Monday, July 15, 2013

Adventures Past #3: "Eastward Ho!"

# "Hemingway, Eichmann, Stranger in a Strange Land... Dylan, Berlin, Bay of Pigs invasion!" # - Billy Joel

10 years ago I was fortunate enough to be able to take a 2-month break
from "my day job" at the time and embark on an epic trip around Europe...
My travelling companion was the person who little did I realise then
would one day become my wife,
and we were travelling with the Busabout network.
I wrote a collection of articles en route and sent them back home
to the Northern Cross newspaper via small net cafes all around Europe...
These are those scribbles from the humble pen
of a wannabe European correspondent...
(C.G.Allan, Summer 2013)

(Czech Republic to Munich - Tues 24th June to Fri 4th July, 2003)

Climbing the hills to the castle was a lasting memory...
We hit the Czech Republic on Tuesday the 24th of June after going through a check on the border with a guard who wanted to see all Canadian and Australian travel visas – apparently they can’t get into the country without one...

The first thing to get used to was the Czech currency – “Krone”.  £40 was about 1700 Krone!  It took me a while to get my head around this but I missed using the distinctive coins and notes once we moved on again.

The centre of city life in Prague
is the bustling Charles Bridge
I felt a bit under the weather on our first full day in Prague but we still went out into the city to do the touristy things and had a great time – it seems so safe here and there’s quite a laid back atmosphere as you walk around the old streets (apparently Prague was spared any bombing whatsoever during the War and it shows – the buildings are classical in every sense of the word!)


We took a walk on our first day here through the parks leading to the huge Royal castle on the hill overlooking Prague.  It has a really beautiful gardens and a huge old church called St Vitus.  
Seeing the sights of Mission: Impossible was on our list!

Another church which was in Prague itself, just off one side of the famous Charles Bridge, was St. Francis (of Assisi) – we didn’t get the chance to look inside this and I regret that because I took the saint’s name as my Confirmation name.

Leaving the Czech Republic was difficult because everything was so cheap! We moved onto Vienna next and were back in Euro land.  The Euro isn’t too bad, incidentally, and having travelled through Europe i can see how it would benefit Britain to change to the single currency if only to boost tourism alone!

More objects I collected,
including a wooden disc
from Terezin in Czech,
a harrowing former
Nazis labor camp
Vienna was one of our least favourite places but we did enjoy the sights we saw on a cycling tour we did one afternoon.  The first was a strange house of a 1960s architect who “wages a war against the right-angle” and so none of the corners of the building were straight!

We rode through the 17th century squares and heard classical music being played by buskers on a street corner – Ave Maria and The Four Season – definitely a memory we’ll keep for a long time because there were as good as any concert you’d pay heaps to go to back home.

St. Michael’s Plasse in Vienna was something which crept up on us as we cycled around a corner but I was so taken with it that we went back there on our own the following night to take in the atmosphere and “people watch”!  The square itself was more of a circle with huge statues of St. Michael defeating the devil at either side of the arched entrances.  There’s also a glassed area in the centre of the square with the original Roman settlement ruins to Vienna!

People-watching in the majestic
St Michael's Platz is highly recommended!
One darker part of Vienna’s history we learned about while we were there was the first Jewish Shoah or holocaust of 1421 when hundreds of Jews were forced to turn Catholic or be killed. There’s a really moving monument in Vienna of huge stone shelves of books with spines turned inwards.  The idea is that with the deaths of those Jews in the 15th century and also in World War II, knowledge has been lost and will never be seen again.  Seeing this monument made me feel happy that today we have a growing movement towards ecumenicalism where different churches and faiths at least attempt to understand each other.

We were singing (or at least humming) all the way to our next stop of Salzburg in Austria because we were booked onto a Sound of Music tour!  Alison and myself both grew up watching this film and so we were pretty excited about the whole thing.

We were treading the same pavements as Julie Andrews & co,
humming as we went in Salzburg!
Our first day in Salsburg (Monday 30th June) was so hot though – the driver on our tour told us that they’re having an unusually hot summer but we read a headline on an English newspaper saying that the whole of Europe is experiencing a heat wave, so I suppose we can’t complain!

On our tour we visited Mondsee, a small town outside of Salzburg which was used in the filming of the movie when they needed a church for the wedding scene at the end.  The altar inside the church is every bit as breathtaking as it looks in the film but we weren’t allowed up to the organ balcony to take a photo from the same point of view as the film!

The tour was really good fun and I’d recommend it to anyone going to Salzburg.  The scenery around the city though is reason enough to go there, and we’ve put it on our “places to come back to stay longer” list.

Not sure why I needed a photo
next to a big triangle! But when in Germany...
My broken German has definitely improved on this holiday and it came in handy again at our next stop in Munich.  Alison and myself are both vegetarians and it has been an interesting challenge as the concept doesn’t seem to have reached mainland Europe yet.  We need to figure out the right phrase for “Does this contain no meat whatsoever?” in each language we encounter.

Never leave home
without one!
In Munich we stayed at a “Jurgengasthaus” which is affiliated to Hostelling International and are almost like B&Bs back home!  Breakfast was included, which was a big bonus to we poor folk travelling without cooking facilities.  It rained while we were here which was a nice change to the heat we’ve had in most places but it meant that we didn’t get to experience the notorious English Garten in quite the same way as normal (apparently it’s not as reserved a place as the name suggests!)

The gobsmacking Rathaus in Marienplatz.
(I have memories of using an international phone card
to ring home and speak to my family from a callbox
in the lefthand side of the square in this picture!)
We did see the main square in Munich though – Marienplatz – with the huge Rathaus council building and its famous glockenspiel which was really impressive when you think that it was made in the 19th century and had moving figures dancing and ringing bells for a good 10 minutes!

The cooler weather in Munich was to prove to be short-lived when we got to our next stop of Venice where we encountered mosquitos literally the size of small birds at the camp site we stayed at...

The second leg of our grand European Vacation
was at an end but the adventure was just beginning!
Next, we made a beeline due south into sunnier climes...

TO BE CONTINUED... NEXT MONTH!

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