Archive for December, 2006

The hills are alive…

Saturday, December 30th, 2006

We just passed Monsee the town where the bulk of the sound of music was =
filmed. Definatly not a highlight on my itenary, but it seemed to be a big =
deal for some. I am now being subjected to the soundtrack aaargh.

Also we just ate Motzarts balls (a chocolate marzipan thingy). Tasty but =
sweet.

Next stop Munich.

The music has stopped.

Mauthausen

Saturday, December 30th, 2006

They showed us a documentary about the camp and then we could walk through =
it. The barracks had verry little furniture other than the bunk beds. We =
walked through the gas chamber and the crematorium. It was all rather =
eerie, especially with the morning mist still hanging over =
everything.

I’ve seen quite a bit of footage from the concentration camps before, but =
being able to walk through the actual camp puts things into a bit more =
perspective. The fact that it is now winter means the entire camp and =
surrounds are covered in snow. Most people didn’t have much more than a =
thin cotton shirt and pants to wear all year round. Winter must have been =
terrible.

Mauthausen is also notorious for its quarry were people had to carry out =
the chunks of rock. Often someone would slip and humans and rocks would =
tumble down the stairs. They also executed a number of people by pushing =
them into the quarry.

This also happend to be our first opportunity to play in the snow, but no =
one was really in the mood given our location.

Vienna Sightseeing

Saturday, December 30th, 2006

After checking into our hotel on Thursday we walked over to the shopping =
centre. It makes Canal Walk look like a 7/11. We only shopped at the Spar =
(which was huge). We bought some odds and ends and of course loads of =
chocolate (yum). Lindt slabs are R15! I also got my hands on some =
Landj=C3=A4gers, which I have been craving for a while.

We had dinner and then went for a swim in the heated pool at the hotel. It =
was really nice. They put quite a bit of effort turning it into a little =
tropical oasis. The roof has a piramid shaped skylight and the the rest is =
covered in little lights to make it look like stars.

On the way to the drop off point on Friday I saw a Segway store. It would =
have been cool to try one out.

We did a quick walking tour through the centre of Vienna. The city is laid =
out very well and has a solid public transport system. I really like that =
in the countries we have visited so far you can buy a single ticket which =
will allow you to use any of the public transport facilities for a day. =

The walking tour finished at St. Stephens Cathedral so we went in and took =
a look around. The Habsburgs (who were the early rulers of Austria) have =
their hearts buried here. Their bodies are buried in the =
Kaisersgruft.

We then walked to the Belvedere Museum and saw Klimts’ “The Kiss”. On the =
way there we saw the monument the Austrians built for the Russians so they =
would leave them alone after running their country for 10 years after the =
second world war.

Next stop was the Leopold Museum to see some more of the Klimt collection. =
There was also a large collection from Egon Schiele. I like his work.

We then climed back on the bus to visit Schonbrun Palace, which was the =
summer house of the Habsburgs. It is huge, back in the day it would =
accomodate 1500 live in residents!

We the drove to the Schnaps Museum for a talk and some tasting. Turns out =
things like Archers isn’t real Schnaps. It must be 100% distilled, without =
flavourent (the flavour must come from the fruit). They also make a mean =
Absinth and some really nice cream liquers. I bought a cream liquer for new =
years eve. The guide who is the son of the owner was an excellent host and =
knew all about Witblits and Mampoer (which they would call Schnaps).

Then it was back to the hotel for dinner and more swimming in the pool. =

Today we are on the way to Munich and will be stopping at a world war 2 =
concentration camp enroute called Mauthausen.

Musical urinals

Thursday, December 28th, 2006

I almost forgot to mention that when urinals at our first stop in Austria =
flush, they play the sounds of chirping birds. How bizarre is that?.

Snow!

Thursday, December 28th, 2006

We have seen snow on the distant mountain peaks every now nd again. Just =
before crossing into Austria there was snow up to the road. Heaps cool! (as =
the Aussies on the bus put it). Unfortunatly there was no snow at the stop =
we made further up in Austria, so we’ll still have to wait a little while =
to play in it.

At the stop we saw an Audi A8L W12! Wow!

Mobile communication in Europe

Thursday, December 28th, 2006

So before I left South Africa I activated international roaming on my MTN =
sim. The main reason for this was so I could use GPRS to send email into my =
blog. Unfortunatly GPRS coverage is highly sporadic.=20

What has been my saving grace was a Virgin Mobile SIM bought in the UK. It =
covers the whole of Europe automatically. No 72 hour waiting period and so =
far it has worked everywhere.

I did make a call to my parents on Christmas day from MTN, which was =
crystal clear. Text messages have also worked well. So while MTN get =
serious minus points for GPRS, the main comunication channels have worked =
well.

Another interesting item is that my ABSA cellphone banking works from here.

Venice, Italy

Thursday, December 28th, 2006

Yesterday we went to Venice. We were on the main island, San Marco. The =
morning kicked off with a glass blowing demonstration on St. Marks’. =
Square, which was very cool. They made a vase and a cat in under 10 min. =
Venice is known for its glass and embroidery. After that we we went to =
visit the Accademia museum to see the Leonardo da Vinci pieces, only to =
find out they were not on display (after we paid). Next stop was Peggy =
Guggenheim collection. We got to see some Jackson Pollock and Picasso =
amoungst others.=20

Venice is a labyrinth and difficult to navigate. We get maps from Coniki, =
but they don’t have all the street names, so we got a better map from one =
of the hotels. The are also useful sign posts for some of the tourist =
attractions, so once you are on a main route things get easier to =
find.

We then went for a Gondola ride where we drank Bellini’s. It’s another one =
of Venices’ claim to fame. It’s a kind of sparkling wine/alcopop drink. The =
ride was nice and I got some cool pictures. While on the Gondola our =
“driver” was chatting on his mobile phone. Is that legal? Haha.

We then walked around and did some shopping. Salom=C3=A9 got a really nice =
glass calligraphy pen.

We then went up the Campanile for some stunning views of Venice. By this =
time the sun was setting and it was getting really cold.=20

We the went and did some more shopping. We got some presents. It was so =
cold that I bought a scarf. We then camped out in McDonalds (of all places) =
and had some hot chocolate, chips and “burgers”. This was my first European =
McD’s. Some oddities: There is no menu. They only advertise the meals and =
specials. They give you a cup of hot water and you have to mix your own hot =
chocolate and the best of all tamato sauce costs R1 for a small (think =
hotel jam) container.

We then headed back to the pickup point, where I took some pics of the =
square using my new tripod, and caught the boat back to the main =
land.

Next stop is Vienna, where it will hopefully be snowing. Things only get =
colder from here on in!

Trivia: Italy has a chain of petrol stations called Erg. Which if =
translated to Afrikaans means terrible :)=20

Steps: 12195

Postcard to nowhere

Tuesday, December 26th, 2006

Another interesting thing about the Vatican is that they have their own =
postal system. In fact it is quicker to send mail from the Vatican than =
from any other place in Italy!

We thought it would be rather cool to send a postcard from Vatican city. So =
I bought a card and stamp, got Salom=C3=A9 to write the message and popped =
it in the postbox. As the little door clicked back Salom=C3=A9 asked me if =
I had put the address on. Uuuuuh, no. Bugger.

So it was back to the counter for a new card and stamp.

Rome sightseeing part 2

Tuesday, December 26th, 2006

This morning we were out of the hotel by 7am to get to the Vatican museum. =
When we arrived there at 8am the queue was already halfway down the street. =
By the time the doors opened at 8:45 it was down to the corner. We got in =
pretty soon after it opened. The arwork inside is awesome. We also went =
into the Sistine Chapel where Michelangelo painted the final judgement and =
the stories of Genesis. Intereting fact: when it was completed all the =
people were naked. The vatican hired another artist to paint clothes on. =
Also; all the nude statues either have a leaf covering the naughty bits or =
they have been removed with a chissel (ouch!).

When we got out we joined the very long queue to see Michelangelo’s Pieta’ =
inside St. Peters Basilica, but with too little time and miss direction by =
one of the attendants we ended up outside again without seeing it.

We are now on a very long drive to Venice. We will only get to the hotel =
late tonight.

Rome sightseeing

Tuesday, December 26th, 2006

Christmas day was sightseeing in Rome.We started the day with a walking =
tour which kicked off at the Collosseum, went through the forum and ended =
at the Vittorio Emanuele Monument. Our guide was a little Italian lady who =
was very knowledgeable and witty.

After that we were free to do our own thing. Unfortunatly most things were =
closed. Churches were however open. We went to see the Cappucine monks. The =
church is decorated with the bones of former monks. Creepy! We arrived =
there just after 12 to find that they were closed till 3pm. Heniette wasn’t =
feeling well (my sickness did the rounds) so we made our way back to the =
Collosseum to be picked up. We had some time to kill, so I bought a tripod =
from one of the street vendors for =E2=82=AC15. Bargain!

Back at the hotel we quickly changed and wrapped our secret santa presents. =
I got a Pinnochio marionnette and Salom=C3=A9 got a Gaudi draco fridge =
magnet.

Dinner wad nice. We went to a restaurant with two other Contiki groups. =
Lots of Chianti (red wine) made up for the small portions of turkey 🙂 =
Dessert was Itallian cake which is like a white fruit cake.

Oh while walking through Rome I discovered that my pedometer got reset. I =
had over 220000 steps (sigh).