The week started with Oktoberfest. That’s a pretty good start to any week.
Our good friend Anne-Meike was living in Munich, so she kindly offered to let us stay for a few nights. Ahh, the luxury (to be honest, one day, we hardly left the apartment). It was Oktoberfest so it was a key destination for us. After trawling through charity shops previously, we both had some ‘appropriate’ attire for the event. The main part of the festival is essentially a massive fun fair in a car park. But, in amongst these are huge aircraft type hangars filled with tables, servers, the odd traditional band, and wasted Germans. As people are permanently standing on tables, it is just one big German music sing-a-long (YMCA & Rick Astley, interspersed with the odd traditional folk song). Speaking zero German, it wasn’t the mingling opportunity anticipated, but a huge bucket list tick.
We’ve had a few country nemesis’ in our time, and the Neuschwanstein Castle is right up there. The first time on the Mongol Rally, the waiting time was so long that we simply couldn’t be bothered, and then during Eurhair trip, it was covered in scaffolding when we went by. This time, we booked in advance, and were determined to see it. Now, a very impressive building from the outside, but the Prince died (in slightly suspicious circumstances) before it was completed inside, so there is actually very little to see. Whilst it was heaving with tourists, being pumped through in groups of 50 in 10 minute intervals, I have to say, its not actually much to write home about (except for the fact that Disney allegedly modelled his castle on it)
Next up, was another Nemesis town. During our first trip together in 2011, our little Citroen Saxo (Mitch) broke down pretty early on, and Ansbach was the town it decided to do so. As such, we spent about 3 or 4 nights there trying to get it fixed. We felt it appropriate as we were in the area, to pop in and say hello for a cup of coffee. It brought back some fond (ish!) memories.
At the end of the week, we got our WWII properly on, and visited both Nuremburg and Dresden. Both pretty significant places on the Nazi map. Nuremburg still had the Nazi Party Rally Grounds that was partly (well, mostly) built before the war started. It was modelled on the Roman Coliseum and had a really impressive museum housed in it. It was really quite creepy as you could sense the plans Hitler had for this place, and the tens of thousands of troops & Nazi supporters that would have filled it (the whole area was part of Hitler’s grand Germania plans).
The final stop was Dresden. The place was pretty much flattened in WWII, but had been rebuilt as it had originally looked. It was impressive, but when you’ve been to Vienna, it’s a bit difficult to give it the credit it probably deserves. However, what did surprise us, was the ‘hipster’ part of town. A lot of cool cafes, bars, a bit of street art, and some really interesting little side alleys with various shops (although, this day and age, a lot of those sort of artsy-magnets-scarfs-handbags-2 pairs of shoes-painted tiles-etc shops that seem to have sprung up). It appears that any city worth its salt this day & age needs to have its historical bit, and then it’s trendy coffee shop with a bit of edgy street art area to juxtapose. I don’t think I’m getting cynical about it, yet there does seem to be a bit of a ‘globalisation of independence’ with the shops, art, fashion, barbers, bread shops, bric-a-brac shops - does that make sense?!
We spent our last couple of days in Budapest ensuring we ticked off most things that we felt we should be seeing - essentially we got on one of those Big Bus tour things. I must admit, it is a rarity for us to do one of these, but Budapest seemed like quite a big city, and the thought of another 25,000 steps in searing heat did not sit well with us. But, typically, what we saw the previous afternoon, was pretty much the main part anyway…
We did however spend some time on the Buda side of the river – this included the castle/palace (now housing museums) and the Fisherman’s Bastion. As per the Pest side, it had some beautiful old buildings, and cobbled streets (although a lot smaller, and really just 99% for tourists).
On our final morning we went to an amazing museum. The ‘terror’ museum completely misled me (I thought it was going to be some kind of London Dungeons type place) – it was all about the oppression the Hungarians suffered; first at the hand of the Nazis, and then by the Russians during their communist reign. It was extremely well done, even being housed in the old secret police headquarters.
After Budapest it was off to Vienna (stopping off briefly at the Heroes’ Momento Park – loads of saved Russian statues now housed in a park. I do love a good Russian monument!). Vienna was another extremely impressive city. It is as grand as Paris with huge old buildings all around the city – not what I remembered when I last visited about 20 years ago. We wandered around for a couple of days, really just soaking it all in (including the very cool mumok in the Museums Quarter). And I finally managed to get a genuine Schnitzel - our list of ‘cities we must return to’ is starting to get a little ridiculous.
Next up, on what was clearly another action packed week, was Ljubljana – the capital city of Slovenia. Now, if ever there was a city that I had never heard of, then this was it. Slovenia I suppose is not really a country you hear much about, but you would have thought, that as a European City we would have heard of it. Nope. Yet, what a fantastic city.
Ljubljana is built under a castle on the hill, and along a small river. It is very much a university town, and as such, has a great vibe about it. It has the standard European square with some old buildings & a church surrounding it, but then loads of cafes, restaurants, etc along each side of the river. We took a short walking tour (thoroughly recommended) and then went street art hunting leading us to the Metelkova commune. Basically squatters in an old army barracks (sounds familiar. Copenhagen anyone?). An interesting experiment, and always adds some interest to cities.
The end of the week, saw us spending a couple of nights at Lake Bled. You’ll probably recognise the lake – it’s the one that has the famous church in the middle of it. We arrived, and were like, ‘oh. It’s that Lake’ (you see a lot of these places when you spend a lot of the day on Instagram!). It was nice to simply relax, get a bit of fresh air, shower, and go for gentle walks.
What a week. What great cities we have on our doorstep. Lucky, lucky people.
After Copenhagen it was time to chill for a few days.
One of Meg’s friends from Shanghai, who we haven’t seen for a few years was living in Herning (c.4 hours from Copenhagen), so we naturally wanted to say hello. On the way to hers we stopped off at a town whose little green men at crossing lights were soldiers, slept under a bridge, and then visited some large statues of 4 men sat on seats overlooking a power station. The randomness of travelling.
We had a couple of days in Herning (Scandinavia’s 11th largest city. Home of Urtzon - designer of the Sydney Opera House) just taking it easy and then it was off to Hamburg. Again, we had a friend of ours (Bruno of SafHair fame, for those following our travels - Mum!) who happened to be there on business. It was only a flying visit, for both of us. We were going to spend a couple of days in Hamburg, and then a few more days in Berlin, but it seems Europe was having a bit of an Indian Summer, and some heatwave was going to hit (now that there is a dog involved in this venture, it was felt that leaving Gogi in Mike during the day, was not a very responsible thing to do).
So, we did some route rejigging and felt we should head South towards Munich instead (via Bratislava & Budapest). We were always planning on being there for Oktoberfest anyway, so it was no big shakes to do Budapest first, and Berlin afterwards.
On our way to Budapest, I made Meg stop off in Colditz for the night. She had never heard of the place, but in the UK it is an extremely infamous WWII prison for Officers (mainly for the numerous escape attempts – including secretly building a glider in a hidden attic). It was great to be there and read about the various methods used by the Allies to try to escape. It was apparently obligatory (& probably still is) for Officers to do all they can to escape from captivity, and was one big game of cat & mouse between them and the Germans (who, I got the impression respected the attempts, as the punishments of being caught didn’t seem too extreme)
We arrived Sunday afternoon into Budapest and managed to get a few hours of walking about to get our bearings of the place. I hadn’t been there for about 15 years so my memory was a little hazy, and I did not remember it being so grand. Strolling along the river, and seeing these huge Baroque buildings lit up reminded me a lot of Paris, Prague, etc. I have a feeling I am going to like this city…
After a day of relaxation, because we always need a day of relaxation - you’d be surprised how exhausting full time travel is - we headed to Gothenburg. Gothenburg is Sweden’s second city, but I’m going to be honest, compared to Stockholm it’s a long, lonely second. We kicked it off with the Saab museum. Jonathan keeps making me go to various car museums, he keeps hoping one will live up to the Ferrari one in Italy, unfortunately this one also did not. After pulling into the city we visited an art museum in an old warehouse (as per usual for us) and then hit the city. We walked, we perused, it was a pretty standard Scandi city, except they have cinnamon rolls as big as your face - a big plus in my books. But, while we had allotted two or three days for Gothenburg we found 1 day was sufficient.
However, Boro was very cool. It seems small Scandinavian cities have found the perfect way to draw more young travellers into their cities: street art. Like Stavanger, Boro opens its walls once a year to artists from all over the world to paint and stencil to their hearts delight. They also had a map that goes over google maps so you can easily see everything without having to wait for a tour guide. We came across more Isaac Cordal pieces, he’s quickly becoming our second favourite artist. It’s fun walking around the cities trying to find his tiny statues of little men in precarious places.
Next we went to Lund. A university city just outside Malmo. Lonely Planet had talked up a clock in the cathedral, likening it to the one in Prague, so we stopped to have a look. Again, Lonely Planet had led us astray as it would be impossible to describe the clock’s actions here without exaggerating. We did however have an excellent kebab and my last cardamom roll before leaving Sweden. Cardamom rolls will be missed.
We just finished watching the Danish series “The Bridge” so we were excited to cross and get a picture of the line where the body was found (FYI there is no line and the border is not in the center of the bridge). Wtf, TV misleads us again! It’s also worth noting the Orelunde Bridge, which connects Sweden and Denmark, is likely the most expensive bridge in the world to cross. It cost us 50 dollars in Mike. We had to disguise him so they didn’t know it was a camper van, otherwise it would have cost us $110 to cross!!!! That is insane, properly insane. It is a pretty wicked bridge though.
We visited Copenhagen on our EurHair trip and it was our favourite city of the trip, so we were excited to see if it lived up to the memories. Copenhagen is clean, friendly, diverse and delicious. What more could you ask for in a city? We parked up in the burbs right next to a metro station that took us 10 minutes into the city centre, so a bit of an ideal situation. The first day we got in and just had a walk around the new “hip” area and to check out a couple of local design shops, they had lots of good stuff but all of it was out of our price range.
The next day we joined a walking tour. Usually we stick to the “Alternative Tours” but we thought it might be worth learning a bit about Copenhagen as we hadn’t learned much of the history. We joined a massive group on a walking tour, and found it simply wasn’t for us. We were getting a lot of talk, but not a lot of substance so an hour into a THREE hour tour we ducked out. We ducked out at the best bit of Copenhagen though, and strolled through the docks over the river to the food warehouse. I love a food warehouse, loads of stalls all selling different goods from different ethnicities…all delicious. It was so good we returned the next day for lunch as well. After a nap and scrub up van style we headed out for a proper New Nordic meal. Because you can’t go to Copenhagen without sampling the world famous cuisine. New Nordic is super fresh, super seasonal and super local, we were trying it out at Host (the most reasonable priced place we could find). Three course plus desert and loads of mini courses in between, it was delicious and total worth the money. I love having a server explain each dish in detail and often even tell us how we were meant to eat it. We were seated so we could see into the kitchen and it was fascinating to see the chefs work on every tiny detail they put onto the plate. We finished off Copenhagen and our week at the Denmark vs. Armenia football match. Lots of cursing, lots of beer, but per usual not a lot of scoring. Football, I just can’t get behind you.