For my first actual holidays of 2015 I went to Carinthia in south Austria where Laura is living. The place has the advantage to be situated in a nice and southern region of central Europe, and is close to Slovenia a country I always wanted to visit.
Reason of the voyage
Despite having had a working trip to Norway (which was wonderful) I didn’t actually have proper holidays this year. By holidays I mean being somewhere with friend(s) or family and without rigorous plan or schedule to follow. Being free in sort.
My Estonian friend being doing her Erasmus exchange semester in Klagenfurt, Austria, I decided to go there to meet her and see a different side of Austria. No Vienna or Linz, but nature, mountains and an Italian-like city laying by the large lake Wörthese.
Klagenfurt capital of Carinthia
First of all I must say that I didn’t see a lot of Austria before. Vienna and Linz are my two usual destinations and aren’t very representative of the country stuck before Germany, Italy and Slovenia. When I arrived in Klagenfurt I was amazed by the warm style I found. The small streets and coloured façades were matching together on a mountainous background. The old town isn’t delimited and is integrated to the city. There are many fancy shops with goods that I believe aren’t sold everyday to locals. Expensive clothings, watches, arts… Klagenfurt thanks to its lake is a popular destination for Austrians and Italians.
On the first evening we went to a restaurant for Austrian food, named Augustin, in which I tried schnitzel. Original isn’t it?
The old town is built around two squares, the old one where a Black Pledge monument and fancy shops are, and a new square centred around a Dragon statue in front of the Rauthaus, dragon that is the city’s icon. Others important sightsee are the Landhaus (with its amazing hall of Coats of Arms) and the Theatre (fanciest building in town).
If I was most of the time with Laura, one afternoon she had class I could have a coffee with one of my former student from Tallinn and some time alone visiting new parks and are of the city. I didn’t find any better place than the old town, but coffee chat was nice 😀
The main attraction of the city when come spring/summer is definitely its lake. The twentish kilometres long water area is surrounded with mountains and also a long bike road.
There are many place where people can sit by the water and enjoyed the view. We have tried two of them, the most popular and crowed one at Klagenfurt where we once had lunch at Lido, an Italian restaurant with decent prices; and a second time at the mid-distance to Velden after a long biking ride.
Bikes and ice creams
The most surprising things for me was firstly to see there so many bikes in the streets and secondly many ice cream shop. I never seen (except in Amsterdam) a use of bike so convenient and common anywhere else. In Klagenfurt everybody has a bike, use a bike, think with bike. Buses are hiding and bike-parks are each corner of the city. Knowing that it was obvious that I will have a bike and will use it to go to shop, to lake or to party.
Slovenia: Small country, lot of charm
Klagenfurt is closer to han to Vienna, and if there was no mountain, one couldn’t make a difference between South Austria and North Slovenia. Those two cities have been influenced with Italian culture and architecture, no one can really feel Germanic atmosphere there. I first planed to visit Slovenia two years ago when a good friend was doing internship, but I couldn’t leave Estonia at that time Somehow I have forgiven myself now.
From Klagenfurt we could buy tickets to Ljubjana. With Laura we were searching for the AlpeAdria office for some time, when we found it we realise they were useless: tickets can be buy in the bus. The ride in the mountains was very nice! We had great and sunny weather that let us enjoyed the view on mountains and landscapes. In the bus we were five people only, surprisingly. The Slovenian capital is a small city, smaller than Tallinn that is not known for being a big apple. Few streets away from the coach station we checking our hotel for the only nights we wanted to spend in Ljubljana.
The city immediately seduced me. Small, warm, green and having a nice italianish architecture. I fell for it. I could say that the conditions were just perfect: the sun that I haven’t seen in Tallinn for weeks was there and my friend not seen for months also. Plus the city that instantly seems friendly to me, all was good! Our first mission was to find a restaurant in Ljubjana and we began walking along the river to get to a popular place. Among all restaurants we found a very nice looking Italian restaurant with a with on the river and decided to stay there. Not protected from the sun I rapidly start feeling bad, and when a table in the shadow was free we took it. That had no incidence on the food and drinks we had. Everything was perfect and the price remains low!
We chilled in the city for hours, walking in parks and bridges, eating ice creams. That are the two main things I can remember from it, tasty Italian ice creams and a wonderful three-legs bridge. Leaving the centre, we have been to the French revolution square that a friend told me when she was leaving there after her Erasmus in Tallinn.
Our second day started with a coffee at the Cacao café, famous one in this capital. After we walked toward the south trying to see some new streets and buildings. It was interesting once we got to some souvenir shop, streets were smaller From the XXX church we took a street to reach the castle. I have been even more impress at that moment to see how green is Ljubljana. Trees, grass, flowers, you can really feel the nature and spring there! It is possible to get in the castle yard and walls for free, but the view on the old town isn’t very good. Trees are higher than the wall, preventing people to see all the city down there.
Going down to the city for lunch we had a stop at the market where we bought strawberries. Tasty and cheap, they would be our snack and be eaten on the main square where street musicians play. The end of day approaching, we took a last walk in this wonderful city, admiring a last time the river, the churches and its café. We ordered an ice cream at the popular café and walked to the coach station where we waited the bus. Came the same driver, and we were less passengers to go to Klagenfurt than coming from the day before.
I was advised to visit the small town of Beld by a friend and after seeing the iconic photo of its church and lake I felt that I had make my way to it. Bled is really close to Klagenfurt, only a hour away across the Alps in the upper Carniola. Laura and I have seen with Thomas – her flat-mate – to drive us to Slovenia and visit the city with us for a day.
Beforehand I had check the parking facilities, on the internet were a lot of complaints about how difficult it is to find a car park and how rude local policemen are. It cooled me down a bit. Actually we found it easy to park near the lake. There was a limited time we could leave the car (two hours) but we managed to changed tickets to extended this period.
Our first job was to walk up to the castle. This was not an easy task since this little fortress is very high. Paying for the entrance allowed us to have a wonderful view on the lake, mountains and island. In the medieval building is a history castle about Bled and its region, that is not very big but fair enough as I don’t think people would go there mainly for the museum.
In Bled I had probably the tastiest pizza ever in a restaurant I had doubt going to. The waitresses were nice, blond and pretty, the local beer was too.
Thomas motivated us to take a boat to reach the island. The wind appeared and some waves could be seen on the lake. There was almost nobody and the seller re-insured us on the safety. I decide to go on with my camera and all my backpack. We first got a one hour trip but soon we will realized that to enjoy the island one will have to pay for two. It was not an easy task to row. Thomas had the first shift and me the second to come back to the main land. We managed not to fell into the cold water despite some tension (boat was close to flip up side down two times).
When we stepped on the island I felt it as an achievement. It was so nice to be there in a place that no one can reach by foot or car, just by boat with arm-work! Satisfaction! We spend almost one hour on it, walking around, looking at the church the small yard. We had a cacao in the only café there and looked at some souvenirs. Near the closing time most of the tourists (in groups) left and we had the whole island for ourselves. That was a good moment for photos before rowing again to the mainland.
Going back to Klangefurt we took another road in the direction of Villach. If it was not especially faster, it was a bit more expensive… 7 euros to take a tunnel. We weren’t warn about it.
Lovely country I have been several times to, I chose again to stay in the north-eastern part of it where my good friend Silva lives. She could host me for couple of nights and show me some new things the region has beside Žilina.
Arrival in Považská Bystrica
From Klagenfurt to Považská Bystrica I had to take three train and one bus. The classic train to Vienna (which passed near the Launsdorf castle) and a train to Bratislava. There I wasn’t arriving at the main station but at a smaller a little more on south, to join the central station I only to take a bus (line 93) but no direction was given to find the bus stop, resulting in me getting a wrong one, and taking my bus to the wrong direction… in 10min I was in the extreme south of Bratislava braving the rain. I could get there another bus (smaller and crowed) to arrive at the main train station just 4 minutes before my train departure. I ran to it to find out that it was late and a previous train canceled: thousand of people were waiting to take it.
When I arrived in Považska my friend Silvia was there happy and led me to her apartment to put my bags before we went to a restaurant to have dinner in a newly open restaurant. Risotto was good and the draught beer cost 1,5€ only! Back in the apartment I met her brother and her lovely dog. We shared a drink and had an evening discussion.
The next day We have been walking the dog by a small lake not very far from her building, we saw a swan and sun showed itself to us for the first time. It made me expected a good day.
Her brother offered us to let his car for the afternoon so I could drive around Považska, it surprised me because I would be more picky on whom I choose to drive my car. But I accepted and we take the afternoon to go to some villages.
We took the dog with us for our little trip and our first stop was at the Považsky hrad, an old castle in ruins which dominate the town and is visible from Silvia’s windows. Located on the city’s periphery, the castle offers a remarkable view on the nearby mountains! We observed a nice landscape consisting of green forest and rocky mountains. We all liked it, including the dog. The castle of Považska is under reconstruction. Locals are currently working on fixing its walls to transform those ruins into a nice hiking and resting area.
Later we went to a small village where part of her family live, I met there her uncle who own an old water-mill which was still running twenty years ago. We were allowed to walk in it and see the many rooms that are necessary for the small factory to work. All equipment were from wood, and most of them come from Czech republic. I was told that despite not being used for making flour our cutting the trees, Slovak television regularly goes there for TV reportage.
Bojnice castle and Čičmany folk village
The second day we planned a longer trip and still with the car. I found on internet a wonderful castle one hour south to Žilina, in Bojnice.
It was again a hot day and the driving in the mountains trough many little villages was enjoyable. We arrived at Bojnice and could park the car on a giant parking for – I bet – thousand of cars! Ours was one of the tenth which were here that day. Silvia was also surprised and told me this is not common as the is a high tourist attraction comparable the the Eiffel Tower.
After getting the oblátky – a famous Slovak waffle – we wanted to visit the castle but we couldn’t do it freely… The only possibility that day was to take part to a « ghost show » and none of us were interested. Instead of it we walked in the flowered park and along the pound where we could see a swan resting on its nest. In the pound we noticed four turtles bathing and sun bathing!
While driving we passed near Čičmany village and Silvia advised me to go and see it because this is a very unique place.
Čičmany was the first folk village to enter the UNESCO World Heritage list due to many of its painted wooden houses. All of them were having white patterns on them!
Walking on the main street we met a group of teenagers wearing folk clothes, Silvia talked with them and they explained us what was happening while posing for a photo with me. Being an unique and original place in Slovakia (and being a living museum) the village was having the opening of history museum. Guests were given free food and drinks, I could taste a national goat-milk product called žinčica which I didn’t like
Museum entrance was free and information also in English (I was the only one not Slovak nor Czech). We could learn about local traditions, employment and clothes/fabric design. Most interesting fact I learnt concern the family and what people do when they lost one of them. They used to open all windows of the house to let the should leave it.
We left this village to drive to Puchóv for lunch. It was again necessary to go through small road and villages but the nature was beautiful.
I left Považska on the morning the day before my 28th anniversary. I would celebrate it in Vienna with Laura who had planned to visit the Austrian capital. I would have love to spend couple of day more in Slovakia and see Trečin and Kočise, but I have to keep some places of interest for the next time I visit the country.
I bought my return ticket in Považska, it cost me 19 euros to go to Vienna, half the price I paid in Vienna to go to Považska. Lesson learnt: I will never buy train ticket in Austria again if I can do it abroad.
I arrived in the evening to Vienna and had to get a 24h transport ticket for tram and metro, it didn’t cost a lot. In the station it took me some time afterward to find my way to the hotel. It was the hotel I slept in during my first time in Vienna and as last time I have been not much impress by it, as it seems to be a large dormitory filled with students. After a long ride on train from Slovakia I was happy to take a shower before meeting my friend in the city centre.
The first evening was spent with Laura and her German friend who came also for the weekend. We found a café on the cathedral square named Aida that served good cakes and coffee. We didn’t do much after and came back to the hotel since we all were tired.
The second day I spent in Vienna was also my birthday. It began with a walk near TV tower and financial district with glass buildings. We were following Laura’s friend and I admit that was a little waste of time. That part of the town is not as nice as the old town.
In the old town of Vienna we met more people coming to visit the city, including one Estonian, but not a relative of us. I again followed the group that went to the Kunsthaus. This is an interesting and abstract building designed by Friedensreich Hundertwasser which is now a museum. Our group split in front of it, the German going to a park, Laura and me to eat sushi in an affordable Asian restaurant nearby.
After lunch I brought her to one of my favourite part of Vienna where we can see the Red army square and Karl church, they both have a fountains. It refreshes us a lot! The temperature were quite high After some photos of tulips and refill of water bottle, we get to the metro for the Palaces area. We stopped at the Museum Quarter where we had frozen yougurt with strawberry and looked at some books in library. Laura has enjoy seeing all the palaces and imperial buildings, large green parks, but also the town hall and the opera!