Fri 26 Jan 2007
this one's on me ...
Thu 6 Jul 2006 - Thu 20 Jul 2006 33 °C
Where was I? Budapest. It's interesting visiting a city you have been before and considered one of your favourite places. Would it be as good as it was last time? Was it just the frame of mind we were in last time that made it so enjoyable?
We were only in Budapest a couple of days this time, but it was enough time to catch a few things we missed last time around. For starters, we entirely avoided Buda when we visited two years ago, despite spending a whole week in the city. Somehow, the funicular up the hill hadn't seemed worth the bother in the heat. So we resolved that we would in fact go up to visit the various prime tourist attractions this time around. The area feels suspended from reality, a tourist corral of sorts. Good views, museums, and for me, the jewel that crowns Buda hill, Matthias Church, make it worth a visit. The Art Nouveau interior of the Matthias Church was particularly satisfying. In fact, the plethora of Art Nouveau buildings could very well be largely responsible for our general liking of the city.
The rest of our time in the town was spent sampling some of the great restaurants about town, a visit to the Rudac baths and some museum visits. And yes, Budapest was a good the second time around as the first.
Krakow for me was the highlight. A visit to Auschwitz helped develop a better understanding of the holocaust and the horrors that went throughout Poland. I wish I had the words to describe it in a more fitting way.. but I think the main lesson to be learnt is that we should not (like some of our politicians might like) ignore the dark sides of our history as they serve as a constant reminder of what we must do in the future and help put the present into perspective. Krakow, as a town, is itself a beautiful place to spend time. There are beautiful buildings, an amazing square and a thriving restaurant scene with a diverse offering of food. Our first night found us eating in a Scottish restaurant, being served by a kilt clad Pole. Maybe we found the most tacky theme around, but the food was surprisingly good, though possibly with more cabbage and dumplings available than would be customary in Scotland.
Warsaw was only really an overnight stay, the most exciting thing being the amazingly luxurious hotel we stayed in and the breakfast they served in the morning.
We found ourselves in Berlin days after the World Cup final and just before the Love Parade was about to kick off. The giant football that was in front of the Brandenburg gate was being dismantled on the day we arrived and there was still plenty of evidence of the great party that had come over Germany during the previous month. I must say, the World Cup did actually help develop some better feelings towards Germany for me, not least because they played some of the best football of the tournament and generally didn't play the dirty tactics some of the other teams engaged in. Such good feelings probably help make a stay in Berlin more enjoyable. The modern architecture is admirable and the people seem to speak English more easily than in other parts of Germany I have visited. A visit to the Jewish museum was set to the backdrop of increasing violence by Israel in Lebanon, though nonetheless it was worthwhile, not least for the stunning architecture of the building (Fed Square in Melbourne is basically a rip-off). The exhibition itself was more like something you would expect from a science museum than a serious institution though. While in Berlin, we stayed in a somewhat sterile area of Mitte, which has some extremely fancy stores, but not a great deal of character (or at least, not the type of character that I find pleasant to be around). A trip out to the district of Prenzlauer Berg set that straight though and showed us the Berlin we were perhaps more hoping to see with its numerous bohemian shops and international feel.
And so, after a quick visit to Berlin's Guggenheim, we made the trip to Copenhagen. It took us by surprise that they actually put the entire train onto a ferry to cross a body of water. It's a 40 minute ferry ride, so there was actually enough time to go have some dinner while waiting. Very nice!
The temperature in Copenhagen was a pleasant change from the hot weather along the rest of the way. Not that it wasn't warm, it just wasn't as hot as the other places we had been. On our first day there, Rich (aka gelli) met us for a day of wandering and exploration of the town. Great to finally meet one of our long time members on TP! And considering he knew Copenhagen so well, he seemed to be our pseudo tour guide
One of Copenhagen's attractions for us was Danish design and so we spent the rest of our time there seeking out the various design museums and shops scattered around town. Altoghether a very nice stay.
On our last day (yesterday) however, we felt we had run out of things to see and decided to head to Malmö relatively early in the day (our train from Malmo didn't leave till midnight almost). Also a very nice place and a lot quieter than Copenhagen. Again, plenty of great design to be seen .. Scandinavia is good for that .. the city is certainly worth a visit for at least a day. I had one of the best, possibly THE best risotto I have ever had that evening (and I gravitate towards risottos). Best to ignore the fact that it cost a small fortune Sometimes the price of something is just overshadowed by the sheer delight of it though.
We are now in Oslo for a few days. Plans are to head for the fjords, which should prove good !
Sat 1 Jul 2006 - Thu 6 Jul 2006 34 °C
And so it came to be that the next evening we decided to walk the walls of Dubrovnik's old town. Germany and Argentina met each other in the quarter finals of the World Cup that night and we watched the second half while having drinks on a cafe situated on the wall itself, with a fine view. The walls offer a stunning view of the old town, the sea and islands beyond. There is something satisfying about an overview of a town that makes you feel like you have truly seen it. Perhaps that explains why people are so keen to climb as high as possible wherever they go. Or maybe it is just some primordial instinct to survey the land and perhaps plot its downfall..
Various shots from the walls.
Descending from the wall, we watched the penalties that the match ended up in while waiting for dinner. One thing has to be said about Croatian restaurants; they are remarkably consistent in both menu and pricing. Typical offerings include grilled meat, fish, some schnitzels and various standard Italian food such as spaghetti, risotto and pizza. A speciality is the so-called 'Black Risotto', which is coloured by the ink of cuttle-fish and in turn passes its colouring on to your teeth, creating a fearsome image (or so I was told by Janelle). It doesn't taste too bad though. The consistency of menus aside, the pricing is really the most surprising factor. One would expect a fairly remote road side restaurant to be somewhat cheaper than a well-serviced restaurant with a view in Dubrovnik and yet surprisingly the dishes, though significantly varying in quality, are virtually the exact same price whichever restaurant one chooses. A spaghetti for instance is almost always around the 40kn mark (just under AU $10).
Some of that delicious black risotto
After Dubrovnik, we drove our way back to Split where we had arranged to drop off our hire car. The winding drive back was indeed enjoyable, minus a frightening incident where a police convoy needed to pass everyone in a hurry. On a two lane windy road, this is quite a feat considering there is a mountain on one side and a steep cliff on the other and little room to move aside. And yet they seemed to manage it at what must have been 100 kph.
Split was an enjoyable stay as well, though on the day we arrived the guy from the car rental company described it as the hottest it had ever been. The old town is truly beautiful and the Roman fortification that to this day is still a vital part of the town's fibre makes for a fascinating layout. It is an enjoyable place to wander around, get lost in the maze of small streets stopping for drinks or maybe a spot of lunch at hidden cafes down back alleyways (perhaps some grilled meat for a change).
We decided we would make a day-trip from Split to the smaller town of Trogir, an hour away by public bus. The winding streets were familiarly similar to Split and Dubrovnik though not as extensive and somewhat more run-down in parts as well.
After a few days in Split, we hopped on the train to Zagreb, providing some more stunning views of the interior of Croatia and the small towns and fortifications it passed. Zagreb is a more modern city than Split, the lower town consisting of largely 19th century buildings, some which remind of Melbourne. The medieval upper town didn't seem particularly large and didn't have the same 'quaintness' as Split, Dubrovnik or Trogir, but it did have some very nice cafes, bars, shops and a general good vibe about the place.
We checked out some museums during our stay and enjoyed some nice food before hopping on this train that we now find ourselves on, chugging towards Budapest.