Vienna – All class!

We didn’t quite know what to expect from Vienna.  Three months ago we were in Salzburg and while we enjoyed it, on reflection we expected something bigger, brighter and a little better. Vienna is a much bigger city and we found that three nights (two days) was really not enough to see what we wanted to see.  Yes you can scrape  the surface but it really deserves a bit more time.

As we were only there 48 hours we tried to get the best overview of the city that we could by getting on a Hop on Hop Off bus tour.  This is a good idea.  We usually don’t get off, rather just use it to orient ourselves to revisit places later if we want to.  Before we committed to this tour, we tried to do it ourselves as we had purchased two day transport passes.  It really was just easier to listen to a commentary.  We didn’t have to struggle trying to work out which building was which, why it was significant and whether or not we were indeed looking at the right building!

 

Again, like the previous 2 weeks, we were foiled by the weather but being in a big city doesn’t really matter that much. To get out of the rain, we took refuge in the Butterfly House (6.50 Euro to get in), which was not really worth it as most of the butterflies were high on the roof.  We really only saw about 4 or 5.

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We also had coffee and cake in Central Cafe and braved the queue to get in.  Coffee and cake was average (cakes look much better than they are) however it is a cafe of historical importance (Trotsky, Freud and a number of poets) and the environment is beautiful.

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Vienna is full of breathtaking buildings and we enjoyed walking around looking at them.  The architecture is really something else!

If you are an art lover, Belvedere is worth a visit.  This is where you can see the famous Austrian painting The Kiss.  The Kiss is the Austrians answer to Mona Lisa! You can buy any number of souvenirs with a print of this painting on it. Allow at least half a day for a visit.  Close by there is also the Museum of Modern Art is about a 10 minute walk from Belvedere so you could make an arty day of it.

 

We also took the underground (U Bahn) out to the Schonbrunn Palace to catch a show.  You must see a classical performance in Vienna right! It was a beautiful environment but the acoustics were poor.  I think the Opera House might have been a better choice.  The palace gardens are meant to be beautiful but when we got there they were closing the gates (despite everyone telling us it would be open).  Make sure you go before 4pm to ensure that it is open and that you have some time to walk around.

Vienna Tips

  • If you are driving in, you are looking for signs that say Wien not Vienna
  • There is very little parking in the city.  You might be lucky to pick up a short stay parking spot (less than 2 hours) however the locals use the parking garages (Park and Ride).  We paid 10.50 Euros for 2.5 days.
  • You can buy transport tickets for 1 or 2 days which give you access to underground trains and the trams which get you everywhere you need to go.
  • If you want to see a concert ask questions… what is the programme, how long, where is it,  how many musicians etc.  Shop around.
  • There are museums for everything… art, technology, Freud, national history, military history, Mozart…
  • Check out the Vienna Card.  It gives free transport and discounted admission to many places in the city.
  • Enjoy!  Vienna is a beautiful city.

 

Zagreb: A cool little city

We have explored a good part of Croatia, taking in all of the coast so we thought it about time to inland to check out Zagreb.  Not sure what to expect we were completely taken with it.  It is a great little city with plenty to do.  We only spent a day there but could easily have spent longer.  We were also foiled by the weather a bit as it rained pretty solidly the whole time.

Zagreb is divided into an upper town (the old town) and the lower town.  Both are different and worth looking through.  We took a private tour in an Imitation Model T Ford.  The driver served as a guide as well and it was a very enjoyable 90 minutes through both the Upper and Lower Towns.  Lots of people stopped to stare and take photos of us!

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The tour took in a number of key sites including St Marks Church, a number of museums, the stone gate and various other buildings of importance.

If you look on Trip Advisor, one of the top things to do in Zagreb is to go to the Museum of Broken Relationships.  As it was pouring with rain we thought it might be worth a look as it is something different.  Everyone else had the same idea so there was a waiting list to get in! We decided to wait and spent about 45 minutes looking at the various exhibits that people have donated.  Unusual content for a museum but interesting nevertheless!

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Despite the rain, we also had a look at the Dolac Market in the centre of town. The market sellers (who are mostly selling fresh produce, cheeses and meats) persevered through the torrential rain and locals were out in small numbers buying their food.  There are also a small number of souvenir stalls selling local items.  If you were looking for picnic items this would be the place to come.

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Zagreb is easy to get around on foot, but Uber is there if you need it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ljubljana in 48 hours

Slovenia is a small country in Eastern Europe.  Until last week I knew almost nothing about it!

So here goes…Slovenia is a small country (only 2.5 million) and has only had independence since 1991.  The people we have met have excellent English, are really willing to help and are very friendly.  They are very proud of their country, especially the clean, green aspect  and the beautiful landscapes.  Understandably they seem to feel like they are the small cousin to their surrounding big brothers in Europe.  I understand that being from New Zealand!  Slovenia has a fascinating history and it has been great to spend some time here.  First stop Ljubljana.

Ljubljana is both the largest city and the capital and is located in the centre of Slovenia providing access to most parts of the country within a couple of hours drive.  It’s quite a cool little city – very clean, a bit edgy and kind of alternative.  It is strange to see a beautifully clean city riddled with graffiti.  There is also lots of street art (which I love) but the tagging  was seemingly everywhere.

We were lucky that we were able to rent an apartment pretty close to town.  The old town is all pedestrianised so getting somewhere close to town when you have a car is not that easy.  They have a great system where you can sign up to rent bikes from racks on the streets. It is really cheap and you just put them back at the nearest rack to where you are going. A great way to get around town.

In 48 hours, this is what we did…

City tour

We did a free walking tour around the city which explained the history of the town and many of the architectural features.

Boat tour

There are a number of boat tours that go through the central city via the river.  These are worth going on and take about 45 minutes.  You can pay anything between 5-8 Euros to go.  There doesn’t appear to be an audio guide or anyone explaining anything but it is pretty to look at and is an enjoyable time.

Markets

Ljubljana has little squares at intersecting streets, where small numbers of market stalls seem to cluster.  When we were there, there were two art ones scheduled, a flea market and then Central Market which is the main one.  We were also lucky enough to be in town on a Friday evening when the Open Kitchen Market was on.  If you are in town at this time, it is well worth a visit.  Chefs from local restaurants cook up amazing food for people to try.  It is a really bustling atmosphere and a nice evening out.

The Old Town

It is relaxing to walk around the old town and take in some of the sights, grab a drink by the river and wile some time away.  You can visit the castle and a number of museums.  While the castle is well rated on Trip Advisor and in other reviews, we were completely underwhelmed as it has been restored so much it is hard to see much of what it was.  There are lovely views from the top and from that point of view it is worth a visit.

The communist walking tour

This was a really interesting tour which cost 10 Euros.  It was 2.5 hours long and really gave a good insight into the history of the country and Ljubljana specifically.  The guide was knowledgeable and was able to speak from his own perspective about  growing up during the communist era and the impact on him and his family.  If you are a history buff, this is a goodie.

Rent a bike from the city

We rented bikes and biked around town, down the river and into some of the more hidden areas.  We managed to visit the hostel that used to be a prison and Metelkova which is next door.  Metelkova is  located on the site of former military barracks (the Slovenian headquarters of the Yugoslav National Army) and has been occupied since September 1993. In Metelkova City a range of activities are run including an art gallery, bars, artists studios, space for designers, offices of cultural organisations and concerts featuring different types of live music.  It’s also a great spot for taking photos.

Enjoy any of the cafes and bars along the riverfront.

There are loads of bars and cafes to try and just as many ice cream shops.  While we were there, there was a heat wave so this was a great activity!

Ljubljana would be a great destination for a long weekend or a stopover.

Salzburg in 72 hours

What a change!  Bangkok and three months in Asia to Europe.  It feels so quiet!

After flying into Frankfurt from Bangkok, we picked up a lease car (I apparently own it now!) and drove down to the German Austrian border.  To do this of course you have to navigate the highways where there are NO speed limits!  I have never seen cars travel past at such a speed.  Definitely the slower lanes for us.  The highways are pretty long and boring although very efficient!  We did see this gem while stuck in a traffic jam…

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We spent one night at an Air BnB in the mountains just to break the trip and explore a mountain bike park and then headed over to Salzburg.

Salzburg is a much smaller city than I imagined and much of it’s beauty lies in the inner city or in the surrounding country areas.    It is really worthwhile to purchase a Salzburg Card for 27 Euro per adult as this gives free admission into a number of museums and local sites, free transport and discounts into other sites on the outskirts of the city.  Surprisingly, museums, art galleries etc are very expensive in Salzburg so we could have spent the equivalent of 60 Euro each on the first day while using the card.  Our actual outlay was just the cost of the card.  The card can be purchased at your accommodation and you can get 24, 48 or 72 hour cards.  We purchased the 72 hour card and were glad that we did.

Day 1

We decided to spend the first day exploring the city and selected some key things that we wanted to see.

  • A look around the old town

Salzburg old town is worth a look for an hour or so (depending on how keen on shops you are!)  It is filled with cute little laneways and small boutique type shops.  Many of them sell souvenirs from the area.  I spotted a shop that sold Christmas decorations which were all made from painted eggs, a number of shops selling the traditional clothing (dirndl for women and lederhosen for men) and many shops selling Mozart balls ( a local chocolate treat).  If you like chocolate hunt out the shop across the love lock bridge (new town side) that sells the famous chocolate cake Sacher torte.  You can buy tiny bite size versions or the full blown family size.  I am a chocolate cake lover and enjoyed the smallest one.  Rich and yummy!

  • Mozart’s birthplace

The Mozart family lived on the third floor of this house from 1747 -1773.  Mozart himself was born here in 1756.  The house is larger than one would expect and there are a number of interesting displays.  Worth spending 30-60 minutes to have a look.

  • Mozart’s residenceMozart’s residence had a more museum like feel to it and if you are a keen classical museum you will find some of the pieces on display very interesting.  Being someone that likes more personal stories, I preferred his birthplace.
  • Festung Hohensalzburg (fortress)

The building of this castle began in 1077 and had expansions added over the centuries.  Hohensalzburg castle was refurbished from the late 19th century onwards and became a major tourist attraction with the Festungsbahn funicular railway leading up from the town to the Hasengrabenbastei. It stands today as one of the best preserved castles in Europe.

During the early 20th century it was used as a prison, holding Italian prisoners of war during World War I and Nazi activists (before the Anschluss with Germany) in the 1930s.

It is quite a big place and there are lots of things to explore.  Definitely worth a couple of hours.

  • Don Quartier

Don Quartier is definitely worth a visit.  It is a fascinating look into a complex consisting of the palace and cathedral, including St Peters Abbey.  It is a true example ofthe archbishop’s power.  It is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

  • Monchsberg lift

This is a quick visit to get a great panorama of the city.  At the top of the lift is also the Museum of Modern Art.  While not the Tate, they had 3 interesting exhibitions while we were there.  Probably only for art enthusiasts.

  • Salzach Cruise

This is a free cruise that you can pick up on the river with your Salzburg card.  It is well worth the 45 minutes it takes.  The captain is fluent in English and German so get a bilingual tour.  As you return to the dock, he puts the boat into a “Waltz” also known as about half a dozen slow 360’s.  A great tour which costs nothing with the card.

Day 2

  • Untersberg Cable car

We were lucky that we stayed in the town right where the cable car goes but even if you don’t the Salzburg card gives you free transport.  Bus 25 takes you right to the base of the cable car so it is really easy.  The cable car is also free to go up and back with the Salzburg card and as it is about 23 Euro return it is a big saving.  The views are incredible at the top and there are both long and short walks that you can do.  There is a restaurant at the top (where the prices are cheaper than Salzburg old town) and it is a nice place to stop and pause.

  • Weekend markets

We came upon some lovely markets along the riverside which apparently are only there in the weekends.  The products were high end with a number of stall owners that we talked to having travelled up from Italy. Consequently, there were some very nice Italian leather and jewellery products.

Also in the weekend is the Farmers market in the square in the centre of the Old Town. If you are staying in an apartment or just want some nice lunch then this is worth a visit.

  • Buy a big pretzel

Not really a place to visit, but I needed to add it.  You can buy these enormous pretzels in a number of flavours (including chocolate dipped) from street stalls.  Say no more!

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  • Mirabell gardens

The palace and the gardens are listed as a World Heritage site and part of the UNESCO site (Salzburg).  We were underwhelmed but obviously everyone else wasn’t as it was crowded with locals (a number of weddings) and many tour groups (it is part of a number of tours including the Sound of Music Tour).  I wouldn’t rush there!

Day 3

  • Salt Mine (Berchtesgaden)

This is a great trip and worth the visit a few kilometres out of town.  We had our own car but there are tours that go out there.  You need to allow at least an hour for this tour.  You start by putting on protective gear  (reinforced trousers and a white coat like a chef jacket) and then you get on this little train and go into the mines. The tour is really informative and has digital stories explaining the history at key points throughout the mine.  The highlight for me (and the need for the reinforced pants) was the slides that the miners used to use.  Great fun!

  • Keltinblitz Toboggan

The toboggan is quite close (just a few minutes down the road) to the Salt Mines so these two are easily combined. The toboggan is a nice long one (2.2km).  You can control the speed by a stick that sits between your legs.  The corners are pretty wicked!

  • Eagles Nest and document museum

We severely underestimated the time needed to do both of these things.  Allow half a day.  The document museum is down by the carpark at the base of the mountain road and is the site of Hitlers bunkers, which you can go into plus loads of information and displays about Hitler and his people.  Most people probably need at least an hour here – we spent two.

Eagle’s nest is Hitlers showpiece holiday home where he entertained guests and dignitaries.  It is pretty amazing to have the opportunity to be in this building.  It is now a restaurant and has been for many years.  To get to Eagles Nest, you buy a ticket to get on one of the buses which drive you to the very top of the mountain.  It is strictly one way and not for the faint hearted!  Once at the top, which is actually the base, you walk through a tunnel and into a room where there is a gold elevator.  This elevator is the original one and there have been no changes made to it.  It has an old dial telephone and instead of buttons with floor numbers, it is measured in distance.  The elevator pops you out into one of his rooms.

A very worthwhile visit.

There are lots of other things to do around the outskirts of Salzburg too so you could easily spend 3-4 days here.

 

Phnom Penh

Time to own up.   I wasn’t sure what to expect in Cambodia but certainly expected it to be a bit less contemporary than Vietnam where we have just spend a month.  Wrong!  Phnom Penh is a much more modern city than I expected and is truly very beautiful.  What a lovely surprise.

The city itself is dotted with gorgeous golden temples, interesting cafes and very cheap beer (shame I hate the stuff!).  There are also some really cool art/ craft NGO’s and the ubiquitous Asian markets to look at.  If you are a history buff  (and even if you aren’t), going to see S-21 where the Khmer Rouge imprisoned and tortured people and the Killing Fields are an absolute must.  They are harrowing and thought provoking but well worth the visit.

Lots of people say you only need a day or two in Phnom Penh but we spent four days here and enjoyed every one of them.  I don’t think it’s too much of a challenge to fill 4-5 days.

For our first couple of days in Phnom Penh, we hired a tuk tuk  to take us to a number of key sites.  It is likely to cost $15 USD for a half day and $25 USD for a full day.  You shouldn’t pay more than that.  We visited the following:

S-21/Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum 

To understand the recent history of Cambodia, it is essential that you visit this harrowing museum which is the actual site where the genocide occurred.  I didn’t realise that the torturing took  place at a high school which was converted to imprison people.  As a teacher I found this very difficult to visit as it still looks like a high school that you would find in many places in the world.

The museum is outstanding and offers an audio tour in a number of languages, including English.  They have tried to leave the site as it was and as a result you can still see how the classrooms were divided up into cells, there are still blood stains on some of the walls and they describe how playground equipment was used to torture people.

It is $6USD to go in.  We spent about two hours there – our tuk tuk driver said most people spend about an hour.

A real eye opener and worth visiting.

The Royal Palace

It was interesting to be shown around the palace grounds by a guide.  We don’t usually get a guide however we decided to on this occasion and it was worth the 10 USD.  Without the guide’s explanation it would have been difficult to understand the different buildings, ceremonies and protocols.  The King was in house while we were there ( as shown by the flag flying).  Unfortunately he was busy so couldn’t see us!

Entry fee is 10 USD per person.

The Killing Fields

We visited these after S21 so that we had time to process what we had seen.  It is a bit of a drive out to the Killing fields and costs 25 USD for a tuk tuk.  A word of warning, our tuk tuk driver gave us masks to wear as it is really dusty on the way out.  We travelled through villages along non-sealed roads which were pretty bumpy.  The highway on the way back feels a bit life threatening too!

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The Killing Fields are where the Khmer Rouge took people in the middle of the night to kill them (usually from S21).  There is a really good audio tour which explains the horrors of the site.  You can still see the mass graves and they have systematically recorded  and displayed the skulls and bones that they have found washed up each rainy season.  Fragments are still washing to the surface each year.

Worth an hour visit.

Central Market

Central Market is one of two main markets that tourists might find useful to visit.  It is housed in a beautiful domed octagonal building with stalls stretching out of each of the points.  The stalls are organised in sections so it is easy to find what you are after.  You do need to have your bargaining hat on.  We won some and lost some but walking away is a good strategy as you know you are getting the best price.

The Russian Market

The Russian Market is quite different to the one in Vietnam that we visited.  Apparently it is named the Russian market because in the 80’s this is where all the Russians came to shop.

It is a huge market which sells everything you can imagine for both locals and tourists alike.  If you haven’t been to a wet market, and you can hold your stomach together, this is another place for some good pictures.  Souvenirs are a plenty and if you don’t find exactly what you want in one stall it will be somewhere else.  Again, you need to bargain hard.  Some stall owners start really high so that even 50% starting point is higher than what you would get in town, others are more reasonable.  A really worthwhile market to go to. Have your haggling hat on.

Wat Phnom Historical Site

This is a Buddhist temple in the city which is nice to visit.  It is the tallest structure in town.  Many locals come here to pray for good luck.  It is free for locals and there is a small charge for tourists and foreigners.

We were accosted by some children begging and selling bracelets. They can be very charming, have great English and tell you the money is to send them to school. It is recommended that children are not given money for any reason and rather the money is given to organisations that help them.  This has a higher hit rate of keeping them in school.

Cambodian National Museum

I am not always a big fan of museums but this one is set in beautiful grounds and has well kept artifacts on display.  Definitely worth a visit and you can also get Apsara Dance tickets here.  After our big burst of cultural dance activities in Bali, we decided against attending.

Phnom Penh is a lovely city which deserves more time than a day or two.  We really liked it and could have stayed for longer.