Sunday, July 10, 2011

Northward Bound

How can anyone be annoyed about a place that calls itself Zadar?  It is something out of Star Trek, for goodness sake.  "Aliens from the planet Zadar are running amok in Kotor" -- just brilliant.  However when we left Mira's place we found a parking ticket on the Modus.  Other than outright amazement that someone could defile such a vehicle, we were amazed as we'd spoken to a cop the night before who'd assured us that we'd parked just right and shouldn't get a ticket.  Clearly he'd not spoken to his colleagues when he'd knocked off.

Putting this brief interlude behind us we headed for Slovenia, our target for the day being Ljubljana, its capital city.  We'd crossed Slovenia already and had noted that clearly no love was lost between Slovenia and Croatia as the motorway ran all the way to the Italian border where it changed to a single file road across 25 minutes of Slovenia before Croatia picked it up again with a motorway of its own.  This time though we headed inland and after a while picked up motorway and the remainder of the journey to the 280,000 person capital city was a breeze.  Even finding the hotel wasn't a major problem this time as somehow we drove up to it almost at once.

It was hot though and making an immediate mistake in having a beer in the sun compounded things to the point that torpor set in.  Ali decided he needed a nap while I took a look round, pretty sluggishly and was pleased to find that Ljubljana was in fact a lovely city set aside a little river running through it.  There was of course an old town but without walls as they'd been overrun more often than, well I can't think of anywhere right now actually but it had been an awful lot and they seemed pretty resigned about the whole thing.  There's only 900,000 of them in the whole country so they probably couldn't make much of a fuss anyway even though the country is pretty much 100% mountains.  The Austrians had been the overlords longest so their architecture seemed to be most dominant.

We found a place to eat specialising in suckling everything but it had been a busy night so they'd sold out but could help us with the local specialty -- horse or young horse (i.e. foal).  Gently declining the 'colt tartar (a house specialty)' we ate sparingly as the search for the real wiener schnitzel would take place the following day as we were headed for Vienna.

Colt Tartar anyone?
En route it began to rain for the first time in ages but we still made good time to Vienna where we had no chance finding the hotel so Ali headed for the central information office and found it.  The hotel was right next to Prater Park, famous in the 39 Steps movie, and a little out of town on the underground but was just fine for us.

The ferris wheel in Prater Park
I'd found reference to a biergarten in the park that served beer and schweinehaxe so we headed there first to chow down on some real pork.  My goodness, what a hunk of meat!  But just perfect when combined with Budvar pilsner.  It was mid-afternoon on a Friday and the place was jammed.  Next to us was a man with a haxe and a BIG glass of beer, some cabbage salad and some bread and he'd clearly made plans to stay the night as he was not going anywhere!

What a hunk!!!
We on the other hand headed for the centre of the city and as the hotel said we were only 20 minutes out of town decided to walk.  It wasn't 20 minutes out of town.  Anyway ultimately we made it and began to criss cross the city to try to make it to the Opera House where the hop on hop off tourist bus started from.  We found it and then also found Cafe Sacher nearby and decided to stop for a cafe and sacher torte (chocolate cake and whipped cream) which is their globally renowned piece de resistance.  Very nice it was too but by the time we'd finished, so had the tourist buses for the day.  So rather than do the tourist bus thing, we decided to head back to the hotel to change and really seriously look for some wiener schnitzel.

I'd found reference in the tourist book to a place where prominent locals ate.  It said that the ambience was interesting but don't expect fine dining.  It was a little out of the centre but on the subway so we headed out that way and tramped around for a bit before finding what looked like a church hall (forget the name, sorry).  Inside were cheery, red faced Viennese drinking all sorts of stuff and chowing down on large slabs of something that on closer examination seemed to be schnitzels.  A table at the back was found and we ordered beer and bog standard wiener schnitzel and looked around at the other patrons.

The place was jammed.  At one table were 8 young people all eating and drinking.  One young lady at the end started accumulating all the uneaten hunks of schnitzel looking stuff and with the waiter's assistance began wrapping it up -- and there was a lot of extras.  The 3 person table next to us clearly ordered the meat combo as the waiter brought in an enormous platter piled high with schnitzels, sausages and other meat like looking substances that they managed to finish less than half of.  As for us we'd already eaten schweinhaxe and sacher torte so were not really ready for an onslaught but it came anyway in the shape of plate size schnitzels (2 each) and a bucket full of fries.

Not sure how we managed but we did (not the fries though) and the whole thing was laughably inexpensive too.  However we weren't able to converse much for the rest of the evening and suffered a bit during the night too.  Not helping at all was heading back to Prater Park to go on the famous ferris wheel.  We were the only people there at the time so the show was all for us.  The operator stopped the wheel at odd places throughout the cycle but the longest was right at the very top.  Given that the wind was howling and the compartments were shaking and shimmering, this was not the most comfortable of experiences on a stomach in any state at all, but when said stomach was filled to the brim and beyond with haxe, sacher torte and schnitzel galore, well ...  This said, I wouldn't have missed it for the world.

"Don't ask how I am feeling right now"
However we did take the tourist bus the next day which was just great.  Vienna is a lovely city and has beautiful buildings all over the place.  The empire of old has gone but they certainly loved to bling the place up.  Summer Palace at Schonburg; the Duke of Marlborough's sidekick Prince Eugene' palace at Belvedere; just lovely and realistically a shame we had to leave after only 1 day.

On the way out we drove by a WWII flak tower, one of 6 erected by the Nazis against bombers and which were so well built could not be torn down after as the damage it would cause to the nearby buildings would be absolute.  Some 30-40% of Vienna was flattened in the war.

Flak tower still standing
The drive to Munich was uneventful although finding our digs was again torture however having found the Regent Hotel only 100 metres away from the station as the guide said we were pretty much sorted. We'd planned to stay 2 nights as the first would take in the Hofbrauhaus where Hitler had started and which Viv and I had visited before.  I expected a slow morning after so suggested a lazy tourist day rather than 6 or 7 hours driving.  Great stuff!  We had a haxe just because we could and settled down to sing and chat with the locals.

The first bunch on our table were locals who'd been there for 3 hours and it showed.  One young chap said "you English make fun of us, you call us krauts.  After the cabbage."  Ali asked what the Germans called the English and he replied "you drink too much and it is always raining"... fine talk coming from him, we pointed out.  Also it was raining outside.  "OK" he said and we got on famously.  Next were a family from Emden ("the furthest top left in Chermany you can go.  It is 12 hours drive tomorrow") and finally a family of all things from Uruguay.  The oom pah band didn't play as much as we liked but after several more steins of beer, it was clearly time for bed and the headache that followed.

We did the tour bus and discovered that over 90% of Munich was flattened in WWII and what the town did with the rubble was scoop it up and make hills good enough to ski and sled on in the section of the city that hosted the 1972 Olympic Games -- the so-called 'Munich Hills' for other than this it is as flat as a pancake.  Great tour again and ideal for a lazy day.  Ali took over the navigating and marched us around Munich in the sun until we found it was time for a mid-afternoon haxe and beer in the English Biergarten preparatory to the last wiener schnitzel of the day and a reasonably early night.

A modest snack
Germans love to eat and drink.  All the stuff you read about the Europeans being more circumspect in their drinking habits and diet is simply nonsense.  There's just as many heavy drinkers and eaters around Europe as anywhere else.  The Germans I would say though rank #1 in that category though.

Next is Milan and the show!!!

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