A Travellerspoint blog

Passing under the Iron Curtain

We're Hungary!

With the trip now reaching its final stages, much of the research we had done previously was wearing thin and had not been in as much detail in any case! So goulash, Atilla the Hun, burly hairy wrestlers and steroid taking athletes were the best stereotypical images we had as we descended into Budapest.

Our original itinerary had us staying in hostels in both Budapest and Berlin - but during our time in Venice, a perchance email from expedia.com.au got us onto a few bargain specials, which meant a few extra bucks and we were booked into 4 star hotels! The global financial 'crisis' meant a bit of extra comfort for us, not complaining at all..

Checked in and refreshed, we hit a nearby square called Liszt Ferenc for dinner, and as much as we'd enjoyed the pizzas and pastas in Italy, it was wonderful to have a fresh, modern and healthy (carb free!) international meal, washed down with great Hungarian vino.

Our hotel (Soho Boutique Hotel) was right in the middle of town and close to many of the sights of town, and Budapest has a cheap and efficient (albeit slightly retro looking) metro system.


Spa city

Budapest is known as the 'spa city', mainly because of the local culture of bathing in medicinal hot waters in the various bath complexes around the city. Not ones to miss out on a unique experience, We headed to the Schezenyi (check) baths to indulge, and despite intial confusion with ettiquette, we had a pretty good time!

First, you are given a tiny closet in which to change, and you leave your belongings in there, to be locked up by an attendent, who in return gives you a small metal plate. You need to remember the number on your 'cabin'!

Once changed, you have a choice of a large number of indoor and outdoor baths, all set to different temperatures (28C, 35C, 38C), some aromatherapy, some full of gushing water that swings you round and round the pool (all the while we couldn't stop giggling!), and many with medicinal mineral waters. There are also saunas, and outdoor pools complete with spa jets, old men playing chess, and people laying about on towels. Patrons included families with small children, pensioners, couples, and some other curious tourists.

We spent a few good hours but with the weather turning sour, we changed and headed back home, but not before collecting a 10% refund for our 'short' stay!

Unfortunately - no photographs since we were a bit paranoid about security and with water about..

Hungarian Heroes

Nearby the Schezenyi baths, in the park surrounding the area at the top of the tree-lined Andrassy Avenue, is 'Heroes Square' showing Hungarians of days gone by in heroic poses. The metro line heading up Andrassy Avenue is classic - in the true sense of the word, by accident or intent, we're not sure. Two tiny carriages make up these little trains and each station is complete with 1920s decor and signage.


Around about town

Budapest lived up to its reputation as a very pretty city, albeit there was a certain lack of atmosphere as compared to some of the other cities we'd been, particularly in Western Europe. Some of the sites included St Istvan's catherdral, the Dohany St Synagogue, and the parliament building.


In front of the cathedral, we witnessed this special moment..


At night in Budapest

The city is quiet in the evenings, in particular around the Parliament, Chain Bridge and Castle District - except for the many keen photographers that come out with their tripods to grab that special shot. Sans tripod, we still managed to pick up a few nice shots improvising with bollards, our camera bag, and anything else we could find to rest the camera.


Im-Menza-ly good tucker

On our final evening we had a great meal at another restaurant in Liszt Ferenc called "Menza", a well known local with reasonable prices and a long waiting list. We must have been lucky, on a rainy night and without reservation, we quickly scored a table. Meal was fantastic, wine was good, very satisfying.


A cure for wear and tear.. its a tough life

Before our afternoon train to vienna, we treated ourselves to a 'deluxe pedicure' (Suma) and deep tissue massage (Deepak) at a nearby hotel (heavenly!). A quick meal and some snacks to get rid of remaining HUF (Hungarian forint), and we were off again to the country of rolling hills and 'Sound of Music'.

Posted by deepaksuma 15:42 Archived in Hungary Comments (0)

Floating through Venezia

Train Delay

Trains are a great way to get around Italy. Nice views of the countryside, fast, clean and efficient, but you better hope there are no problems with your train. Or another train on the track in front of you - which was our bain in this case. We flew up through Rome, Florence and into Tuscany before we were forced to stop in the middle of the Tuscan countryside near Bologna for 3 hours, and with other delays, extending our 6 our fly-by trip to a solid 10 hours.

First peak of Grand Canal

Finally arrived in Venice and immediately exhilarated by our first peak at the Grand Canal, which snakes its way right in front of the main train station, Venice Santa Lucia.

Riding Oriago Centrale

Venice is made up of 117 islands, and the centre of town is a horribly expensive (and touristy), so we had booked our accomodation at Faronhof B&B, on the mainland in a town called Oriago, a 20 minute bus ride into the islands. Monica, our host, was fantastic and welcomed us with maps and tips, prepared a great breakfast every morning, and all in all was a pleasure to meet. She also lent us bikes to get around Oriago; a quiet suburban town made up of big fields and flat roads, and with a charming canal of its own.


Exploring the Canales, Rios, and Pontes of Venice

Our first stop in town was Piazzale Roma, Venice's main bus station. Being '29 or under' (just!), we were able to pick up a 72 hour transport pass for a bargain, nearly half price at 18 euro per person.

Hopped on the vaporetto around the island arriving near St Marks Square, and walked around the canals and small squares, getting lost in the narrow alleyways, as you do in Venice! One great feature are the signs on canal corners pointing you in the direction of main sights e.g Rialto, Piazza San Marco, Accademia or P.Roma, which allow you to keep your bearings somewhat. We lunched on the steps of St Marks in fine style, with antipasto and sandwiches picked up earlier at the Coop supermarket.


We worked our way around following the signs to the Rialto Bridge and had a walk down the sidewalks of the Grand Canal, watching the gondoliers plying away and navigating the waters - a pretty awesome sight. Venice is such a unique city, picturesque despite the mass of tourists, who alongside the canals, gondolas, vaporettos and historic venetian buildings, create a nice vibe and atmosphere unlike any other place we've seen.


'Frank' (the mule) carries everything

Good fun this evening riding bikes back home in Oriago, Deepak's bike equipped with two heavy shopping bags with tonight's dinner, a couple of bottles of mineral water, the camera bag and a backpack. Sumathi calls him "the mule", Deepak proclaimed that "Frank always carries everything".

Continued our good 'run' of workouts with yoga and a nice 5km run around Oriago - 'Sorrento 2 Surf' training coming along well.

The Islands

Spent our second full day in Venice island hopping, starting off with Murano (famous for its glass), Burano (famous for its lace, and colourful houses), and the rest of the afternoon whizzing around on the vaporetto and making the most of our travel pass.

Murano itself was quite nice, with many shops selling all types of colourful and interesting glassware. The famous Murano glass is on show around town too, in the form of sculptures and artwork adding some vibrancy to the sleepy village.


Burano (the similarity in the names of the islands must cause endless confusion) was smaller than Murano and with a little less to see, although the colourful painted houses make for some nice photographs. This is more a living breathing fishing village, but the tourist dollars must make life a little more comfortable (albeit must be a bit annoying!). I'm sure theres a good story behind why the houses were painted such, similar to the Bo Kaap in Cape Town (seems like a long time ago now!).


From Burano, we enjoyed the summer breeze on the vaporetto across the lagoon, and ended up in St Marks Square, where we watched the sunlight fade and dusk settle, before heading back to the mainland.


Ciao, Spicy Salamino!

Our final morning in Venice before catching the plane to Budapest - we stored our packs at the left luggage counter in town and had a good walk around up and down the fresh fruit and fish markets alongside the Rialto bridge, and then up Grand Canal, soaking up the atmosphere. On a side street, we picked up a steaming hot spicy salamino pizza, and sat by the Rialto bridge to devour it - our last pizza before leaving Italy, and by god it tasted good.


Wizzing - but not so fast..

Soon enough, we resumed our journey with a 1 hour hop to Budapest on Wizz! Air, a low cost carrier based out of central Europe. Unfortunately, 1 hour to Treviso Airport, another hour waiting, and a half hour delay made the journey a half day affair.

Posted by deepaksuma 11:08 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Sorrento & the Amalfi Coast

Golden droplets

Sorrento is a sundrenched little town nestled alongside the Bay of Naples, and despite the invasion of tourists, maintains its tag as the gateway to the playground of the rich and famous. Streets are picturesque and lined marvellous large villas and 5-star hotels with sunset views over the bay. Orange and lemon trees abound in private and public areas, the fruit especially tasty! The abundance has to be seen to be believed - and the good people of this region do what any fun loving and/or entrepreneurial people would do in such a situation - make hay! Or alcoholic liqueurs in this instance, called Limoncello and Aranciata.


Sorrento to Surf!

It is in this town that we begin our quest for the 2009 City to Surf - the journey now to be known as <b>Sorrento 2 Surf</b>. Three runs in three mornings (2km, 4km, 4km) gave us the kickstart we needed, lets see if we can keep it going.

Costa di Amalfi

The Amalfi Coast is famous for it's spectacular scenery, winding roads wrapping around cliff faces, and picturesque little coastal towns. Picking up an all-day bus pass, Our adventures took us to the town of Amalfi, in the heart of the coastline, and then back to Sorrento via the spectacular Positano.

Amalfi is a tiny town, despite which was once a maritime and regional power that, in its heydey, commanded a small empire. These days it commands the tourism dollar, with cruise ships docking here and busloads of daytrippers (like us) descending on the town each day. A brief walk around and a bite to eat (including an expensive gelato!), and we were ready to head to Positano.


As far as picturesque towns go, Positano has to be one of the nicest we've seen. Perched precariously around the cliff-face, stylish buildings in pastel pinks and yellows line the coastline, surrounding a small gravel beach. A winding pathway takes you around the top of town and descends down to thee beach, and as the sun ducked out between overcast periods, we ducked in and out expensive boutique shops (375 Euro for a Ralph Lauren polo shirt!), bars, pastry shops (lemon delight!) and limoncello huts, all complete with 'No Photo' signs.


As night fell, we grabbed the crowded bus back to Sorrento, striking up conversation with a fellow Aussie (yes, they're everywhere!), a nice dinner and an evening stroll home.

No Capri

Would have loved to have made the dash over to the island of Capri, famed for its natural beauty, and home to the 'Insalata Caprese' (or so we think?). Unfortunately, we ran out of time and decided to head to Napoli early, to stay a night and catch an early morning train to Venice.

Chennai.. in Europe!

Naples - lets just say its .. different. Best way we could describe it was, well, it was like someone had taken Chennai out of India, and dropped it in the middle of Italy! Endless construction works, crazy traffic, hawkers galore, the dirt, the smell, it was uncanny!

We tried a walk around town in the afternoon but didn't really find anything of note to see or shoot, but we did get caught up in the hustle and bustle of town.


But every cloud has a silver lining..

The half day we had in Naples was made all worthwhile when, in the evening, we visited a whitewalled, sparsely decorated pizzeria aptly called 'Antica Pizzeria Da Michelle'. This place, according to Lonely Planet, has been serving its steaming pizzas since 1870, and is widely recommended as the best pizza in the world.

The menu consists of pizzas - Margherita (cheese and tomato) or Marinara (tomato, garlic and basil) - soft drinks, and beer. That's it! We took a ticket at the door, and 15 minutes later we were in, by chance sharing a communal table with another aussie couple, and devoured an absurdly cheap 4 euro pizza each. I heartily agree - simple, but very very effective - this place has the BEST pizza in the world.

Posted by deepaksuma 09:16 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Discovering Pompeii

Planes, trains and automobiles..

Our journey back from Santorini consisted of a half hour transfer from Oia to the airport, planes from there to Rome via Athens, trains from Rome Fiumucino airport to Napoli via Roma Termini, and a 'Circumvesuviana' train from Napoli to Sant Agnello, where we got caught in a drenching rain shower, packs and all, on the 500m walk from the station. We couldn't help but burst out laughing whilst cowering under closed shop awnings and rail bridges trying to save our packs from complete disaster!

Scavi Pompei

The excavation site of Pompeii consists of 60 hectares of a well preserved working town, of which 12 are open to the public. A half hour ride from Sant Angello got us to the town gates, and with maps and audioguides in hand, we set about exploring the ancient site.

Walking around the cobbled streets and buildings of an ancient town was as fascinating as it was eery - even vineyards and gardens had been preserved underground and post restoration, are in bloom as if it were yesteryear, and fountains flow with fresh streaming water from ancient piping. As distinct from Roman and Egyptian ruins that we had seen previously, the stunning aspect was that since the town was buried till recently, much of the town was intact, not subject to pillaging and weather damage.


Highlights included the ancient sports arena, similar but smaller than Rome's colosseum, the amphitheatres, and some of the homes and restaurants. The most disturbing were the plaster casts made of the victims who died during the volcanic explosion that rendered the town extinct - created by filling the cavities in which their bodies lay and decayed over the centuries before excavation. Poses show expressions of shock, fright, desparation, and despair.


Posted by deepaksuma 08:58 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Sensational Santorini

One night in Athens..

The prospect of a Greek island soujourn posed an interesting question whilst planning this trip. The only port of entry into the islands is via Athens, and since we weren't going there, our next best option was to get there from Italy. Hence, we split our Italian odyssey and made a quick hop over into Santorini.

The journey was yet another curveball, and required us to negotiate a 6 hour layover in Athens airport - from 11.30pm till 5.30am. Hey, we saved a nights accomodation, and all in all proved to be fairly comfortable, what with a 24 hour McDonalds, free wifi and a laptop movie to keep us occupied, the six hours flew by in a flash. I was slightly annoyed however when the next flight consisted a total of 25 minutes flying time, which just didn't seem appropriate.

'Yasas' Eeey-yah (Oia)

Arrival transfer brought us to Oia, but were informed we couldnt check in until 2pm (not the news you want to hear after an all nighter in an airport). Took the opportunity to walk around the picturesque town, with its sugarcube white buildings, blue domes and breattaking views across what they call the 'caldera' - the sheer seaside cliffs caused by the ancient volcanic eruption that created the island as it stands today. After an hour or so, sleep deprivation caught up with us and we decided to catch a bus to Fira, a nearby town. Promptly fell asleep at the bus stop, and again on the bus there. Had a nice lunch in Fira, got the bus back and enjoyed another 25 minute nap. Got back to Oia good as new!


Sunset spectacular

The title attraction in Santorini is the sunset, and the daily light show is gazed upon by hundreds of eager spectators from the tip of the Oia village, by an ancient byzantium temple perched dangerously on the cliff face. We watched 4 spectacular sunsets, each unique, and on our second night taking along beer and peanuts to enjoy the show!


Amoudi Bay

Down below Oia is a tiny bay amongst volcanic red rocks, and you can get there by descending the mere 230 odd steps (no sweat, right?). Anyhow, what goes down, must come up (I know.. but it works in this case), and that was our exercise for the day. Great views, though, and a really unique place. For those who have luggage, a donkey can be of assistance by carrying your bags for you - simple but effective!


Scooting around Santorini

By far the best decision we made was to hire a scooter - or, to be precise, a 50cc quad bike (ATV), to give us the freedom to scoot around the island and explore its many treasures on our own schedule. And it was fun to ride! The island roads are relatively good and some of the drives unforgettable, with roads snaking around cliff faces, often with ocean on both sides, wind in our hair (well, Sumathi's, anyway).


Sandy beaches - not!

Santorini is an island whose character is inextricably linked to the volcanic activity which created it, and as such, much of the island is barren, apart from plants introduced by man into the rich volcanic soil. Rock is a strange mix of rusty red and jet black.

Santorini's coastline is dotted by it's famous 'black beaches' - stretches of fine smooth black stones leading into calm waters. The most famous of these, Kamari and Perissa, are both lined with sun lounges and umbrellas, with waterfront promenades, bars and clubs.

In Kamari, we subjected ourselves to lazing around on the deck chairs, by the glorious turquoise waters, fanned by warm breeze, split only by intermittent dips in the cool waters. Sigh!


(The water was cold! Funnily, the hardest work we had to do was feebly attempting to get in and out of the water, the smoooth black stones acting like quicksand, sucking in our feet and weighing them down, making wading through the water an absolute mission! I'm sure there is a technique to it - but we certainly didn't make much headway)

In Perissa, we made it easy for ourselves by hanging out in a club just by the beach, equipped with its own swimming pool by the bar, serving cold beer and fresh sandwiches. Oh, the life!


With the theme song to 'The Beach' running through our heads, we zoomed out to another interesting beach on the south of the island, dominated by the rusty red rock outcrop and red stones; and imaginatively named 'Red Beach'. The ocean views, and the red contrasts with blue water make for pretty amazing viewing. It took some effort to climb up and around some pretty steep stones to get into the secluded area, after which the tiny beach offered little in the way of shade from the midday sun - so our stay was shortlived.


Santorini Wine!

Ouzo is the digestiv of choice (offered gratis after each meal we had), but we were lucky enough to get out to one of the many vineyards to sample some of Santorini's acclaimed local wines. Apparently, the volcanic soil proves to be very good for growing grapes!

The vineyard we visited was called Domaine Siglas, and we sampled some whites and their dry but easy drinking red, and was suitably impressed.


Dinner and a show?

Our staple for our time had thus far been limited to gyros (or 'yeeros' back home), which always proved to be a fresh and reasonably satisfying meal (and at 2 euros a pop, was by far the most economical!)

On our last evening, we treated ourselves to a nice meal at Kastro, a restaurant on the terrace just by the byzantine temple in Oia. We downed a bottle of Siglas' red as the sun wore down in hues of orange, and tucked into posh souvlaki (with knives and forks and everything!) overlooking the serene waters.


After dinner, we tried our hand at some nightshots over Oia - result!


Posted by deepaksuma 02:06 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

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