Ankara: Part one

Turkey has much for the tourist including magnificent beaches, high mountains, a stunning coastline, fabulous early Christian churches and busy rivers – however none of these are in Ankara. Hey ho, we are here to work ūüôā

Two back to back CELTA courses (4 weeks each plus an Eid holiday) mean we have around nine weeks in Ankara. Although we don’t have too much free time during the ¬†week we still get a chance to explore at weekends, so we’ve tried to make the most of it.

As well as spending a lot of time catching up with the latest films as there is a local cinema practically next to our house, we have checked out what Ankara has to offer. Essentially it has been Turkey’s political capital since 1923 and is clearly not a city designed to delay tourists for too long.

There is an attractive castle which sits in the older quarter of the city and gives nice views into the bowl into which Ankara sits. Also a pretty park, Gençlik, which attracts a huge number of people at weekends thanks to the funfair, man-made lagoon complete with performing fountains and lots of cafes selling typical meaty Turkish food and water,  liquid being essential as temperatures have been scorching during our first month.

We have also visited the Natural History Museum which is a new option to Ankara’s growing cultural scene. It’s not exactly a threat to the Natural History Museum in London but has some nice fossils and displays, one of them which tries to eat you (see pics for explanation).

Workwise the course was a great success and congratulations to all 18 candidates who passed and allowed us to join in their final day celebrations! Well done team.

Here’s a link to some pictures from our first month in Ankara:¬†Ankara Pictures

Lovely Ljubljana

Dan never misses an opportunity to visit one of his, and our, favourite cities so on the premise of taking two students to get a visa he managed to blag a car for the weekend. 7 hours driving from Gmunden, via Wolfsberg, and then eventually the Slovenian capital.

We stayed outisde the city centre near the zoo and a huge park so we spent the first day wandering round looking at flora and fauna and marvelling at how cheap it was to get in the animal park as opposed to Munich, which was the last zoo we visited. Then we ventured back into compact, beautiful and atmospheric city centre: firstly to visit Lou’s favourite crepe restaurant and secondly, to sample some good and excellently priced beer again (Austria take note, crap beer, high prices).

The best thing about living in Austria? Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia!!

¬†Here’s a link to some pictures from our 24 hour trip:¬†Ljubljana Pictures

 

Bad Ischl: walking and talking

With only one day of nice weather forecast for the weekend we decided we should use the time to get outside and, handily, meet up with our friend from Slovakia, Marya, who was over in Upper Austria visiting her family for the weekend.

Beautiful blue skies were a nice change but the surrounding greenery, hills and mountains are never far away in Austria and Bad Ischl is no exception Рinterlaced by loads of trails that take you up hills and mountains, along rivers and to waterfalls. So we headed along trail number three to the Hohenzoller Wasserfall which was a pleasant stroll in the afternoon sunshine.

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Green, green everywhere
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Hohenzoller Wasserfall

The rest of the early evening was spent cafe hopping, eating street burgers, strolling around the pleasant town centre and chatting with Marya who filled us in on all the gossip as we put the world to rights.

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Meeting up with Maria

Two seasons, two days, two visitors

They arrived in winter and left in summer, but only stayed two full days. Such are the extremes of Austrian weather we spent one day in the thundering snow and the second in glorious sunshine.

Mum and Pat’s rail trip from Zurich, where they visited Anna and Roman, to Upper Austria was a short break but we filled it up as much as we could.

After arriving late evening on the Thursday we headed up Grunberg the following day. Ignoring the falling snow the cable car carried us up to the top of the mountain and essentially we walked to the restaurant, had a hot chocolate and then headed down again. The views never materialised out of the grey which was a shame but a last taste of winter for all. In the mountains it was snow and then in the town, rain – not a great start,

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Going through the snow/sleet on the cable car
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Top of Gr√ľnberg

However, day 2 was much improved and the sun shone all day for the visit to Hallstatt. A small town around an hour from Gmunden on the train, it is a popular tourist attraction. A trip on a boat across the lake from the train station docks you in the small but beautiful main town area. Featuring several churches, waterfalls and more restaurants and cafes than you could possibly wish for it is a really pleasant place to spend a day.

 

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The famous salt in all its varieties

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Back in Bratislava

Slovakia, double the fun of Austria at half the price. That’s my career in advertising over before it even started, but in my humble opinion it is true …

To celebrate my¬†latest age increase we headed back to where it all began for me, the capital of the Slovak Republic, Bratislava. Having moved here in 2006 for my first TEFL job my memories of life in the city are fabulous: great people, lots of partying and cheap food and drink being just some of the attractions. It is of course also the place where I got hit by a car and smashed my leg to pieces but you can’t win them all!

It takes about one hour from Vienna Central Station to either of Brati’s main stations but existing into the central European country really feels like a step back in time to a period of my life which completely opened my eyes to a new world of possibilities and set myself and, slightly later,¬†Lou on this wonderful around the world English teaching adventure. Without Bratislava I would never have met so many fabulous people, seen so many amazing things and lived in so many different places so I always love returning.

After arriving on Saturday afternoon we headed up to the city’s highest point at the Slavin War Memorial to enjoy the late¬†afternoon sunshine. The memorial has been spruced up since my last visit (it was a while ago, nearly ten years I think) but is still respectful and the atmosphere is very peaceful. The walk up also offers some nice views over the city, the Danube and up to the Hrad (castle).

A Saturday night of pretending we are twenty one again including great street burgers from a lovely side-stall , a few cheap beers and some dancing/bouncing to some Balkan Beats music really started the weekend, and it was great to catch up with our German mate, Thorstein, and our American friend, Maria, who are both still in Bratislava after all these years.

Sunday involved lunch at one of the few old haunts which remain in the city, Verne where the food is still good and always reasonably priced. A stroll along the river and a walk up to the castle followed. The castle grounds are largely unrecognisable from the city I remember and it indicates that this little gem of a destination has well and truly placed itself on the tourist map.

As the picture says: I love Bratislava ūüôā

Hiking in Bad Ischl

So the first signs of spring have appeared and the relative warmth and blue skies were a great excuse to get out into the open air and explore the alpine scenery.

We headed to the spa town of Bad Ischl, a town of about 13,000 people situated about 40km from Gmunden. The drive to Bad Ischl navigates the edge of Lake Traunsee and is a very scenic journey. The town itself has great historical significance having been the place where Kaiser Franz Joseph signed a declaration of war against Serbia on 28th July 1914 that led to the start of WW1.

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Nowadays, as well as the spas, Bad Ischl is a popular hiking spot so we chose a trail and  Lou set out to navigate us along our chosen hike. As in keeping with normal protocol we then missed the trail we had planned to walk and ended up at the cable car station instead. So a change of route occurred and we ended up walking the number 11 trail headed for Nussensee, an alpine lake.

The lake was still thawing after the winter and parts of it remained iced over which gave it a rather eerie feeling as if life was slowly returning as the ice receded. The winter scene was complete as we skimmed stones over the ice which was still thick enough to take it without giving in.

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Nussensee

Heading down the mountain back towards the town we hooked up with the Ischl river which has a series of man-made dams which control the fast flowing waters. After the steady 15-km hike we ended the day in a restaurant in the town square for a typical Austrian Sunday dinner, of course with Lou around that means Wiener Schnitzel.

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Loving it in Ljubljana

Given the fact that Dan has been posted down in Carinthia for the last five weeks we thought we might make take advantage of being so close to the Slovenian border and pop over to Ljubljana. In true stereotypical fashion the train flew on time through Austria and then once we crossed the border slowed down to a crawl and was delayed by the time we arrived at the central station. Although we have both been to Ljubljana a long time back we had never been together and were excited to see the changes since either of us last visited, which was more than 10 years ago.

In recent years a lot of money has been invested in sprucing up the city and it is a very pleasant pace to wander around, with the banks of the Ljubljanica providing a central lcoation ¬†for the many bars, cafes and restaurants. The compact nature of the city means everything is in walking distance from hotels in the centre of town, including the main tourist attractions: Presernov Square¬†(PreŇ°ernov trg),¬†the medieval castle, Tivoli City Park, the triple¬†bridge, the pink church and the central market.

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Bars, cafes and restaurants along the Ljubljanica with the castle in the background
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Symbol of Ljubljana
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Frog on a bridge

The city has a vibrant nightlife and great character, with lots of music bars, sports bars, street musicians, quirky restaurants (The Cat Cafe for instance), variety of food and a lively scene; almost everything Austria doesn’t have (outside of Vienna anyway). Ljubljana is still relatively cheap compared to Western¬†Europe and more tourists now visit as more budget airlines routes fly regularly to and from the former Yugoslav block.

The walk up to the castle from the city centre is really nice as it takes you through the central market and then up a winding footpath to the entrance¬†of the castle (or a funicular for those who want to take the easy option). There is the option to pay for certain exhibits and collections in the castle but the majority can just be wandered around for free. There’s an interesting picture exhibition of the restoration of the castle which shows the massive transformation undertaken in recent years to get it ready for tourists.

As well as a hearty dose of good food we spent the rest of our time looking around the National Art Museum, exploring Tivoli Park and the art displays and admiring the typical central European architecture which is so different from Austria.

Ljubljana is a great weekend destination due to it being easy to walk around as the majority of the central town is pedestrianised, compact and full of interesting architecture while having the feeling of a small town wanting to go places and put itself on the tourist map.

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Amazing views from the train on the way home.

Exploring Southern Austria

Carinthia, the southern most state in Austria, is situated in the Eastern Alps; Klagenfurt is the state capital while Dan has been posted in Wolfsberg for the majority of this term acting as a course tutor.

Wolfsberg is in a picturesque valley within the Lavanttal Alps and is a small city with a population of around 25,000 people. Given the fact it is reasonably isolated the town is well-equipped with restaurants, supermarkets and shops, better than where we live in Gmunden. It has the pretty castle, Henckel-Donnersmarck, overlooking the city and several walking trails surround its grounds. While Dan was off at work, Lou managed to get  out and about and explore the countryside Рand also do a bit of shopping!

Klagenfurt am W√∂rthersee has played a major role in Lou’s life having spent six months there at university when she was a little bit younger. 19-years on and not much has changed, the lake is still picturesque (although the weather on the day we went makes this statement hard to prove), the university has spruced itself up but is still admitting students and mini-Mundus still shows the world in miniature.

A day-trip there revived old memories of hard days spent ‘studying’ German and provoked tales of yonder aplenty as we strolled through Lou’s¬†old haunts and drank hot chocolate in the same cafe¬†she did nearly two-decades ago. Very much a summer destination, the man-made beaches were empty, the lake bereft of swimmers¬†and the footpaths largely under-utilised except for joggers and dog-walkers, Klagenfurt felt like a city holding its breath and waiting for the hot weather and summer months – as it must be said are we after enduring our first winter for about six years!

Here comes the summer…

 

 

 

 

Oh Vienna….

So, the¬†big 4-0 was approaching and we were off to Vienna for the weekend. Little did I know that there were surprises in store for me. Dan was working during the day so I was sent on ahead to the hotel. We were staying at the Hilton thanks to Ed’s mate’s rates and I thought I was going to have an afternoon of indulgence and relaxation, i.e. slobbing around the room drinking beer and watching TV.

No sooner had I taken my shoes off when there¬†was a knock at the door. Guess who? Mam & dad paying a surprise visit! I hadn’t got over that when 2 minutes later there was another knock at the door and Ste showed up!! ¬†I was gobsmacked! What a surprise!! Over lunch the tale¬†and conspiracy unfolded with stories of e-mails flying around between Austria, the UK and Canada and how last-minute flights were booked!

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Family portrait at dinner

So our weekend consisted of catching up, lots of walking around the city interspersed with many coffee and cake stops as well as dinner and wine. The first afternoon we mooched around the museum quarter and marvelled at all the amazing buildings, followed by meeting Dan in a random pub before having a late meal.

The next day we met up in front of the impressive Rathaus where a massive ice-skating rink had been opened, presumably for Christmas period. It was still going strong with lots of people on the ice or just chilling out having snacks at one of the numerous wooden stalls that were nearby. Typical organised Austria that even the ice-skating rink had one-way signs and systems!

 

We then made our way up to Schönbrunn Palace. It was a bit nippy but we walked up to the top to get an overview of the Palace Рagain pretty impressive! After that it was certainly time for another coffee and cake.

So, the day of the big birthday and we met up at the National Opera House and had a guided tour. We were told that you could hire out one of the small tea-rooms for about 5oo euros which I didn’t think was too bad actually. Not sure why Dan hadn’t done it already?! It’s all very grandiose and as opulent as you would imagine and we saw the stagehands setting up the evenings¬†performance (it changes every day!)

 

A little bit more wandering, a couple more beers or glasses of wine and the weekend was almost over. We said goodbye to Dan then Ste whilst mam & dad and I tootled off to the¬†famous Cafe Central right in the heart of the city to have a last piece of cake. What better way to spend a birthday? ¬†I was certainly surprised and had lovely weekend! Thanks guys! ūüôā xxx

Sledging

Winter is of course great for behaving like children so what better way to do that than sit on a wooden sled and hurl yourself down a steep, icy mountain. However, of course in order to descend a mountain you have to ascend a mountain first Рget those walking boots on and wrap up warm.

Joining Emma and Ian we headed off to Hochsteinalm, just outside Traunkirchen, and braved the freezing¬†temperatures and low lying clouds in a bid for a bit of adrenalin filled action. Leaving Emma’s car to be watched over by a very friendly car park attendant we began the climb¬†up to the top of the mountain.

Once we had hiked above the clouds the views of Grunberg (the mountain nearest where we live) and Traunstein were stunning. The peaks of the mountains revealing themselves above the layer of cloud that obscured all views of the lake below.

 

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The lake is invisible from above the thick layer of cloud – still a pretty good view though

After a hike of just over an hour we reached the restaurant at the top where we stopped off for a bite to eat (traditional Austrian staples such as cheese boards, lumps of pork, and goulash). This was then followed by the introduction to our sleds (3 Euros for rental) and a bone jarring but fun descent.

The descent is on a well-maintained track that weaves for a few kilometres through the forest, it’s far from a bin bag and a hill in the nearby field, which is our memories of sledging in the UK. Despite nearly crashing into a stray dog and the local ‘professionals’ heckling¬†Lou to go faster we all slalomed our way to the bottom of the course and vowed to go again some time soon.

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All smiles at the start of the run

Here’s the go pro video:

https://www.facebook.com/emma.lisa.b?fref=ts

 

And check out Lou’s versus Dan’s sledging style!

https://www.facebook.com/louise.miller.311?fref=nf