A Travellerspoint blog

August 2013

Berlin, Germany

Back in Germany again...

sunny 22 °C
View Honeymoon World Tour on Nick-n-Charlie's travel map.

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
View Honeymoon World Tour on Nick-n-Charlie's travel map.

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)

LESSON NUMBER 10

Don't wash before a walk

sunny 26 °C

On the morning of our shorter hike I washed my hair as usual with a cheap fruity shampoo purchased in Cyprus and didn't think anything of it, however...

After walking in the woods with sun beaming down and going up hill for nearly an hour I obviously started to sweat a fair bit. Apparently the sweat and the smell of the fruit shampoo attracts LOTS of flies who swarmed around me buzzing near my ears and trying to land on my face. After a long time of wafting them away, I ended up having to walk with a t-shirt wrapped around my head and a trail of flies behind me I was not a happy bunny.

So do not wash your hair with fruit smelling shampoo moments before going for a hike in damp woods.

Lesson Learnt.

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

Bratislava, Slovakia

semi-overcast 24 °C
View Honeymoon World Tour on Nick-n-Charlie's travel map.

[[Two Student Agency buses and 5 hours later]After a full day of travelling on two of the posh student agency buses back via Prague we arrived in Slovakia at around 21:00. Arriving at night always makes it tricker to find your hostel so after a slight detour in the wrong direction we made it to Patio Hostel (link).

Arriving at the hostel you could be forgiven if you thought you were in Ikea. A lot of hostels have obviously used Ikea but this place was like the catalogue which was actually quiet nice as it was clean and practical. That is apart from the kitchens which were on three different floors and basically consisted of a camping stove and a sink with barely enough room for two people to stand in. Our room was really nice though. We had opted for a private, albeit a twin. By this point it was getting late so we made our usual first day dinner pasta with pesto and hit the hay.

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The next day we went to the centre of the old town (only 10 minutes walk from our hostel) to take part in another free walking tour. This time our guide was a local student who was really enthusiastic, if not a little rehearsed. Three hours later we had visited all the main sights including; the Primate Palace, Old Town Hall, St Michael’s Gate, Man at Work and the Blue Church (which looked like a fairytale church and is nicknamed the Smurf Church!!).

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After the tour we went to eat our sandwiches English style on a bench by the river but were soon had to move on as a few persistent wasps who kept following us every time we moved bench!! We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering round doing a spot of shopping and stopping off for a couple of coffees and beers!

That evening we attempted to make dinner again in the ridiculously small kitchen (which was not the nicest stir-fry I’ve ever made, I miss our kitchen!). Once dinner had settled we went for an evening stroll to see the city lit up at night.

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After a lazy start we walked up the hill to the Castle which overlooks the Old Town, but as we learnt on the walking tour the previous day hardly any of the original buildings survived the Communist regime meaning the views were not that great! Under the regime Stalin had decided that the then Czechoslovakia needed only one cultural city which became Prague, leaving Bratislava to be the Modern City, therefore all of the old beautiful architecture was destroyed to make way for the new grey Communist buildings. This means you know have a huge dual carriageway right next to the Cathedral!

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That evening we decided not to use the crappy kitchen and instead went to try the local dishes our tour guide told us about. We ordered a platter of Perogi, which is a potato dumpling (sort of Gnocchi) stuffed with local sheep’s cheese, cabbage and bacon all with a further layer of cheese on top! Needless to say we did not finish it, and the smell of that cheese still turns our stomachs!

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Again our final night was a lazy one, opting to relaxin in our room rather than heading out as we knew that we had a long day of travelling, crossing the majority of Slovakia to make our way to Poland and the Tatra National Park for some much needed country air and exercise!

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

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

Where?

semi-overcast 24 °C
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We knew we wanted to see more of the Czech Republic other than just the tourist hub of Prague, so Nick decided to do some research, which basically amounted to logging onto the Czech Tourist Board website seeing a picture of Cesky Krumlov Castle and decided we were staying there. Cesky Krumlov is tiny and so beautiful it is frequently used as a film location, most famously for being the setting of the gory horror film Hostel (even though in the film they claim it is Slovakia). So two hours on the poshest coach you have ever seen (it was like being on a plane with your own touchscreen TV with films, games etc and free hot drinks!) we arrived and within minutes of walking through the UNESCO World Heritage protected town we knew we had made the right decision!

We checked straight into our hostel; Hostel Skippy (http://www.hostelskippy.webs.com) which was lovely, although slightly odd as it was more of a guesthouse than a hostel as the owner lived there too so at times it felt like you were invading her home. She was lovely though and so helpful giving advice on where to go and what to do. We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the narrow cobbled streets, over the bridges, watching people rafting on the river and getting our bearings. We also took the stroll up to the Castle which sits perched on a hill top over-looking the town. It is one of the largest Medieval castles in Europe (second only to Prague's!) and unfortunately has 3 smelly, depressed looking bears living in it's tiny moat for no real reason.

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The kitchen in our hostel was tiny (not really a kitchen at all with just a hob and sink), so we decided to eat out as it was so cheap. After walking around we found a really nice looking (and very busy) restaurant http://www.satlava.cz/page.php?sectid=satlava&artid=1&lang=en&mode=normalwhere everything was cooked over the open fire pit. The food was beautiful, I had lamb chops with amazing potato pancakes and Nick had 1KG of pork knuckle - the thing was huge but delicious cooked to perfection (I of course stole a chunk)! All this and 2 pints for only £16 (500 Koruna). We then took a late night stroll around the town which is even more beautiful at night when it is all lit up.

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The next day we did a walking tour (as is becoming customary when visiting a new town). Our guide was a native of Cesky Krumlov which was really nice as she was very knowledgeable. The town is small so there wasn't lots of walking but the history and the buildings were fascinating. The town apparently only became the glorious old town it is today just 23 years ago. You could purchase one of the 3 story buildings in a prime location for only €1000 + a lot of maintenance. Today you will have to pay €400,000 for the same property. In renovating the houses they discovered some hidden gems like frescos and sgraffito work behind layers of plaster and so once all the buildings were finished a beautiful town re-emerged.

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After the tour we ate out for lunch instead of the usual homemade ham and cheese sandwiches we have become used to and then did a little mooching around, finding "the hostel" from Hostel, which is actually an old monastery and trying Trdelník a traditional cake, sweet pastry with chocolate in the centre (not healthy). Finally we had to return back to the hostel to do some much needed booking of accommodation for our next stop Bratislava. Later that evening we again treated ourselves to a meal out before enjoying another evening walk in the moon light.

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Our final morning was spent packing, checking out and treating ourselves (again) to food, this time with a proper breakfast for once! Then it was time to make our way to the bus station to catch another Student Agency Bus back to Prague, then a connecting one to Bratislava, Slovakia.

Posted by Nick-n-Charlie 17:01 Archived in Czech Republic Comments (0)

Prague, Czech Republic

semi-overcast 22 °C
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After catching up with some sleep on our flight from Milan after our night in the airport we were both feeling much better. From the airport it took us nearly two hours to make it to our hostel; Hostel Lipa (http://www.hostellipa.com/index.php?xSET=lang&xLANG=2), but it was worth it. We had opted from a private room, which was huge and full of vintage, mismatching furniture (as was the whole hostel) and it had a really nice relaxed feel as it was so small. The owner Michael was great, giving free maps, advice on where to go, what to eat etc.

As usual after a quick trip to the supermarket and being amazed at how far out money would stretch (our normal bill of £20 came to £7!!) we headed of to make the most of the rest of the afternoon. We walked the twenty minutes into the Historic Old Town wandering through quaint streets to the Old Town Square where we saw the famous, if not slightly disappointing Astronomical Clock (frequently voted the most overrated Tourist Attraction in Europe). From there we headed to Charles Bridge (where we accidentally lost each other for 10 minuets as it was so crowded!) and then spent the rest of the day exploring, getting our bearings before our lack of sleep the night before started to catch up with us so we caught a tram (very unlike us!), back to hostel.

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Our hostel owner Michael had recommended the pub underneath the hostel as a good place to get some cheap, traditional Czech food, so we thought it was the easiest option and ended up having a platter of various meats, potato pancakes, breads with mustard and horseradish (and obviously a couple of litres of Czech beer!) all for the bargain price of £17!!. After some serious meat sweats, both of us were flagging, so it was an early night!

The next morning we were up early and had decided to do another Sandaman's Free Walking Tour (http://www.newpraguetours.com) as we had enjoyed the ones is Brussels, Munich and Dacau so much. Our guide was Michael, a German born, raised in England now living in the Czech Republic who was fantastic giving us so much information in our 3 hour tour around the city explaining the history of Prauge and of the Czech Republic, the 30 Years War, the Velvet Revolution and the Prague Spring, as well as telling lots of jokes along the way! Plus he even enlighten that Astronomical Clock though on first impressions unimpressive was a genius in it's workings. Not only telling you what Zodiac month you are in but, the cycle of the moon, the position of the sun relative to the earth and when the sunsets.

The tour was so good we ended up staying on for his tour of Prague Castle straight afterwards just as the heavens opened, our guide continued on even with out an umbrella or waterproofs. The Castle is the largest medieval castle in the world and is truly colossal, hence this tour too was 3 hours long. As well as the castle we went to the Strahov Monastic Brewery and tasted there unique beer called St Norbett's, I was very tempted to keep the bottle as it was cool but transporting it may have been difficult. By the end of the tour we were extremely wet, even in our waterproof jackets, but now we knew about the fascinating history of Prague and the Czech Republic, the rise and fall (and apparent re-rise) of communism, the meaning of defenestration and how to say the letter Ř.

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Our final morning was spent packing and making our way to the Bus Station at the other side of the city to catch our swanky coach to Cesky Krumlov.

TIP: Ladies if you are ever in Prague and have to use a public toilet (which you will always have to pay for 16p!), remember to pick up some toilet roll from the counter as there won't be in any in the cubicle!!

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

Coral Bay, Cyprus

Sun, Food, Drink and Friends

sunny 37 °C
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To get to Cyprus we had a flight from Milan to Thessaloniki then a connecting flight to Larnaca which was annoyingly the wrong side of the island! However Cyprus is pretty small and after paying an extortionate price for a really crappy rental car it only took us 2 hours (with one wrong turn near Paphos) to get to our home for the week; Villa George which was located in the Sea Caves area just outside of Coral Bay.

The villa http://www.ownersdirect.co.uk/cyprusb/CY3922.htm was simply stunning housing; 6 en-suite bedrooms, two massive kitchens, utility room, games room (pool table and table tennis), dinning/living room, beautiful gardens, BBQ area and huge pool which looked out onto the sea - perfect for all 11 of us!

This week was really just about chillin with some of the most important and loved people in our lives. It was therefore a week of; sunbathing, eating, sleeping, drinking, eating, chatting while the sun set and more eating.

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The week flew by! Too fast and it was soon time to say goodbye to everyone again. This time seemed a lot harder than before. Being with the gang made us realise just how much we were missing our friends and how difficult it would be to ever live away from them. Nick and I managed to hold back the tears but we had to say farewell.

It was now off Kellepeia in the mountains of paphos to stay with our friends Jane and Mike, who kindly put us up for the night even though they had there grandson over. They took us out to a lovely local restaurant where the food was delicious and half the price of Coral Bay, we later chilled out side talking the night away till it was time for sleep. The next day was another cloudless hot day but a little more bearable in the hills with a slight breeze so we took the opportunity to relax in the sun before our flight back to Milan. At lunch time Jane put on a brilliant spread which ended with an AMAZING homemade cheese cake (as you know this is Nick's favourite dessert), white chocolate, berries and oatty base yum! After lunch it was going to be back to paphos and a two hour bus journey to Larnaca airport, with a change in Limassol...

...However Mike and Jane said they didn't trust the buses in Cyprus and very kindly offered to drive us to the airport instead, which was lovely of them and so in just under 2 hours we were sitting having a coffee waiting for our plane. (Thank you Mike and Jane)

Now always looking out for the cheapest option we had booked a flight to Prague for as little as £35 each, this flight was due to set off at 10:20 on Thursday morning and we were due to arrived at Milan airport at 01:00 earlier that Thursday morning. Wanting to save the pennies and not pay for a room for 5 hours we decided to sleep in the airport!

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Now this wasn't as bad as we thought it maybe and we both actually got some sleep. At 05:00 however the airport suddenly came alive and became very noisy with air attendants passing close by our heads with their trollies so had to get up, as getting more sleep was going to be impossible. Once up and packing out sleeping bags away, we discovered that someone had left a bag of food and drink for us, obviously thinking we were homeless.

After brushing our teeth, eating breakfast and making our selfs seem a little more human we off to catch our plane to Prague.

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

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