Nom de Plumage

August 11, 2013

It Can Only Get Better

Filed under: Diary,Solo Travelling,Travel Journal — nomdeplumage @ 7:28 pm
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What is the tell-tale sign that you are in England? Rain, cold and grey clouds! Welcome to London……..

And that was just the start. When I woke in the morning, I realised that I had locked my key in my locker and have no money to do anything. Normally, I would associate this little dilemma with a day to relax and save some money, but not today. Today I have planned to meet my cousin and her husband for the first time in London and I had not a pound to spare. I ring management and explain my predicament, but as it is a weekend, they will not send anyone to cut my locker open until Monday. My weekend plan is ruined and in desperation I resort to plan B – beg! I ask one of my roommates for a loan. Claire kindly lends me twenty pounds and although that will not get me far in a city such as London, it will at least buy me a return train ticket to meet my cousin.

My cousin Julie and I made plans to meet at 3 pm at Piccadilly Circus. I arrive early to get a little sight-seeing done and love the city instantly. Well almost, if you forget about the weather. The home of theatres, glittering lights, China Town and wonderful restaurants and at the moment some maintenance. By the appointed meeting time, I am back waiting at the fountain at trying to spot my cousin among the masses. Finally she arrives with her husband Anton and we immediately get acquainted. They are a beautiful couple and only recently wed. I am at their mercy and let them lead the way down to the Thames and on a boat or floating restaurant/bar. I wish I can write and say that the Thames river is beautiful and exciting and if I can put aside its once ugly industrial past and focus on it from a tourists perspective, I need a huge imagination. I would be lying if I wrote and described it as anything but a river used for transport and not much else. But it does have a nice view of the city and sipping a glass of white wine and talking with my cousins on a boat on the Thames, is very special.

I never learn! To drink wine on an empty stomach always gets me into trouble and it does not help when the boats sways from the rough weather. But I managed with dignity to get off the boat and walk in a straight line to China Town for some much-needed food. I love China Town. Busy, noisy, crowded and full with amazing restaurants, the problem is to decided which one. We choose buffet style and are very lucky to get a table. It is something that I learn very quickly here in London, that restaurants fill up very early here and even though there are many to choose from, there is no guarantee of success. The city is amazing! Dinner was delicious and although I cannot remember the names of the dishes, I can write that I left the restaurant happy and full (two plates of food can do that).

Not far from China Town, is Convent Garden. Now I have heard Convent Garden mentioned many times and yet I had no idea what it was. Probably not what I expected when we arrived, but it was alive with musicians and performers and they offered a wonderful comic show free. What is not to like about that? I especially liked the male singer, who had a great operatic voice, but he also performed his act with humour and cheek and I love talent that can take an act to a different and more enjoyable level. It shows love and skill from the performer. There is an Italian café nearby and we stop for a coffee and a final chat before we end the night. I loved the evening and although my journey has given me chances to explore new and different countries, it is the very special part of meeting my family and discovering family treasures/secrets that makes my journey even more precious.

 

 

August 2, 2013

Reflections

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Today is a milestone, for it is six months since I have left home and it is also the day that I shall be leaving the European continent, bound for Britain. It is then only fitting, that I should reflect on my adventures and prepare myself for new ones.

My three-day visit with the French woman did not entirely play out as planned. Although, I did get to see spectacular scenery and fulfil my dream to see the Somme Valley and the war cemeteries, it was not without some dramas. I did something very out of the ordinary and excepted an invitation from a stranger to stay in their home. I have always felt uncomfortable about such things and hence the reason it took so long to confirm my visit. My hesitation was in tune with my intuition and I should have listened to it. Without going into too much detail, basically the woman suffers from severe depression and made me feel very uncomfortable and through her jealousy and insecurities, she judged me unfairly. It was hard to overcome such ill-treatment, but I am wiser for the experience and leave France sadly on a sour note.

I experienced something also that I believe many travellers, regardless of their sex or age must experience, and that is pursued by someone who is married.  It is while I was in Lucerne that I met a man who worked in a bar and throughout one evening he flirted. This time, I listened to my intuition and decided against returning any flirtation because of my imminent departure and eventual return to Australia. I ask advice from some friends and they all said that I should not have been so quick to fob him off and that I should go back and see where it will lead. It lead to my finding out from a third-party that the man is not only married, but has children. He did nothing to deny it and could only muster a sheepish smile. Thankfully, nothing happened and if not for the fact that I regretted wasting the money to return to Lucerne, it did save me embarrassment and eliminated the dreaded ‘what if’ ?

My three-month Eurail Pass has now officially expired and it is with a wonderful sense of achievement that I store the pass away as a reminder of my unbelievable destinations. Before departing on each train journey, I needed to fill out the form (to validate each journey) on the pass. I had used my pass extensively, that while in Berlin, I needed another form. The two attendants at the train station, were in shock that I requested another form, so much so, that they read the form to see what countries I have visited. Impressed, they laughed and handed me a new form and wished me well.

If you had asked me just one question before I even left Australia about what I fear most on my journey, you will be surprised to know that it is the fear of not being able to communicate with people. True! It is because I knew that I could not learn every language of the countries that I shall visit. I have read and heard countless stories of locals being rude to tourists who will not/cannot communicate in the language of the people, that I was very nervous. And for what? I will not lie that I did not meet a few rude people, but once I had made some attempt to communicate in their language, the language barrier dissipated and communication (either verbal or hand) is established. Funny, that even though I could not understand the actual language spoken, I somehow could understand the meaning behind the words. It is the unwritten law of communication and it surprised me that with some effort, we understood each other. Unfortunately, I missed not being able to read everything that surrounded me, or even have a meaningful conversation with the locals.

Of all the train stations in Europe that I travelled to/through, it is undoubtably Gare de Nord in Paris that was the station I visited the most. Not my most favourite of stations and yet it is fittingly the last station that I visit as I leave Paris bound for Britain on the Eurostar. I make my way up the stairs towards the UK customs and it is with relief when the customs officer speaks to me in perfect English. Ahhh! We spoke while he was processing my ticket and then he stopped and shook his head while he was flicking through my passport. The dreaded stamps from Berlin! I tried to make light note of it and although he laughed and informed me that many tourist also make the same mistake, he reiterated politely and strongly the foolishness of my actions. What now makes perfect sense, then seemed sensible. In fact, for a five euros and five stamps, each of countries that now do not exist, I had in fact committed an offence. He assured me that I will not have my passport confiscated because many other tourists fall into the same trap, but he warned me to think twice about my actions and that passports are legal documents that must not be tampered with. Point taken!

I believe that I may have had high expectations of the Eurostar train and it was only when I enter the train, reality hit. In fact, the train was very cramped, leg space minimal, luggage space minimal and the decor is a faded and worn grey colour. The journey itself was barely two hours long, but it was the experience of travelling under the channel that I was anticipating the most. Twenty minutes; that was all it took. Barely a blink and I was on British soil.  I exited the train at St Pancreas station, and became euphoric at the sound of the English language. My journey got that much easier simply because I could put the fear of not being able to communicate behind me, to a world where I could read and communicate perfectly. Bloody marvellous! My journey on the London metro was not so easy, especially when it is almost peek-hour. But it also does not help when I am carrying a very big back-pack and the metro train is very cramped and narrow. I was very taken back and had to contend with being jostled about.

At my destination, I had no idea where my hostel is. The hostel is operated by a private company and they do not provide directions. I tried looking for a taxi and could not find any or the taxi stand, so I went to ask someone at the station. The guard directed me to a place around the corner and still I could not find it. Went back to the station and he informed me again what I need to look for. It is in fact, a tiny shop (without a sign) and when I peered inside the large window, there was a large group of men of many different ethnicity playing cards. I hesitantly walk in to ask if this is where I can get a taxi. A quick discussion of whose turn it is next, a little Jamaican guy jumps up and takes me to his taxi. No sign and no meter. I am nervous and he senses my hesitation and assures me that it is a flat five-pound fee.

When I reach my hostel, I knock for about ten minutes before someone eventually hears me and opens the door. I had to telephone the office that I arrived and they inform me that they emailed me informing me that I have to go to another of their properties. Thankfully, the secretary comes to pick me up and it is only a short drive to the hostel. It is more like a huge house, clean and very comfortable and full of Aussies. I feel right at home and in good company.

 

July 25, 2013

On The Trail of My Heroes In The Somme

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How can anyone ever really be ready for the magnitude of war? Can anyone who has had the great privilege to visit war cemeteries, not be affected somehow by the masses of perfect white headstones; many unknown. I defy anyone who says they experience no emotion. I have dreamed of one day undertaking this pilgrimage and naïvely believed that I would comprehend the scale of the human cost. No way! There is nothing that can prepare me for what I am about to see.

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Amiens cannot be described as being picturesque or quaint, and yet it does possess some charm and beauty. It is the cities geographical position within the Somme and its gothic cathedral, where her claim to notoriety lays. I have no personal patriotism towards any city or cathedral, but my host does, and believes that Amiens cathedral is more superior to that of its famous sister in Paris. Admittedly, Amiens cathedral is larger and the intricate façade at the entrance is very beautiful. But within the stone walls, lays a cold and almost bare building, lacking any character. Notre Dame of Paris maybe smaller, but she packs a stunning impact and its fame is well deserved. Although something wonderful to ponder, is that the façade of the cathedral has only recently been discovered to have been constructed using colour. All the figures and scenes depicted on the stone walls, came to beautiful life as you would expect from a painting. Over the years, the colours faded and then disappeared, lost in knowledge and admiration for the skilled craftsmen who built such a place of worship.

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The gentle green hills of the Somme valley is dotted with war cemeteries. Gone is the mud and stench of death and in the spring, the fields come alive with poppies. But it is winter now and although there are no flowers in bloom, the sun is shinning, the sky is a radiant blue and the fields are lush. I am taken aback by the beautiful scenery and the serene atmosphere. If there is one cemetery within France that holds a special place within Australians heart, it is Villiers Bretonneux. Countless times I have seen it on TV, but nothing can prepare me for the real thing. Situated within the heart of the valley, the beautiful stone monument that reaches for the heavens, has the names of soldiers that perished in the Great War. I walk alone between the many rows of white headstones, reading and wondering who you are and did you know what horrors lay before you? There are many headstones without names and even though I know not their identity, I thank them all for their sacrifice.

I have never been to an ANZAC ceremony in Australia, nor can I see footage or photo’s of both wars without feeling great sadness and anger for the millions of lives lost. I am of a generation who can never understand or imagine the sacrifices  made or the horrors faced by the men and women. But as an Australian I write, my tears are late and decades have passed, but my heart is full of admiration and pride for the thousands of men who sacrificed their lives and future for the freedom of France and the world. What makes driving through this valley very special, is the proud display of the Australian flag in the window of homes, at schools and in the small villages.

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A few kilometres up the road, is Le Hamel; another war memorial dedicated to the Australians. On the site of the battlefield that our hero General Monash fought some of the bloodiest turning point battles of the war. The trenches are still visible but have long ago been reclaimed by mother earth. It was interesting to read detailed stories of the battles fought here and the courage and sacrifice of all involved.

We stopped at a lake nearby for a picnic lunch of sandwiches, foie gras, fruit and tea.

A short stop at Pozieres and another Aussie war memorial before we headed to the mother of all memorials at Thiepval.

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Nothing can prepare you for the magnificent stone structure that consists of sixteen four-sided pillars with the names of 76 000 men lost from France and Britain. This memorial also has white headstones and wooden crosses from both sides, identifying soldiers killed. But it is the names carved into the faces of the pillars, lost forever, that catches my breath. What is even more scary, that the figures are only a fraction of the true cost of the war. Of all the memorials, this is the most impressive and there is also a fantastic bookstore and museum on site.

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Our last great war memorial is Beaumont Hamel. This one is dedicated to the tens of thousands of Canadian and Scottish soldiers that perished. Unique, because this is not a memorial with headstones, rather an intricate trail of trenches that are now covered with a thick green carpet of grass. I walked through some of the trenches and failed to even imagine what life was like among the mud and stench of this place of refuge. Many trenches and parts of the battlefield are out-of-bounds, due to live shells and bombs that lay dormant among the trees and hills. The Canadians have dedicated an impressive bronze statue of a caribou that stands proud on a hill overlooking the trenches. The Scots have erected a beautiful bronze statue of a soldier in traditional costume (kilt), protected by lions as they also overlook the trenches.

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The sun was slowly setting and we both realised just how full our day has been. But it was not over yet. We have saved the biggest to the last. Unfortunately, I could take no photo’s of this site, but to do so, you would need a plane/helicopter to fly high above and get the full-scale of this thing. At La Boiselle is a gigantic hole called Lochnagar Crater. At an impressive one hundred metres across and thirty metres deep,  this awe-inspiring crater was created by the relentless bombing from the enemy. If the result is impressive, what was it like to actually witness this phenomenon first hand and survive to tell the tale.

We drove home exhausted and full of emotion. My host prepared our final dinner together and then afterwards, it was a leisurely evening of eating our dessert in front of the fire and watching Inspector Barnaby in French. A real hoot!

To end…..

I was honoured to have  the special privilege of walking through the valley and among the resting place of the thousands of ‘digger’s’ who have left an indelible mark in our history. The word ‘digger’ is a special name given to the men who have seen war and it gives them a very honoured place among the hearts of all Australians. Lest we forget…….

 

April 3, 2013

A Sporting Pilgrimage in Barcelona

If there is something that the people of Spain do very well, it is sport. The one sport that they have ruled for many years now, is soccer/football. I should know, living with a brother who is a fanatic about the sport, I am constantly bombarded with all things soccer/football. It seemed inevitable that I should make some attempt to at least have a look at one of the world’s greatest stadium‘s and then cruelly boast to my brother about my religious pilgrimage on his behalf. Palau Reial is HUGE! The home to the Catalonia masters, it is an incredible stadium – from outside. You see, at twenty euros for an entry ticket, I really needed to evaluate how keen I was to see the inside. Sense prevailed and I decided that I have seen it umpteen times on TV and that would suit me just fine. But, I have taken a photo in good faith and completed my first sporting pilgrimage.

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In 1992, Barcelona became centre-stage for hosting the summer olympics; the greatest sporting event in the world. I remember it fondly and the highlight for me, was the utterly simple and yet magic lighting of the cauldron. More than two decades later, I stand at the base of the hill Montjuic and look up to the fortress Castell de Montjuic. Two obelisks stand as entrance gates to an impressive waterfall that cascades down from the castle. The whole place is a fusion of cultures, from ancient Egypt and Greece to neoclassical Spanish. I walk up the ‘steps of plenty’ to the castle’s entrance (which is now an art museum) and turn to look back down the hill to a beautiful view, nicely illuminated by the sun.

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Behind the castle, stands a lone statue holding a torch above his head and he is the guide that leads to the olympic park. There is a sadness when I visit an olympic stadium. When a city hosts the games, the world is engrossed for sixteen days and then what? The stadium stands proud and still beautiful, but it is an empty and quiet place with only a trickling of tourists to keep the ghosts at bay. I walk over to a stall (which I presume is the place where you buy an entrance ticket) with my wallet open, only to kindly be informed that entrance is for free.Where does the money come from to upkeep the park? It is kept very clean and in great condition. The stadium with its elegant stone façade and classic ancient look, looks nothing like modern over-the-top metal structures.  The vast park is from another realm with water cascades, huge yellow pillars, green parkland and all this over-looking Barcelona. My second sporting pilgrimage complete.

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The road winds itself down from Montjuic and quite inadvertently, I come across a place called Poble Espanyol. I have no idea what is within the walls, but I am intrigued enough to pay the somewhat expensive entrance ticket and discover a hidden gem. It is in fact a place built-in 1929 for the International Exhibition and it is a beautiful old world, protected within stone walls. A place of restaurants, cafe, souvenir shops, people plying their trade in their worships and all woven through narrow paved streets and Spanish charm. It is an expensive place, but I enjoyed just shopping with my eyes and appreciating the culture.

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I am all ‘sported’ out and for my last part of the day, I make it the hardest. From the metro station Panal-Lel, there is a steep walk up a hill that leads to an abandoned fortress, but with a great view over-looking Barcelona and the ocean. There is an easier option by taking the funicular and although it would have been quicker and easier, I just wanted to feel the sun on my face as I slowly make my way up and enjoy the discovery of what lays ahead. The road winds itself up and some parts are steep. But at each turn there is a different view and a place to rest and catch my breath. Once I reach the top, it becomes clear that this is the place to come. Tourists and locals sit upon the stone walls to soak up the last days of the sun and the view below. The fortress itself is very old and in great condition, but is closed to the public. There are parts that are assessable and the 36o degree view is worth the sweat of the climb.

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January 28, 2013

So Much Beauty and Culture In Vienna

sightseeing. I know, that no matter how many days or weeks I stay in any given city, it will never be enough to see all that I want. So not to  whinge on what I have missed, I am grateful for what I have seen. Plus, I like to believe there will always be a next time. This morning, my room-mate hampers my departure, with a kind offer of driving me into the city. I unwisely said yes and was left waiting for 45 minutes before we leave the hostel. But we eventually leave and I finally arrive in the city just before 10 am.

My first day in any new city, is a day of exploring, with no agenda or sites planned. It may seem a day wasted and yet, I see it as a day of freedom to experience the joy of discovering things that are  in any ‘guide book’. It is such a beautiful city and so easy to find one bearings, that I never fear that I may get lost.

Hofburg Palace Christmas Market entrance

Hofburg Palace Christmas Market entrance

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The ever impressive Town Hall in the background

Vienna spoils my senses, for it not only has one of the most beautiful of Christmas Markets, it has three vibrant huge markets, all within proximity of each other. I choose the biggest (of course) at Hofburg Palace. Crowded with tourists and locals, the ever presence of smells, colours and all things Christmas delight my senses and I start my tour with a stop at a food stall for a delicious hot chocolate and banana crêpe accompanied with a glass of hot gluwien. I have to say, that my diet since I have started my travels, has all but disintegrated and how can I help it, with all the tempting food on offer. I love good food, not the cheap nasty take-aways full of fat and sugar, but the rich mouth-watering flavours of Europe. And here is the best part, I have actually lost weight, not gained and that it attributed to all the walking and food.

The massive grounds of the Hofburg Palace are directly opposite the Town Hall. You enter this élite world through a massive gate and walk the wide driveway past the impressive architecture that gives a whole new meaning to splendour and wealth. A royal family who dominated Europe through the ages, is all but a memory now, but their glamorous world of power and politics is on full display for the ever impressed tourist. I for one, am not immune to the sights before me and can only wonder at the glory days that are sadly no more. There is much to see and do within these grounds, that I decide to leave it for tomorrow and continue my walk through the back entrance and into a boulevard of shops and delights.

When you live in a country such as Australia, where the architecture is more modern and the buildings are  predominately of glass and steel, you really come to appreciate a city that is built for beauty and to survive the ages. Buildings that are centuries old and carved of stone. One of my favourite stone carvings, and one that is shared with Budapest, is above and around the main entrance to a building,  chiselled men/women in fine detail, with the expression of either pain or exertion on their faces, as they hold the weight of the buildings on their shoulders. Utterly unique and so tender to witness these faces that I have never seen before and believe never will. St Stephen's Cathedral

The cathedral of St Stephen’s is at the end of the very long and wide boulevard of shops. But when I got my first glimpse, I was again confronted by my bad luck again of a major tourist sight undergoing renovations. So I was left with a poor expression of something that I could only imagine are very beautiful. The ravages of war have left their black charred mark on the outer façade and from the pictures within the cathedral of what the true impact of the war really did, I was grateful that there was something left to see and appreciative of the continuous renovations and dedication of the many people involved in the preservation for future generations. The interior of the St Stephen’s is very dark and gothic and where elegance and grandeur of Italy’s cathedral is to be admired, the simplicity and humbleness of this icon is not  less diminished.

Speaking of simplicity, my dinner is purchased at a bakery. There are times when a sandwich of fresh salad, cheese and ham on a crusty white bun, accompanied with a traditional Viennese pastry, is all that one can dream of after a long day of walking. Too much richness can spoil the waistline and blow the budget and with my dinner purchased, I make my way back to the hostel for another three-hour marathon of torture by my room-mate.Superman in stone.Wonder woman  in stone.

January 20, 2013

Oh…..Vienna……

English: Stephansplatz and Graben street in th...

English: Stephansplatz and Graben street in the evening. Vienna, Austria. Polski: Stephansplatz i deptak Graben o zmierzchu. Wiedeń, Austria. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I leave Salzburg with the greatest of reluctance, but I am moving on to a bigger city – Vienna. A short, yet pleasant three-hour train journey, I disembark at Hutteldorf station. Before leaving my hostel at Salzburg, I asked for directions to my hostel in Vienna. The directions given was excellent and I arrived at the hostel with no problem. That is until I got to the hostel and they kindly informed me that I have no reservation. It was then that I quickly realised, that I was given excellent directions to the wrong hostel. The woman was very kind and even suggested that she could cancel my reservation at the other hostel and book me into this one. Do you ever get those moments, when a spirit guides you in another (better) direction, but you ignore it and go with what you believe is best, then regret it later on? This was one of those moments and how I regretted it later on.

I eventually found the correct hostel, about an hour later, beautifully situated high above the city of Vienna. Booked in and given the key to my room, I enter and discover my roommate sleeping when it is only two in the afternoon. Not wanting to disturb her, I deposit my bags and leave, making my way into the city to buy another camera. This will be my third and I still have three months left of travelling. I can honestly say that I am over the damn things and frustrated at my bad luck and money wasted. But the thought of not being able to document my travels and not have photo’s as reference for later years, is enough persuasion to buy a new one. But this time, I buy something small and reasonably priced.

It is late in the afternoon and the day is slowing fading. My main mission is complete and so I spend the rest of the day just walking with no purpose or direction. The city is beautiful and it’s reputation as a city of culture and beauty, is well founded. I must contain my excitement to explore for another day and make my way back to my hostel and meet my roommate.

When I open my room door, the woman is awake and appears very friendly and keen to get to know me better. I am longing for company and indeed a conversation with someone, especially with one who speaks English so fluently. But it was almost immediately obvious, that the conversation was going to be one-sided and that I was to spend the next three hours bored and in shock at the conversation that I listened to. This was ‘that moment’  I mentioned in my opening paragraph about guidance that was given, but I refused. In all honesty, I cannot write that my roommate was senile, deluded or in fact that she may even be of sound mind. I have not the courage to even write her name or the conversation we had, in fear that it may even be true. What I can write, is that her life has been for a year, no life at all. On the run and with no home or no family for support, her future is very bleak. I know that I could have opted to change rooms, but I did not have the heart to do it because I knew that she was lonely and needed to confide in someone. I also prayed that this would be a ‘one-off’ event and once she had gotten things off her chest, all will be OK. Wrong! This was only the pre-cursor and I was in for more.

I can only write, that this will be an interesting and very long five days.

YOTOT(MC): Austria Center Vienna (panorama)

YOTOT(MC): Austria Center Vienna (panorama) (Photo credit: Yaisog Bonegnasher)

 

January 13, 2013

The first seasons gentle snow flakes touched and then melted just as quickly upon my face. Since the drop in temperature these past two months, I have anticipated this event. You must humour me a little here because I come from a country of heat and humidity. Snow is almost a rarity and found only in the mountains, far away. I stood outside my hostel and glorified in the cold and subtle caress of the delicate flakes – pure white. Although the snow and bitter cold can dampen ones mood, today I was going to revel the feeling and just enjoy the moment. But ask me in a couple of months time and I may have a completely different opinion.

The city of Salzburg, picturesque and perfect, is dominated by a fortress nestled high upon a hill. It dominates the city, powerful and ancient, it stands overlooking and protecting this little jewel. It is my first place to visit. A small, yet steep climb the driveway and you enter a beautiful courtyard. It is the season and therefore, not many tourists congregate. There was the opt of a cable car or steps, but I thought I should do the walk Maria from my favourite musical did. Next best thing! Within the castle, was several rooms, showcasing war memorabilia from the past, marionette puppets, stately rooms and torture equipment. But the highlight, was a tour behind the scenes – narrow stairs and passageways through rooms tucked out-of-sight – places of imprisonment and torture. Narrow stairs wind their way up a steep turret that leads out on a platform at the very top overlooking Salzburg. The view was absolutely stunning. Grey clouds lay heavy and with it, bitter cold winds that permeated  your clothes. The scene was mystic and magical and although I was cold, I could not help but enjoy the landscape before me and the weather that cast a beautiful blanket of snow and haze.

With the weather being so cold, I wanted a more heartier meal for lunch and trying to find something at a reasonable price, is no small feat. It is a city that caters mainly to tourists – hence the mark-up in price. So my best bet, was to get out of the main tourist precinct. It took some walking and searching, but in the end I found a wonderful little place in narrow cobblestone road on the other side of the river and it served some traditional and very filling Austrian food. When in Austria, you cannot pass by the fried golden chicken schnitzel, with caramelised mushrooms mixed with ham and fried crisp potato wedges. All washed down with a beer. Of course!

For dessert, I walked down to the river’s edge to an iconic institute – The Hotel Sacher – for the very cake it is famous for. There is a small shop on the side of the hotel that sells the cake, but take-away and no coffee, so I had to go inside the hotels restaurant if I wanted to experience the sweet sensation. I was not very comfortable with the idea because I am dressed very ordinary and felt very out-of-place. But at no time was I made to feel uncomfortable by the hotel staff or other guests. The restaurant itself is beautiful and what I loved most was all the old photo’s decorating the walls. Each told a wonderful story – royalty, famous citizens, family members of the hotel patron – elegant men and women dressed to perfection with all their glamour and style. There was so many that I spent the little time there just enjoying the by-gone days of the early twentieth century. My waiter was so elegant and very friendly and the experience  was enjoyable. Now what about that famous cake? It is iconic and well-known and replicated around the world and just maybe the legend is out-date or over-rated? The cake is a dry heavy chocolate cake, with the centre filled with apricot jam and coated with a rich chocolate topping. It is still delicious, although somewhat plain and dry. The coffee washed down the dry remnants and although not wholly disappointed, it was not as great as I expected. But one should always try it, nonetheless.

The most famous son of the city, is none other than Mozart or Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. There are several museums dedicated to the musical master, but I chose the one where he was born and spent his early childhood years in. It is the house that nurtured and exposed this genius of music. Within each room, there are paintings of the family, manuscripts well-preserved, letters between family members and between Mozart and his future wife and musical instruments. All beautifully cared for and preserved, it is a time capsule of a man whose life was so tragically cut short and yet who created such masterpieces in such a short time.

With my final stroll through the Christmas Markets to buy some treats for later on, I slowly made my way back to ,y hostel for some warming up and preparation for my departure tomorrow.

 

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's compositions charact...

The Café's Interior

English: Old Town Salzburg across the Salzach ...

English: Old Town Salzburg across the Salzach river (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

The original Sachertorte, as served at Vienna'...

The original Sachertorte, as served at Vienna’s Hotel Sacher (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

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January 12, 2013

The City To Fill The Senses

Filed under: European Flavour,Solo Travelling,Travel Journal,Travel Journal — nomdeplumage @ 4:20 pm
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I awoke this morning, resolved to continue my journey in the best of spirits and determined that no depression was going to ruin a life-long dream. I had no choice really. The two options that I had was either spend money and time in a doctor’s surgery hoping for a remedy or to continue travelling. The latter was more appealing because I had no idea of the cost of any medical procedure or what the remedy would be. Any medication was not a viable option. There is one small characteristic that I possess and that is; once I make aware of some difficulty/problem, I face it head on and survive. No life is ever easy and without dramas and mine has certainly thrown a few curve balls, but I would continue to put one foot in front of the other and live to the best of my ability. Depression cannot be cured, only managed and that will always be an ongoing struggle, but put the right people and actions into place, your chances are always that much better.

If ever there is a city that resonates within my heart and that I looked forward to more than any other; it would have to be Salzburg. My name must surely be a clue as to why the city of mountains and music is special to me – Maria. My childhood memories are of balmy evenings, fighting with my sister again because the ever popular musical is on- again and my parents always siding with me on this one. The ‘Sound of Music‘ was not just about the main character and I sharing the same name, it was more than that. It was the love story between a nondescript nun and a handsome captain, the children’s laughter and joy, the music, the scenery and the joy that the whole musical would instil again and again. No matter how many times I would watch it, I never got bored. And yes, my sister and I still fight thirty plus years later.

A modern and comfortable new train called the ‘rail jet’ departed Budapest’s Keleti Station before noon and lead me on a six hour journey of peace and reflection through the rain and alps of Austria. The gentle and soothing music from my iPod, offered comfort as I watched the beautiful scenery laid out before me. Six hours was over before I knew and my train finally rolls in to Salzburg’s main train station. What struck at me first, was that I was in the wrong city. The train station was not as I remember it. My recollection was a small, old and single platform station, not a huge, modern and  several platform station. Confused, I followed the crowd and walked into a more modern city.

I visited Salzburg for the first time in 1999 and fell in love with it a first glance. But I only had the chance to spend half a day there and promised myself that I would return one day. Eleven years have passed and many changes have occurred and not all that bad. There is now a major bus terminal and it was here that I was able to find the correct bus to lead me to my hostel. As the bus travelled through the city, I felt somewhat lost and could only marvel at the new changes. But it also brought with it an eagerness to explore this new gem.

Finding my hostel was not easy. The directions given was very obscure and in the end I had to knock on someones door for directions. But in the end I found it. Modern, clean and very hospitable, it would serve me well for the next few days.

Mountains lay behind the hostel and the telltale signs of winter approaching was evident in the subtle shadow of snow covering the peaks. The temperature had plummeted quite rapidly and not prepared as yet to the harsh winter that lay before me, I raced to the shops desperate for some thermals, jacket and gloves. The choice in clothing was reasonable, but I had little money or time to find the ideal clothing. I needed warm clothing and I was desperate. A thick black jacket, a woollen hat and matching gloves and my mother’s knitted scarf, I was prepared and ready to explore.

My first mistake, was not pre booking the ‘Sound of Music’ tour. I stupidly thought that being the ‘off-season’ that tickets would be available without too much trouble. Big mistake! All companies were booked out for the next couple of days and I would miss out again. Heart broken, I was determined to make do and bury my sorrows at the Christmas markets with glu-wein and huge cinnamon doughnuts. Warm spiced mull wine is the perfect winter warmer and is always a special treat when travelling through any German/Austrian country at winter. It slides down into the stomach, bringing warmth and pleasure all the way. It will be safe to speculate, that I will be drinking a lot more of this heart-warmer whilst travelling through Austria and Germany. Their markets are the best without any argument. The food is delicious and varied from hot, artery clogging belly warmers, to the delicious sticky, cavity inducing delights. Then of course there are all the decorations and activities. But my main reason for visiting, is the atmosphere and food. Diet be damned and I will enjoy every morsel while I have the chance. The smells that permeate through the cold air, is something that I cannot describe. It is the smell of winter and Christmas – spices and all good things nice. One can never be depressed in a place like this. Then maybe again when I think about all the food that I will not be able to savour. Oh well!

Belly filled and my senses warmed, it was a quick journey by bus back to my hostel for some rest and meeting new friends.

Salzburg

Salzburg (Photo credit: ecv5)

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January 8, 2013

Enter The Black Dog

Filed under: Diary,European Flavour,Solo Travelling,Travel Journal,Travel Journal — nomdeplumage @ 12:08 pm
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IMG_6719

Or more commonly known as – depression.

One of the fastest growing illness in the world, that touches the lives of many. One can also assume, that depression touches the lives of almost everyone. It may be the individual who has suffered a tragedy or it may be a loved-one who has it, either way, it has a profound affect and it changes your life.

Personally, my depression has lay dormant for years, slowly festering and waiting for the opportunity to rise and knock me hard to the ground. I only ever denied the problem or was so busy dealing with other peoples dilemma’s, that I could forget my own troubles. Well not anymore. It goes without saying, that travelling solo can either make you or break you and I had no one elses problems to deal with but my own. So the situation I had placed myself in was perfect to let my ‘black dog’ loose.

After spending an amazing day touring the sights of Budapest with Warren, I awoke already feeling like I had fallen into a deep hole and could not breathe. I lacked any motivation to do anything and felt so emotional, that tears would swell into my eyes for no reason. The walls were closing in and I needed to get out.

I walked the cold grey streets of the city in no apparent direction. There was no place I needed to see, no one I needed to be with and no energy to propel me anywhere. My steps were heavy and my body numb and the only thought I had was to place one foot in front of the other. Life was going on around me, but I saw and heard nothing. I cried with each step taken and had never felt so alone, helpless or afraid in my entire life because it was then, at that moment, I wanted to die. Thoughts raced through my mind as to how I wanted to end it. I tried willing the concrete paths to open up and swallow me whole or hoped a bus would pass and end my misery. Never, had these thoughts ever crossed my mind before and they frightened me. It was here that I finally admitted that I needed help and that I have depression.

You know that feeling of always being strong for others, for just waking every day and getting on with life and never admitting defeat or that you cannot do it. Then that moment of admission. That incredible feeling of relief, the emotions that rise and release and the burden that you finally throw off your shoulders, can only be described as enlightening. To finally admit I have a problem and to release years of pain, was the salvation that I so desperately needed. This journey was something I desperately needed. It made me come to grips with my mental state, my life and direction and the most profound of all, that I am number one for me,myself and I. Do you know what the hardest word to say in the English language is? NO! Two letters, but so painfully hard to say. Why? You want to make others happy. You want to please others and you want them always to think the best of you. You want praise, affection and the ‘thank-you’ at the end of the day. You give, give and give. At what cost? The cost of one’s health or sanity, is a high price to pay and I may never have come to this conclusion if not for a tarot reader telling me of a journey that “I had to take”. In two days my life had changed. Two days, one amazing soul and one amazing city, changed my course in life and set me on a new path.

I had no camera to document my day, nor to remind myself of a day I would never forget and so I kept walking. The incredible monument dedicated to the men from the past, who helped create and shape Hungary was on full display. It is the only thing worth mentioning, for I saw nothing else today. I stood below each statue and looked up, wandering what miseries and burdens that they carried to bring about unity and peace to a once troubled country. That their troubles were so much greater than mine and yet here I stand, tears streaming down my face at my own miserable existence. It does not get more pathetic than that. When I recommenced my walk, I chose a wide boulevard full of humanity and noise. I needed companionship and something to focus on. But all in vain. I was embarrassed by my tears and so bowed my head and became lost once again in my thoughts. So lost in fact, that when I came to to my surroundings, I realised that I had indeed become lost. I had no map to guide me and thought I could keep going and I would eventually make my way back into the city. But the more I walked, the more lost I became and panic slowly started to emerge. When finally that feeling of defeat hits and knowing that going forward is a surety for failure, stop and turn back. It was all that I could do. I retraced my steps until I came to familiar surroundings. Having wasted my day on getting lost both mentally and physically, I realised that I had not eaten anything and was hungry. A quick stop at a cafe to eat a late lunch, I headed back to my hostel for much needed writing.

The hostel was quite and I had the communal computer all to myself and so I sat down to write an email to my cousin in Australia. For me, writing has always been the best therapy. It has ever been my best way of communicating, expressing my emotions and getting my voice heard. It soothes me and invigorates me at the same time. It brings out the best in me and it saved me. I wrote the mother of all emails, every emotion, every thought I wrote down and some. Drained, I retired early to bed and felt saddened that tomorrow I was to leave Budapest and leave my new friends. But it is a journey and I need to continue……………

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October 7, 2012

Budapest

Filed under: Diary,European Flavour,Solo Travelling,Travel Journal — nomdeplumage @ 4:18 pm
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First,I wish to apologise for my lack of photos in this post, but if you remember, my camera died yesterday and I needed to buy another.

A reoccurring theme on my travels, is rain and today was no exception. A heavy mist blanketed the city, giving it a romantic look to it. I had made no real plans today, only that I wanted to walk, explore and see what I can discover. It was all to be so exciting and I allowed myself the pleasure of getting lost. And yet, I felt at home because surrounding me were people speaking a language that was so familiar to me, more so than in Australia because there the dominate language is English and we would only revert to Hungarian in public, when we would want to bitch about someone – as you do!

The Danube, a silver ribbon that meanders and divides the city is so close to my hostel that it is here that I decide to start my journey. It truly is a mighty river and so symbolic to the romantic ideals of the city. Bridges unite the two halves and there on the very foreshore, is undoubtably the most beautiful of all Parliament Houses. The red dome, very much a Renaissance symbol, dominates the skyline. I walk past the building, only to be stopped by a disgruntled elder, who needed to vent his frustration about politics. My ears, although being small is size, absorbed the barrage and I left a little later, knowing that I did a good deed, even though I said barely anything. Really, what could I to say?

St Stephen’s Cathedral is a place of worship that my family has spoken about numerous times. It was only fitting that I should discover it so easily. Beautiful outside and within, it certainly lived up to the hype and personally for me, one of the most beautiful of cathedrals thus far. I say one because the Italians still have the upper hand in that department. Surrounding the cathedral are countless tourist shops and I venture into just one for a peek. Wow! I discovered so many wonderful and precious hand-made needle-craft, ornaments, clothing and so much more. It was all so tempting and so was the price-tag. Nearby, was a cafe and the Hungarians are famous for their pastries/cakes that I thought it only my duty to stop and sample one. There was only one cake that I really wanted and that was the most famous of them all. The Dobos torte is an icon and it was delicious. Something that I found unsettling in Budapest, is the size of the toilet rooms. Once you enter the tiny compartment, you can barely close the door and then the truly difficult task of sitting down because  your knees are squashed up against the door. Now, I am considered and average size woman in height/weight and struggled, so what about taller people???? Hmm… the mind boggles!

The most famous of all streets and precinct in the city is Vaci Utca. Famous for the cafes and the legendary Gerbeaud Restaurant and also as the “red light” district. I would have loved to have eaten in Geabeaud’s but the restaurant was full and the price was also a big deterrent. The district is full of shops of all kinds, but it is also home to the Christmas Market. Today, was the official opening of the season and it was so special to be a part of it. Although, there is no snow yet, it certainly did not take away any of the festive atmosphere. There was so much delicious food to be had, that I decided to stop here for lunch. I went to a stall to ask for a plate of some traditional food, only to stumble on my words. The man was very polite and asked “English or Hungarian” and I quickly replied Hungarian. He smiled, realised that I was not a local and served me some food accompanied with hot mulled wine. I sat at a long communal table and just enjoyed the atmosphere and food. But reality is never far behind and a wake-up call on how privileged I am. A homeless man was going through the garbage bins in search of food. It is something that would reoccur many times here in Budapest and one underlying factor is the amount of homeless people that roam the streets. And let us not forget the other’s that roam the streets and give Budapest the name of “sex capital”.

At the end of the very long Vaci Utca, is the Central Market. Again, this is an institution and comes high on the tourist recommendation list. A massive two storey market dedicated to all things Hungarian. The lower level sell food in all formats – cold meats, fruit and vegetables, spices, cakes, alcohol, cheeses, fresh meat etc. The upper level sells hand-made needle-craft in the thousands and then on the other side are the stalls selling hot food. I bypassed that section as I have just eaten lunch, but it was so tempting. With winter slowly approaching, the days are getting shorter and night comes early. I make my way back to my hostel to catch-up with my new friends.

lldiko is a beautiful girl and she is at the reception desk when I arrive back. We start talking and she tells me that her boyfriend is from Australia. Not much time passes, when the “Australian boyfriend” arrives. Warren sits down and we all start to talk like long lost friends. After what felt like minutes, was in actual fact several hours, Warren offered to play tour guide tomorrow as well as lending me his camera. The offer was too surreal to pass up and with that decision made, we said our goodnights.

My life was about to change and Warren would become the most influential person to enter my life.

 

 

 

 

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