So, here I am after a weekend - that was mostly rushed and not very restful, but I'm much less - well everything than I was on Friday!!
SO and I decided around October sometime I think, that we would stay in Europe for Christmas - after all, how often do you get to be in Europe for Christmas..? Mind you, we also said the same thing about South America last year!! But given that we were both working and neither of us had the time or patience to be researching where to travel to, how to get there and where to stay when we did, etc so we'd book onto a tour, and let someone else do all that for us.
First, let me say that if you want a quick overview of places, not to have to worry about where to go and when, and someone else to organise your accommodation and transfers for you - a tour is definitely the way to go. I've never done one before - except for our Inca Trail in South America last year for which we had to have a guide and therefore booked through a company - I've always just wandered around places myself, booked the accommodation and enjoyed my time doing what I wanted at my own pace... But, having someone else do all the bookings this time around was an absolute godsend!
So, we headed off to Munich, Germany where our tour was due to begin in the early afternoon of Dec 16. After a couple of hours delay, due to the fact that Arlanda airport in Stockholm only had enough snow ploughs to keep one of the three runways clear, and then an hour and half or so sitting on the plane while they got ready and we stood in the queue to have our wings de-iced before take off, and then getting in line for the actual take off - we arrived safely in Munich a few hours late and tired...
We were due to meet up with the tour group for an orientation tour of Munich around 2.30pm the next day and then again for a welcome drink around 6pm. We gave the tour a miss as we'd worked really late the night before and I'd managed to let in a cold that I'd been warding off - so we had a rest. Met some of the lovely people we shared our experience with for drinks at 6pm - had some dinner and then went back to our room for an early night before our first of many 6.30am wake up calls!!
Santa at the BMW museum in Munich:
BMW Head Office (4 cylinders):
Driving out of Munich:
Travelling via Regensburg, Germany (for a short visit) and Pilsen, Czech Replublic (only in the bus) our next stop was in Prague, Czech Republic. A beautiful city, we got to have a night tour with a fabulous local guide John (Honza) although it was absolutely FREEZING!! We ended up the night at a cellar with 'live music' that entailed a very lively accordion player who was trying desperately for some audience participation without too much success!! John was with us the next morning for our city tour before we boarded the bus to head off for Bratislava, Slovakia.
An angel in Prague:
And the Christmas market:
Bratislava was a fairly quick stop - a couple of hours to have a quick look at the town and wander (eat and drink) our way around yet another Christmas market (did I mention we'd been to one in Prague as well?!). SO loved the market here because instead of the Gluwein (hot Christmas wine) we had in the Christmas markets in Cologne the month before - they served Medovina (hot mead - honey wine) which he drank so much of he was a little tipsy getting back on the bus!! From there we headed on to Budapest, Hungary.
Another, just stunning place - we went on a dinner cruise on the Danube river and seeing all the architecture of Budapest lit up was nothing short of breathtaking - the pics don't do it justice at all!! Then we had a full day in Budapest, including a tour of the Parliament building - apparently they ran a contest for the design of the building and were so impressed with the entries that they made not only the winning building (that houses Parliament) but the next two runners up as well!! You'd be forgiven for thinking you were inside (or in fact looking at a palace) the building is gorgeous and absolutely amazing. Our tour guide here was the young, but very helpful Sophie...
Hungarian Parliament Building from the Danube:
A replica - made of matchsticks, inside:
The next day bought us in to Vienna, Austria - via Györ, Hungary. I did a (little!) shopping here in our free time that evening - but I was very excited about the end of our city tour (with lour local guide Ilse who was lovely) the next day where we got to visit the new flagship Swarovski store!! Three levels of lots and lots of pretty sparkly things!! Very cool! That night we went to what was described as dinner and a Strauss concert. Now, the dinner was supposedly in a 'palace' which while it was a very beautiful place was simply a building in Vienna's city garden, and the Strauss concert - which entertaining, was an orchestra of 13! Perhaps a little oversold, but an enjoyable evening none-the-less.
The next morning (Christmas eve) we headed into Salzburg, because the Europeans mostly celebrate Christmas on Christmas eve - we headed straight into the cafe that we otherwise would have seen at the end of our city tour for some lunch and coffee and cake. The cafe, not surprisingly wanted to shut up early and send all the staff off to enjoy Christmas eve with their families. Then we went on to join our local guide Manfred for our city tour. Salzburg was really interesting to look around - really pretty with it's castle up on the hill - and amazing history, going back more than a thousand years (amazing to me as an Australian who's country only has a couple of hundred years of history)... But, we were disappointed when we finally got our free time to wander around even the Christmas market was closing up and none of the regular retailers were open so late (3pm) on Christmas eve. This was despite Manfred and his quote of the tour "hurry up people, you're on a walking tour here, you're not on holiday"!!
The castle in Salzburg:
And Mozart's birthplace:
After a lovely dinner out we headed back to the hotel, which had the dodgiest internet connection in the world - necessitating getting fully dressed (including coats) at 3am to go down to the lobby to join in Christmas lunch in Oz over skype!! After a couple of hours on the computer/phone back to Oz in the middle of the night we had a sleep in the next morning, skipping the tour that looked at the lower part of the alps and some of the scenery from The Sound of Music. Oh well, Christmas lunch was worth it for the look on my grandmother's face when she could see us on screen!
Then another short (couple of hours) bus ride back to Munich for the Christmas dinner and the night, before most were flying out the next day. We met some wonderful people - some of whom we'll definitely keep in contact with... And special mention to our driver Attila (yes, Hungarian!) who was not only the best, safest driver we could have asked for but was also a very lovely guy on top of that! However, the one major downfall of our tour was the tour director...
I nicknamed her Cruella (as in de Ville from 101 Dalmations) she not only fit with her shock of white hair at the front, but in her attitude. Only ever friendly when we were on the bus, ie: when she'd decided she was tour director (never in the halls of the hotels, or the breakfast rooms, or the bars - where if she could avoiding making eye contact she absolutely did!) she was also one of those people who I'm sure just love the sound of their own voice (I know - you could be forgiven thinking that of me today, on and on and on!!). And so, we heard inane, unimportant things 200 times over - it got so people just switched off, so immediately she'd finish telling us 20 times that we'd meet back at the bus at 2pm, that's 2pm back at the bus, back at the bus at 2pm people - someone who'd stopped listening long before that would ask - what time are we meeting?? Unbelievable!!
Anyway, we did have a great trip - it was fab to see so many places and get a feel for the history and architecture, etc...
Two weary, but happy travellers: