Monday, 18 August 2008

highlights and lowlights of our summer travels

ten highlights
1. Bergen, Norway – a truly beautiful city with views from everywhere. Fjords, majestic mountains, sparkling water and the lucky sods who live on mountainsides with magnificent fjord views. How could you be anything but relaxed there?
2. Bitterballen, wine and the wonderful bar and barman at the Radisson in Amsterdam
3. Martini at the casino in Monte Carlo
4. Coastal views in Villefranche and along the Riviera
5. Mountain views in Switzerland
6. Food in Budapest – probably the best in Europe – a real surprise!
7. Wine in Provence
8. Amsterdam – we had some lovely moments there and finally got to see all the places I’d heard so much about over the years
9. Shanghai Chinese restaurant in Berlin where we spoke English, German and Chinese variously depending on which waiter was looking after us
10. Japanese art restaurant in Rothenberg, Germany

ten lowlights
1. Scandinavian trains which were variously 4 hours late, 40 mins late and 1 hour late.
2. Train toilets
3. Couchettes
4. Trains – they’re crap throughout most of Europe
5. Being ripped off by taxi drivers in Vienna and Amsterdam
6. Expense of food throughout Europe, but most notably in Scandinavia in general and Stockholm in particular.
7. Our first hotel in Bergen – we ended up paying for that rat trap as well as the ritzier accommodation we quickly booked as an alternative.
8. Endless restaurant touters on Vaci Utca in Budapest
9. Food fodder breakfasts in Stockholm
10. Stuffiness indoors throughout Bavaria

Monday, 11 August 2008

bergen and the last few weeks

We pulled in to Bergen at 9pm after a gruelling 33 hours on the trains. The trains throughout Scandinavia are absolute crap! We spent 1.5 hours sitting on a track in the middle of nowhwere with no aircon and no opening windows in 30 degree heat. Just to add a bit more spice they locked the dunnies! After 45 minutes the passengers revolted and finally the staff relented and opened the train doors. People leapt off the train with many disappearing into the bushes for a quick squat. And that wasn't even the worst of it. Couchettes. Don't get me started on couchettes! Anyways, where was I? That's right. We arrived after 9pm, more than four hours late, and found our hotel locked. We eventually dug out a phone number, contacted someone and got a key. We opened the door to what had been advertised online as an internet lobby. In reality it was a dirty, run-down, paint-peeling-off-the-walls, narrow corridor with a couple of filthy Ikea chairs and no power points. We looked up at the stairs at the end. Hmmm. No lifts. Okay, 9:30pm, no shower for days, tired and pissed off after a grueling train trip, but stairs, we can do stairs - even with all our luggage! It was only when we were on the third floor that we realised that our room was going to be on the fifth floor. Well our room turned out to be a cupboard with a double bed and a 1 metre by 1 metre bathroom with a toilet almost directly below the shower. Laugh was all we could do. So we did. Then we showered, went out for a pizza and stopped by a 5-star hotel where we booked ourselves in for the rest of our stay in Bergen.

Bergen Harbour

Fjord Cruise

From Bergen we headed to Stockholm where the food is more expensive than anwywhere else in Europe. We paid 16 euros each for a glass of house wine! It was a very nice glass of wine, but ... that's like $26AUD each! We stayed for a couple of rainy days and then decided to move on to Copenhagen. We packed our bags and headed off to the station where we queued for two hours to be told that the 12:17 train to Copenhagen was fully booked, as were the 5pm train and the 12:17 tomorrow. However, we could take the 5pm the next day and we were lucky because although there were no sleepers or seats available, we could have a couchette! Lucky? Couchette?!!! So we promptly headed over to the internet cafe at the station, booked two train tickets from the station to the airport and two seats on a flight to Amsterdam. A few hours later we were in Amsterdam.

Amsterdam is my mother's home city. So we checked out Vondel Park, her old house and some of the locales I'd heard about over the years. We did the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum, visited a few coffee shops, where you could get all manner of things, but not a decent cup of coffee, checked out the redlight district, walked the canals and bridges and generally enjoyed ourselves before heading off to our last stop - Frankfurt where we booked ourselves into a Kempinski hotel and lapped up the luxury before heading home.