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Europe xmas 2004

Munich |

We departed on Christmas day morning at 6am to get to Heathrow, one of the busiest and largest airports in the world - which we found almost totally deserted. We caught our flight in a very small plane (Airbus757) to Munich and arrived about an hour and a half later in Germany. From here we met our tour guide - Elke, who transferred us to the hotel. It was very straight forward and easy to do. And our tour guide Elke was absolutely fantastic.

That evening we went into Munich city centre to have a look around. It was quiet in the city centre as it was Christmas day and Christmas is a big celebration in Germany. Lachlan and I took in the Christmas lights and some stunning architecture before trying some sort of German sausage, then returning to the hotel.

On Sunday we headed from Munich to Salzburg in Austria. The weather was a little foggy, however we could still see the Alps for some time during the trip. Very spectacular and absolutely massive in size! Not like anything I have ever seen before! Salzburg was a beautiful little town nestled in at the foot of the alps (or otherwise huge mountains) and was scattered with churches. On a walking tour we discovered places where the movie 'The Sound of Music' was the countryside and the steps where they sing the 'Do, ray, me' song. Apparently this method of teaching singing is still used in Austrian schools today. Salzburg also is the birthplace of Mozart. The architecture was very interesting and some of the buildings were built into the mountains so you would be looking at buildings and then the next thing in your line of sight was a steep, stone mountain face.

We arrived in Vienna in the evening and took a guided bus tour of the city at night which was beautiful and very impressive. Here we saw amazing architecture of a huge scale with impressive designs. I particularly was impressed by one of the churches (St Stephens I think) that looked like a fairy tale castle. Also the town hall building was absolutely gorgeous. We also had a traditional meal at a restaurant in the woods - a tourist place I imagine, which was absolutely packed full of strange curios. I have to admit I did think of Pa when I saw the deco of the restaurant!

Monday was a day to spend in Vienna to explore the sights. We took a tour of the Palace of Schonbrunn which had magnificently preserved state rooms. The details from the floor patterns to the wooden carvings in the walls were amazing.. Every room had amazing wooded carvings which were part of the walls/roof and all of the features were painted in gold. There was a room with picture frames built into the walls - amazingly ornate and beautiful frames - which were framing truly antique art works from China. Some rooms had hand painted rice paper wall paper, while others were covered in tapestry. It was truly spectacular. This palace was the summer residence of the Hapsburg monarchs. They played a huge role in the history of Austria! Its amazing what you learn - I had no idea of the strength of their empire!

We also had a look around the Opera. It was just like a fairy tale. Apparently it is very popular in Austrian culture to attend the Opera, and you can get tickets for as little as 2 Euros.

Tuesday took us to Hungary where we stopped briefly at a town called Gyor. This is where we began to see the effects of what the Russians had done to Hungary during the communist rein. On arrival in Budapest we took a drive around the city. It was amazing to see the difference coming into a city that was so different from Western Europe.

It had been 15 years since the Russians had left but the effects were still there and you felt the impact of what it must have been like before. Budapest was my most favourite place ever. The absolute contrast of a run down and neglected city yet such amazing beauty was stunning. I have never experienced such beauty and Budapest is definitely the most beautiful place I have ever seen -and I imagine will ever see. By night we took a cruise along the Danube River, giving a great opportunity for photography and stunning us in its spectacular beauty.

Wednesday was again an opportunity for some free time and sight seeing with our guide Andrea. She was a great tour guide to have in Budapest and in addition to giving us the general basic information she gave us an insight into the way of thinking of the Hungarians , and also shared some information about the lifestyle and the effects of change on the older generation. She was very interesting and informative.

Thursday we traveled through Slovakia, stopping in the capital Bratislava before driving on into the Czech republic to Prague. Bratislava let us see what life was like as a result of the Russian occupation without the major interest or effects of Western Europe. On our way into Prague through the Bohemian Mountains we saw snow that had just freshly fallen. The fields of dark brown soil were blanketed in white snow as far as the eye could see. The trees also had fresh snow fallen on their branches. It was very beautiful.

On arrival in Prague we took an evening walking tour through the city which is divided into the old part and the new part. The architecture was truly amazing and very spectacular. Prague was also absolutely packed with tourists - apparently it is a popular destination for New Years. This was shock as was the noticeable impact of Western Europe in comparison to Budapest. Apparently when the wall came down the Czech republic was quick to take as much investment from Western Europe as possible and capitalize on this investment. On top of this our guide informed us that the Czech people were incorporating this Western capitalization without changing their lifestyle - as a result the attitude was that they were not to interested in taking on the quality of services up to a Western standard, only the capitalization. Yet still the city was very, very beautiful - in close comparison with the spectacular Budapest.

Friday was new years eve. After a walk through the city and a bit more exploring of the Charles Bridge and St Vitus Cathedral we headed for a look out over the city with impressive views. (I think that Prague has the most Catholic Cathedrals/churches with the least religious people of the whole of Europe.) After some window shopping browsing the beautiful - and affordable - bohemian crystal we returned to the hotel shortly before meeting the 'young ones' and returning to the old city to explore and wait to see in the new year. We had a great spot on the edge of the river near the Charles bridge where the main fireworks would be based. The atmosphere was full of anticipation as we bought alcohol off the street (can you believe it!?) and dodged the mass of random fireworks being let off at random in every available space of the town. When midnight struck there was an even larger amount of fireworks all over the entire city. Fireworks in all directions against the backdrop of golden glowing castles and cathedrals. A New Years that will never be beaten!!

Locations Visited: Munich, Salzburg, Vienna, Gyor, Budapest, Bratislava, Prague

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