Europe Multi Country April 2015 (Honeymoon in Austria, Slovenia & Croatia)
As an introduction what more can I say; this was our honeymoon! During which we planned to visit Austria (Salzburg, Vienna & Graz), Slovenia (Ljubljana, Bled & Postojna) and finish up in Zagreb, Croatia; the latter being a cheaper and better place to fly home from more than anything else. Armed with Interail tickets and a plan off we set and a very pleasant week trip it was too…….
Booked through British Airways
BA700 0955 Heathrow T3 – Vienna
BA849 1240 Zagreb – Heathrow T5
Total each – £164.11
Heathrow – Holiday Inn Heathrow Ariel 118 Bath Road, Hillingdon, UB3 5AJ (£39.99 for a double for 1 night) – We used the free LT bus to get from Heathrow Central bus station to Harlington Corner (No.105, 111 or 140). Check-in wasn’t the greatest experience due to the queues but one into the room everything was fine. Food in the Holiday Inn’s restaurant was good, if not overpriced, and the service was excellent with the staff being very friendly. After our hectic morning, standing room only journey to Heathrow and long check in, to unwind in the comfort of the restaurant with decent food, service and staff was just what we needed.
Salzburg – Ramada Salzburg City Centre 13 Sudtirolerplatz, Elisabeth Vorstadt, Salzburg 5020 (£129 for a double room for two nights) – outside the main entrance of Salzburg Hbf in Sudtirolerplatz, 50m from the station entrance! The staff on the front desk all spoke good English and checked us in quickly. Our room was on the 2nd floor, right in a corner out of the way. It was clean, had decent AC/heating and the only real complaint we had was the fact that we couldn’t empty our sink as the plunger was missing; once emptied it then leaked, so maybe that was why it was left so we couldn’t empty it? There was a second minor complaint in that we had two glasses but no complimentary water; only a sign saying “complimentary” on it, which we were guessing wasn’t for the glasses alone! Still the room was fine and clean and became our base for two days.
Vienna – Hilton Vienna 1 Am Stadtpark, 3 Landstrasse, Vienna 1030 (£241 for a standard double for 2 nights) – just over the road from Wien Mitte railway/Landstrasse metro stations. To say I felt a little out of place at a Hilton is an understatement but it was just as you’d expect from a Hilton, pristine lobby, with good service and spotless rooms. WiFi on this occasion was provided free for our whole stay, two nights, after I joined the Hilton rewards scheme; the offer finishing that very day!
Graz – Ibis Graz 12 Europlatz, Lend, Graz 8020 (£86 for a double for 2 nights) – literally over the road from Graz Hbf and only a minute’s walk as a result. Check-in was easy enough, once the group in front had got out of our way. The room was a decent size and right at the end of a corridor out of the way. As you’d expect with Ibis it was clean and habitable and WiFi was free throughout the hotel. Breakfast was of course extra but we didn’t bother with it and got our own from the Spar at the station instead.
Ljubljana – Best Western Premier Hotel Slon 34 Slovenska Cesta, Ljubljana 1000 – a 10 minute walk from Ljubljana station, out of the entrance, turn right, then left where the road goes under the railway. The hotel is about 5 minute’s walk on the left. We were checked in within moments both times we stayed here and were upgraded to an executive room on our second stay. The breakfast at the Hotel Slon is very extensive and the choice is vast; on our first stay we were away before breakfast but asked for a carry out and two bags were waiting for us at reception as we checked out.
Bled – Hotel Grand Toplice 12 Cesta Svobode, Bled 4260 (£345 for a standard room for 2 nights) – a 5 star hotel at Bled and the Grand Hotel Toplice looked just the job. Yes it was grand and yes we did feel a little out of place at a very plush hotel, that was used by the rich and famous regularly, but we were going to make the most of it. The room was very sizeable and split into a sleeping area and living area, which even had a curtain that could be drawn between the two. Everything we needed was provided, toiletries, WiFi, water and even tea/coffee making facilities which are rare in most European countries. The view from the hotel balcony was as good as it gets on Lake Bled, with Bled Castle perched atop of the hill directly opposite and the lake just sprawling out a mere stone’s throw away. As the afternoon turned out quite nice we wasted no time in snapping away from the balcony. The breakfast room had as good view over the lake as the room balconies and the food was plentiful; including a freshly cooked selection from a menu included in the room rate.
Zagreb – Best Western Premier Hotel Astoria 71 Petrinjska, Zagreb 10000 (£79 for a double for 1 night) – unfortunately on this occasion when we tried to check in at the Best Western Premier Astoria, which is out of Zagreb Glavni Kolodvor station, turn right then first left and along the road on the right hand side, we were denied as the hotel had been full the previous night. We were allowed to leave our bags at the hotel though and were given a ticket to exchange for them when we returned to check in later. The bonus of it being full again though resulted in an upgrade to an executive room, which was a large room with separate seating area, all the facilities, including tea/coffee making facilities and free WiFi.
Interrail Pass (Global – 10 days in 22) – £306
Booked direct through EU Rail
Sunday 29th March 2015 (The morning after the night before…)
Now officially married, the rest of our lives began on this very day; unfortunately the rest of our lives’ started with a hectic morning/afternoon! Everything had to get home from the wedding venue and the Minion cake had to be murdered and put in the freezer for safe keeping until we returned to deal with the body bits! Everything had to be done by 1500 and our taxi even turned up early to take us to the station for the 1546 train to London. We had an 0955 flight the following morning and weren’t going to risk Heathrow off the first train from Doncaster, arriving into Kings Cross at 0729.
The journey to London was simple enough, although when we boarded the 1546 to Kings Cross the guard announced that it wasn’t the 1546 to Kings Cross and that everyone with reservations for the 1546 should return to the platform; she was in a right pickle 2 minutes later when she realised her mistake and was actually trying to tell folks that had reservations on the Hull Trains service, that was late, that they should return to the platform!
Unfortunately we picked a bad time to arrive into London as football fans were teaming out of somewhere and every Piccadilly line tube was wedged to the rafters as it arrived into Kings Cross. Fortunately we managed to board the first one going to Heathrow T123/5 but unfortunately had to stand for the whole 1 hour journey to Heathrow Central.
We’d always used the free 105, 111 or 140 buses to get to the Ibis hotel by getting off at Harlington Corner and walking, only this time we were staying at the Holiday Inn, which is actually adjacent to Harlington Corner; yet they don’t even advertise the free London Transport bus services on their website, only the Hoppa service, which you have to pay about £5 for the privilege of using. We didn’t have to wait long for a No.105 bus to turn up and ended up waiting longer in the queue to check in than the time we spent on the bus getting there! There’d only been 4 people in front of us, who’d arrived seconds before us, but by the time we’d checked in there were a good 10 people waiting! Enjoy the wait, was the thought in my mind as we walked away from reception and up the stairs to our first floor room.
We’d spent the previous night, the night of our wedding, in an executive room at the Holiday Inn in Doncaster, the standard room was a bit of a come down from that, although we didn’t really need all the extras that came with the executive room and the bed in the standard was actually a lot bigger! The best thing about our room at Heathrow was the fact that we couldn’t hear whoever was in the next room having a piss every time they went to the bog in the night!
Food in the Holiday Inn’s restaurant was good, if not overpriced, and the service was excellent with the staff being very friendly. After our hectic morning, standing room only journey to Heathrow and long check in, to unwind in the comfort of the restaurant with decent food, service and staff was just what we needed. We even allowed ourselves to stay up after dark as we weren’t up too early the following morning…..
Monday 30th March 2015 (I’ve never seen one of those tickets, ever!)
We were up in time for breakfast, which saved us getting some at the airport, and paying for it at that. The same girl that had served us the previous night was still in as good a spirit as she’d been the previous night and breakfast was quite pleasant.
We used the free London Transport bus to get to Central bus station again and walked over to Terminal 3 for our flight. Having already checked in online the previous morning it was straight to security for us but it wasn’t as straightforward as it should have been and I ended up having to take my shoes off, which I then lost for a while, while the woman who took them from me remember if she’d put them back through the scanner and then told me the wrong line to collect them from! I also had to go through the body scanner, which picked up things under my arms and on my legs; quite what it had detected I don’t know but there was no metal in my legs or under my arms when I’d got dressed that morning!
We didn’t have to wait long in the waiting area before our plane should have been allocated a gate, by 10 minutes before departure time, 30 minutes after the gate should have been allocated, I confirmed with a BA desk that the plane to form our 0955 flight to Vienna hadn’t arrived, which was why the gate hadn’t been allocated yet. She told us there was a new departure time of 1022 allocated to our flight but we ended up caught in the morning rush and not getting off the ground until 1055, an hour late! The good news though, was the fact that we had the wind behind us to Vienna so we made up half of the lost time; I’d been watching the screens on the plane and the wind had actually been about a 120mph tail-wind!
When we landed we still had plenty of time to make the 1422 ICE direct from Flughafen Wien to Wien Meidling but had visions of missing it completely when we entered the immigration hall, which was chock-a-block with people and the queues were a bit of a free for all as well. In the end we managed to just make the 1406 City Airport Train (CAT) service to Wien Mitte and opted to play the dumb tourist trick with our Interrail passes on board.
CAT trains run every 30 minutes between the airport and Wien Mitte and the big signs on the door do say CAT tickets only, however I wasn’t quite expecting the response I got from the guard when she asked “what is this, I’ve never seen one of those tickets, ever”, as I presented her with two Interrail tickets! The result was us paying 9 euro’s each for a single to Mitte, which should have been 2 euro’s extra when bought on the train so she did let us off with a little bit, but was having none of the Interrail’s at all. It seemed to two normal’s who’d got normal OBB tickets put up a better fight than me and basically point blank refused to pay for a CAT ticket. Quite how that argument eventually turned out I didn’t hang around to see but did invest in a window label for my troubles as I exited the train!
We were Salzburg bound and I had a plan for how to get there, which involved various OBB Railjet trains, stopping off at St Polten and Linz on the way. The last train of the evening was a nice empty train too, allowing us to relax for the final leg of our journey to Salzburg.
The hotel of choice in Salzburg was the Ramada, which is outside the main entrance in Sudtirolerplatz, 50m from the station entrance! The staff on the front desk all spoke good English and checked us in quickly. While checking in we asked if there were any decent restaurants in the vicinity and were directed to an Italian, which was only a few minutes’ walk from the hotel, all the others being a good 15 minutes’ walk into town. Our room was on the 2nd floor, right in a corner out of the way. It was clean, had decent AC/heating and the only real complaint we had was the fact that we couldn’t empty our sink as the plunger was missing; once emptied it then leaked, so maybe that was why it was left so we couldn’t empty it? There was a second minor complaint in that we had two glasses but no complimentary water; only a sign saying “complimentary” on it, which we were guessing wasn’t for the glasses alone! Still the room was fine and clean and became our base for the next two days.
Our walk to the suggested Italian restaurant, near to the hotel, turned out to be fruitless and we were back in the hotel reception 15 minutes after setting out advising the receptionist that the place she’d suggested was closed on a Sunday & Monday. We were then directed into town, the only other option basically, and to an Italian called L’Osteria. Of course it had started to rain on the way and it was a 15 minute walk! We found it easy enough though and once inside it was like Salzburg had come alive; with there being more people inside the restaurant than we’d seen on the walk down. Luckily we turned up just as a table became available a d were seated within a few minutes. L’Osteria had English speaking waiters & waitresses and English menus so choosing was easy and I have to say the pizzas were by far the biggest I’ve ever seen served at a restaurant; they must have been a good 14 inches and overhung the plate by at least an inch and a half! I couldn’t finish mine but watched a kid on the table opposite devour a full one to himself while his brother only managed half! There’s no problem leaving any though as its wrapped up for you to take with you if you so wish. The food was good, service decent and the price reasonable and we made a reservation for the following night as we left to walk back to the Ramada in the rain……
Tuesday 31st March 2015 (Salzburg in a day)
The choice at breakfast was plentiful and the 6th floor vantage point had decent views over Salzburg and across to the fortress over on the hilltop; unfortunately the hotel’s windows were filthy, there were all sorts of structures in the way and pigeons nesting in the eaves. Other than that the view was great!
By the time we headed out to do or touristy bits the weather had improved a little, it had been dark, cold and miserable when I’d been out earlier; mow it was just cloudy and cold! Having got our bearings while taking the walk into town the previous night, we headed down towards the river to follow it towards town; from the moment you reach it the fortress is visible, dominating the skyline, right the way down towards the old town.
Rather than head up to the fortress we opted to head up the opposite side of the valley side to a vantage point, which is clearly shown on most maps but the steps up to it aren’t as evident when looking for them, as they are on the map. It’s quite a steep walk up and the steps never seem to let up but the views once up there are great though; directly across to the castle and old town and across towards congress also. The sun even managed to make a brief appearance through the thick cloud blanket that covered Salzburg on this particular day.
Having walked back down to the river and over towards the old town we then headed through Domplatz and up towards the castle, not to actually go into its grounds but to get round to the opposite side of it; which just so happened to be the side the sun was shining on as we made our way down the footpath at the other side; unfortunately the wind that had got up blew more cloud in, covering the sun as it did so, spoiling both the reflection shots I was trying to take and the glorious sunshine shots of the castle that would have been had it been out.
Getting back to the opposite side of the castle was easy enough but I was glad to have ME maps on my phone to help me out. Ultimately we skirted the whole castle during our walk, the views over town on the way back were great and of course the sun came out to bathe the city in all its glory as we literally got blown away by the wind in the process of walking back! Very strange weather it was and as we sat in Domplatz eating our lunch, watching the world go by, we watched stall owner after stall owner chasing after something that the wind had blown away as gust after gust buffeted those stood in the open.
By mid afternoon, feeling rather windswept, we called it a day and headed back to the hotel to get away from it all. I of course then opted to nip out for an afternoon spin about and when I saw the screen at the station, with some very late and even cancelled trains, I knew something was wrong. There were also some OBB staff on the concourse giving out advice, one of whom confirmed to me that there were problems in Germany, specifically near Munich, where the high winds had brought trees down and the same had also occurred near Zell am See. Basically there were no trains via Freilassing to Munich and anything heading via Zell am See was screwed as well.
Thankfully the rain had stopped by the time we came to walk into town to make our 7.30pm reservation at L’Osteria. The place wasn’t as full as the previous night but did fill up around us. We did spend longer than we’d anticipated there though so maybe that had something to do with it? The reason being was due to my spaghetti not being cooked properly, and it had to be remade, and not only once! Had my wife not spoke up the third time it would have probably gone back then to but it was marginally better than the previous two attempts and I was hungry so I left it be. The drinks we ordered did turn out to be free in the end, and were knocked off our bill for the trouble; it was a shame really as the food was very tasty, I just didn’t want crunchy spaghetti!
Despite the pretty crappy weather in Salzburg, it hadn’t known whether to be sunny, chuck it down or blow us away, we’d still had an enjoyable day but we felt we’d done all we needed to in Salzburg anyway and were ready to head into Vienna the following morning.
Wednesday 1st April 2015 (Fools in Vienna)
After a decent breakfast we rolled up at the station for the 0908 Railjet towards Wien but it was almost an hour late on the screens, the high winds seemingly creating havoc in the Innsbruck area overnight. As a result we did the very empty IC549 0912 Salzburg – Wien Westbahnhof to Linz to await Railjet events behind there. As it turned out RJ861/61, 0705 Innsbruck – Wien & 0731 Munich Hbf – Budapest Keleti combined, was a little over an hour late as it headed towards Wien but RJ765 0547 Bregenz – Wien Westbahnhof was almost right time and only a few minutes behind it at St Polten; both were double sets. The following Railjet service from Salzburg, which we’d been planning to use from Wien Westbahnhof to Meidling, was well down the pan and over an hour late and ultimately RJ63 0934 Munich Hbf – Budapest Keleti and RJ863 0639 Bregenz – Wien Westbahnhof ran into Wien as separate trains.
As a result of RJ63’s lateness we opted to get something to eat at Wien Westbahnhof before heading over to Meidling via the EMU from Hutteldorf and did REX1624 1400 Wien Westbahnhof – St Valentin out to Hutteldorf with its booked twin sets, formed of consecutively numbered 1144’s 1144260/261. The bonus of that turned out to be us making 1144281 at Hutteldorf, which was late heading into Wien with REX1625 1207 Amstetten No – Wien Westbahnhof, which put us nicely into RJ63 0934 Munich – Budapest, which we’d seen go through Hutteldorf as we’d arrived; as they say, it all turned out nice in the end! Due to the two portions from Bregenz and Munich being late OBB did the right thing and ran them both as independent trains throughout with RJ863 heading into Wien first and RJ63 some half an hour behind it.
Having been delivered to Wien Mitte we checked into the Hilton Mitte, which is just over the road. To say I felt a little out of place at a Hilton is an understatement but it was just as you’d expect from a Hilton, pristine lobby, with good service and spotless rooms. WiFi on this occasion was provided free for our whole stay, two nights, after I joined the Hilton rewards scheme; the offer finishing that very day!
After dropping our bags we didn’t stay too long and headed straight back out to visit Schloss Belvedere, which is a couple of minute’s walk from Quartier Belvedere station. The weather was a bit crappy when we got there but the cloud eventually gave way to glorious sunshine, after a bit of snow! The dark clouds and cracking light made the late afternoon photos a more atmospheric touch and the walk round was very leisurely; the weather seeming to have put a few off as there weren’t too many people about. By that I mean not too many getting in the way of my photos! As always we only walked round the grounds, which are a lot smaller than those at Schloss Schonbrunn, and just admired the scenery, before returning to the Hilton via the same means.
Having eaten in Vienna before we decided not to go anywhere else as the food had been good at Restaurant Fratelli, which is just round the corner from Stephansdom, but while walking towards Stephansdom we did check out a few other places; with a view to possibly going somewhere else the following night. Little did we realise that it would be the waiter’s actions that would drive us into going somewhere else the following night. The pizza’s we had were as good as they had been on our previous visits and the service was good too, with English speaking waiters. The off-putting moment was when I signed the credit card bill, the waited walked off with it then abruptly turned round half way back to the till and came back with the receipt to ask, in a not very pleasant tone and off-putting manner, if there had been anything wrong with the meal. Apparently as I’d not put a tip on the bill he assumed there was something wrong and challenged me about it; after that there was no way he was getting a tip either and I couldn’t get out quick enough! Europeans should really understand that the British aren’t good tippers and generally always leave cash anyway; if they want to! Despite the minor but annoying incident the food was good, as was the service, but I’d already made my mind up we’d be eating elsewhere the following night.
It had been a long day, with quite a bit of travelling, quite a bit of walking and it was nice to relax with a bit of Hilton luxury when we got back.
Thursday 2nd April 2015 (Another day of crap weather in Vienna)
Breakfast at the Hilton is something else, it’s served in the restaurant on the ground floor and has so much choice you could really overindulge easily and there was far too much just going to waste, that people had left on their plates having wedged them with anything they could! While the breakfast was buffet style some people came in, sat down and got the waiting staff to bring them what they wanted. The chef on duty made fresh eggs and an assortment of other bits and bobs as people waited and the rest was just a free for all; there was certainly no need to rush, you definitely wouldn’t go hungry and the choice was extraordinary!
With nothing much planned we wanted to return to Schloss Schonbrunn again and had been hoping for some decent weather to do so but were sadly disappointed as it was completely overcast with miserable grey skies! Still we didn’t let the weather beat us and decided to head out there anyway.
Our way of getting to Schloss Schonbrunn was to do walk from Wien Penzing station and having arrives on R2023 1037 St Polten – Wien Westbahnhof we set about walking, with ME maps showing the way on the phone. You can actually see Schloss Schonbrunn from the train as you pass by Penzing station and it doesn’t look too far, in essence it’s a steady 15 to 20 minute walk.
As the weather wasn’t any better than it had been on our previous visit we didn’t hang around too long and an hour was enough to allow us to amble round the grounds and get the photos we wanted; again with no sunshine around. On the bright side there weren’t too many people around either so photos of the grounds were easy enough to get.
After walking back to Penzing station an out and back move to Tullnerbach-Pressbau was available with R2026 1318 Wien Westbahnhof – St Polten and on the return with REX1625 1207 Amstetten – Wien Westbahnhof, which despite being a little late still made IC693 1112 Salzburg – Wien Westbahnhof. This dropped us into Westbahnhof with a bit of manufactured time to spare and lunch was consumed from the pasta place on the concourse while watching how the other half live! Unfortunately a lot of the seating area, to eat at, was taken by a group of eastern Europeans, as it had been the previous day when we’d eaten there, who’d clearly just arrived into Austria. The difference from the previous day was that what appeared to be a handler was sat with them, dishing out some gen and handing out sim cards to them all; I can only assume they’d be moving on at some point that day to digs and were being told where to get jobs, etc, etc. Meanwhile, after the handler left, they just continued drinking and being generally loud! Not the greatest of atmospheres to be eating around and I have to say I was surprised that the station security staff didn’t move them on.
The Triposo app proved very useful when trying to find somewhere different to eat that night and two of the places we shortlisted were on the way to Stephansdom and ultimately we ended up in a little Italian place called Da Capo, which is very visible on the road it’s on and definitely more sociable and relaxed than it had been at Fratelli’s the previous night. It was a cozy little place with the open plan kitchen visible to all as you wait for your food to be prepared, or even watch it being prepared. The staff were friendly and spoke very good English; it was an all round nice eating experience and relaxing evening to boot, with god food and at a reasonable price as well.
While we’d not really achieved a great deal during the day it had still been quite busy and we knew we’d been on the go all day, unfortunately our evening was completely ruined at the Hilton by some idiot in the room above us. We could hear footsteps and general shuffling about, which sounded as though something was going on in the room above and I rang down to reception to ask if they could get them to stop whatever they were doing; after all it was after 2200! Needless to say they didn’t, even after being asked to do so.
Friday 3rd April 2015 (Time to move on)
When we went down to breakfast I couldn’t help but ask at reception what had been going on above us the previous night. It turns out that the guy in the room above had wanted to arrange a few drinks with some of his buddies that evening but there hadn’t been a function room available, as a result he’d decided to use his own room. Despite being told to desist by the hotel staff they continued to do whatever they wanted. My comments to the front desk resulted in a call to said person’s room but he wasn’t in and didn’t answer when someone went up. As a result his card was cancelled so he would have to present himself at the front desk; where he would be receiving a bit of a talking to for basically destroying our karma the previous night.
Breakfast seemed a little busier than it had been the previous morning at the Hilton yet it was still relaxing to have the space around and not be crammed in; then again I was glad to get out and away from the hustle that seemed to surround a business person’s life style.
With a bit of time to kill before we needed to be Graz bound we headed to Stephansdom to have a look round; we’d seen it so many times either during the hours of darkness or when it had been raining but never got any photos or poked our heads through the door! As it was quite a nice morning, yet chilly, there were some decent photos to be had outside. Inside was like entering a different world and with it being Good Friday things were a little different, namely the fact that the effigies of Jesus were all covered up and guided tours weren’t taking place at all until Tuesday. We’d hoped to visit the crypt below the place but weren’t too bothered that we couldn’t; still people were waiting by the steps down to the crypt when we walked by so we assumed they knew more than us and as the sign said the next tour to the crypt was at 1100 we hung around and waited anyway. By 1105 we gave up and had a leisurely walk round the inside of Stephansdom instead, realizing that following the crowd wasn’t the right thing to do and even when we’d finished our tour most people were still stood waiting, clearly having not seen the signs at the front entrance that said no tours until Tuesday! It was quite comical really.
As it was Good Friday most areas were cordoned off and only those actually wanting to pray or confess were allowed into them. What this did actually mean though was that people weren’t walking around everywhere and weren’t in our photos. With it being quite dim inside it was hard to get decent photos but the purple lighting within made it very atmospheric, as did the light coming through the stain glass windows, lighting up the deserted seating area as it did. We don’t often bother with the inside of buildings as the architecture outside is generally enough to appease my photographic needs yet the inside of Stephansdom was well worth 30 minutes of our time. Trips are available to the top, with views over the city, for a fee but we didn’t bother and headed back to the Hilton to make our getaway from Vienna quite content with our morning stroll.
At the hotel reception, when we checked out, the guy who’d dealt with our noise issues confirmed that he’d not yet been able to speak with the room’s occupant but that they would make sure he was reprimanded for his noise the previous night. The staff couldn’t be more helpful and were only annoyed that they couldn’t offer us some form of reduced rate as I’d already paid in full. They were willing to offer a free taxi to the airport but that was of course no use as we were heading to Graz by train! Still, it was the thought that counted and as we left the Hilton Vienna I was sure we wouldn’t get the same level of service in the Ibis Graz that night…..
A very good Chinese takeaway was located at Wien Meidling and the food consumed on board RE2518 1321 Wien Hbf – Bratislava Hlavni Stanica while waiting for it to depart. It was ultimately done the short distance to Wien Simmering for a short wait, for RE2519 1243 Bratislava Hlavni Stanica – Wien Hbf. Our train towards Graz would beRJ539 and the Railjet part of RJ539 was pretty wedged yet the conventional stock portion at the rear was pretty empty and made for a nice relaxing journey through the Semmering Pass, where plenty of snow covered the ground and the sun beamed down; it’s well worth a run over this bit of line just for the scenery.
At Bruck an der Mur we got off to do a few moves on the afternoon rush hour trains on the Graz – Bruck circuit, ultimately ending up in Graz that evening, amidst glorious sunshine. The Ibis Graz is literally over the road from Graz Hbf and only a minute’s walk as a result. Check-in was easy enough, once the group in front had got out of our way. It appeared they were on some sort of boozy weekend and I’d noticed their room number when they were handed their keys. As we were given a room very close to them I asked to be moved when our key was handed over and the girl at reception fully understood why I’d asked and even joked with us about it; maybe I’d been wrong in my thinking when we’d left the Hilton in Vienna that morning?
The room was a decent size and right at the end of a corridor out of the way. As you’d expect with Ibis it was clean and habitable and WiFi was free throughout the hotel. Breakfast was of course extra but we didn’t bother with it and got our own from the Spar at the station instead.
Having asked the girl at the Ibis reception about decent places to eat in Graz, near to the hotel, we were directed to an Italian restaurant on the station concourse called Don Camillo. It was more of a bar/restaurant type and really a restaurant as such but it did the job; we couldn’t really be bothered to walk into town and back and just wanted something quick anyway. The portions were decent sizes and the pizzas ok, the pasta was nothing special and definitely suited to a fast food type place; it was edible though and the price was reasonable. It did close quite early though, whether that was due to it being a bank holiday weekend I don’t know.
The Photos Vienna
The Photos Semmering Pass
Saturday 4th April 2015 (One train under the hill and another up it…….)
The walk into town didn’t give Graz a great feel at all and being from Doncaster I actually likened the main road from the statin towards town to that of the High Street in Doncaster, full of strange second hand type shops and looking a little run down. Once at the other side of the River Mur a rather old and quite nice town reveals itself. Dominating the skyline the whole way into town it the iconic clock-tower, which is situated on the hill where the Schlossberg (fortress) once was. The clock-tower was spared when Napoleon invaded in 1809 with the town paying a heft ransom so he wouldn’t destroy it. Below the Schlossberg there is a series of tunnels which were used as shelter during WWII and are now used to operate the “Fairytale Railway” which is basically a train ride for kids through the tunnels and unfortunately offers no insight into the pains and perils faced by those that used it during the war. Tickets cost €8.50 per adult but there are deals for families. When we asked for ours the guys serving actually queried whether we wanted to do the Fairytale Railway as the entrance to the glass lift that takes people up to the clock-tower is through the same entrance!
Departure times are scheduled throughout the day and listed at the ticket office. The train itself is formed of open carriages, more suited to the ghost train ride at the fair, which hold up to four people in each. For those interested there are a few engines but I couldn’t find anything on the one we had that distinguished it from the others; no number or anything! The ride itself takes about 20 minutes and is perfect for children but as the whole narration was in German we had no clue what was actually being said throughout the trip but got the impression that none of it related to the reason the tunnels were there in the first place. It was still a decent little ride but it would be nice if there were adult only rides that explained about the real reason the tunnels were there.
From a railway tunnel under the hill we walked down the road to the station for the Schlossbergbahn, which is where the funicular railway runs up the hill to the Schlossberg itself. Tickets cost €2.10 each for a single journey with slightly better rates for return trips. The cars themselves are nothing more than a glorified glass box but they do offer great views over the city as they ascend; unfortunately the city isn’t that spectacular to look at all. Even more unfortunate is the fact that a walk around the Schlossberg is pretty boring as well, yes there’s the clock-tower to look at but other than that there’s nothing much to see or do at all and our time up there didn’t last long before we were looking for the way back down.
In need of some lunch we attempted to use Don Camillo at the station again, for ease more than anything else, unfortunately due to it being Easter Weekend it was closed and we had to use McDonalds, which wasn’t the best experience and I ended up having to go back across the road from the hotel after we opened the bag and found the order wrong! As always with McDonalds it was never the best experience after the meal and in my opinion they should stick to breakfasts only!
With an afternoon to kill it would have been rude not to do the complete Graz experience and have a look at the Schloss Eggenberg, which is on the opposite side of town to the Schlossberg but with the Ibis being about equidistant between the two it made things a bit easier. While there are busses and trams to get you to the Schloss Eggenberg it only took us about 15 minutes at a steady pace to walk it; from effectively Graz Hbf. We had no intention of going inside the building but the long driveway leading up to it kind of invites you to walk up to it. As we approached the building something else took most of our attention away from it completely; there were peacocks in the grounds, roaming freely, which were far more photogenic than the building itself, especially in the dull weather, and kept our cameras occupied until it was almost time for the grounds to close. Just before we eventually left we were treated to a display of feathers as the peacocks re-established their feather karma after it had rained a little and been a little breezy. As we walked back out of the gates at Schloss Eggenberg it looked like we probably should have paid to walk round the grounds but as we hadn’t even seen the signs as we entered we just kept our heads down as we walked out and headed back to the Ibis.
With a bit of time to kill in the late afternoon we used the Triposo app to try and find somewhere to eat that night in town and coupled with ME maps we managed to put ourselves a shortlist together and set about starting at the one end of town in an attempt to find somewhere open. Unfortunately the Easter holidays scuppered our first and second choices and we ended up at what turned out to be a cracking little place called Mau Shi which is described as an Asian fusion restaurant. The rather odd 1950’s café style appearance shouldn’t put you off sitting down as the food served was absolutely fantastic! The menus are all in German but one of the waitresses translated it for us and we sampled a couple of dishes that turned out to be plentiful and excellent; while the place was relaxing and peaceful at the same time with the food prices being very reasonable as well at less than €10 for a main course.
As we walked back to the hotel we reflected on our time in Austria as we did as not only were we changing cities again the following morning we were moving countries as well and our Austria experience was all but over. Just like our previous trip the weather had let us down a little but if you make the best of it there’s always something to do and we went to bed that night happy that we’d made the best of what we’d been presented with and agreed that despite the poor weather in Salzburg it had been the better of the three cities we’d visited.
The Photos Graz Clocktower
The Photos Graz Fairytale Railway
The Photos Eggenberg Palace
Sunday 5th April 2015 (Via Hungary is not the most direct of routes from Graz to Ljubljana)
As luck didn’t have it we woke to glorious sunshine in Graz but unfortunately couldn’t enjoy any of it as we had to leave town! Breakfast was provided by a bakery on the station concourse and devoured before we headed out for our long and unorthodox journey to get to Ljubljana in Slovenia; which would have us briefly enter Hungary!
Our train over the border was EC151 0755 Wien Hbf – Ljubljana. With it being Easter Sunday though the train was relatively empty and we had the whole of the front coach to ourselves for the time we were on the train. At Spiefeld Strass SZ 363005, in a light yellow livery, was soon backing down to take MAV 470008 off the train; it then loose shunted it through the station so the loco could then pan up at the correct end of the station and work under its own power!
There was nothing to note at Maribor at all, and other than a few people drinking coffee at the only place open on the station, the place was deserted. At Pragersko there were only three people got off EC151 and we were two of them and once 363005 had disappeared off the station became even more deserted than Maribor had been. There didn’t seem to be many people travelling on Easter Sunday and there was plenty of room on board all the way to Zalaegerszeg and our arrival into Zalaegerszeg was right time. A quick walk outside the station revealed nothing open at all and we soon got bored of walking down the road aimlessly and returned to the station to keep warm in the confines of the station waiting area.
EC246 1335 Budapest Deli – Ljubljana turned up a little late at Zalaegerszeg, another train that was relatively empty, although it did fill up en-route into Ljubljana. As food choices had been very limited during the day we opted to use the restaurant car on board and the woman running it spoke decent English and the menus were also in English as well. Food was freshly cooked and ok for a train cooked meal; as long as it was cooked properly! Unfortunately Danielle’s breaded chicken was still pink in the middle and had to be re-fried, which was literally done by taking the same food off the plate and nuking it to ensure it was definitely cooked! Other than that it filled a hole and it was a good job it had been available at all.
We arrived into Ljubljana about 20 minutes late and thankfully it was only a 10 minute walk from Ljubljana station to the Best Western Premier Hotel Slon, where we were checked in within moments and our large, clean, double room beckoned us in as we opened the door; we were ready for bed by the time we got there and having checked the weather forecast for the next few days we’d decided to get up at stupid o’clock and head to Postojna caves the following morning while the weather wasn’t looking to be that good. The idea being that we were underground when the weather wasn’t good and visiting Ljubljana castle later in the week when it looked to be better.
Monday 6th April 2015 (Postojna Caves – deep, dark, wet and slippery!)
We’d asked the previous night at the hotel reception if we could have a take-out breakfast with us leaving so early and sure enough there were two bags waiting for us behind reception when we checked out at 0600! The sandwiches looked like they’d seen better days but the fruit, juice and water came in very handy for our morning journey, for which we managed to leave our big bags in a luggage locker; these are situated on platform 1, as you enter the platform through the main entrance just turn left and they’re in the corner at the end.
Our train to Postojna, the only one during the morning while the overhead wires are being repairs along the line, was MV481 0635 Ljubljana – Rijeka. The train was deserted, probably because it was Easter Monday, but very warm; the train heating clearly doing its job, and rightly so as it was only just above freezing outside.
Postojna Caves are about 2.5km from Postojna station, we had from 0731 to 1000 to get there for the first tour into the caves. The walk took us less than half an hour in the end, which is basically down the steps to the left outside the station exit, follow the road to the main road, cross it and follow the road that heads off slightly to the left again. Taking any of the right turns will bring you onto Ljubljanska cesta and turning left onto it takes you to the main square in town, by the Kras Hotel. Turn right in front of it and follow the road downhill, this takes you to the caves entrance.
When we arrived just after 0800 the car park was deserted and everything was closed, the ticket office didn’t open until 0930 either, so we wondered round for a while before waiting patiently outside the ticket office, which had a queue at it by the time the doors were opened. While we were waiting, as we watched busloads of tourists turn up, I began to get a little concerned about whether there would be room on the first tour at 1000 and used the free WiFi from one of the restaurants to have a look; it turned out that there were only two places left on the 1000 tour and I set about booking them while I waited. While the WiFi wasn’t the best I managed to get them booked and the PDF booking reference downloaded in about 20 minutes, just as the doors to the ticket office were opened up; at which point I obviously wasn’t so bothered about the mad rush that ensued! I handed the girl behind the counter my phone, with the PDF displayed, she handed me two tickets and told me we needed to be at the cave entrance 15 minutes before the designated tour; simples!
As we hung around outside the cave entrance the crowds began to grow, the majority of which were Chinese tourists, having arrived in their busloads! One guy stood by us joked that there couldn’t have been any Chinese left in China as they were all in Postojna! The strange fact being that they all ended up queuing with us by the English stand, with there being about 5 English folk total! Basically once the initial ticket checks are done you have to stand by a banner with the language on that you speak as the tour guides then take their groups from here, based on the language they’ll obviously be delivering the tour in. To be honest it doesn’t really matter, unless you actually want to hear the tour guide’s spiel, as we ended up so far behind in our group that we missed every speech anyway! Unless you’re literally up the tour guide’s arse you’re not going to hear what they have to say anyway so it’s either spiel or photographs, you’ll struggle to do both without bowling everyone out of the way to get to the front of the group!
Groups are led in separately and the secondary ticket check is done at electronic gates. As you walk through the gates two photographers take your photo, which is displayed on a board at the end of the tour; unless you’re my wife who’s photo was clearly deemed inappropriate as she “scratched” the side of her head with two fingers while walking by!
The tour starts and finishes with a train ride into the heart of the caves, which are a bit of a free for all when you’re directed to them. Seats are on a first come first served basis and once a train is full it’s on its way, the rest of the group then boards the next train and everyone meets up at the start of the tour after alighting. If you’re a crank its simple to get whichever engine you want, just be in the first group through the gates, which looks to be English every time anyway, and hang around until one you want arrives. We saw No’s 1, 2, 5 & 6 while we were waiting and ultimately had to flag the first train to get on the next one, more because we wanted to sit at the front really, and having watched 5 & 6 depart with a private group of Chinese tourists we had No.1 into the depths of the caves.
There’s not a massive amount of clearance at all as the lengthy train twists and turns its way into the heart of the cave system, the damp conditions not helping the little engines keep traction; the crews have to be on the ball and hand sand in front as they go along, the moment traction is lost! While clearance may not be great in some places when the caves open up your eyes don’t know where to look first, it is truly fascinating! Stalagmites, stalactites, cave pools, random rock formations and outcrops and all from the relative comfort of a little train.
Once off the train our English group met up and listened to the initial talk from the guide before being ushered on and told where to gather next. From that point on I couldn’t tell you which group we ended up meandering around the complex with as we never heard another talk from our guide the whole way through. Photos took precedence for me and I wasn’t missing out on the opportunity to get what I wanted just to listen to a guide’s talk. What I will say is that with so many people filtering through narrow walkways, that twist and turn and are steep in places, the going isn’t that fast. People obviously have different agendas and some aren’t as agile as others but some are far ruder than most and others ignorant to anyone else around. I have to say the Chinese/Japanese seem to be the worst for this kind of behavior yet there was one comment from an American who thought we shouldn’t be taking photographs and holding people up; he was under no illusion about my intentions after I’d heard his comment.
Despite the pushing, shoving and general lack of respect for others in the vicinity during the walk it was a very pleasant hour’s walk through the cave complex with different sections having different things to see so it wasn’t just like walking through endless caves seeing the same thing over and over again. The only problem for photography is the fact that you’re not supposed to use a flash and it’s almost impossible to use a tripod with so many people around so you need a steady hand and patience! By the time we got to the end of the complex and out to the area where the trains then take you back to the cave entrance most of the participants in our English group had already visited the souvenir shops and were waiting to be allowed down the ramp to the platform where the trains would be waiting to take people back. Once at the end of the tour you can basically wait for whichever train you like to take you back to the cave entrance, the set in when we got down to the platform had No.1 at its helm so I asked if we could wait for the next train, which wasn’t a problem at all and we headed back to the cave entrance with No.2 instead, sat right behind the loco in the front seats. The lack of traction en-route back to the cave entrance seemed to be more apparent, whether No.2 wasn’t as good as No.1 or whether it was a slight gradient back towards the entrance I don’t know but it lost traction on almost every turn and we could hear the grit, that was being thrown onto the railhead, being crushed as we ran over it; it did the trick every time though.
The whole tour from entering the cave to exiting took about 90 minutes and we were sat eating a very good pizza in the pizzeria by the ticket office by midday. The food places, while all linked together, are sectioned into relevant areas based on the food they serve. The pizza’s we had were good, freshly made and a reasonable price to say they were at a large tourist attraction.
The walk back to the station took no more than 30 minutes, even though most of it is uphill on the way back, and we were glad we got there when we did as the sunshine soon gave way to dark cloud and it began to rain. MV482 1155 Rijeka – Ljubljana, which unlike the outbound train was completely wedged, is the same set of stock and loco returning from Coatia that we’d had to Postojna that morning. We ultimately sat in first class as there were hardly any seats but were kicked out by the guard and had to squeeze into a compartment in the end. Not far outside the station, as we headed down to Borovnica, it began to hammer it down with snow; quite heavily too. It had gone from clear blue skies and glorious sunshine to black skies and driving snow in less than an hour! By the time we reached Borovnica though the snow had stopped and it was just cold and miserable; not very nice weather for the track workers to be out in. they were working towards Borovnica, still installing the foundations for electrification masts and only on the left hand road as we headed to Ljubljana. Progress looked to be very slow going and resulted in everything having to use the opposite road in both directions as their works train, loaded with machinery and equipment, took up the other.
Back in Ljubljana we collected our bags from the luggage locker; which cost €3. We could have actually got them into a smaller locker for €2 but hadn’t realised there were any smaller until we collected the bags! With a planned 1449 arrival into Ljubljana and a planned 1525 departure to Lesce Bled, there wasn’t much time to do anything other than collect the bags and EC210 0900 Vinkovci – Villach Hbf was in the station with plenty of time to spare before departure. Thankfully it wasn’t a full train and we had plenty of room to ourselves in a compartment for the 48 minute journey to Lesce Bled; where a taxi was waiting to take us to our hotel on the shore of Lake Bled. This was pre-arranged with the hotel and cost €12, which was payable to the driver after we’d arrived at the hotel.
As it was our honeymoon I did splash out a little on a 5 star hotel at Bled and the Grand Hotel Toplice looked just the job. Yes it was grand and yes we did feel a little out of place at a very plush hotel, that was used by the rich and famous regularly, but we were going to make the most of it. The room was very sizeable and split into a sleeping area and living area, which even had a curtain that could be drawn between the two. Everything we needed was provided, toiletries, WiFi, water and even tea/coffee making facilities which are rare in most European countries. The view from the hotel balcony was as good as it gets on Lake Bled, with Bled Castle perched atop of the hill directly opposite and the lake just sprawling out a mere stone’s throw away. As the afternoon turned out quite nice we wasted no time in snapping away from the balcony and taking a short stroll round the Lake’s edge to find somewhere to eat.
Having settled on Chilli Bar & Restaurant we were very pleased with our Mexican choice and ultimately used the place for every meal we had in Bled as the food was both plentiful and good quality and the staff were friendly and sociable too. After a long day though it was nice to relax in the luxury of our hotel room and watch the sun go down behind the mountains with a nice cup of tea in hand. Bled Castle was lit up from the moment it began to get dark and the yellowy-orange glow emitted by it dominated the night skyline opposite our hotel room; it really was a nice place to relax and what a view we had of the outside world.
The Photos Postojna Caves
The Photos Bled
Tuesday 7th April 2015 (Just how long does it take to walk round Lake Bled?)
With the day being completely free to do as we wished, with absolutely no time constraints at all, we didn’t need to get up for breakfast too early and woke naturally for a change. Pulling back the curtains revealed a crisp morning with blue skies and white clouds dotted about, one such formation clinging to the area directly over Bled Castle as though it were providing it with a hat or even shelter it from some inbound force. This view was still dominating our view from the breakfast table in the spacious hotel restaurant. The food was plentiful and the choice almost endless, included was a freshly cooked breakfast from a menu provided at each table; my omelette was just what I needed.
Just before 10am we set off on what we intended to be a short walk, it ended up being round the whole periphery of Lake Bled! As it was off-season there weren’t too many people around and the pathways pretty much open to meander where we wanted with no obstructions, other than the “Wally Trolley” as Danielle liked to call the toy train rides that ferried people around places; in Bled’s case it took people around the lake at regular times throughout the day. We did come across one obstruction during the course of our walk down the castle side of the lake, in the form of a tree that had been cut down and had fallen across the pathway; blocking it completely. This put pay to the “Wally Trolley” doing its circuitous route too and it had to cut its route short every time, until the tree was cut up and removed from the pathway.
Below the castle is an area that is set of for swimming and other assorted activities during the summer months, it didn’t look particularly inviting mind but I guess the warmer weather will get people flocking in their droves? Down by the Bled Jezero end of the lake, by Bled Island, there’s a nice open area next to the water with a jetty. Signs up around here ask that you don’t harass the swans and leave them alone as they use the lake as their natural habitat and breeding ground. The ducks on the other hand are just mental and are quite happy to follow you about and harass you; obviously for food. We used this to our advantage, even though we had no food for them, as we coaxed a couple down the jetty to get photos of them!
Having rounded the bottom of the lake at the Bled Island end the scenery dominating the skyline changes and rising up behind the hills snowcapped mountains reach high into the sky. The sun was gleaming down on this particular day and the snow was as bright as could be; it really was a fantastic setting to be spending a day, let alone part of our honeymoon! The view from the Bled Island end of the lake, non-castle side, is as good as it gets looking towards Bled town with Bled Island, Bled Castle and the snow-capped mountains all being in the scene at once the eyes don’t know where to cast their gaze!
Bled Island seemed to have a few visitors but it wasn’t overwhelmed by folk and as we got nearer to the gondola’s that take people out to it we were approached and asked if we wanted a ride out; by a guy who had another ten or so folk in tow, clearly having been touting for business round the lake’s edge! We opted not to and were content to look from a distance as we ambled back towards the hotel a mere 2h30m after we’d set out; the day was still young……
After a brief afternoon cuppa at the hotel and a quick afternoon lunch at Chilli Bar & Restaurant we set out to conquer Bled Castle and don’t be under any illusion that the walk up to it is anything less than a strenuous one. Let alone steep, it’s virtually vertical as the pathway and footstep combination leads its way up the side of the hillside that the castle sits atop. Once at the top of the steep pathway though the ground levels out somewhat but there’s still a final push up the steep pathway that leads to the castle entrance. Unfortunately nothing is free at Bled Castle and it costs €9 per person to just get through the gate and into the grounds; I hadn’t walked all that way to turn back at that point and handed over the cash.
Access to the castle gets you into most displays within as well, some of which are actually quite interesting, most of this type of thing isn’t usually up my street but it seemingly was on this occasion; maybe as it was quiet and not bustling with people? The views across Lake Bled from Bled Castle are second to none and the Grand Hotel Toplice was right opposite us as we sat and had an afternoon hot chocolate at the castle’s restaurant; where €2.50 discounts are given to each person on presentation of the stub attached to each ticket issued, so our hot chocolate’s cost about 50p each in the end!
The walk back down to the lake’s edge was a lot easier than the walk up, yet still interesting as there’s not a great deal to stop you running away with yourself and ending up in a heap! We hadn’t rushed our day at all and having got up at a reasonable time, walked round the lake at a very leisurely pace indeed, Danielle doesn’t do walking any faster than a snail’s pace anyway, including fitting in a cuppa and lunch and a slow trip up to Bled Castle, we were back at the hotel for a late afternoon cuppa by 5pm after enjoying a short late afternoon stroll back while admiring the ducks & swans on the lake’s edge as we did so. Waiting on the table in the room for us when we got back was a bottle of champagne on ice, courtesy of the hotel; it would have been rude not to drink it on the hotel balcony while overlooking, or should that be under looking, Bled Castle where we’d just been!
What a cracking day it had been and the weather couldn’t have been better, for the time of year. It had been glorious all day with not a rain drop in sight. We topped our day off with a second meal of the day at Chilli Bar & Restaurant; after watching the sun sink behind the mountains for a second night in a row. Having only spent 24 hours at Lake Bled I can definitely see the attraction and would go so far as to recommend it during the off-season as it’s so peaceful and with hardly any children about it makes for a better experience.
Wednesday 8th April 2015 (Not quite as simple a getaway from Bled as it should be!)
After an earlier breakfast, glaring at the castle as we ate again, I headed out to walk round the lake to Bled Jezero station while Danielle used some of the hotel’s facilities to pass the morning. My walk took about 25 minutes at quite a speedy pace and I passed only one person all the way there! When the driver of a bus, which had SZ on a notice in the front window, uttered something to me in the local tongue I should have known that I was going to end up on the bus! It wasn’t until the DMU arrived from Jesenice though that I was directed to the bus by the station master as he quickly emptied out the train and put everyone onto the bus. He told me, when asked, that the line was closed between Bled Jezero and Bistrica. It was evident why when the road skirted the railway south of Bled when scaffolding was erected on the railway, up against a retaining wall, and men were at work drilling into it! The bus journey only took 10 minutes longer than the train should though and my concerns about missing the 0910 Bohinjska Bistrica – Most Na Soci Autovlak soon went as we pulled up into the station car park at Bohinjska Bistrica with 10 minutes to spare.
While the bus related incident hadn’t been a concern at the beginning of the day it had taken my mind away from the concern that had been on it at the start of the morning, which was whether there’d be a passenger coach on the autovlak or not; it had been seen quite a few times during early 2015 without a coach at all and as this was my first time doing the autovlak I didn’t really know what to expect. Thankfully the first thing I spotted, after the engine of course, was a nice four wheeled coach right behind the loco, with three car transporters behind that. My concerns for the day could then shift back to the bus and how it was going to affect me getting back to Bled and meeting with Danielle later!
The transfer of people from the bus to the waiting DMU was efficient and it was away within minutes. This ultimately delayed the departure of the autovlak by about 7 minutes and when 644005 was given the off I was the only person in the passenger coach and there were only 3 vehicles on the car transporters behind it; one of which was let off at Podbrdo en-route. Between Bohinjska Bistrica & Podbrdo the train is in a tunnel but from Podbrdo to Most Na Soci the line falls down a valley, twisting and turning and passing by the odd village just suspended in the valley, before curving round the spectacular viaduct that leads into Most Na Soci station. I was invited to leave the train in the platform, by the guard in the coach, before it shunted out south and propelled the train into the dock to allow the cars to be let off. This allowed for a few photo opportunities but for the idiot local, who could clearly see I was poised to take photos of the train backing in but still chose to walk out in front of me at the worst possible moment; of course this brought out the best Yorkshire in me, regardless of whether he could understand or not!
Having run round at Bohinjska Bistrica the loco would then only run shuttles through the tunnel to Podbrdo for the rest of the day and the 1136 shuttle was pretty much a waste of time with only me as a fare paying passenger and no cars at all. A crew change took place at Podbrdo after arrival the relief crew arriving off a southbound DMU and the existing crew disappearing south on it. As the southbound DMU departed about 7 minutes late I contemplated what was going to happen at Bled Jezero when I got there off the bus. I’d arranged a taxi to take Danielle to the station and for her to get on the same DMU I’d be on towards Jesenice, which would now be a good 15-20 minutes later than booked off Bled Jezero as it would have to cross the southbound DMU before it got to me at Podbrdo and then lose more time during the bus section. The 1303 departure from Bled Jezero was only a plus 20 at Jesenice for EC211 1253 Villach Hbf – Vinkovci, which we needed to be on to Ljubljana. My conscience got the better of me and while I waited at Podbrdo I rang the taxi company up and had a taxi waiting at Bled Jezero for my arrival off the bus.
While the transfer at Bohinjska Bistrica was quick the DMU still departed Bled Jezero 19 minutes late so the taxi move seemed like a good sensible move in the end. As it turned out it was the same taxi that had taken Danielle to Bled Jezero station in the first place and the journey cost €18.30 to Lesce Bled, €2 of that was thanks to us having to wait at the level crossing by Lesce Bled station for a freight to run through! As irony has it 541017 arrived bang on time with EC211 and as we walked through the coach to find an empty compartment I noticed at least two different people that had been on the DMU as it had departed Bled Jezero! Obviously the DMU had made EC211 and probably quite comfortably as one girl had a massive wooden instrument with her that she wouldn’t have been running anywhere fast with.
By the time we got to Ljubljana I was over my needless taxi ching and we headed straight for the Best Western Premier Hotel Slon again and were greeted by an upgrade to an executive room as the hotel was full! What we didn’t realise until later that evening was that had we drawn the curtains we’d have had a bird’s eye view of Ljubljana Castle right from our room. Instead we were quick to dump our bags and nip out for a bit to eat at an Italian place called Allegria near to the hotel, before seizing the opportunity to do Ljubljana Castle that afternoon; which would ultimately allow us to head to Zagreb the following morning instead of in the evening. It would be a win, win situation getting to Zagreb early and a bonus day for us really.
While the weather had taken a turn for the worse in the afternoon it wasn’t long before the sun made a welcome appearance, and remained out for the rest of the afternoon. Everyone’s first impression of Ljubljana is generally when arriving by public transport and mine was of the area surrounding the train station. What I didn’t realise until later on this particular evening was that you can actually see the castle from outside the station, at the Jesenice end of the station front, but the area outside the station isn’t generally very inspiring at all; so my ideas of what Ljubljana would be like were tainted by that impression. They couldn’t have been more wrong!
As you enter the old town of Ljubljana you’re greeted with old style buildings, colourfully painted, on either side of the river that runs through it, along with numerous spires, belonging to various different types of buildings and prominent above it all it of course Ljubljana Castle, sitting high above everything else around. With the sun shining down and trees in blossom the photo opportunities along the river bank and of the colourful buildings that skirt it, with the castle above, were endless.
An afternoon stroll around Ljubljana wouldn’t have been the same without a trip up to the castle though and we used the funicular railway to get up but walked back down. Single tickets on the funicular cost €2.20 each and the journey takes seconds; the city revealing more and more of itself as the funicular car rises away from the city streets. The extent of the climb is clearly visible if you look straight down and realise just how steep the funicular tracks are! As you exit the funicular though it does become a little confusing as to what is where as directions and signage is almost non-existent!
Having found our way to the viewpoint the sun had decided to disappear for a while so we walked round the open places, where we didn’t have to pay anything extra. The chapel being about the best place we found with its exquisite paintings adorning the somewhat unevenly shaped ceiling. When the sun came back out photos from the viewpoint at the castle had to be taken but as with Graz the city of Ljubljana doesn’t really have any landmarks to pick out per say, especially when you’re stood on the one thing that distinguishes the city anyway. I can’t not mention the hero pigeon that was sat on the castle walls as I took my photos; it was just minding its own business as I snapped away, clearly not bothered by the fact that if I pushed it off there was a couple of hundred feet drop below. Its bright orange beady eye did keep an eye on me the whole time I was in its comfort zone so I guess it could have been prepared had it needed to do one quickly; it was just like you average student on holiday though and not arsed about its surroundings at all!
The walk back down to Ljubljana old town was pretty simple, and when we figured out which route we’d actually taken it didn’t take long to get back to the Hotel Slon and plan where we were going to go for food that night. The choice ended up being a Mexican restaurant called Cantina Mexicana, where the food was excellent, portions massive and it had a nice relaxing atmosphere. Having had a couple of good Mexican meals in Bled this place had a lot to live up to and in the end hit it right on the nail! When ordering a hot chocolate most would expect an orthodox cup of milky hot chocolate; add chilli into the mix and you’d expect to be drinking a hot chocolate with a slight chilli tinge to it. The Cantina Mexicana’s idea of hot chocolate was simply just that, it only turned up as melted chocolate in a glass, and the chilli was actually slide chillis mixed into the chocolate!!! Interesting was an understatement but it certainly wasn’t drinkable and had to be eaten with a spoon; what it wasn’t was cold, either temperature wise or spice wise. This was one of the most truly unpredictable things I’ve ever ordered in a restaurant; needless to say something to actually drink had to be ordered after it! While the main course of stick fingers wasn’t unpredictable the size was and we could have got away with one portion between us instead of one each; all in all an excellent meal and all for under £20, including beer and soft drinks!
As we headed back to the hotel we reflected on the whole of what had been a great honeymoon, in theory our trip was over but due to the fact we’d managed to swap things around a bit we would have most of the day in Zagreb the following day, instead of arriving late in the evening; so that was a bonus really.
Thursday 9th April 2015 (Zagreb; not that inspiring really)
With an 0825 departure from Ljubljana to Zagreb we at least had time for breakfast in Ljubljana on this occasion and didn’t have to get a take-out. As I’d become to expect at Best Western hotel the breakfast was decent but unfortunately it was busy. The walk to the station, with our big bags, soon walked off any excess we may have consumed and unfortunately the first announcement was for our EN415 Buchs – Beograd, which was running about 35 minutes late. This didn’t really matter to us as we had no real plans for the day anyway and when it did arrive we had virtually a whole coach to ourselves all the way to Zagreb, albeit a JZ Serbian coach which wasn’t in the best of health but it was empty nonetheless.
As I predicted SZ 541017 did the honours to Dobova where HZ 1142012 was waiting to take us through to Zagreb. The border checks were harmless enough even if the guy checking my passport had clearly been missed off the list when manners were being handed out and when I stood up to show him which page my entry stamp to Slovenia was on he barked at me to sit down; so I just left him to it and sat back down trying not to let the rage inside show on the exterior!
We weren’t too late into Zagreb and had done well on most of our recent trips to get into hotels well before the afternoon check-in time. Unfortunately on this occasion when we tried to check in at the Best Western Premier Astoria, which is out of Zagreb Glavni Kolodvor station, turn right then first left and along the road on the right hand side, we were denied as the hotel had been full the previous night. We were allowed to leave our bags at the hotel though and were given a ticket to exchange for them when we returned to check in later.
Having not expected to be in Zagreb we’d spent the previous evening looking on various apps, including Triposo, to find something to do in Zagreb; we’d not really come up with much so basically just went on a blind walk round the town.
The Art Pavilion, in the park opposite Zagreb Glavni Kolodvor station, is one of the best looking buildings Zagreb boasts and its set in open grounds, while most of the city seems a little cramped. Even the upper town didn’t seem that inspiring at all and unfortunately the cathedral was masked in scaffolding so not very photogenic at all. Having had our fill of sightseeing in Zagreb by midday we went in search of a sensible place to eat and were very surprised just how cosmopolitan Zagreb was with coffee shops and bakeries dominating the eating/drinking experience. Thankfully we came upon an Italian restaurant called Ristorante Carpaccio, which was clearly on a different scale to that of the coffee places and in it to attract business folks; talk about feeling out of place when we walked in! Still the service was good, even though we were the only tourists in amongst a raft of business folks, some even conducting meetings over their lunch. The food was good, surprisingly cheap and quick to arrive.
We got back to the Best Western Premier Astoria just after 1300 and our room was ready and waiting; for the second day in a row we were upgraded to an executive room. The one in Ljubljana was definitely the better of the two though and more spacious but we had no reason to complain about anything and settled in to our executive room quite nicely.
Having been scuppered by the lack of proper restaurants in Zagreb earlier in the afternoon we managed to find a few on the internet and on the Triposo app; the one that stood out above the crowd though was an Indian restaurant called Royal India. I’d always been a skeptical about trying Indian restaurants abroad but was so glad we gave this place a try. It’s just beyond the cathedral on the right hand side, its entrance not being that visible but it takes you down a set of stairs to the restaurant below. The waitress spoke excellent English and if you’re used to eating Indian food it was easy enough to read as it was written with the food names in Hindi; as every India menu always is. It turned out to be one of the best Indian meals I’d had anywhere in the world, including India. The food was piping hot, tasty and plentiful; my skepticism regarding Indian restaurants in Europe had been taken away in an hour of fine and cheap eating.
Our honeymoon really was over as we walked back to the hotel and prepared ourselves mentally for the trip home the following morning.
Friday 10th April 2015 (The journey home……..)
A taxi had been pre-ordered to take us to the airport and cost 111.40 Kuna, taking about 30 minutes to get us there. The airport security was straight forward and having already checked in online through BA’s app it save quite a bit of time and allowed for us to just sit and wait the inevitable; which was our flight home……
Back in the UK, after a reasonable flight home, we managed to get through immigration quick enough, although my passport wouldn’t allow me out through the electronic gates; for a change. 91127 did the honours on the way home and this became my first journey on board Virgin Trains East Coast as the franchise had changed while we’d been away and I was surprised to see 91’s at Kings Cross with the Virgin brand already plastered across their sides; albeit not in full Virgin livery. It was good to be home but there was no rest for the wicked; I started a new job after the weekend and hadn’t stopped since the wedding………