Category Archives: Travel

Italy and the End, for now…

We’d stayed in Budapest much longer than originally intended, for the simple reason that it was brilliant! However, we had to make our way to our final destination in North Italy – Sëlva di Val Gardena. The train journey was long and there was a bus to get at the end of it, so we decided to split our journey halfway in Salzburg. Unfortunately the hostel there turned out to be consummately awful, my favourite thing about it was writing a scathing review for Hostelbookers. I don’t think there is a way to directly link, but it’s somewhere among the others, some of which are bafflingly positive. We didn’t really do anything in Salzburg except traipse from the station to the hostel and back, so I can’t really say anything except that it’s rather expensive.

Once that leg of the journey was over, after several windy buses along sheer cliff faces, we arrived in Sëlva. We had a great time there, fitting in a lot of mountain trekking along with the usual gastronomic odysseys that you will be bored of reading about if you’ve seen my earlier articles. There were a lot of peaceful hillsides with very relaxed-looking and bell-wearing cows tinkling along. The views are spectacular and the air clean and refreshing. It was an invigorating and relaxing place to finish our trip.

A precariously parked Land Rover

They get a lot more interested when you open your backpack

Interrailing with Lucy was a great experience and I really want to do it again as soon as possible. It was refreshing to get out of the UK for an extended period. I liked not being aware of anything going on at home, though I am a bit addicted to online news and must admit I did peek. The almost constant sunshine helped a lot too. It was interesting seeing the little differences between every country, and feeling more European than British for probably the first time. It was embarrassing being so incompetent when it comes to languages, I should try to learn some more before going next time. I do not think I will ever be conversant in Hungarian or Slovak though.

A typically rainy Gatwick airport greeted us after a reasonably short flight from Innsbruck (a fantastically small airport with no multi-mile walks to get in and out). That was unfortunately the end of our Interrailing, for now…

Budapest Part 2

A lot of people had told us about the famous Budapest spa houses so we felt we just had to go and try one out. We opted for Széchenyi, which was a 15 minute metro ride away and offered about six indoor and outdoor pools. There was a hot (38C) outdoor pool where we managed to play a game of chess after the old men miraculously left one of the boards unclaimed. More excitingly however, there was a slightly cooler pool which had a sort of whirlpool enclosed by walls in the middle. Periodically it got going and was soon crammed with humans of all sizes. There was a delightful lack of health and safety with seemingly only one lifeguard for all three outdoor pools. He was texting when I walked past. We both managed to get horrendous sunburn, I keep telling myself I should rethink my cavalier attitude towards UV radiation.

This has nothing to do with the article, but I didn’t take any photos after the walking tour so it will have to do

Afterwards we decided to get a Hungarian snack, Lángos, which is a sort of deep fried bread. It was alright, but tasted so greasy that I could practically feel the acne breaking out as I ate it. Having also had some dreadful fast food for lunch, we were looking forward to a free Hungarian cooked meal in the hostel. Anticipation turned to slight dismay when the free meal turned out to be Lángos. The situation was salvaged by eating half an orange each for health considerations. We met people around the table and decided to go on a bar crawl together. The first bar we went to was a bit nondescript but enhanced greatly by free alcohol.

Next however, we went to Szimpla, which was pretty damn cool. It is a ‘ruin bar’, which means it is in an old Soviet-era building complete with rickety furniture and crumbling concrete walls. There was also bizarrely a woman selling raw carrots which they say help to soak up the alcohol. After, we went to what could be described as a ‘ruin club’ set at the top of an old department store building. It had a rooftop bar where you could stay to watch the sunrise. At about 4:15 we got too tired and went home though, wusses.

Bright but not very early the next day, we endeavoured to go to the Terror Museum, which showcases the brutality of the World War II Nazi-collaborating regime and the communist government afterwards. It was pretty gruelling in places, with detailed video descriptions of hanging for example, but very interesting and educational. We got back to the hostel and fell asleep on the couch where I believe we got photographed. Our time in ‘Njoy Budapest’ had run out, but we decided to move to ‘Hostel Goodmo’ instead of going to Croatia, since the trip would have taken too damn long (18 hours). Luckily we arrived in time for their weekly free meal, some sort of stew of onions, potatoes and sausages brewed in a big cauldron. It was very hearty and just what we needed. We went back to Szimpla but didn’t go any further this time, as next day we were going caving!

In the morning though we went to the Palatinus water park, it was a great start to the day and had a potentially whiplash-inducing slide at about a 70° incline, with no surly lifeguards at the top of course like in British water parks. We lounged about for a bit but then had to rush off to get to the meeting point for the caving trip. After quite a long bus ride, we got to the Duna-Ipoly National Park. We got on some overalls and helmets with torches, and went down to an entrance to the Pál-völgyi cave system with ten other people and our guide. Neither of us had ever done caving before, but it turned out to be a great experience. We spent 2.5 hours at depths of up to 50m and variously had to crawl, slide on our backs, shift along on our stomachs and climb slippery clay covered rocks. Along the way we got to see some fossilised seashells and learn that caving is a lot more physically intensive than it sounds. The guide from the company we did it with spoke excellent English and was obviously very experienced in dealing with people getting stuck etc. – the tour was actually designed for people who had never done caving before.

A view from the Buda side of the river, the Margaret island on the left holds the Palatinus water park

The evening held some very well deserved seafood paella (yes I’m back to talking about food already), which had at least five different species in it, very tasty. We went up to the rooftop bar of Hostel Goodmo and had a few farewell drinks with our new friends, we were leaving in the afternoon of the next day. In the morning I suggested we go to the central market, but ten minutes later remembered I hate shopping, so after making some avocado and speck sandwiches it was off to the station.

Budapest Part 1

Budapest Keleti-Pu station was busy and a bit grotty at first glance. It didn’t improve when we queued up to be told that we were in the wrong queue (happens every time) and had to buy bus tickets from the sweet shop! A rattling bus ride put us near our hostel ‘Njoy Budapest’, close to Astoria metro station. We went out to the nearby Bali Café where I had an enormous ‘Bali Chicken’ which was a scrumptious chicken schnitzel covered in sour cream, champignons and mozzarella. The hostel had a massive TV and DVDs, and we laboured through about a third of Avatar before falling asleep.

Next day we missed the start of the morning walking tour due to my dubious directional skills. We did a bit of wondering and stopped at the worst café in Central Europe (‘Anna Café’) where we got horrendously overcharged for a weak lemonade and slapped with a compulsory 15% service charge mentioned in small print on the menu. The only satisfaction was paying with a 20,000 Hungarian Forint note (about €72) and shrugging at the suggestion we might have smaller change (we did). Sneaking into Burger King toilets was the way forward from now on.

The Shiny Horse

We joined the afternoon walking tour with Zoltan (who said his name translates to ‘Sultan’). I have probably missed out several marks on the letters, there are 44 of them in the Hungarian alphabet. First, we learned that Budapest takes its name from the two sides of the city which are called Buda and Pest, separated by the river. Most of the city is on the Pest side (pronounced ‘pesht’) and he slightly bitterly dubbed the Buda side the rich side. After we walked across we saw what he meant, it looked more like Bruges than anywhere else with a lot of medieval cobbling going on. There was an amusing horse statue with shiny balls though. Local students used to touch them for good luck before some sort of city council grouches banned climbing on the statue.

We were also furnished with some useful information on Hungarian idiosyncrasies. If you give a waiter money in a restaurant and say thank you (‘kosunum’) without first waiting for the change you are saying ‘keep the change’! There was also a crash course in Hungarian humour, which Zoltan ruefully admitted is not exactly side-splitting. One of the favourites was rather long-winded: after World War I, Hungary had to cede territory on all its borders. The gist of the joke was that Hungary was the only place in the world in which you could cross the border and stay in the same country. Rest assured it has not lost much in the retelling.

I felt a bit bad that we couldn’t between our group name five famous Hungarians. Franz Liszt and Ernst Rubik (of the cube) were among them. My offering of Paul Erdős didn’t register (too much maths, computer science). Another great Hungarian joke was that all famous Hungarians were or are expats. The tour was sardonically amusing though and definitely recommended for getting a feel of the city and some recommendations about where to go (in an nutshell, avoid all touristy areas)

Bratislava

Bratislava was probably one of the less well known places we visited, but it was definitely worth it. It’s also a convenient stop off between Prague and Budapest. It was much less touristy than most places we’ve been, being quite quiet and small for a city. On the plus side it was also probably the cheapest place, with 0.5l of the Zlatý Bažant (Golden Pheasant) lager being about €1.50. We were lucky enough to be staying in the excellent Botel Marina, which is what it says on the tin: a hotel on a boat moored on the Danube.

Arriving late afternoon, we did some well deserved sleeping before heading to the ‘Krishna’ restaurant conveniently located on our boat. Indian restaurants seem to be scarce in mainland Europe but this one turned out to be nothing short of brilliant. The fish curry and butter naans were some of our favourites. As bonuses, it was very cheap and had a classically taciturn waiter.

Two men and a snail

On the first full day, we went to visit the historic town centre area which was pretty close by and featured some interesting market stalls, one selling very artfully carved fruits. There were also a lot of bronze statues dotted about in interesting poses which added a lot of character to the centre. For lunch we went to the alchemical restaurant and bar which serves good traditional type food and had very friendly staff. After a further reduction of the sleep debt we headed to the close-by Jasmin Chinese restaurant. Lucy ordered ‘Duck with Eight Treasures’ which was the house speciality. Amusingly for me and unfortunately for her, one of the treasures was most certainly some sort of cubed offal, possibly liver or heart. That aside though, the portions were huge and the food, while sometimes unidentifiable, was very nice.

We felt we had to do something other than eat in Bratislava, so the next day we rented some pretty posh trekking bikes for the very reasonable €9 per bike (5 hours) from ‘Bike Bratislava’. This characteristically (for us) took much longer to find than it should have. Once we managed to actually get them, we went back to the Danube waterfront and followed the (quite long) cycle path. On the way there were some imposing views, such as this one from under a bridge.

Lucy and a lion made of tyres

After an hour or so, despite my persistence that there would be something more exciting than suburbs around the next bend, we turned back. On the way back, we went to a rather ‘trendy’ looking café which was either a converted or current dance school, the drinks were great and the food decent. We headed back down the Danube and ended up in a very busy shopping centre complete with artificial beach. This turned out to not be very cycle friendly, so after a bit we returned the bikes and went back to Krishna’s for some sort of Royal Tandoori banquet (definitely get it if you go).

On our last day we visited the ‘Freja‘ spa which had a sauna, pool and great jacuzzi. If you go in happy hours it’s quite cheap and definitely worth it. We also discovered that Slovaks do not go naked in saunas – the rough guide book did say they were characteristically reserved. We used Bratislava more as a rest stop than anything else, but I am sure there was a lot more to do that we did not take advantage of. One place we wanted to visit, the Novy Most restaurant/bar/UFO was just out of our price range, at €12 for soup plus a €3.50 student entrance fee! I did find some very amusing descriptions of stag-do packages in Bratislava on the tourism website though, so that might be worth a look. Next stop, Budapest!

Prague

Our arrival in Prague was heralded by the usual predicament of the ATM awarding us the highest value note it could – 2000 Czech Koruna (about €80). Needless to say this wasn’t great for ticket machines, so we had to pay at the desk who told us ‘ah you have the big money!’. After resolving this though, the metro turned out to be very fast and we soon arrived at the bottom of the steep hill to our hostel. We didn’t mind though, since it was pretty quiet and the streets were nice and cobbled. Before going to bed, we watched a bit of Olympic Weightlifting and talked to some English people who recommended pedal boating.

So next day we did so in a Swan Boat, no less. We had to steadfastly avoid drifting towards the weir which made the outing all the more exciting. In search of some Czech food on our street, Nerudova, we got a goulash (actually Hungarian) type soup with bready dumplings. It was very filling and just what we needed. It was a shame the wasps were so interested as they invariably instil panic in me and Lucy.

Lucy and a skeleton

In the afternoon we went to the museum of alchemy which had many peculiar and amusing things in jars up a tower with a spiral staircase. Afterwards we went to the alchemical bar and I made the mistake of ordering Grog, which is quite possibly the most foul drink in existence. Following profuse amounts of water to banish the taste, we went to the ‘Ghosts and Legends’ museum, which was included on the alchemy ticket. It proved to be quite ghostly, we walked past it four times and asked two people for (correct) directions before finding it. Unfortunately it was a bit underwhelming, consisting of too much writing and not enough scary papier mache figures.

We were only going to stay one night in Prague, but after looking in horror at how long it would take to get to Poland (about a 9 hour train minimum just to Krakow) we decided to save Poland for next time and booked into ‘Hostel Mango’ for another two nights. So on the third day we finally mustered up enough energy to go on a walking tour. Finding the one we originally wanted proved too difficult in the packed old town square. All the different guides have coloured umbrellas, and the one we chose was Keith, with a green umbrella. Like all the other tours we have been on this was tips-based. He proved to be the best and most friendly guide we’ve followed in any city.

I’ve noticed that cities can often appear quite faceless until you know some of the history, and nowhere else but Prague was this more apparent. Unfortunately, there are far too many tourists in certain parts of the city, especially the Charles Bridge. Even worse, there are innumerable shops selling tourist crap like ‘I <3 Prague’ t-shirts, tacky jewellery and other rubbish. Another blight on the city is the amount of graffiti. None of it is remotely artistic and the vandals have even daubed it on some of the more historic buildings.

A view from the Old Town Square

Once we’d started the tour however, I warmed considerably to Prague.  For example, we heard a story about Reinhard Heydrich, the Nazi leader who occupied Bohemia and Moravia, the two constituent areas of the Czech Republic. He apparently liked the opera and frequently strolled around the Prague Opera House, which has a roof lined with statues of composers. Heydrich was outraged to learn that there was a statue of Mendellsohn, a Jewish composer, and ordered it to be removed. The Czech workmen detailed to this didn’t know what Mendellsohn looked like however, and neither did their Nazi guards. So they said ‘find the one with the biggest nose’. Duly that statue was destroyed, and only later did the Nazis realise that they had removed Richard Wagner, a German composer and Hitler’s favourite.

In the evening we went to the ‘Drunken Monkey’ bar crawl, which came recommended by Keith. It included 2.5 hours of all you can drink, which we took a bit too literally. It was good fun though, and I learned a new drinking game from some of the many Australians trawling Europe this summer. It’s called flip-cup, and involves two teams lining up at either side of a long table. Each person gets a plastic cup with a bit of beer in it. In turn from the end of the table, each player drinks and then places their cup upside down, partially on the edge of the table. Then you have to flip it so it lands upright before the next person can drink and carry on. It was great fun, and after the next couple of bars, a few fallings over, and some slurred instructions to taxi drivers later we got back to the hostel and either fell asleep or passed out.

In the morning we found the only English Breakfast in Prague, which turned out to be about £10. It was definitely worth it though to alleviate our hungover state. Unfortunately we failed to muster enough energy to go to the huge castle, so we will save it for next time. We caught an afternoon train to Bratislava.

Vienna

We only scheduled Vienna (Wien) for a night and day, since we’d spent longer in Slovenia than anticipated. The ‘railjet’ train proved to be even better than the German ICE trains. It was the only train I’ve seen which has free wifi (albeit patchy in coverage) in the second class area. After arriving in Wien Meidling we found a succession of very friendly Austrians who spoke perfect English and told us where to find our hotel (only 2 star, don’t get excited this is still a hostel trip). From the bus we could see that the streets were markedly wider than those in the German cities we’d visited – it felt more airy, and despite having a lot of traffic, not as bustling.

The ‘Hotel Cyrus’ didn’t prove hugely easy to find with the given directions. In case anyone comes across this, we think it would have been better to take the S-Bahn from Meidling to Südbahnhof and then it is one tram stop away (within walking distance). During the journey I had the mind blowing revelation that ‘Wiener’ refers to Vienna – Wiener Schnitzel would be forever changed. The hotel was very spacious (our double had four beds in it) and had Eurosport in English on the room TV which allowed me to hypocritically watch the olympics I had formerly been slagging off.

We went on a quest for food which after some argument about whether we could be bothered to find the restaurant from the guidebook (no) ended up at an Italian restaurant opposite the Apollo Kino (IMAX cinema). However Italian food is currently embargoed pending our visit to Italy; we have noticed there are a lot of Italian restaurants all over Europe and eating it can get a bit samey after a while. Therefore we ate another Wiener Schnitzel. The restaurant’s attempts to charge for extra ketchup were thwarted by me paying with card and them not caring enough to change the bill.

Next day after cursing the slowness of Viennese trams we went to the ‘Haus der Musik’ which is a great museum all about sound and music. There are a range of interactive exhibits about everything from digital signal processing to the lives of classical composers. We thoroughly enjoyed it and would definitely recommend a visit there. We spent an interlude at ‘Wienerwald’ but instead of the usual Schnitzel I got a burger which came with crisps in place of chips, this actually works pretty well.

A cute glass aquarium in the Haus der Musik

Lastly we took a puffing trip up 343 steps to the top of the Stephansdom, the spiral staircase makes you dizzy but it’s worth it for the view. I felt a bit sorry for the man working in the gift shop at the top who must have a long way to go for a toilet break.

View from the top of Stephansdom

Only too soon, it was time to leave Vienna. It is definitely on the return visit list along with Bruges. Next we were going to Prague which turned from 1 night into 3 nights as we realised we couldn’t stomach an 8.5 hour train to Poland.

Lake Bled

After a very long tunnel and a first-time walk across train tracks at a station, we arrived in Bled. It is a small town in the north of Slovenia known for its large and clear blue lake. We were visiting primarily for my sister’s wedding but ended up being very glad we went as it is a wonderful place and we were glad to have a break from big cities. We liked it so much we stayed an extra night.

After getting a cheap taxi from the station, we dumped our stuff in the ‘aparthostel’ (apartment, not hostel), and went out to search for food. We had dinner in a nice Chinese called Peking, eventually found the ‘devil bar’ and had some agreeably parentally-funded drinks before walking home in the dark brandishing phone screens at oncoming traffic.

Next day we had an amazing breakfast in the 4-star Park Hotel my parents and co. were staying in which included the first sight of bacon (speck) and was probably the best breakfast spread I’ve ever seen for €13.50 (non guests). Then of course there was the wedding itself, which is amply immortalised in hundreds of photos and videos. It was an amazing day and a lot of food and drink went down very well!

On the slightly hungover day after we went for breakfast with Sue and then spent some time swimming in the wonderful Lake Bled. We tried to sneak into a 5-star hotel lido area (€15) with our friends but got caught and had to go. After finding an almost as good spot on the grass next to the closed off area we considered an amphibious landing but decided against it. I tried to chase some of the many ducks on the lake but came to the conclusion that they are a lot better than me at swimming.

In the evening we went for a gigantic pizza at ‘Pizza Rustica’ which was only about €7 and very tasty, bizarrely we walked past some goats in a little paddock at the side of the street on the way. Later we went for slightly more relaxed drinking, deciding that the ‘Vegas Club’ might be a bit much for the moment.

On our (unfortunately) last day we went to Vintgar Gorge on the bus early in the morning. It is stunning with crystal clear water (we could see right to the bottom) and a lot of waterfalls and little whirlpools. We drank some of the water and it tasted great and fresh. We could see lots of fish presumably waiting for food coming downstream. After a lot of walking we ate some of the fish at the restaurant near the end of the gorge. I felt a mixture of being impressed and sorry for the fish when we saw a man walk into the restaurant after we ordered with a net full of them.

Finally we had dinner in the hotel restaurant buffet which was brilliant – ‘Slovenian food night’. We made a return to the ‘Art Cafe’ for more drinking later and had to say our goodbyes. Tomorrow (Monday) we were bound for Vienna!

Munich

Munich was a destination partly because we were going in that direction anyway, and also because of the rather famous beer. The views from the train as we got closer in the evening were spectacular. The countryside was a lot more interesting than Northern Germany which mainly seemed to be boring, flat farmland. Bavaria is full of little forests, woods, lakes and idyllic houses and cabins. The laptop stayed firmly shut.

I am still not sure why train stations attract so many drunks and people off their faces on whatever else, but after navigating these predictable staggering obstacles we found the hostel, with less surrounding sex shops than usual. It was another dormitory affair and pretty standard, the bar had Augustiner on draught though which was welcome.

Next day we decided we couldn’t be bothered with the walking tour this time around and spent ages trying to find somewhere to have lunch instead. We found the forbidding looking Chinese place which was supposedly authentic and had a good lunchtime deal. The only waitress in the deserted restaurant didn’t speak English and gestured that the deal did not exist and we’d have to get something from the main menu instead. The only bits in English offered disgusting (sorry, I am only bothered about authenticity to a limit) things like Pig’s Trotters, Ears and Stomach. We made a speedy exit and went to find a Thai restaurant called Zitronengras (Lemon grass) instead.

After a lot more walking and grumbling stomachs and mouths we found it. It was absolute chaos with three staff cooking and serving a horde of poorly queueing Germans in an open plan kitchen. The manager pretended not to speak English (we found out the next day he spoke perfect English!) possibly because he was too busy. However it was almost stupidly cheap and the food was amazing. I asked for a €2 50cl bottle of beer and the manager brought four, I managed to negotiate this down to two and took one out afterwards

A lot of the bits of Munich we walked through weren’t very exciting, so later on we got the S-Bahn (free with Interrail, takes about an hour) to Herrsching, a little town with a big lake. We hired a pedalboat for €13 an hour which was great fun and only enhanced by the fact we didn’t see any other English people. Definitely a good place to get away from smelly cities. In the evening we went for a gigantic Wiener Schnitzel in the studenty Steinheil restaurant. It was definitely not a €9,90 experience to be missed. We fit in a good amount of drinking in the bar later and didn’t even have to make an effort to approach people as they came to us to talk!

Friendly duck in the English Garden

Next day we went back to Zitronengras and then went to the ‘Englischer Garten’, which is a big park with a rapid river running through it. We went for an exhilirating swim (mostly trying to stay above water) with a delightful absence of health and safety. It was good to not be in the UK. Next, the Hofbrauhaus, a massive beer hall with litre beers for about €7 and incredible pork with grated potato, plus an endearing lack of green vegetables common in our German food experiences.

Munich was good but I would have liked to explore more of the surrounding countryside, probably by bike as well as S-Bahn. It would be a great place for a stag do but wasn’t as exciting a city as Berlin or Hamburg in terms of daytime ‘cultural’ stuff from my point of view. It is also pretty expensive for Germany. We were definitely glad we went though. Next stop: Lake Bled in Slovenia.

 

From Bruges to Bavaria

I’ll admit I wanted to go to Bruges (Brugge, not pronounced the same which can be confusing) because of the scenery in the film ‘In Bruges’. The city is almost all medieval or mock-medieval buildings with cobbled streets. Even the new buildings such as the monolithic post office near the station are fairly tasteful, and there is not a concrete block in sight. There is a lot of bell-ringing going on too at the 83-metre high central Belfry.

Our hostel (‘Passage’) turned out to be basically a hotel, being the first with the free little bars of soap and towels. It had an adjoining restaurant run by the same people, which we went to in the evening on the back of a promise of two free beers for being guests. The restaurant is open to the public too and was very busy which I think is a good sign. We ordered Flemish Stew (beef in dark beer gravy with a jacket potato and assorted veg) and Waterzooi (chicken broth stew with veg and jacket potato). It was defnitely the best food we’ve had so far and incredibly filling.

Afterwards we went for a walk around the city, it was night but the streets are very nicely lit and were very quiet. It didn’t feel unsafe whatsoever though, it was very peaceful. We went to find a bar on the excellent tourist map we’d found. The map is focused on young people and lists many bars and clubs (we didn’t come across any full on nightclubs but there are several music venues). The other side has things to do in the day like going to all the museums with a €1 ticket for under 26’s.

We found an underground bar (‘T Poatersgat’) where I managed to bang my head on the way in despite thinking that I should avoid doing so. Things improved from there though when we found the massive menu containing hundreds of types of beers. The place was pretty cool and seemed to be mostly local 18-30’s with few foreigners besides us, definitely recommended.

Next day we tried to fit in as many things as possible since we had to leave in the evening. Unfortunately a lot of tourists had now come out of the woodwork and there was a massive queue to get into the Belfry tower so we gave it a miss. We discovered a market with random things like ancient letter openers and wooden swords which would have been amazing to have as a violent child, and got the obligatory waffle which is a local speciality.

We spent the rest of the day looking at various attractions on the map including heavenly chocolate shops. There is a healthy rivalry between Switzerland and Belgium over who makes the best chocolate. I haven’t been to Switzerland but some little chocolate shells we bought in Bruges were amazing and I would like to have the money to try more. Bruges is a great place and we would have loved to stay for longer, however we were now going to Frankfurt for a day to meet a friend of Lucy’s.

Frankfurt was a strange mixture of skyscrapers (financial centre of Germany) and an expansive red light district. As usual, we were staying in a hostel in the red light district for budget reasons. It didn’t really seem very dangerous at all though and it was quite bizarre seeing bankers walking out of sex shows at 10AM the next day.

In the city centre there is a lot of opportunity for shopping if you’re into that kind of thing (I’m not). There was also bizarrely a queue and bouncers outside the Hollister shop. Apparently there is also some classical music and opera going on (ditto). However we did manage to get some Bratwurst with Kartoffelsalat (potato salad) and walk around the river which was a lot more agreeable. It is great the way Germany are not bothered at all about drinking in public whereas the police can be a pain about it in England even when you are not at all drunk. A few fountains and ice creams later we got the train to our next stop – Munich!

Amsterdam

After a 6 hour journey from Hamburg, we arrived in Amsterdam Centraal, which is housed in a very nice building. We might not have been mistaken in thinking we were in the minority of foreigners not interested in going to the ‘Coffeeshops’ to buy cannabis. A few Americans and Brits in the station seemed quite excited at that prospect. We stumbled out onto ‘Damrak’, the main street outside the station. It was buzzing with trams and tourists attempting to avoid their angrily beeping progress (including us, by a matter of inches).

We went to the famous ‘Sexmuseum’ close by which was very reasonable at €4 each. It has unbounded ‘variety’ and surprisingly examples from almost every country and era you might think of. It has an age restriction of 16+ and does have signs to warn people who might not want to enter the more shocking bits. It’s worth a visit though a lot of it is not for the faint-hearted! Prepare for a lot of giggling and/or sniggering.

We then took a wander through what turned out to be the even more famous Red Light District, which while apparently ‘open for business’, was also patrolled by Politie on bicycles. There is something about bikes which detracts from the intimidating factor and adds to the humorous factor. After a bit we had to reluctantly buy an overpriced drink (€2,50 for a thimbleful of diet coke) from a café to use the toilet. Free public toilets do not appear to exist in mainland Europe, or at least any of the cities we have been to. We also sometimes get irritated looks when we order the cheapest and smallest drink between us.

Later we met some friends who live in Amsterdam and went for some great Dutch (and probably Belgian) beers in a much less touristy pub than the ones lining the main streets. After this we got the tram to their flat and watched the Olympic Opening Ceremony on TV with a tasty Chinese takeaway. The ceremony was a bit bizarre in places but had many undeniably impressive moments. We went to bed very tired but contented.

In the morning we got some tips about where to go and said farewells. We had failed to book the Anne Frank museum and after walking past decided the queue looked non-negotiable, we will have to save it for another time. We did get an excellent chocolate muffin and had a nice walk along the quiet canals which Amsterdam is renowned for. Next stop: Bruges, Belgium.