Central Europe Adventures 2016 – Part Nine: Culture Shocked in Prague

I spent the second weekend of my Central Europe Adventure visiting Prague. Prague was on my to see list because I’ve had friends visit it before and loved it. I did not know what to expect, I knew nothing about the city, other than it was old and they didn’t speak German and I’ve never met anyone who was Czech before.

The train from Vienna to Prague took four hours and I used this time to write up some of my trip notes and read a guide book on Prague. I was still in culture shock from my visit to Bratislava the day before and instead of being excited I had built up a little bit of anxiety about the unknown language and culture.

Arriving at Praha hlavní nádraží (Prague central station) felt like stepping into a different world. The train to Prague had stopped at Brno along the way and that had looked similar to Bratislava’s train station, and when we got off at Prague we didn’t have to cross the tracks but instead had the standard underground walkway between platforms and the main concourse. The main concourse of Prague’s central station was then like arriving into the middle of a shopping mall in London, New York or Singapore. I was hit by the modernist design and colour from the shops and the interior architecture. This was not what I was expecting.

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Central Europe Adventures 2016 – Part Eight: Bratislava

Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia is an hour from Vienna and an easy day trip from the Austrian capital. Arriving at the main train station in Bratislava is like stepping into a completely different decade or era.

The train station is extremely small and you get between platforms by literally walking across the tracks. When we arrived we managed to accidentally walk around the main station building instead of through it, so we headed back inside to try and find a tourist information booth which was hidden down a long corridor.

Once we had a map of the city we walked the 2km from the train station to the old town. The street we walked down was filled with old trolley buses, trams and run down buildings. All of this was a culture shock. We had literally left the wealth of Vienna less than an hour away and stepped into a country that is clearly still recovering from the impacts the former soviet economic system.

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Photos: Melbourne Formula One 2016

I flew from Sydney to Melbourne on Sunday to attend the 2016 Melbourne F1 Grand Prix, in doing so I literally fulfilled a childhood dream.

After arriving at the circuit as the gates opened, I headed to the “Melbourne Walk” to watch the drivers arriving for the day. This is a great way to get really close to the drivers for photos and their autographs. I then met up with a friend who had also come down from Sydney for the day and we watched the support races from various areas close to the pits.

For the Formula One race itself we headed over to the back of the circuit and sat on one of the embankments with hundreds of other fans. The atmosphere around Albert Park was brilliant and had quiet a different vibe to the V8 Supercar events that I normally attend. The race itself was also excellent, with everyone making a lot of noise when Ferrari beat Mercedes into the first corner and whenever passing happened throughout the pack. I am also extremely relieved that Alonso was completely uninjured in his crash, it’s the worst crash I’ve seen at a motorsport event and how he simply walked away from the wreck shows the quality of the safety designs of the cars. Overall, despite the high cost for the general admission day ticket, the viewing mounds and off-track activities right around the circuit made it a great day out.


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Central Europe Adventures 2016 – Part Seven: Repeatedly getting lost in Vienna

Wondering “where am I?” and “how do I get to my next point of interest” became a recurring theme in the few days I spent in Vienna.

After getting lost trying to find my way back to the Vienna Hauptbahnhof following a day exploring the city surrounds, I met up with my friend who had just arrived from Berlin. Our first task was to get back across the city to check into our hotel. We travelled on the U-Bahn to Schottenring station which has exits on either side of the Donau Canal. Naturally, we exited on the wrong side and were unable to find the exit for the other side of the canal. After ten or so minutes of looking like muppets trying to figure a way across, and after deciding that swimming across wasn’t a great idea, we jumped on a tram that went over a nearby bridge.

We then checked into our hotel and then immediately headed out to do a small amount of exploring and grab dinner.

Dome Fresco in Peterskirche

Dome Fresco in Peterskirche

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Central Europe Adventures 2016 – Part Six: A Long Walk Across Vienna

The second week of my adventures across Central Europe took me to Vienna.

My Monday morning began very early as the friends I was staying with had appointments before their work day even began. This resulted in me being kicked out of their house before 7am and I was on the first train from Munich to Vienna at 7.30am

The four hour trip from Munich across to Vienna went by very quickly, aided by free WIFI on the train which allowed me to catch up on a little bit of emails and talk to friends back in NZ and Australia. I also spent a bit of time watching the scenery go past the train window, including seeing the sun rise over the Alps and glimpsing the huge Stift Melk (Melk Abbey) in the distance as we approached Vienna.

Once I arrived in Vienna I had over four hours to kill while waiting for my travelling companion for the next week to fly in from Berlin. When he heard that I had arrived so early he forbade me from seeing any of the sights in the centre of town. So instead I decided to put my bags into storage and walk from the Vienna Hauptbahnhof through the Belvedere Schlossgarten and Stadtpark to the Donau Canal.

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Hyeonseo Lee’s The Girl with Seven Names

I’ve just finished reading Hyeonseo Lee’s book The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector’s Story.

This is one of the best books I’ve read in the last few years. The story of Lee’s escape from North Korea and emotional battles along the way are deeply moving. It’s also harrowing to think that other North Korean defectors experience far worse treatment that Lee did.

A year or so ago I read Barbara Demick’s Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea. What strikes me the most in both of these books on North Korea is just how repressive the Kim regime is and the apparent lack of international action to rescue the general population from horrible human rights abuses.

While I strongly believe that every country should be able to govern without outside intervention there must be limits where outside intervention becomes necessary. Especially as people are being politically imprisoned and executed without any due process. Other abuses of this magnitude in other areas of the globe have resulted in war crime trials. I don’t know what it would take to intervene in North Korea but the international community cannot continue to be so lenient on a country that treats its citizens so poorly.

Embeded below is a TED talk that Lee gave before writing the book, it’s much lighter on details than the book. Additionally there is an SBS Insight program on North Korea that Lee took part in which features some of her, and other’s stories of escape.

Central Europe Adventures 2016 – Part Five: A Sunday in Munich

Sundays in Germany are quite different to Sundays in Australia. No malls, supermarkets or convenience stores are open. At first this seems really old fashioned and boring but after a weeks you start to really appreciate how relaxing it is to have a day a week where you are essentially forced to take a day off.

After having a traditional German breakfast of bread rolls, eggs and cheese we headed out for a walk to the Alter Nordfriedhof (Old North Cemetery). At first it is a little weird walking through an old cemetery but at the same time it is very actively used park with people walking and jogging along the various paths.

After eating a light lunch we spent the afternoon at the Deutsches Museum. The exhibitions halls in the museum are incredibly detailed. We started in the mines section which has you walk through many different eras of mine design and technologies from very early mines to modern technology. Next we walked into the biology area which had human sized models of cells.

We then spent the next the few hours walking through the more usual types of museum displays see the type of biplane that the Red Baron used, the telescope that was used to discover Neptune, Enigma machines, and a Cray Supercomputer. Finally we wrapped up the day with dinner at Paulaner am Nockherberg.

Central Europe Adventures 2016 – Part Four: Bavarian Adventures

After two and a half days in Innsbruck I caught a train back to Munich, first for a business meeting and second to spend the weekend with friends.

After my meeting had finished I had a few hours to kill while waiting for my friends to finish work. The great thing about Munich is there are so many great roads, buildings and shops to get lost in around the central city. Once my friends had finished work we went to the Hackerhaus for dinner where I had a great Sauerbraten (pot roast). We then rounded out the evening at a small hipster bar.

The following morning we headed out of Munich along the Autobahn to Regensburg. Our first stop was at the Walhalla Memorial on a hill above the Danube River just outside of Regensburg proper.

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Central Europe Adventures 2016 – Part Three: Skiing at Axamer Lizum

On my third day in Europe I was up early enough and awake enough to go skiing. Each of the ski fields around Innsbruck runs a free tourist shuttle bus from various areas around the city directly to the ski fields. Find the area where the ski bus departed from was a little tricky even though it was essentially across the road from the hotel as it wasn’t very well sign posted, however, the buses had very clear labels on them and made the hour long ride out to the ski field very comfortable.

The snow that had been falling in the mountains the previous day also fell in the city overnight and as we headed out of Innsbruck and up the narrow mountain road to Axamer Lizum the snow on the ground and the trees kept getting more and more.

Fresh Snow in Innsbruck

Fresh Snow in Innsbruck

Arriving at Axamer Lizum a little after 9am I quickly found the on field ski hire and grabbed a lift pass and headed up the mountain. As the main chairlift from the base area climbed higher we ended up in quite a heavy fog which made the first few runs down the mountain very slow with visibility so low that I was skiing to route markers and having to completely stop to find the next one in the mist.

Fortunately, after an hour or so the poor visibility and light snow lifted and I was able to explore a lot more of the mountain. Although the field was “small” compared to some other fields in the alps it still provided plenty of open space and different runs that could be taken. The lower parts of the mountains through the forest was fun as it is something you don’t experience on New Zealand fields and the higher parts of the mountain gave beautiful glimpses through the clouds across the alps.

Overall, Axamer Lizum was the perfect place for a day of skiing near Innsbruck. The powder was amazing and I was very fortunate to ski on 15cm+ of fresh snow. I would love to go back to both Axamer Lizum and Innsbruck and spend a week or so exploring the other ski areas in the region.

Central Europe Adventures 2016 – Part Two: Innsbruck

Arriving in Innsbruck after almost 40 hours of travel, one would expect to fall straight into bed, but as it was such a beautiful afternoon I decided it go up to the top of Nordkette instead.

To get to the top of Nordkette you catch a very modern Funicular from the edge of the Innsbruck city centre to the suburb/village of Hungerburg. From here you switch to two cable cars which take you to the top of the mountain. At the top I walked around for at least 30 minutes in snow that was literally knee deep. The ski runs off the top were the steepest I’ve ever seen. After deciding against trying to get to the absolute summit of the mountain in the deep snow I headed back down one cable car to grab a traditional Austrian lunch – Apple Strudel and Red Bull.

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