Prague, Brno and Vienna

Vienna

Vienna

Firstly, sorry due to a combination of no internet, laziness and the weather being too good i dropped the ball on keeping the blog going. However i can assure you that I have had the best summer yet which was full of ups and downs, and luckily i have kept a record of it, so here goes!

After amazing wedding times in Canada with the family i flew back to Inverness for a couple of days with Ross and one last DJ gig before heading off to Europe. The first night of my travels was an upsetting one. Messed up flights and £210 wasted later I arrived at Prague airport which seemed like a ghost town.  Suddenly I realised how alone I was, this was a stark contrast to the wonderful family holiday id had last week. I somehow got the wrong bus (I should have realised when the only people traveling on it looked like airport workers) but thankfully there was a nice lady who explained that the bus I got is just going to take a little longer but I will eventually end up right outside the metro station. My bags were heavy and the hostel took a bit longer to find and I arrived at the Mosaic House Hostel feeling like a (sweaty and hot) lost lamb. My mood improved though when I saw the “dorm” I was staying in- it was more like a posh hotel. 3 bunk beds (with only 2 occupied) and an en suite that looked brand new, and most importantly there was AC! That night I wandered up to Charles Bridge and to the Old Town which hasn’t changed much since my last visit in 2010. When I got back to the hostel there was a friendly Brazilian girl there who I chatted to for a few hours before going to bed. In bed, I lay awake fretting and panicking about this big decision I have made to spend the next 4 months traveling. I felt incredibly homesick and very far away from the people I loved and considered just buying a ticket back the following day.

Thankfully I awoke the next day feeling slightly better, and hung around in the air conditioning until my bus to Brno to stay with Sue, a couchsurfer who is Czech and studying law at uni. As soon as I met Sue (and Gabriel, her friend from Bolivia) I was glad I made the decision to soldier on and enjoy my trip as much as possible. We got on like a house on fire, chatting about life and boys and everything in between. That night, we went to a local bar called Savoy where they had a swing dancing night. It was so different and fun to watch, and drinks there are so cheap! (About £1 for a beer). Sue introduced me to drinking Tonic Water on its own who turns out to be refreshing and hydrating. Since it was 36 degrees, it was a warm night in Sue’s flat, but her friendly cat kept me company until I fell asleep. The following morning we woke up early to explore the city centre, and catch a 45 minute train journey out to “The Caves.” Public transport is very cheap in CZ, and there is little hassle with ticket inspectors harassing you to see your ticket. While waiting for the bus to get to the caves I had an ice cream that was essentially strawberry puree that had been frozen and covered in thick dark chocolate, delicious!

We had an action packed day at the caves, and even though it was so hot we had a fun time. That evening, Gabriel came over and Sue made us potato rosti pancake type things which were very good, and I luckily the recipe is easy enough to remember so I will definitely be trying to recreate it. We went back to Savoy this time to watch salsa dancing, and also visited a tea house (Chai-Ovna) to sample some cold black rooibos and an apricot shisha and get to know each other even more. Sue and i got on so well, i couldnt believe we had only met a few days prior. She had an exciting summer ahead of her too, firstly spending three weeks in France and then volunteering at a flower farm in Ireland!

The following morning it was a scorcher again, so we decided to go to the public pool for a swim. It was only about £2 entrance, which was hours of fun in the twelve meter deep pool which was sparkling clean and very well run. Since it was still crazy hot we went back to the apartment for lunch and Czech this out, over there a typical breakfast would be a cheese and ham toastie, and lunch would be scrambled eggs! By this time I had gotten a pretty good feel for Brno, and I can only describe it as a smaller, tourist free version of Prague – you still have all the bars, restaurants, sights and attractions, its simply crowd free and cheaper. Winner!

After an emotioanl goodbye to probably the best host i will ever have I got the 2.5hour bus across the border to Vienna, and apart from a stop to get our passports checked it was a pleasant, luxurious and cheap journey.

Vienna was suffering the same heat wave as CZ, and I arrived to Martin’s flat in the east end of the city close to the Danube absolutely dripping in sweat. Martin is the brother of Robert, who stayed with me in Inverness in March with his friend and hails from Berlin. He is a typical German who loves beer and David Hasselhoff, and is an interesting and funny character. When I mentioned to him that I would be passing through Vienna he told me of his brother who lived there, and how miracle of miracles he was actually going to be there at the same time as me! Martin has a couple of flatmates, Seb, Dom and Jelli, and after I had literally walked through the door I was whisked away by them by bike along the river Danube for a BBQ. Despite the mosquitos it was tonnes of fun, and a good way to get to know the people I’d be staying with for the next four nights. Over the weekend there was a festival held on the island of the river Danube which had such acts like Amy MacDonald, Chase and Status and… Maximo Park! (My favourite).

On the Friday morning I woke up early after a pleasant sleep on the couch, and Martin, Robert and I hit the Historic Centre of Vienna to explore. Martin took us to a gelataria where the queues were out of the door for, so I knew it would be good. I settled for cranberry (it was really hot I wanted something refreshing) and GOATS CHEESE!!! It was really, really good! Very creamy and tasted like GC but it was sweet, an interesting concept. After a very hot stroll around the historic centre and seeing the university (Harry Potterville) I left Martin and Robert to do a sewers tour (apparently it was featured in The Running Man) and went off exploring on my own to find the Vienna Botanic Gardens. At this point of the trip I was feeling pretty reflective and ended up finding a spot in the shade to call home and also get in touch with Keldon and Cara in Perth, Australia. After a good catch up I found “De Spar” to get Martin and his friends a housewarming present. Now usually with couchsurfing it is polite to arrive with a gift, and since I was in such a flap to get from Brno to Vienna and then find the subway in Vienna I was too rushed to get anything and my shoulders ached so much (pro tip: PACK LIGHT PEOPLE!!!) and I felt really bad about arriving with no gift and I think they assumed I’d at least bring my own alcohol which I hadn’t had a chance to get either. So to make it up I got a bottle of Glenfiddich single malt, since it holds a special place in my heart due to Ross and my trip to the distillery in May. When I arrived back at the flat in time for dinner it seemed to go down well, although Seb suggested drinking it with coke… shudder. Martin and his girlfriend had cooked a huge bowl of spaghetti carbonara and the six of us had a nice summer dinner in the lounge, before heading out to the park (beers in hand of course) to play some table tennis and basketball. Parks in Austria seem to be seriously jacked up with table tennis tables, basketball courts, football nets… the works! Plus since drinking in public isn’t illegal there’s a great family friendly atmosphere, and of course it wouldn’t be complete without a cloud of mosquitos hanging around. Poor Jelli broke her finger while playing b-ball, but for me it was great to play a sport that I was actually good at since I bombed at table tennis. After quick showers we headed out to the festival, which involved a riotous journey on the tram to get there with much singing and “ach JA’s!” The festival itself felt like a small scale Rockness, lots of food stalls and people teeming everywhere with big happy smiles on their faces and music coming from all areas. The first band we saw were called the Pharsyde or something, some big rap group from the 90’s who knew how to keep the crowd going. Then, after a beer stop, we went to the headline stage to see this German band (kind of like a Coldplay/Snow Patrol feel) which everyone went nuts for. It was a lot of fun and totally unexpected.

The next morning Robert and I headed out to the palace, which was like a huge scale version of Dunrobin Castle. The weather was still boiling hot but it was muggy and overcast, and a storm was definitely on its way. The storm arrived when Robert and I were in the Sacher Café sampling some sachertort. I have to say that considering you pay 5euros for a slice it is a total con. For that price I’d expect a chocolaty party in my mouth, and what I got was just dry, bland disappointment. Since everyone I’ve spoken to who’s been to Vienna told me to try it im glad I went but I would never do it again. That evening, I wanted to get a crate of beers for the guys but by 6:30pm literally EVERY shop was closed!! It was horrific! And they stay closed until Monday morning. So we had to make do with 1.30euro cans of beer from a street vendor, which apparently is a rip off (little did I know that beers in Venice are 6euros and I’d be crying for these kinds of prices again) and before heading out to the festival again we had some Glenfiddich and played ring of fire until the beers were gone, and then I got to see one of my fav bands of all time Maximo Park! They were great, and even though the guys weren’t familiar with them they seemed to enjoy it. After we went to a few bars and late night sausage vendors and walked home at about 4 or 5am.

The next day was definitely laid back, everyone slept in until about 12. At the park there is a church called the Mexican church and there was some huge what seemed like Latin American event going on which was a huge racket, and after packing my bags and saying bye to everyone I headed to the bus station to get the bus to Bratislava. I was sad to go, I could have happily stayed for another few days but I didn’t want to let my couchsurfing hosts down. In hindsight, I have learnt that if you are enjoying a place, stay! Because you never know what’s around the corner…

With Sue my kickass host in Brno

With the gorgeous Sue my kickass host in Brno

Mmnnn Siskava(sp?)

Mmnnn Siskava(sp?)

I sent a postcard to my grandparents with this exact image

I sent a postcard to my grandparents with this exact image

BBQ time in Vienna

BBQ time in Vienna

Party time in Vienna

Party time in Vienna

Hello Dubai Pt. 2

sunet

The following day Ricky and Myla got up to go to work and I spent the day pottering around, going for walks and exploring more of Karama in the blistering sun. Walking around I was the only white girl in sight, and I got a lot of friendly, curious stares from passers by. A taxi driver even crossed a busy four lane street and followed me down a hill to offer a cab. When he saw how freaked out I was he backed away while trying to shake my hand and apologise – it must have been a funny sight! For lunch I had a beautiful chicken and spinach kaati roll, which is kind of like a filled chapati that is then grilled, with a fresh peach milkshake. Again, the flavours were out of this world, and I ate it while lamenting the fact that Inverness doesn’t offer such varied, delicious food. I’d arranged to meet with two UK friends that evening at the Marina Yacht Club on the other side of Dubai, an area which is known to house most of the expats. After struggling with picking through my clothes to find something modest to wear (settled on a knee length dress, vest to hide my chest and a long shawl) I got the metro at twilight, which was surprisingly busy with workers and shoppers. After half an hour of getting lost (I came out of the wrong exit and totally lost my perception, I thought I was facing the sea meanwhile I was facing the dessert, a thoroughly confusing ordeal), I met up with Vicki and Paula at the club who had wine waiting. The bar was on a terrace overlooking the Marina, and it was absolutely beautiful seeing all the boats lights twinkling, and the reflections of the surrounding skyscrapers on the still water. It was an absolutely stunning backdrop to while away the evening with drinks and dinner. Interestingly, the most substandard meal of my trip was also the most expensive – three times more than the prices in Karama. I had fried squid and dim sum, both were *ok* but so bland compared to the culinary delights I’d previously experienced. After a long watch up and gossip about men, work and holidays I left Paula and Vicki and got the metro back to Karama feeling happy and sunkissed from the day out in the sun. 

Unfortunately my camera is shocking and doesnt capture the awe of this scene

The Marina – unfortunately my camera is shocking and doesnt capture the awe of this scene

With my friend from the UK, Vicki

With my friend from the UK, Vicki

On my final day in Dubai I wanted to spend it relaxing, after all it was the last day of my holiday. After waking up fairly early I walked to the closest mall in the refreshingly cool morning air and had an extended breakfast at Paul, France’s most famous Boulangerie which now has chains dotted around Dubai. Since it was sadly way too early to indulge with a tart au citron I settled for an iced latte, toast and a pain au chocolat. The iced latte was out of this world, so incredibly refreshing and chilled, and the breakfast filling which spanned over two hours since I had dedicated that morning to updating Mr Journal. After breakfast I strolled around the mall and visited the local supermarket, Spinneys. Considering that Dubai has a high concentration of American, British, Australian and South African expats among others, you can imagine what a melting pot of variety is on offer in the supermakets. They stock the best items from every country: Tim Tams from Australia, Black Cat Peanut Butter from South Africa, Lucky Charms from the USA and a raft of M&S and Waitrose products from the UK. I was particularly impressed with the South African Selection – there was rooibos tea, Milo, chocolate logs, OMO washing powder and Ceres fruit juices amongst others, and the best surprise was how reasonable the prices were. The fruit and vegetable selection was mind boggling as well with all its exotic hard to pronounce produce. After buying some loose leaf rooibos I headed to a Korean restaurant under Ricky’s advice and had some fried chicken, with a fruit falooda from the Indian juice bar next door. I reckon you could eat out for every lunch and dinner for a week in Dubai and not even touch the sides of what variety of food there is to offer, it’s so exciting. The rest of the afternoon was spent packing up and chilling with Dobby, and when Ricky came home from work at 6 we took him on a walk through Karama and I actually had to take a shawl with me since it was windy and dare I say it a little chilly (I later found out it was 19 degrees, talk about acclimatising fast)

Breakfast at Paul, most delicious iced latte

Breakfast at Paul, most delicious iced latte

Chicken and spinach kaati roll with peach milkshake, that green dip it came with was sublime

Chicken and spinach kaati roll with peach milkshake, that green dip it came with was sublime

When Myla came home from work that evening the three of us headed out to a Lebanese restaurant around the corner from the flat for my final meal in Dubai. These occasions are always tinged with sadness, and I felt slightly glum waiting for the hummus and flatbread to arrive knowing that in two days’ time I would be back at work in Inverness and back to reality. The only solace I gained from this was knowing that I would be back to work for 2 months only, before setting off across the Atlantic to Canada. Nevertheless, we had a fantastic meal of hummus, grilled chicken, olives and of course, baba ganoush and it was wonderful to see Ricky communicating to easily with the waiter with smatterings of Arabic.

More yummy Lebanese food

More yummy Lebanese food

After the meal, we strolled along to the Korean place I visited earlier that day to have some “bubble tea”, which is more a juice or milkshake with… balls of a different flavoured juice or milkshake at the bottom. The closest thing I can describe the balls is that it reminded me of those Persil Liquitabs you get for washing clothes – god knows what the skin around the balls is made of but it was a pleasant experience sipping the juice through a straw and getting the occasional pop of a new flavour. The guy who worked at the juice bar was a character who, when asked to take our photo, took great delight in snapping away from various angles and encouraging us to pose.  Since I was so full from dinner I didn’t want a dessert, however in hindsight I wish I had visited the bakery nearby to get some cake, although at this point I was literally bursting out of my trousers and the guilt was setting in.  

Bubble tea

Bubble tea

Eventually, it was time for me to flag a taxi to the Etihad offices in Dubai to check in, and I bid goodbye to Myla and Ricky (and Dobby) while leaving them with a bottle of Bundaberg rum I’d brought from Australia. The flight to Manchester was sombre and uneventful, apart from having a total weirdo elderly man sitting next to me who advised me as we were about to eat that he hopes he doesn’t black out while eating like he had done on the flight over 😐 Once in Manchester there was a delay for me crossing security to get into the domestic terminal because I didn’t have a print out of my boarding pass, which quite frankly was the last thing anyone wants at 6am after a long flight but I made friends with a border agent who was telling me all of his aspirations for the future. He hoped to get a transfer to work in airport security in a more exotic airport, such as Abu Dhabi (which is definitely more glamorous than Manchester!) but he had the usual fears and ‘what ifs’ that people hold that prevent them from taking the leap of faith to exit their comfort zone. I tried my best to encourage him and left him my business card, before finally getting clearance to go through and get my flight to Inverness.

 

My trip to dubai was a whirlwind stopover, which I was glad to have done since it eased the jetlag from Australia considerably. Thanks to staying with friends I feel I got to see a part of the city that normal tourists don’t see, and I am incredibly grateful for that. If you are visiting Dubai, I would heartily recommend visiting the Karama district for amazingly cheap and tasty eats, and friendly faces everywhere.

Korean style chicken with a fruit falood -basically a lot of fruit spaghetti things with what tastes like semolina with chuncks of dried fruit and nuts, cream and turkish delight - a meal in itself

Korean style chicken with a fruit falood -basically a lot of fruit spaghetti things with what tastes like semolina with chuncks of dried fruit and nuts, cream and turkish delight – a meal in itself

The friendly server at the bubble tea shop, what a character.

The friendly server at the bubble tea shop, what a character.

Boat cat

Boat cat