Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Stuttgart - home of Porsche

"This is probably the best day out I've had on the trip so far," James exclaimed. We were in Stuttgart  and spending the day with friends at the Porsche Museum, an outing James had been talking about for months. The sleek museum was next to the Porsche HQ and was stuffed full of cars that would  raise even the most reluctant visitor's (me) pulse.

After nearly 9 months travelling overland from Kathmandu back to the UK, gathering visas, overcoming the complex red tape of  the ex-Soviet countries, getting through Tibet in the smallest of windows when the Chinese gatekeepers had allowed it, enduring the roughest roads, climbing the remotest mountains, gaining passage across the Caspian Sea on a cargo ship and travelling through the Southern Caucasus, misadventures and stories aplenty, but after all of that James thought the Porsche museum was the best experience. It would have been a much cheaper trip if we had just spent a weekend going to the Porsche museum instead of all the other travel.

James waiting for the train in Vienna

Our trip to Stuttgart hadn't begun with the Germanic transportation efficiency we had expected from this part of the world. The Vienna to Munich train was delayed, the Austrians blamed the Hungarians the Germans blamed the Austrains. Luckily the rail staff pulled out all the stops to make up time and we got our connection in Munich which delivered us to Stuttgart on time. There, at the station, my friends, Eloise and Philipp were waiting to welcome us off the train. Eloise and I had studied Geography together on a year abroad at McMaster University, Canada, 11 years ago. There Eloise had met Philipp from Stuttgart. Now they are married and have set up home in Philipp's home city. Philipp drove along the windy roads to their flat as if we were in the dying minutes of Le Mans.

Eloise and Philipp were perfect hosts cooking us Schnitzel and showing us around the Christmas market where we drank gluwien and ate tastey German snacks. James and Philipp spent the evening competing on Philipp's full sized seated driving console game which James thought was amazing.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Ooooooohhhhhhh Vienna

Vienna might not have meant anything to Ultravox but we quite liked it. Not used to having to be anywhere at a particular time we kept Adrian waiting 30 mins when we caught the slow train instead of the fast intercity between Bratislava and Vienna. Adrian was a friend and was working as a diplomat in Vienna. His apartment was exactly how you'd imagine a diplomat's residence to be, a light and airy town house apartment with floor to ceiling windows. Our aim for our stay was to catch up over coffee or wine.

We started by doing this in a local wine bar a short walk away and enjoyed fine wine (significantly better than Uzbek wine) together with a selection of cheese and cold meats. For the next couple of days we ate virtually every meal out, including breakfast. The $20 a day budget was thrown out the window as we visited the best coffee shops, restaurants and bakeries that Vienna had to offer, expertly guided by Adrian. 

It rained for most of our stay but we did do a little sight seeing, in between coffees, and visited several of the art galleries, including the Albertina and the MUMOK Museum of Modern Art, where we found good coffee shops.

On our last night the British Ambassador held a party for us at his residence. OK, Adrian invited us to the work Christmas do. The Ambassador's residence didn't disappoint, a huge house with chandeliers in a classic Vientiane building and contrasting modern art on the walls. Adrian had been adamant that the dress code was casual and jeans would be fine, we hadn't believed him, but when we arrived we were relieved to see that even the Ambassador was in jeans, with a ridiculous Christmas jumper. Carol singing was obligatory and so was the mulled wine.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

A city of two halves - Bratislava, Slovakia

Bratislava is a capital city the size of Chesterfield. It also has a split personality. On the north side of the Danube is the old city, full of quaint cobbled streets and cafes, whilst south of the river is an grey, Soviet tower block-scape. These two parts of the city are connected by a bridge which seems to have had a spaceship crash into it. Some interesting facts about the city are that it is the only capital which borders two countries; Hungary and Austria. It is also the closest neighbouring European capital city (if you don't count the Vatican City and Rome), with Vienna being just 60 km away.

We found a hostel close to the train station, although everything is close in Bratislava. The hostel had the convenience of a substantial bar in the basement. Luckily Bratislava didn't seem to be in full party mode like Budapest so we could have a beer and still manage get some sleep without being disturbed. Bratislava was the location of the gruesome horror film Hostel - I've never seen it but apparently some hostellers come to a bit of a sticky end - and the bar was decked out in this theme.

In the bar was an Italian studying in Sweden. We asked him why he had chosen Stockholm and he readily admitted that his main motivation was for the girls. He was in Bratislava to have hair removal on his chest, presumably to increase his chances with the Swedish ladies.

During the day we wandered around Bratislava a little aimlessly. James was drawn to a toy shop and we whiled away an hour playing with the toys and chatting to the shop assistant. When asked what was the best thing to do in Bratislava he recommended the Clock Museum. We went to check it out but unfortunately it was closed. Instead we walked up to the castle which has commanding views over the Danube. Before returning to the hostel for a beer.

The majority of the next day was spent trying to ascertain whether we could get a boat up the Danube to Vienna. We were meeting a friend in Vienna and wanted to arrive in style as it wasn't just any boat, it was a hydrofoil. Sadly the hydrofoil only operates during the week in the summer, preventing us ticking from off another form of transport on this trip. Instead it was back to the train station.