Travel

All posts tagged Travel

DSC_1378
My start into a freelance business venture began in February and near the end of April I thought it was about time for some relaxing and traveling again. I departed off to Amsterdam for my second attempt at experiencing the city. I had doubts about going to the same place again in such a short time, but I also knew each time you visit a place the impression will be different! I was also very glad that the setting would be different; being in the beautiful harbor city with my girlfriend instead of a group of friends. The last visit also ended with a bitter and extended, complicated illness, so I wanted to go again and have a good end to it.

We decided to try out Airbnb for the first time. I had my worries about it working out smoothly, but it all worked out nicely when we arrived on the first day near the evening. We moved into a cozy, two story loft about 10 minutes by foot away from the center. We decided to keep a balance between cooking at home with local groceries from the food markets and eating out at restaurants.

DSC_1432     DSC_1428

On the first evening we ventured into the center of the city to walk around casually, keeping an eye out for starting it all off with a great dinner and wine. We ended up in a steak house sharing a grill platter for two and some red wine to go with it. Laughing and enjoying the first hours away from our daily life back home was priceless.

We wobbled back home having had a good time and trying to stay conscious of the bicycle bullets flying by us slow and dumb pedestrians.

On the second day we hopped on the city tram buying a 24 hour ticket, knowing we wanted to make a lot of distance and see more of the sights. We started out towards the museum district, then Vondel Park, and back through the city center. The friendly driver gave us our card and we were on the way.

DSC_1336      DSC_1342

We strolled through the museum grounds with an amazing tasting, fresh-squeezed fruit juice from the super market. We checked the ingredients and it was 100% biological and natural. We ended up buying a lot of different varieties of juice during our stay.

Neither of us was interested in any of the current exhibitions, so we decided to leave towards the Vondel Park, to lie outside and have some food. The park is very large (47 hectares / 120 acres) with many people, but also quiet niches where one can relax. I find that the Dutch are very culturally diverse, and they were always friendly to us. We also never had a language barrier problem, everyone seemed to speak English fluently.
We walked towards the center and stopped at a Cafe with tables right next to the canal. We had coffee and mozzarella and tomato sandwiches, and chocolate cake with caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream. Hey it’s a holiday after all!

DSC_1353

The Dutch and Amsterdam lifestyle really “spoke to us” both. I always feel positively uplifted just being in the city. We continued to get “lost” and walked endlessly along the canals until we checked the clock and decided to head to the Albert Cuyp Market in the De Pijp district. They had an amazing variety of fresh produce; the vegetables and fruit all tasted great for acceptable prices. The smell of freshly baked waffles and mini pancakes filled the strolling crowd’s noses. Other ready-to-eat dishes were pickled herring, kebab sandwiches, sausages and potato chips. We thought a giant red snapper fish would be a good choice for dinner, with a seaweed, mango, tomato, zucchini, mushroom curry and rice.

The next day, on our way to a fairground in the city, we spotted the Bodies exhibit, which we both heard good things about. They take bodies of deceased people, who donated their flesh for science, and then make a biological exhibition of the parts. We decided to go there the next day, and both found it fascinating and would understand why so many have recommended seeing it.

At the fair we got on a Ferris wheel to get some nice aerial shots.

DSC_1373       DSC_1388

Back on the ground, we proceeded through some small shops in the twisting maze of alleys and partook of some street food. We were in a lot of hip shops, 10 minutes from the central train station, with UV decorated gadgets and clothing.

On our last day we decided to visit the zoo. The park and animal enclaves were built with a lot of space and were clean. There was enough to do and see and we didn’t expect to spend almost the whole day there. It was busy, but not overfilled or crowded, and it offered a big variety of animals!

The last day we consumed the last of our groceries and stayed up the night to catch our flight back home at 6 in the morning. Sleep deprivation, tight airplane seats and the most obnoxious seat partners behind us rounded off our vacation. Thankfully the flight back wasn’t very long.

DSC_1479    DSC_1553    DSC_1591

DSC_1608

DSC_1318
20141021_132456
Winter was approaching quickly day by day and the possibility to take a trip on my motorcycle was becoming less and less possible. I packed my backpack for a short trip to Bratislava and put on my gear padded with warm linings and double gloves. It was almost the end of October, foggy and below 10°C. Since it would only be an hour away I figured it wouldn’t be too bad, but I quickly realized I was pushing the limit with the weather and my limbs felt numb, but I was already committed.

I was approaching the border between Austria and Slovakia when my gas tank lamp flashed on. I figured no problem, because I knew how long my reserve would last and assumed the next station would come soon enough. The highway stretched through rolling fields and small patches of forest, with dense fog and hardly anyone else on the road. The only sound was the humming of my engine.

I was starting to get nervous that I would run out of gas, but I found a sign saying gas station in the next town, so I got off and slowly drove through small villages in Slovakia. “Not a lot going on here,” I was thinking. It was the typical countryside; one street and a few houses made a town. I stopped a few times to ask for directions, and I followed some, ending up somewhere else and was getting increasingly annoyed. I just hoped I wouldn’t sputter to a stop in the middle of nowhere.

A few minutes later my bike made a gulp, sputtered, throttle didn’t react anymore and I came to a slow rolling stop! Great, now here I was on the side of the road pushing my motorcycle with emergency lights flashing, just hoping the next station wasn’t too far away. A few minutes later I saw an off-road track where people were riding 4×4 trucks, ATVs and bikes through a built course. I stopped and asked around if they could point me to the next gas station, but instead they gave me some gas for free and a Jägermeister for my troubles! Already a plus point for friendly people!

DSC_1310
DSC_1297
Again, a few more minutes and I was in Bratislava, riding past the iconic castle on the mountain and to my hotel. I changed out of my motorcycle gear and started on the streets with my camera and backpack, looking for something interesting and some food. There seemed to be a lot of construction going on. I counted at least 4 high-rise buildings, new roadways and repaving of main streets, which appeared to be good signs of a healthy economy. In contrast there were a few old factories and rundown buildings where graffiti artists and vegetation was slowly taking over.

Most of the day was spent exploring the old district, going up to the castle and walking around the walls surrounding it. Nice park areas were included with big, tiered layered steps leading back down toward the city, with piles of autumn leafs and brightly colored trees.
DSC_1302
DSC_1320
I went to eat at a restaurant after inspecting the menu, but wasn’t blown away by that particular meal unfortunately. I ended the evening hopping between bars that I found interesting and had a drink at each.

Maybe it was only on this weekend, or I didn’t find the right spots, but nightlife didn’t seem very lively in Bratislava. I went to bed late and ended my road trip with a nice breakfast the next morning, and left the city again on a day as cloudy, foggy and cold as the one before.
DSC_1289
DSC_1284

DSC_1237

After being frustrated with the cold, rainy weather in Austria, my girlfriend and I decided to book a flight to Ibiza for a summer getaway for 5 days to San Antoni. It’s a fairly small city on the north western coast of the small island. I was hesitant, because it was mainly known for big groups of young people flying there for a party vacation. It has the biggest club in the world and I had a feeling some of that would affect our stay. I was confident though, that there must be alternative activities to experience and other sites to see. I knew that those clubs would only be overpriced to hell, play music that I don’t have a glimmer of interest in, and be packed to the brim for profit so that you end up squeezed between sweaty, shirtless men until the early morning hours. All that was confirmed with later research.

Our flight was at 2:00 am and I couldn’t sleep, like before any flight. Once we boarded the plane I was confronted with the most agonizingly tight seats I’ve ever witnessed. I sat with my legs spread to the left and right with my knees borrowing into the seat of my front neighbors. So I knew the two hour flight would be restless with a slightly exaggerated fear in the back of my mind of a blood clot forming and killing me. Not sure if that would have been that bad though, when the front passenger started to repeatedly try slamming her seat into me while I was telling her “no luck this flight, sorry”. Then of course she is the one getting pissed.

When we arrived at our hotel after hopping off the transfer bus, it was 6:00 am and the receptionist told us check-in is only possible after 2:00 pm. We were exhausted, had no sleep and now had to wait eight hours until we could even get to our room. An odd start to a vacation that was already hard on my current financial situation. Slowly regret was creeping in, but I had to make the best of it. We ended up sleeping on the beach during the morning hours, bound to our possessions, to make sure no one stole them. We did find a 10 euro bill in the sand that paid for breakfast when the supermarkets finally opened.

The first day was spent occasionally power napping and strolling through the town exploring the possibilities of activities and places to eat.

Our dining experience that evening was uneventful; the food wasn’t that great, and while eating, pesky salesmen walked by trying to sell sunglasses, hats and hair accessories. That was our experience at most restaurants and two out of three times the service took forever. More signs that were making me doubtful of my decision to choose this holiday destination.

We went to bed and slight feelings of regret were keeping me up awake although I was exhausted due to sleep deprivation and a lot of carrying bags around and walking through town.DSC_1143

The next day picked up though, the weather was clear blue skies and hot temperatures so we decided to explore the beaches in walking distance. There were only two choices really, one big one next to the harbor which was fairly dirty and the water oily from the ships, and one further away, but still busy with a lot of people. There was sand, and walking into the water was also easy. The second one became our beach of choice to go to when we wanted to relax and lay in the sun.

20140621_094129

Day three, we wanted to see more of the island, so we rented a moped for a day. 14 Euros for each of us was a good deal and we took off riding down the western part of the island, where we were told are smaller beaches with less people. That wasn’t the case, because there were still plenty of others around us, but the spots seemed more untouched and natural. Also there was no club music thumping in the background, even better!

DSC_1169 DSC_1156

That day we were at 4 beaches; Cala Bassa, Cala Conta, Cala Moli and Cala Llosar in the evening. We ate lunch in a small pub in Sant Josep. They served tapas and cheap sandwiches which were good compared to what we had so far. A few other aimless excursions through the landscape, and screams from my girlfriend claiming to be convinced that we almost crashed numerous times on the curvy roads, concluded the rest of the day. The sunset was claimed to be the most spectacular at Punta Galera, so we used our mobility to get there on a gravel road with giant potholes. It was worth the risk though when we sat on a rock looking towards a big rock formation reaching towards the horizon. We even saw a dolphin emerging from the water, which caused a lot of people to gasp and point. An idyllic ending to a more adventurous day than only laying in the sun.

 DSC_1188

On the fourth day, weather changes were becoming observable so we decided to take the bus to Eivissa, the capital of the island, about 2.50 Euros each. There were older buildings, historically more interesting sights and more alternative, cozy restaurants and cafes compared to the city we were stayed. This seemed like a better destination for families or older travelers not interested in the party scene of Ibiza. The old district was surrounding by castle walls elevated slightly on a hill next to the ocean. It overlooked the city offering great views towards the airport and the harbor of Eivissa.

DSC_1196 DSC_1216

DSC_1226

On the last day, we both had our first experience with scuba diving. It was offered by a crew of divers who sold us a different story than what we got. Visibility was nowhere near 30 meters, and we didn’t start in shallow waters as advertised, but got in the deep water right away. We only had one instructor, instead of three which was promised to my concerned girlfriend, and total dive time was also a lot shorter than what we were told. Still it was a nice experience although we didn’t see anything exciting underwater, and due to winds, we had to drive on a cramped bus to the other side of the island. For 65 Euros it was affordable though, and although frustrated with them, I didn’t feel completely ripped off either. Floating around underwater being able to breathe is a unique feeling which is what I mainly paid to experience.

Conclusion, it was an interesting vacation and we made the best of it for what it was. At first I didn’t expect the club scene to be the most prevalent thing there, but it seems like that is what most people are there for. There are constant promoters on the street and the 8 or so clubs on the island have parties daily. With that come a lot of drunken people, tons of trash in the streets and loud nights when you’re trying to sleep. All that made a pretty trashy and dirty impression of the city we were in, with empty alcohol bottles stuck in the sand and a lot of obnoxious groups in the evenings. Besides that, the island didn’t have a lot to offer, and I wouldn’t recommend it for families or people wanting an experience outside of clubbing. I also don’t think I will go there again. Still we made the best of it and enjoyed our vacation!

20140623_193424 DSC_1255 DSC_1209

Prague is the capital of the Czech Republic in Central Europe, built around the river Vltava and offers interesting sights and activities for tourists and backpackers. They also have reasonable prices and still use the Czech koruna, because they haven’t accepted the Euro as currency. There are affordable, centrally located hotels and hostels. We ended up paying 70€ (~2000 koruna) per person in a 4 star hotel for 3 nights, which included a giant breakfast buffet. Tickets for public transport are also extremely cheap. Single tickets when entering cost only 1€ and connect you to any part of the city and its outskirts. The urban design of the city is laid out with big green parks for recreation and relaxing in the sun. Pedestrian zones are all over the city for strolling through the old town and iconic buildings and making it easy to explore.

DSC_0678  DSC_0686

Prague is mainly known for the Charles Bridge, Prague Castle and the oldest still working astronomical clock tower. Those 3 things are the iconic image of the city, and there are plenty of souvenirs, paintings and photographs sold everywhere near of those locations. That makes them also the biggest tourist traps.

DSC_0656  DSC_1066

We ate at a great vegan restaurant, www.lehkahlava.cz which offered a long list of different meals in a dining area that had the best interior design I’ve seen in a long time. I’d feel bad for not giving them a thumbs up and mentioning it here, even if it seems like blatant advertisement (I’m not getting paid for this, haha).
Across the river, opposite the Old Town Square and main part of the city is a giant park called Petrinske sady. It has a steep slope with Petrin Tower on top, which gives a great panoramic view of the place. It’s just south of Prague Castle, and makes for a nice daytrip on a sunny day to picnic in the park.

We also visited Prague Zoo, which took about 7 hours to walk through all the animal enclosures. They made a good impression with giant habitats, humane as possible treatment and cleanliness, for locking up exotic animals and charging people to visit and goggle at them. I took that opportunity to spice up my photo collection with more animals.

DSC_0916  DSC_0801

DSC_0935  DSC_0959

On Sunday night we decided to go out for an evening in town, and went to a bar that was recommended by a local glass musician who makes music with wine glasses filled with different amounts of water. So I had a feeling it was worth a visit. I can’t remember the name of the place, but it was impossible to even tell there was something in there – we even walked past it. The windows were darkened with drapes and the double door was also not lit, and it didn’t have any signs drawing attention to it. Inside it was dimly lit and had two areas, one for smokers and the other for non-smokers. The furniture was all random and seemed like it was taken and recycled from people that were going to ditch it. Wood pallets were crafted and stacked to make benches to sit on and there was even a wood-burning stove. The old walls and intimate feeling made it a great place to grab a beer and listen to a live band that inspired other musicians present to just go up and play along with them.

DSC_0645

We stayed there most of the night, then visited an Absinth Bar that offered about 15 different kinds to taste. On order, the ritual was performed in front of you which involved a sugar cube and fire. Then you could sit down in the tiny place and start sipping your absinth with a giant mug of water to chase the extremely bitter and burning taste of it. Feeling tipsy and certainly not hallucinating like many believe, we left and strolled further aimlessly through the night before going home. I’m sure a nightly snack was also involved along the way.

DSC_0665

Passau 2014

Named Die drei Flüsse Stadt, translated roughly to The City of Three Rivers, is located in southeast Germany, near the Austrian border. To the north of Passau runs the Danube, to the south runs the Inn. And at the tip of the old town district of the small city, the Ilz runs into the Danube, which flows through Austria and ends in the Black Sea.

This unfortunate location, during the flood of the summer of 2013, made the surrounding waters rise up into the city, damaging property and leaving a lot of the old buildings ruined. During my visit in February 2014, I observed ongoing construction and restoration work. While walking through the old town you could see obvious watermarks all around which gave you a scale of the damages, and helped visualize how deeply submerged this area was. The parking lot had pictures hung up as a recent reminder of what this small quiet town has gone through.

passau_spiegelde_before

passau_spiegelde_after

picture source from spiegel.de

According to media and weather experts, the flooding in 2013 was the worst that has hit central Europe since the 16th <span century, costing at least 25 lives and leaving damage all along the rivers in Germany, Austria and Czech Republic. I remember taking the train from Vienna to Linz during the peak of the storm. I stared out the window observing giant pools of water forming everywhere; flooding agricultural farmland, highway underpasses and surrounding towns with masses of water disrupting daily life. A few days later, the same train was shut down for a short period, because one of the tunnels was filled with water and trees that were uprooted and swept away by these natural forces.

I am glad to report that the city has recovered well. Visitors to the city have returned to see the old architecture and to dine at the numerous outdoor restaurants.  For me it was a day trip with my girlfriend. We just spent most of the sunny day outside walking through the streets, stopping here and there for short shopping sprees. In our opinion the town was small enough to see in a day and certainly had a nice flair to it, which makes it worth a visit!