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Roaming around Salzburg in slightly more than a pair of old drapes…

Our time in Munich was short lived, just enough hours for some delicious Turkish food with the beautiful Krissi, a quick tour of her stunning flat and a good nights sleep. Wednesday awoke with a grey grumble as the pair of us took advantage of amazing showers and some peace and quiet. It was a gentle start to the day. After leaving Krissi’s we had to find our way to the bus stop (having received directions in the back of a car whilst it was pitch black and raining outside) then the S-Bahn and finally to the Hauptbahnhof in Munich. We got there with enough time to enjoy the vast array of coffee shops available (England needs to buck up its ideas!) before finding our way to platform 10 and boarding our train. Now, I’m sure I’m not the only one guilty of not really listening to announcements when in public places/on transport…more often than not they’re of absolutely no interest or relevance to you so you learn to just sort of switch off. However, when the announcement ends ‘once again, if your final destination is Salzburg please disembark and board the train up the platform’ you’re very glad your brain decided to switch back into gear!! So pastries went back into paper bags, suitcases came back off of luggage racks and we pelted down the platform to the correct train. Phew! Salzburg here we come!! 
It’s a quick and easy journey from Munich to Salzburg (luckily as I’ll be doing it in reverse on Friday!!) and within 2 hours we were there, quite alive with the sound of music, 16 going on 30 and ready for all our favourite things! Jen had booked us into Hotel Lasserhof, a really lovely place less than 10 minutes walk from the station with super friendly receptionists, cosy rooms and a delicious breakfast. One to remember! Another benefit is it’s also less than 10 minutes walk from the beautiful Meribel gardens which we went to explore after ditching the bags. First Sound of Music location ticked off! This is where they filmed the doe, re, mi scenes skipping around the fountain and up the steps etc. There were quite a few Asian tour groups taking selfies and posing amongst the statues, but no one appeared to be jumping up the stairs or skipping through the gazebos…it was lucky we were there really!! 


Oddly for a Wednesday most of the shops, sights and pretty much anything we walked by seemed to be closed. There were also an unprecedented number of men in uniform around, surrounded by guns, tanks and even boats patrolling the river. Just as we were about to assume there’d been a coup we hadn’t heard about the lady in the (thankfully open) tourist office explained it was a national holiday. Ah ha! Funny how everything makes sense when someone explains it. October 26th is the Austrian day of independence, where they declared future neutrality in all conflicts following the Second World War. Nicely for us this also meant there were lots of people in national dress, displays of music and dancing and also the museums were free admission. Sweet! Neither Jen nor I are huge museum buffs, but if it’s free why not. Firstly we stopped in an extremely Austrian looking restaurant for something traditional to eat. Sadly the waiter didn’t appreciate my attempts to speak German (first time I’ve been told not to try…”please just speak English” he sighed. Long day perhaps.) but he was happy to bring us soup and then dessert so you can’t hate him too much (though still hoping he hadn’t spat in anything!!) We had beef (I know) broth with a cheese dumpling, followed by a sweeter dumpling with rhubarb sauce and apple strudel…yum!!



Energised we ventured into the Salzburg museum and tried to explore as much of it as possible before it closed in 40 minutes. It was largely to do with a history of the town, which has been invaded more times than I’d care to count…goodness knows how the people kept up with which country they were a part of this week, I have trouble remembering Teresa May is PM!! The upper floor was a really amazing ode to music, with all sorts of amazing and intricate instruments on display. It smelled amazingly of scented wood in there, sadly we only found it as the announcements that the museum was closing were ringing out. Ah well! 


From there we got enticed into (I don’t know what’s come over me…first beef, now…) a Christmas shop! The place was filled with incredibly decorated egg shells, in a million colours and styles. Everything from Salzburg ones, Easter, Halloween, dogs, cats, and of course Christmas. I don’t know how you’d choose!! 


Having eaten quite late it seemed too soon to go back to the hotel, but the world around us was growing dark and quiet…what to do what to do…bar? Bar!  A handful of delicious cocktails and too many bowls of free savoury snacks later and it was certainly time for super important paperwork, FaceTiming people at home and then bed. Official Sound of Music tour tomorrow, who’s excited?!

 

11 years in the making…

It can take a while for the sun to meander its way down to you when you’re nestled in between mountains, so despite the clear blue sky Saturday morning began with icy breath. I was awake a good few hours before the others, but without the code to the door I opted to make the most of the sofa and coffee rather than exploring outside. I spent about an hour practicing german, and the other reading. Still can barely say more than Ich lerne Deutsche. Ugh. Eventually Mel surfaced as she needed to pop home for some forgotten breakfast bits before we could begin the day. It was a good opportunity to see her cosy little flat, complete with colourful sunglasses for every day of the week. The place consisted of a kitchen/lounge, bathroom and bedroom with a double and bunk beds. It was the perfect size for two, so I couldn’t quite believe it when Mel told me that at times it would probably have slept 6. Staff accommodation is very basic, with as many people sharing as possible. Not sure I could hack that really!! By the time we got back everyone was awake, and ready for the croissants, fruit and cereal we had for breakfast. Mel and Laura would both be driving today, rather than the people carrier which picked us up from the airport, and after everything was cleared away we packed ourselves into the cars and headed down the mountain. What a view! The whole world has turned copper and gold, it’s hard to imagine that all these hills will soon be covered in snowy white! 


Our first stop was Beaufort, a sleepy little town surrounded by Heidi land and big brown cows with bells around their necks. We walked up and down cobbled streets peering into closed shop windows, crossed stone bridges over babbling brooks and eventually sat down for croque monsieur and vinos before visiting the factory where the famous Beaufort cheese is made. Unfortunately everything was in French and only French, so none of us (bar Mel) could really understand the journey from cow to cheese, but it was fascinating to watch the workers turn the huge wheels in order to change the muslin cloths and stamp them before hoisting them into the huge stacks. I bet his hands never smell of anything but cheese! The shop attached to the factory was huge, with all manner of cheese and accompaniments to salivate over. But, should you arrive to discover the store is closed panic not! There’s a cheese vending machine outside, for 24/7 purchases. Amazing!!


From Beaufort we continued up the mountain, torn between straining my eyes left right and up in order to take in the spectacular views and the fact that looking any direction other than straight ahead made me feel quite queasy. At the top of the mountain lay a real visual treat, a deep blue green lake, free from boats and other distractions, just sitting there invitingly, although I’m sure it would have been bloody freezing to actually step in. We spent some time admiring the view, reenacting the lion king pride rock scenes, the usual, then piled back in the cars to go up and over the hill (definitely a mountain) to home. Oddly as we climbed the scenery became less of a craggy rock and more undulating hills, with livestock and homes dotted around. The road down the other side was a vertical Lombard street, a mess of hairpin bends and narrowing straights. About halfway down we met some cowherds driving their flower adorned flock up the mountain. Mel and Laura were mesmerised, it was a first for all of us! 

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Shortly after this (accompanied by a Disney soundtrack, we’re such good 30 year olds) we stopped at a supermarket to pick up supplies (Prosecco, cheese and chocolate, all the staples) for later. Unfortunately I barely made it in the front door before discovering a new physical side to myself, apparently these days I get car sick. Gone are the journeys where I could happily sit in the back reading despite the route…after hours of undulating up and down Alps (in the front seat!!) my legs pretty much gave out from under me and I had to sit quietly whilst the girls went and collected all sorts of delectables for dinner. No fair body, sort your shiz out!!


The best cure for sickness? Prosecco in a hot tub. Oh ok then, if you insist. A few hours, 5 bottles of fizz, a tub of olives and a sunset later no one wanted to brave the cold and get out, but a Raclette of cheese was waiting. Tough choices. Mel has been such a wonderful hostess to us this weekend, I’m sure we would have eaten eventually were she not in visitor mode, but I for one was very grateful that she was so on the ball and happy to handle everything. Bread, potatoes, meat, pickles and more all got smothered in Beaufort cheese, Swiss Raclette or French Camembert…eating like queens! And all good queens deserve presents, especially when they’re 30! With 3 out of 6 birthdays falling either side of this trip we’d decided to do presents all together, singing in French (pour Mel) and English (Sarah and Steph) as each birthday girl opened her present. We had three very happy faces, each one thinking they had the best deal; a new watch and magnum of Moët for Mel, Sapphire and diamond earnings to match her engagement ring for Pid and a very delicate silver and diamond bracelet for Steph; huzzah!! 


Life seems to happen later in places like this, so we had time for a game of cranium and to enjoy the fire before we were introduced to Mel’s Meribel family; the team in Jacks and Evo. It was such a snug little place, with live music and plentiful cocktails, I can see exactly why she loves it. This place must be so magic in the winter when everything turns white. Espresso martinis, sloe gin fizzes, a traditional local shot made from a flower which only grows at 2000m, then a coffee and rum combo (half an espresso, a shot of rum, then the other half of the espresso)…it’s no wonder we’re all worse for wear today. Luckily there’s a built in sauna and fresh mountain air to see off the worst of it, with the promise of pizza and gelato in Annecy later. Then Jen and I say farewell to the others to begin stage 3 of the adventure…interailing! Something we first planned in 2006, it’s finally here!!!

Here we go again, again :)

Time for another European adventure! This time the first stop was Geneva, for a catch up with my favourite French-American family. The ever generous (and way too good for me) DF was a gem and offered to drive me to the airport, so a 4am bus became a 5.30 car ride; then a quick hop skip and a jump later and I was watching Tricia steer Tristan’s buggy single handed whilst holding Alex in the other (serious skills) through the crowds at Geneva airport. Always amaZes me how soon you can be somewhere completely different. Alex is getting really big now, but still gazes at me like I have three heads for the first half hour. I wonder if he will always be a bit like Gwyn, slightly cautious at the start of each meeting before the fun can start! Tristan on the other hand was an instant friend, offering a smile within moments. They’re such a cute little family, love that they’re just on the doorstep really rather than the other side of the pond! A stroll through a beautiful autumn park later and we were greeted by a smiling David for some delicious wine and traditional fondue. So. Much. Cheese! 
An hour or so later and David had to run back to the office, so T and I strolled around Geneva for a while before picking up my fave macarons (Thanks T!!) and driving to their house on the hill. The mountains look amazing at the moment, all autumnal and shining. There was a pink sunset too so I felt very lucky! It’s so lovely to have friends with whom you can just sit and chat, or cook, or just do nothing and still have the best of days. Next time I’ll have to come for longer as before we knew it it was gone 10pm and Mel was down in Etaux waiting for me. The UG’s were on their way to Geneva for the real weekend to begin!! 


The journey to and from the airport was quick and uneventful, and in the dark there wasn’t much to see. Mel is a natural at driving on the wrong side of the roads though, and navigating the crazy French/Swiss traffic!! Watching the Alps loom beside us, lit up by a supermoon and a million stars was pretty special though, as we climbed up and up and up past quaint little towns, huge industrial estates and a billion trees until eventually about 2 hours later we were in the alpine town Mel calls home. It’s Pids first ever trip to France (and Switzerland) so that was the cause for many jokes. “I’ve been to Oslo!” She said proudly “Where’s that then Pid?” Asks Jen… “I dunno, isn’t it the capital of Moscow?”…brilliant! Between those gems, and Char’s intimate knowledge of France and French…(“jambon is legs…”, “no it isn’t!”) we had a good trip.

 Our chalet is luxury to say the least, with a spacious kitchen, generous sofa, sauna and hot tub! The rooms were all decorated in the reds, greys and creams I always associate with mountain chalets, with wooden surroundings and carved hearts everywhere. I particularly liked the tobogganers on the lights! Cute!! It was about 2am at this point so everyone claimed a room and we were off to bed.

 

My 29th country!

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My 29th country!

I’m definitely getting too old for hostels. I swear I either used to be able to sleep through more, or function on less sleep, but either way something has definitely changed. Last night we had two girls in our dorm who were on their way to Bosnia with school. They were chatting at the top of their lungs as they prepared for bed at around midnight, which was ok because…at least they were going to bed. But nope, showered, pj’d and teeth brushed they grabbed a bottle of vodka, two cartons of juice and headed out the door. Some hours later they returned – cue more door slamming and loud chatter, then they were up and about at 6 preparing for the next leg of their journey! Luci is far more cool, calm and collected than me, so when she snapped at them to please be quiet you know they were annoying!!
Having learned that Vienna is a mere hop skip and jump from Bratislava, Luci and I made our way to the station and were soon whizzing our way along the Danube towards the Austrian boarder. Hello country 29! I’m on track, woop!! Feeling incredibly cosmopolitan, and incredibly hungry, our first port of call was lunch, soaking up the sun on a bustling city street for a couple of huge pizzas and pressès. 

Central Vienna is far more akin to what I’d expect from a western capital, and markedly different to what we had become accustomed to since leaving Berlin almost two weeks ago. Familiar shops and brand names surrounded us, and I began to switch out of tourist mode and into city – aka, it was shopping time! Anyone who has been to Europe with me will know I have a soft spot for Bijou Brigette. For 4 cities now Luci has calmly put up with me gazing wistfully through shop windows as we walked by to see historical sites and catch tourist groups. But today, finally, we got to go in, yay!! 20 minutes later I came out with a lovely new pair of earrings costing €5…Lucinda came out with 3 necklaces and 3 bracelets at a total of €120. This is why we’re friends 😛

The hours sped by in the sunshine and it was soon time to meet our 3.45 free walking tour of Vienna by the miniature of St Stephens church. The first port of call was the guides collecting a €1 euro registration fee…on a free walking tour? I call shenanigans. No sooner had the last euro been pocketed and last hand stamped the guy who had been collecting disappeared. Really weird. 

The tour was underwhelming to be honest. The group was far too big for one guide (around 60 people) and the woman leading us struggled to make herself heard over the various city noises in the background. To start with I rushed to try and get to the front of the crowd to hear her stories and tales of what we were looking at, but there was little to no personality behind her patter so I soon lost interest. Perhaps with a smaller group this would have travelled better, but with 60 it just didn’t work. 

However, she did lead us around the centre showing us monuments and areas we were unlikely to have found alone, especially without a map as we were, and we saw some stunning architecture. Any stories we did catch focused on Sisi, and Marie Teresa, who we sort of feel like were stalking as they spent most of their time in Budapest, Vienna and Bratislava!! 


Around 2/3rds of the way around the tour we gave up. Too full of energy to be traipsing around standing in the shade and straining to hear we instead elected to treat ourselves to wine and radlers and sit in the sun. 

The tour finished at 6, and we wanted to be on a train by 7. However, rather than coming back the way we came (where’s the fun in that?) we utilised the handy trip advisor app to cross the city back to the main train station. Easy! Problem was, it wasn’t our train station. Ah. Time for a new chapter in the life of Katy and Tig, where we learn that Luci does not like to be a. Wrong or b. Lost and Katy is quite used to both. At 8.20 we completed the ‘should only take 30 minutes’ walk and to our relief there was a train to Bratislava leaving in 20 minutes. Excellent, that’s even time to pop into a shop for snacks! Feeling very pleased with ourselves and munching on salads and falafels we settled in for the journey. Around 10 minutes in Luci wondered out loud what the word which appeared after ‘Bratislava’ on the destination screen could mean…hmm. I tell you what it means Luci, we’re going to the wrong station! Oops! Cue wide eyed panic from Tig, and giggles from me.

 This is more like the travelling I’ve been used to, everything up until now on this trip has been far too smooth and easy. Trying to reassure Luci that it was fine, and we would get home and this really wasn’t that bad we soon worked out that the station we were heading to was in the residential south of the city, some 11km away from our hostel. However, there was a bus and that would only cost €0.70 euro – easy peasy! 

By 10.30 we were back safe, showered, packed and in bed, yet from the thanks and praise I’ve received from Tig you’d think I’d single handedly negotiated a peace treaty between warring nations. All in a days backpacking!

Tomorrow is our final day, so we’re up early to explore Bratislava! 

On top of the Hungarian world…

On top of the Hungarian world…

The last day in Hungary had to be spent doing some touristy shiz, so we left our bags in the luggage store, hopped on a metro (our feet were walked out!) and headed towards the central market hall. One recurring theme on this trip has to be Luci exclaiming at how easy everything is, and navigating the Hungarian underground was no exception. Within 10 minutes we emerged into brilliant sunshine by the Danube and were soon meandering the many fruit, veg and ‘tourist tat’ stalls of the citys main market.
Having been strongly recommended the street food style vendors of the upper floors, breakfast was our first port of call. “We can see how much we have left to spend on souvenirs, after breakfast’ says Tig, as we strolled by delicious looking dishes of all shapes and sizes. Around halfway through the stalls my eyes focused on a huge glass of fruit filled lemonade, just as Luci’s honed in on a stuffed cabbage…we’d found ‘the one’! Not really sure of the system, but seeing some huge portions around, we decided to share a single plate….stuffed cabbage, sourkraut, mixed salad, a sprinkle of olives…then time for the bill. That little lot came to £16, making it by far and beyond the most expensive meal of the trip so far…most others haven’t reached £15 for both of us!

Stomachs full and souvenirs purchased we had a decision to make…trains to Bratislava left at 1.25, 3.25 and 5.25…which one to choose? Enjoying the stunning sunshine and generally atmosphere of the city too much to rush we settled on the middle option, with the later as a backup in case of calamity. Across the river from our sunspot Tig spied a fairytale castle carved into the cliff edge, worth a look. It turned out to be a church carved into the caves, which shares a name with one of the saddest Welsh legends; Gellért…but is apparently a Hungarian form of Gerard, named after someone who was thrown to their death from the hill above. Great bedtime story huh? It is thought the spring within these caves was the source of the nearby Gellért Baths. We overheard a tour guide telling their group that the Red Army had closed off the church in the 1950’s with a huge wall of concrete, and it had only reopened in 1991 after the fall of the wall. It’s amazing how recently all these things happened, and how different life was here just a short while ago.


A leafy green park surrounded the cave, so off we set in the general direction of up, up, and more up! 235m of up (I felt like I was back on the inca trail) until we reached the Liberty Statue, built to commemorate those who sacrificed their lives for the independence, freedom, and prosperity of Hungary. She’s a pretty impressive lady, touring over the Danube and visible from most spots on both the Buda and Pest sides. 


Having walked, shopped, gazed and sightseen it was most definitely time for coffee…which may have accidentally become cocktails, and lunch. Well, Hungarian Florint wasn’t going to get us far in Slovakia now was it! Watching further preparations for the Palinka Festival whilst catching some rays and sipping on Budapests versions of Tom Collins and Espresso Martini we weren’t sure we’d ever be ready to leave…but the next country was calling, to Bratislava! 
We arrived at the international station around 10 to 5 and located the ticket office, which operated a cheese counter esque system where you take a ticket and wait. Our number was 318…the current number 303…time till we’ve missed the train…29 minutes. This was going to be fun! The agonising seconds stretched out even more by the fact that everything here was done by hand…where was no computer, no ticket printing; our lovely helpful ticket lady wrote them all manually, stopping for a chat with her friend midway through to really add to the drama of running for a train. But we made it, phew! 


And what a view 🙂 

Enjoying the sunset, the last of our polish snacks, and for me writing blogs, the 2 and a half hour journey was over in no time. Country and city number 4 was beneath our feet! Our hostel is located around 2 minutes walk from the station, so within 10 minutes we were safely encamped in the Italy room of Hostel Possonium, enjoying the wonderful graffiti left behind by some truly charming previous travellers. Just to give you a brief snapshot…from my bed I can see 4 penis’s and multiple 4 letter words including the C-bomb. Also, Rob and Joe would like you to know that together they are ‘prankenstein’…I could go on. But the beds are comfy, and the garden bar outside offered a free welcome drink and some great stories from the bartender, a local guy called Lucas. Lucas has worked in/around this hostel for 9 years, but tonight was his last shift…which may explain why instead of 1 free shot we had 4, and he let us go behind the bar to make our own waffles. What a dude! 


Having ascertained that most of what there is to see in Bratislava can be done in just over an hour we’ve decided to add an extra city (country 29 baby!!) to our list and pop over to Vienna for the day tomorrow. Why not hey? 

Sleeper trains, rain and a whole new country!

What is it about sleeping on a train which makes it so exciting?
Having spent the last of our zloty on sampling various local tipples Luci and I were more than ready to get our heads down for a night of undisturbed sleep. Having travelled on sleeper trains before in Asia I was really excited by the prospect of bunk beds and whizzing across an entire country as I slept. Lesson 1. Europe is not Asia! Our trains in Thailand were so spacious, with two bunks (a high and a low) per side, so that you were head to toe with other passengers facing the direction of travel. Here bunks were in cabins, 3 to a side with a tiny walkway in between. Very luckily Luci and I had an entire cabin to ourselves…can you imagine fitting 6 people in here? Squashed!
Pj’s on, beds made, we spent some time watching the lights outside flyby before settling down to books and sleep. I really thought I’d wake up every time the train stopped, or at least be up and about when the sun rose to take photos of the countryside we’d originally planned to drive though but in truth I was out cold until just before we arrived!

In the morning, again remembering Asia, we folded our sheets and tucked the upper bunks away to create a 6 seat cabin…bad move. When the conductor came along he was most unimpressed that we had had a cabin to ourselves, and not at all happy that the beds were not as we had found them. At least, that’s what we think he said…either way there was a lot of Hungarian and gesticulating…and the last 10 minutes of the journey were spent sheepishly and speedily trying to return everything to the way we found it. Before long we ground to a final halt and disembarked onto a very soggy platform. Welcome to Hungary! 

wet wet wet feet!


Oh man the rain. So much rain. Not having our full senses having just woken up, we started the 30 minute plod to Aventura Hostel, which was located on the other side of the city. About 10 minutes into the journey my brand new ‘cabin friendly’ roller suitcase decided it was no longer for this world and started to fall apart in my hands. Yay. Luckily Luci ‘map reader extraordinaire’ Lay got is to the hostel in double quick time and we were soon drying off in our home for the next two nights.

If you’re ever coming to Budapest, I really recommend the Aventura Hostel. Each room is dedicated to a different country, with some really cool results. For example the Africa room, which offers hammocks, rope ladders and beautiful Saharan colours…or the India room where we were, which was a stunning array of metallic paints, dark woods and embroidered fabrics. We had a mezzanine level to ourselves, with two cosy beds and two big travelling trunks surrounding a central coffee table. Very cosy! 

Phones charged, selves dried and stomachs filled we headed out on our first adventure, to find Lotz Hall, and it’s stunning top floor book cafe, Parizsi Nagyaruhaz. Built to be a casino, but never used for this purpose it ended up as a book storage unit during the communist period before eventually opening to the public in the 90’s as a book shop and cafe…Have you ever supped an orange hot chocolate you could stand a spoon up in in such a grand setting as this? Wow! 

From there (via an umbrella shop) we hurried to meet the Budapest walking tour at its meeting point near Elizabet Square, where we were greeted by Norbet, a super friendly Hungarian guy who spends most of his week teaching English and French, and the rest running tours. One thing I’ll say for Norbet, he knows all the dry places to stand! I feel like I was on a tour of Budapest’s overhangs. He maintained a really chirpy and warm attitude throughout though, and managed a really interesting mix of history, architecture, art, places to eat, and things to do. All along the river there are various statues installed at the end of the communist regime purely to celebrate everyday life and art, things which had no previously been celebrated. One of the favourites was this, A Little Princess…a statue of the artists daughter who would often like to dress up in various outfits just for fun. Well, who doesn’t?! With Norbet we heard the history of St Stephens Basilica (he converted the pagans to Christianity), had a food quiz (there were photos – excellent to know what to look out for!!) visited both the Pest (pronounced Pesht) and Buda sides of the city, crossing the chain bridge to one of the Buda sides ‘mountains’ (not a mountain) to visit the castle (not a castle!) on the top. All in all it was a really interesting way to spend a soggy 3 hours, and for extra bonus points the tour ended right next to Ruszwurm which was another place we’d been recommended to try! Stopping in for coffees and cake (and getting the last seats, phew!!) we rested tired feet and warmed cold limbs. When we came out the rain had stopped (yippee!! Proof that coffee is always a good idea), so we jumped on the opportunity to expel some of our new found energy by running around the Royal Palace and taking photos. Fun! 


It was almost 8pm by the time we made it down from the mountains of Buda and back into the heart of the Jewish quarter to Norbets favourite restaurant, Blue Rose. A full plate of traditional goulash and a drink for £4! Yum! Honestly at this point we were both so tried, it was super tempting to be rock and roll losers and head back to bed. But, that is NOT what backpacking is about…so we compromised, we would head back in the general direction of bed, but stop at any interesting points along the way. As it was we ended up meandering via Budapests three most famous ruin bars, the best of which by far was Szimpla! The first time I’ve ever been given a map to a pub! A maze of graffiti’d walls, mismatched seats, snug hide aways and hipster decor which switched between outdoors and indoors with regular ease. They hold markets on Sunday’s, regular music nights, meetings and of course your normal night out. Signs everywhere offered the traditional Hungarian Palinka, a shot of something we’d been told was like vodka. Ha! Vodka is milkshake compared to this stuff!! Talk about hairs on your chest, woah. 

So ended day 1 of Budapest…a wet, windy day of walking, eating and drinking! Not bad! Tomorrow is meant to be beautifully sunny so we’re making the most of it with a trip to Szchenyi baths. Rest, relaxation and massages! Yes please 🙂 

Meeting the locals 

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Travelling, for me, is mainly about people. Sure there is beautiful scenery, delicious food and fun things to do, but without people all of these things would just be a little bit greyer (thanks DW!). Lombok, it seems, has the best of people. The locals here are as unspoiled as the landscape; the majority still marvel at tourists the way I marvel at seeing the milky way over the ocean from a tropical beach…and you know you’re off the beaten track when you can’t find a postcard for love nor money! Unfortunately this is 2015 so the marvelling is all too often coupled with requests for photos (if you’re lucky, more often than not you turn around to find someone following you as they attempt to take a selfie with you in it completely without your knowledge), or just to sit with you for a while so they can practice their English. In exchange for conversation they will share whatever they have, be that food, their language or stories. 

Getting off the boat from the Gilis, I felt like Leonardo di Caprio returning to the mainland after his time on The Beach. After 6 days of quiet, engineless, existence, the noise and busy-ness of the port was overwhelming. A French couple and I haggled for a taxi and headed to our first destination, Sengiggi. We didn’t even stop there; the ‘quiet village’ was heaving with locals enjoying the last day of the post Ramadan celebrations, so much so that you could barely see the black sand beach, it was so covered in people! Instead we decided to head to Kuta, which is bigger but quieter. Along the way our driver asked if we would like to stop and see a traditional Lombok village…why not?!

  Whilst much of the island is modernising, traditional locals still live in mud houses, making a living from farming, weaving and making jewellery. The houses are simple, one room dwellings where women and boys under 10 sleep on woven blankets inside, whilst the men and older sons sleep outside. Whilst sat on the outer part I spotted a tray with some leaves and a pot on it…can you guess what it was?

   A make up set…of course! The leaves when chewed create a red paste used for colouring the lips and cheeks. The tobacco (in the pot) is then used as a brush to remove the red stains from teeth. Genius huh?

Ok next challenge…what is this?  

 If you said a tomato, take 10 points!

I spent my first few hours in Kuta, Lombok alone, making me an easy target for passing hawkers. But unlike more touristy places the people here don’t seem to mind if you don’t buy. My first exchange was with Julie, Sam and Sunita, three sarong sellers who spend their days walking up and down the beach with a HEAVY bundle of fabrics on their head.  

 Having ascertained I already had a sarong they stopped asking me to buy one of theirs (unheard of anywhere else I’ve been – usually if you have one it means you’ve been worn down before, so they’re determined you can be persuaded to buy again!); instead we spoke about their lives, families, villages etc and I showed them photos of the UK (mainly Glastonbury, Cornwall and Loch Lomond…my phone had limited options!). As the three women continued on their way, two young boys joined me. One selling coconuts and the other bracelets. These two were not so easily placated by ‘no thank you’, but they were fun.  

 The younger one, Sabi, is 7; he goes to school in the mornings and sells bracelets on the beach in the afternoon. At sunset he goes home for dinner and to make more bracelets before hitting the beach bars to gain trade from drunken tourists. The older boy, Jonny, is 15 and already married. He and his wife have their own stall selling coconuts and pineapple to people on the beach. My younger nephews are 6 and 14…and whilst I’m sure N3 would be a dab hand at selling bracelets to people on the beach (or anywhere!) I’m glad he doesn’t have to.

Back at the homestay I met Wiebke, a German girl travelling through Asia on her way to work in Australia. She’d spent 3 weeks in Lombok (it’s easy to see how) and proved to be an invaluable guide during my stay here. Our first stop was the beach, where a Saturday night shindig was in full swing, including bonfire, live band, fire poi and impromptu limbo competitions with bits of palm tree! A few years ago the law was changed disallowing locals to build bars on the beach, but our host had a clever way around that…his bar is a boat, on wheels!  

 The lights, stage and sound system were all portable, set up just for the night, and the tables were lit by sand anchored candles in wax sandwich bags (great as they don’t catch fire). If you ever travel to Lombok be sure to bring a handful of these with you, they can’t be found easily here so they rely on tourists and visitors to provide them. Means a good few free drinks in exchange – more than a fair swap!! 
This is the first destination I’ve been where I’ve had no idea what tomorrow will bring, but I can already feel myself falling in love with Lombok. Wish I was here longer!