30 April 2010

Grand Finale Vienna

My last week in Vienna is now over. It was quite good but I was very busy. The weather was nice and I ate way too much ice-cream - it is so popular there that they have these huge Gelateria (italian ice-cream parlours) with dozens of flavours. I went with friends to an Australian pub, which was just a small sports bar but sold really good burgers (not as good as Velvet Burger in NZ but really good for Vienna, where burgers are hard to find except for at McDonald's). Not only that, but it was a kangaroo burger! So despite Austria's slogan of 'no kangaroos in Austria (apparently nobody knows of Austria and the world thinks Austrians are Australians - which is not true of course. I was always well aware of the existence of Austria); anyway, as I was saying - despite the slogan I had my first meal of kangaroo meat in Austria.

So the last of my nice view on the way to/from work

Yesterday I went to the Hofburg palace with my professor. She is on the Science committe and there was this big prestigous award ceremony at the university, and then a reception with the president at the palace. So I was invited and first was the ceremony. It was all in German of course but that was okay. I listened somewhat and then mostly daydreamed. The university is like a palace itself (this is the main campus, not where I worked). It's a couple of hundred years old - the building that is. The University as an institute is about 700 years old (all this knowledge is thanks to my professor). We had a walk around so I could see the nice building. It has a big grassy square in the middle surrounded by busts of famous alumni - the only names I recognised were the really obvious science ones like Freud and Shrodinger. The inside was all wide starcaises and marble columns and the main hall in which the award ceremony was held had paintings on the ceiling. I was surprised to find that I knew Austria's european national anthem - it is the music that in English is called Ode to Joy.

And no more working in a building that looks like a UFO

So after the ceremony there was an hour or more until the reception so my Professor took me out to a cafe (it was on the way from the one place to the other you see). It was called the Landtman Hotel, and is one of the really old ones. It is on the Ringstrasse which is the road surrounding the first district (which is the oldest part of Vienna and full of huge old buildings), and is across from the Rathouse (parliament building) which now in the spring is like a big park full of trees. So it was a really nice place to sit outside and have cake and hot chocolate (my last in
Vienna). Then the Hofburg - most of my Austrian friends have not been inside. It was quite similar to Schonbrunn which is of course perfectly understandable as the two palaces belonged to, and were decorated by, the same royal family. The president gave a speech, again in German, and then greeted and congratulated all the award winners. That was about all there was to the reception, after that there was just talking to a few people and some sandwiches and drinks. I tried caviar - it didn't really seem to taste like much at all.

The Hofburg, probably the last of such buildings that I will see for some time

So I also had to pack my things and send a box of stuff to Ireland, because all my carry on baggage has had to be devoted to my science stuff. Which weighs about 15 kilos, so I was quite concerned about my bag being weighed. Then I sent my box away and it was also about 15 kilos and to post it to Ireland was only 26 euro! I had been worried that it would cost a fortune. Finally I had to go home and finish packing my suitcase, which went just fine until I tried to close it. I did get it closed though and on my way out of the building this morning I broke the handle (it was just that heavy - and dropping it down a small flight of stairs probably didn't help). So that's two handles down. But it has had a pretty long life I guess, I only got it a year and a half ago but it has had to take all my stuff from one side of the world to the other about twice, plus some extra trips in between.

The Prater - luckily my last day was a nice one and let me take good farewell photos

My flight left at 12 and first I had to return my keys to the housing office, which took way longer than I was comfortable with - I was starting to worry. But I made it to the train on time, heavy bags and all. And then when I got to the airport I weighed my bag at an empty counter and it was 33 kilos!! And you are only allowed 20! To pay for extra weight is like 5 or 10 euro a kilo, so luckily there was a post office right there. I brought a box and managed to remove all that extra weight out of my case and then had to wait in line to check in. I normally have no lines because I arrive so early but everything was against me today. And of course I chose the slow line where everybody had luggage problems. I must have waited about half an hour surely and then when my turn came it took all of 2 minutes! I left my carry on with my friend though because I didn't want to risk them asking to weight it.

Finally the Riesenrad, which will no longer be my iconic landmark - I must return to Vienna though so that I can actually do the iconic things like the Riesenrad and the Sacher Cafe

So by the time all that was over it was already time to board the plane, so I got to the gate and what would you know but there is a big line at security. And then another at the gate itself. And when I finally got through the gate instead of getting onto a plane there was a bus outside of the door! So they packed the bus as full as it could go (and it was very hot because Vienna has such lovely weather) and then the bus took us all the way across the runways to the plane. I have never boarded a plane in such a manner before. But finally I was on the plane, safely got my heavy and very fragile bag into the compartment and I could relax. Except you know the problem with the ease of European travelling? There is always a school group. They are noisy and irritating and kick your seat.

And now I am in Ireland again. I got my bag and the bottom of it is all wet. But nothing seems to have burst open so perhaps it is from somebody else's bag? Luckily it smells of shampoo, and my case could probably have used a wash anyway. It was sunny, if a bit cloudy, and I got on the bus that is supposed to go directly to Galway and arrive at 5.45. But by the time they have put all the people on the bus, plus the horrific traffic, surely it will not arrive on time? I hope it does because my phone is basically out of battery so I will not be able to let anybody know about changes to the schedule. And what would you know, but it has started to rain. Already. And I am hungry and my computer battery will probably not must for much longer, so I will then also be bored on the bus. Of course I should probably just be thankful that there is internet on the bus in the first place.

And tomorrow back to work and looking after barnacles.

25 April 2010

Last Weekend in Vienna

My last weekend has been very filling. Friday evening involved a work get together that was a sort of pot-luck and involved a lot of food. I made ANZAC biscuits and everyone loved them - I even was asked for the recipe several times. Then Saturday I was still so full I didn't want any food but it was hot and my last weekend so there was ice-cream and movie watching with snacks. And Sunday? Brunch - a buffet on the side of the canal in the sunshine. Then a BBQ. So what a weekend.

But aside from food I also went shopping because I got paid on Friday and figured that I should make the most of a big city full of shops before I leave. I am only half way done though because I still need to buy some souvenirs and stuff. Last week was colder than it was supposed to be so when yesterday was hot I was caught unawares and got sunburnt. In the evening I introduced my friends to an Australian classic - Strictly Ballroom.

So today we did brunch and I dressed for summer - want to make the most of nice weather before going back to Ireland. I think I might be a bit sunburnt though despite the sunscreen. Brunch was good - it had a bit of everything. Began with real breakfast like cereal and bread (freshly baked) and all sorts of eggs. Plus cheeses and jams and nutella and croissants. Then chinese-style stuff like mini spring rolls and wontons. Then sushi and maki. And finally fruits and cakes and some chocolate too. And then after a bit of everything back for more of whatever was nicest. Like the chocolate. Brunch like this does not really seem to be done much in NZ, or at least not in my experience, but here in Europe it's so popular. All that sun makes you so tired though.

For the rest of the week I will be very busy. I have to work of course. And I have to do more shopping so I have a couple of souvenirs. Then there is an evening to spend with my housemates, and an evening to spend with my friends. On Thursday my Professor has invited me to a reception for some function of a society that she is a part of, because I am her guest here in Vienna - and it is in the Hofburg Palace. So I will get to see the inside of the Palace before I leave. I have to dress nicely I think. I wonder if I will be able to take my camera and take photos? And then of course while I would love to spend my last evening with my friends I must find time at some point to pack I think. I leave on Friday at lunchtime, but must be at the airport much sooner of course and before that I must return my keys and get my deposit back for the apartment. But luckily I seem to have found somewhere to live in Ireland - a room in a house near where I lived before. It was about the only place I could find that I could just move straight into, plus I do not have to sign on for a full year which I would prefer. It looks like a nice house and hopefully the people are alright. And it doesn't cost too much (though still more than NZ).

So speaking of work, here is my image of the week.

21 April 2010

A sunny weekend

Saturday was finally sunny and warm again, just in time to remind me why I like Vienna so much. I went with friends to Kahlenberg, which is called a mountain but is not really. It is a part of the Vienna woods and partly given over to vineyards, and it can get very busy on a nice day. We took a bus up to the top, where unfortunately the view was not great because everything seemed sort of foggy. It was not actually a foggy day but the heat can cause water vapour or some such thing which gets in the way of my photos.

From the top we walked down and soon enough came out of the woods and into the vineyards. Each vineyard is associated with a Heuriger, which is a wine-tavern that serves wine grown from its own vineyard.

We stopped for lunch and ate Austrian food. I had fleishknodel with sauerkraut and Almdudler. Austrian food is not overly exotic, but it is quite different. They are big fans of dumplings (knodel). You get meat ones and you get ones with nougat or jam inside them. I'm not much of a fan really. Cabbage of course (kraut), and potato - the potato salad here is so different to what we have back home. Many things taste more acidic than I am accustomed too. And of course meat is very important - wiener scnitzel and sausages and all that. Almdudler is fizzy drink, sort of like L&P. It's very good.

So the food was alright, and the view was pretty good. And then we headed back down to the city and along the canal to go get ice-cream - always a good end to the day. I will miss the ice-cream, it is very popular here. There are loads of ice-cream parlours in the city that sell dozens of flavours of gelato, and it is so good.

I have so little time left in Vienna so I am trying to make the most of it and actually do stuff. So following this plan I decided to see the Kunsthistoriches (art history) museum Sunday. To begin with it was very difficult to get to because it turns out that the city marathon was on that day. It took me about a half an hour to get around it so that I could cross the road. And then when I got there the jerk at the counter wouldn't accept my student ID and charged me adult price! Though that didn't make much difference - I paid 12 euro but student discount would only have brought it down to 9. That's so much to pay for a museum.

But it doesn't matter because I wanted to see it anyway. And it is probably a good thing that I saw it before big museums in other cities because I think it left much to be desired. The first section was quite good, it was the Egyptian stuff. It is a very old musuem, a twin to the natural history museum actually. In this part all of the explanations were in German but I never have the stamina to read all of the information anyway. I am sure that all the egyptian sarcophagi are not art though - should they not be in an archaeological museum or something?

Anyway after the egyptian stuff - which of course included mummies (both people and animals) and the most humongous stone sarcophagi - was classical art. So that is statues from the ancient romans and greeks, most of a mythological nature, and greek vases. It was quite good. But after that I moved on to the picture galleries, which I had heard good things about. Some of the paintings are really gigantic. It was mostly religous paintings and portraits. But the thing about all of this historical art is that much of it is really close to being exactly the same. Only a small portion of it was stuff that I knew. I preferred the Italian and French stuff to the Germanic stuff. And I think my favourite was Caravaggio (there is a whole collection of Caravaggio painting but only two by the actual artist) - this one is David with the head of Goliath.

So after an exhausting afternoon at the museum - which was interesting, but not really worth such an exorbitant entry fee - I went to the ballet with my housemate. It was Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, and the final showing. I had no idea how packed the Staatsoper could get. At first we could not see, so we moved around (after a lot of encouragement from me) and for the first half ended up standing mostly in the aisle where of course you are not supposed to stand but we had a great view from there. And then luckily some people left and we took their places. And it was really good, the best thing I have seen since I got here. Classical ballet is much better than that strange contemporary stuff.

So it was a long and full weekend and now I have only one more left. I have a fair bit left to do but perhaps I will not bother with some of it. I absolutely must go on the Riesenrad though, which is the big ferris wheel in Prater, near to where I live, and an icon of Vienna. In the picture below it is the one in the background, the colourful one is the blumenrad. It is the largest in Vienna and one of the earlies ferris wheels to have been erected. I was thinking of also seeing one last opera, but the only one that looks good goes for four hours! And opera is very exhausting.

16 April 2010

Long Day = Long Post

It is finally the end of a very long week. Perhaps over the weekend we somehow completely forget how the previous week was. Because I would swear that this week was far more exhausting than any other. But surely last Friday I would have said the same thing? And perhaps I have said the same thing every Friday? All I know is that I am so glad it is Friday and I am so tired that I could stay in bed for a week. But I can't go to sleep yet because it seemed like a good idea not too long ago to eat too much chocolate and now my stomach is too full for sleep. I had a good excuse though: it is Friday.

So first of all it has been raining here in Vienna all week, and all last week to. At least that's how it seems. Perhaps not last week. But this week for sure. Except today. It finally stopped and sure it hasn't been that cold but it was definately warmer today. Of course the rain did not make that much difference to me because I have to work too much anyway.

Basically, after a lazy last weekend in which it rained and I mostly stayed at home reading, I had a very long week where I arrived at work early and left late and complained quite a lot. See it all started last weekend, when it rained all weekend and I was so exhausted after a week at work right on top of too much easter travel. I went shopping and brought a book because I realised that what I really wanted to do was hibernate in my room with a book, and in town I saw the most massive dog ever - it was bigger than a shetland pony I'm sure. Everybody was stopping to watch it go past. Anyway I brought the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, all 5 books in 1, it was a good price and I figured it would take me some time. Sadly I am 4/5ths of the way through. Come Monday it is time to go to work and I don't think I have explained recently what it is I do now.

So my days consist of two things at the moment - cutting sections and looking at sections under the microscope. Sounds the same as what I did before I know, but this time everything is about a thousand times smaller. First, imagine a millimeter. Seriously, think about a ruler, and those tiny lines that are millimeters. So a micrometer is one thousandth (1/1000) of that. And a nanometer is one thousandth of that again. So first I cut my preserved animal into tiny pieces, embed them in resin, and try to cut sections that are about 70 nanometers thick. So that is one ten-thousandth of a millimeter. It is not easy. Cutting stuff sounds pretty simple but I have been working every day for three weeks on a stupid machine and have not really got any satisfactory sections. Then the microscope. These things cost more than a car. They are big, and take a lot of getting used to.

But today I finally got some nice photos (mostly because the sections that I looked at were cut by somebody else - and I didn't bother mentioning that small fact to my supervisor either). I use glass knives to cut. I have to make them first, and each only makes about a dozen cuts at the most. So I might go through about 50 to 100 a week. Eventually I will get to use a diamond knife though. But you must be very careful with them. And my accident-proneness is only getting worse. I have been dropping everything, and when it is work stuff - like my samples and slides - my PhD colleague/tutor cringes. It's like I am causing her pain with my clumsiness. She thinks that I am taking things too lightly probably. I am not though. But if I were to freak out and get upset everytime something dropped or broke or cut me or burned me or just went and screwed itself up, I would surely go mad.

So the week started OK, I think, I don't actually really remember what Monday was like, it was too long ago. But it quickly got very bad. I would like to say that the middle of the week was bad but it was actually only Tuesday. I was just ahead of the times all week. The week has caught up now though - it feels like Friday and it is Friday. But most the week I thought it was the day after.

So Tuesday (which I was sure was Wednesday) I heard from my supervisor who I should not bother to speak my mind about over the internet. And so my next couple of days were rather shitty.

But it seems it was not just me because Wednesday I heard from my Irish PhD colleague who also had many endearing things to say about she-who-should-not-be-named.

Then Thursday began to be better, partly because it really felt like a Friday. You know when you are just so exhausted that things don't seem to matter much anymore? Well that is where I was, and work went well yesterday. Then after putting my keys in my pocket and going home (did I mention that it has rained all week?) I find that I must have dreamed putting my keys in my pocket because they were so not there anymore. Luckily just as I have given up searching through my bag somebody comes out of the apartment-block door and lets me in. And luckily again one of my housemates is home and lets me into the house, which means I can put down my groceries. But then what would you know - the day I finally leave my keys at work the cleaners come on the correct day of the week, and did their job correctly, and locked my bedroom door behind them.

So I was screwed. I could not retreat to my bed as I so wanted to. It was 7 pm and I went back to work. Luckily when you get to the station just on time for the train it only takes 15 minutes. And luckiest of all, not only does the building stay open till 8 but one of the students I share an office with was working late this particular night. So. There comes a point where things are just funny no matter what, and that was it.

Today was good. And I am still saying that despite the fact that I arrived before 9 as I always do lately, and did not leave till 8 pm. First - it is not raining! I spent a constructive morning doing all the things that one must do for cutting, without actually trying to cut any ultra-thin sections. It was better I didn't do any important work you see because I could feel that today was going to be one of those days when everything I touch breaks. Then after lunch I spent far too much time on the microscope - it is amazing how time can pass so easily sometimes when you are doing something that would seem to most to be so boring (not to mention incomprehensible). And finally, at 5 pm, I must sit and figure out what the hell my supervisor might want in terms of a progress-report. And that is what took me till 8 pm, and consisted of many pictures, and absolutely no sarcasm.

That last bit was really difficult. And that long long day is probably why I ate a block of chocolate. This is not as bad as it sounds though, the blocks are smaller on this side of the world, only a hundred grams. Sadly. Except that this particular block had and extra 25% for free. But Milka is really good. And wrapped in purple. I guess purple must be the colour of chocolate. I don't think they tried to trademark their shade though. Cadbury are just paranoid I guess. I don't know why we go on about it, chocolate here is just as good, if not better. The chocolate is not what they have even beat everyone else at - it's the caramello and peppermint that no chocolate here can match, and the black-forest too. And white chocolate on this side of the world is not as good either, but then nor is Cadbury's. Milky bar is best, but it is not here. And no moro bars either.

So enough about chocolate. Now I have written far too much and it is time to go to sleep. Just now I knocked my ipod off of its perch on top of my laptop and what would you know, it headed straight for my glass of water. Missed it though, luckily. Really, many people drop them in far worse than a glass of water - but to do it twice? That is surely too much even for me.

Only two weeks left in Vienna. What a terrible tragedy. That volcano erupted two weeks too early - it must have got its dates wrong. That's okay though, it can just erupt again in time to disrupt my flight indefinately.

06 April 2010

Easter 2010 - 4 days 4 countries

Good Friday: Croatia

So I began my Easter by getting up at 6am and hauling ass to the train station - I was just a little paranoid about missing another train. See I had intended to leave the night before and spend the morning in Slovenia, but while I had written down the times correctly I had it all muddled up in my head and did not double check it. And I arrived at the train station an hour late. But that was okay, I just quickly changed my plan and went home to have one last decent sleep before I left. I had decided to see Eastern Europe after my housemate wisely pointed out that I may never again be so well placed for it. So with this in mind I decided aftger my timetable mishap to skip Slovenia because it is not quite so eastern Europe as the rest of Eastern Europe. Besides, I can't pronounce the name of the capital.

The trip to Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, was unfortunately rather interesting. At least it started well though. For breakefast I had an Easter Lamb - which sounds a bit weird in English but it is an Austrian tradition. It is cake, sort of. Here there are many sweet things that I would lump all together under the name cake, but I get many objections when I do this. Anyway, in the bakeries before Easter I had been seeing these lambs and I asked what it was, and do you eat it. I thought maybe it was bread. But my friend made some and it turns out that it is some sort of cake, and it's really good. Makes a great breakfast. I will have to get a recipe and the right thing to make it in so that I can make Austrian easter food when I am elsewhere.

So unfortunately after an hour on the train we had to change trains, only instead of a train we were directed onto a bus. Which did not have enough seats. I managed to get one but others had to stand. And we travelled by bus at least an hour. Finally the bus came to another station and the rest of the trip was by train. Perhaps there was something wrong with the track, I don't know. Maybe it is always like that. But the train was a decent one fortunately and the trip was going well. Until the train stopped again. And then it just sat there for about a half an hour and nothing happened. Finally there was a passport check. So I guess that's why we stopped. But did we keep moving after that? No. Eventually someone came and asked for passports again. And then a third time! Plus that last time I was asked if I had any goods to declare. All in all, I think the train was stopped at whatever border station this was for at least an hour.

Finally the train arrived in Zagreb and I had my day sort of planned out - I hadn't really had much time to do reasearch. The first thing to do on arriving in a new place was to get money, the train schedule for leaving and a tourist map - this was easy. I also had the lonely Planet for Eastern Europe, which proved to be absolutely indespensible. It was about 2 0'clock when I arrived and after wandering up to the city center the first thing that I found was the Easter market, below the usual market. It was cute, as these things usually are. Easter tradition in these parts is to decorate eggs (with the insides blown out) and then to hang these on branches and wreaths. The usual market was just produce and flowers, so I skipped that and went to the cathedral. It was of course quite impressive - cathedrals generally are. But like many of the sights that I want to see when I visit new places, it was under reconstruction. I went inside almost all of the churches that I saw but of course with it being Easter they were very crowded. I saw a few other tourists with cameras though so I figured it was ok to go in. There were huge lines for the confessionals.

Next I kept on walking and took a long detour when I missed the correct street to turn down. Zagreb was very well signposted for tourists but you can still lose your way. So I saw all the random buildings instead. And many shops. It is a very nice little city, I would gladly go back. Especially if I had money to blow - it was full of very nice little jewellery shops. And shoe shops. And nice looking (an smelling) places to eat. It had a nice atmosphere. Anyway I found what I was looking for eventually, which was mostly more churches and such. Over here the main things to see are often either to do with religion or royal families of some sort. Zagreb was very full of Easter, with great painted eggs dotted about everywhere. It was once two neighbouring towns that later became one city, so it has two main churches. The big cathedral and another with a colourful tiled roof. And the historic part of the city with all the cobblestones and old buildings is on a hill - strategic location and all that - so of course you can get a very nice view. Sadly there is not actually that much to see. A city is just a city, all you really see here is buildings.

So when I had seen all that I had put down on my list, and all that was recommended by lonely planet, and by my tourist map (except for the musuems, I didn't feel that I had time for that), I was feeling pretty tired. I wandered around a bit more to see the last few big buildings before it got too dark, and then for dinner I could not pass up going to a place named after Hansel & Gretel. And there I got very nice cake and very, very nice ice-cream. And then I was so tired, and the train I had to catch was not until midnight, so to pass the rest of my time in Zagreb I found a warm place to sit in the train station and had a read of my Lonely Planet book, so that I could plan out my next day. It was lucky that I was forced to change my plans for Good Friday I think, because after just Zagreb I was so tired, and if I had done Slovenia in the morning I would have been so shattered, and I would probably not have enjoyed Zagreb so much. One capital city a day is enough.


Saturday: Serbia

As I discovered from later experience, my first overnight train ride, to Belgrade, was quite fortunate. Aside from one slightly smelly, snoring man that joined the compartment I was in. The train was warm, the seats comfortable. I had two seats to make myself comfortable in, and eventually managed to sleep (not much though). Once again the train stopped for a long bout of passport checks. This time at 5 am. Dozing after that only resulted in a sore neck; I should have just stayed awake.

I arrived in Belgrade at 6.30 am and had my first encounter with a hole-in-the-ground toilet. They were clean, luckily, though you do come to expect that when you have to pay to use a bathroom (which is very common over here). But after all of that, when the attendant saw that I wanted to get changed, a key was fetched and a wee room opened for me, and what would you know but it had a real toilet. Still - you can't really say that you have travelled until you've had to put up with a hole-in-the-ground. I wonder though, how rickety old ladies manage it?

So anyway, I began my day by finding the Kalemegdan citadel, which I walked around and through - the great thing about arriving so early in the morning is that there is nobody else hanging around all of these places to get in the way of my photographs. Being such a strategic location, on a hill overlooking the city and rivers, this has been a fortress for a couple of thousand years. Climbing up on the old walls gives some amazing panorama views of the city and the rivers (the Danube and the Sava).

From the citadel I went down and saw the rather plain mosque (the last one left in Belgrade) and the first christian church to be built in Belgrade. Then on to the pedestrian zone, consisting mainly of the street Knez Mihailova (the tourist "hart" of the city) which is full of many examples of nice Hapsburg and Ottoman buildings. So I took photos of many nice buildings, then on to the Cathedral, a small mansion/palace built for some ruler's wife. Of course the thing about all of these Easter countries is that they were once behind the Iron Curtain and under communist rule. And the communist principle involved erecting very ugly, gigantic, dark concrete blocks that they called efficient housing. So you have buildings that are very nice too look at, some of which are similar to what you see here in Vienna, and some that are darker and more gothic but still very impressive, and some of this Art Nouveau stuff (one day I will have to get somebody to explain all these building types to me, you think you have it but some things are so similar). And then you have, in between and all around, these great dirty apartment blocks, some of which tower to crazy heights, and most of which are still inhabited.

So at this point it was still quite early and a had a long day to spend in Belgrade, and thanks to Lonely Planet I had a number of possibilities. Museums were out because it was Saturday, but that was okay because museums are exhausting and not for this power-travelling that I was doing. Instead I crossed the bridge over the Sava and walked along the Danube until I came to a district called Zemun. At the top of a hill, amonst the remnants of a 9th century village and fortress, is a very old church and a not-quite-so-old tower. And another nice view of Belgrade. Unfortunately no view of Belgrade is a great view, it is just a really, really big city. It is so big that even the great monuments, like the Sava church that supposedly dominates the city skyline, actually seem to be quite diminutive. Especially when you notice that it is dwarfed by those ugly communist-era apartment blocks. There is just so much that nothing really stands out.

After Zemun it was about lunchtime and finally the sun came out. It got hot, and then hotter. I got sunburnt of course. My first stop back in the central city was to see the market place. It was not what I was expecting at all - I had thought to find something like Nashmarkt in Vienna, all crowded with nice displays of a huge variety of foods. It was half vegetables and fruit, and half normal everyday stuff - not only cheap clothes but even kitchen appliances and bathroom fittings. It is not a tourist attraction. I guess that is what you get in a poorer, less developed country though. I didn't notice it in Zagreb, but then by the time I got there on Good Friday the market was closing anyway, and I was distracted with the nice Easter market below. Which brings me to another thing - while I saw plenty of Easter in Zagreb there was not really any in Belgrade.

So I moved on and instead of finding the church that I was headed to, I found another (these cities are really just one massive church after another). Then there was a small street with a supposedly great cafe atmosphere - it was not so great unfortunately. Finally I found the st Sava church, Belgrade's Orthodox masterpiece and the world's largest orthodox church. Despite being so iconic it is actually still in the process of being built. You can't really tell from the outside (except for the stacks of marble tiling), but inside it is mostly bare. Then two more churches; St Marks and the Russian Church. Right next to each other which really makes your sight seeing easy. Both were very nice, but I was tired.

Now at this point I was getting very tired, and hot, and exhausted. You see doing this overnight train thing means that there is no need for accommodation (saving me money) but there is also no opportunity of a shower. So what did I do? I had planned on going to a public pool - they have showers. Right? Apparently not. But I had, when this thought first occurred to me during the tiny bit of preparation and planning that I did before my trip, looked it up on Google. And it turns out that it isn't a crazy idea, others do exactly what I have done - and some for much longer periods of time. And the solution to the shower problem: hostels (i.e. backpackers). I couldn't find the first hostel listed in Lonely Planet. Unlike the ease of a large backpackers in NZ here they are often small and several floors up a big, dark building. But I found the second one, and it made my day. The guy working there just invited me in, had absolutely no problems with allowing me to use the bathroom - offered me a drink and gave me a towel. And didn't even charge me anything.If I were to go back to Belgrade I would definately stay there (it is unfortunate that I don't really have any desire to return). So after a shower I felt, for awhile at least, completely refreshed and un-exhausted.

For the evening I made my way back to the pedestrian zone, which was much nicer at this time of day. At the base of the citadel I found a small market, probably primarily for Easter and the tourists, as it was far more like what us westerners consider az market to be. Then up to the lower part of the citadel to catch the sunset (I was far too weary to go up to the top, so I missed the best view, but that's okay). Finally - dinner. Pizza, and then ice-cream. And it was very good ice-cream too. But I must say that after reading that the cafe-culture in Belgrade is "second-to-none" I could not see how it was any better than anywhere else. Plus I thought that Vienna already had that title. Though you do tend to hear the same statements made of many cities.

To end my day in Belgrade was to go back to the train station - I was so tired. I got an empty compartment on the train, but the train was not as nice as the previous ones. Unlike with aeroplanes, it seems that a train can keep on running until it actually falls to pieces. Plus the poor excuse for a bathroom was completely disgusting. And this train was cold. Again at 5 am the stops began. First for passports, one hour. Then a bit later the train stopped again, and they checked passports and tickets - again! By this stage I had begun to realise that here is the big difference between travelling inside the European Union and outside of it. These long stops are just a normality for Eastern Europe. Finally there was a third stop, for some unknown reason. Nobody checked naything that time. So eventually I gave up on sleep and went over my plan my day in Sofia.


Easter Sunday: Bulgaria

I chose to go to Sofia primarily for its pretty name, and only found out what there was to see there later. And I think that Lonely Planet underated it somewhat - I thought that is was a very nice little city as capital cities go. Though the first thing that I found on arriving was probably the most confusing station I have ever come across. The first thing I realised is that I had left the latin alphabet behind, and everything was written in Cyrillic. Luckily, after being woken at 5 am for seemingly interminable passport checks, I took the advice of my guidebook and began to learn the Cyrillic alphabet. It's not so hard as it sounds. And what would you know but I had crossed a time zone, but I luckily saw a clock and knew to change my watch forward (otherwise I would have missed the train to leave).

On my way into the city I first went to the Ladies' Market - like the Belgrade market it was not really worth all the hype. I saw the Synagogue, the largest Serphalic Synagogue in the world, and I even went inside. So now as well as churches, cathedrals and a mosque I have been inside a synagogue. Right next to the synagogue was Tsentrati Hali, a big and very old covered market (which was full of very delicious looking food). Now this one was far more like Vienna's Naschmarkt, only better - minus the cramped crowdedness, plus it had cakes and ice-cream. Then right next to that (everything really was very close together) was the mosque, of a very different style to those I have seen in UAE. Of course it would be far older. I liked it better. So then right next to the mosque was a big old building that used to be the Turkish baths, and was very nice to look at, but closed now. Alongside this though were springs of mineral water where the people fill bottles of water for their homes. It comes out of the taps hot, but once it cools it is really good water.

So now I continued to Sveti Nedalya cathedral, which was not right next door but still very close. On the way I very nearly missed the medieval Svetki Petka church - it is tiny and is mostly buried amonst overpasses and traffic. You get to it through the pedestrian walkway beneath the busy roads. And when I say tiny, I mean it is about the size of a garden shed. the Sveti Nedalya is very large and has very loud bells, and was incredibly crowded so I did not go inside. It was very nice but not so old as many of the others - a church has been there for a very long time but they keep needing to be rubuilt after being ruined by fires and earthquakes. Another church, the St George church, is the oldest intact building in Sofia. Around the church are exposed roman ruins, the remains of their ancient town Serdica. The church hides in the courtyard of a large building block, and to continue on my way towards the Presidential Palace, the next sight on my list, I found that I was actually already standing behind the building. The front of it was nothing special though, just a large building with guards standing outside, looking very serious and marching about at some unseen cue. Next to the Palace is a huge white building with a spire on top called the Party House (as in political parties).

So from here I continued and going down the street (paved in yellow cobblestones - a yellow brick road, just as the guidebook says) I passed first the city park, and the former royal Palace which is now a musuem, and found my way to the Russian Church. Russian churches all seem to be very beautiful, as was this one, with a green roof and a lot of gold. Not right next door, but still not far away, was the Sveti Sofia Church, which is not so much to look at but it is the second oldest church in the city, and one of the oldest and most important in all of southeastern europe, and of course the origin of the city's name. Beneath the church are many ancient tombs and you can see through panels in the floor some of those exposed through archeological work.

Behind the church was a small memorial and tomb to an important figure in the history of the city, and then of course the building that Sofia is primarily know form, the Alexander Nevski Cathedral. It is really massive, as you would expect it to be. I went inside all of these chruches, even though perhaps I should not have with it being Easter and all - they were very crowded with actual worshippers. I did see a few other tourists though. The lines for the confession were huge. The insides of these churches are generally all painted which I think I like better than the big dark gothic cathedrals, like the one here in Vienna. Around the cathdral was a flea-market of sorts, with a lot of antique stuff like jewellery, coins and oddly enough, cameras.

So I kept on walking because I wanted to find the big parks which had memorials to the Soviets and Communism, but the day got very hot and by the time I got there I found that the big memorial, one of the last remnants of the communist statuary because most of it was of course torn down, was actually completely covered in scaffolding that you could not see through. This is because it is crumbling and dangerous, but unfortunately meant that I could not see any of it. I also could not go up the building that has a viewing platform for seeing the city and is apparently usually open, because it was closed. Still, it was a nice park. But outside of the central area with all the big attractions, the city is really just like all others. Whether the buildings are old or new, it is still just a lot of concrete and cars, and it was very hot. So after this it was time to find somewhere to have a shower, and I found a very friendly hostel, I had to pay this time but it was worth it because I was so hot and exhausted - and it was a very good shower. And I was given food, and had someone to chat to briefly. After which I felt ready to go back out and do not much, just wander around all the nice buildings and buy things at the nice market stalls. Sofia was small, but there was still plenty to see. Everything of importance (meaning anything that provides a nice picture) being so close together helped. Also I think with every city you improve on the skill that is seeing a city in just a day. I had less time here than in Belgrade, my train left at 7pm. But I still had time to just stop and look at stuff, and eat ice-cream.

For the next overnight train trip I had reserved a seat because I was told that it was neccesary. It did not cost much but what a load of tripe - like the other trains this one too was half empty. And what a train! I had a seat, not a compartment, and the train was creaking so badly it seemed it would fall to pieces, and this particular wagon smelt quite bad. So I moved, and found some empty seats in a semi-compartment in the first class seated wagon (which was primarily occupied by other backpackers who like me were disgusted with the wagon I had just left). But still, the lights were on and could not be turned off. So I found some space in a compartment wagon and got a couple of hours sleep - until I was woken for a ticket check. And luckily I was to because the ticket guy managed to get across to me in poor English that only half the train was going to Bucharest and the wagon that I was in was going elsewhere. So I had to go back. So I slept across some rather uncomfortable seats with my blanket over my head to block out the light, and luckily at 6 am that same ticket guy woke me to say we had arrived - otherwise I would have slept through and carried on to god-know's-where.


Easter Monday: Romania

I arrived in Bucharest at 6 in the morning and it was still dark out. But by the time I had gone to the information desk, etc. it was getting light, so off I went to see the city. I had read that the size and pace of Bucharest can be rather mind-boggling. But it seemed okay to me. Of course it was 6 am on Easter Monday morning. First of all, Bucharest is very very big. The streets are wide and the buildings very old. There were no people or cars around so early that morning, but there are dogs everywhere, just lying around, sometimes barking at stuff. They seemed happy enough.

My first venture into Bucharest was to find the Arcul De Triumf, because I had read that it was on a busy roundabout and impossible to get to in the heavy traffic that is usually encountered in Bucharest. It lies in the middle of a great avenue, all lined with trees, bordering one of the cities large parks. The buildings down this avenue were all very nice, historic looking villas - I think many of them were government buildings and embassies of some sort, due to the flags and security guards. It seemed a very quiet sort of place but once again, it was very early on Easter Monday morning. There were a couple of very recommended musuems - all closed of course. Then the arch, which really was very big and impressive. And thanks to the city being mostly asleep I could stand in the middle of the road to take a photo of it. Then on to the end of the avenue to see the press building, described by Lonely Planet as "stalinesque". It was very large and white, with a big spire on the top that has a (mostly faded) red imprint of the communist hammer and sickle on it. After that I made my way through the park, where I finally saw some sort of Easter decorations - this had been almost completely lacking in Belgrade and Sofia. Across a pond I could see parts of the Village Musuem, which is a collection of houses, churches and windmills relocated from the Romanian countryside. There were big gardens and fountains and heaps of busts - I could only recognise a single name.

So after the park I headed to the city centre, from the Piatza Romana to Piatza Universitatii, between which in 1989 many student protestors were gunned down and run over by tanks. It seems that Bucharest has a rather chilling recent history. I stopped on my way to pat a single dog, this one was smaller than the rest and seemed quite clean and harmless. Only then I had a wee doggy shadow for a very long time, he followed me all the way down that long busy road, until I went through an underpass. All the homeless people were patting him and calling him but he just kept right on following me.

After Piatza Universitatii I continued to the next, Piatza Unirii. Here a huge roundabout full of fountains lies in the middle of another wide boulevard, all lined with huge, white, rather boring buildings. This, it turns out, was what the top of the communist social ladder looks like. The modern addition of air conditioning units to every apartment that one sees does not really do any favours. The Palace of Parliament is huge, and like the other buildings white. To me a humongous white building does not seem so impressive, I would prefer a smaller, more interesting looking castle or cathedral of some sort. Or some scary looking ruins. Apparently Romania is full of them but you need time to visit the countryside of course. Hopefully I can do so one day. Anyway up behind the castle is a Cathedral, which instead of one building as I had become accustomed to was a series of smaller buildings, though the bell tower was very deafening. And a monastary, which really was directly behind the Palace - so I spent ages looking for it thinking it was further away. It is a very old monastary - the city is full of such things but you need time to discover them on your own, and since time was what I was lacking I just followed the guidance of Lonely Planet - and seemed to me to be primarily a church behind a wall. There seemed to be buildings around it, but as it was a functioning monastary I highly doubt that tourists are overly welcome. These churches all have beautiful paintings and mosaics. I did not go in this one as it was church time. But I did notice that the air conditioning unit had been disguised with a covering of brick-printed paper. And a small girl tried asking me for money - rather cheeky considering she was eating an apple, holding a bag of easter treats and probably at church with her family.

So from Piatza Unirii you are basically in what is left of the historic district. There is apparently a very old inn, but it was under construction. I did come across the national library though, which is a huge dark old building. Then there is the Old Princely Court, which is the remains of a 15th century courtyard and contains a statue of Vlad Tepes Draculea, the count that the character was based on. When they say that Bucharest is undergoing gentrification and restoration of the historic areas, they really do mean that it is just beginning. You can see it happening, the heart of the historic centre is mostly terrible run down, with nicely restored buildings containing cafes and shops being very eye-catching amongst their broken up and crumbling neighbours. There is a very impressive looking bank, called the Economic Palace, across the road from and equally impressive looking (though not as dark) natural history musuem. Back up another small historic street brung me to the Stavropoleos church, and such a pretty wee church it was too, with a little quiet courtyard behind it.

From the historic area I walked up yet another very old street, by now beginning to get busy with traffic. I was on my way to yet another city square, the Piatza Revolutiei, but first I stopped to look at another church. The piatza is home to the Communist Party building and what is left of the residence of the former dictator. It was here that the protests begun back in 1989. There is a very odd looking memorial to the revolution and those that died, but memorials are often strange. This one is a great spire with some sort of round metal thing on it. Across the road was the art gallery, that was once the Royal Palace. Apparently it is very good, but it being Easter it was of course closed and I did not have the time anyway. The Hilton Hotel is the old Athenee Palace, where the KGB used to hang out - but it is not very interesting. Better is the Romanian Athenaeum behind it - a great, columned, domed building where they hold concerts.

By now it was mid afternoon and time to find the train station because the trip back to Vienna was a long one. I had seen all the big stuff though, except of course museums. And I was tired. Bucharest has an interesting history but I had seen enough. Plus it was starting to rain. So I managed to find the train station again, via a nice city park, and got ready for a 15 hour journey. It wasn't so bad, I had a compartment to myself (once again, how pointless it is to reserve a seat) and I slept away most of the journey - by that stage I could have slept through anything. But come 2 am and I got a ticket collector who for once had very good English and informed me that my rail pass was no longer valid. It turns out that I had confused the rules somewhat - if you want to take an overnight train you have to board the train after 7 pm, otherwise it will take two travel days of your pass. And I did not have two days left. But she was very nice and I brought a ticket of her to get me from the Romanian border to Budapest. And then when she left I sneakily changed the 5 on the ticket (because you fill in the dates that you travel yourself) to a 6 as it was now, at 3 am, the 6th of April. And then the next ticket collector also tried to have some problem with my ticket but this one did not speak English and gave up before long. Come Austria, no more problems, they barely looked, just stamped my ticket. I got back at 9 am, in time to go home for a quick shower and get to work. Where I really did not actually do much, but nobody that matters noticed.


So that was my Easter, and I felt okay on Tuesday, not too tired. But then Wednesday and Thursday I was so falling asleep at work. In looking back at my photos I see that the later ones, from Sofia and Bucharest, are generally taken on an angle. The camera seemed straight at the time but I guess I was not perceiving things very accurately by that stage. Eastern Europe was cheaper by far than here in Vienna, but there were also more beggers and they were more in-your-face - some of them would even grab my arm and speak to me in English, asking for money. And unfortunately so many nice buildings are covered up with huge billboards and adverts - they are just that commonplace. Of course they do that here to some extent also. If I had the time I would definately go back to Croatia and Bulgaria, and perhaps Romania - to see the actual countries and not just the capital cities. And then there are so many more countries still to see. Stupid work getting in the way of my travel. My next big travels will probably not be for some time.

And I hope that everybody can see these pictures - slideshows were the only way to show all of the photos that I could not choose between.