July 26 2009: Günzburg and Augsburg

After a wonderful rest, Elena and her parents prepared a fantastic breakfast for everyone. We also took time this morning to book a flight for later in our journey to provide easy travel back to Bulgaria from Austria (avoiding the long train rides of Eastern Europe). Elena planned to take Desi and I for a walk around Günzburg in the morning, and spend the afternoon in Augsburg.  Here’s a photo taken while walking around in Günzburg:

Beautiful little town that wasn’t too busy and the people seemed friendly. The buildings were well kept and the streets were clean, you could definitely tell that people were happy to live here. We walked around and came to the largest church in town, which I had to take a photo of from the inside. The architecture was breathtaking, probably the brightest cathedral we had been in:

We also stopped and posed for a photo near an abstract statue of two people kissing. Desi liked the statue and Elena offered to take our photo; we gladly accepted the offer.

One thing that I liked about Günzburg was the number of flowers around. There flower gardens everywhere, so I stopped and took a photos of some. Here is my favourite:

Once we finished our tour of Günzburg, we made a quick stop just outside of town:

If I was 12 years younger nothing could have stopped me from spending a whole day here. Sadly, we were just passing by and taking a photo of the entrance as a souvenir. It would definitely be fun to be a kid again and spend some time in Legoland, maybe next time 🙂

From here we headed off to Augsburg where we spent the rest of our day and evening. While walking around the various streets admiring the scenery and architecture, we came across this group of people that would definitely stand out in a crowd:

I mean really, who wears a feather in their hat? I suppose the alphorns didn’t help either. Anyhow, that was an unexpected encounter that made for a great photo. We continued walking around Augsburg on streets that look very much like this:

Elena brought us to see a marionette museum, something that Desi and I would have overlooked had we been in the city by ourselves. The theater where the museum is located is quite famous, but they weren’t putting on any shows during our visit. We enjoyed a walk around the museum which was well presented, displaying characters and scenes from some of the theater’s most popular plays:

Later that night we ate dinner at an Italian restaurant and briefly went back to our hostel before adventuring out once more after dusk. I had fun taking some night photos, and we even experimented with a few night portraits. The air was calm and warm, but cooling quickly. We continued walking around town for a while and when we were satisfied, headed back to the hostel to end the day.

I’d like to thank Elena and her parents again for the absolutely wonderful hospitality they showed us during our visit. Your kindness is very much appreciated. Thanks so much!

July 25 2009: Exploring Vienna and friends in Munich

We were lucky enough to stay at a hostel with a washer and dryer, so we did all of our laundry in the morning before heading out. While waiting for our laundry to finish drying, we walked around the perimeter of our hostel and admired the view of Vienna once more, and took photos of flowers growing along the fence line bordering a nearby vineyard.We also took some photos of each other near the fence:

Desi’s portrait skills keep getting better:

We didn’t have a whole lot of time in Vienna, so we looked at our map and found something close to a metro station – this happened to be Stephansdom, which is St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Public transportation was great in Vienna, and in no time we got off the metro station and turned to our right to find what we were looking for:

The cathedral was larger than I expected, and was even more impressive once we went inside. Only the entraceway was available to the public, there are bars inside preventing the tourists from disturbing the services, which was slightly disappointing. Bars didn’t stop me from taking an amazing fisheye photo of this cathedral however 🙂

After our visit to the cathedral, we wandered around town for a bit. The streets of Vienna were full of people, definitely a lively city. Here’s a photo of a street near the cathedral:

Its also worth noting that Vienna was the first European country we visited to use the Euro. Many people also spoke English here, so that was a definite bonus as well. There was quite a number of tourists with larger cameras like mine, so it was also one of the first places I felt comfortable keeping my camera visible when not taking photographs. There was so much more to see in Vienna that we didn’t get a chance to, and it is definitely a place that I’m sure we’d love to go back to at some point in the future.

We headed to the train station and caught our train (with plenty of time to spare) to Munich, Germany. The scenery was wonderful between Vienna and Munich, here’s a sample of the sort of things we saw along this leg of the journey:

We had planned ahead of time to meet up with an old friend of mine from highschool, Elena. Elena was a German exchange student at Lasalle Secondary, and was quite welcomed in my circle of friends at school. We hadn’t really kept in touch since then, so it was great to meet with her and catch up. Her and her boyfriend took us to a nice restaurant and recommended some traditional Bavarian cuisine for us to try that was quite good. Since there were no hostels available in Munich that day, Elena’s parents were gracious enough to let us stay with them for the evening. On our way to the car, I made sure to snap a few photos of the general hustle and bustle on a typical street:

When we made our way back to the car, We headed first to Augsburg where Elena’s dorm room was to pick up a few things, then off to her parents’ place in Günzburg. The home felt like a small castle and we were very honoured to spent the night there. Thanks so much to Elena and her parents! It was great to have a familiar face meet us as we got off the train for the first time since we left Bulgaria. Our first impressions of Germany were definitely positive. 🙂

July 24 2009: Lunch in Budapest, Dinner in Vienna

July 24th was absolutely the very best day for food in our whole Europe tour. Our morning in Budapest was far better than our evening: we could exchange money, reserve train seats, and find edible food! Additionally, the hotel we were at had free internet access which was a nice bonus.

We set out to exchange some out Euro to the funny-money used in Hungary (I think its called Forint). In countries like Hungary, assessing the value of things was quite difficult because the exchange was wasn’t a simple conversion. For example, in Romania a Euro was about 4.20 Lei, so you could do the math in your head. In Hungary, a Euro is 270 Forint. I still have some 200 Forint coins from our trip. Anyhow, Budapest is beautiful even when you’re just walking down the streets:

Now that we had some Forint in our hands, we set off to find a good meal. We decided to look for the same place that was recommended the previous day, and thankfully it was now open. Quite a nice little place, too!

We ordered some pork dishes which were simply outstanding. I’m sure the flavour was enhanced by our large appetites, but it was definitely a meal to remember. We were recommended to go to Budapest if only for the food, so we’re glad we got to experience it. Unfortunately we didn’t have too much time as our train was leaving shortly, but we still needed to mail our postcards.

Somehow, we managed to get the postcards mailed and arrive at the train station, jump on the train with less than a minute to go before it left the station. Phew! Wouldn’t be the end of the world if we missed it, but we had much to see in Vienna the same day. We arrived in Vienna a few hours later, boguht and mailed our next set of postcards and got directions to our hostel.

We didn’t know this, but the hostel is on a hillside overlooking the city. When we arrived, we were amazed by the beauty of the view. I took photos for a panorama that I was able to combine into one image when I got home. The view was breathtaking, to say the least:

After checking in, we asked the receptionist for a good place to eat. He recommended both a Beer Garden and a local restaurant on the hillside. We originally chose the Beer Garden, but thankfully ended up at the hillside restaurant (Weinbau Leitner). A quaint little place in the middle of a vineyard, completely packed with people. The food was delicious, as was the beer, wine, and especially the grape juice. This was probably the very food and atmosphere of any restaurant we visited in Europe. The waiter was great, he recommended most of our meal and answered all of our questions even though he didn’t speak English well. If anyone is ever in Vienna, please go here, it was amazing. They have a website, too. Also, this is the first time I had seen wine on tap before:

On our way out it was completely dark and raining, but the view of the city was definitely one to remember:

We were staying in a room with another couple, they seemed nice but we didn’t talk all that much. We drifted off to sleep with a wonderful day of traveling behind us, and another wonderful day ahead of us. 🙂

July 23 2009: Brashov to Budapest in 13 hours

We woke up at around 6:40am, which gave us a little extra time to stop by the post office and grab breakfast before our train. We fed some of the indoor pigeons with some bits of bread, and what started as two birds quickly became about eight. We found our train and boarded it with plenty of time, and prepared for what was supposed to be a ten hour train ride.

The scenery wasn’t quite as beautiful as the ride from Bucharest to Brashov, but it was still enjoyable. For a good portion of the day we rode along the banks of a river (the river Somesh, I think) which helped pass the time. Here’s a scenic view from the train that day, though I can’t recall exactly where it was from:

As we progressed through Romania, both Desi and I grew bored. I think we each tried to sleep a little, and passed the time with word games. Desi also took some time to start drawing, and this is what she came up with:

I absolutely love it, and she continued to create wonderful sketches on other trains later in our travels. I’ll post them later for sure 🙂

So roughly when our train was supposed to arrive at its destination, it was clear that we were still in Romania. At some point after we were long overdue to arrive we asked one of the people working on the train, and we were to arrive at 9:30, which was three hours later than expected. Hmm.Well, we could do nothing but wait, and try to pass the time with more games and talking. While there was too much time sitting in one place this day, I feel I got to know Desi a little better so the time was very well spent 🙂 Here is a photo that I took shortly before our arrival in Budapest. As you can see, the daylight had already faded away:

After we arrived, there was still work to be done that day. We needed to exchange money, find a place to stay, and book a train for tomorrow to travel further west to Vienna.

None of that happened. Everything was closed, even in the main train station. Exchange places, hotel bookings, and ticket booths were all abandoned for the evening. Thankfully, one of the passengers from the train who we had talked to previously was willing to exchange us enough money to take the metro (subway) to the city center where we could find a place to stay and eat.

We finally found a place to stay (and paid more than expected for it), and the receptionist recommended us a place to eat a block a way. We were quite hungry so we set off right away… and couldn’t find the place. After enlisting the help of passerby, we found out why – it was hard to see because all the lights were off and they had closed for the night too. Just our luck! Its the city center of Budapest, a city I am told is famous for its food so we walk around to try and find a place to eat. Again, almost everything was closed. We found one pub that was open, but they didn’t serve food. Our final resort was to stop at a convenience store to find something to eat. Well.. the vegetables were nearly rotting off the shelf and we couldn’t find the ingredients for sandwiches. We decided on  ready-made sandwich big enough for the both of us and some green apples that must have been irradiated because they were still perfect on the shelf.

Back at the hotel, we opened the sandwich to find it inedible. Their expiry dates are clearly much more liberal than they are here in Canada. The apples would be a start, and we ate some of the beef jerky that mom left with us on the day we left Toronto. By no means a complete meal, but it would tide us over for a feast the following day.

July 22 2009: Transylvania

Sorry for the lack of updates during the weekend, I was quite busy (working both days and in Algonquin Park in between).

July 22nd was quite a big day for us. We had to get up very early in Bucharest, around 5am. Our train was leaving around 7, and we had to get ready, get across town, and grab some breakfast before we were off to our next destination. This morning I was able to fulfill the request of a friend of mine, Brent, and eat McDonald’s in a foreign city. Desi and I both enjoyed some burgers in the Bucharest train station:

The burgers were alright, but they definitely did not taste the same way they do back home. The beef tasted different, as if it had less flavour. Anyhow, we finished our breakfast and caught our three-hour train north. On this train we talked with some fellow passengers who were kind enough to teach us some Romanian words and grammar. Also, the scenery was simply wonderful:

When we arrived in Brashov, we ran into a taxi driver who was willing to take us directly to our hostel for 10 Lei (about 2 Euro). We accepted the offer, and on the way there he asked us if we needed to see anything around town. He offered to take us to two castles (one which we were planning on going to) for 30 Euro, which also seemed like a great deal – and it was. After we checked in and dropped off our backpacks, and headed back down to the taxi. We drove for about a half an hour out of town to our first destination, Bran Castle:

Bran Castle is famous for the Dracula myth and legend, so it was on our list of places to see on our adventure. The castle itself was quite small and simple, though some areas within were quite nicely decorated:

There are many great photos from that castle in the gallery below, and we enjoyed our visit. It was set up in such a way that you walked a certain roped-off path at your own pace that took you through the majority of the castle. When we finished our tour, we visited the gift shop and bought some post cards to send home as well as a bottle of red wine as a souvenir. In retrospect, the wine was a bad idea simply because now I had to carry it across Europe and back, but it survived no problem (and so did my back). Our taxi driver waited for over an hour for us to return to the base of the castle, and took us to our next destination, Rashnov Castle:

Rashnov Castle required a much steeper climb than Bran Castle. It took a lot out of us to make the climb, and we stopped at the top to recover for a few moments. The view from the castle was simply astounding, however:

The castle’s courtyard was not restored or kept completely tidy, and this added a level of authenticity that other areas of our travels had been lacking. Here’s a view that really shows this from the castle’s interior:

After our visit through Rashnov castle we headed back down the same way we came up, but this time I took notice to the variety of wildflowers that were growing on the tree-covered hillside. Here’s a gallery of some of what we found:

When we arrived back in Brashov, we decided to use the time we had left in the day (it was late afternoon by this point) to see as much in the city as possible, as well as reserve our train for our travels on the following day. Walking the streets of Brashov was fun, and the buildings were really interesting to look at. Here’s a typical view of a pedestrian street in Brashov:

We also visited the Black Church which was quite elaborate and very beautiful. Sadly, there were no-photography signs everywhere and the church was fairly packed so I didn’t have the chance to sneak a photo. There are many other cathedral photos from later in our adventure, however. I did take some nice photos of it from the outside, and here’s one with a black and white treatment at night:

Our adventures in Transylvania were amazing, and very tiring. We had done so much with so little sleep but I know that we’d do it all again in a heartbeat. Memories to last a lifetime!

Edit: During our evening in Brashov, we walked to the city’s outer wall and back. On this walk, we sat on a park bench and enjoyed live opera music coming from a nearby amphitheatre. The walk was one of the most romantic moments on our trip, the fading sunset and beautiful music set such a wonderful mood. I had taken a short video with my camera, which you can take a peak at here:

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