To spend or to avoid… Airport shopping!

Airport duty free shopping. It divides opinion. For some travellers it is a ticket to spend. For others it’s a painful gauntlet that’s full of dilly dalliering travellers rushing to catch flights.

I have some friends who look forward to the experience. They stock up on cheaper priced face creams, cosmetics and perfume.

I have others who avoid the shops like the plague and instead find a seat in the corner to ‘man the bags’ whilst their partner goes off shopping. I would suggest that this also works well!

Whether you are rushing for a flight or have time to kill, the Duty Free section is sure to get in your way or give you an escape!

Whether you are rushing for a flight or have time to kill, the Duty Free section is sure to get in your way or give you an escape!

As smelly, not washed often enough backpackers I’m sure we have all at one point or another felt that we could do with smelling a little sweeter. Bingo. Walking through the perfume section sorts this little problem perfectly. Like many others I always take the opportunity to try out a new scent and see what I think. I certainly don’t buy every time however I do from time to time make a purchase. Choosing the scent to try can depend on several factors. How long you want it to last, whether you go for something totally new or one you know. Perhaps above all it depends on where the shop assistants are located as to which one is easier to get the biggest ‘squirt’ of! The tricks of the trade….

Some Duty Free favourites...

Some Duty Free favourites…

It’s fair to say whilst we assume prices are cheaper, this is not always the case. I recently looked at a Ted Baker set in Boots at a London airport. Eager not to carry it round I searched to see if I could buy it online. To my surprise it was being sold on the Boots website quite a bit cheaper. However most things are ‘duty free’ and indeed less expensive at the airport. This in itself encourages travellers to part with their heard earned cash.  My tip – if you still have lots of time to kill and have your smartphone handy, then double check prices to make sure you really are getting a bargain!

Duty Free champers - these  appeal to The Smart Way Round!

Duty Free champers – these appeal to The Smart Way Round!

For me, the biggest thing airport shopping provides is that feeling of being on holiday. It’s a signal of the beginning, of the excitement that lies ahead. You might not want to buy anything, but with time to kill at an airport it provides a space to wander and stretch the legs. And hey, if yet another MAC eye shadow should fall into my shopping basket then who am I to complain….

– Natalie

We Blame Oktoberfest!

Hi everyone

To all our loyal followers you may have noticed that this week we have not posted a blog. Well a little something called Oktoberfest got in the way. You know, the world’s largest fair, where they consume close to 10 million litres of beer, 2 million bratwurst sausages, 400,000 chickens and 800 full oxen, or there abouts.

We will be back next week, but in the meantime thought we would share some of our photos from the festivities…

Prost!

 

At the main entrance to Oktoberfest grounds

At the main entrance to Oktoberfest grounds

The giant ferris wheel offers great views over the grounds

The giant Ferris Wheel offers great views over the grounds

Views from the ferris wheel the following morning

Views from the Ferris Wheel the following morning

Advertising in the U-Bahn

Advertising in the U-Bahn

First beer officially at 10:33am

First beer officially at 10:33am

A sense of the size of the Augustiner Beer tent

A sense of the size of the Augustiner Beer tent

Getting into the spirit of things...

Getting into the spirit of things…

Nothing beats drinking beer in traditional costume

Nothing beats drinking beer in traditional costume

 

Safe travels everyone!

N&D

Exploring Tuscany and Chianti the fun way – on two wheels of course!

Italy. It has a reputation for good wine, high fashion and romantic scenery. Does it live up to this reputation – absolutely!

Whilst cars and motorbikes can get you to most places, you will find you blink and soon pass some of the sights. I was lucky enough to be involved with co-leading the Exodus ‘Cycle Tuscany and Chianti’ trip last week, alongside the awesome leader Radu. Slowing things down and seeing things from a bike I conclude, is actually the best way to see this stunning region.

Our group of 16 met and became well aquatinted with their two-wheeled friends for a week. With days in the saddle ranging from 50 – 75 kilometres, the group found their pre-trip training came in handy!!!

Keep peddling up the hills!

Keep peddling up the hills!

For the first two days the sun shone and we eased the legs in gently! We had our first introduction to the ‘white roads’ (gravel) and a couple of nice big ‘undulations’… This was to become the word of the trip!  Gelato was on tap as were the wines of the Chianti region. Chianti Classico anyone?

Vineyards as far as the eye could see

Vineyards as far as the eye could see

After a few days in the saddle the group had a well earned break in Siena.  Meanwhile Radu put me through my paces on the bike!  Siena truly is beautiful.  With the magical Campo (main square) and Duomo there were photo opportunities galore! I enjoyed a glass of prosecco on the edge of the Campo with two of our guests. In Italy you never get bored of watching the world go by!!!

Siena - wow

Siena – wow

By the middle of the week the group were back in the saddle again and we entered the Chianti region. Castellina here we came!  At this point it felt like there were vineyards everywhere we looked!  The undulating hills and blue sky backdrop just made the whole area look like a fairy tale.  I managed to fit in a quick swim in quite possibly the best pool I have ever swam in. Pictures didn’t do it justice. Outdoor (of course), the backdrop were vineyards, the town of Castellina and forests. As the sun set I swam up and down trying to take in the tranquility. In amongst a busy week, the ten minute break came at the right time.

Afternoon dip

Afternoon dip

The next few days brought mixed weather but the group became experts at dodging the showers. We made a day trip to San Gimignano. The first 18k from the hotel were downhill…. But of course that made for a nice uphill on the way back!! As usual this ‘medieval Manhattan’ town was bursting at the seams and the queues for the ‘best gelato in Italy’ went on for ages!!!  As usual the support van was on hand with drinks and snacks to help them up the hills on the way back!

Prize-winning gelato!

Prize-winning gelato!

After sampling lots of wine and lots of gelato, the trip continued with a mixture of ups and downs to Florence. As we pulled in you could see the Duomo in distance just waiting to be explored.  What an iconic place to finish! The historical sights awaited….

Above all, the trip was full of great people and was at a pace that was doable for all. With regular snack breaks and photo stops who could not enjoy it?

Snacks and grapes...

Snacks and grapes… 

Tuscany and Chianti really are better off seen on two wheels!

Cheers!

– Natalie

P.S  Heres the link to my flipagram montage – enjoy!

Oktoberfest 2014: Top Day Trips out of Munich

It is now less than two weeks until Oktoberfest begins and if you followed are Pre Oktoberfest Checklist you should hopefully just about be ready to go! While a week-long beer drinking binge sounds good on paper, after a few days of being jammed into the Oktoberfest tents you may be looking to get out-of-town and rest your liver. Below we have listed a number of great day trips all within a couple of hours journey from Munich.

1. Ludwig II’s Fairytale Castles.

‘Mad’ King Ludwig’s castles are the jewels in the crown of Bavarian tourism. Neuschwanstein is the most famous, with an estimated 1.4 million visitors every year. Neuschwanstein was also the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Cinderella castle and has captured the imagination of tourists since the King’s mysterious death in 1886.

The view of Neuschwanstein Castle from Mary's Bridge

The view of Neuschwanstein Castle from Mary’s Bridge

However, while most people flock to Neuschwanstein, his other two castles are equally as impressive. Linderhof, near the famous Bavarian religious town of Oberammergau (also worth a look if you have time) is the only castle Ludwig ever completed. Much smaller than the other two, it is a far easier visit than Neuschwanstein and also doesn’t get the crowds. Nestled amongst the mountains and surrounded by lovely gardens, Linderhof would have to be our favourite of the three.

The smallest and only palace to be completed, Linderhof

The smallest and only palace to be completed, Linderhof

The final castle is situated on an island in Bavaria’s largest lake, the Chiemsee and is situated almost half way between Munich and Salzburg. Herrenchiemsee was built to be a living breathing museum dedicated to Ludwig’s idol, Louis XIV of France. An almost exact replica of the central sections of Versailles, Herrenchiemsee is probably the least visited of the three but has an idyllic location and can only be reached by a boat ride out to the island.

Numerous companies offer day trips from Munich and often combine Neuschwanstein, Linderhof and Oberammergau. If you do go with theses agencies double-check what you are booking, as a lot of the tours DONT include entrances into the castles themselves.

Rear facade of Neuschwanstein

Rear facade of Neuschwanstein

2. Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site

Visiting a concentration camp is not something you will necessarily say you enjoyed, but it is something you will be glad you have experienced. Dachau was the first camp set up in the 1930’s and now days is part memorial and part museum, dedicated to all those who suffered under Hitler’s regime. Getting out there can be a little tricky on public transport, however a number of local tour companies offer trips out to Dachau normally meeting in Marienplatz. We highly recommend the audio guide.

Shadow of the entrance gate into Dachau

Shadow of the entrance gate into Dachau

3. Berchtesgaden and the Eagle’s Nest

According to legend when God was creating the earth he gave all the natural beauty to the angels to distribute evenly around the world. As you can imagine this is a time consuming job. With the angels running behind schedule (he did only give them a week after all), God bellowed out “Hurry up!”, and the angels dropped all the natural wonders in Berchtesgaden.Or so the story goes.

Looking down over Berchtesgaden and the Eagle's Nest

Looking down over Berchtesgaden and the Eagle’s Nest

Approximately two hours from Munich the region of Berchtesgaden is stunningly beautiful. Dramatic mountains, crystal clear lakes and rivers and of course Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest. Specially designed local buses drive you up one of Europe’s most amazing, and somewhat hair-raising roads to the base of the Eagle’s Nest. From here it is a short walk through a tunnel to the original elevator made of polished brass before arriving in the building itself. Eagle’s Nest has a little something for everyone, incredible alpine scenery and photo opportunities for the nature lovers and some very interesting history for the history nerds (like me). Our tip, try to get there early, queues for the buses and the elevator can be very long if the weather is good.

4. Salzburg

The hills are alive! That’s right, after only a two hour train journey you could be yodeling away Julie Andrews style in the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart . Salzburg makes for a great day trip from Munich if for no other reason to just ‘pop’ over the border into Austria.

Salzburg's gorgeous Old Town

Salzburg’s gorgeous Old Town

Combine the imposing Festung or fortress towering over the city and the charming medieval streets and alley ways, Salzburg is a photographer’s dream. There are plenty of sights from ‘The Sound of Music’ to keep you amused or for something totally different head out to Hangar 7, the home of Red Bull. For great views of the old town and fortress head to the Cafe Sacher and enjoy a slice of the famous chocolate cake, Sacher Torte.

Sacher torte, yum!!

Sacher Torte, yum!

There are numerous other possibilities that we haven’t mentioned her as well. Nuremberg has a great old town and huge city walls, while from Garmisch-Partenkirchen you can catch a cable car up to the top of Germany’s highest mountain. If you fancy staying in Munich there are also some great experiences to keep you busy. We love Mike’s Bike Tours, a great way to see loads of the city and have a seriously fun time doing it. You can also hire bikes from them and they also run trips to Neuschwanstein and Salzburg.

Remember (if you haven’t had too much beer), Munich is a great city and so is the surrounding countryside, so make sure you take time out from Oktoberfest and get out there and explore!

– Dean

Prost!

Prost!

 

Our Favourite European Underground Systems

One of the most rewarding challenges of exploring a new city is mastering the local public transport system. In Europe we have them all, the good, the bad and the downright confusing! This week we look at some of our favourite undergrounds from around the continent.

 1. The London Underground

Ok so maybe we are a little biased as it is our hometown, but ‘The Tube’ not only is the oldest underground in the world, one of the most used undergrounds in the world but also regularly voted one of the best undergrounds in the world. All Londoners’ have a love hate relationship with the Tube but without it we would be in a whole world of trouble, just try and get anywhere when there are line closures for maintenance works! In fact it is only when it is shut or not working do we truly realise how much the city relies on it. Best bit of advice, buy an Oyster Card, fares are much cheaper than paying for a paper ticket, oh and don’t forget to ‘Mind The Gap’.

Going underground...

Going underground…

 2. Berlin U-Bahn & S-Bahn

Ever since living in Berlin I have always loved the rail network here. The rickety old carriages rattling along the tracks elevated above the roads below or perhaps trundling through the old ‘Ghost Stations’ from when the city was divided between east and west. When you are riding the Berlin metro it feels like any minute James Bond or Jason Bourne will come bursting through your carriage is some cold war spy drama. Our tip, check out the Mohrenstrasse station, the red marble walls come from Hitler’s former Reich’s Chancellery building, and don’t forget to validate your tickets before jumping on the train it is a hefty fine if you get caught!

One of Berlin's former 'Ghost Stations', closed off during the Cold War and division of the city

One of Berlin’s former ‘Ghost Stations’, closed off during the Cold War and division of the city

 3. Moscow Metro

Difficult, confusing and amazing are just some of the words to describe Moscow’s enormous metro system. Built to showcase the might of the Stalinist Soviet Union, many of the metro stations look like they belong more in a palace than an underground. Finding the right stops can be tricky but rewarding with mosaics of Lenin, space aged themes and a statue of a soldier’s dog whose nose you rub (in the Red Square Metro) but a few treasures awaiting the brave! Our tip, get a good map and learn to read Cyrillic!

Waiting to board the Moscow Metro

Waiting to board the Moscow Metro

One of the many murals showing the strength of the former Soviet Union throughout the Moscow Metro

One of the many murals showing the strength of the former Soviet Union throughout the Moscow Metro

4. Budapest Metro

While not the best metro system in Europe it was the first on the continent, dating back to 1896. The reason we love this underground is the old communist feel when you go underground. Instead of turnstiles ore relying on German honesty, as soon as you validate your ticket at the validation box you are met by a handful of heavy set black clad metro guards demanding to see your validated ticket, (which they have just seen you validate). Then you head to the platform and you can almost guarantee to get checked again or perhaps as soon as the doors of your carriage close a badge is flashed “tickets please” yelled out and you are subjected to another check. Our record? In a three-stop journey we had our ticket checked five times! Better validate that ticket!

Entrance to the Budapest Underground, the oldest underground on the continent

Entrance to the Budapest Underground, the oldest underground on the continent

Do you have a favourite metro or underground in Europe, or better yet do you have a ‘worst’ underground or underground story? If so we would love to hear about it, leave a comment below or drop us a line on Facebook.

 

– Dean

Stepping Back in Time: Rothenburg Ob Der Tauber

One of the most beautiful parts of Bavaria is the Romantische Strasse or the Romantic Road. Formed in 1957 to promote tourism the road links some of the best preserved medieval towns in Germany and stretches from Würzburg to Füssen a distance of over 300 km.

The jewel on the crown of the Romantic Road is without a doubt Rothenburg. It is also the most visited but it is easy to see why! Cobble stoned streets wind past bright pastel coloured houses. Vines and creepers wind their way up, through, over and around the brick work and the whole historic center is surrounded by the enormous medieval city walls.

The Roeder Tor, one of the many towers scattered throughout Rothenburg

The Roeder Tor, one of the many towers scattered throughout Rothenburg

Walking through the streets of Rothenburg feels like walking through a fairy tale or perhaps a movie set, it almost doesn’t feel real. Little wonder why people love this town. In fact Walt Disney loved it so much Geppetto’s village in Pinocchio is a cartoon recreation of Rothenburg .

The most photographed scene in the entire city

The most photographed scene in the entire city

Day trippers from Nürnberg and Frankfurt pour into the town and come 10:30 in the morning in good medieval fashion you are battling with visitors from around the world for the best photo spots, seats at cafés or Christmas decorations (something Rothenburg is famous for). Beware the coach loads of tourists pouring into the Kathe Wolfhart Christmas Museum, you have been warned!

Christmas everyday with loads of stores selling wooden Christmas decorations

Christmas everyday with loads of stores selling wooden Christmas decorations

Our best bit of advice? Stay over night, by 16:30 most day trippers have cleared out and you have these dream like streets and alleyways to yourself.

As the days get later the day trippers clear out leaving you alone in the city

As the sun sets the colours really come alive

Rothenburg is a photographers dream, a great destination for families with lots to amuse children and a romantic little getaway for couples. Put simply Rothenburg has it all and should be a real must on any visit to Germany.

Get lost in the winding medieval laneways

Get lost in the winding medieval laneways

While the city has a colourful history, the most famous episode occurred during the 30 Years War in e 1600’s. General Tilly of the Catholic armies requested that Rothenburg accommodate him and his estimated 20,000 troops over winter. After refusing to do so, the town was besieged and was only taken after one unfortunate local lit a torch inside  the Powder Tower, and…. Kaboom! The walls were breached.

As the story goes Tilly was so impressed by the citizens bravery he promised to spare the town if the Lord Mayor could drink a three and a half litre flagon of wine in one go! The Lord Mayor met the challenge, passed out and saved the town! In reality the women and children of Rothenburg threw themselves at the mercy of Tilly and paid him handsomely to spare them! However the story stuck and every hour from eleven in the morning til eight in the evening this encounter is relived in the small glockenspiel on the Market Square!

Tilly's drinking challenge re enacted every day as part of the glockenspiel

Tilly’s drinking challenge re enacted every day as part of the glockenspiel

The town

Continue reading

Remembering Sarajevo

Following on from our blog last week, this week we are continuing to look back at the commemorations of the Great War.

Saturday 28th June marks the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, by the 19-year-old Bosnian Serb national Gavrilo Princip.

The Roman Bridge Franz Ferdinand's car was driving across in 1914

The Roman Bridge Franz Ferdinand’s car was driving across in 1914

Over the years the assassination has been widely overlooked as focus has been placed mainly on the battles and horrors the combatants suffered through. However the importance of Princip’s actions should not be glossed over. There has been much written about the consequences of those bullets that killed Franz Ferdinand have had, to the point that even many conflicts today and most conflicts throughout the 20th Century can be traced back to that fateful day in 1914.

The plaque on the street corner of Sarajevo where Princip fired his gun from

In Sarajevo there is a plaque on the street corner where Princip pulled his revolver and fired into the Archduke’s car and a small museum dedicated to the 28th June 1914. There are planned commemorations as well as Sarajevo remembers being the centre of the European Political Universe on that fateful day.

In Vienna, the Heeresgeschitliches Museum or military history museum has a whole room dedicated to the assassination called the Sarajevo Room. Amazingly as we approach the 100th anniversary the WWI and Sarajevo exhibitions are currently closed, they are not due to open until the 29th of June, the day after the assassination. According to the front desk the exhibitions were in an urgent need for repair!

Part of the Arsenal complex that houses Vienna's Military Museum

Part of the Arsenal complex that houses Vienna’s Military Museum

The Military museum is one of Vienna’s least visited, as tourists tend to flock to the palace of Schonbrunn, the Belvedere or the Fine Arts Museum. Even for those not interested in Austria’s military involvement throughout the ages the museum is worth a visit for the amazing architecture.

The Hall of Field Marshals in the Military Museum

The Hall of Field Marshals in the Military Museum

Originally built as an Arsenal to house weaponry for the defence of the city, some of the rooms resemble more of a palace than an armoury. They even hold classical music recitals in the main hall room on the first floor.

Entrance to the upper floors of the museum

Entrance to the upper floors of the museum

When the WWI exhibition reopens on the 29th of June the showpiece will surely be the room dedicated to the assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Situated in the room is the car the Archduke was riding in during his visit to Sarajevo as well as his blood stained tunic he was wearing that day. The room details the lead up to events, black and white photos including the last photos taken of Franz Ferdinand before he was killed and also photos of the would be assassin, Gavrilo Princip. Amazingly the most famous photo of Princip is not even Princip himself, it is of an innocent-bystander grabbed off the streets a man called Ferdinand Behr!

The ornate interior roof of the Military Museum

The ornate interior roof of the Military Museum

The museum also has a fantastic collection relating to the 30 years’ war that decimated much of Central Europe in the 1600’s and a vast collection of weapons plundered from the retreating Ottoman Turks after the Siege of Vienna.

For anyone who has a keen interest in Military history and particularly WWI history the Heeresgeschitliches Museum should be high on your list of things to visit in Vienna, even if to stand and stare at Ferdinand’s car and tunic and think what if…

– Dean

A Glimmer of Hope in Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies grow
Between the crosses row on row…

– John McCrae

This year marks the commemorations of the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of The Great War, the war to end all wars.

Sadly the Great War was not the conclusion of hostilities but rather the beginning of one of, if not the bloodiest centuries in World History.

The next four years will see major battles remembered, historical debates reignite, blame and finger-pointing intensify, because for many countries WWI was a defining point in their history.

Gallipoli, the Somme and Flanders are all spoken with a deep-seated respect and reverence as thousands laid down their lives, often in appalling conditions fighting a war that no one could comprehend but felt compelled to participate in.

The battles in Flanders were some of the worst, soldiers fighting in waist deep mud and freezing conditions during the winters of 1915-1917.

The Iper Cloth Hall, home to the Flanders Fields Museum

The Iper Cloth Hall, home to the Flanders Fields Museum

However during this dark time, a ray of light, a glimmer of hope sprang from the small town of Poperinge. The village is situated about 12 km from the town of Ypres, today know as Iper and during the war as ‘Wipers’ by the Commonwealth forces.

The front facade of Talbot House

The front facade of Talbot House

This glimmer of hope was called Talbot House. Talbot house was founded as a ‘every mans’ club by army chaplains Neville Talbot and Philip ‘Tubby’ Clayton. It was set up without discrimination of rank as a respite from the horrors of war. Men could shower and sleep in a clean bed often for the first time in months. Even if only for a short time, Talbot house was designed to allow men to forget the war and atrocities associated it, like Tubby Clayton said, it was “An Oasis in a World gone mad”.

 

Talbot House from the rear gardens

Talbot House from the rear gardens

Now days Talbot House is not only a museum but also a guest house with nine rooms in the original building and three rooms in the garden block. Staying at Talbot House truly gives you a very unique experience and a historical link to your Battlefields visit. The staff are very friendly and incredibly knowledgable and more than happy to sit down with you and help you plan your visit to the surrounding sites. Their hints, tips and advice all designed to ensure you get the most from your visit of the region, and it certainly helps getting some insider knowledge of out of the way places, monuments and cemeteries.

Talbot House is a great base to explore the region. From Poperinge you can easily visit the Tyne Cot Cemetary, largest in the region, or the Canadian Memorial commemorating the first use of mustard gas. Not far from Poperinge are some intact German trenches where Adolf Hitler served and was almost captured by Canadian troops and numerous other cemeteries and monuments.

One of the many Commonwealth War Graves around Poperinge

One of the many Commonwealth War Graves around Poperinge

Most convenient of all is the proximity to Iper which houses the stunning In Flanders Fields Museum and the famous Menin Gate. No visit to the region is complete without attending the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate. At around 8:00pm every evening the Last Post has been played uninterrupted, (except during the Second World War) since 1928 and is an absolute must if in the area.

The Menin Gate in Iper with 54,896 missing soldiers names engraved on it

Vancouver Corner Memorial to the first ever mustard gas attack

Vancouver Corner Memorial to the first ever mustard gas attack

The next four years will be a sombre time for reflection and remembrance for the thousands of lives lost many of which perished in the mud of Flanders Fields. However while it is important to remember the tragedy that was the Great War, we should also remember men like Neville Talbot and Tubby Clayton and celebrate what they did to help alleviate the suffering of those weary soldiers. By basing yourself in Talbot House you are honouring their efforts, in a special way you are remembering those who fought and most importantly, you are keeping this amazing piece of history alive.

– Dean

“In all my experience I have never known a place so vital to morale as Talbot House”

– General Sir Herbert Plumer, 1928

The Magic and Wonder of Prague’s Charles Bridge

The ancient splendour and beauty of Prague, a city beyond compare, left an impression on my imagination that will never fade

–       Richard Wagner

Walking the Castle District or the Old Town of Prague is like walking through the streets of a fairy tale. Colourful facades, a stunning mix of architectural styles it is easy to see why the city is the Central European Hollywood. Every turn leads down a picturesque alley way or beautiful square that could easily be the scene from a movie. In fact over the years Prague has starred in Mission Impossible, XXX, Amadeus, Ghost Protocol and Casino Royale but to name a few.

Somehow every visitor to Prague is drawn to one spot in particular, as if by a force of gravity, and that spot is the majestic Charles Bridge.

Charles Bridge as seen from the River

Charles Bridge as seen from the River

Now like any good fairy tale or folk story the Charles Bridge is shrouded in myth and legend, much like the thick mists that can envelope the bridge itself during winter. This fact and fiction is easily blurred when talking about Prague’s tourist showstopper.

Charles Bridge has two faces, the hustle, bustle and energy of the day and the magical and mysterious by night. During the day the bridge is packed. Tourists and locals alike jostle for position for that perfect photo of the Castle, or peruse the myriad of artists plying their wares. You will find hand made jewellery; caricature artists and some amazing painters and photographers lined either side eager to help you spend money. Not only that but it is not uncommon to find jazz bands, Dixie bands and soloists all eagerly entertaining passers by hoping for a generous coin or two thrown into their hat.

Artistic creations  galore adorne the bridge by day

Artistic creations galore adorne the bridge by day

At night however the bridge really comes alive. Towering over the bridge the illuminated Castle looks more like a giant painting or film set than the seat of the Czech Government. The towers and statues illuminated at night throw an eerie light over the bridge and you can feel the myths and legends enveloping you from all sides. While the Charles Bridge is great fun during the day to get a real sense of the true magic of the bridge you must visit it at night.

Prague Castle at night from Charles Bridge

Prague Castle at night from Charles Bridge

Now as we said what is fact and what is fiction can be hard to separate in Prague but as the saying goes, ‘Never let the truth get in the way of a good story’ here are a couple of our favourites and the most famous ones.

First is the construction date, Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV was not only devoutly religious but also believed heavily in numerology. So to construct the bridge he consulted his numerologists to find the perfect date to lay the foundation stone. That date? The year 1357, 9th day of the 7th month at 5:31 am in the morning, or a pyramid of odd numbers

9

7   7

5         5

3                 3

1                       1

Fact or Fiction? Actually fact!

Second legend states that as the bridge was being built a number of the arches would continually collapse when one day there was a huge crash of thunder and strike of lightening and the devil (who thanks to the Simpsons will forever look like Ned Flanders for me) appeared and offered to help. The Devil promised to help the young architect complete the bridge on the provision the first soul to cross it was the Devil’s reward. One the day of completion the architect thought he could out smart the Devil and bought a rooster down to the bridge. Little did he know however that while he was mustering up the rooster the Devil had gone to the architect’s home and told his wife that she was desperately needed at the bridge. When the architect arrived at Charles Bridge he saw his wife rushing across the bridge and realised the Devil had won their game of wits!

Fact or Fiction? I think we better say fiction on this one, but the Devil does appear a lot in Central European and Germanic mythology so you never know!

Third legend believes that Charles IV insisted that every village in his Kingdom supply him with a horse cart full of eggs so the egg whites could be used in the mortar to hold the bridge together.

Fact or Fiction? Fact! Egg whites were also used in the construction of St Vitus Cathedral as well. As the story goes one village supplied the Emperor with a cart of boiled eggs. Now if the architect had of released the rooster over the bridge it begs the question, what comes first, the chicken or the egg?

Poor old Jan of Nepomuk, Patron Saint of Bridges

Poor old Jan of Nepomuk, Patron Saint of Bridges

The final legend relating to Charles Bridge is based around the most famous statue on the bridge, that of Jan of Nepomuk. He was the court priest to Wenceslas IV the son of Charles. Wenceslas was a quite a horrible man, he would often walk around the markets of Prague in disguise and if a merchant sold him under weight good he would have the merchant nailed to his scales, and he allegedly had a chef roasted alive one evening for ruining his dinner!

Now Wenceslas confronted Jan and demanded to know what the Queen had told him during her confession. Jan refused and as punishment the King had Jan’s tongue cut out, he was tied up in a sack and was thrown off the Charles Bridge into the heaving Vltava River below! Jan’s body then floated in the same spot for several days and when it sank a ring or crown of five stars circled the water where his body disappeared. Amazingly Jan of Nepomuk is now the Patron Saint of Bridges!

 

Relief one, rub for good luck

Relief one, rub for good luck

 

Relief two, rub to return to Prague

Relief two, rub to return to Prague

The Charles Bridge’s most famous statue is of Jan and below it are two reliefs. The one on the left shows a solider patting a dog and represents loyalty and the relief on the right shows Jan being thrown into the river. Rubbing the relief of the solider is supposed to bring you good luck and rubbing the relief of Jan being thrown from the bridge means you will return to Prague. A little further down the bridge is a small iron framework with a depiction of Jan floating below the bridge. This is the exact point where he was thrown to his death; it is also good luck to rub this one.

The site where Jan was thrown to his watery grave

The site where Jan was thrown to his watery grave

Fact or Fiction? Well a little bit of both. Jan was thrown to his death off Charles Bridge but it is believed because the Kind didn’t agree with the new Archbishop Jan was going to appoint. Lets be honest, the confession story is far more exciting.

There are many more myths and legends about the bridge but also about Prague itself. The foundation of the city, the Astronomical Clock in the Old town are all steeped in scurrilous rumours, magical stories some with a hint of truth but many passed down from generation to generation from medieval times.

The famous Astronomical Clock, also surrounded by myth and legend

The famous Astronomical Clock, also surrounded by myth and legend

One thing is for sure, like Richard Wagner said the legends of Prague and experiencing Charles Bridge in all its glory is something you will never forget.

Do you have a favourite myth or legend of Prague? If so leave a comment or link below.

Das Schnitzel Kaiser

Walk into just about any restaurant, pub, or beer hall in Germanic Europe and there is sure to be one staple on the menu, the schnitzel. In fact the schnitzel and its various incarnations can be found all around the world. Veal, pork, chicken, turkey even fish and vegetables can all be given the schnitzel treatment.

In Australia it takes the form of the mighty chicken parmigana, a breaded chicken fillet, covered in Parma ham, tomato sauce and melted cheese. In the USA there is a hotdog chain called Wiener Schnitzel, but for the real deal or as I like to call it,  “Das Schnitzel Kaiser” or ‘The Schnitzel Emperor’ we have to head to the source where it all began – the Austrian capital of Vienna.

Now before we dive in and devour our schnitzel it is worth mentioning there is some controversy over the schnitzel’s origin. Most agree that the schnitzel recipe was bought to Vienna by Austrian General Joseph Graf Radetzky, a man more famous for the musical piece composed bearing his name by Johan Strauss Senior than any military victory he ever achieved. While down in Milan he discovered the Cotolleta alla Milanese and upon his return to Vienna the Emperor Franz Joseph, asked for the recipe.

Another story believes it originates from the Byzantine Empire, where in the 800’s Emperor Basilieios insisted on eating meat covered in sheets of gold! As you can imagine this practice was frightfully expensive so the sheets of gold were replaced with the golden coating of breadcrumbs. Regardless of the origins, Vienna is where one must head for the perfect Wiener schnitzel.

Wiener Schnitzel is the national dish of Austria, and the term Wiener schnitzel is rigidly protected. To call your schnitzel a Wiener schnitzel it must be veal, any other meat and you may refer to it as the Wiener Style, the Wiener Art or the Wiener Escalope, but not, repeat not a Wiener schnitzel.

This way to schnitzel heaven

This way to schnitzel heaven

Just like the Emperors of old, there is one Vienna institution that towers above all others in the culinary world of the schnitzel, a restaurant called the Figlmüller. In this small little restaurant nestled in the back alleys of St Stephens Cathedral, Figlmüller has been dishing out world-renowned schnitzels since 1905. So popular has it become that literally just around the corner a second restaurant was opened in the early 2000’s and every night people hungrily wait in line to try this enormous piece of history.

Natalie with her monster Schnitzel

Natalie with her monster Schnitzel

Painstaking attention to detail and schnitzel pride come to the fore to feed the starving masses a schnitzel that is the size of a pizza. Every cut of meat in hammered out by hand with a mallet until it is wafer thin and roughly 30cm in diameter. It is then shallow fried in three different pans until a golden colour. So particular are the chefs at Figlmüller only one type of bread roll is used to supply the breadcrumbs. It is served, hanging off the plate with a slice of lemon and that’s it! If you have room the traditional accompaniment is either a small green salad or a side dish of delicious Germanic potato salad, but again only if you have room.

A German friend once told me there are two ways to tell if you have the perfect schnitzel. Firstly, when you cut into the schnitzel there should be a small air pocket between the breadcrumbs and the meat, and secondly believe it or not, is to place a napkin on your schnitzel and then sit on it! That’s right, if you sit on your schnitzel and no oil soaks through the napkin you have the perfect meal. If you do decide to test this theory out on your next visit to Vienna, don’t blame us if you are asked to leave!

People lining up on a rainy night in Vienna

People lining up on a rainy night in Vienna

Whether you get oil on your trousers or not, Figlmüller regularly wins awards for it’s schnitzels, and the huge lines every night come rain or shine to try Austria’s National dish can’t be wrong. Figlmüller truly is ‘Das Schnitzel Kaiser’.

– Dean