Trieste, Italy (Castelo Miramare) – Nov 2017

A relatively early start and I had finished the eight mile hike to Castelo di Miramare by 10am, at least an hour before the first coach disgorged it’s hordes. I had the castle and grounds almost to myself and what a nice place too.

Completed in 1860 by the Archduke Maximilian of Hapsburg (younger brother to Franz Joseph mentioned in my Vienna blog) as a love nest for himsef and his young bride, Charlotte of Belgium, this very pretty castle (I’m not altogether convinced the word ‘castle’ suits this type of building – it’s more of a little palace) sits right on the coast almost equidistant from Trieste and Prosecco (where the wine of the same name is produced) and its 22 hectares of subtropical trees, sculptures and fountains seem almost to match those at Versailles.

The castle is pretty but rumour has it, it is cursed – it is said that anyone who lives there will die a premature violent death in a foreign land. That is certainly true of the Archduke Maximilian. Within a relatively short period of leaving the castle to accept the throne of Mexico (as Emperor Maximilian I), he was overthrown and executed by the Juaristas at the age of just 34. Subsequently, the Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo after visiting the castle and; the Duke Amadeo d’Aosta (who lived there after the Hapsburgs gave up the property) died a prisoner of the English in Kenya during WW2 and; the German General Friedrich Rainer who lived in the castle during WW2 was shot dead by partisans. I am sceptical of such things but the American General stationed there after WW2 thought differently because he chose to live in a tent in the castle grounds. As for Maximilian’s young wife, Charlotte, her husband’s execution brought on a complete emotional collapse and she was consequently certified insane and lived out the rest of her days first in Miramare and then back in Belgium. Bit of a sad place perhaps but you would not think that to look at it.

Once I reached the coast road (it was a seriously steep trek down from the Van) the walk to Miramare was along a fine promenade that stretches all the way from Trieste to Miramare and beyond.

The promenade stretching back to Trieste…

… and on to Miramare. That’s the castle on the promontory in the background

 

As I passed through Barcola on the way to Miramare fishing boats were landing their catches and selling them to locals out for an early morning walk 

 

 

Pretty “Castle” (I really like the last photo of the four)

 

… and gardens

It was getting warm on the way back and I chose to walk under the trees which protect much of the promenade and, of course, going back up those steep hills to the Van I just had to stop at a local restaurant for a glass of wine or four…

 

Well, there’s no driving today (or tomorrow at this rate).

By the way, in case you didn’t see my Facebook Post last night, yesterday’s dinner at my local bar was seriously good.

 

The fish starter on the left was complementary. The pizza I had intended as a main course was changed for lobster. The red wine was 1 euro per large glass

 

 

 

 

Postojnska, Slovenia – Nov 2017

Spent an hour in the hotel pool and jacuzzi in Bled and then, after a cooked breakfast during which I decided to head for Italy (I fancy a pizza by the sea), I checked out of the hotel and set a course for Trieste albeit via the Postojnska Caves. The total journey time to Trieste is only about 1.5 hours from Bled and the Caves are very much en route.

The Postojnska Jama as it is known in Slovenia is a 100,000 year old cave system that has been carved out by the Pivka River and which currently comprise 25km of underground caverns, halls and passages (more are being discovered every year).  They are without a doubt one of the most incredible natural wonders I have ever seen.

Over a period of about 1.5 hours an English speaking tour guide took me and others through some 5 km of the caves (that was about 3 km on a mini-train and 2 km walking) which included the “Great Mountain Cavern”, the Russian Bridge which led to the “Hall of Beautiful Caves” (i.e. the Spaghetti, White and Red Caves), the “Winter Hall” (which includes the Snow White Stalagmite) and the Planina Cave (where the Pivka surfaces before going back underground and emerging elsewhere in Slovenia as the Unica River). There was also a “Concert Hall” (which is somewhere in or between the Winter Hall and the Plancina Cave – Had I bought a programme, I could have told you precisely where it sits) which is used for various musical performances and can house 10,000+ people. Enough words…

 

The entrance to the caves and a typical path through the system

Not pleased with the above photo but I include it because it provides an indication as to the size of some of the caves

Stalactites hang down (usually) from the ceiling

 

Stalactites can take various forms including the spaghetti type at the top of the above left hand photo or the curtain type on the right

 

Stalagmites rise from the ground. The one in the right hand photo is known as Snow White

 

The photo on the left includes stalacmites and stalagtites. When they meet as in the right hand photo they form sometimes giant pillars but it doesn’t happen overnight. The ‘Mites and ‘Tites grow at the rate of about a millimetre every 10 years.

The cave system is home to 100+ species, one of the largest (at 25 to 30 cms) and most bizarre being the Olm or proteus anguinus, otherwise known as the “Human Fish”. It is anaemic in appearance with no eyes (but enhanced hearing) and a different number of toes (back and front). I suppose there could be humans like that but not too many. On average, they live for between 60 and 70 years but have been known to last 100+ years. What is remarkable is that they can go 10 years without eating (by slowing down their metabolic rate).

Heading on to Trieste now but that was a good 1.5 hours even if it did cost 25 euros.

ps It’s not my photo, but that is a proteus.

Bled, Hill Walking etc – Nov 2017

I had it in mind to do a bit of hill walking today but I also wanted to take a closer look at Bled Castle and St Martin’s Church. Succeeded on all fronts.

The hill walking wasn’t as good as expected. The tree line here is higher than in Scotland and the ascent made really wasn’t worth the effort in terms of the resulting views (even on the hilltops the trees obscured almost everything). Moreover, on more than one occasion I deviated from the track, such as it was, and ended up forging routes through areas that were best avoided. This I think is a better area for cycling or hiking than hill walking. Failing that, I need to go a great deal higher.

The route I chose (not sure if you will be able to read the map above) took me from Bled through Ribno and across the river at the Ribenski Bridge then up the hill to Lovska koca na Talezu. I wish it was as easy as it sounds. From the closed log cabin type cafe at 725m I dropped behind Oglar and up to Tolsti vrh, 883m, before making my way down round Hom to the Selski Bridge and then on to Lake Bled via Selo and Strazo Mlino (also taking in the small tops of Kozarca, 558m and Obroc, 519m). Views were non existent (with the photos not worth including in this blog) but there was plenty of exercise.  Moreover I had the route very much to myself, stopping only to talk to a few cows and a goat as one does when not meeting anybody after 5+ hours walking.

Ribno was a small but pretty and well kept hamlet…

…and the view upstream from the Ribenski Bridge wasn’t bad

The views started to open up once across the river

On the way back, after wandering up and down steep thickly wooded hills for much longer than should have been the case, I was pleased to find the Selski Bridge…

… and then, after checking out the hamlets of Selo and Straza Mlino, I found Lake Bled…

… and my first sight of the day of Bled Castle, my next port of call…

… and St Martin’s Church, also to be visited before my first beer of the day.

10 euros to enter Bled Castle, it was worth it for the views alone

They were expecting me

Views out of the windows were impressive…

… especially this one.

… and from the battlements but, it’s getting late

 

and St Martin’s Church – the Catholics know how to best present a church

Not sure where I am heading tomorrow but look what I found in the Lovec…

Bled Day 1 – Nov 2017

Bled is situated in the Julian Alps in northwest Slovenia, not far from Austria and Italy. It is an out and out tourist destination (with an abundance of hotels, pensions and camp sites) in a very picturesque location, surrounded by mountains and forests. The lake of the same name is oval shaped, about 2 clicks long, and just under 30m deep (that’s for the divers amongst you; not that I would want to dive it).  It has a small island on which stands a church dedicated to the Assumption of Mary but the lake is perhaps best known for holding the World Rowing Championships on as many as 4 occasions.

You could circuit the Lake on foot in just over an hour if it weren’t for the fact you simply have to stop, again and again, to take photographs – it is stunning. It took me more than 2 hours with most of my photo shots directed towards the island because it seems to get better and better from every angle but there are many other photo opportunities.  I walked in a clockwise direction from the centre of the town on an excellent path that hugged the shoreline the whole way.

Looking back towards the town with the parish church of St Martin on the left 

One of my first shots of the Island and its church

Getting closer

The hardest part will be deciding which photos to use in the blog

I didn’t realise rowing is so popular in Slovenia

Looking back over the lake as it starts to get dark and I reach my hotel, the image is almost surreal

Dinner was at the Restavracija Grill in the Lovec Hotel (the sister hotel to the one I am staying in) and the food was good but the alcohol (especially the beer) was great…

Tomorrow: some hill walking and I’ll pop into both Bled Castle and St Martin’s Church. Oh… and the Lovec Hotel for a beer or two.

Bled, Slovenia – Nov 2017

The journey to Bled from Graz wouldn’t have taken more than an hour or two except I stopped twice.

The first time was to fill my LPG tanks (which amongst other things power the heating system in the Van; I think I may be needing them soon – it was just 2 degrees as I came over the mountains from Austria) and the second was to check out the little village of “Egg am Faaker See”. I was going to stop at the Austrian town of Villach, on the Draava River, but Egg am Faaker See, just 5 clicks further on, sounded more interesting and of course it is much smaller.

The stop to fill up with LPG was not enjoyable. There I was trying to fix/force a German adaptor on to my UK style LPG tap when a young lady, after watching me struggle for ten minutes or so, pointed out that Austrian LPG stations use the same adaptor as the French and the Italians- well of course they do. Silly me. Ten minutes is not a lot of time in the great scheme of things but the first few seconds of trying to fill the tank with the wrong adaptor in place caught me without gloves and receiving what felt like serious burns from the cold propane gas. I’ll wear gloves in future even if I don’t always apply the correct adaptor. Why on earth Europe should operate four different LPG fittings I do not know.

The stop at Egg am Faaker See was far more enjoyable not least because the air temperature had risen to 10 degrees and it was getting warmer still. I didn’t do anything but take in the views and chill out for an hour or so.

The Faaker See

I was chilled out and the rest of the journey to Bled (just inside the Slovenian border) went so smoothly I decided to continue with the mood and check into the four star Kompas Hotel for a day or two (hotels here are half price this time of the year) and take advantage of their swimming pool, sauna and massage facilities. Now that is chilled!

First however a gentle walk around Lake Bled:-

There’s the map…

…there’s the lake…

…and there’s the castle to help get my bearings.

Graz, The Schlossberg – Nov 2017

Gruss Gott.

The Schlossberg, almost smack bang in the centre of Graz, doesn’t look that striking from down below (the summit is only 123 metres above the town) and, until I spoke to Gerhard over the ‘phone last night, I had written it off as being not worth the effort it would take to walk the 260+ steps to the top. I’m pleased he persuaded me otherwise. This morning I spent 2+ hours investigating different aspects of the hill and taking in some great views and I would certainly recommend it. For those not keen on steps, there are three alternatives means of getting to the top (a lift, a funicular railway and even a road around the back of the hill) but, the walk up is neither difficult nor exposed.

 

The start of the steps and a section of the ascent

The hill is steeped in history (there was a fortification there as long ago as the 10th century) and covered in interesting features, whether it be the Clock Tower (which is different from the great majority of other clocks in that the larger hand reflects hours and the smaller hand reflects minutes), the Liesl Bell (said to be made of metal from 101 Turkish cannons and therefore rung 101 times at 7am, 12pm and 7pm), the Hacker Lion, the Chinese Pavilion, the Turkish Well, the Starcke-Haus and the Schlossberg Stage to name but a few. It doesn’t end with the features on top of the hill; 6 kilometres of tunnels were built in and under the Schlossberg during World War II so as to provide protection for up to 48,000 people during Allied air raids.

 

The Uhrturm or Clock Tower and a view of the south of the city from behind the Tower

The Chinese Pavilion

The view south from the Schlossberg with the River Mur just visible in the lower right hand corner

Lunch followed at the Krebsenkeller on Sackstrasse (a very welcoming and comfortable restaurant but the food wasn’t great) and then it was shopping. I’m not a great one for shopping, especially now my wine cellar is full, but a visit to the Kastner & Ohler department store is a must for anyone interested in designer brands. For those not interested in designer brands, you should still visit the store but make straight for the tea room on the top floor and enjoy the view across to the Schlossberg.

 

The Krebsenkeller

A last walk around the city took me away from the main square (the Hauptplatz) and into  the surrounding narrow  lanes and arcades and, would you believe it(?), I stumbled on yet another Irish Bar (the Molly Malone) although I gave this one a miss.

 

Reflecting upon the last week or two, I have spent the majority of my time in cities (Zurich, Munich, Vienna and Graz). Time to head for the mountains, lakes and rivers. Slovenia, here I come.

Graz, Austria – Nov 2017

Very reluctantly left Enzesfeld this morning for Graz but if I’d stayed any longer I might never have left and I am already gaining too much weight. Many thanks to the Family Dedic for making me feel so welcome. Words cannot express…

Of course, having left my summer tyres with Profi Reifen, Leobersdorfer Strasse 153 (I record those details here because I know I’ll forget them), I will have to return in the Spring. Great stuff! See you then if not before.

The journey down the A2 motorway from Vienna to Graz went very well (it was brilliant sunshine and beautiful scenery all the way) and even the view from a motorway service station wasn’t bad. I did the necessary diesel stop and I also took time out at the village of Bad Waltersdorf to fill the Van’s garage with Gruner Veltliner. Well, there’s room now I’ve been able to unload the tyres that were changed at Colmar.

View from the motorway service station on the A2

 

View of the Bad Waltersdorf church from the local supermarket together with a photo of one of the Gruner Veltliner’s I bought.

Graz operate a camper van Stellplatz (which accommodates up to 160 vehicles although there are only 3 here now – GPS N47,02472 E15,39694) and it is a simple 15 minute journey by bus from this Stellplatz into the city centre. I popped into the town for a couple of hours to get my bearings and I will return tomorrow morning to see a bit more but what is left of this evening will be given over to the Gruner Veltliner I opened earlier and to determining whether I travel into Hungary, Slovenia or Italy tomorrow. Time will tell.

First view of Graz from a bridge over the River Mur

Graz like everywhere else, it seems, is preoccupied with setting up Christmas decorations but upside down hanging Christmas trees?!?

I wouldn’t mind but these Christmas market stalls in Germany and Austria are spoiling a great many photos – Bah! Humbug!

Interesting that the opera house is about to show Verdi’s Il trovatore which I last saw on my 50th at the Prague Opera House – remember that Nick, Simon, Mette and Petter?

I’ll head back into Graz first thing tomorrow.

Vienna, Austria – Nov 2017

Walked in the cold air (it was cool this morning and there was some serious wind chill) and, Oh Vienna! Been here a few times but yesterday was truly enjoyable.

In keeping with my promise to take in some culture during this tour, I started the day off in the Welt Museum on Heldenplatz; staying almost two hours and learning more about Mexico (of all places) than I have in 9 holidays there – the Welt Museum is an ethnographic museum focusing on non-European cultures and Mexico just happens to figure in the current exhibition.

Welt Museum – one of a number of museums in the Heldenplatz and the adjoining Museumsquartier

Inside the Welt Museum

The Natural History Museum  – one of two near identical buildings on the Maria-Theresien Platz in the Museumsquartier, the other being the Art History Museum

Empress Maria-Theresia Monument outside the Natural History Museum

The culture theme continued with Gerhard gaining us access to the Burgtheater (the National Theatre) Canteen where, rubbing shoulders with such artists & technicians as were around, we partook of a local pork dish and a couple of glasses of Gruner Veltliner  before setting off on some further sightseeing.

The Burgtheater

Inside the Burgtheater canteen. Through the door is a smoking area (Austria has refused to ban smoking in public places) and the tv screen above the door keeps diners aware as to what is happening on stage.

Heldenplatz is in the centre of the city and as good a place as any to begin a tour. In addition to the aforementioned National Theatre and the various museums and art galleries, the area is home to further amazing buildings including the Burgtor (an arch built to commemorate Austria’s beating Napoleon at Leipzig) and the Hofburg Imperial Palace (the seat of power of the Hapsburg dynasty) a part of which is the Neue Burg (where Hitler  famously announced the Third Reich’s annexation of Austria). Close by are the Rathaus Building (the City Council Offices) and the Austrian Parliament which perhaps don’t sound all that appealing but which are seriously impressive buildings. You need only look at the photos.

The Neue Burg section of the Hofberg Palace

The Amalienburg section of the Hofburg (a part of which is the Spanish Riding School with its famous Lipizzan Stallions).

Spanish Riding School and Lipizzan Stallions

The Rathaus – City Council Offices or Town Hall

Also nearby (just a few minutes walk) is Graben, a pedestrianised shopping area that is home both to the usual designer stores, numerous schnapps bars (I like the apple schnapps best) and some great wine bars (of which The Black Camel stands out). Oh, and there is the ubiquitous Irish Bar.

  

One of Graben’s more picturesque arcades

Once again it was dark by the time we got back…

The Rathaus at night.

I could easily spend many more days here but I really should be moving on. Winter is coming and I want to be in warmer climes before then.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Enzesfeld, Austria – Nov 2017

Arriving at  Enzesfeld about mid afternoon I received a great welcome from Clare and Gerhard and their son Nikki (and later their daughter Alex and her partner Manuel) and then, over the ensuing ten hours, I must have put on about 3 kilos in weight through eating Clare’s seriously excellent pork dinner (see photo below – the picture doesn’t do the dish justice) and drinking an extensive range of beers, wines, schnapps and whisky with Gerhard and Nikki.  About the only drink we didn’t sample was Port.

Crack(l)ing pork dish served up by Clare that could compete with anything I’ve eaten so far on this trip.

  

…and then there’s Clare’s artwork. These are two of my favourites. We won’t talk about Schubert’s Unfinished…

The next day was mostly about a walk through part of the Wienerwald Forest which surrounds Vienna. There are countless routes through the forest (including a pilgrim trail that starts from Cracow in Poland and finishes in Rome – there’s devout!) but I favoured the route we took because every other kilometre or so we came across a Gasthof that served food and schnapps.

The paths were easier to follow than the picture suggests.

 

Left photo shows the inside of one of the woodland Gasthof’s (very welcoming); the other shows a  couple of large Schnapps made with pine needles (very warming).

It was almost dark by the time we got back to the car but a short drive took us to the village of Sooss  and the Heurige “Weingut Steiner 67” for slices of thick bread smothered in pork lard (Smalzbrot and Grammelsmatzbrot, the latter has added pork crackling) followed by Wienerschnitzel (with something resembling cranberry sauce) and all accompanied by some seriously fine local wines, not the least of which was a nice Gruner Veltliner. What a place the Heurige is! It is primarily about producing and selling wine but this particular restaurant can be measured among the best encountered on the tour so far. Another one for trip advisor.

It was almost dark by the time we got back to the car…

The “shop” window, Weingut Steiner 67

Smalzbrot & Gammelsmalzbrot

Gruner Veltiner

Vienna tomorrow.

Munich, Germany – Nov 2017

The plan was to move west from Zurich to Enzesfeld (not far from Vienna) to enjoy a day or two with longstanding friends Clare and Gerhard before then heading south to either Greece or Italy before the winter snows arrive. The journey to Austria went as planned. It was largely uneventful but I took time to check out a couple of very pretty villages on the way (you know the ones I mean – they look like something out of “Little House on the Prairie” except the cows and the sheep all have big bells hanging round their necks) and I stopped in Liechtenstein (for lunch) and Munich (for a couple of beers, dinner and an overnight stay) before eventually reaching Enzesfeld.

The less said about the campsite in Munich, the better. Although not expensive, it was the worst I’ve encountered so far. I’ll likely do an update on this blog tomorrow and name and shame it. No I won’t. If you cannot say something nice it is better to say nothing at all.