A Travellerspoint blog

Belgrade, Serbia (15th - 18th August)

Our train journey from Zagreb to Belgrade took most of the day. We had to kick some people out of our reserved seats who tried to tell us there were no reservations, even though we had ours in our hand and they were also on the back of the seats. They seemed really aggrieved by it and were grumbling about it for ages, even though they still had seats, they barely needed to move and they were still all together (2 of them were opposite us and the other was across the aisle on a single seat). Still, aside from that, the journey was fine. We were quite surprised to get stamps in our passports for entering Serbia though.

On arrival in Belgrade, we walked to Habitat Hostel. It's a very friendly, very sociable hostel, with a fairly laid-back approach to things. As soon as we arrived they were suggesting we head out to the beer festival that was taking place. However, as it was taking place all week and we were pretty tired, we declined. We stayed in an 8-bed dorm, which was a decent size, not too cramped. There were only 2 bathrooms in the hostel though, which included both toilet and shower, so if 2 people were showering you couldn't go to the toilet. That definitely let the hostel down a bit, plus breakfast wasn't included, but overall it was still good. I'd imagine it's amazing if you're a sociable person, but as an introvert I found it a bit overwhelming at times. There's no reception desk or anything, you have to just remember / guess who's staff and track them down. It took me a while to get some laundry sorted because of that, though they did do the laundry for me and it was free due to us staying for 3 nights. On that first night though we just watched a film and then went to bed. They had a huge number of DVDs, though the owner guy suggested this random one with Goldie and David Bowie in it, which we'd never even heard of. It wasn't great, but it was entertaining enough. It could really have done with a lot more David Bowie and a lot less Goldie!

We had a busy first full day in Belgrade. There are quite a few different walking tours offered and we managed to fit in 2 of them on our first day. The morning one was the general walking tour, which was really good. The girl doing it was engaging and she'd hand out goodies as we went along, like a shot of Rakia (traditional alcohol and apparent cure for everything) and some kind of pepper chutney type thing (I've forgotten what that was called). We then went for lunch before our second tour. I can't remember the name of the cafe we went to but I had something called a 'sandwich cake' and then some tiramisu. Our second tour was the 'underground tour'. That one's not free but it's pretty cheap and gives you exclusive access to some underground areas and then also a glass of wine. It was cool getting to go into the underground bunkers and stuff, though the guide wasn't so engaging and I got a little bored after a while - it definitely dragged on too long, plus it could have done with a toilet break at some point. Anyway, we got to the wine cellar at the end of the tour and got to have our glass of wine. Naturally this was the part I'd been looking forward to most, so it was rather annoying when I started to feel unwell. I don't know what it was exactly, it could have been the changing temperatures between the heat outside and the cold underground areas, it could have been a bit of dehydration, it could have been some kind of bug I'd caught, or it might just have been that my subconscious associates that musty smell with being ill (I once fainted in Norwich Castle dungeon). Anyway, I couldn't finish my wine or stay in the cellar so we headed back to the hostel. I lay in bed for a while and also took some Ibuprofen. Staying in a dorm isn't really the best when you're not well, but everyone was really accommodating and crept around quietly in the dark, even though it wasn't that late. I started to feel better after a while, so Jamie cooked us some pasta. Everyone was heading out to the beer festival again but I didn't feel up for that. I told Jamie he could go if he liked though, so he enjoyed the beer on my behalf and I had a quiet night in. It was quite nice actually, I had the whole dorm to myself so I could catch up on a bit of internetting and reading.

We just did the one walking tour on the following day. It was one that went out to the Zemun area. It was with the same guide as the first tour we did, which was cool. I think we then had quite a chilled out afternoon. We went somewhere for food and then to another place for a drink. We got back to the hostel late enough for everyone else to have already headed to the beer festival. Jamie had filled me in on his time there and I didn't really fancy it. Being in a sociable hostel made me crave less sociability.

On the day we checked out, our train wasn't until the evening, so we still had a whole day in Belgrade. We headed to the Tesla Museum, which was really good. You get a tour thing included in the ticket price, where you watch a video about Tesla and then you get shown some of his inventions in practice. The lady doing the demonstrations was brilliant - she was like a strict school teacher and this made her unintentionally funny.

After that we checked out the Saint Sava Temple, which is a huge orthodox church that they've been working on for over 70 years and which they reckon won't be finished for at least another 20 more!

I don't remember what else we did that day - got some food and chilled out back at the hostel I think. We then went and got our overnight train to Sofia. We were in a couchette with a German couple and 2 guys from St Albans (though one of whom now lives in Austria). It was a good atmosphere, we all got on well and I think we even managed some sleep.

Posted by chantalpatton 10:48 Archived in Serbia Comments (0)

Zagreb, Croatia (12th - 15th August)

We travelled most of the day to get to Zagreb from Vienna - changing trains twice. We arrived in Zagreb about 9pm and made our way to Cherry Hostel. We stayed in a 6 bed dorm, though it was fairly spacious from what I remember. The hostel itself was really nice, though mostly because the staff were so friendly and it had a nice outdoor seating area. There was also an enormous dog who we nicknamed The Bear. He was a big softie though and more interested in stealing bags of cat food than he was in us. The only downside of the hostel was the limited bathroom facilities (one shower room and one toilet for women and then the same for men). It's a fairly small hostel though, so it wasn't too problematic. After check in we enjoyed a nice cheap beer, sitting outside, before retiring to bed.

We woke up the next morning in time to get the free breakfast. The free breakfast consists of 2 bread rolls with ham and cheese (or just cheese if you're vegetarian). That description makes it sound quite dull, but I think the rolls are homemade, with a texture kinda like a croissant. They're served warm, with the cheese all melted inside. Mmmmmm. You have to pay if you want coffee, but it's not a lot and it was decent coffee, so definitely worth it.

We spent most of the day walking around and taking in the sights. We'd heard that Zagreb wasn't that great a city and that there are far nicer places to see in Croatia. I don't doubt there are nicer places in Croatia, but as somewhere to just spend a couple of days, I did quite like Zagreb.

We timed our afternoon museum visit well as it was just as a storm hit. The museum in question was the Museum of Broken Relationships. Yes, it's just what it sounds like - a museum of personal belongings related to relationships that have ended, along with an explanation as to the significance of the item. It sounds pretty depressing, I know, but the reviews on tripadvisor assured us it was actually quite amusing and a fun place to visit. It's fairly small but it's also cheap, so that was fine. There are definitely some amusing (and bizarre) tales in there, but overall I still found it quite a melancholic experience. I suppose the ominous tone set by the weather didn't help. I'd definitely recommend it though - it's a unique experience.

On our second day in Zagreb we set out to visit the number 1 rated attraction on tripadvisor. Was it a museum? A church? Some other historical building? Some pleasant outdoor area? No, it was a rally car racing track. It was also quite difficult to find. We had to get directions from tourist information, then after we'd caught a tram to the general area it took a bit of walking around in order to find the entrance. It was fairly quiet when we got there and we weren't sure how it all worked. The receptionist soon got us sorted out though (albeit in a slightly disinterested way). As we were first time visitors we had to pay for a 'licence'. This just involved registering on a computer, which optionally included a link to our Facebook profiles. We then paid for 1 race, which lasts 10 minutes. Now, if you know me at all, I know what you might be thinking - "Chantal racing a rally car?! Surely not". Trust me, I was just as surprised. Jamie really fancied it though and I thought 'hey, why not?'. Thankfully it was just a race between the 2 of us, so I didn't have to compete against anyone experienced and worry about getting in their way. We were given helmets and chest plates, put into cars and told which pedal was accelerate and which was break. That was it - no time to practice - it was straight into our 10 minutes of racing. Not being used to driving anything, plus being a total wuss, my first lap was... interesting. I stalled quite early on and had to wave the guy over to restart my engine. I then managed to crash a couple of times and had to be rescued again. I was starting to think that my whole ten minutes would just be a series of crashes and rescues, but my 2nd lap was totally fine, I started to get the hang of it. I went pretty slowly, granted, but it still felt like I was going at a decent speed. Jamie would overtake me on the straights though - he got the hang of it pretty quickly and only crashed once during the entire race. After my crash-prone first lap, I did crash once more on a later lap, but that was all.

The ten minutes goes pretty quickly, especially when it's your first time and you need to spend a while getting used to it. I only managed 6 full laps in total; Jamie managed 11. Their computers automatically posted on my Facebook wall, saying how I'd been racing with them, how I'd come second and what my best lap time was. I was expecting comments on this from my Facebook friends - I thought they'd be shocked I'd done such a thing, plus possibly impressed I'd come second (they wouldn't know it was a race of only 2 people!). But weirdly I got no comments at all. Jamie and I theorised afterwards that people would likely have assumed I was playing some kind of racing game and not actually racing. It would be an understandable assumption.

I was totally knackered afterwards, probably due to the adrenaline. If a second race had been cheaper I know Jamie would have been tempted, though I'm not sure my body could have handled it. Instead we had a beer in the gallery area and watched some other people racing. I think they were mostly regulars as their times were amazing. The computers showed the ranking of best laps of everyone who'd raced so far that day. I wasn't remotely surprised to see mine in last place - even behind the 2 young kids in the family who'd raced before us.

All in all it was good fun. Afterwards we tried to go to a Mexican restaurant, but of course it was closed, as it was somewhere we wanted to go. Instead we ended up getting some pizza and chips, then heading back to our hostel for another beer.

Posted by chantalpatton 09:28 Archived in Croatia Comments (0)

Vienna, Austria (10th - 12th August)

I've gotten quite behind on my blogging again. I'm trying to recall our journey from Budapest to Vienna but it's a bit hazy. I'm going to assume it was uneventful. On arrival in Vienna we checked in to Hostel Guesthouse Kaiser 23. It was more guesthouse / cheap hotel than hostel really - it was a nice place to stay - the showers needed a little maintenance, but that was my only minor quibble. After check in we went for a bit of a walk around and also for some food. Vienna's such a beautiful city - it seemed like there was a photo-worthy view wherever you looked.

In the evening we met up with our friend Steven for a drink. We lived with Steven in Wellington and he's now back living in his native Vienna. It was a brief meet-up as he was off to the cinema, but it was cool to see him (and to meet his girlfriend Alice as well).

We just had the one full day in Vienna, which we mostly spent in the Museums Quarter. We went to the Leopold Museum to start with, which was really good. It's mostly known for its Klimt and Schiele collections, which are great, but there's plenty of other stuff too. After that we went to Mumok, which is the modern art museum. The featured artist was Albert Oehlen, who I wasn't hugely fussed on. Some of the other exhibits were really good, but there wasn't as much to see as I was expecting. Quite a few areas seemed closed off. It was still enjoyable though.

In the evening we went for dinner at a really nice tavern that Steven had recommended. I was tempted to get the wienerschnitzel but instead went for a chicken dish with a white wine sauce, which was delicious.

It was a pretty fleeting visit to Vienna, but very enjoyable. Definitely one to add to the list of 'places to go back to'.

Posted by chantalpatton 03:13 Archived in Austria Comments (0)

Budapest, Hungary (8th - 10th August)

Our train was late in to Budapest, but that wasn't a problem - we headed straight to our hostel and checked in. We stayed at Origo Hostel and had a private room. It was a nice little place, I'd recommend it. It was also handy being back in a hostel as it meant we could get some laundry done and also cook our own food. Infact that was mostly what we spent that first day doing, though we also had a brief walk about. It was very very hot though, plus no air conditioning yet again - argh!

We just had the one full day in Budapest and that was reserved for going to Sziget Festival to see Blur. We did contemplate doing a walking tour in the morning as well, but that ended up being less desirable than having a bit more sleep. Sziget was great though - we'd not been to a festival since September 2010, so I'd almost forgotten how much fun it is just walking around them and spotting all the strange and quirky things (at least if it's a good festival). There was giant furniture, big eggs made out of straw that you could get inside, some love nests, Alice in Wonderland themed areas, a part where you could play fairground games and try and hook some plastic fish... lots of fun to be had. We saw some of Mystery Jets and !!!, but mostly just explored the festival until Blur were on. Blur were great, of course, though the set seemed so short, which is the way with festival slots I guess. Afterwards we had some more drinks, plus met some people from Cardiff Uni - the first Welsh people we've met on our travels.

So yeah, we didn't see much of Budapest itself, but we were there for the festival and the festival was great. Plus Jamie's been before. I did get to take some photos of myself with a statue though, which is something I seem to be building up a collection of now. I didn't actually take the photo myself of course, but here you go:

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Posted by chantalpatton 08:22 Archived in Hungary Comments (0)

France and Switzerland (5th - 7th August)

Our few days after leaving Barcelona were filled with travel - mostly so we could get to Budapest in time for Sziget festival. On our first day we headed to Perpignon, which involved 3 train journeys. The second train journey was pretty cool though as that was on a small yellow train that ran through the mountains. People seemed to have a really warm regard for it as well as you'd get cars honking their horns and people waving at the train, it was really sweet.

Le Petit Train Jaune:
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In Perpignon we stayed at Hotel Kennedy, which we'd booked through Expedia. There were no hostels in Perpignon and we didn't want to stray far from the train station as we were literally just there for the night. The hotel was ok, though the air conditioning was broken, so it was really hot. There was a fan in the room, but it barely seemed to do anything. As we arrived fairly late, we only ventured out briefly to find food. This wasn't very easy though so we ended up just grabbing some stuff from the supermarket near the hotel. We did have a nice little walk around the ramparts though, so that was our brief bit of sightseeing. Granted we didn't make it into central Perpignon, but from what we did see it didn't seem that nice a place. Although that was kinda good as it meant I wasn't disappointed to leave again so quickly.

The next day we travelled to Lyon. We arrived there late afternoon / early evening, so we had a bit of time to actually explore, which was nice. We stayed at Timhotel Lyon Part Dieu, which was in a good location and pretty nice from what I remember, though again had no air conditioning so was very hot. Still, Lyon seemed a really lovely place - it was actually quite disappointing to be leaving so quickly, but it's somewhere we can easily go back to. We spent most of our sightseeing time in Parc de la Tete d'Or, which was pretty cool. It's got a zoo in it, plus other areas with deer and turtles (so many turtles!), plus a little fairground type area with Hook a Duck, plus plenty of greenery and flowers and other park type things. We then also went for a walk by the river before getting food and heading back to the hotel.

The following morning we travelled to Switzerland - we changed trains in Geneva and then arrived in Zurich about 13:30. We had 9 hours before our night train to Budapest. Happily we also had tour guides in the shape of Alex and Vera who we'd met on the Moose Bus in Canada. They did an awesome job showing us the sights of Zurich - it's not a huge place so we walked all over, went up a tower, went for a drink, walked some more and went for some food (I had the Bratwurst). It was really nice to see them and Zurich seemed like a really great place. Oh and we were able to leave our rucksacks in a locker at the train station, so didn't have to be burdened with those all day. After picking them back up and buying some snacks for the train journey, we were back on our familiar mode of transport, though this time with couchettes, so no trying to sleep in a chair - hoorah.

Posted by chantalpatton 05:50 Comments (0)

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