Hallo from yet another bus, (my last one!) this time to Berlin. For those who are curious, I’ve just calculated the amount of time I have spent on buses since I left home (not including the time I have spent waiting for buses), and it clocks up to be about 43 hours. That’s a lot of time on buses. I’m pretty happy that it’s all planes and trains from here on out. The great thing, however, about bus travel, is that it gives me plenty of time to catch up on writing blogs and emails back home! And there is so much to catch up on!
As usual, I wasn’t sure what to expect crossing the border into a different country. As it turns out, Austria ain’t too concerned. We bussed right on through, and I would have missed it had I not been suspiciously looking at the EU flags. It wasn’t too much of a border at all, really. Plus one for bus travel. After a bit of difficulty finding where we had to take the metro (I now consider myself a metro connoisseur), we made it to our fabulous hostel in Vienna, where we checked in, got ourselves sorted, and then headed out for dinner in a great pub/restaurant nearby. I had my first taste of Austrian beer and decided it wasn’t too bad. It’s a far sight better than the beer back home, that’s for sure, but I still don’t think I’d call myself a beer drinker… yet. Afterwards, we proceeded back to our hostel to claim our free welcome drinks (yes you read correctly), so we had some more beer before calling it a night, seeing as we had a big day awaiting us.
There is one very special attraction in Vienna that I’m ashamed to say I had completely forgotten about until we were heading there on the bus. Horse people, of course, will know straight away that I am referring to the famous Spanish Riding School – the home of the white Lipizzaner stallions that have been trained for over 400 years in the art of classical riding. So naturally, when I remembered this, I sat bolt upright on the bus and blurted out to my friends that we HAD to go. So go we did. We saw the morning performance (well, most of it – visibility isn’t great with standing room tickets), and… wow. I was actually, physically rendered speechless by these horses and riders. My eyes were glued to the first pair that came out. The suppleness of the horse, the softness of the rider, the lightness of the hands, the fluidity of the gaits, the stillness of the position… I was mesmerized. And that was just the young horses, demonstrating walk, trot, and canter. We then saw slightly older stallions schooled in hand in the airs above the ground, such as the capriole and the levade. It really was breathtaking to watch these horses and how they communicate with their masters – for it really is this way, not the other way around. They perform the movements when they feel it’s ready – and when they do, you can see the passion and spirit they put into it. In short, it was an amazing experience, and not one that I’ll forget in a hurry – although I’m sure my attempts to replicate that kind of effortless riding are sure to meet with failure the minute I’m back in the saddle.
So the rest of Vienna was pretty cool too. We took a tour of the State Opera, which is incredibly beautiful. I wish we had more time in Vienna, because (travel tip alert!), you can get standing room tickets to the Opera, 80 minutes before the performance, for €3 and €4. No I’m not kidding. I would have loved to have done that, but sadly our stay was too brief. We had afternoon coffee following our tour, eager for some famous Apfelstrudel, and it ended up costing us more than dinner and beer in Prague – so we had a cheap dinner before saying a fond farewell to one of our trio who was taking the airport bus. Our sad farewell was cheered up a little by the comedic departure – he was the only one on the bus, with a driver who was more concerned with smoking than making the departure time, and waved away the last three euros of the fare my friend offered him, rounding it down to almost half price. My remaining travel companion and I made our way back to our hostel, and to bed, before attempting to visit the Naschmarkt the next day (forgetting, of course, that it was a public holiday and everything was closed), so instead we caught up for breakfast with another Winnipeg ‘family’ member who was working in Vienna for the weekend, and showed him some sights back in the city centre. That afternoon it was off to Munich by train, where we made our own delicious lunch of dense, nutty bread with ham and hummus… mmmm. Upon our arrival, we checked into our hostel, (the same chain as in Vienna), and as we were talking to the guy behind the desk about why we were travelling together and how we met, we came to the realization that it was exactly four years ago, to the day, that I had shyly asked if I could share a lunch table with two girls, and become lifelong friends with one of them. Pretty special. The check in guy gave us an extra free drink each, because we’d already stayed in another of their hostels, so off we went for dinner – döner kebaps with rice and salad and chips… yum!
After dinner, we decided it would be a good idea to do some laundry – since we had some time and plenty of dirty clothes. Reading the instructions, we followed the steps, put the clothes in, the money in, pressed the button, and… nothing. I pushed on the door harder and it clicked, with the machine lighting up… showing that we needed to insert money. Oh no. This was turning out to be some very expensive laundry. We laughed over it and used up some more coins, then went for our first drinks. On the way back up I went to the front desk to change more coins, confessing it had eaten my money, and the girl behind the counter gave me more coins for nothing! Now we could really laugh about our mishap – so we thoroughly enjoyed our second free drink before heading to bed – everyone else was already asleep! Quite a difference to Prague, where people were crashing at 4am.
So, Munich, Munich, Munich. What a city. It’s colourful, and clean, and bright, and charming. We started our day by taking the metro downtown, to the main square, and marvelling at the beauty of the town hall and the famous glockenspiel clock. In our guide, we had read that you could pay €1,50 to climb up the tower of one of the nearby churches, and get a stunning view of Munich and its surrounds. We had decided this would be a good idea, but the problem was, the phrase “nearby churches” didn’t really help us with locating the right tower. Everywhere you looked there was a church and tower! Eventually we found the right one, and laboured up the 300 odd steps to the top. The air grew colder as we reached the 15th floor and finally opened the door to the balcony… and all of Munich. It was a beautifully bright and clear day and we could see all the way to the mountains in one direction, and Allianz stadium in the other. The city spilled out beneath us like so many matchstick houses, in colours of white, pink, green, yellow, and blue, capped off with terracotta roofs. We saw and heard the glockenspiel clock play out its tune at 11 o clock, and then headed back down to some markets we had seen from our vantage point. Oh my goodness – cheese, sausages, meat, pastries, olives, pastes, spreads, tea, coffee… the smells alone were enough to set our tongues wagging. We had coffee and I finally got my beignet that I had been craving. The jam inside proved to be a little messy though… We struck up a conversation with some American guys from Minnesota for a few minutes, then decided to walk up to the Odeonsplatz and the English Garden – a huge park nearly 4 times the size of Central Park, and home to many long paths and flowing streams. Everyone was out enjoying the sun and it proved a glorious afternoon walk before lunch. We saw a few more sights before coming back to re-organise and re-pack all our stuff (I’m getting a little too good at this), and go for dinner and an amazing Bavarian restaurant where I found my ideal beer – one mixed with lemonade! But all good things must come to an end, and unfortunately today I had a very, very tough goodbye to say. My friend and I stood on the train platform as my train approached and hugged each other long and hard. We exchanged the usual “take care”, “safe travels”, and “let me know when you get home,” because I think neither of us could really articulate everything we wanted to wish the other person in those few brief moments. I smiled and got on the train, as she grinned, waved, and said: “Go, enjoy your life!” I will never, ever forget that.