Dan finished work…Part one

Finished! Hurrah, let’s celebrate by going on a walk and getting sunburnt – Feuerkogel it is.

So we headed out on the bus to Ebensee and walked up the hill to the cable car where we enjoyed the steep journey up the mountain accompanied by the restaurants supplies of fresh fruit, tins of goulash and frozen meat.

We decided to make a day of the walk by first heading up to Europa Cross and then hiking across country to a local restaurant stop. There was still some snow on the higher points of the mountain and it made going a little treacherous and somewhat reminiscent of our trip in Montenegro (Bobotov Kuk) when we started at lower heights in green meadows and ended in snow clad-hills.

The scenery was absolutely beautiful and we went through many different layers of alpine fauna as we hiked up the mountain, even had to pause on one of the trails to let a snake slither its way across the footpath.

Luckily we made it back to the cable car stop just in time to take the final transit down – which after 6-hours walking was really lucky as we had no idea that it was the last chance being only 5.30pm when darkness doesn’t set in until 8pm or 9pm. Then we remembered where we were – ah yes, Austria, everything closes early.

Here’s a link to some stunning Austrian scenery from our hike: Feuerkogel Pictures

Happy Anniversary in Cappadocia

During our break between CELTA courses we decided to complete one of Lou’s bucket list entries and jump on the bus to Cappadocia to celebrate our third wedding anniversary.

It takes around 4 and a half hours from Ankara to get to Goreme, the local tourist hub which is the centre of Cappadocia. We checked into our hotel and immediately booked up for a balloon ride the next day, which was an early start, but at least we could get the early start out of the way and then relax for the rest of the holiday.

So, at 3.30am on anniversary day, we were picked up and headed to the registration office to await our flight. 30-mins passed, one-hour passed and then eventually out flight was cancelled – bugger. Dan headed straight back to bed and Louise went up the hill to take some photo’s of the sunrise. We were both still back in bed by 6.30am and up again at 09:00 for our second breakfast of the day! So, once we woke up we decided to head for the UNESCO-listed Goreme Open Air Museum to see what all the fuss is about.  The complex consists of a mass of cave churches dating from the 10th – 12th century each containing frescoes in various conditions. The best of which is called the Dark Church, which due to the limitation of light entering the cave, is the best preserved of all the paintings – but as a result means we coudn’t take photos.

The following day we did a day trip which took us around the major tourist sites in Cappadocia region: Pigeon Valley, Derinkuyu Underground City, Selime Monastery and the Ihlara Valley. Pigeon Valley is a photo stop where you can look across the gorge and see the holes cut into the rock where locals used to care for their pigeons as they were vital for communication in the days before i-phones.

The biggest city uncovered for public admission as yet, Derinkuyu, allows visitors to get a taste of troglodytic life during the Hittite period. Only abut 25 per cent of the city is open to visitors and that consists largely of the upper two ‘floors’, which it is presumed, were used to store animals and humans.  You get to see some of the old stables, bedrooms, church and graveyards and it is a really interesting spectacle. The best guess is that people only lived here for short periods (a couple of months) to escape invaders. Having seen the small ventilation shafts in the bathroom area (which doubles as as the stables) I expect the smell after two months may have been somewhat pungent.

The Selime Monastery was a missionary school complete with church and living areas. It was used between the 8th and 10th century. The site we visited is accessible via a collapsed tunnel and reveals a series of stunning complexes with high ceilings and intertwining footpaths which link all the rooms. Unfortunately, the building was protected by the government too late and a few rooms have been smoke damaged by local people who used the site to shelter before they understood the historical importance.

Ihara Valley is a beautiful 14km long canyon, although as part of our tour we only walked three. This included a visit to the Ağaçaltı cave church, which was used between the 4th and 10th century and has some cave paintings which are still visible. The walk is very flat and you get to stop for a cup of tea halfway through and rest your feet in the cool river.

The next day we were up again at 3.30am with our eyelids closed but our fingers crossed. Luckily the weather gods were smiling on us and we did get to spend a beautful 60-mins floating above canyons, gorges and the unique rock formations which the area is so famed for. The flight is beautiful and made the early morning totally worthwhile.

Our top-tip for the region, get a room with air-con. Our room didn’t despite an upgrade (although Lou swears she booked a room with air-con) and it was really, really, warm. As for Cappadocia itself, it’s a beautful place (similar to Petra in Jordan in lots of ways) and was a terrific place to spend an anniversary.

Here’s a link to photos from our few days away: Cappadocia Pictures

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 🙂

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

Beautiful Budapest

We decided to take the opportunity to finally get back to Budapest and catch up with an old friend before we headed off to Turkey.

So two train journeys and five hours after leaving Gmunden we arrived at Budapest Keleti. We stayed in a lovely AirBnB and were the first visitors to the newly refurbished flat, which led to the owner leaving us champagne and strawberries – very nice too. The accommodation was a typical Hungarian style flat with a raised platform containing the sleeping area built above the living room.

A couple of nights of exploring the brilliant nightlife, the beer festival and fabulous restaurants (Georgian, Hungarian and Middle Eastern) meant it was not an overly relaxing weekend but good fun was had and we did manage to explore Margaret Island and finished the weekend with a Thai massage to get rid of all the toxins!

Here’s a link to some photos from our weekend away: Budapest 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 – interlaced 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 Grünberg

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 🙂

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 (Prešernov 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.