Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Central Europe holiday takedown

Christmas vacation came and went just about as quick at 2016 seemed to disappear, however I still managed to cover a lot of ground.  And when I say "a lot of ground" I am more specifically talking about 5 countries in 8 days. This post is going to be a long haul but if you're ready, I'd love for you to tag along, and I promise my adventures will not (or at least the pics won't) disappoint.

Stop number 1- Ljubljana, Slovenia

First off was Slovenia, where I spent 2 days discovering the capital, Ljubljana. Ljubljana was a Christmas dream, the entire downtown was pretty well covered in Christmas markets, with the main market also housing a 20 foot tree.

Ljubljana was equally as charming by day (even though I'm a sucker for the lights) and was one of my favourite cities to explore solo. Because it is a relatively small city, everything, including my hostel, the train station, and the downtown, was all accessible by foot. Saving time and money by avoiding public transport is always an added bonus.

The biggest fresh produce market I've ever come across!

My morning started with climbing up to the highest point of the city, Castle Hill, home to Ljubljana Castle, with arguably the best view over the city. Originally built in the 11th century, it served as a fortress until the 19th century (rebuilt in between then) where is was used as a penitentiary. It now serves primarily as a tourist attraction and event venue, sadly the exact reason I wasn't able to visit the inside was due to an event that was taking place that day.  Nonetheless the hill allowed a great view over the city (even the sun refused to show for two  straight days).

 My afternoon was spent a little of the city as well, at Tivoli Park. At over 200 years old, Tivoli park is the largest park in the country's capital and also includes the Jakopič Promenade, a popular outdoor gallery, serving as an outdoor venue for exhibitions, mostly large format photography- check it out.

 In addition to the amaxing view from Castle Hill, the endless number of Christmas Markets

And can't forget about the famous Dragon Bridge..(my hostel room looked over the river that ran under this bridge, not bad for a 1 star rating on

My time in Ljubljana was short and sweet (like the majority of my holiday travels) and I cannot wait to head back to Slovenia at my next given opportunity, hopefully in the warmer months, to discover the lakeside city of Bled.

Stop number 2- Zagreb, Croatia

From Ljubljana to Zagreb I went by bus in 2 hours and fifteen minutes with the popular company, FlixBus. It wasn't entirely the most comfortable bus ride- aisle seat, no outlet for charging, a dying phone, and a Croatian man snoring his adenoids off beside me. This was also my first time crossing the border by bus and I wasn't entirely sure how it would work.  Turns out everyone has to exit the bus and cross the border by foot. Upon crossing I was given two new stamps in my passport (how exciting!), one for leaving the Schengen area and the second for entering the country of Croatia.

The two hour and a bit journey proved longer than expected and needless to say I was ever so happy upon arriving at the bus station in Zagreb, even after figuring out it was a 15 minute from the train station where my hostel was located.

I find it easiest to book accommodations for the next location at the previous stop, so although risky during the holidays (or in the summer tourist season), booking last minute can often leave you putting yourself up in some very quirky rooms for the night.

Exactly what I encountered in Zagreb, where I stayed at the Adriatic Train Hostel, yes I was literally sleeping in a train bunk. The owner, Zvonko, an older Croatian man and owner of the hostel, had purchased an old train car that now served as a 10 bedroom hostel, and from what I could tell, was very successful.

My little bunk for the night!
It was in Zagreb that I began to feel homesick, which came as a surprise for me as I had never before felt homesick while travelling (that was usually a feeling that was saved for sitting in my room in Grenoble), and in a sense I don't feel I explored Zagreb to its full potential. I did, however; manage to see the Christmas market by day and by night, see (yet another!) Cathedral, visit the "Museum of Broken Relationships", reach the top of the observation deck, and well, get completely lost in the downtown.

Fake snow > real snow!

The Roman Catholic Cathedral of Zagreb

Somewhere along the way stumbled in here whilst searching for the museum

Took me 45 minutes of walking up and down the street to find the Old town which housed the museum!

Before residing in Zagreb, it was a travelling collection of items!

Was voted the most innovative museum in the world in 2011...I wonder why!

Toronto even made it into the Museum of Broken Relationships...

View from the observation deck
I was well ready to head on from Croatia, knowing that I would be back to give it a honest chance again sometime soon.

Stop number 3- Budapest, Hungary
I was beyond excited to reach Budapest, after taking a bus for 5 hours (luckily much more comfortable than the previous), not only because I had heard such amazing things about Budapest, but also because I was meeting up with Cecily, my fellow raven and frenchie. What better way to cure homesick than bringing a little home to Budapest?

Our first day started with Zéchenyi Thermal bath, the largest of its kind in Budapest, including
indoor and outdoor baths ranging in temperature from lukewarm to a hot tub type feel. The thermal bath was the perfect way to start our first day in Budapest (we may have been slightly on the hungover side, with thanks to our Australian hostel mates who convinced us to go out upon arriving late the night before). The baths cost about $22 CAD for the day between 10 am and 5 pm and you can stay as long as you want between these hours.

Zéchenyi is only one of many baths in Budapest, which are definitely a must to check out while there!

After curing the hangover, we were ready to take on the city. First stop, the Hungary sign (smaller version of the IAMSTERDAM sign).

After a quick photo-op we headed to St. Stephen's Basilica, named after the first King of Hungary and is currently one of the largest church buildings in Hungary.  Unfortunately not able to visit inside of the basilica due to Sunday Mass.

Next was off to the (one of many) Christmas markets for a bite to eat, before making our way to the Buda Castle as the sun set and the lights came on!

The Buda Castle is by far THE most beautiful palace I have ever seen (and I've seen quite a few..!). The architecture in Europe in general never fails to impress me but there was something about Budapest, and the castle in general that stuck with me.

The view from the opposite side of the Danube River, looking from the Buda Castle

Just a couple of Ravens checkin' out the view

We finished off our last night with a lovely meal at a traditional Hungarian restaurant, Korhley- would highly recommend the next time you're in Budapest ;).

A chopped chicken breast in a saffron cheese sauce on a garlic bread bowl..I regret not being able to finish this.

Budapest was not only one of my favourite spots of this trip, but of every city I've ever visited. From the architecture to the baths, the food and everything in between, Budapest has left me forever wanting more.

Stop number 4- Vienna, Austria

Vienna came with its own charm and beautiful sites, although while being back on the euro, it's prices were far from charming.

Vienna was also the first time in the winter season I had seen snow, and while this should be all exciting, being caught off guard in the middle of city wearing running shoes during a wet snow fall wasn't the most enjoyable experience of the trip.

The first stop of the day was Schonbrunn Palace, a former imperial summer home (1, 441 bedrooms, casual as you can imagine) and the most important historical and cultural monument in all of Austria.

We decided to take advantage of the snow fall and hit the ice rink like true Canadians..and I pleasantly surprised myself, being a much better skater than I had originally anticipated. The ice rink, sporting the Rathaus in the background created the perfect winter wonderland feel.

Cecily even managed to get the edge of her mitten in the picture, how artsy!

Next we explored the Christmas market, which was by far, in my opinion, the best market of all the countries I had visited so far (maybe it was the snow that really gave it the festive feel..).

As it began to get dark we hoped on the metro hoping to see one last cathedral before heading for dinner. We made out to Stephansplatz, but unfortunately due the little blizzard happening around us, I was only able to snap a quick photo of St. Stephen's Cathedral.

Vienna was concluded by having a little wander through the city admiring the architecture before  parting ways, where I headed to Prague, and Cecily, back to France to meet up with her family for the holidays.

The last photo was particularly interesting to me as I thought it quite a statement entrance for the metro!

Stop number 5- Prague, Czech Republic
Prague was the last stop on my trip, before heading back to France (briefly), and it did not disappoint.

I think the best experience of Prague was the people that I met while staying at the Mad House hostel in central Prague.  To think I was feeling homesick before, the ambiance at the Mad House certainly made me forget all about that. From dinner outings, to homemade dinner at the hostel, to taking us out on the town at night, they made Prague an unforgettable part of my holiday adventure.

Beyond the hostel ambiance, the city of Prague was breath-taking, itself. I started off the morning with a walking tour which helped me cover the most ground possible.  Sandman tours offer free walking tours in a number of city's across Europe, completely free, apart from leaving a tip at the end (the guides are usually very good at what they do so leaving a tip will never feel obligatory but rather something you feel they truly deserve).

As I said, the walking tour allowed me to hit a number of architectural, historical, and cultural spots in the city, all in a matter of 3 hours.

From the clock tower...

To the House of the Black Madonna, a cubist building located in the Old Town...

A lovely view across the Danube River to the Prague Castle...

And of course, the Charles Bridge.

As the sun began to set I thought it would be great to hit a few final spots on my own, as the walking tour finished up.

I headed to the Lennon Wall first.

Since the mid 1980s, the wall has been filled with John Lennon-inspired graffiti of song lyrics from the Beatles. The wall holds a lot of history of the youth in Prague in this time and their movement against the communist regime in what was then Czechoslovakia.

After the wall, I climbed to the top of Petrin Hill, one of the best look out points in all of Prague. For 120 Czech koruna (about 6 bucks Canadian), one can climb to the top of the 60m lookout tower (mind you the hill its self is already around 300m) in 299 steps. Czech out the view ;)

My last night in Prague was completed with a home-cooked gnocchi dinner at the hostel, followed by a night out in town.

It seemed as though my adventures only got better as I moved through countries, although not one experience was superior than another, each city I've visited has it's own charm, sense of home, friends made, and sites seen. I would not give up my solo adventures for anything.

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