Italy part one: Pisa!

Salzburg wrapped up my 2014 adventures so on we go in to the “new year” of 2015, exciting right? Italy had always been a dream destination for me growing up, so when an opportunity to visit in February 2015 presented itself surely I had to go?

Perhaps surprisingly I was actually unsure. You’ll have to wait until my next post to hear why I was visiting Italy and consequently why there was a little question mark over going but after weighing up the pros & cons I quickly decided that Firenze (Florence) was too good an opportunity to miss!

With my heart set on visiting Firenze I started looking at flight prices and I came to the realisation that it was bloody expensive for the dates I was looking at. What was plan B?
I’d given up hope of flying to Firenze directly so I had to consider how else I could get there. Were there any other cities nearby that might work out better?

Pisa was one option that caught my eye and booking flights would save me around £100! The train from Pisa to Firenze was less than ten euros too so it was a much cheaper route and a “no brainer”.  I booked my flights to Italy and then started thinking about accommodation.

 

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Pisa!

Once I knew I was flying to Pisa the next question was how long do I stay in Pisa? I didn’t really know what Pisa had other than the obvious (the leaning tower) so was there any need to stay overnight and have less time in Firenze? I decided that I would give Pisa the benefit of the doubt and I booked a hotel for one night. Maybe I could come home and tell everybody that Pisa was vastly underrated!

“So is it vastly underrated Jason?

No. It’s a city with a famous tower and little else. I posted recently about Bratislava and awarded myself the title of “unofficial ambassador” for Bratislava / Slovakia. I feel bad but I feel like in this instance I’m coming across closer to “Pisa hater” but sadly I did find it a little underwhelming.

I don’t hate Pisa though, I’m not even telling you not to go to Pisa because I genuinely believe everywhere is worth a visit once. It might only be a city with a famous tower but people are still going to want to see that tower so here’s what I got up to with my overnight stay in Pisa! I’ll try not to be too negative!

Having arrived in to Pisa late-morning I quickly made my way in the direction of my hotel for the night in the hope I’d be able to check in a little early. Success! My room was ready and I could drop my things off and get out and explore the city straight away!

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Exploring in the rain!

I didn’t go to Pisa with the highest expectations but there was one clear exception – the food! It was my first time in Italy and I was eager to experience authentic Italian food. Having dropped off my things I went on the search for some lunch and quickly found a nearby restaurant and ordered myself a pizza! Wow! Pisa might have otherwise disappointed but the food did not!

I was in pizza heaven! I don’t know if I’ve let the experience of eating Italian pizza cloud my judgment but it’s the best pizza I’ve ever had. It seems too easy to say that the best pizza you’ve ever had was in Italy but it’s how I remember it. It was so good and Pisa had made a great first impression! At the very least Pisa now had a famous tower and great food!

Having appeased my appetite it was time to explore and inevitably there was only one place to start! I went off in search of the famous leaning tower! I say in search, I knew it was only around the corner so it wasn’t really much of a search but nevertheless off I went!

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The leaning tower of Pisa!

It’s cool to say I’ve seen it in the flesh but I guess I was hoping for more, it didn’t really “wow” me – the pizza was more impressive. I don’t know what my expectations were, something too unrealistic probably because it just felt smaller than I’d envisaged.
It’s 55 meters high so I don’t know what I was expecting – a tower leaning at a 45 degree angle at over 500 or 5,000 meters high? It’d be ridiculous/impossible but nevertheless I did feel a little like “is that it?”.

You can go up the tower but it’s situated in this fairly enclosed square so I didn’t actually expect to see much. I’ve since seen photos of the view and it does look quite good in fairness. Whether it justifies the admission price I don’t know because it isn’t the cheapest. Harsh? Maybe.
I settled for getting a few photos instead and then swiftly moved on.

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Pisa’s Duomo!

In the same square you’ll find Pisa’s Duomo (cathedral) which, shock horror, I actually liked. Crazy to be so positive, right? It’s a nice building from the outside but you have to make sure you go inside as it’s beautiful, I actually preferred the interior of this to Firenze’s own Duomo, the exterior in Firenze makes up for it though!

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Inside the Duomo!

I’d checked out the Duomo and seen the famous tower so what next? I’d picked up a map at my hotel and I couldn’t help but notice that Pisa’s football stadium was within walking distance of this square. It wasn’t something I would have considered looking for otherwise but as it was so nearby I figured I’d check it out, have a walk around the outside of it and maybe see if they offered any stadium tours.

To my surprise as I walked up to the main entrance the players were walking out. It looked like they’d just finished a training session and I found there was nothing stopping you walking right in pitch-side. Whether I should have been there I don’t know, logic would dictate I probably shouldn’t have been but I figured someone would come and tell me if it was an issue.

I didn’t overstay my welcome, I only took a quick look around and grabbed a few photos from inside an empty stadium. The capacity is supposedly 25,000 although it was hard to picture this as the only one inside. Pisa’s football team play in the 3rd tier of Italian football so it’s unlikely I’ll ever be here for a game so I was pleased I’d taken a little detour and that my timing had been so spot on to take advantage.

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Home of Pisa’s football club!
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Stadio Romeo Anconetani

I spent the rest of my afternoon just wandering the city but I just didn’t really warm to Pisa. There are certainly pretty areas in the city, walk along the river and even the “Pisa-haters” of the world would struggle to not admire some of the views because they are stunning. Nevertheless I just couldn’t connect with it right, it wasn’t for me.

Eventually I admitted defeat, gave up exploring and made my way back to my hotel. I figured I’d relax a little and freshen up before heading out for some evening entertainment. Day-time Pisa hadn’t really won me over but Pisa’s a university city so I was hopeful its nightlife could save the day!

I’m not going to be too critical here because I don’t think it’s fair to judge a city’s nightlife based upon a Tuesday night but the lack of life in the city just summed up my time in Pisa.
I spent ages wandering through the city and it was dead. Where was everyone? Perhaps Pisa’s students actually spend their time studying? Whatever the reasons I had little luck finding anywhere with a bit of life to it. Perhaps I was just looking in the wrong parts of the city but no luck! As I said though, a Tuesday night in February probably isn’t a great time to be judging a city’s nightlife. I’d be intrigued to experience a weekend or summer night in Pisa and see how it differs.

In the end I just settled for a quiet dinner (more amazing food!) and an early night relaxing back at the hotel.

I wouldn’t discourage anyone from visiting Pisa, you might find you actually like it more than I did and I’m still glad I visited myself.
In hindsight though I would have gone for just 3-4 hours and caught a later train to Firenze rather than staying overnight in Pisa.

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I woke up early the next morning and didn’t see any benefit to sticking around for much longer. I walked to the train station which gave me a chance to see a little more of Pisa on route but I was soon buying my train ticket to Firenze.
Pisa had given me a little taster of Italy and I’d certainly fallen in love with the food but I was heading on to city number 2 with more hope and higher expectations.

Did Firenze live up to those expectations? Stay tuned for that!

Jason

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Managing wanderlust – an update!

I landed back in England on the 25th of February after my last trip and, as all travellers do, the countdown to the next trip began. 153 days, 9,180 hours, 550,800 minutes – shall I go on? No?

There’s definitely a brat-like element to feeling “trapped” in your own country for 5 months. Living comfortably with a roof over my head and a stable job in a first-world country – you wouldn’t believe the “struggle” these past few months have been as I count down to the second holiday of the year. Is that a violin I hear?

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“Trapped” in this hell hole?

Joking aside, going so long between trips isn’t something I’m used to which is why I wrote a little post about managing wanderlust a while back ( Read me! ). Wanderlust is a dreaded disease with only one known cure, a temporary one at that, which is to book another trip!

As tempting as that has been I’ve been trying to save my pennies for the summer trip. One of my tips to help manage my wanderlust was to travel locally and I’ve been trying to make the most of that over the last 3 months. I’ve had weekends in Manchester, London and Kettering plus other daytrips to Lincoln and London (yes, again) which have helped a little.

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Lincoln castle!

I’ve also been trying to appreciate Peterborough (home) a little more given the good recent weather. If you follow me on Instagram you’ll have noticed I’ve been making the most of my lunch hours with visits to the cathedral and museum recently – both are free and well worth a visit!

I feel like I’ve done a good job of managing my wanderlust over the past three months so I rewarded myself with a trip to France! Oops!

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Going back to France!

Alright, let me explain! I figured I could squeeze in one more day trip somewhere before my summer adventure, I was adamant I wouldn’t do an overnight trip and I started contemplating all of the places within the UK that I could visit in a day. There’s a lot to see in the UK but I don’t drive so I’m always a little restricted by the public transport and the extortionate fees that can come with train fares. Of course I didn’t have to go by train, I could have taken a bus journey but bus times are even more restrictive if you’re only looking at a daytrip and that’s when Eurostar’s sale caught my eye!

I’ve used up all of my remaining annual leave for the summer so I couldn’t take any more time off work. As I didn’t want to stay overnight I wasn’t feeling too hopeful about finding suitable weekend tickets at a good price. You usually find that you can only find the cheapest fare one way or that it’ll be at a stupid time that doesn’t work with a daytrip. I’d given up hope of being able to find an affordable weekend Paris daytrip, Amsterdam seemed too inconvenient in a day and I didn’t fancy another trip to Brussels but decided I’d have a quick look at trains to Lille and voila!

I found a £29 morning train to Lille, a £29 evening train back to London and had a £5 Eurostar voucher still to use. Whilst £53 isn’t the cheapest day-trip I suppose I see it as a substitute to a day out at the football. I’d easily spend £50 on a game of football so there’s little difference here.

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Exploring Manchester in March!

Could I have saved a little more on a UK based daytrip? Perhaps, although a £50 return train journey isn’t anything out of the ordinary in this country. I’d sooner have a small taste of some foreign adventure and a return to France!

So come June 30th I’ll be waking up in my own bed, traveling to France for a day and then sleeping in my own bed that same night. It’s an incredible luxury and privilege as a European to be able to travel so freely! How lucky are we to be able to pop to another country for a day?

Perhaps remind me of that on July 1st when I’m moaning about the “long” four week wait until the USA trip?

All the best!

Jason

Part 4: Romance in Salzburg?

Salzburg: the final part of my 2014 Eurotrip! If you’ve been following the rest of my journey you’ll know that I visited BudapestBratislava and Vienna but more importantly you’ll know why. If not you can read that here: Budapest, Bratislava, Vienna, Salzburg – why?

Salzburg was the foundation of this trip and ultimately it was an opportunity for romance. Could Salzburg possibly be the start of my “happy ever after” fairytale?
Well, I had it pointed out to me by Carlie over at Listfiveblog that I’d already offered a spoiler to this story. The eagle-eyed among you will have noted that I spoke of subsequent long-distance relationships which was a good indication as to how things panned out for me and Nicole.

So you’d be forgiven for thinking that this might be a sad end to the journey but it isn’t. I think it’s easy to be bitter when things don’t quite go to plan but that’s not really my style. I could be resentful of my time in Salzburg but in fact my feelings are quite the opposite, it remains a special place for me and somewhere I left with a lot of fond memories.

So on to the story! Firstly I had to navigate myself from Vienna to Salzburg, I was pretty excited about the train journey because Austria is famed for its scenery and I hadn’t really seen much thus far. Bratislava and Vienna are Europe’s two closest capital cities so when traveling from Slovakia to Austria you don’t really see much of the country.
I bought my train ticket on the day so I was pleasantly surprised to find that traveling right across the country (175ish miles / 280ish kilometres) only cost me 25 euros and that included free Wi-Fi. Are you taking note England?

Seriously! For comparison it’d be like paying a one way fare from Peterborough to Newcastle for £20 on the day you travel:
“Sorry sir, we missed off a zero. That’ll actually be £200 for you to travel today”
“Wait, how much!? Do I at least get free Wi-Fi?”
“No but you can purchase that on board!”
“Alright, I’ll do that when I find my seat”
“Very optimistic sir, you’ll probably be standing for the next 3 hours. Have a nice trip!”

At least they’re on time, right? Spacious, no? A cynic might suggest I’m not too fond of the rail system in the UK. Austria’s however was wonderful. My only criticism is that the free Wi-Fi should be criminal in a country so pretty, I did check up on the football scores before we departed but once we left Vienna I spent my journey with my face glued to the window. The view seemed to improve the closer we got to Salzburg and eventually I was arriving in to Salzburg’s main station. I stepped outside, looked left and BAM!

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Just outside the train station. My first sight of Salzburg!

Mountains! I often call London my favourite city in the world but where are the mountains at? I was stood just outside of the train station, in a city and I had mountains in my face. Perhaps the novelty wears off when you live so close to them but I was in awe – Salzburg had already won me over and I hadn’t been in the city for more than 60 seconds.

As keen as I was to get exploring I had to wait for my company for the weekend to arrive. I didn’t want to stray too far from the station so I grabbed some lunch and a beer at a restaurant across the street, it helped with some of the nerves.

People find first dates nerve-wrecking because you want to make a good first impression and this was in essence a 48 hour first date. We arrived Friday afternoon and Nicole would be heading back to Germany on Sunday, I was flying home Monday morning so had an extra night in Salzburg.

I think the waiting made me more nervous, however once Nicole arrived the nerves had pretty much gone and I was ready to enjoy the weekend together. One of the perks, other than the company itself, to having Nicole with me was she could obviously speak the language! It was something I’d struggled with every time I’d been in a German speaking part of the world.

Nicole made sure we found the right bus to our hotel and then I followed our directions which said something ridiculous like “get off at the stop after the Chinese restaurant” – bizarre directions but ultimately ones that helped us find the hotel pretty easily.

We were keen not to waste any time exploring, we dropped off our things and went to have a little wander for my first real view of the city (Nicole had been before but was excited to come back after so long).

I was left mesmerised by Salzburg’s beauty – my first glimpse of the mountains had blown me away earlier but as you get in to the heart of the city it only gets prettier!
I’d anticipated Salzburg’s beauty in the photos I’d seen beforehand but seeing it in person was something else – it’s one of the most stunning cities I’ve been to. We explored the Mirabell gardens, famously used in the classic “The Sound of Music” and soon our attention turned to getting some dinner.

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We were in the mood for something a little more local so we found a restaurant with a traditional Austrian menu. The only problem was there were no free tables inside the restaurant. Before you enter the restaurant there was this darkly lit room with a large round-ish table, I’d call it a lobby but it felt more like a dark hallway as a go-between from outside the restaurant to inside the restaurant.
We were asked if we wanted to sit there and decided that we would do.

It was quite romantic actually, particularly for our first meal together. We were sat at a table all to ourselves away from the rest of the dining guests and with a few candles to set the mood. It was nice to have that little bit of privacy and then our first dinner-party guests arrived!

The restaurant was still packed inside the main restaurant so as more hungry people showed up we were asked if we’d mind having them join us. Our first guests were an old German* couple on holiday (*potentially Austrian, I can’t remember) who sat beside us. They came across as really friendly and it gave Nicole someone else to talk to.

Next up were a party of Brits who took up the other end of the table – there was around 8-10 seats cramped in together. The Brits had the same language barrier that I did but it created a really nice atmosphere and everyone was in good spirits, probably helped by the fact all 3 parties were in Salzburg visiting and in holiday mode.
It ended up probably being a better night than had we found a table for two within the main part of the restaurant.

We didn’t do much with the rest of our night, we chilled out back at the hotel and watched some tv and then a movie dubbed in German which I was trying to keep track of what was going on but failing miserably at. A successful start to our time in the city and one I was keen to see more of the next day.

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Salzburg looking impressive with the fortress in the background!

Saturday’s first stop was going to be the Festung Hohensalzburg – the fortress/castle sat up on the hill overlooking the city. We made our walk from the hotel and Nicole had soon stopped us, excusing herself to approach some stranger in the street.
Coincidentally a friend (Flo) from Innsbruck just so happened to be in Salzburg with his parents and Nicole had spotted him and they were soon exchanging pleasantries. I was briefly introduced and we suggested meeting up later on for some drinks.

After we said our goodbyes Nicole dropped a bombshell on me and mentioned that Flo was “the Arsenal fan that I’d told you about”. An Arsenal fan!? My heart sank, Flo had seemed so nice until that revelation – cancel the drinks!

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Jokes aside I was looking forward to meeting up later but until then me and Nicole had some exploring to do! Salzburg is a really walkable city and a nice place to have a bit of a wander. We passed the stunning cathedral and a few busy squares and streets with a selection of shops, cafes and restaurants. We took the funicular ride up to the fortress and the views of the city and the mountains from up there are breathtaking no matter which direction you choose to look in.

The fortress was cool to have a look around and then we grabbed some lunch at one of the restaurants up there which has to be one of the most picturesque places I’ve ever eaten at. Great company, great food and great views – it was a perfect moment and I could have stayed sat there for much longer than we were.

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We made our way back in to the city, explored a little but mostly just strolled along the river and people-watched. It was a nice afternoon with our final stop being the St Sebastienkirche (church) and St Sebastien Friedhof (cemetery) on the way back to our hotel. The cemetery is home of the Mozart family, Salzburg’s other “claim to fame” is its ties to Mozart. You’ll see Mozart souvenirs sold everywhere throughout the city, most of it is the usual tacky stuff you see sold to tourists but you should make an exception and try the Mozartkugeln – it’s delicious!

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The church and cemetery were nice to look around, particularly as they’re free to do so and neither were busy when we visited. From there we made our way back to the hotel to relax and freshen up a bit before meeting Flo later on.

Flo fortunately had a good idea of where to go in the evening and soon took us to this bar – the doors seemingly locked but Flo took us next door and through a little hidden side door. I thought it was bizarre but Flo assured us it wasn’t all that unusual. So if you’re ever encountering something that appears closed in Austria, try next door?

Anyway we found ourselves in this cosy little bar, well hidden away from the tourists which meant it was mostly a young crowd full of students and young professionals. Much like our restaurant experience, it seems Austria is more focused on community rather than practicality.
The seating was rather limited so we were sat next to a few Austrians on our left meaning any time someone wanted to go up to the bar you’d have to move and let each other pass you. It made for a really sociable and friendly atmosphere though.

Myself, Nicole and Flo shared a few beers and good conversation over the course of the night. Despite Flo’s obvious oversight we clicked pretty quickly, the start of a little bromance, as we bonded over football and a love of beer in particular. The night also offered Nicole and the opportunity Flo to catch up and share stories which provided plenty of amusement. Both were interchanging effortlessly between English and German whilst reminding me that their “English isn’t very good” which seems to be a common trait of our European friends.

Given how intimate the seating situation was it didn’t take long for the party to our left to notice there was a foreigner among the ranks (me!). I quickly became the target of some light-hearted teasing – mostly silly idioms such as “Ich glaube ich spinne” or “Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof” but it kept them amused. Although one guy seemed to obsess over repeating “awesome.. totally awesome dude” and failing to understand it wasn’t really an English thing.
It was a fun night though and nice to get chatting to a few locals. We chatted away over a few beers and then eventually came time for the three of us to call it a night and we bid farewell to Flo, hoping our paths would cross again someday.

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On Sunday morning me and Nicole went and explored one of the less exhausting trails in Salzburg which offered some cool views looking over the city. We then grabbed some tea at a cafe in one of the squares and I suppose started winding down until Nicole’s trip home to Germany. We said our goodbyes at the train station which left me with one final night in Europe on my own. In all honesty I was feeling pretty deflated. Nicole leaving obviously played a part but it also signaled the beginning of the end. I knew my 10 day trip was almost at its conclusion and I’d be flying home the next morning.

I wanted to enjoy my last evening but it didn’t really materialise. I had a little wander before grabbing some dinner and a couple of drinks but I think the trip finally caught up with me and I was kind of relieved to just have a night doing absolutely nothing. I’d been to 3 countries, 4 cities and had various pieces of company along the way and I think Sunday night was the moment that I started accepting it was time to go home. I’d had a wonderful time and was taking some wonderful memories back to England with me but it was exhausting too.

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Salzburg was simply stunning!

As for Salzburg – it was genuinely a city worthy of romance, it’s such a picturesque city and we had a few romantic moments in our time but long-term it just wasn’t to be.

Fear not though! Whilst we left the romance behind in Salzburg that isn’t the last you’ll hear of Nicole! We’ve remained good friends, I started learning German soon after Salzburg which has made such a difference when traveling and I’ve even visited my favourite German a couple of times since in her hometown so stay tuned for future posts about the delights of Bayern (Bavaria)!
What about the bromance I hear you ask? That stayed intact too and Flo even made a brief visit to Peterborough a couple of years ago! Now I just need to make the return visit to Innsbruck!

Hopefully you enjoyed my mini Eurotrip series. If you missed parts 1-3 you’ll find them on the blog but my highlight was definitely the time spent with my favourite German and my favourite Austrian! The perfect way to end my four part trip!

Vielen Dank und bis bald!

Jason

Part 3: Vienna

Two cities down, two to go! For those of you that haven’t already been following my 2014 Eurotrip let me catch you up! I was traveling to Salzburg (Austria) for romance, spending a weekend away in a stunning city with my favourite German.
However I had a bit of annual leave to use at work and figured I’d make the most of being in Europe, so extended my trip by a week to give me a chance to explore a little further.

I began my trip in Budapest, traveled onwards to Bratislava and here we are at part three of four. To get from Budapest to Salzburg I knew I’d have to travel through most of Austria so a stop in Vienna seemed rather inevitable.

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Bratislava to Vienna!

I didn’t have high hopes for Vienna, that’s nothing against Vienna but it was more of a time issue. I had 24 hours in Vienna and I just didn’t feel like it was going to be long enough to enjoy it fully. I was right, I barely scratched the surface in Vienna. To emphasise my point, if I’d wanted to, I could have traveled from Bratislava to Vienna by boat rather than train. The river Danube flows through both cities (and Budapest) and yet I didn’t even see a river in Vienna – numerous puddles but no river.

So if you’re looking here for numerous tips and recommendations on Vienna you’re wasting your time. Nevertheless I wanted to make the most of the 24 hours I had in the city. If I could go home with some memories and a taste of life in Vienna I’d consider it a success.

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I’d wanted to maximise my time in Vienna so it was rather unfortunate that I hit my first stumbling block pretty quickly. The first task of the day was to find my hostel for the night and that was easier said than done, my directions had only led me so far, I knew I was close but the hostel was nowhere in sight!
I was walking around back and forth in the rain and it must have been pretty noticeable that I was lost, an old woman approached me and asked if I needed any help.

That’s when I hit stumbling block number two – the language! I did need help but I didn’t speak any German. “No German at all?” she said with a wry smile. It didn’t take a mind-reader to know what she was thinking. She was helpful though and she’d soon put me on the right track. Luckily my room was ready early so I could quickly check in, drop my things off and start exploring the city.

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Miserable weather in Vienna!

I’d sadly missed the walking tour so I set off on a day of self-exploration and hoped for the best. Vienna’s public transportation makes it really easy to get around but it probably helps in knowing where you’re going. I had no plans whatsoever and as I walked in to the nearest U-Bahn (underground) station I realised I had to work out where I wanted to go. I hadn’t really done any prior research so I didn’t know where anything was!

St Stephen’s Cathedral is perhaps one of Vienna’s best known landmarks so I took an educated guess to visit a station called “Stephansplatz” in the hope that I’d wind up somewhere central, a guess that paid off! It was a good place to start exploring and my early impressions of Vienna were good. The only downside was the miserable weather so I opted to go and grab lunch somewhere in the hope the rain might stop.

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I found a traditional Austrian restaurant, particularly keen to have my first proper Wiener Schnitzel – it’s a dish I’ve grown up eating at home but it felt a little more authentic eating it in Wien (Vienna) rather than anywhere else. I’m not sure why it isn’t more popular in the UK though, escalopes are pretty close I suppose but not quite as good!

Whilst I’d heard how expensive Austria is, what you don’t hear people say is that it’s balanced out a little with their portion sizes. It was delicious but I struggled finishing it, it did set me up nicely for a few hours of exploring at least.

Sadly there was no sign of the rain stopping but coming from England it wasn’t enough to deter me from exploring. I wandered the city by foot and I was left in awe of the city’s architecture, it is a stunning city. I couldn’t tell you what half of the buildings were but they were impressive nonetheless – every street you walk down has something to catch your eye.

One of the more interesting discoveries was what I can only assume were preparations for a film of some sort. There were tanks, army vehicles and helicopters just casually sat on a lawn in the heart of the city. It caught me by surprise a little and had me pondering what they might be filming.

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Bloody raindrops ruining all of my photos – haha!

My afternoon seemed to fly by as I wandered aimlessly for a few hours before eventually admitting defeat to the weather. I knew I’d have to return to Vienna one day, 24 hours was never going to be enough so why wander just for the sake of it? I grabbed some food and then ducked in to a bar in hope of catching the Spurs game back home.

No luck! For some reason they weren’t showing this particular game and I had to wait until the next morning to discover our fate – switching on the Wi-Fi to find a message from a friend along the lines of “Harry Kane in goal – LOL”. A disastrous message to wake up to without any context. Spurs had actually won comfortably courtesy of a Harry Kane hat-trick and the infamous Erik Lamela rabona goal – a real “I was there” moment (I wasn’t!).

Back to the bar.. I’m not a “pick up a girl at a bar” type of person but the upshot to not being able to watch Spurs was that I found myself stuck at the bar chatting to some local woman for the next hour. We talked about Vienna, travel, work and a number of other things. It was a nice way to end my evening and provided me with a memorable moment to take home with me.

We went our separate ways and I wound up going to bed via the hostel bar, I’d been given a free drink voucher when I checked in so it would have been rude not to. Perhaps surprisingly I did just have the one though as I was keen to head for Salzburg at a reasonable time the next day.

It would be easy to have considered Vienna a waste of time, I didn’t really see much and I can’t offer any genuine reasons for you to visit. I wish I’d had longer in Vienna and I wish the weather had been better too but let’s focus on the positives!

I knew beforehand my time was restricted so all I wanted from my day in Vienna was to leave with some good memories. I left having had a taste of the local cuisine, spent my evening with a local and got to see a small glimpse of what Vienna had to offer. Everything considered I’d call that a successful first visit, albeit a brief one.

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It was a little bittersweet to be leaving Vienna so soon but Salzburg beckoned. I left on the Friday morning excited (and nervous) for the final part of this story.
The goodbye was made easier in the knowledge that I’d return someday.

If you’re planning on going to Vienna, go for longer than a day! I still feel like I have unfinished business with Vienna so it’s somewhere I have to go back to, fortunately I’ll do so with much more knowledge of the German language. On that note there’s only one thing left to say..

Bis bald Wien!

Jason

Part 2: Bratislava!

If you were with me for part one then you’ll know I was sad to be leaving Budapest. It was an incredible city and one I want to return to but it was only part 1 of a mini Eurotrip discovering four European cities back in 2014.
I couldn’t stay sad for long because soon enough I was using the last of my Hungarian Forints to buy a train ticket to Slovakia.

So what did I really know about Slovakia? Absolutely nothing. I knew Ljubljana was nice and that it had some beautiful lakes and scenery.. wait, wait, wait. That’s Slovenia not Slovakia!

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Slovakia’s famous blue church

Alright, so I didn’t personally get confused –  football goes a long way to broadening my geographical knowledge but they’re both two small European countries and a lot of people genuinely do confuse them. It’s not a great start for Slovakian tourism, is it? “Oops, wrong country”.

You’d think that would be the worst of the struggle that Slovakia has but alas, it isn’t. At least in scenario one you’re stealing some of Slovenia’s tourists too, right?
The bigger issue is that some of Slovakia’s fame is unwanted fame – so the chances are if you have heard of Bratislava/Slovakia it’s probably negative.

It’s a sad reflection on the influence of Western culture. You see what the Western world can do for tourism in places like Croatia for instance – an influx of tourists all wanting to walk the streets of Game of Thrones’ “Kings Landing”. Croatian tourism has soared because of it!

However if you’re a small country like Slovakia, Slovenia or Croatia how much do you need that Western influence to be a positive portrayal rather than a negative one?

“Wait, is it Slovakia or Slovenia with the lakes?”
“Slovenia. Slovakia is the one where Hostel was filmed”
“Isn’t that the horror film where they torture tourists?”
“Yeah, do you want to go?”
“Let’s go to Slovenia instead shall we?”

Bratislava found fame in the two American films ‘Eurotrip’ and ‘Hostel’. Eurotrip depicted it as a miserable hellhole and whilst I haven’t seen the latter I’ve heard enough about it to know the damaging reputation it has had on Slovakia. Unsurprisingly Slovakian tourism nosedived following the release of Hostel in particular. No apologies for the horror pun but tortured tourists doesn’t scream “come to Slovakia”.
In contrast Hostel was a huge success and went on to release follow-up films.

There was a huge backlash to the film, it caused a lot of offence in Slovakia for the way the country had been portrayed. Not to be deterred the Slovakian tourist agency invited director, Eli Roth, to visit Bratislava / Slovakia to show how nice it was. A show of hospitality which was snubbed by the director.

It makes me sad that the influence of the West can have such huge repercussions for smaller countries reliant on tourism so I’ve since awarded myself the title of “unofficial ambassador for Slovakia”. It’s an opportunity to balance the scales a little in Slovakia’s favour.

“So Mr Ambassador, what was Bratislava really like?”

Well let me start with the obvious, I’m writing this post (or am I?) so I escaped Bratislava torture-free. Success! So at the bare minimum, if I convince you of nothing else I can put that myth to bed – no torture!

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Welcome to Slovakia, Mr Ambassador!

You’ve had the background so now back to my trip..

I hopped on a train to Bratislava, well Prague actually, so my first task of the day was to stay awake and get off in the right city! If you know me well you’ll know I have a bad habit of falling asleep on trains so that was easier said than done. Not that waking up in Prague would have been disastrous but Bratislava was the intended destination for my train journey.

It was a nice train too – small-confined compartments that, if you’ve seen the films, reminded me of Harry Potter (without the dementors). I shared my compartment with a couple of guys but it was a nice bit of privacy and made it feel more like a first-class experience. I could have easily dozed off. I’d love more trains like that in the UK, particularly given the train fares accompanying any journey here.

I admired the scenery plus importantly stayed awake and was soon arriving in to Bratislava. As I entered the train station a huge banner reading “Welcome to Slovakia” greeted me. Despite all of the negative things that I’d heard prior to my trip it was an encouraging start to my time in the city.
Shortly after I was arriving at my hostel, that’s right – I braved a hostel stay in Bratislava!

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They lure you in with friendly greetings before they torture you!

Still to this day the hostel remains one of my favourites that I’ve stayed at. It was in a good location, had a friendly vibe to it, decent sized dorm rooms and was nicely decorated. The bar area was somewhere easy to socialise and all in all I’d thoroughly recommend staying at the Blues Hostel if you’re ever in Slovakia. Apparently they have live music on occasions too!
The receptionist checking me in was super friendly and offered a few recommendations for a first-time visitor which I appreciated.

I’d arrived a little later than I would have liked so quickly dropped off my things and made my way in to the old town to have a quick look around. In reality I was mostly interested in finding somewhere to get some dinner and soon found a restaurant that appealed. Despite being the end of October and being a rather chilly day I still found myself sat outside, it just adds to that European experience right?
With a parasol over my head and outside heaters it wasn’t actually too cold and I enjoyed a nice dinner.

The downside to being the end of October is that it gets dark quite early, I’d had a small glimpse of Bratislava but I hadn’t had enough time to familiarise myself with where things were. Rather than get lost in the dark I decided I’d just head back to my hostel and perhaps find some company to enjoy the evening with.

I got chatting to some guy from Argentina at the hostel bar and we shared a couple of beers together before some woman came over and asked if we were joining the pub crawl. It was a bit of a no-brainer for me, I was definitely up for meeting some new people and experiencing Bratislava’s nightlife in the process.
The Argentinian was less keen and I had little luck persuading him so we had one more drink together and then went our separate ways.

The host signalled it was time to go and off we went in search of bar number one. There were only 3 of us from our hostel but I was assured there’d be others joining us at the first bar (there was).
The bonus to being so few of us initially was I quickly got introduced to the other pair, two Finnish girls traveling together. My grandmother was Finnish which has always given me an interest in the country so I instantly perked up at discovering where they were from. I was grateful for Finnish company and a chance to hear more about life in Finland.

At the first bar we joined up with a decent sized group containing Americans, Canadians, Australians and fellow Europeans. Many drinks and many bars followed before winding up at our final destination – a nightclub where we were then left to party for as long as we liked.
I wasn’t planning on being out late and it wasn’t long before I knew I’d had too much to drink and I sensibly called it a night.

Let me start by saying this was my first official pub crawl, of course I’d gone bar-hopping before with friends and stuff but it had always been self-guided pub crawls. In this instance I was a little naïve and I just followed the tour guide throughout the night without paying much attention to where we were going and suddenly wound up at our final stop without having any real idea of where we were or how to get back to my hostel.

No big deal. I jumped in a cab and got myself to bed, right? I’d love to say that’s what happened but in spite of having no idea where I was, drunken Jason knew better. I hadn’t been in Bratislava long enough to familiarise myself with the city but off I went on foot anyway trusting my sense of direction – I figured I had a rough idea of the direction we’d come from and I’d recognise something sooner or later.

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Now in my memory it wasn’t long before I was walking alongside what felt like a motorway in the middle of nowhere. For clarity let me add Bratislava is a really small city and I can’t have walked that far – to back up that logic I flagged down a taxi pretty quickly so I wasn’t that far from civilisation but for dramatic effect we’ll go with how I remember it.

It was pissing down with rain, I was drunk and the further I walked the more hope that seemed to drain out of me. Eventually I admitted defeat and I managed to flag down a taxi driving by. I have some sympathy with the taxi driver who found himself picking up a drunk, drenched and lost little Englishman who couldn’t speak the language – no doubt slurring my words in telling him where to take me to.

I say some sympathy because whilst I was living up to every stereotype that Europeans have of the English, I’ve no doubt he saw an opportunity too. I was 95% soaked because of the downpour and the only bit of dryness left seemingly had “MUG” printed on my forehead.
Having had a little doze in the back of the taxi (I’m a sleepy drunk) I was soon waking up just outside of my hostel with a taxi driver demanding payment.

I can’t remember what the taxi fare was but he could have charged me anything and I’d have been none the wiser. I didn’t give it much thought in the moment but I’m certain he overcharged me for that taxi fare – to top it off I know I left a tip too at the inconvenience of picking up a stranded drunk. I woke up the next morning with my wallet feeling much lighter than I would have liked! Oops!

On the plus side I’d had a really good night, Bratislava’s nightlife hadn’t disappointed and I didn’t wake up feeling particularly rough so I was up at a decent time to go and properly explore Bratislava.

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The weather was still miserable but I made my first stop of the day a walking tour of the city. I’d been a little disappointed with my tour guide in Budapest and this couldn’t have been more of a contrast. It’s one of the better tours I’ve been on and the guide was really knowledgeable / passionate about the city whilst adding a dash of humour along the way. I got talking to one of the other guests on the tour which was an added bonus and helped me enjoy it a little more.

The tour covered most of the old town with the only real absentee the castle. Unsurprisingly I made that my next stop, it’s not a typical castle in appearance I suppose but it easily stands out and is so recognisable. Even better, you can walk around a lot of the castle grounds for free so it’s a must visit on any trip to the city. It’s said you can see Austria from the castle grounds, probably on a clearer day than the one I was there for but I’m not sure how you’d know where the border is anyway as the Danube river effortlessly flows from one country to the next.

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Bratislava castle

I had a walk by the city walls and then popped my head in to a nearby cathedral to temporarily escape the rain. After a little look around I headed back in to the rain and had a further wander through the city. I did so with my Bratislava-tinted glasses on.

Parts of the old town are really pretty and some of the architecture is stunning but I can’t pretend the city is as easy on the eye as its, perhaps, more illustrious neighbours. However there was something about Bratislava that I couldn’t help but admire. Maybe Budapest was more pleasing to look at but there was an authenticity about Bratislava.

It had this European charm about it that I found irresistible but more importantly I felt like it was a city that every day Slovakians lived in. The people were really friendly and there was a homely feel to the city. There are areas that look a little rundown but there wasn’t ever a moment that I felt unsafe in Bratislava and if anything it just endeared the city to me more. There was no pretence about Bratislava, it wasn’t trying to be anything other than itself and it meant the personality of the city shone through. There was no catering to tourists here that you find in other big cities.

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No doubt busier in the summer!

After wandering for a while my thoughts turned towards food and then having a couple of beers in a bar before calling it a night. I wanted to get to Vienna for a reasonable time the next day so it wasn’t a late one (I was sensible this time).

I left Bratislava the next morning pondering if I’d ever go back. It’s a small city and I’ve probably seen much of what there is to see, there’s little reason for me to return and yet there’s a part of me drawn to returning to Slovakia’s capital.

Don’t be mistaken, it’s not the greatest city in the world but it’s one I’d thoroughly recommend not overlooking if you’re visiting that part of Europe. Budapest and Vienna are great, I hear the same of Prague too but Slovakia might just surprise you! Personally I loved it and I hope our paths cross again.

For now though it was time to leave and head onwards to Vienna!

Stay tuned for part 3!

Jason

Part 1: Budapest – a hidden treasure?

In my last post ( Budapest, Bratislava, Vienna, Salzburg – why? ) I spoke about my decision-making in planning a mini Eurotrip for October 2014. It was an adventure that would see me visit three countries and four cities over ten days – starting in Budapest!

Honestly, I didn’t really know what to expect from Budapest. I think if I was going for the first time now it’d be less of a struggle but at the time it didn’t seem like anyone was talking about this destination. I was a bit of a novice traveler at the time so maybe I was just looking in the wrong places but Budapest and Hungary were both a bit of an unknown for me.

I didn’t know anyone who had visited and I had never learned anything about Hungary in school so I went there just hoping for the best. In some respects I’m quite thankful I went there blissfully unaware – within a couple of hours I was mesmerised by Budapest and I think it helped with it coming as a surprise rather than the feeling of “I’ve seen this on Instagram 1,000 times already” that I have when visiting some places now.

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Stunning on both sides of the Danube!

I don’t know what the catalyst for change was. Shortly after I booked my trip George Ezra released his hit ‘Budapest’. Without boosting his ego too much (George blatantly reads my blog, right?) I can’t help but feel that it put a little spotlight on Budapest. Alternatively perhaps people were just waiting for the seal of approval from myself before visiting. Whatever the reason (probably not the latter), Budapest appears to be a much more popular destination than it was when I visited in 2014.

Anyway, back to my trip. It’s October 2014 and I’m counting down the days until my adventure begins. My first bit of excitement came when I was exchanging currencies. I picked up Euros for Slovakia and Austria but I also had to get some Hungarian Forints for the trip. I think the exchange rate at the time was around £1 to 300-350 forints which left me walking away with thousands in my wallet and feeling rather rich.

Soon enough I was flying out to sunny Budapest and leaving the miserable English weather behind. I arrived in to Budapest around lunchtime on Saturday and went on the hunt for my hostel – that took some finding. I don’t know why but I never seem to find hostels too easily and I must walk past them several times as they blend in to the other buildings around them. Bizarre.

With three days to explore I didn’t really want to waste any time so I dropped off my things and started to wander towards the river Danube. It was only a short walk from where I was staying and seemed a good place to start my exploration of Budapest. My first impression of Budapest was one of disbelief, I’d been blown away by the beauty of the city and I couldn’t understand how I’d got here without knowing how stunning it is.

With the blue skies and beautiful scenery Budapest had won me over instantly! I continued my walk alongside the Danube, admiring everything in all directions and then I stumbled upon the Hungarian Parliament building for the first time. Wow! I’d seen photos of it online but photos don’t really do it justice. It’s my favourite piece of architecture I’ve seen anywhere and, even with my London bias, it is much more impressive than our own Houses of Parliament in Westminster.

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Budapest Parliament. Photos don’t do it justice!

I don’t know how much time I spent admiring the parliament building, it doesn’t matter what angle you’re seeing it from it isn’t any less impressive. As afternoon quickly turned to evening I decided I should find somewhere for dinner and somewhere to entertain myself for the evening. It was at that point I realised how cheap Budapest is. I’ve always been good at numbers but I was left second guessing myself if I’d calculated the exchange rate correctly – “that must be wrong” I thought as I came to the conclusion that a beer, dinner and a tip was still ridiculously cheap.
After a couple of drinks I called it a night and had a relaxed first evening in Budapest, keen to get off to an early start the next day.

I started my day off with a “free” walking tour, I find that these are a great way to familiarise yourself with a city and you usually learn a few things along the way. For instance I quickly learned that one side of the city was called “Buda” and the other side of the river called “Pest” and between them they formed one city called, that’s right, Budapest! Who knew?

I wasn’t overly impressed with the specific tour-guide but overall it was a good tour, covered a few of the sights and gave me a better understanding of the history of the city. It also offered me a little inspiration for other things to see in the city that weren’t covered on the tour. The tour began on the Pest side of the river but it finished off in Buda, I was staying in Pest so hadn’t ventured to this side of the river yet so it was quite convenient to explore a little more over here.

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Views of Pest from Buda!

Buda is on much higher ground so offers great views overlooking the river and the Pest side of the city – in particular the parliament building which is perhaps best viewed from the Buda half of the city.
After a little wandering I made my way back over to Pest in time to catch a tour which explored the Jewish district a little more. I was fascinated to learn how involved Hungary were in the rise of the Nazi regime around World War 2 – a history, much like Germany, that they’re not proud of but don’t shy away from re-telling.

The tour was really interesting, not just telling the history of the Jewish district but also showing it off in a modern climate. You’ll find the largest Synagogue in Europe here but also plenty of street art, restaurants and bars making it one of the livelier (and cheapest) parts of the city to enjoy an evening.

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Exploring the Jewish district!

Following the tour I found some dinner in a nearby restaurant and then headed back to my hostel for a little downtime before deciding what to do with my Sunday evening.
I was sharing a 4 bed dorm in my hostel and on my return I found a fully occupied room. The other 3 guys coming from Scotland, Switzerland and Pakistan. We quickly established we were all in the same boat – traveling solo around Europe and up for a night out with new friends.

Budapest is famous for its ruin bars and it wasn’t long before we were heading out in search of the city’s most famous – Szimpla Kert. Words don’t really do it justice as to how unique it is but it’s a must visit and you can find some photos of it here: Szimpla Kert

From the outside you’d never know what was awaiting inside in what is one of the quirkier bars you’re likely to visit. It attracts both tourists and locals alike, perhaps more the former as it’s one of the highest rated bars in the world. Tripadvisor had it rated as the 3rd best bar worldwide at the time of my visit I believe. It’s definitely worth a visit and if you don’t fancy the crowds in the evening they do host a farmers market during the day on a Sunday too.
After a few beers and a few shots we called it a night and went in search of a kebab house on the way back to our hostel. It was a great night and a highlight of my time in Budapest.

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Entrance to the Szechenyi baths!

I’d ticked off a ruin bar on my Budapest bucketlist, the other thing the city is famous for are its baths/spas which was on my list for Monday. I’m not a spa type person but “when in Rome..”

The Szechenyi baths are Budapest’s biggest and most famous and perhaps the one you’re going to see recommended most – they even have a bath party on Saturday nights during the peak season. However it’s worth noting there are several in Budapest and if you want to escape the crowds you’ve got other options too. I chose the second route and found one on the Buda side of the city. If you’re in to that sort of thing they’re probably well worth a visit but I found the experience a little underwhelming and made use of the pool more than anything.

It did however set the tone for the rest of my day. I felt fairly relaxed and in the end I decided rather than rush around trying to do a million things in a day to just enjoy the city at my own pace. By this point I knew I’d be coming back to Budapest some day and I didn’t want to spoil my experience by rushing around when it could wait for future visits.

After a little breather I went and found a lunch spot near my hostel and had the most amazing goulash – not something I’d normally eat but I was in the mood for something a little more traditionally Hungarian and it was a really good decision – probably my best meal in Budapest!
The rest of the day was just spent wandering before settling down in a bar for a few drinks.

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Vadjahunyad Castle

I woke up on Tuesday morning a little down-hearted. I didn’t want to say goodbye to Budapest yet and there was definitely a part of me tempted to change my plans to stay a little longer. However I knew an extra night in Budapest meant a night less somewhere else and I didn’t want to miss out elsewhere. I made my way to the train station suffering a bit of the holiday-blues at the realisation that I was leaving.

Then it dawned on me. Yes, I was leaving but not to go home. I was leaving Budapest behind and heading onwards to part 2 of the adventure. I still had 3 cities to explore, why was I moping about?

I used up the last of my forints to book a train to Bratislava and then grabbed a beer until it was time to leave.
I took my seat in a small enclosed carriage on the train and said farewell to Budapest, however the adventure wasn’t over. I was off to Bratislava!

More on that soon!

Jason

Budapest, Bratislava, Vienna, Salzburg – why?

In my last post I spoke about my plans for a 30 day trip to the USA this summer.  Planning a multi-location trip takes a lot more work than a one-stop holiday and that’s certainly true with the US where there is an endless number of places to visit. Planning this trip has given me so much to think about to make it work, fortunately it’s not my first multi-destination trip and that takes us on to my next batch of posts!

My last destination post focused on my trip to Berlin! in August 2014. A couple of months later I was jetting off again! Back in October 2014 I embarked on my biggest adventure yet. Alright, it’s perhaps debatable as you could say Sydney was a bigger adventure but that was just one location to plan for. This trip would see me visit four cities across three countries in 10 days! A mini-European tour featuring Budapest, Bratislava, Vienna and Salzburg!

My next few posts will be dedicated to those four destinations so stay turned but first let me explain why these particular places as they’re perhaps surprising choices. I mean, does anyone really go to Bratislava?
“Haven’t you seen the films?!”

Spoiler: Bratislava is lovely. Go now!

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Bratislava castle – so recognisable!

Anyway, to explain why we have to start at the end of the trip! You might recall from my Lisbon (Mar 2014) and Barmouth (Apr 2014) posts that I was in a “long” distance relationship which was slowly coming to its conclusion.
Long distance relationships are tough, I seemed to spend half of my time traveling back and forth on trains (and bus replacements!) between Peterborough and Birmingham and at times it was a little draining.

It would have been easy to be put off of the idea of long distance after that experience but instead I went the opposite way and continued a cycle of falling for women further and further from home. I don’t think I limit myself to a “type” but you see movies and such glamourise the “girl next door” whereas my dating history is more like “girl 20,000 miles away”.

“Where are you from?”
“Peterborough”
“Bleurgh.. how about you?”
“Mars!”
“You’re fantastic, I’ll fall in love with you!”

It’s not that simplistic. I don’t do it purposely of course but nevertheless my dating history makes for comical reading. Things didn’t work out with Jasmine (Birmingham) and I’ve since become close to Nicole (Germany), Mella (Georgia, USA) and currently Haleigh (Washington State). Each subsequent relationship has resulted in me falling harder and typically being further away from home. Birmingham suddenly doesn’t seem so far away! Haha!

Anyway there’s a little background for you, now back to the story. Leading up to Berlin I was a little resigned to the fact that I felt something for Nicole, we’d been talking pretty much daily for a few weeks and we’d become pretty close in that time.

Berlin was probably the last trip I had where I was “off the grid”, no contact with anyone back home or in the South of Germany. If I’d had any doubts about long distance with a woman in Germany, spending 2-3 days of not talking quickly made it clear how I felt.  There was no guarantee it was mutual or, even if it was, that long-distance was a good idea but I couldn’t keep my feelings to myself any longer and had to say something! Fortunately the feelings were mutual.

Talk quickly developed in to actually meeting up and spending a little time together to see if the spark between us worked as well in person.
One of the things we had particularly bonded over was our taste in music which meant we talked about possibly going to a gig together. We kept our eyes peeled for any bands touring and soon found a band touring Europe that we both liked.

We browsed through the tour dates and Salzburg (Austria) stood out as one of the best options. It was a weekend gig which suited both of our schedules perfectly and it meant that we both got a little adventure out of the country!

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Beautiful Salzburg!

So that covers why I went to Salzburg! Why did it end up being a multi-city trip and why these particular destinations?

I was excited for a weekend together in a country I’d yet to visit, however I also had a decent bit of annual time left to use at work and we were approaching the end of the year so I had to use it up pretty soon!
Whilst Nicole’s schedule was less flexible there was nothing stopping me exploring solo for a little longer before winding up in Salzburg, so that’s what I did and I extended my trip a week!

I booked a one way flight home from Salzburg and just had to figure out where I was going to start and how I was going to get to Salzburg.
I knew Salzburg was somewhere near Germany and in Austria but as it was somewhere I hadn’t been to I couldn’t really visualise exactly where it was in Europe. I figured once I knew where Salzburg was that I could then narrow down my starting points.

The problem with Salzburg in particular is it seems to be, smack, bang, in the middle of Europe. Take Amsterdam for instance – unless you fly you can only attack it from Belgium or Germany which helps the planning process if that’s where you want to end up. As I looked at Salzburg on a map I realised there were places I would happily visit North, South, East and West of the city – having one location on the itinerary was of little help.

It also didn’t help that, at the time, I hadn’t seen an awful lot of Europe. As far as mainland Europe was concerned I’d only really been to Köln, Brussels, Bruges and Lisbon which were all too far away to have been realistic starting points on a 9/10 day Eurotrip anyway. It was back to the drawing board.

As I planned out the various routes, costs and attractiveness to each place I kept leaning towards Budapest – I feel like in the four years since I visited that Budapest has boomed but at the time it wasn’t somewhere I’d seen much of, nor did I knew anyone who had been. Nevertheless I stuck a pin in Budapest and had my starting point.

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Overlooking the Danube River in Budapest

Budapest to Salzburg! That cut down the possible routes and I figured I’d have to travel through most of Austria to get to Salzburg so one obvious destination that sprung out was Vienna. All that was left to decide was whether I keep it at a 3 city trip or 4. If four, would it be between Budapest and Vienna or between Vienna and Salzburg.

Costs played a part, Austria was expensive so squeezing in a third Austrian city was going to make it a much more expensive trip. Between Budapest and Vienna was another small country (Slovakia) and another capital city, Bratislava.

Bratislava is often overlooked in favour of its illustrious neighbours Vienna, Budapest and Prague. I’d only heard bad things about Bratislava which is sad and I imagine can only be from people who’ve never actually visited. It did put a little doubt in my mind but what swayed me was the fact that it was super cheap! Two nights in Bratislava plus an extra train journey still worked out to be cheaper than a night in Vienna so I gambled and slotted it in to the itinerary.

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Vienna!

This was my final itinerary and thoughts if you were considering doing similar.

3 nights in Budapest – not long enough. I would recommend 5 days.
2 nights in Bratislava – just right. Doable as a day trip if you’re traveling onwards but I would personally recommend staying overnight. I loved Bratislava’s charm and it has a good nightlife too.
1 night in Vienna – impossible. You can’t do Vienna in a day. A city I’ll have to return to.
3 nights in Salzburg – good weekend trip. I would personally recommend 2 nights.

Personally I have no regrets, as much as I would have liked an extra night in Budapest/Vienna I wouldn’t have wanted to sacrifice a night elsewhere.

Anyway, that is how my October 2014 trip came together. In my next four posts I will be going in to much more depth about experience in all four cities and my quest for love!

Stay tuned!

Jason