Monday, August 30, 2010


I was hoping to do separate entries for Western Germany and Berlin, but let's just wrap it up at once and get up to date. Weather has been pretty uniformly terrible, btw.


From Munich, I went northwest to Rothenburg ob der Tauber, the best preserved medieval town in Germany. Basically, I just wandered about the town, taking pictures:

Yar! We're so medieval, we drink out of feet!
Let me take care of that "head wound" for you...

Rothenburg pictures

From there I headed even further northwest to:

The Rhine Valley

I arrived in Bacharach, spent the night, wandered around the town and castle, took a boat downriver to St Goar, wandered around that castle, then took a train to Berlin.

Of course, it's all very pretty (see the pictures for more):

but the most memorable moment was probably wandering the old mine tunnels in Rheinfels castle above St. Goar. Not recommended for the claustrophobic - they set you up with a candle and a book of matches, and you can freely wander the large and largely-unmarked maze of 3 foot high passages under the castle.

Yes, the flash is on.
Also, the Rhine Valley apparently switches from warm, bright, and sunny to freezing cold torrential rainfall (and back)every hour or so. I woke up to sun and left to sun, but there were 8 distinct episodes of rain periodically disrupting that.

Rhine Valley pictures


Berlin is enormous and most of it still feels like a time warp from the 80s - not just all the old communist buildings but clothing too(maybe Berliners are ahead of the curve on retro New Wave).

I spent most of my time in East Berlin (West Berlin is boring). Got a nice early start with my 4:30am arrival. Lots of museums and monuments to see in a giant city in 2 days. Made it through pretty well, I think; now to Copenhagen!

Berlin pictures

Saturday, August 28, 2010


I'm watching the Rhine flow by and waiting for my ferry to arrive - good time to catch up on some blogging!


Fussen is a nice little town on the foot of the Alps, even though most people only come for one reason:
A tour guide told me about a woman who stormed off, furious that the Germans had copied the Disney castle
I arrived in Fussen after a long ride up around the mountains from Interlake, and spent the day visiting the castles (yes, there's more than one) and doing a little biking around the area.


Munich, a much larger city, draws people for a great variety of reasons...

like drinking, more drinking, and also drinking.

As a dedicated cultural tourist, I spent my first day in Munich in a drunken haze. I arrived in the early morning (Munich was really my first city with no semblance of a guidebook whatsoever), walked around the city with a young tour group (very good tour, btw), went drinking with the tour guides after that, kept drinking and pub hopping on into the evening...

Anyway, there's a bit of a gap there in photographs from the introduction of 6+ liters of beer to my system to it completing its passage through around midday the next day, when I was nicely recovered and went out to see a bit more of the city, including the Deutches museum (enormous) and the Olympic park.

On the final day in Munich, I went out to Schloss Nymphenburg and Dachau. Not a lot of pictures from here either, but for different reasons; walking through the gas chamber and crematorium is a moving experience and I didn't feel much like taking pictures after this one:

I'm heading off for Berlin this evening - should hopefully have the time to post about traveling through Western Germany there.

Monday, August 23, 2010


A bit more detail this time. Spent pretty much every day hiking - pretty worn out after this segment of the trip. I think I covered the bulk of the valley, though.

Day 1: The North Face trail

Arrived in the afternoon and wanted to get back in time to say hello to Sue, so I hiked this short, nearby trail. Some nice views and a good introduction to the area.

Day 1 pictures (repost)

Day 2: Summit of the Schilthorn

Took the gondola up in the morning and got the beautiful, high-altitude view of the region. Lots of low level clouds today, but the mountain peaks were clear, fortunately. Hiked down from the peak and south around the mountain, climbed along the Wasenegg ridge, then back up and around to Rotstockhutte. Had loads of time left (more than I needed to get back the way I wanted), so I got some hiking recommendations from the proprietor.

Ended up climbed the bluff overlooking the hut (called "pride rock" by a fellow hosteler, really Poganggen I think), which was a bit of effort due to the lack of trail and the ankle-breaking moss-covered furrowed rock underfoot. Also climbed Sefininfurgge, the pass to the next valley. Ridiculously steep trail made almost entirely out of slick mud - not sure how I avoided falling on my ass.

The cows in the section of the valley are particularly unfriendly - I was charged once by a bull (hid behind a nearby rock) and had some foot-stomping aggression from others. Cows are dangerous.

Day 2 pictures

Day 3: Mannlichen to Kleine Scheidegg

Took my first trip up the other side of the valley today. Transportation in the valley is rididulously expensive - just to get to and from hiking spots on the other side (not that far away) runs me like 50 francs a day (with railpass discounts - Swiss conveniently refuse to fully honor the pass above Interlaken).

From Lauterbrunnen - train to Wengen, gondola up to Mannlichen, then hiked along the ridge to Kleine Scheidegg. From there, I hiked up to Eigergletscher - the last train stop before it goes through the mountain on the way to the top. I did not go up: waaaaaay too expensive (~150 francs or so), was kinda cloudy at high altitude today, and the damn thing doesn't even go all the way up - it goes to the ridge between Jungfrau and Monch.

Climbed down along the plateau back to Wengen, and as soon as there was no turning back, it started POURING. I had my raincoat of course, but it was woefully inadequate - I still got pretty soaked. Spent much of the walk back with an older guy from Hamburg who insisted I use one of his walking sticks because it wasn't safe to hike otherwise. Made it out alive though, with only an ugly little blister the worse for wear - not bad for 4 solid days of high-speed hiking in tennis shoes. They might actually help - I've been by far the fastest hiker on the trails every day, and beating the pace times by a solid margin - the Swiss are in awe.

Day 3 pictures

Day 4: Schynige Platte to First

Was originally intending to leave this morning, but liked the look of the ridge hiking the previous day and decided to take one more. By far the longest hike - got up at 6 to make sure I wouldn't miss the final gondola down; ended up getting to First with hours to spare and hiked on to Grosse Sheidegg, though.

The ridge from Schynige Platte runs between Brienzersee and Grindelwald valley (other side from Mannlichen) - nice circumnavigation as Grosse Scheidegg is about 180 degrees around from Schynige Platte (leaving 90 degrees for the previous day's ridge and 90 degrees from the Jungfrau range).

Probably the nicest day so far - sunny and very few clouds. And I suffered animal attack today - a dog calmly walking along with his owner suddenly lunged to the side and took a chunk out of my ass - maybe I should shower more. A little bruised but I haven't seen any blood.

Day 4 pictures

Coming soon - Fussen and Bavarian castles...

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Salzburg and the Berner Oberland; The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Raindrops


Salzburg is a solid example of a classic Austrian city. Quite touristy, everything is Sound of Music or Mozart related. The Mozart stuff is a little less photogenic (museums and text), but I've labeled some of the Sound of Music highlights in the photos. Even took a Sound of Music tour, which is much better than it sounds - you get to go out and see a some of the more far-flung sights in the area, which are nice even without the movie tie-ins.

Salzburg photos


Quick hits as I need to get up early:

  • Long way in going through the mountains - over 12 hours from Salzburg to hostel arrival
  • Switzerland is super expensive
  • Hiked the North face trail - nice views and a waterfall
  • Lots of Americans in the hostel, and lots of Seattle-ites - at least 5 people in 4 separate groups. One of whom I knew ahead of time and managed to just overlap with:

Monday, August 16, 2010

Budapest and Prague or Wrapping up Eastern Europe


Budapest is a big crazy city, and it doesn't help when I take relatively poor notes. I'm going through and recaptioning pictures periodically, though.

Things settled down a bit after the first day, and I managed to find my way around and do things successfully. Took a day to tour the massive Parliament, the Opera House, St Stephen's Basilica, the House of Terror (Nazis AND Soviets found the same building convenient for opressing the people), Heroes Square, Vajdahunyad Vára and spent the evening soaking in the Széchényi baths.

Next day I went to the Great Synagoge, the Great Market Hall, and bussed out to the suburbs to see Memento Park.

Then off to Prague - contrary to what my guidebook tells me, there is no real night train (despite the 7+ hour journey), so I lost a day for this. Plus, the train goes through Slovakia, which is apparantly, NOT on my railpass, so I had to cough up for a ticket to pass through the country. Joy.

Budapest pictures


Arrived late in the day in Prague - too late to really do any sightseeing. So I went out for a hearty Czech dinner (split a table/conversation with a friendly local business man), and ran into some traveling students (French and Spanish) after I got back, and decided to go out drinking and clubbing. The big 5-story club (Karlovy Lazny) is okay but overrated - found a nice smaller place late in the evening/morning playing some good music. "Don't Stop Me Now" is an even better song at 3:30 in the morning.

Woke up at 8 after a couple hours of sleep, postponed sightseeing a few hours to recover from previous evenings festivities, then went and explored the south-east side of the river - most of the Old and New towns. Went out for some manly food:

and a bit more manly drinking than I really wanted to after the previous evening's festivities, due to being trapped by torrential downpour. Managed to go to sleep at a more reasonable hour.

Final day in prague was spent west over the Charles Bridge, viewing the Little Quarter and the Castle hill. Have just arrived in Salzburg after a long trip on an evening train. No night train again, so this time I cut an evening instead of a morning/day. Just one day in Salzburg, then off on an actual night train into the heart of the Alps, the Berner Oberland.

Prague pictures part 1
Prague pictures part 2

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Vienna and arrival in Budapest

Crown of Rudolph II
Vienna is a very organized city. Everything is on time, it's the only metro I've encountered in Europe which doesn't smell at least faintly of urine, and everything is just clean and precise. For that delightful reason, my photos hopefully for a more coherent narrative on their own than they have previously.

August 9:

Wandered through the Old City, with notable stops at for the Imperial Crypt and the Hofsburg Palace and Treasury. I had never heard of Empress Sisi before arriving in Vienna, but I am certainly well aware of her existence now.

Palace entrance presided over by the Labours of Hercules and the Coffee of Clooney
Spent the evening in front of city hall, where there's a big open air film (of classical music, dance, or opera) and a substantial food court on summer nights.

Vienna Day 1

August 10:

I'm about palaced out after Vienna. Stopped (briefly) by the Belvedere and the Schonbrunn today, and the Kunsthisorsomethingreallylongblahblahces museum. I love that the Vienna museums often let you take pictures - I captured some of my favorites.

Wow, what a surprising choice...
Also took a tour of the Opera house, unfortunately in the off-season. The primo box seats apparently go for less than 200 Euros, which is pretty sweet (except during the annual Opera House Ball, where they go for about 27,000 Euros)

Vienna Day 2


Budapest is not well organized. Budapest is sprawling, dirty, crowded, and noisy - this may be turn out to be the real "most foreign" experience. But cheap - I have an apartment to myself for 22 Euros a night. This far east, the sun is setting early too; around 7:30, I think.

I haven't done too much yet - I walked around castle hill in the afternoon after arriving, but I've already got a number of interesting notes:

  • Arriving at the train station, I picked up my map at the rail station TI and was going for the metro, but the TI tells me to take the bus, it will be faster. This is a terrible lie; the bus goes nowhere near my destination, and drops me off across town on the outskirts of Buda, where I have to overpay a taxi driver to bring me back. Good start.
  • Germans need to learn to queue. I was waiting behind one woman to get ice cream, and these little old German ladies from a tour group come up behind me, and start elbowing me out of the way and ordering themselves. It's not like I can respond in kind...
  • Was walking and got greeted by a normal-looking local guy sitting on a bench with his girlfriend. I assume it's because I'm wearing my Messi jersey (which tends to elicit comments). We make introductions and chat for a bit before he makes it clear that the girl is not his girlfriend, but the prosititute he's pimping, and her services would be available to me for a very low rate. I politely thanked him and continued on my way.

Sunday, August 8, 2010


Venice is pretty magnificent in person. I cam in knowing what to expect, but the ambience of the city is still pretty overwhelming. The omnipresence of canals does really give it a unique feel. Lots of fun to wander around aimlessly (interesting buildings literally everywhere on the island) or idle around in a vaporetti (buy the unlimited pass).

And good weather for my final stop on the Mediterranean. :)

Things seen in Venice:

  • Church and island of San Giorgio Maggiore. The church kind of on an island by itself, nice views of the city. Convenient too, as I'm staying on the long island of Giudecca next door.

  • Piazza San Marco and the surrounding buildings (Doge's Palace, Campanile, St Mark's Basilica, and the Correr Museum). The center of Venice containing most of the important stuff. The scale of the Doge's palace interiors are impressive (and amusing in the context of the tiny island containing it), especially the council chamber with Tintoretto's Paradise, the largest oil painting in existence.

  • The Grand Canal and bridges - naturally
  • The Peggy Guggenheim - not that big, but lots of impressive names; Dali, Pollock, Magritte, Picasso, Rothko...
  • The Frari church and Scuola San Rocco - lots of Venetian masterworks in their original context
Now off to Vienna and a some Eastern European highlights....

Friday, August 6, 2010

Zagreb and Slovenia; Or, Torrential Rains in Northern Yugoslavia

New blog post while I sit in the hostel common area, waiting for my night train to depart. Fatigue plus rain equals low on energy. Too bad the only train to Venice leaves at 2:30 in the morning. Seriously? It's like 4 hours away - how are there not more trains? Probably should have taken the bus - oh well. Weather should pick up in Italy, though. :)

August 4: Zagreb

Zagreb is an interesting city. I only stayed briefly, exploring the the old city around Gradec, but one thing that stood out was the nice tram system running through town. Pedestrian / vehicle interaction is very casual - trams, cars, and people weaving through the same space at low speeds.

And, of course, arriving in Zagreb was the first time I had to deal with serious inclement weather.

Good stuff in the Naive Art Museum too

Zagreb pictures

August 5: Lake Bled

I was a little sad I didn't get to see Lake Bled in full majesty - the cloud cover hid much of the mountainous surroundings. Good thing I'm going to Switzerland in a week or two.

Lake Bled pictures

August 6: Ljubljana

Ljubljana is a fun little city. Feels a lot like an Alpine village, but with Mediterranean flair. It's also a college town, which lends some extra energy. The city is filled with street cafes that don't serve food, that seem to have a constant stream of occupants nursing drinks and smoking.

The food is not too expensive but somewhat uninspiring; had myself a few bureks from street stands during the day.

Oh, and when it rains, horrible demon winds rush through the city in random directions, rendering umbrellas laughable.

Ljubljana pictures

And if you want to browse through ALL the pictures so far:

I'll repost the link periodically.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Northward in Croatia

On the road over a month now. Somewhere in Italy (or maybe earlier), this stopped being a vacation and started to become just what I do now - sightseeing and making train reservations is now my daily routine. Hopefully returning won't be a culture shock :).

I've been making my way northwards through Croatia relatively quickly over the last few days - I'm stopping over in the big Croatian cities on my way to other places, really.

August 1: Final day in Dubrovnik

A lazy agenda day - slept in a bit, then went kayaking around the city and out to Lokrum island. Lokrum's a nice little island (apparantly where the locals go to relax) - two things deserve special mention though:

  • Peacocks everywhere, moseying down the paths with the people. I guess there's some sort of nature preserve thing going on.
  • Lokrum has a dedicated nude beach, that surprisingly isn't entirely comprised of old German couples (though they are certainly present). On a tangentially related note, Croatian women are very beautiful.

Didn't cover too much ground - moseyed around the island, lounging on the beach when the views were good ;).

Dubrovnik pictures

August 2: Split

Took the early bus to Split, the second largest city in Croatia and "coastal capital". Croatians take their road security seriously - more passport checks, and I'm pretty sure we didn't cross any borders. Chatted with a Brazilian guy (on his way to Hvar) and Croatian girl (on her way back to Germany) on the bus ride.

Got in around midday, found a room, and wandered around town and through Emperor Diocletian's old retirement palace.

Split pictures

August 3: Plitvice

Plitvice National Park, on the road from Split to Zagreb, is an limestone canyon filled with a series of 16 terraced lakes and the waterfalls connecting them. Running over the limestone fills the water with CaCO3, which adds a nice blue-green color, and calcifies the lake beds, preventing mud and rendering the lakes very clear.

Anyway, it's exceptionally beautiful and a must see in Croatia.

(Plitvice was once a major filming location for German/Italian spaghetti westerns because it apparantly looks like the western US to them...)

The park isn't that big and I did the whole thing in < 4 hours. Long day - picked up the bus from Split in the morning, 5 hour trip to the lakes, 4 hours hiking, then 2.5 hours on the bus to Zagreb (plus ~1 hour of waiting for the late bus to show up, of course).

Had another fortunate stroke with the weather - 5 minutes after boarding the bus in Plitvice, a major hail/lightning storm ensued. I pity the poor Germans who got off a few minutes later at their campsite (they confessed to not putting the fly on the tent in the beautiful morning weather).

Still pouring here in Zagreb as I write this - hopefully things will clear up tomorrow.

Plitvice pictures