Firenze: The end!

The final part to my Italy adventure (February 2015).

On the Tuesday I’d flown out to Pisa and spent a day exploring the city. Wednesday and Thursday (matchday) were days 1 and 2 of my time in Firenze and now we were at the end of the week! The football was over with and it was time to go home – or was it?

On Monday evening I figured I should probably check in for my flights, given I was heading to Pisa the next day. My outbound flight was no problem but I was trying to check in for my Friday flight home and was having no luck.

“Sorry, you can’t check in for a flight more than 7 days away”.

What? I’m flying in four days! What is this nonsense? My flight is definitely on the 27th! I was baffled and kept darting my eyes between the error message and the flight details and couldn’t understand what the issue was. What am I missing?

Wait.. why does that say my flight home is in April? That’s a mistake! Let me find my confirmation email.
Looking for reassurance, instead I found despair. All that email had confirmed was that I’d somehow messed up my booking and that I was indeed flying home in two months time! My February 27th flight home was actually April 27th!!

I was light-heartedly acceptant of my fate. I guess I’ve got to stay in Italy for an extra two months then – what a pickle, right? How do I break the news to my family, friends and work. Will a postcard suffice?
Realistically that wasn’t an option but resolving it Monday evening wasn’t an option either – it was too last minute and most of my available money was in Euros by this point. I knew I’d get paid whilst I was in Italy so I figured I’d worry about the flight home once I was over there.

So back to day 3 in Firenze, my intended departure date. Care to guess what my first plan of the day was? You’re spot on! I had to book a flight home! I was supposed to be going to a gig back in England on Friday night (I’d paid for a hotel too!) but Friday flights seemed so much more expensive than the Saturday flights so in the end I decided I’d stay in Italy an extra day.

 

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As far as mistakes go, winding up in Italy for 24 more hours is a pretty good mistake to make! My next concern was that I had no accommodation for the extra night so needed to sort that out. I loved the hostel I had been staying at, it was in a decent location and the host was incredible but sadly it was a small hostel and they didn’t have space for an extra night so I had to find somewhere else.
My host did help me find a hotel though which I appreciated.

Flight sorted, accommodation sorted, time to enjoy a bonus day in the city! I’m so glad at how things worked out because Friday probably ended up being my favourite day in Italy. Perhaps that’s just because it was an unexpected bonus day but I also ended up doing a few things to top off the Italy experience.

Firenze was a different city entirely. Most of the Spurs fans were England bound and the excessive police presence was long gone, this was Italy in all its glory and without the burden of an invasion of Brits.

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My first stop of the day took me to the Piazza della Signaoria which is a large square with stunning architecture, sculptures and a few museums closeby such as the famous Uffizi gallery. I wasn’t supposed to be here so inevitably I hadn’t booked any museums. Some of the lines were far too long so I decided I’d add the Uffizi to my “next time” list and checked out another museum instead that I can’t remember the name of.

I wish I could remember the name of it because I’d recommend a visit. The museum was over a number of different floors and had all sorts of art, although the sculptures were the pieces I enjoyed most and something you’d associate with Italy / Firenze I suppose. Eventually I was content I’d seen enough and my attention switched to a late lunch.

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Inside the museum. Anyone know the name?

I do try to make an effort to eat locally and delve into the culture when I travel but one of my guilty pleasures is the Hard Rock Café (HRC), I usually try and squeeze a visit in where I can to tick off another city from the many locations HRC are based.

My waiter asked where I was from to which I replied Peterborough and most of the time I end up wishing I’d just say London because it’s easier but to my surprise he’d heard of Peterborough, better yet he’d been to Peterborough.
“Oh yes, the place with the shopping centre opposite the train station.. Queens..? “
“Queensgate! Why were you in Peterborough!!!?”

Excuse my overreaction but seriously, Firenze sets a pretty high standard and its inhabitants are visiting Peterborough? Are you crazy? It did amuse me though before enjoying my HRC experience. It isn’t the best food you’re ever going to have and it can be expensive too but I just have a fondness of them and Firenze’s was nice too.

Following a late lunch I was ready to go and explore further. On Wednesday I’d climbed the Duomo as I’d heard it had one of the best views in Firenze – the views are great. However my hostel hostess assured me the best view of the city was at the Piazzale Michelangelo and that it was free! I had to check it out and on route could see the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge!

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Ponte Vecchio bridge!

It’s a beautiful bridge to look at but the bridge itself is a proper tourist trap. Historically butchers and other merchants occupied space on the bridge but you’ll now find a host of shops selling jewellery and gold! It’s cool to look at but it’s busy so I settled for getting a few photos and swiftly moving on to escape the crowds.

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Quick photo and then I was out of there!

I continued following signs to Piazzale Michelangelo and was soon climbing my way up this hill to discover the views awaiting me at the top. The Piazzale Michelangelo is a huge square that offers incredible views over the city – my host had said it was the best view in the city and it’d be hard to disagree. The one thing lacking from the view at the top of the Duomo is the Duomo itself which is the standout piece of Firenze’s skyline.

Whilst the views are spectacular you’ll also find a replica of the David statue here, a few stalls selling food and drinks plus a few buskers which all helps create a really nice atmosphere. You’ll find plenty of people occupying the stairs to sit and just admire the views over the river and the rest of the city.

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The best view in Firenze!

It was getting late in the afternoon and I would have loved nothing more than to have picked up a beer and waited for the sun to set on the city. It was a beautiful spot to watch a sunset! Sadly I’d arranged to meet my friend Daniel elsewhere and had no way to contact him for a change of plans so he could come join me instead. I left a little envious of those I’d left behind that got to enjoy it fully.

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The perfect sunset spot!

I didn’t stay jealous for too long, as a pick-me-up I made a necessary stop for gelato. Firenze is credited as being the city that brought Gelato to the world so what better place to enjoy it? I had to buy some and see what the fuss was about. It was delicious and a good ‘starter’ before finding dinner and having a few drinks.

I’d probably been the drunker of the two of us on Wednesday night so it was nice to see the roles reversed this evening. We shared a few beers on our final night and Daniel was a bit tipsy come the end of the evening which amused me plenty. It was a great way to enjoy our final evening before heading back to England.

The next morning I had a last wander through the streets of Firenze and was sad to be saying goodbye. After the disappointment of Pisa, Firenze had really delivered and made for a memorable first visit to Italy. It’s a cracking city and one you should definitely try to visit!

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My morning flew by and before I knew it the clock read 12pm! I had time to enjoy one final meal in Firenze before I had to leave and inevitably wanted one final pizza before I said arriverderci to Italy. It rounded off the trip perfectly, I hopped on a train to Pisa and was soon boarding a flight back to London.

Italy had lived up to my expectations and the food was every bit as good as I’d hoped it would be. I still haven’t been back to Italy but I’m feeling a return is long overdue!

Who’s coming with me?

Jason

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Firenze: Day 2 – Matchday!

If you’ve read my two recent posts on Italy you’ll know I was in Firenze to watch Tottenham take on Fiorentina back in February 2015. If not you can catch up here (Pisa and Firenze: day 1) but we left off last time round with the end of day one (Wednesday) in Firenze which had been a great first day in the city.

Thursday was matchday and in all honesty if you’re doing a trip like this you just have to write matchday off. If you can squeeze some culture in to the morning then great but you sacrifice your afternoon to soak up the atmosphere of the city and then save your evening to watch the game itself.

For this reason I always travel for 3 days at least for a European football trip because I know one of those is lost, nevertheless I love the matchday ritual and knowing there would be roughly 3,000 other Brits in the city for the “party” does get you excited.

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The matchday fun was temporarily put on hold a week before our game. On the previous Thursday Dutch football fans had clashed with riot police in Rome which added another unwanted spotlight on Italian football, which already holds a tainted reputation. Unfortunately it left us to face the repercussions of those actions and it was clear the Italian authorities were not going to be treating our visit lightly – in what was already a fairly high profile game.

A lot of news and rumours came out of Italy over the course of the next week. Some of the rumours included calling upon resources from other cities with 1,000 additional police (on top of the presence for a normal game) expected in Firenze, tightened security measures, police escorts, curfews on the bars/restaurants throughout the city and even a proposed drinking ban on the day of the game (today!).

You could certainly feel the police presence in the city, Tottenham had communicated to our supporters that we HAD to take specific buses to the stadium as the police would be closing off all surrounding roads for away supporters, Wednesday night had added substance to the curfew rumours but surely, surely there wasn’t going to be an alcohol ban today?

Breathe a sigh of relief! There wasn’t! I think it would have been near on impossible to enforce so I’m not sure where the rumours surfaced from but luckily the beers were still flowing!

On Wednesday night me and Daniel had found an Irish bar full of Spurs fans so we decided we’d revisit it on Thursday. By the time we arrived Thursday lunchtime it was already a little busy with people hanging up their flags wherever possible and creating a bit of an atmosphere.

 

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Pride of North London – Then, Now, Forever

It was only ever going to get busier as many opt to fly out on matchday, so the majority of Spurs fans would be arriving in to Firenze over the course of the next few hours. So to my surprise this bar had TWO barstaff working. 3,000+ Brits were here to drink the city dry so it was baffling how unprepared they were – surely you knew we were coming? This isn’t a normal Thursday afternoon shift!

From a business point of view I found it ridiculous! You are due to make an absolute fortune! If you can’t serve the people quickly enough they’ll find their beer elsewhere – you’re driving your customers away!
On the plus side there was no sign of this drinking ban at least!
After plenty more beers and much more singing eventually the police advised time was up and were moving us on – time to go to the stadium!

Fortunately me and Daniel were one of the first on the bus so managed to get a seat (we didn’t use) but one by one more Spurs fans would get on board. Whilst waiting for the bus to fill up we were sat parked at a bus stop so every so often an old lady would get on with her bags and things. Clearly confusing it for a regular bus from the same stop but every time they would quickly be advised to get off! “Wrong bus, trust us, you don’t want to be on this one!”
Having crammed enough of us in like sardines we were off and so began a wave of noise!

Every bus was sandwiched front and back: Police vehicle – bus – police vehicle – bus – police vehicle.. you get the idea. We were being paraded through the streets of Firenze like criminals and in all honesty we made the most of the attention it brought.

The atmosphere on board was incredible and I don’t think anyone was sat down for the entirety of the bus journey. Spurs had arrived and we let the Italians know it – leaving some very puzzled onlookers as we whizzed through the streets at the expense of the other traffic that our entourage had taken priority over.
Song after song after song at the top of our lungs with police sirens blaring too – our presence was making a racket!

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We’re here! Far too early!

Eventually our bus dropped us at the end of an empty road with a bit of a walk to the stadium. The police had cordoned off every surrounding road giving us one way in, one way out. It ensured we didn’t cross paths with a single Italian fan and also gave us no opportunity to take a look around the area / rest of the stadium. It was a little sad in truth.

 

Before you could even get to the stadium you had to pass through a number of security checks – tickets, passports and then a thorough body search. Far too intimate for my liking (“Valentine’s Day was a couple of weeks ago guys”) but given how well stocked the police were I don’t think they were going to get too many complaints. Having been sufficiently groped we’d passed the necessary tests and could make our slow walk to enter the stadium.

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Playing the waiting game!

We were here far too early and the facilities were terrible so there wasn’t anything to do except fly our flags, sing our songs and wait. I’d love to say the game was worth the wait but it wasn’t. We were crap, the less said the better and it was bloody freezing too. Fiorentina’s stadium lacks a roof and we were at the back of the stand so were catching most of the wind.

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Fiorentina’s noisier supporters at the opposite end

The game came to its conclusion and we were kindly told that we wouldn’t be going anywhere just yet – you can freeze a little longer whilst we lock you in to allow enough time for the Italians to disperse. It’s not unusual for away games so it wasn’t a huge deal, it was cold but at least it wasn’t raining!

Oh now it is! I don’t know how long we were kept behind for but it felt forever. Eventually they let us out as far as the buses because, of course, we’d be escorted back in to the centre of the city. The bus journey was much tamer heading back. Nothing to celebrate and most fed up at how long we’d been forced to wait.

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The game probably ended at around 8:45-8:50 – the bus journey was around 15 minutes so inevitably it was about 10:30 by the time we were set free back in the centre of Firenze. We’d been at the stadium since about 5-5:30 (for a 7pm kickoff) so needless to say we were craving some food and a beer.

The police had kept us so late that by the time we’d got back to the centre barely anything was open. We did find one restaurant in this nearby square still open so we took a seat outside, it didn’t take long for the waiter to tell us that we needed to be quick! We’d barely sat down but, of course, there was a looming midnight curfew.

Dinner was.. okay? Who knows? Surprisingly you don’t tend to enjoy it so much when you’re feeling rushed. As if that wasn’t enough you could feel the close watch of the two police vans sat on the opposite side of the square – ready to enforce an early night if necessary.

I think both me and Daniel could have quite happily gone for another beer after dinner but were we likely to have any luck finding somewhere open? The city was dead, the police had done their jobs, killed the mood and put an end to any potential trouble before it could begin. I headed back to my hostel and got tucked in for another relatively early night in Italy as I had important things to sort out on Friday (stay tuned!).

Reflecting on the overall football experience it’s hard to say if I’d go back to Italy for football. On the one hand you’ve got the safety concerns of racism and violence in places such as Rome or Naples that I’d still be nervous to visit for football. On the other hand the only way to counteract it appears to be with over-the-top-policing to ensure your safety.

I’m not criticising the approach, it worked. I had no interest in being another statistic, another number in a long line of English stabbings in Italy but that doesn’t make it any more satisfying.
A year earlier I’d witnessed Portuguese buskers singing Tottenham songs, Benfica fans embracing our visit and barely a police officer in sight. Benfica knocked Tottenham out of Europe but as fans you exchange pleasantries and wish eachother luck for the rest of the season. That’s football, that’s why I love the game.

To go from that experience in Lisbon to Firenze was a sad reflection on Italian football and made it easy to see why attendances in Italian football have been on the decline over the last decade  Football is about the fans and I didn’t meet a single Fiorentina fan whilst in Firenze, they’d been cut off from our reach.

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In fairness to Italy, Tottenham returned to Firenze a year later and by all accounts I heard from those that visited that it was a better experience. Perhaps a realisation that Tottenham and Fiorentina had no bad blood and could coexist in the same city without any fuss. Nevertheless, whilst there were still aspects I enjoyed it didn’t quite live up to watching Tottenham in Portugal, Belgium, Germany or Spain.

I’ll definitely go back to Italy, there’s so much of the country that I want to see but maybe I’ll give the football a miss.

Anyway, hopefully you enjoyed the little insight in to travel as a football fan. Stay tuned for the final day in Firenze, I promise it’s a good’un!

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.

Budapest5
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.

Vienna
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