Salzburg and Hallstatt

Day 4-5 of the Central European Alps Train Journey


imageWe took the train from Munich and arrived in the picturesque city of Salzburg in under 2 hours.

Day 4 – Salzburg Cruise, Dinner and Concert

Before our very cultured evening we strolled around the Mariabell Palace taking in the immaculate gardens and spectacular view over the fortress in the distance.

Our cruise on the river Salzch took is past the medieval old town. We were guided along the river with interesting points of history, identifiable buildings and of course the reason behind the rivers name- Salt and the mining of it over the centuries.

Our dinner was delicious and featured spectacular views over the city from the panoramic terrace of the fortress. We had a divine bottle of Austrian white wine- a Weißburgener.

The Mozart concert was held in the Golden Hall of the Salzburg Fortress. The octet with a featured pianist pliers through Mozart’s better known pieces. It was a slightly surreal experience Bing in the birthplace of Mozart and listening to his music played high above the city!

Day 5 – Leopoldskronschloß and Hallstatt

Leopoldskron Schloß is the external film set for the von Trapp family in the sound of Music. You know the bit where the Countess is having drinks and telling Ct. von Trapp to send the kids to boarding school after they are married? Well it’s that bit. It’s situated at the back of the fortress and the walk is about 2 hours round and back over the fortress to the city.

Hallstatt is 1.5hrs drive from Salzburg. It was really the jewel in the crown of our time here in Austria. It is UNESCO- and from the pics you can see why! It isn’t easy to reach by train; you have to change trains and the station is on the opposite side of the lake- so you have to catch a boat. But….maybe this place is worth a bit of hassle!

2 and a Half Days in Munich

Munich

Day 1-3 of the Central European Alps by Train

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As part of an Alps Train Journey, we decided to start our adventure in the beautiful city of München!

Munich is a very vibrant and festive city, with beer halls, picturesque gardens and modern shopping areas.

Day 1 – The city and a Beer Tour

We arrived from the airport right in the heart of Marianplatz. The bells were ringing and a band was umparing away under the spectacular Rathaus.

We stayed just south of the main square in a homestay. It was a quiet neighbourhood in Buttermelkerstraße. We walked through markets with local produce and fresh food, including some fabulous cheese and salami shops!

In the evening we joined a Beer and Brewery Tour, where we learnt about and got to taste some of the popular beer in Munich. My favourites were the dark Augustina beer and the Unfiltered Paulina Hell (lager).

Day 2 – Neuschwanstein Castle

The beautiful castle of Neuschwanstein was built only 150ish years ago by King Ludwig II. He wasn’t really mad- I think he was just an oppressed homosexual. Sad really.

Neuschwanstein is about 2 hours from Munich, and we went with a tour group.

The views are gorgeous and the inside is small but intricate! Complete with its very own Grotto! Haha!

This is an all day event. We left at 9:15 and arrived back at 19:30. I highly recommend going with a tour, as it is hard to navigate to the castle by yourself.

Day 3 – Munich Residence and the English Gardens

With a leisurely start to the day we reached the Munich Residence late morning. I could safely say that there is nothing quite as big or as extravagant as this palace in Europe. It was mostly destroyed in the Second World War, but the restoration is spot on and the palace is vast! The religious relics are a little creepy. Well worth the €7 entry. We didn’t get to the treasury, but I think it would be worth seeing too- maybe next time for us.

The English Gardens are a beautiful display of city woodland, complete with its own surf river!

The Chinese Tower is a great place to grab some lunch and drink beer. We sat listening to a German Band in a Chinese Tower in an English Garden!

As warned by our German teacher in high school, the Germans are not afraid of sunbathing naked. Lots of naked Germans!

The Beauty of Budapest

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Budapest

Possibly even more beautiful than Paris, although some may argue(!), and not a busy as Prague- Budapest is nearly at the top of my most favourite cities in Europe!

This ancient city is rife with history unlike many others in Europe- and as the countries name may suggest: Atilla the Hun makes his entrance into Central Europe!

Buda and Pest line both sides of the Danube river is spectacular fashion. There is the old palace and St Mattias Cathederal on the Buda side, and the iconic Houses of Parliament on the other. Joining these two cities is the famous Chain Bridge.

Things to do and see in Budapest

The Danube

A river cruise, at least by night, is essential. There are many companies offering cruises, some even with dinner.

St Mattias Church and the Fishermans Bastion offer great views over the city as well as freshly restores artwork on the church walls.

The  Széchenyi Thermal Baths are a hike from the centre of town but worth it to experience what the traditional spas are all about in Budapest.

Photo: www.budapest.com
Photo: www.budapest.com

Food and Drink

The Central Markets sell salamis, fresh fruit and veg, fish and also cooked meals such as Goulash Soup and Langos. You have to try the Langos- they are delicious!

Insight Vacations | The Treasures of the Balkans

A Luxury Guided Bus Tour

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Sean and I are very good organisers when it comes to travel around Europe. We are not scared to use the public transport systems or venture off the beaten track. When it comes to the Balkans there is a whole new kettle of fish to consider- ‘interesting'(!!) border crossings, lack of public transport and Cyrillic writing. So, we branched out to a new and unfamiliar form of holiday: The Guided Bus Tour.

Insight Vacations is not really aimed at our demographic. That being said we certainly didn’t feel on the outer dying out trip. In fact we were not the youngest on the tour by far!

Insight Vacations looked after us from the beginning; we were very happy with their updates and attention to detail. As we arrived in Bucharest we were greeted by the tour leader, who had last easy contact d us by email with a welcome introduction.

Staying in great hotels and eating specially selected and local food really made our experience better. There was no guessing- it made the tour so much more relaxing!

Our tour took us through the majestic mountains of Transylvania, across th plains of southern Romania to the old capital of Bulgaria: Veliko Tărnovo.

The new capital of Sophia was surprisingly cosmopolitan and then we were absolutely floored with the newly built Skopje in Macedonia.

Lake Ohrid was spectacular, with the old Byzantine chapel stretching out to the sparkling water.

Albania was a real experience- not to mention the border crossing!

Montenegro and Croatia never fail to please- and with three days to ourselves we had a well needed rest after some packed travelling days.

Bosnia was a real eye opener- we had an amazing experience with a local family in one of the shelled tower blocks. We were able to discuss the siege of Sarajevo with some actual survivors.

Serbia and Belgrade offered some interesting history and we looked over the conference of the Sava and Danube rivers from the Fort.

Finally we made it to Budapest. This was a real Jewel in the crown of our tour, with a Danube Dinner Cruise and an evening at the Gundel Restaurant.

We had a fantastic and unique experience with Insight Vacations, and would not hesitate to travel with again if an itinerary took our fancy!

Sean and I would like to thank Judit (tour leader) and Dario (driver) for making our trip so unforgettable. And we would also like to thank our fellow travellers for being awesome companions!

Sarajevo

Sarajevo | Ready for Tourists

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Most people think of the Balkans War when they think of Bosnia Herzegovina and Sarajevo. I knew nothing about the city itself apart from the shelling and siege of the city.

Sarajevo has a rich and ancient history running all the way back to the Ilyrian tribes who were conquered by the Romans.

The Ottoman Empire was one of the major influences over the eastern architecture with mosques and baths lining the city streets.

Sarajevo is in the area of Herzegovina- and as a present to the Austro-Hungarian Emperor from the Sultan in Istanbul he gifted Bosnia in the north of the country. But, as a clerical error Herzegovina was added to the paperwork and Sarajevo ‘accidentally’ fell into the hand of the Austro-Hungarians in the 18th century. It was, of course, the location of the assassination that sparked the First World War.

The western part of the city is full of Viennese buildings and Catholic Churches, making Sarajevo one of the most interstates cities we have seen in a religions sense.


The city of Sarajevo is littered with what the locals call ‘Roses’. Createds in the streets filled with red paint as a reminder of where the grenades and shells fell during the siege of Sarajevo between 1992-5. Building still have bullet wounds and shell marks, but slowly slowly the city is being repaired and rebuilt from the disaster of war.

The tunnel of life is situated on the side of the airport. It was a 800m tunnel under the UN controlled international airport that was dug and used to provide the struggling citizens of Sarajevo with food, water and fuel supplies. Today you can visit 25m of the tunnel at the Tunnel of Live museum.

Peljesac Peninsula 

Peljesac Peninsula

Land of Oysters and Wine

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We took a scenic coast ride along the beautiful Croatian coastline, north of Dubrovnik . The bay of Mali Ston is home for oyster farming in the Adriatic Sea. Ston is also famous for its fortified city walls protecting the 13th century Republic of Ragusa from the Venetians. Why did they need protection?- Ston has ancient salt pans, using the simple method of evaporation to creat a currency once equivalent to its weight in gold.

We continued through the steep slopes with ambling vineyards for some wine and grappa talking. We visited Vina Vukas and started with the grappas- I loved the pomegranate, almond and herb grappa. They were all flavoured with fruits from his frond garden!

We then went on to taste his wine. The white wine was very crisp and dry, with lightening acidity (I sound like I know what I am talking about ;)! ) And the premium red was also very rich and fruity.

We went back to Ston along ‘Napoleon’s Road’ for our oyster lunch at Vila Koruna. We feasted on fresh and battered oysters, muscles, whitebait, ink risotto and seafood spaghetti- all washed down with some Peljesac wine. Delicious!

Mostar | Bosnia Herzegovina 

Mostar | Bosnia Herzegovina

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Mostar is in the region of Herzegovina. It is a beautiful old Ottoman town with a bazaar, harram and many mosques. Today it is a tourist hot spot and when I say hot- in the summer time it is roasting!

The most famous icon of Mostar is the beautiful bridge. It is a tradition of the young men to jump from the middle of the bridge as a right of passage into adulthood, they were then able to attract the most beautiful girls in the city to marry. Now days they just do it for the cash! I think they wised up?! It is quite dangerous. The water is freezing from the mountains and not very deep.

Mostar was heavily influenced by the passing trade of the Ottoman Empire exporting their goods to the Venitians in the 15th century. The name Mostar comes from the Turkish ‘bridge keepers’. Later, the Austro-Hungarian Empire rules the city, building larger more western buildings like you can see the facade of above. Most of these buildings were destroyed during the Balkans was between 1992-5. The bridge was hit by both sides but was finally destroyed by the Croatian offensive. It was rebuilt in the same style of white limestone with a very polished surface.

Travel Tips for Mostar

You can day-trip from Dubrovnik. There are many companies that do this- you need your passport and any relevant visas. The boarder crossing is very busy in the summer so be prepared to wait a little.

It gets very hot in the summer and there is not a lot of shade. Sometimes over 40°C. Wear sensible clothes, drink water and footwear should be very considered as the streets are very rounded lumpy stones and the bridge is super slippy!

Try the Cevapi. These are fingers of beef in pitta with onion and paprika sauce. They are cheap and really lovely. I can recommend the restaurant below, it is similar to all the average restaurants in Mostar and very cheap! The local beer Mostarski isn’t bad either.

 

3 Countries in 1 Day

Breakfast in Albania | Lunch in Montenegro | Dinner in Croatia

Its not often that you can dine your way through three countries in one day! But somehow, after an epic day of travelling we managed it!

Tirana | Albania

We stayed in Central Tirana and experienced the delights of this city! Our travelling included some of the randomest events so far on or Balkans adventure. People stand on roads in the middle of nowhere; we had a flash flood that resulted in us seeing a car swept away and flipped over; the main road/highway was covered in animals; the centre of Tirana is a maze of Mercedes (‘obtained’ we were told from most major cities in Europe). We breakfasted in our hotel, which was a lovely continental breakfast.

Kotor | Montenegro

It was a windy country ‘highway’ that took us to the busy port of Kotor. There were 2 cruise ships in on this day making the old walled city very busy. The city has amazing fortifications running all the way up the mountainside to the chapel at the top. The city has suffered from many seizmic events over the centuries, but the old cathedral still stands despite major repairs. We snaked on sandwiches containing the local dry smoked ham.

Dubrovnik| Croatia

Dubrovnik really is the pearl of the Adriatic Sea. I know it’s a cliche- but is has such character and striking features as it lies out on the point with the walls and battlement. Dubrovnik is so busy these days. There were cruise ships docked in the harbour as we set sail for our dinner cruise. We dined on anchovies and Snapper, sipping Croatian wine as we marvelled at the sunset and tried hard hot to throw our phones overboard. Yes- I did have a moment. I sacrificed my wine for my phone. It was a hard decision. But then I poured some more. All is not lost.

Lake Ohrid

Lake Ohrid | Macedonia


Lake Ohrid is a very special lake- it is a tectonic lake, one of only around 6 in the world! (Baikal, Titicaca to name a few)

Lake Ohrid is half in Macedonia and half in Albania. It is surrounded by monstrous mountains of over 2500m. It is one of the cleanest lakes we have seen, with underwater springs feeding from the surrounding mountains and even from the Gulf of Mexico…… No! I have not got my geography wrong! Look it up! It is crystal clear for up to 21m deep. There are unique fish swimming and have been known to use the underground springs to travel.

Travel Tips for Lake Ohrid

The summer season at Lake Ohrid consists of local Macedonian weekenders and  charter flights mainly from Russia, Holland and occasionally England. The airport is not far out of Ohrid itself. There are hotels that I would rate from 1 to 3 stars, but are quite basic. There are lots of Air B&B’s and they are very well situated if you chose one on the water front. The only challenge would be luggage as the old streets are very small and some areas by the water have only foot access. I have seen Wizz Air flying from London to Ohrid, but it is very seasonal. Coach transfers are available from Skopje, but there are some ‘interesting’ locals I saw on the bus. We travelled as an organised tour of the Balkans.

 

Rila Monastery

Rila Monastery | Bulgaria

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The Rila Mountains are the highest point of the Balkan Range, south of the capital city of Sofia. Originally built in the 4th century, it was home to St Ivan, a hermit from the 9th Century. The monastery that is seen today was built in the 19th century, rebuilt after earthquakes and fires in the region.

The main chruch is painted in hundreds of icons, as tradition in Eastern Orthodoxy. It is surrounded by a beautiful wall, with rooms you can stay in. It is very basic accommodations, similar to when it was built, with no running water or flushing toilet. There are 8 monks in residence. There is plenty of local trout to eat, as well as honey collected from the acacias lining the mountain side. The water in the river is fresh flowing and beautifully safe to drink. There are many hotels and camping sites close to the monastery.