bags in the Luggage Storage room, where we decided to also do a quick change and use a wet wipe or two. The hostel gave us a map and told us it was a 5 minute metro journey or a 30 minute walk into the centre. Nick was still feeling a little under the weather so we decided this once we catch the metro, 3 stops later and we arrived at Marianplatz (the main square). By this time it was mid afternoon so we decided to head to a park and eat our sandwiches, we soon found ourselves in the Englisher Garten, a huge public park in the centre of Munich (claiming to be bigger than central park). This park is amazing it has 3 Biergartens, lots of massive open grass spaces perfect for, playing sports, picnicking and sunbathing (there is even a nudest section, full of mostly middle-aged men) and a large river running through the middle that has a strong current so is great for, swimming and surfing. We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing in the sunshine before making our way back to the hostel to settle into our room.

The room itself was clean and had a ensuite, unfortunately in was on a first floor where the windows opened up on to the roof below. So for health and safety the windows only opened about 4" at the top meaning our room was like a sauna, Joy!

After a shower, a bit of faffing and dinner we decided to head downstairs for a drink in the bar and were slightly shocked by how quiet it was. It had only just opened so we thought this must be why. There were a few people around in the communal area, but there was no atmosphere, just lots of people sat round on their i-phones. It was only 21.00 and too early to go to bed so we took a short stroll and came across a really nice bar that served the locally brewed Augustiner Bier - apparently the best of the Bavarian Beers, so we enjoyed a restrained 0.30cl, before calling it a night.

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Next morning Nick was feeling more himself so we decided to go on another SANDEMANs NEW Europe tour http://www.newmunichtours.com and again enjoyed a brilliant 3 hour walking tour with our guide Jon (an English teacher from Bristol) we took in all the major sights and got a great background in Munich's history, most of which was linked to beer some way or another. Once the tour was over we again found ourselves in the Englisher Garten enjoying our sandwiches and this time we had taken beach towels so relaxed in the sun. Eventually we got too hot so decided to investigate the biergarten...

... a few hours later we were enjoying another Bavarian beer and Bratwurst. At 21:00 we decided to head back as we had been out in the sun all day. Whilst walking back we got in enjoy the beautiful sounds of the buskers mostly classical music and nearly all of them with a piano (god only knows how the got them on to the street). By the time we got back to the hostel, we were not surprised to see another night with the bar empty and no atmosphere. We therefore caught up on a few emails before heading to bed as we had an early start in the morning.

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So at 07.00 the next morning we were up early and went to the local supermarket to get our dinner for the night as it would be closed when we returned (See Lesson Number 9) before setting off to the station. Today was the day that Nick had been looking forward to since we started planning the Europe leg of our journey; a trip to Schloss Neuschwanstein! For those of you who don't know this is the famous fairytale castle built by "Mad King" Ludwig II and was the setting for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. It was also apparently Walt Disney's inspiration for Sleeping Beauty's castle. Two hours on a train, then 10 minutes crammed onto a packed bus (mostly of Japanese tourists!), we finally arrived at Hohenschwangau near Füssen and joined the humungous queue!! About 10 minutes later and having barely moved, a steward was walking down the queue informing people that the tours to visit the inside of the castle were completely sold out until 17.00 which was too late for us to get our train back. Nick was really disappointed at this news, but all was not lost. We were able to walk up to the castle and into the main courtyard. While there we asked if they could recommend any hikes that would give us some good views of the castle, and an hour or so later up a very steep hill it was all worth it when we reached the top!!

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Sandemans offer a number of tours of Munich and when we did the free walking one, a tour to the Dacau Memorial Park on the site of the former concentration camp had been introduced and was something we both really wanted to do, so Tuesday morning we met the group. Our guide for the day was Marcin; an English music history professor who was currently living in Munich and who had a passion for this period of history. He explained he had visited most of the former concentration camps in Europe, even cycling from North Germany to Northern Africa in the process! He explained that the focus of the tour was about telling the story of the prisoners not the guards as he wanted to show what their lives must have been like - something that should always be remembered. We had a 5 hour tour of the Dacua site which was the first concentration camp built by the Nazi's and was used as a model for all of the others like Auschwitz. The tour included portions in the museum where he went into incredible details. The tour ended by following the route prisoners would have walked - through a processing room, into the "showers" (gas chamber) and then into the incinerators. It was an incredibly moving day and an experience neither of us will ever forget.

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Remember the dead and warn the living

Remember the dead and warn the living

Our final morning was a lazy one. Our train was not until 12.30 so we had a bit of a lie in before setting off to the station lugging our bags to catch our train to Ljubljana not really knowing what we would find when we got there later than evening!

Posted by Nick-n-Charlie 17:00 Archived in Germany Tagged meininger_hostel_munich Comments (1)

LESSON NUMBER 9

Communal Fridges suck!

So all of the hostels we have been in so far (with the exception of the s**t one in Duseeldorf) have had pretty decent kitchens where you label everything your name, room number etc and things have on the whole been good. We bought of a load of food on our first day in Munich, put it all in a bag, labelled it up etc.

On Monday morning we were up early as we were out on a day trip and knew we would be back late so wanted to get to the supermarket before we left to make sure we had something to eat that night. Again everything we bought got labelled up correctly and in the bag - we were both really looking forward to the steak we had bought ourselves (it was chap and on offer!)...

...however, we returned from a really great day to discover our entire bag of food and was gone, bread, milk, cheese, butter, salad and our juicy steaks! We virtually emptied the fridge searching through other peoples things, but could find no race of any of it.

Needless to say I was not impressed!! We both went downstairs to complain to the receptionist, but she just kept saying if the food was labelled their cleaner would not have thrown any of it out and that one of the other guests must have taken it. We found this a little hard to believe that someone would eat and dispose all of the wrappers with no trace so again blamed the cleaners, but had no way to prove it!

I got really upset and ended up having to leave Nick to deal with it and he managed to get us free breakfast by way of some kind of compensation, but all of our food was gone and we were about €20 down!

From now on we will be buying stuff on a day to day basis rather than for the whole time we are there and make sure that everything is really obviously labelled - we're considering buying some fluorescent labels!

Lesson Learnt!!

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

Vienna, Austria

No waltzing for Nick

sunny 30 °C
View Honeymoon World Tour on Nick-n-Charlie's travel map.

After our ordeal on the night train we were both exhausted, but went straight to our hostel; Wobats http://www.wombats-hostels.com/vienna/ which had been recommended by some people we had met in Interlaken. It was only about a 15 minute walk and relatively easy to find (despite our Google Map directions taking us the long way round!).

Not surprisingly our rooms were not ready for us (it was only 09.00 by this point!), so we dumped our bags and set off. Nick had mentioned early on that we was not feeling that great, but he persevered as we hit the TI and started a long (and free) self guided walking tour of the city taking in the majority of the major sights.

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Central Vienna is beautiful with stunning architecture on every street corner and in every direction you look. The city is also famous for its large amount of green spaces so it did not take us long to settle down in a nice park to enjoy our sandwiches and soak up some of the baking heat! The rest of the day was fairly lazy and we ended up crashing and burning and were both in bed by 19.30 and slept straight through until morning - just shows night trains are not the way to go!

Our hostel offered a free walking tour so our intention was to do this on our second morning and see if we could learn some more about the sights we had seen the previous day, however Nick still wasn't feeling great, so much so he was actually in pain when he walked. The walking tour was off - but I had a back up plan! Schloss Schönbrunn was only a couple of metro stops away and is billed as Vienna's Versailles - rightly so! It is absolutely stunning and huge! The gardens are free so obviously this was a winner for us!! We spent a good couple of hours exploring them, although at one point it go so hot (around 33 we think) we had to take a break and sat on a bench in the shade for a good hour. We made our way back into the city and after walking around for a short while Nick was still in pain so we ended up sitting in a park for the rest of the afternoon.

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That night we got talking to our roommates, two Scottish teenager (Cameron and Kiera) who were travelling around for a month and ended up talking until the wee-hours! Because of this, all four us did not wake up until gone midday - oops! Just shows how tired we are making ourselves! Anyway, Nick was feeling a little better and was happy to walk into the centre of Vienna. Due to our late start we had again missed the free-walking tour (and this was our final day to do it! - Never mind!). We walked in and went into a couple of the shops en route before heading to St. Stephen's Cathedral which apparently had amazing views from the top of the spire (despite the 366 steps to get there!). There is no denying the interior of the Cathedral is beautiful (all be it packed full of tourist), but as we started to take in our surroundings we realised that you were only able to walk around a very small part. To get into the central aisle (apologies my church terminology is not good!) you had to pay €3 for the privilege, to go into the catacombs was €5, to go up both towers was €5 each, to see the Cathedral Treasury was another €4. So after realising this was very commercial capitalism at it's best and after Nick ranting about the Catholic church being the richest organisation in the world we decided to boycott it. The rest of the day was then spent doing our favourite free activity which you may have guessed by now. Sitting in the park!

Vienna is beautiful and we probably would have had a very different experience (both in the city and our party hostel) if Nick had not been ill, but it is not a city either of us would rush back to. Yes it is nice to walk round and admire the architecture and absorb the atmosphere and if you are a massive music lover you will probably enjoy the many operas, but unless you have very deep pockets to visit every museum, palace or drink at lots of nice coffee shops, there is not a massive amount to do for the budget traveller.

It was then time to jump on our train and head back into Germany with promise of Bavarian beer and Bratwurst!

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

Aboard the Night Train to Vienna

It sounds like an Agatha Christie novel!

sunny 28 °C
View Honeymoon World Tour on Nick-n-Charlie's travel map.

So we thought, lets save some money and get a night train from Frankfurt to Vienna - it's a 10 hour train journey so do it over night, sleep and arrive early morning to begin exploring - we would save money too by not having to spend money on a nights accommodation.

We "checked out" of our hostel, but as with everything else they were fantastic and said we could stick around and use the communal facilities for as long as we needed. So after more cheap BBQ at the hostel we grabbed out backpacks and walked the 5 minuets (dodging the prostitutes and drug users who are not surprisingly more active at this time!).

As with everything else on this trip we are trying to save money where we can, so when we found train tickets for only €98 for both us in a standard compartment we jumped at them. To upgrade to a sleeper cabin was close to €100 extra. We found our compartment easily and were disappointed to see there 4 others already inside - also going all the way to Vienna.

The compartment was baking as the AC was broken (only in our compartment though typically!) and it was tight with 6 grown adults (2 of whom were stereotypical German men if you get my meaning!) - it was going to be a long night!

What was more annoying was there were other compartments with only one or two people in, but they had completely taken them over sprawling over all of the seats meaning you had no chance of getting them to move.

An hour and half in and we stopped at a station for an hour for no apparent reason, but we piled off the train to get some fresh air and tried to cool down not caring that we were wandering around on the platform in bare feet!

Back on the train and we both attempted to get some sleep. Nick nodded off but it was only for about 30 mins before he was up and wandering the corridors again before being told off and told to go back to his compartment by the conductor!

Another couple of hours later and we realised that the seats actually moved slightly so you could make them into a couchette. No one else in ours was doing this - presumably because they did not know each other, but we thought sod it! We pulled them down as far as they would go allowing us to almost lie flat, both squished in and now completely blocking the door to the compartment, but we did not care! By this time it was around 04.00 and we both exhausted. We somehow managed to get to sleep and both woke up about 07.30.

We arrived in Vienna at 09.00 and spent a very sleepy day exploring, but more of that next time!

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

Frankfurt, Germany

Germany is Good again!

sunny 29 °C
View Honeymoon World Tour on Nick-n-Charlie's travel map.

We arrived in Frankfurt and our post Dusseldorf downer was instantly erased within minutes of arriving. This city had character less concrete block buildings, cleaner, well organised and had a good buzz about it. Our hostel was also really easy to find - minutes walk from the train station.

The Five Elements Hostel http://5elementshostel.de/web/index.php was a world away from out hostel in Dusseldorf (which has left a snotty response to our review by the way - obviously can't handle the truth!). It was immaculately clean, everything looked brand new (although apparently it isn't!), free breakfast, free wifi, things like free walking tours, free crepe night and a ridiculously cheap BBQ night and cheap beer (€4.50 for a pitcher, around 3 pints)! Perfect! Our room was great too. We had gone for a private double as it was only €1 more than being a dorm and it was large and spacious. The floor we were on also had it's own communal kitchen area meaning we did not need to use the main one downstairs, and no one else seemed to know about it so it was like we had our own apartment! The bathrooms were shared but you had 3 between 5 rooms and they were fab, wet rooms with a massive shower head from the celling and enough room for two people.

Now admittedly it was in the middle of the Red Light District (I say district - it is really two streets). The hostel is very upfront about this explaining all over the website and in their confirmation emails etc, so we knew what we getting and it was honestly fine. We were 30 seconds (if that) off the main street where all the bars and restaurants are and there are plenty of "normal" shops on the streets too. We soon realised it was not the establishments or their clientele that were the issue, but the drug users who would literally find a doorstep and start injecting themselves (which I and other guests were fascinated by and occasionally watched from the bar open mouthed). Anyway as I say it really was fine - they left you alone, we both felt perfectly safe and the hostel was fantastic! So much so we ended up extending our two night stay to four!

Anyway, we checked in, and knew that our room would not be ready so put our bags in storage and went off in search of food and to see what Frankfurt had to offer. As usual we went to the TI in the train station, which also had lots of great places to get sandwiches. After checking out all the sandwich shops for the most economical we headed for a nearby park to eat, plan and sun bath a little. As all good maps have there was a self guided walking tour so we started walking the route, taking in the amazing architecture of the old town (Altstadt), strolling along the river Main with it's beautiful grass embankments, walking by the museum row that had a museum for everything and finally ending up in the shopping district (which to be fair was just like notts but super-sized - three H&M's on one street!). It was then off to the supermarket to get items for sandwiches (I think we had now had cheese and ham sandwiches for a whole month!) and a tuna salad which we prepared in our apartment like kitchen, perfect. Then, as has been custom these days, we spent the evening researching where to go next and catching up with emails - only this time we enjoyed a beer or two at the same time. After frantically searching for some where to stay in Munich and getting stressed that we had no where to sleep in two days we called it a night.

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The morning after a brilliant nights sleep in an actual bed (not a bunk in site) we started our search again! Just 10 minutes and we would be off to explore one of little villages the TI had told us about. 2 hours later (opps) and we had booked another night in Frankfurt, a night train to Vienna, 3 nights in Vienna a train back to Germany and Munich and yeah 4 nights there. By this time it was too late to go to a village so we decided we would check out the museums. Another trip to the TI to find out what Frankfurt had to offer for a museum go'er (which is a LOT!) we settled down by the river embankment to eat lunch and for me to read about all the museums, while Nick enjoyed the sun. Now as all of you know I like a bargain and to get my money's worth, so when I saw that you could get a two day museum pass for €18 I was intrigued however there were really only 3 I wanted to see and would maybe go in the others. So I dragged Nick to the three I wanted to see to find out how much they were and by the time I got to the last one I had decided it was worth buying the two day card (which has paid for it's self by going to the two main ones). After a coffee we decided to split up to save Nick from the torture of round them all again and having to wait for me.

The first one (Museum für Moderne Kunst) was rubbish! Lots of weird phallic furniture and unrelated objet trouvé, I wondered if I had done the right thing. I then headed across the river to the Museum für angewandte Kunst which was amazing and Nick would have loved. It had old Japanese Prints, an exhibit on Korean design (the best bit), a large section of German design and then across a bridge into an old 19th century house where each room had been decorated in a different decade showing the influences of other countries. It was a bit like the V&A in London.

I therefore I would try the Museum für Kommunikation again this turned out to be fab and totally related to what we are doing, it had an exhibition on Graphic communication between countries, things like how red is bad in the UK but is good luck in China and how a hand symbol may mean the devil or nice to see you. As a Graphic designer this was so fascinating.

I met Nick back at the hostel to discover that he had been walking the whole time I was in the museums and had seen most of Frankfurt! After freshening up we decided to have a night off cooking and researching so joined in the BBQ (€2 for a burger - bargain so we had two and two pitchers) and met a love girl Jessy another Canadian who had just travelled a lot of Europe and was on her way home.

Early the next morning after our all you can eat breakfast, we were back on a train heading for Braubach to see the Marksburg Castle. Two hours later and a 20 minute uphill walk we were at the amazing castle, the only one still fully intact and not modernised in the Rhine Valley. It was then that Nick started to get deja-vu. Could this be the castle he visited on his year 8 German field trip? To visit this castle you had to join a tour, having just missed a tour we had to wait 20 minutes for the next one so decided to sit down on the terrace. Unfortunately it had been invaded by a large group of boys looking about the age of 12 all taking English and surrounded by teaches telling them how to say things in German. Conformation that this must be the place Nick came with school. Once in the castle it all started flooding back but luckily he enjoyed the tour as if it was new. Once the tour was over we wanted to get a better view of the castle to take a photo, earlier we had purchased a walking map from the TI, not being in our boots we decided to do a short walk up to a viewing area. The weather was HOT! 29/30 with little wind and clouds and the accent up was killer even though it was only 40 minutes but worth it though. If we had more time and our boots we could have enjoyed one of the longer routes easily. However decided to head back into the small beautiful town and have drink before getting our train back.

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While travelling like this you often don't know what time, day or date it is and it was therefore a surprise that once we got off the train the supermarket was closed. Apparently it was Sunday and all the shops close on Sundays, plus it was well after 7pm, dinner would have to be a take out (the first one since we have been travelling). The hostel recommended a Pizza place where you could get a pizza for €5 so we ordered a ham, mushroom and sweetcorn pizza (however it turned out that we actually had a ham, mushroom and onion pizza, could have been worst) and took it back to eat with our leftover salad.

Monday and again we started the day with a train journey to Rudesheim a small town that had a cable-car up to a large monument with a large wooded area to explore. It's also a huge vineyard and if you like wine it's the place to go and taste them, the home of Riesling and Gorge Brut, totally lost on us. I have never been in a cable car so we decided to take it up and walk through the vineyards back down. As it turned out once we were sat in the cable-car, Nick had deja-vu again could this be the other town he visited in his year 8 trip? It seemed we were reliving his German holiday 18 years ago. Once back down and weaving our way through the vineyards it was back home to Five Elements and a much needed shower. After another dinner of pasta we decided to participate in the free crepe's night at the hostel, it was hard work but someone had to do it.

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The next day we had decided to chill out as we were getting a night train at 23:00 to Vienna and decided we needed to relax a bit. Breakfast severed till 12:00 so we had a lay-in and enjoyed a slow breakfast at 11:00 checking out at 12:00 and leaving our things with the hostel. I was in need of a book shop as I had finished both my books and using my Kindle on my phone was making the battery only last half a day. I had googled book shops and discovered The English Book Store, Nick had remembered seeing it when he did is big tour so we headed straight for it. After purchasing 3 books we went off to the supermarket to get picnic supplies and from there we went to the river embankment and chilled. By 7pm we decided to head back to the hostel who kindly said we could still use the bar and Wi-Fi. Still being good weather the hostel had put on another BBQ so dinner was sorted this time we stuck to the free tea and coffee although in hind-site we should have started drinking. To kill the last couple of hours we started to plan our route after Munich, booking another train and three nights accommodation in Slovenia. Time was up and we had to grab our bags and head for the night train...

Posted by Nick-n-Charlie 17:00 Archived in Germany Tagged frankfurt rudesheim museum_für_kommunikation museum_für_moderne_kunst museum_für_angewandte_kunst five_elements_hostel braubach marksburg_castle Comments (0)

Dusseldorf, Germany

In need of some serious TLC

semi-overcast 20 °C
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Four hours later and we had arrived in Dusseldorf and after a 15 minute walk arrived at our hostel (Backpackers Dusseldorf http://www.backpackers-germany.de/TL/index.php/about_us.html). It had received really good reviews and certainly was not cheap but we were instantly disappointed when we got there. It was dirty, smelly and in need of a serious refurb - we were also unlucky enough to be sharing with the resident weirdo. While we were in Belgium and doing some planning we nearly extended our stay and were so relieved we didn't - but we thought suck it up it's only for two nights.

We made our stuff as secure as we could and set off to explore the sights of D-Town (as the locals call it). Know the fact that the Tourist Information widely promote their "Dusseldorf in One Hour" self guided walk should have given us some clues, but 3 hours later (most of which was spent drinking coffee in a cafe) we realised we had "done" D-Town in less time than it had taken to travel there

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The next day we decided to catch the tram to Cologne - again we had heard really promising things so wanted to check it out, but again were disappointed as we found a large, dirty city. The twin-spired Cathedral which the city is so proud off (you name the souvenir it has a picture of it - mugs, t-shirts, fridge magnets etc) is so filthy you can barely make the carvings out on it!

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We had heard rave reviews of both Dusseldorf and Cologne, but think we must have missed something as we didn't really like either of them much. I think both would be good if you were coming on a Boys Trip and were just planning on drinking etc as they had loads of nice looking cafes and bars, but in terms of sight-seeing and culture (the main focuses of our tour) there was not much to see!

By the end of the two days we were on a downer. Germany was not living up to our expectations and we were worried about what we would find in Frankfurt thinking it would be more of the same.

Early on Friday morning we were up and thankfully checking out of the hostel. I was annoyed at Nick though as when the owner asked if he had enjoyed his stay he gave the very British response of "everything was fine" (I have since left a scathing review!!).

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

Bruges, Belgium

Another amazing UNESCO Site

sunny 27 °C
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Only an hours train ride from Brussels and we arrived in Bruges/Brugge around 16.00 and checked straight into our hotel (yes hotel) - we had found an Ibis Budget http://www.accorhotels.com/gb/hotel-5046-ibis-budget-brugge-centrum-station-previously-etap-hotel/index.shtml that was loads cheaper than the limited number of hostels in the city (I don't think Bruges is normally on a Backpackers list). The room was really nice, small but had everything we needed (and it all worked!). It was right next to the train station which was brilliant as we weren't up for carrying our backpacks, we were starting to flag and need a day or two chillin'.

After a quick shower we set off to see what we could find in the evening sunshine. By this time the TI was closed so we thought we would just walk in and follow our noses. It ended up being only a 15 minute walk into the centre of Bruges, through a nice park with signs guiding you to the centre Markt (Market Square). Everywhere we turned we were greeted by amazing architecture, not a horrible modern building in site, making this the most beautiful town we have seen so far on our journey. With it’s maze of Canals, charming buildings, winding streets and cafes on every corner this looked set to be the chilled weekend we needed. After a quick tour around the cobbled rue's we decided try the local beer Zot (the only beer that is actually brewed and lagered in Brugge) in the afternoon sun by the most photographed stop in Brugge. After the beer we realised we were in need for food and after looking at every menu in Brugge (well it felt like it) we enjoyed a burger and Belgium beer Jupiler.

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The next day we headed straight for the TI to grab a map before going to a small patisserie for breakfast. We then weaved our way through the small streets discovering all the sites, amazing churches, almshouses, windmills, fantastic buildings and canals. The sun was shinning without a cloud in the sky so we got two massive baguettes and went to sit in Astridpark, a gorgeous park with a large fountain and quaint church.

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Our final night we ate out at a really nice restaurant right by one of the canals and Nick finally got to have his Moulles Frites while I had a Grilled Chicken Breast which had been marinated in the local beer Zot - yummy!

We both fell in love with Bruges and were really sad to leave the next morning as we could have easily stayed longer, but Germany was calling!

Posted by Nick-n-Charlie 17:00 Archived in Belgium Tagged brugge bruges ibis_budget_brugge_centrum_stat Comments (0)

Brussels, Belgium

Magritte and Tin Tin Fun!

sunny 25 °C
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After a 5 hour train journey across France, Luxembourg and Belgian we finally arrived late into Brussels, home of Waffles, Chocolate, Beer, Tin Tin (Nick was slightly obsessed!) and of course my favourite artist Rene Magritte.

We arrived at 20:00 to an area which looked kinda dodge and trendy at the same time, in sweltering heat, not helped by the backpacks. The instructions for the hostels were great until you arrived at the final tube stop when it simply said it was in 500 metres. Well in which direction? Away form the river or towards it, left or right? We remembered it was next to the river so went that way and then we guessed over the river and left. 10 mins later and no sign of the hostel, our map which we had ready (as learnt from Lesson Number 5) was no use as the names weren’t matching up. It was time to ask for help, some nice people google mapped it for us and sent us back in the opposite “right” direction. By this point I was; sweaty, hungry, hurting from my bag digging in and I was getting snappy! (Nick was keeping his cool) However on arriving at the Meininger hostel http://www.meininger-hotels.com/en/hotels/brussels/my sprits were soon lifted as this was a brand new hotel/hostel with a funky art feel, as it used to be a comic book production warehouse, welcoming bar and chill out area. The room was like a Holiday Inn, simple paint work, good sized toilet, shower and sink (all separate and in the room). It had 4 bunk beds and twin beds behind a small wall, our roommate Jordan very kindly moved so Nick and I could be in the twin as otherwise one of us would have had to sleep next to him.

By this point we needed to do a massive wash load and quick, as we had both run out of clean pants, fortunately this hostel had free use of a washer and drier, unfortunately because of this everyone was using it. So we made dinner and waited to use it, doing research and catching up with email as we kept and eye out for it to be free. By 23:00 we gave up as we needed sleep and only had one full day in Brussels. We decided that we would get up early and do the washing then. At 07:30 I was up to put in a load in but someone had beaten me to it, I waited 40 mins and popped ours in it was going to take 1.5 hours so I decided to go back to bed for little bit. An hour later we were up and dressed and getting breakfast - great all we needed to do was use the drier and we could go and explore...

... however. We had changed our plans slightly for Brussels as we originally planed to have two nights in Strasbourg but realised that we would end up with Monday as our main day in Brussels, the art lovers among you will know that this is not good day for museums or galleries as the majority are closed on Mondays in Europe. As some of you will also know I have also had a spat of missing art museums I’ve really wanted to go to due to; closures, refurbs and arriving on Monday’s. There was no way I was going to miss seeing my favourite artists collection in his home town, hence we moved dates so we would have Sunday as our main day.

It was then very frustrating that the drier didn’t seem to be working it kept going on then turning off and everything staying damp, by now it was gone 10:00 and I was getting worked up, as I may miss the museum if we wait all day for clothes to dry. So we gave up put the wet clothes in a bag hung up what we could and went to explore heading straight for the Musee Magritte after a quick visit to the TI of course.

The museum was fantastic everything I expected. I got the chance to see quiet a few paintings I have only seen in books and more I didn’t even know he had painted. Plus there was a short film about his life and work with English subtitles which was brilliant, I was now a happy bunny. (I think Nick enjoyed it as well this being the first one I have dragged him round so far)

After the museum Nick wanted to go in search of Tin Tin. Brussels had devoted free walls across city centre on the end of buildings to murals of comic strips scenes, we knew one of these was from Tin Tin so followed the trail on the map till we discovered one making Nick very happy. Nick had also read about a statue of Tin Tin - this time we needed a little help so popped to the TI to Google where it was and a short walk later Nick was very happy to discover the life sized bronze statue of Tin Tin and Snowy and had another photo with his childhood hero.

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It was now time to see the sights of Brussels: the Impressive Grand Place, the not so impressive Manneken Pis (a very small statue of a young boy pisssing) the rather more fun Jeanneke Pis (a young girl crouching for a wee with a cheeky smile on her face), a few more murals and lots of churches. From here we took a tube out of the town to the Atomium the now infamous symbol of Brussels, stopped for lunch in the park (where there were lots of baby rabbits enjoying the sun with us) before heading back to the hostel for dinner and another attempt at drying our clothes.

Grand Place

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Museum Square

The next day we had the morning free before getting a train to Brugge. In our reception we saw the option to join a free 3 hour walking tour. We figured as it was free we’ll join in and can alway leave it it was rubbish. It was not! The tour guide Robbert was brilliant, a Dutch guy living in Brussels with fantastic English and a great sense of humor. We managed to see lots more sights and to find out details of the ones we had already seen. He gave us tips on where to eat and drink and was happy to answer lots of our questions. At the end you could pay what you thought the tour was worth, but weren’t pressured to pay anything if you didn’t want to or couldn’t. We are going to look out for Sandemans New Europe Tours http://www.neweuropetours.eu in other cities now and would recommend doing something like this on your first day as it helped to orientate you, find food and drink spots and gives you a great insight into the city.

It was now time to grab our bags and head back to the station to our next stop, Brugge.

Posted by Nick-n-Charlie 17:00 Archived in Belgium Tagged sandemans_new_europe_tours Comments (1)

One Night in Strasbourg, France

Un café dans la Petite France

sunny 28 °C
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On our way from Switzerland to Brussels we decided to have a brief pit stop in Strasbourg for one night as we had heard that is was meant to be beautiful so thought why not!

Luckily our train got us in relatively early so this gave us plenty of time to get checked into our Apart-Hotel (See lesson number 8) and head off into the afternoon sunshine.

The Old Town is indeed beautiful and definitely worthy of it’s UNESCO World Heritage status, especially around Le Petite France with it’s timber clad, almost fairytale buildings, bridges over the canals and cosmopolitan cafes over looking the water.

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We spent all afternoon exploring and thanks to some helpful hints from a friend: Isabelle, who is originally from Strasbourg we managed to get a surprising amount done in the few hours we had and even headed back in for a local beer that evening in a really quaint square flanked with cafes and restaurants (another recommendation).

After a surprisingly good nights sleep it was up early to make the most of the morning before our train at 15.00, so set back off into the centre of Strasbourg to see some of the things we had missed the previous day before catching our train to Belgium.

Posted by Nick-n-Charlie 17:00 Archived in France Tagged strasbourg unesco_world_heritage le_petite_france Comments (0)

LESSON NUMBER 8

You get what you pay for

sunny 26 °C

When we had decided we wanted to spend one night in Strasbourg on our way from Switzerland to Belgium we were really struggling to find a hostel so started looking at hotels, thinking for one night we would be able to eat out and not break the budget. We looked on all the usual last minute sites and came across the Apart-Hotel Victoria Gardens which was close to the train station, about 15-20 minute walk into the centre (which we are completely used to), and was a bargain at only £30! We thought, well it is only for one night, it can’t be that bad and on first impressions things looked ok...

...however, as you looked deeper and actually started to use things we started to realise quiet why it was SO cheap!

The kitchen tap flew off while in use, flooding the kitchennette
The shower holder/rail was broken meaning if you had the shower on full pressure it flew off the wall.

After these two, we complained and got to change rooms, something we instantly regretted. Our new room was much smaller and unbelievably in even worse condition. The issue with the shower seemed to be throughout the building and once again fell of the wall when you tried to use it. There were no plugs in any of the sinks. The “fully equipped kitchenette” was nothing of the sort consisted of 2x forks, 2x spoons, 1x knife, 1x steak knife, 1x frying pan, 1x saucepan all of which looked like people had left by accident or that had been pinched from a local charity shop.

Neither of us had massively high hopes for a hotel costing £30 a night and we were under no illusion it would be basic - we are not naive enough to think we were getting some 5* bargain. But we did expect a clean, functioning hotel. We were wrong. The only saving grace is that the hotel was so awful it made us stay out doing things longer than we perhaps normally would have done meaning we had more time exploring Strasbourg.

From now on we will not always go for the cheapest option, even if it is only for one night!

Lesson learnt!

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

Interlaken, Switzerland

A hikers dream

sunny 28 °C
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An hours train ride from Bern and we had reached Interlaken at the foot of the snow covered Alps. The hostel Alplodge http://www.alplodge.com was easy to find and was much better than we had expected. It was part hostel part hotel so we managed to get the best of both!

After checking in and sorting a few bits out it was off to explore what Interlaken had to offer. We sat in a park and had lunch with an incredible view of the Jungfrau in the background. Unfortunately as we had arrived on a Sunday afternoon all of the Tourist Information offices and supermarkets (luckly we had pasta and pesto leftover for the night before) were closed meaning we could not do our usual routine when first arriving somewhere - we were going to have to play it by ear!

We knew that the weather was promising to be perfect on the Monday and had been debating whether we should take the very expensive train ride (CHF197 each) up to the top of Jungfraujoch (the highest train station in Europe). We had been pre-warned that if there is even one cloud in the sky not to bother making the trip. As usual I picked up lots of fliers from the station and hostel of things to do and also as usual read every bit of them. In doing this I managed to discover an "earlybird" ticket. If you get the first train at 06.35 then you can save yourself about CHF50 per person.

So 05:00 Monday we were up ready to judge the sun, it was already shining and there was not a cloud anywhere on the horizon (which always lifts Nick's day) so we went for it! We made the train in plenty of time (very unlike us! well me) and we were off up the mountain. The train ride takes 2.5 hours in total with 2 changes along the way. Even on the slow train ride up the scenery is amazing! Emerging out of dark tunnels and being greeted with snow covered peaks! The final train stopped twice on the way up actually inside the mountain where they had carved "windows" in the side of the mountain so that you could get views out.

We finally reached the station (still inside at this point) and after a quick change into warmer clothing we were off to explore. Nick was feeling a little dizzy from the altitude, but was not about to let that stop him. We followed the marked tour and went through various exhibits before reaching the Sphinx Terraces - a 360 external viewing platform on the outside of the station overlooking the Alps. There are no words that can describe this view!

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We spent a good 2 hours exploring, there was also an hour snow walk you could do on the glacier, however after walking a little of it and stopping because it was quite steep, it was my turn to feel lightheaded and queasy. We then realised it had been 6 hours since we last ate and so decided we had to catch our train back down. Our original plan had been to get a train to Grindelwald where we were hoping to do a walk, but as our train pulled into the first station, Kliene Schinegg ,I spotted a walking sign pointing in the direction of Grindlewald saying 2.5 hour hike. That didn't seem bad, so after getting food (two Bratwurst, two slices of bread and two drinks, CHF 26, good though) we decided to do the decent by foot and were rewarded with beautiful views of snow capped mountains turning into rolling meadows. Upon reaching Grindlewald and after another clothes change, stripping down to the bare minimum, we were really feeling the heat of the sun and decided to cool down by going to a small supermarket and treating our selves to an ice cream.

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Tuesday saw the need for a rest day so we decided to walk to lake Thun, we had seen a sign the day before saying it was 10 mins by bike so thought that was not far to walk. We kept walking and came to a lovely nature reserve with tree covered paths, an hour and a half later we reached the lake, Doh! It was worth it though as we entered the town Neuhaus and were greeted with a beautiful lake that had a public park right on the lakeside and an area for swimming, (Nick was brave and went for a swim even after the people before him squealed with the cold). The day was supposed to be a bit of a write off as it was going to be thunder storm all afternoon till evening. However the weather was on our side and we managed to sit in the baking heat (well I kept finding shade) for most of the day. By the afternoon we decided we would go to the little cafe further round the lake and discovered a deal for strawberries and ice cream so yet again treated ourselves. We were just deciding to make the walk home when the staff at the cafe started to franticly move tables and umbrella inside. We looked up to see storm clouds coming our way, so we gathered our things paid our bills and headed back to the hostel. We managed to get most of the way there before the heavens opened, lucky all the buildings in Switzerland have little overhangs so we hugged the side of the street to keep some of the rain off. We made it back with barely wet clothes just as the rain became torrential and thunder started to roll.

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Wednesday and sadly the thunderstorm from the night before had not cleared the air completely and we awoke to a fairly cloudy day with the prospect of heavy rain in the afternoon. We caught the train to nearby Lauterbrunnen and then walked the 40 mins (in sunshine randomly?!) to the Trummelbach falls; 10 glacial waterfalls that are actually inside the mountain. The sound was deafening but it was fantastic to get so close to them - although it was freezing inside the mountain! We made our way back towards to train, stopping for lunch on the way, when our luck with the weather ran out and the heavens opened once more. We decided to cut our loses and catch a train back to our hostel earlier than we wanted to, but managed to get a few hours of internet searching in.

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Thursday and our final day in Switzerland and the hiking boots were back on! We again caught the train to Lauterbrunnen, and then began the 2.5 hour climb (and I mean climb) up to Murren. The path was steep and both Nick and I were struggling. I really don’t think Nick enjoyed it much - probably more to do with the fact that his view of the mountains was still obscured by low clouds! We eventually made it to the top and after about an hour the cloud began to clear and we were rewarded with some beautiful views over to Jungfrau and Monch. Murren is beautiful, a small pedestrianised town perched right on the edge of the cliff and that Lonely Planet describe as “Heidi Heaven” - the perfect stereotype of a Swiss mountain town! The hike back down was obviously much easier. Half way down we met a fellow walker who was from New Zealand who gave us some great tips on what to do and where to go when we reach NZ early next year, even giving us her email address so we could contact her when we are out there - perfect!

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Our final night was spent getting to know some of our fellow travellers in the hostel (it is typical that you always meet nice people on the final night!). We sat for hours chatting with two guys from Canada and a girl from the US and were very jealous the next morning when they all set off on a group hike and we were not able to join them - we were headed for Strasbourg.

Posted by Nick-n-Charlie 17:00 Archived in Switzerland Tagged lauterbrunnen hiking switzerland mürren interlaken jüngfraujoch alplodg_hostel thun the_top_of_europe trummelbach_falls Comments (0)

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