A Travellerspoint blog

July 2014

Vienna, Gateway to Eastern Europe

Arrival leaves us full of expectations.

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Vienna, the city that for years has been known as the gateway to Eastern Europe, has also been a tourist destination for those travelling the Bavaria route through Europe and also as the Western most stop for those travelling through the East. It was on the itenerary as part of our journey, as a place I had been before, and also a place that many people had shared with Terri, and she wanted to see.

Our trip from Zagreb to Vienna provided us with beautiful scenery through Slovenia and over the mountains before entering the flatlands of Wein. It was the 4th of July when we arrived and there were no fireworks, no bar-b-ques but plenty of hot dogs were available, or perhaps we should say wursts were available.



After a quick check-in at our hotel, we were off to take a tour to get our bearings. We chose the Red City Bus based on our guidebook by Rick Steves. It is no wonder he can travel as much as he does seeing all the people with his book, app, etc. In their hands while we were in Vienna. The tour took us around the Ringstrasse showing us all the major sights that we would want to visit later, while also taking us outside of the center to show us the large park, the Danube, and international center.

After the tour we walked more of the city center and proceeded to look for a traditional Viennese dinner. We found a place off the beaten path that provided us with that. After starting with appetizers, Terri had the traditional Weiner Schnitzel of Veal while I chose the Ox Cheek dish. Both of us were filled beyond belief.




Deciding we needed to walk off some calories, we decided to walk the Ringstrasse at night in order to see the buildings all lit up in their glory. With cameras at the ready we began our walk. We passed the University, Parliment, the Hofburg Palace, and several other gorgeous sights. We stumbled upon an outdoor film festival and several World Cup parties. The streets were filled with cafes and bars where fans were cheering on their favorite country.






As midnight approached, we came upon a fountain that provided our 4th of July fireworks. The colors turned all the shades of a rainbow. We couldn't help but making our way to the fountain and enjoying the mist while taking in the vibrance of the scene.


As we finished our night walk of the Ringstrasse, we eagerly awaited what Vienna would have to offer next.

Posted by darrenesl 10:36 Archived in Austria Tagged vienna austria wein darrenesl tlwforgiven Comments (0)

Hustle and Bustle of the City

Pace of life in Zagreb, places you in the urban lifestyle quickly,

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Our time back in Zagreb was going to be short, but when travelling choices have to be made and we were happy to have chosen Plitvice Lakes as a stop. Zagreb proved to be a needed laundry stop and upon arrival we inquired as to where we could find a coin-op. After being mistakenly directed to three different dry cleaners we asked at Art Hostel were one was and discovered they were almost non-exisistent in the city.

Success was achieved and while we were there, we met the owner of the only coin-op laundry business in the capital city of Zagreb. The place had only been open 8 months and he was proud to show me his American-made "Speed Queen" washers and dryers.

After cleaning up the laundry, we were off to old town, where we saw several sights including "Burgalar's Wall." It was here we climbed to the top of the city watch tower and were treated with great city views. After seeing many sights, we went down to the main square "Jelacic Square." Hailed as the "Times Square" of Zagreb, the people watching opportunities here provide you with a sense of vibrance and buzz.




Just off the square is one of Zagreb's secrets. Vinodol, a restaruant that is off the main square, but provides great Croatian dishes including "Peka-style" in a pot covered with hot coals. Here we indulged in local meats, Terri having a Beef Filet with a wonderful gorgonzola sauce, and myself loving the veal stuffed with mushrooms and gorgonzola, and topped with gorgonola. Yes, I'll need a cholesterol check when I get home.



To finish the night off we had a Crem Pita at the suggestion of a friend, thus ending our short day in Zagreb

Posted by darrenesl 10:15 Archived in Croatia Comments (0)

A Little Piece of Heaven on Earth

Plitvice Lakes provides peace and rest in an amazingly beautiful setting.

A night train from Split to Zagreb provided much needed rest and sleep at this point of the journey. Arriving in Zagreb at 6:30 a.m., we made our way via the tram to the bustling Zagreb bus station. The station has everything you need, a grocery store, chapel, coffee shops, bars, restaurants, and an adult bookstore.

Upon arrival at the station we discovered that a 7:30 bus was available to Plitvice Lakes, instead of the later 8:45 bus we had expected to have to take. Having eaten our usual breakfast of fruit and a pastry on the train, we got a quick coffee from the smokey coffee shop and eventually proceeded to our platform.

The bus route takes you through the capital city of Croatia and on out to the countryside. As you travel through some of the small towns, the bullet holes remain in the concrete buildings from the war a decade or two ago. Several of the houses still remain abandoned, signs of the Serbs that had been forced to depart in haste, and still have not returned.



As you begin to climb in elevation the flat lands and fields are replaced by rolling hills and eventually mountainous terrain. Plitvice Lakes, with two entrances, is a national park and a UNESCO World Heritage site as well. It is also the spot of the first shots fired during the war. We decided to stay at one of the hotels in the park as the closest other guesthouses are 17km from the park, and busses are few and far between.



As we arrived at 10 a.m, we quickly dropped our backpacks in our room, grabbed some food, and got ready to see this incredible park. As we stepped out, we were greeted with a sight best described as Yosemite and Yellowstone on crack. The view was breathtaking and we both just exclaimed, "Wow!" Plitvice (pronounced (PLEET-veet-seh) is one of Europe's most spectacular wonders. Imagine Niagra Falls diced and sprinkled over a heavily forested Grand Canyon. There is nothing like this lush valley of 16 terraced lakes, laced together by waterfallls and miles of pleasant plank walks. Countless cascades and water that's both strangely clear and full of vibrant collors make Plitvice a misty natural wonderland.

There are signs with several different treks or you can create one of your own. The most popular trek starts from the middle of the two largest lakes and includes a tram, boat ride, and some hiking. The treks they suggest are 2, 3 or a 6 hour trek. The six hour hike appealed to us, however, it skipped the boat ride and not wanting to miss an opportunity to float accross these beautiful lakes, we decided to create a route of our own.



Starting at the Lower Lake, winding our way down a narrow stair set (some of the steps tiny, with others stuttered like climbing a ladder) and through a cave we found ourselves surrounded by the turquoise water that made up this beautiful area. As we procedded around the Lower Lake counter-clockwise, we encountered waterfall after waterfall, after reaching 100 we lost count, but the number is actually in the 1000's. We hiked up and down special scenic viewpoints placing us at the top of falls, overlooking the tourists down below at the base of these massive echoing giants. As we continued the trek, we walked along the small wooden paths leading you directly over the lakes in some areas, on the dirt paths beside the waters in others, and at times under a refreshing canopy of lush green trees with all varieties of plant and animal life around. The most common land animal seen was the field mouse who was even seen swimming on top of the water at times. In the lakes there were trout beyond numbers, although fishing is strictly prohibited. We continued to traverse the lower area, exausting as many sights as possible until we decided to backtrack to the boat crossing to the Upper Lakes



Once across we stepped off into a new wonderland of water and mist. As the afternoon trugged on, the sunlight mixed with mist provided a glorious backdrop for photos. Perhaps even more scenic than the Lower Lakes, although the lower has the largest single waterfall, the upper areas provide a quieter more tranquil atmosphere for reflection on the beauty of the surroundings. We continued exploring these lakes and finished with a trek just over 6 miles, but it was nearing 6 p.m., and we were running out of drinking water.


As we exited the floor of the canyon containing the lakes, we ascended over 583 meters to the top and took a shuttle back to our hotel. That night, I dined on fresh local trout, while Terri sampled the turkey that is served in the Plitvice region.

The next morning we awoke, fueled up with the free breakfast at the hotel, and went to catch a bus back to Zagreb. Luckily we were 40 minutes early to the bus stop as the bus arrived 35 minutes early, scheduled at 10:45, it picked us up at 10:10 and off we went. Leaving all others who were wanting that bus to be stuck waiting until 12:45 for the next bus.

Plitvice was a stop we knew we had to include on our trip, when we left the area, we were glad that we had made time for this gem, hidden in the mountains of Croatia, this is a little piece of heaven right here on earth.

Posted by darrenesl 01:44 Archived in Croatia Tagged lakes croatia plivice Comments (0)

A Palace Fit for a King

Split meets the expectations of emperors and tourists alike.

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Thunder and lightening awakend us as we neared Split on our train ride from Zagreb. It was six in the morning when the car rocked with a clap of thunder. The rain began to pour and we knew our seven o'clock arrival was in jeopardy as the train slowed with wet tracks.We were prepared to stay on a 45 foot wooden yacht that was available via AirBnB and Cedo, the owner was to pick us up at the station.


We found out we were going to be about an hour late and texted Cedo. As we neared Split the downpour continued to get heavier and heavier. Finally, the train arrived and it was worse than expected, it was pouring so hard, we did our best Carl Lewis and Bruce Jenner impersonations, dashing accross the tracks, hurdling the railroad ties and dividers before a long jump over a puddle onto the platform on the other side. In the distance we see the finish line, Cedo is waiting with an umbrella and his Renault. By the time we reach his car we are drenched and half of the Adriatic is in our shoes, we toss our bags into his vehicle and jump in to the dry confines.


We have done it we think, until Cedo tells us he doesn't know what to do, as the boat isn't safe in the storm and so, we can go to the University of Split with him until 4 p.m. when the storm pehaps will weaken. He informs us these kinds of storms are very unusual this time of year.

Cedo drives us to the university and shows us his department, he is a mechanical engineer and is proud of the machines in his shop. We proceed to find a coffee shop where the lights flicker continuously as the storm strikes the area with thunder and lightning. It is at this point we decide to forgo the boat and get a hotel for a hot shower and dry clothes to wait out the storm Thanks Hotels.com for making it simple and easy. We then went to find Cedo and break the news, he had offered us a refund, be we insisted he keep the money, the $40 we had paid to stay on the boat was a small price to pay for the taxi services Cedo had provided.
Cedo took us to the beautiful Hotel Park, and told us that a bottle of wine would be chilled and a spaghetti dinner would be waitiing for us at 5 p.m., if we wanted. Oh that hot shower felt delightful after the train journey the day before and our track and field event earlier.

After regrouping there was a break in the storm and we headed out for lunch on a terraace, and than into old town and Diocletian's palace to be awed by the incredible palace dating back to 200 AD. After entering through the basement, our jaws dropped as we reached the peristyle. This ancient palace was everything you could imagine and more.



We toured the palace and make the climp to the top of the bell tower. This narrow climb was slowed by the wait for two-way traffic on a one-way stair set. Often pressing against those going the opposite direction, we got to know people from all different countries quite well. As the steps got narrower, we passed the bells and finally reached a metal set of stairs. The last of the climb was on these and as we reached the top, a strikingly beautiful view of the Adriatic, Old Town, the brownish-white cliffs, and all the surrounding areas awaited us. Another "Wow!' moment.



After an afternoon in Diocletian's palace filled with fascinating sights and tours, we headed back to our hotel and what is called the best beach in Split, where we decided to swim in the Adriatic Sea. The water, although not warm, was pleasant with pockets of warmth here and there. Many people were swimming, sunning, and playing games at the beach and in the water. We enjoyed the beach until about 7 p.m., it was a wonderful break from the storm, but more was expected that night.



From here it was back to the old town and dinner at Konobo Korta, where we feasted on fresh fish from the sea, local salads and olives, a wonderful cold carrob soufle, and more. Eating in the town invoked thoughts of dining in Roman times with the sights and sounds around us. During dinner the bells tolled and the drums beat as Diocletian came out to see his subjects, it was vey fitting for the atmosphere.  



We strolled through the city as another day was finished and all expectations were met, no disappointment could be found.

Tuesday morning arrived and after feasting on a hotel buffet breakfast, a big change from our breakfasts so far, we were ready to head back to town and enjoy the day before leaving on a 10 p.m., night train for Zagreb and then Plitvice Lakes.

Stashing our bags in a train station locker, we went to find the fish market and see the fresh product we had indulged upon the night before. The aroma of fish and seafood met our nostriles and the market was abuzz with chef's choosing their fish for the day and vendors calling out the excellence of their product.

Seeing the fish market gave insight into the commerce of the city and the importance of the tourist trade to the local residents.

After the market it was down to the Riva where we had strolled the night before, but now had the opportunity to experience it in the daylight. We decided to take a boat ride from one of the locals and he took four of us out on his boat. A grandmother and her teenage grandaughter from Bentonville, Arkansas, joined us for the boat trip. We toured up and down the Split coastline, seeing the homes along the water, the institute of oceanography, a nude beach, and the Celebrity cruise ship that was docked there for the day. We viewed the islands off the coast and the passages that led to Italy to the west and to the south Greece and Portugul. It was beautiful on the water with a breeze blowing and deep blue colors of the water shimmering as the sunlight radiated off the sea.

When we returned to the town, we decided to have an early dinner and try the local beef that is so highly thought of. The cafe in old town we chose provided us with a vantage point for people watching that was second to none. We were treated to a rich selection of Croatian olive oils and salts to enjoy our bread with. The heartiness and flavor of the oils danced on the pallet. The beef was exceptional, however at both meals in Split the grilled vegetables were to die for.

We finished off our time in Split with some shopping and relaxed along the water as we readied for our night train to Zagreb. Good-bye Split, you will be remembered fondly.

Posted by darrenesl 16:03 Archived in Croatia Comments (0)

Cleaning Up

A day of rest, relaxation, and politics, followed by music and travel.

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Our day began with a metro ride to the Parlament. The building is huge with every inch full of detail. There are guards at all the entrences. We walked around the entire building before heading to the Shoes on the Danube. After visiting Aushwitz, it gave us a more moving experience seeing the brass shoes ~ Jews were shot along the banks of the Danube and their bodies were pushed into the river with some of the shoes being left behind.




After getting in our steps, we moved on to the warm mineral baths at Szechenyi. We indulgd in some wonderful soaks in some beautiful spas, pools, and saunas. We began in an outdoor pool with water temp in the high 80s. Just drifting around the pool letting our bodies relax. This was followed by an hour-long couples massage. The hungarians kneaded and beat us like bread dough. Then we moved on to some mineral spas and of course a dip in the ice cold waters to make sure we got the entire experience. This was a much needed day of rest.



After 5 hours of bathing, we headed to see the City Park and Hero's Square. People of all ages playing table tennis,, chess, and numerous other games and sports filled the area. It was a great way to finish the evening. We ended our day with dinner on Vaci Utica, a walk around town with plenty of shopping, and then a fish foot massage. We recommend this to everyone. Your feet will be softer than you could ever imagine.


Waking early on Sunday we were off to the Budapest Opera before heading to the train station for a 15 hour journey to Split, Croatia via Zagreb.


It should have been a shorter trip, but the train tracks were under repair and we had to be shuttled to a bus for a portion of the journey. What was supposed to be a two hour window became a twenty minute rush to make our next train. We made it and on the first train made friends with several other travellers who were packed in with us. We learned all about Iran and the fellings toward the US and their nuculear capabilities from a kind Iranian who wanted to chat.

Finally we were on our night train and tucked in bed late Sunday night and headed to Split.


Posted by darrenesl 12:32 Archived in Hungary Tagged trains budapest danube travel hungary croatia travels Comments (0)

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