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Capital Swapping

Bratislava

sunny 23 °C
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After two days exploring the Austrian Capital, Vienna, our final day was to cross the border with Slovakia and explore their capital Bratislava, less than an hour away centre to centre.

Although Austria is firmly classed as Western Europe, most of its borders are with Eastern European countries, which even twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall are still much less developed - as I had found when I visited Graz four years earlier.

Arriving by train in Bratislava, it had taken less than an hour, and yet it felt as though we had travelled fifteen years into the past - despite this city being on the border with Austria. Dilapidated, broken, full of trolleybuses and communist architecture, it may have been developed, but it felt a world away from where we had just came.

Welcome to Slovakia

Welcome to Slovakia

Leaving the station, with it's big sign welcoming us to Slovakia, we headed towards our first sight - Slavín, the War Memorial located on one of the largest hills just outside the city centre.

Slavín

Slavín

After a short walk up the staircases and roads climbing up the hill, we arrived at the top for views over the city and of the impressive monument, before we made our way back down and to outside the Presidential Palace.

At Michael's Gate

At Michael's Gate

The next area to visit was the heart of the city centre, and after walking through the Michael's Gate, we arrived in the busy centre full of shops and cafés. Making our way through the city streets we passed busy squares before arriving at the Hviezdoslav Square, outside the Opera House.

Bratislava Old City

Bratislava Old City

By now we had seen much of the city, with our next sight being the icon of the city itself - the castle. Located on top of an imposing hill over the River Danube, we climbed up to the top where it was incredibly windy - so much so that even the courtyard of the building felt like a wind tunnel.

After a look around the grounds, we then made our way back down towards the bridge crossing the River Danube, and with it, I had met the Danube in each of the capital cities along the river, Budapest, Belgrade, Vienna and finally Bratislava.

Castle over the Danube

Castle over the Danube

After photos of the castle over the river, we quickly made our way to the nearest bus stop so that we could catch the next train back to Vienna from the other station on the south side of the river - and the only one on the tiny portion of Slovakian land located west of the Danube.

Running across a flyover to get to the bus stop, we made the short journey to take the train back to Austria in enough time. Once the train left the station, it wasn't long before we headed out of this suburb and crossed back over the Austrian border. Less than an hour later we were back in the Austrian capital - two of the closest capitals geographically, and yet world's apart in time.

After going back to the hotel for a lovely rest, we decided to have a traditional Austrian meal again tonight. After researching we found a restaurant in the city centre of Vienna, and headed there shortly after. Passing some restaurants with queues on the street, we were relieved to find ours was nice and quiet. Traditionally styled with wooden tables, we both had schnitzel and shared a apple strudel, as the restaurant got busier and busier, eventually surrounding us entirely by Asian girls. Clearly cheap traditional food is a staple of any Japanese holiday!

Surrounded by Asians eating Apple Strudel

Surrounded by Asians eating Apple Strudel

After a lovely finish to our holiday, we went back to the hotel to chill and get ready for the flight back the following morning.

The holiday was much quieter than the last few, yet still kept us busy and gave us lots to see - the large Austrian capital as well as a short excursion over the border to it's smaller Slovakian cousin.

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 12:22 Archived in Slovakia Tagged restaurant river city hill castle border vienna&bratislava Comments (0)

Nice to see you, to see you - Nice!

Côte d'Azur - Nice & Monaco

sunny 30 °C
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Summer had finally arrived, and it was time for the first of the weekend breaks together with Chris.

Flying out on Friday evening, we boarded our plane to find that as one of our fellow travellers was on a surprise birthday trip - our destination was never being mentioned. Thankfully after the two hour flight we had arrived in the correct city where it was now getting dark and so we headed to our hotel in Nice for a well earned sleep after a long day.

After breakfast at the hotel, our Saturday was reserved entirely for Monaco. After getting some help from a local buying our tickets, we took the short train ride along the beautiful coast to the second smallest country in the world.

Monegasque Border

Monegasque Border

The train station was built entirely within the hill at the very top of the country, immediately adjacent to the French border, with the train station being part of the French network. In fact there was very little existence of the border at all, and we only managed to get passport stamps by visiting the tourist information centre - although these were at least free unlike in San Marino...

Eventually finding the exit we wanted, we made our way down the hill to the port at the bottom, before walking towards Monaco Ville, and back up a hill to the Royal Palace complex.

Views of the Harbour

Views of the Harbour

After stopping for views of the harbour we carried on up the hill to the Palace, before walking around the old streets buying souvenirs and taking photos of the pretty views. It was then time for the Changing of the Guard to take place.

Changing of the Guard

Changing of the Guard

After watching the parade we then headed back down towards the harbour to take a look at the huge boats that had come in to moor.

Boats in the Harbour

Boats in the Harbour

The next place on our trip was Monte Carlo, and we headed back up another hill, walking around the back of the casino towards the hairpin, one of the most iconic parts of the Monaco Grand Prix circuit.

The Hairpin

The Hairpin

After walking past the tunnel, another famous feature of the course, we stopped for food before walking along the coast towards the beach.

Monaco Beach

Monaco Beach

The beach was much softer than those on this coast, being made of very small pebbles, and after putting our feet in the warm beautiful water, we had a rest before continuing on our journey.

The Monte Carlo Bay Hotel

The Monte Carlo Bay Hotel

Eventually making it to the end of the coast we briefly crossed back into France before coming back and visiting the Monte Carlo Bay Casino. However as they only had gambling machines, we left without having actually spent any money and headed back along the road to the Casino. After taking photos of the front of the casino we then headed back towards the station to return to Nice.

The Grand Casino

The Grand Casino

On our trip over to Monaco we had considered stopping in one of the bays en route, however being so tired after a long walk in the heat around Monaco we decided to head straight back to the hotel for a rest.

Villefranche-sur-Mer

Villefranche-sur-Mer

In the evening we headed out for dinner, ending up again in an Italian (as with Paris), where my dinner turned up in what looked like a sick bowl!

Sunset

Sunset

We then sat on the beach to watch the sunset before a nighttime exploration of the promenade and city centre, which we had rushed through the previous evening and thus not had the time to take in.

Le Negresco Hotel by night

Le Negresco Hotel by night

On Sunday we checked out of the hotel and headed down into the city centre to view it by day. Starting in the main square, we then headed through the Old City passing quaint little shops and a market.

Old City

Old City

We then headed up the castle hill, which once there appeared to be far more exciting than we thought - a refreshing waterfall and a plaza with views over the port as well as city.

Waterfall at the top

Waterfall at the top

By this point we were starting to run low on time, and so we quickly headed down and had a chill on the rocky beach before walking back along some of the promenade.

Nice from the top

Nice from the top

After a last wander around the city, we returned to the hotel to grab our bits before making our way to the airport for our flight home.

Having expected Nice to be a bit shabby, it turned out to be a lot nicer than expected. Very well kept, with beautiful views, and a lot more on offer than expected. Monaco meanwhile was exactly as we expected - rich and luxurious. An interesting trip!

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 13:01 Archived in Monaco Tagged sea beach views city hill grandprix Comments (0)

A Completely Different Land

Canada - Montreal

all seasons in one day 20 °C
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Having spent five days in English speaking Ontario, we were now headed for our final destination, the capital of the French speaking Quebec - Montreal.

I was interested to see just how different it would be. For all, this is still the same country. However upon arrival it became clear the answer was 'very'. Although still having maple leaves everywhere, Montreal felt much more modern, and there was a big drop in the amount of English available. Whilst people seemed to understand it and we were able to get buy, this felt very different, as well as there being a marked increase in the amount of regional flags.

In the run up to the holiday the weather looked abysmal, and so we were braced for some atrocious weather. Up to this point we had been very lucky, however as we emerged from the metro station to walk around the corner to our hotel, the heavens had opened and it was pouring down. Worse still, this particular point was a wind tunnel and we spent the few minutes in the open getting drenched. Worse still, as we checked in the rain stopped, and we realised a short wait could have kept us dry....

Never mind, it had now stopped, and to make the most of what was now a sunny warm day we quickly left to take a walk up Mont Royal, for views over the city which we would explore fully the next day. Walking up some steep slopes, we eventually made it to the entry of the park, where more steep slopes lay before us.

The view from Mont Royal

The view from Mont Royal

Eventually however, we reached the top, and although we weren't sure exactly what we were looking at, the view from the hill over the city was still nice. We then headed back down and towards food and bed.

The following morning we made the most of our last lay in, before leaving the bags at the hotel to explore the city. Beginning with Canada Place, with views over the neighbouring tower blocks and cathedral, we entered a nearby building and made our way into the Underground City - a network of interconnecting tunnels that link many of the buildings together without needing to access the open air - ideal in the freezing Canadian winter.

Hotel de Ville

Hotel de Ville

Eventually emerging at the Palace of Congress, we were by now in the heart of Old Montreal, and after walking through Place d'Armes we saw the Notre Dame Cathedral and bought souvenirs in some of the shops before we reached the heart of the Old City.

The Old City

The Old City

Carrying on down, we made it to the promenade on the St. Lawrence River, walking along the jetties before making our way to the Metro Station.

1976 Olympic Park

1976 Olympic Park

Our next sight was the Olympic Park, where the 1976 Olympic Games were held. Unfortunately the park hasn't had much love since then and a lot of the concrete has started to crumble. Nevertheless it was an interesting sight.

The Biosphere

The Biosphere

We then headed back towards the centre, and back out to the islands in the middle of the city. Getting off at the metro station, we then headed towards the Biosphere before walking around the island and heading back to the city.

And this is pretty much where the holiday ends. After grabbing our bags we made our way to the airport in plenty of time for our six hour overnight flight back home.

Canada was a nice place to visit, and it was particularly interesting to see both the English and French sides. Of the two major cities, I think I preferred Montreal but they were both nice, as was everything else we saw. Unlike America the people are very courteous and friendly, however it lacks the culture of Europe and Asia. Nevertheless it was worth the travel to see it all.

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 12:09 Archived in Canada Tagged rain history montreal quebec city island sun hill olympic Comments (0)

Back to South America

In Search of the Penguins - Cape Horn

sunny 8 °C
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After nine days of sailing, today we finally reached the end of the trip. Waking up in the morning we had crossed the majority of the Drake Passage already, almost reaching Cape Horn - the southernmost point of South America.

Cape Horn

Cape Horn

After enjoying breakfast, I headed out on the deck to get views of the Chilean coastline around Cape Horn as well as watch the many birds flying around the ship.

Sailing around the Chilean coast

Sailing around the Chilean coast

After a lecture on Shackleton we had a briefing about tomorrow's disembarkation and not long after we left the open water and headed into the Beagle Channel.

Enjoying lunch with views of the colourful greens and yellows of the South American continent once again was strange - we had been used to Blues and Whites for so long!

In the late afternoon we then had a quiz on our trips. Despite having a large team and getting a lot of questions right, we found out we were still far from winning. Nevertheless, still a fun experience and not long after, we were treated to a glass of champagne each as the captain and staff came to say their goodbyes whilst we were pulling into Ushuaia.

Farewell

Farewell

One last dinner and it was almost all over. We were back where we were at the start of the trip, and told we could reenter Ushuaia if we so wished and so I went for a quick walk around the port before settling in for the night.

Back at port

Back at port

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in Chile Tagged hill penguinhunt antarcticcruise Comments (0)

"Are Yous Goin' Saaaaafend?"

Paris

all seasons in one day 10 °C
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Having already holidayed together twice in the summer, Chris and I had another getaway - this time a short distance across the Channel to Paris.

Once again taking off the Friday afternoon from work, we headed to the airport to catch a flight from Luton to CDG for a weekend in the French capital.

The "CDGVAL"

The "CDGVAL"

Upon arrival in Paris we quickly noticed the effects the ongoing state of emergency was having. After buying our train tickets to get to the city centre, we found that the station was shut due to an unattended bag, and thus we had to get on the CDGVAL (pronounced Cheval, like the horse) to the other terminal, and then transfer to the train. However this had now caused issues with the trains to the city, and when we did arrive at Terminal 1, the train we boarded wasn't leaving for another 35 minutes. We did however eventually find a train that was leaving imminently - though still delaying our arrival in the city by an hour or so. Getting through Gare du Nord and onto the Metro, we eventually arrived at the hotel, checked in and then headed out for a meal at a local restaurant.

Moulin Rouge

Moulin Rouge

After dinner we then headed a little bit further down the road to the Moulin Rouge. Having visited Paris twice before, I had already seen the majority of the sites in the city centre. However as this was located outside the inner city it was new site for me too. Taking pictures of the building all lit up in the night, we then took a look inside some souvenir shops, before heading back to the hotel via a local supermarket for some snacks and cheap fruity wine.

Sacre Cœur

Sacre Cœur

After a relaxing evening, the following morning we woke for breakfast before heading out to explore the rest of the city. Starting by walking up a large staircase we first visited the Sacre Cœur, another new sight for me, before getting on the metro and heading towards the Arc de Triomphe.

Arc de Triomphe

Arc de Triomphe

Most sights in the city have reduced rates, with a significant number being free for under 26's from the EU, and so luckily for me I had free entry. However with massive queues for attractions tickets, as well as extra bag security, it still took a long time to actually visit the attractions in the city.

View of Paris

View of Paris

The queue for the Arc de Triomphe was a particularly long one especially in the cold of a November morning - however upon entry to the roof it was definitely worth the wait, as there were some beautiful views over the nearby architectural beauty, La Defense, and the Eiffel Tower. Heading back down, we walked towards the Trocadero, where there are good views of the Eiffel Tower, before heading to the tower itself. Having still not decided whether we would head up the tower itself, we nevertheless went through the security check to enter the complex. After deciding we would walk up the to the lower levels, we then queued up and bought ourselves tickets.

The Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower

Unlike most tall city attractions, you can actually feel the wind through the structure, and see views of just how high you are. After stopping briefly on the first floor - where we were already at one of the highest points in the city, we then headed up to the second floor for even better views over the city. However unlike me, Chris was a little bit nervous of heights, and unfortunately the best form of encouragement I could provide was "Well we've paid for the second floor"....

Taking a look at the views from the second floor, we decided not to buy a top floor ticket, and instead headed down to the exit to continue our walk around the city. Taking in views of the Eiffel Tower once more, we then headed towards the Champs Élysées passing Les Invalides and crossing the Seine.

At the Champs Élysées, a large Christmas Market had been set up on both sides, and so enjoying some Mulled Wine and taking a look at some of the items on sale we then headed towards Concord and the Louvre. We would visit the Louvre itself tomorrow, and so enjoyed some dinner waiting for sunset so that we could enjoy our last site today - the Eiffel Tower by night.

The Eiffel Tower by night

The Eiffel Tower by night

Louvre

Louvre

The following morning after leaving our bags at the hotel, we headed back to the Louvre, where we managed to avoid the queues by entering through a shopping centre side entrance. Unlike the Vatican Museum, the Louvre clearly sign posts it's main attraction, obviously accepting that 95% of the people there simply want to see the Mona Lisa.

Kevin Bear at the Mona Lisa

Kevin Bear at the Mona Lisa

Located on a wall in the middle of the room, the queues to see the infamous painting are much less than we expected and so we were done with the museum pretty quickly.

The Mona Lisa Wall

The Mona Lisa Wall

We then headed out towards Île de la Cité - the oldest part of the city, walking towards the Notre Dame, where we arrived just as the Mass was coming to an end.

Notre Dame

Notre Dame

Heading back out, we then made our way over to the Deportation monument, which is almost hidden behind the cathedral, before we stopped for a bite to eat. With almost all the city having been ticked off our list, we then headed past the City Hall, towards the Pompidou Centre.

Our final attraction for the trip was the Catacombs, located in the south of the city. Taking the train, we arrived not long after but found a huge and very slow moving queue. Unfortunately we ended up getting caught in a shower during the two hours we waited and debated whether to skip the attraction due to time running out before our flight this evening. Just in the nick of time, we made it in, and after quickly taking a look around and overtaking everyone we had seen in front of the queue, we viewed the tunnels filled with the bones of residents from centuries ago. This eerie but unique experience was well worth the wait.

Inside the Catacombs

Inside the Catacombs

We then headed back to our hotel to grab our bags and headed for the airport. Luckily no bomb scares this time, but once again the understaffed city meant many delays - with a very slow security queue.

We had arrived at Border Control in plenty of time, but the Essex girls in front of us had diced with danger. Hearing we were also British they hopefully asked "Are yous goin' Saaaaaafend". "Err no" we responded.

Eventually making it through in enough time, the group of girls individually ran towards the gate for Southend just about making it. Our sympathy ran slim however as they had already each bought their duty free rather than making it through in enough time....

Eventually getting to eat, we waited for our plane and after a short flight, we finally arrived back home. A great trip even if Paris was overly busy!

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in France Tagged art tower paris history city cathedral hill scenic macabre Comments (0)

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