Austria, a skip into Hungary, and onto Slovakia

Trip Start Aug 14, 2001
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Trip End Nov 07, 2002


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Saturday, September 29, 2001

From Germany, we headed into Austria to the town of Mozart's birth, Salzberg. We arrived early and explored the streets and a few buildings including the Dom zu Salzberg, a baroque cathedral built 1628, and repaired after the war to it's original glory. The real highlight for me though was a blistering Balaclava-Quartet complete with Triangle-Bass and Button-Accordian busking out Mozart like their lives depended on it! (Ah, 'The Sound of Music'....Apparently, our hostel actually played that movie every morning at 10am sharp. Ouch. What a way to start the day.)

The next day, we took a train into the Austrian Alps to a small village called Hallstatt. One guidebook described Hallstatt as, 'A tiny town bullied onto a ledge between a selfish mountain and a sleepy lake with a waterfall ripping furiously through it's middle.' Stepping off the train on the opposite shore and looking across we could see that the book didn't lie! We were surrounded by the snowy Dachstein range of the Alps and the cute wooden village was only a short boat trip across the glassy water. It was a breathtaking, sunny day and we couldn't wait to see more... We had come with a new friend we made in Salzberg, Richard from Tasmania, and the three of us stayed at the otherwise empty hostel next to the soothing waterfall. For two beautiful sunny days and three starry nights we stayed there, hiking into the mountains and the snow! One morning, we caught a gondola ride up to the snowy base of the giant Krypenstein and hiked up a nearby peak. It was great. Absolutely amazing.

Next stop was Vienna (Wien). We could only afford to stay for two days there but were lucky enough to meet a nice Swedish couple at our hostel and we had a good time exploring with them. We got up early Sunday morning and went to hear the world-famous Vienna Boys Choir sing at Mass in the Imperial Chapel. We had to line up by 8:30am for 'free' standing room in the aisles. I couldn't believe that they actually charged people money (10 to 20 bucks! And, it was full!) to sit for Mass! My experience has always been the opposite. Usually, you couldn't pay the average person to go to church!

We heard the boys sing their songs and then slipped out the back before the Mass got too heavy. (As if we could understand it anyways!) In Vienna was yet another massive gothic marvel, St. Stephan's Cathedral. We were actually lucky enough to hear those giant pipes sing. But the highlight for us was maybe a great photo exhibit from the late Linda McCartney. All the fancy Museums (with beautiful paintings to) were just a little too expensive for our meager budget. Actually, just about all of Austria was quite expensive and we only ate in a restaurant but once. Train travel was 5 times the price of Eastern Europe and even grocery store dinners were costing us 10-15 dollars. (At least they were good though!)

Hungary was next. We skipped across the border to a small town called Sopron. Clearing Hungarian customs was a joke. The customs-agent barely looked at us. He asked us to open our packs but seemed to be quite bored. He didn't even look in Katrinka's open pack and then told me, 'good' before mine was even finished being opened. We found a camping place called Lovér-Camping on the edge of town and took a little shoe-box cabin for the night. In our next town, Gyor, we decided to go to the famous Gyori Ballet. Neither of us had ever been to a ballet before and we figured, what the heck. Four different segments were followed by strange, synchronized clapping and breaks for cocktails. It was actually quite an excellent show too, which surprised me.

Next day, we decided to pop up into Slovakia and go to Bratislava. The train wasn't too expensive but even cheaper was another way... We trained over to Komarom and then walked over a big bridge spanning the Danube and into Slovakia at a place called Komarno. Customs was easy and then we trained up to Bratislava, all for about the quarter of the cost of an international train ticket. We wandered Bratislava for a while, heard the bells and then headed northeast to a place called Trenjin...

We arrived in Trenjin in the dark and were headed for a place called 'Kamping' on the small island of Ostrov.(Located on the river) We had a bit of trouble finding it but eventually made our way to a locked gate. A little old man answered the buzzer and came out to see us scratching his head. We said in our best Slovak, 'Matne Volne Izby?' (we wanted to rent a cabin) He said, 'Ne'. (no) He motioned that it was not possible. Well, it was now dark out and we said things like 'shshooooot!' and 'ooh, no' and we must have looked scared and pathetic cause he paused to think a second and said, 'momento, momento...' He unlocked the gate to let us in. They were closed for the season we soon realized but he gave us a free place to stay in a clean but boarded up cabin. (half full of lawn furniture) He was so nice to us and showed us the showers and sinks and whatnot and gave us a pile of blankets to sleep on. We laughed and smiled alot as we weren't able to say much more than 'Dobre!' (good!) and 'D'akujem!' (thank you). We said those two words an awful lot. We got a good night's sleep and in the morning at about seven, he woke us up and with a smile stammered out, 'Kamping...is...over....' He and a crew of other men, tools in hand, were dismantling the sink-stations. We thanked him profusely, shook his hand and made our way to town.

More eastern train travel brought us through the Carpathian Mountains to a place called Levoca. We were tipped-off by our good friend Vlasta not to miss the amazing nearby castle Spissky Hrad (circa 1209, the biggest castle in Slovakia). We explored the old walled city but took a room out in the rough neighborhood which was fine. Our first morning, we got up real early and headed 15km east on the bus to the town Spisske Podhradie in search of the great castle. Our guide-book had no pictures or maps for this town but gave us a clue. The castle was said to be 'crowning a long ridge to the east'. So, we walked east toward a thick bank of cold morning fog and a green hillside all the while wondering, where is it? As we walked, we soon watched the great giant emerge from behind the cloak of morning mist, high up on a rocky ledge on top of the steep grassy hill while winks of blue sky promised a beautiful day. We practically had the whole place to ourselves and enjoyed exploring freely the excellent stone ruins then we had a sunny lunch in the lower enclosure amoung wildflowers and red butterflies.

We spent two nice days in Levoca and left there this morning for the second biggest city in Slovakia, Kosice. We won't be here much longer as tomorrow we're headin' south (it's gettin' cold!) back into Hungary to a place called Miskolc.

PS. Here's my idea to stop the possibility of any further plane-jackings... It's simple. One step further than no hand-luggage, airlines should enforce an Everybody-Flies-Naked policy.
That's right, naked! How can you possibly hijack a plane if your naked? Even in the small likely hood that you were able to smuggle a small weapon onboard, you'd be way too embarrassed to do anything that involved getting up from your seat!!
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