Europe · 22 Days · 95 Moments · July 2017

Nic and Drew hit Europe

18 August 2017

After a fairly lazy start, it was a simple trip to Gare du Nord on the metro and into the waiting lounge for the Eurostar to London. Two and a half hours later we were stepping onto the platform at St Pancras and 20 minutes after that we were in Euston station sitting on the Virgin train for Chester. Two hours to Chester (lunch courtesy of Virgin) and a twenty minute cab ride and we were home. From central Paris to rural Cheshire in 6 hours. You would be hard pushed to do it quicker even by air! After 22 days, 11 countries, 12 cities, 23 rail journeys, 6 hotels, 3 Airbnb's, 1 ferry crossing and one overnight train journey we were home

17 August 2017

And so to our last supper! We went to Ma Bourgogne on the Place de Vosges. The waiter's English was excellent and had a slight accent. After we asked him whether he had learnt his English in Ireland (yes, he assured us, he had) we soon realised we should have asked him where he learnt his French - he was Irish and had been living and working in Paris for 13 years. Anyway, to the meal. Fortunately, sausages were on the menu, so after raw marinated herring, Drew had Beaujolais sausage, Nic had crudités to start and lamb cutlets. All washed down by a bottle of RED Sancerre - a pinot noir which was very good. Back to the hotel to pack for the journey home the next day.
We decided to go to Galleries Lafayette - apart from the spectacular domed roof a massive disappointment - no different to any other high end department store. We were near to Ladurée and Maille shops but the central Paris prices were insane - no shortage of customers from the far East though. So we went for an amble through Le Marais - the old Jewish quarter and many years ago the centre of aristocratic Paris. There are still many Hotels Privés (mansions), and we stumbled into one by accident from which it was possible to walk into Place de Vosges. A very beautiful square surrounded on four sides by incredible houses - somewhat akin to the Royal Crescent in Bath only rectangular. Spotted some likely candidates for restaurants for our last meal of the holiday that evening.
After Notre Dame, we headed over to Montmartre to see the view and Sacre Coeur. Montmartre was a huge disappointment - so much tourist tat, crowds and not helped by the weather which was cool and cloudy - so after a quick beer we decided to break our duck and have the first crêpe of the holiday (jokes on a postcard please). In fact we had two crêpes each - a gallette and a crêpe proper. Job done as it were...
Our last day in Paris! We had a coffee and Viennoiserie breakfast in a bakers just round the corner from the hotel then off to Notre Dame.

16 August 2017

Post dinner
Dinner - Steak and frites - again...
Pre dinner
After lunch we needed a sit down so took the metro to Pont Neuf (the oldest bridge across the Seine in Paris incidentally) and took a boat trip down to the Eiffel Tower and back upstream and around the Isle de Cité and back to Pont Neuf. A much easier way of seeing the sights than trudging along miles of pavements!
Today after a café breakfast (croissant and coffee) we took the metro to Le Jardin des Plantes - a botanical garden in the centre of Paris just over the river from the Bastille. It is run as a research garden rather than a plant collection. Currently they are researching the effects of climate change on plants and identifying varieties that will adapt well. They also had 4 glass houses showing the history of plants and the adaptations plants make for different conditions - a bit like a mini Eden Project - and it was really well done. Afterwards we had lunch at a brasserie near the Gare d'Austerlitz where Nic had a salade d'Aveyron and I had chicken with a courgette and chorizo tarte Tatin.

15 August 2017

We bought 3 day travel passes to get around Paris which we made full use of. We took a bus to the Eiffel tower rather than the metro to get a better flavour of the city. On the way back we hopped off when we saw a likely looking place for dinner and had a distinctly un-french burger - mine was beef and Nic's was 'crunchy' chicken (battered like fish). The fries were not good either. Still, the beer and wine helped! It seems that house wine can be purchased in various quantities, the most unusual of which is 46cl - not half a bottle, not 3/4 of a bottle... Eventually worked out that it is 16 fluid ounces which coincidentally is the same as an American pint.
We caught the train from Barcelona at 9:25 and 6.5 hours later stepped down from the carriage in Gare de Lyon in Paris. After a normal paced journey to the French border, along the coast past Montpellier and on to Valance, the TGV picked up speed and covered the remaining 560km to Paris in a shade over 2 hours! After checking into the hotel we headed straight over to the Eiffel tower - since we didn't have advance tickets we thought we would check out waiting times. When we got there we decided to go for it, so after an hour in a queue, we managed to get the lift to the top. The sunset was spectacular
Arrived at Barcelona Sants station this morning for our train journey to Paris. Arrived to find an unexpected and very welcome priority query for Interrail passengers whilst everybody else had to stand in a 35 yard queue. The train left at 9:25 on the dot and a short 6.5 hours later we were descending to the Paris metro at Gare de Lyon.

14 August 2017

Some of the amazing windows in Segrada Familia. The sun shone through bouncing the colours off the walls and mixing them. I felt like a child seeing a rainbow for the first time.
We visited the Sant Pau Recinta Modernista - a large art nouveau hospital built in the early 1900s. A local philanthropist funded the complete rebuilding of a hospital for public use and engaged the architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner to design a 'statement' structure. Aside from the incredible decorative aspects of the build it was also designed to be an effective hospital. The wards, the operating theatre and the adminstration building we all linked by tiled tunnels and the whole was set in gardens. It was in regular use until 2009 when the hospital moved to new premises nearby and the site is now a UNESCO world heritage site. There were echoes of Mackintosh in some of the decorations.
This afternoon we went to look at some Catalan architecture - Gaudi obviously - which is what this post is all about. We went to look at one of his town houses and then on to Segrada Familia - the new cathedral. From the outside it looks quite solid and has something of Game of Thrones or Star Wars about it. Inside it is incredible - the sense of scale and and the delicacy of the stonework supporting the structure is awe inspiring. It almost feels as if the building has grown organically and demonstrates cathedral building at the next level! The stained glass and the use of light from the windows to colour the interior was so intense and vibrant. The photos don't do it justice.
In the morning we took the metro and the funicular railway to the base of Montjuic Castle - a large fortress built on a mountain overlooking Barcelona and its port. Amazingly, the 2 day metro pass we had purchased covered the funicular railway as well. We the took a cable car to the castle itself from which the panoramic views of Barcelona were spectacular.

13 August 2017

Fortified by our cocktails we went for a brief stroll in the Gothic quarter looking for something to eat and found Iberian ham and meats on a fresh salad followed by shellfish paella and a litre of Sangria all for €30 - very nice and helped compensate for Swiss restaurant charges to boot!
We then hit the roof bar in the hotel. The receptionist suggested we should join the hotel 's loyalty scheme for which we would receive two cocktails as a welcome gift. Well it seemed rude to refuse, so we enjoyed a couple of caipuriñas and the even better views as the sun went down. It's a tough job this travelling but somebody has to do it...
We arrived in Barcelona and after locating the metro at Barcelona Sants station (easier said than done) we made it to the hotel. A fantastic corner room with three windows overlooking the city. These are some views from the room.
We spent the night in an Ibis Styles hotel, and it was really excellent. No frills but a comfy bed, aircon, everything that you need and great staff. Today we were travelling to Barcelona after lunch so spent the morning exploring more of Montpellier before a coffee rapidly followed by an early lunch on a little sunlit square. We collected our suitcases from the hotel and caught the tram to the station where the TGV to Barcelona was 10 minutes earlier than published! The journey along the coast was interesting as the train passed across causeways separating large inland lagoons from the sea. The water in some was so salty that salt crystals were encrusting the water's edge. We were on the bottom deck so the views were restricted but when we travel to Paris by the same route we have top deck seats - more photos to follow then.

12 August 2017

We arrived in Montpellier from Lyon on the TGV - a rather old and tired version but still managed to cover the ground at a fair old lick. Montpellier is really captivating. The old town is a spider's web of tiny streets mostly free of traffic. The buildings and many of the pavements/alleyways are built in a creamy limestone. Lots of tiny shops cafes, bakers and a very friendly feel to the place. All this was enhanced by the weather which although in the high twenties, was much drier than Eastern Europe and Italy, and really pleasant to walk about in.

11 August 2017

We went to this bar for a drink and could not believe the cost of pub grub. The menu shows the prices in Swiss francs which are 1.25 to the £. Bread and cheese for Drew and sausage and rosti for me, very expensive.
At Bern we caught an intercity train to Geneva where we were staying the night. After an hour of running alongside rolling pastures and smallholdings we burst out of a short tunnel to see the vast expanse of Lake Léman before us with France on the issue shore. The run into Geneva was very scenic with many vineyards and the city of Lausanne by the lake. We could see the Geneva water jet from 20 miles up the lake, so after arriving walked downtown to grab a photo.
We travelled from Florence to Milan on the Italian high speed train the Frecciarossa 1000 which whisked us from Florence to Milan in under 2 hours at sites of up to 185 mph. Very smooth and comfortable. We then took a Swiss train from Milan through the Alps to Bern. This journey should have been spectacular but the weather was poor so visibility wasn't great. The route however was fascinating. We headed North and ran alongside Lake Maggiore - very picturesque although quite developed. We then crossed the Swiss border underground in the Simplon tunnel (12 miles long) arriving at Brig running alongside a youthful River Rhone - a river we were going to follow for the next two days. Shortly after that we entered the Lötschberg tunnel (9 miles) emerging at Visp and continued our descent into Bern.
Here is a small selection of sights across Florence. The best views by far were taken from the Giordano Bardini - a steep bank on the other side of the River Arno from the main sights. All these photos were taken from there with the exception of the Ponte Vecchio which was taken from the top floor of the Uffizzi gallery.

10 August 2017

Pasta for tea. Delicious, it had to be done whilst in Italy.
An afternoon stroll in the Bobboli and Bardini gardens. Which were very dry in parts.and full of the sound of cicadas. Visiting Florence is a bit like being in a scene from Assassin's Creed. A famous view seems to be on every horizon and round each corner.
At lunchtime the skies darkened and heard one or two claps of thunder so decided to seek refuge in a restaurant. Here we had a cappriciosa salad, pizzas , and vino della casa (rosso AND bianco in case you were wondering). Whilst we were enjoying our lunch, it got darker and then there was a torrential downpour and a short power cut. After lunch we walked outside to be greeted by wet streets but blue skies and sunshine and a much lower temperature.
A visit to the Uffizzi. The Medici family seem to have robbed every church in Florence of their art works!

9 August 2017

After breakfast we went to the Galleria dell'Academia to see amongst other things Michaelangelo's statue of David. It was surprising how large the statue was and how out of proportion his hands and his head were to his body. The museum was incredibly busy. When we strolled past the entrance at 7:30 in search of breakfast the street was empty apart from museum staff getting ready for the day ahead. When we returned at 8:15, there was a 75yd queue waiting to get in. Fortunately we had ticket reservations so were able to join the fast track queue and were inside in 15 minutes. It also houses a collection of musical instruments owned by the Medici family and hundreds of religious paintings dating from the early 14th century. These were acquired when monasteries and convents were suppressed by Grand Duke Peter Leopold of Lorraine and later Napoleon
Just a quick post to say that we have arrived in Florence after a 12 hour journey on the night train from Munich. Sitting having coffee and Italian sweet pastries at 7:30 in the morning from a local caff in Piazza San Marco just round the corner from the Galleria dell'Academia. Will catch-up on Munich posts later but suffice it to say, on initial inspection, the sausages per head of population is less here than in Munich

8 August 2017

And so to lunch. We decided on something substantial since we were planning a picnic on the night train to Florence in the evening. We went to the Hofbrau Haus on the Platzl in the centre of old Munich. Whilst we were eating, the band began to play and the bandstand was just a tablewidth away from us. After lunch we went to the Deutsches Museum which is a vast science museum very much along the lines of the science museum in London of 20 years ago and bone the wiser for it. The displays were really well constructed and fascinating for adults and children. I really enjoyed the practical physics section and the alternative energy special exhibition
Seems to be a recurring theme!
We spent the morning wandering around the Englischgarten park this morning. A very cool and tranquil wooded area right in the heart of the city. There was of course the obligatory beer garden by the Chinese pagoda. On one of the many water courses that criss-cross the park, we watched some local kids surfing on a standing wave created by a weir. We then wandered into the city center via some formal gardens in search of lunch.

7 August 2017

After arriving in Munich we went out for dinner at the Augustina Biergarten - no prizes for guessing what was on the menu.
We've just arrived in Munich after an incredible train journey through Slovenian and Austrian Alps. The train wound its way along rivers and then climbed up the sides of valleys to punch its way through tunnels into the next river system. The scenery was astonishing. Unbelievably verdant valleys, chalet style smallholdings, waterfalls, incredibly harsh high mountain scenery, rivers in full spate (thunderstorms yesterday), ski lifts, cable cars - so many things to see. And all the while the train was either climbing or descending - not your normal West coast mainline! And then, as we approached Salzburg, the mountains melted away and we continued through benign pastures to Munich.

6 August 2017

Early-ish start tomorrow as we head off to Munich. The train journey should be interesting as we pass through the Slovenian and Austrian Alps to reach Munich via Salzburg
The old centre of Ljubljana is a fascinating if slightly surreal place. It is beautifully preserved and maintained, it is full of visitors of all ages and origins, and nothing seems too much trouble for the locals - it just feels a bit like a Disney theme park, and yet, if you do stray outside the old centre you soon find more typical city attractions!! (The second picture shows the front door of our Airbnb apartment - No 20 just beyond the fountain)
Today's buskers. These guys were great, they played their own arrangements of some Lord Of The Rings, Game of Thrones, Titanic and Les Miserables. Not the big hits but interesting lesser known parts. There was fun and dynamics. I even gave them some money!
Love these chubby horses.💞💦
Today we went to Ljubljana castle (via cliff railway). Slovenia has done a really nice job doing archeological research and then renovating the castle. Some fantastic views of Ljubljana and environs from the viewing tower.
Crikey! Clouds!!
The Dragon Bridge. Showing his age!

5 August 2017

Nice appartment with resident buskers below☺
Well those final 3.5 hours were hard to endure but we did see some amazing scenery. As soon as we crossed the border, the landscape changed dramatically - not only the physical landscape (which became much more interesting) but also the human impact on the landscape. The smallholdings were carefully tended, the buildings well maintained and the whole place felt like people cared about their surroundings. Industries beside the tracks looked to be busy and thriving. Compare this with Hungary where most buildings looked dilapidated and run down, the fields looked scrappy and many factories were clearly derelict. We finally arrived in Ljubljana at 1645 - very hot!!
We've just crossed the border into Slovenia - a first for both of us. Hungarian railways has not covered itself in glory on this trip. First, it was almost impossible to determine which train to catch in Budapest because neither the train number nor it's destination was displayed anywhere in the station. Secondly, the air conditioned carriages with at seat service from the Hungarian restaurant car is actually a train very reminiscent of 1970's BR. Air conditioning? Open the windows! Restaurant car? Nope - not even a shop. Bring your own or die of dehydration. And the toilets are something else... And having swapped the engine 4 times the train is now down to 3 carriages full of die hard travellers Ljubljana bound. Only 3.5 hours to go

4 August 2017

Went to the Museum of Applied Art today and it was excellent. It's an incredible building making use of glazed porcelain tiles and additional architectural components. Inside it has an almost Arabic feel to it. It has been neglected for many years and they are now rebooting it. We saw two special exhibitions and a selection from their permanent collection. All were really well displayed with some real treasures.
Trip to the cathedral this afternoon. It is very ornate and vast. It was built relatively recently being completed in 1907. Some beautiful windows and amazing frescos.
Smoking! Like Germany smoking is still seen as acceptable here but on a whole different level. When we arrived, it was really noticeable how many people smoked in the street. And guess which country heads the lung cancer league table on the entire planet? Yep - Hungary...
It is so hot today - 39°C forecast but I'm certain it is much hotter in the city. We took a tram and a bus across the chain bridge to Buda where we were going to take the funicular railway to the castle. But the queue for tickets was very long and you had to stand in full sun whilst you were so we walked up instead - mad dogs and Englishmen and all that. Still, the reward was a Caesar salad overlooking the Danube towards Pest
The metro stations here are amazing. The escalator halls are vast underground caverns all completed in a somewhat brutalist style using plain concrete, rusted steel plate, stainless steel escalators and stark lighting. And not a single advert to be seen. The platforms themselves are more modern and use lighting to great effect - again, no adverts. Here are a couple of shots of the Fovam Ter station.
We went to the central market this morning - an enormous market hall. The roof was covered in glazed coloured tiles - it seems to be a thing here. In sure it was like an aircraft hangar with some great stalls with great looking produce. I was able to stock up at the butchers with some souvenirs of our trip ☺️

3 August 2017

Still crazy hot though! 33°C at 22:30
Just been out for dinner at Café Intenzo. Fantastic meal - grilled vegetables/mixed salad with seeds followed by chicken with egg dumplings/pork loin in a Hungarian style. All were delicious washed down by a bottle of Hungarian Sauvignon Blanc. Seriously good food and the bill came to less than £50 including tip. Budapest is definitely climbing the European rankings!
More beer!! It's the only way to keep properly hydrated🍺
Well this is how hot it is... 🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥
Well The Queen Mary II it ain't!! BUT it is air conditioned and we can sit here and recover from the unbelievable heat - it's like sitting too close to the fire. (And they've just turned the sound system on - a medley of cover versions of heavy rock classics - it just keeps getting better and better)
We've made it! It's unbelievably hot here - so hot in fact that I had to forego the sausage platter (homemade leberwurst, black pudding and sausage). Still, there are worse options than an ice cold beer and a selection of local salad.
Another scorching hot day in prospect in Vienna. Just packing up and tidying the Airbnb apartment before heading off to the station to catch the train to Budapest. UPDATE: Just boarded and now en route

2 August 2017

We travelled on the U-bahn to visit the Riesenrad - the original 'Vienna Eye'. Pictures attached. Didn't meet Orson Welles though 🙁
Now I have to say that this morning we went to a cafe as recommended by the Airbnb host and to be frank it was crap. So we were forced to rectify the situation this afternoon. We went to Café Mozart and are very pleased to say that it more than compensated. A veritable slab of deliciousness!!
Oh boy! Augsburger sausage with creamed spinach and potatoes vs. spinach and feta quiche. Plus beer.
Just taken tube to Stephansplatz where the cathedral is. Now enjoying a streetside cafe lunch.
This is St Stephan's Cathedral. It looks incredible from the outside despite being in the middle of a building site at the moment as they spruce up the surrounding square. Inside it was quite dark and gloomy and felt more like a tourist destination than a place of worship - mind you, we were tourists as well, so can't really claim the moral high ground (although worth pointing out that we were not as scantily clad as many!!)
Just been round the museum of modern art which despite the amazing building was a great disappointment. A rather confused hotch-potch of exhibits poorly curated. We won't be going back!

1 August 2017

Wiener Schnitzel - well you have to don't you!
Some of us are more sober than others
Českė Dráhy (Czech Railways) are the biz. Draught beer served at your seat. Living the dream...
Time to leave Prague. Checking out from here this morning and heading further east and south to Vienna. The hotel clerk thanked us for our stay and apologised for the tropical weather. It was 31°C here yesterday and forecast to be 36°C today.
Beautiful evening. Very warm. The shadows looked great on this watermill.

31 July 2017

A selection of photos from our day in Prague.
A nice riverside refreshment after a very hot day in Prague. We wandered around the old town taking in all the key locations. Stopped for a coffee by a large square, browsed a market and took in the atmosphere of this very ancient and picturesque city. Then went on to have lunch (sausages for Monsieur, salad for Madame, beer for both) and then after a siesta during the heat of the midday took a boat trip on the Vlalta. After the boat trip, we are now fluent in 7 languages as each landmark was pointed out by recording in Czech, English, German, Spanish, Italian, French, Russian! More pictures to follow once I get them off the camera...
Lunch doesn't get any better than this!!
Very colourful.

30 July 2017

Having traveled via Hannover and Leipzig to Dresden, the final leg of today's marathon train journey was from Dresden to Prague. So different to the flat German plain - we followed the Elbe nearly all the way - past the karst landscape of Little Switzerland on the Czech Republic border and into industrial western CR. Finally into Prague where we checked in to a very nice hotel after a futile attempt by a taxi driver to rip us off. This is where we are staying - well, not actually in the tower but just behind it.
Not sure what to make of this plate?!
Time for a typically Czech dinner - beer!! Delicious Pilsner Urquell on draft from a tank delivered by the brewery. Oh! And we had chicken with fresh oregano, a potato salad with pumpkin, flavoured with caraway seed and a Greek style salad. Perfect end to a very long day...
Look familiar?
Just left Braunschweig en route to Leipzig in a double decker train - travelling in some style I might add with great views across the North German plain to the Harz mountains south of us (although not everyone is enjoying the view ☺️). Time for a beer and some lunch I think (although we will need a small mortgage to afford the food and drink on board German trains).
On the train for Hannover from Amsterdam. We only just made it. The alarm in my phone didn't go off and when we became aware at 6:26 ( 45 minutes later than planned) we only had 34 minutes to get up, pack, checkout and make it to the station for the 7am departure. Well we made it, but what a panic! Great start to our longest travel day and our wedding anniversary... So this picture is from Apeldoorn station - quite apposite for a wedding anniversary?

29 July 2017

Just had a fantastic Dutch meal (and beer). Paté, pickled herrings, chicken (the tenderest juiciest kip you've ever had) and calves liver cooked medium rare with thick smoky bacon pieces of fried onions and caramelised apple. Yummy!!
Giant picture!!
Crooked buildings
On the train from Rotterdam to Amsterdam
Great weather for ducks

28 July 2017

All aboard!!
Checked at the ferry and waiting for the bus...
Late train from Liverpool Street to Manningtree and another late train from Manningtree to Harwich. Should get to the ferry about 29 minutes late.
He just couldn't resist!
At Chester station. First train is running 6 minutes late!!
1 hour to go!! The taxi arrives at 14:55 and we are off to Chester station for the very first leg of our European rail adventure. It's been a long time coming and we are both very excited to be on the way at last.