Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Beating Our Retreat

We returned from Norway on a Sunday, and spent Monday and Tuesday unpacking and repacking (what a fun job) before my folks arrived on Tuesday night, when we caught up for a drink and some dinner at Leicester Square. Wednesday started with one last breakfast at The Breakfast Club at Angel, and ended with a twenty/twenty county cricket match at Lords. Thursday we met up with the parents in central London, discarded Westminster Abbey as waaay too expensive, and took them for a bit of a session (he he) at Temple Walkie. Saturday, after popping in to Temple for the afternoon for a mates farewell drinks, we were joined by my brother for the performance of We Will Rock You at Tottenham Court Road, and then Sunday we took Mum and Dad to Brick Lane for a yummy curry lunch, followed by a foray up to Angel for a few at the Bull. So a pretty fun week for our last full week in London.

On Monday, Dave and I jumped on a train up to York. Upon arrival, we grabbed some breakfast and headed over to the famous York Minster, with its amazing interior. We then walked some of the city walls, headed to the Richard III museum where we made up our own minds just who killed the princes in the tower, and trekked halfway out of town (or so it seemed) to our hostel, coming back in to do an interesting (if not very scary) ghost tour. The next day we discovered was Coronation Day (the anniversary of Queen Elizabeth's coranation) so we saw a 21 gun salute in the park, which was pretty cool. We then crashed on the grass a while for a lazy nap in the sunshine, before a spot of (book) shopping, dinner at the pub and a train back to London.

The following day was Origin I, which was being shown live at some of the Aussie bars, so we headed to (you guessed it) Temple Walkie. We arrived there at 10, and were joined by J, Nathan and a couple of others for kick off at 11, after which we lost track of time and before we knew it it was 7pm and time to go to Shakespeare's Globe to see "As You Like It" (very good performance).

Thursday night we headed to 'Beating Retreat' at the Horse Guards with Bec and J and a couple of others. This military display was originally used in a war when beating or sounding a retreat brought a halt to the days fighting, and as a spectacle was pretty cool.

Friday afternoon J, Bec, Dave and I headed out to Stansted for our flight to Amsterdam! We spent a great weekend discovering the delights of Amsterdam, and managed to fit in a bike ride out into the countryside, where we found no tulips but a windmill and a cheese and clog factory. Kitsch souvenirs galore!

Come Monday, Dave and I said a sad farewell to Bec, J and London, before boarding our flight out of Heathrow at 10.30pm, bound for Sydney via Hong Kong.

Some final pics below. We are back in rainy Sydney (what were we THINKING leaving a gorgeous London summer??) looking for work and adjusting to being back.

Bike riding in Amsterdam


Drinks in Amsterdam

Beating Retreat at the Horse Guards

Beating Retreat at the Horse Guards

21 gun salute in York for Coronation Day

Outside York Minster

At Temple Walkabout

Dad 'n' Dave

Final time playing tourist in Central London

20/20 at Lords

Dave at Lords

With the folks

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Norweigan Wonders

OK, this post is a little overdue, as we have been back in London for a week now. But as we have been entertained by the arrival of my parents and busy packing up to head back to Oz things have got a little behind.
So to wrap up our trip we flew from Budapest up to Oslo, where we spent one night in the world's most expensive city (it really is). The following day, we caught the famous Oslo-Bergen train. It was, without peer, the best and most breathtaking train journey ever. The train is pretty nice and comfortable and has these huge windows on either side, perfect for viewing the amazing and spectacular scenery.
We stayed a night in Bergen before embarking on our Norway In A Nutshell tour. It's not a tour in the strictest sense of the word, you just buy all the tickets in one go as it includes a couple of trains, a boat and a bus. So first we backtracked a little, taking the train from Bergen to Myrdal, where we changed for the spectacular Flam railway. From Flam, we did a 2 and a half hour fjord cruise, before getting a bus to Voss. (The ride was a little hairy at times - it went down this massive mountain road with incredibly sharp turns, but the scenery again was amazing). We spent the night in beautiful Voss and most of the next day, before returning to Bergen.
We stayed our last two nights in Bergen, which is a wonderful port town. We found this great little pub - quite cheap (for Norway though, which for anywhere else would be expensive!) with amazing seafood, which we had both nights.
Photos will follow. Norway is just so amazingly beautiful and stunning that I haven't attempted description.
We are now at our last weekend in London. Last night, the Weber family plus Dave went to see We Will Rock You, and today we are headed (minus brother) down to Brick Lane for a curry. Dave and I head up to York tomorrow for a night, and next Friday we, along with J and Bec, hit Amsterdam!!!
I do owe this blog some more photos, but I am being lazy, so if you are interested in photos from Croatia you can follow the links on the side of the blog.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Oh Sarajevo!

Upon arrival in Sarajevo we caught a tram to Hostel City Centre, the location of which is self explanatory. Dropping off our bags, we set off for a walk in the Bascarsija (the Turkish district), which is full of little craft shops and cafes. The food in Bosnia and Hercegovina is awesome as well as really cheap – our three days in Sarajevo we lived on cevapcici (little sausages in pita bread) and bureks (pastries with fillings; our favs were potato and meat). The water is the freshest water I have ever tasted; it is so clear and drinkable that there are fountains around the city where you can stop and drink! We stopped for a drink (or two - of the alcoholic kind) at Cheers, the bar right next door to our hostel, which was to become a bit of a local while we were in town.
The following day we decided to do a walking tour to get ourselves better acquainted with this fascinating city. We discovered the sights and history of Sarajevo and its many churches and mosques - in Sarajevo, people of different religions lived in harmony for hundreds of years - and stopped at the place where the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, setting in train a series of events leading to the outbreak of the First World War. In the afternoon it was time for some more exploring, eating, drinking and souvenir-buying. Bosnia is so cheap!
Next day we did the Sarajevo Tunnel Tour, which was amazing. It was run by a guy not much older than ourselves, early thirties. He was fifteen when the war broke out in 1992, and joined the Bosnian army the following year. Before war was over he was shot twice, on one occasion spending four months in hospital. He is now a doctor, having finished a medical degree after the war. He drove us to the Tunnel Museum out near Sarajevo airport in his jeep, pointing out stuff along the way, such as the Merkale Market where a grenade exploded, killing 16 and wounding 197 Sarajevo citizens. Our route took us along Sniper Alley, which is a stretch of road leading into town where Serb snipers had prime position to pick off people as they ran along it. Reaching the museum, we first watched a 15 minute film of the seige and the story of the tunnel. 25 metres or so of the original tunnel still exists as it was, which we were able to walk along. The tunnel was constructed as a way of getting food and supplies into the besieged city, with the entrance in the basement of a house near the airport and the exit in another house in free territory. Listening to this guy talk about the war and the siege of Sarajevo from first hand experience was amazing. We were only about 10 or 11 when this was going on - I don't think I even knew where Bosnia was. To be in Sarajevo and hear all this and see first hand where it happened just brings it all home, how terrifying and tragic it was. 90% of people killed were civilians, including about 1000 children. The scars in Sarajevo are still raw. Although many builings have been repaired, what is striking is the makeshift cemetaries which are dotted around the outskirts of town. Many of the famous Sarajevo roses in the town have been covered over, as the memories for many citizens are just too painful.
That afternoon, on returning to town, we went to Cheers with Josh, a guy from our hostel, to watch Manchester United wrap up the Premier League title. In the evening, the three of us thought we would go out to watch Sarajevo FC play. Thanks to the tourist booklet giving an incorrect start time, we arrived at the stadium for the final ten minutes (at least we didn't pay to get in). So we went back , had a last meal of cevapcici, and watched the Eurovision final instead.
After Sarajevo we caught a bus back into Croatia to Zagreb, where we spent a pleasant afternoon and evening (really cheap and lovely pasta meal) before a train to Budapest (same hostel as last time and the owner recognised Dave!) and a flight up to Norway. We are currently in Bergen and at the end of our trip. Stayed tuned!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Into Bosnia

The three hour bus ride from Dubrovnik to Mostar took us through some really pretty countryside. Bosnia & Hercegovina is gorgeous – very mountainous with winding rivers, waterfalls and wetlands. Upon arrival in Mostar, we were picked up from the bus station and driven to our hostel. Driving through town, we were able to see just how many scars remain from the war. In certain parts, such as the street that was the former front line, almost every single building is a mere shell or a ruin. There were buildings that are absolutely peppered with bullet holes, both in the city and throughout the country. I don’t think either of us quite realised just how raw everything still is.

Mostar, however, is still quite beautiful. The famous bridge, the Stari Most, which was destroyed in 1994, has been rebuilt and is a stunning sight. Strolling through the town that first night, we ran into Melissa and Matthew, a Kiwi couple we had been chatting to on the bus ride from Dubrovnik, and the four of us had some drinks and dinner.

The following day we spent exploring and buying some souvenirs. Bosnia & Hercegovina is extremely cheap – a pint cost us the equivalent of a pound, and dinner later that night (a full sized trout for Dave and veal for me, plus drinks) cost 14 pounds. We were also lucky enough to witness a guy jump from the bridge, which apparently the young guys of the town do to get money from tourists, and we climbed the minaret of one of the mosques, ascending the (narrow) staircase for some great views of the town.

Our only regret is that we didn’t have the time to do the tour of some of the countryside that was offered at our hostel. It was run by the hostel owners’ brother, and our regrets only intensified when we met the guy and his big, friendly personality.

On Thursday, we jumped on another bus to Sarajevo.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Photos: Slovenia

Fast food place in Ljubljana

View from Ljubljana Castle

Going for a row on Lake Bled







Thursday, May 14, 2009

Walls and Fjords

Our ferry left Hvar for Dubrovnik on the Saturday morning at 10.30. We jumped on a bus to the main port of Stari Grad, a 15 minute bus ride from Hvar Town, where we were a bit miffed by the rudeness of an American traveller on the bus with us. The ferry to Dubrovnik, the Marco Polo, was massive. We made a beeline for the top deck and managed to bag ourselves a shady table, where we enjoyed fantastic scenery the 6 hours it took to get to Dubrovnik, via the island of Korcula. Upon arrival, it took a while to find where we were staying; a private room in the home of a lovely Croatian family. Once there, checked in and sans bags, we went down to the Old Town for a look around and a drink, before returning to our neighbourhood for some dinner.
The second day we explored the Old Town properly. Our first task was to walk the city walls for some great views over the town and out to sea. We were amused by one older American tourist, who apparently thought I looked like a tour guide and kept asking me which way she should walk 'to get over there' (even though you are walking a wall - there is only one way.) Afterwards, we couldn't resist stopping for a drink at a charming bar built into the cliff wall, with some more amazing views. A couple of pizza slices for lunch and we made our way back to our rooms, emerging a little later bound for Lapad Bay, where we wandered the beach and had a lovely seafood pasta meal and an ice cream.
The following day we spent discovering that one of Europe's youngest nations is also one of its most visually stunning. Early in the morning, we picked up our hire car (Dave's first time driving in about two years) and made our leisurely way across the Croatian border and down the coast of Montenegro. First stop was the walled town of Kotor, nestled inside a stunning fjord. We slogged up to the fortress, high above the town almost at the top of the fjord. AMAZING is all I can say. The two and a half hours to get up and down were definately worth it - we were probably slowed a little though because one of us only had her thongs to climb in!
After a refresing drink and another ice cream, we hopped back in the car and followed the coast around to Budva, where we found another charming walled town and a big beach with...sand, not rocks! The water was absolutely beautiful. I do think I have been living in Britain too long though - Dubrovnik was around 28 degrees and I didn't think it was possible for it to get any hotter until we hit Montenegro. After a few hours - and a delicious late lunch - in Budva and exhausted after a big day, we drove back to Dubrovnik, where we witnessed a gorgeous sunset heading back down the Croatian coast.
The following morning was spent doing some laundry and chilling out at the Living Room cafe, before boarding our bus for Mostar in Bosnia & Hercegovina.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

'You Maybe Want Boat?'

So back to our first day in Croatia. We arrived in Split off an overnight train from Ljubljana, via Zagreb. The first thing we wanted to do was get some breakfast, so we grabbed some rolls, which we ate by the harbour, watching the ferries come in. The next order of business was finding the hostel, which turned out to be run by a lovely Croatian lady. Most of the accommodation in Croatia is run privately by locals, some of whom will meet every bus and ferry to solicit business. After checking in and dumping the bags, we bought ourselves hats at the markets (in anticipation of hot, sunny days – we were not disappointed as the weather has been gorgeous) and went to find out about ferries, before heading back to the hostel for a catnap (having not had a sleeper on the train, we each got about 2 hours sleep.)
Suitably refreshed, we headed out to check out the Old Town and the Diocletian’s Palace, before making a beeline for one of Split’s beaches, where we spent a while relaxing in the sun. Next up was lunch in the Old Town at a restaurant with a lovely little courtyard. The cuisine on the coast of Croatia is heavily influenced by Italy, so there is a lot of pizza and fresh pasta. Add to that fresh seafood and lots of gelati and we are not complaining!
In the afternoon, we climbed the hill at the far end of the city for some fantastic views, before heading back to the hostel for a cheap dinner of salami and cheese rolls and a few beers. Later we headed out for a drink in the beautifully lit Old Town with a couple of guys from the hostel.
The following day there were celebrations for the patron saint of Split. We had a quick breakfast, and watched a bit of the parade and other celebrations around town. Our passenger ferry departed for Hvar Island at 2, and passing through the produce markets on the way we couldn’t resist buying some local honey and fresh strawberries.
Upon arrival in Hvar Town, we were picked up and driven to the hostel/guesthouse we had booked. For 8 quid each per night we had a private room with ensuite, a kitchen we shared with two other rooms, our own fridge, and a balcony with amazing views over the island. The two days we spent on the island paradise of Hvar were extremely relaxing. We wandered the town, ate a fantastic meal (seafood pasta, wine, and a complimentary shot of grappa), had great homemade meals of bread, cheese, cold meats and our honey, and had a swim in the wonderfully clear and inviting (if a little chilly) Adriatic Sea.
Next stop was (sweltering) Dubrovnik for three nights...