Saturday, 10 November 2012

Trains, planes, coaches, ferries and automobiles to Sicily and back

When you live in the Czech Republic it is a good location for getting to most places, but getting down to Sicily to meet friends from Australia and Denmark for a yachting holiday on the dates we had chosen proved a little complicated. For added fun, we decided to use as many different forms of transport as possible. 

Our trip started with an overnight coach from Brno to Venice. Taking 9 hours and costing only €50 it was much more comfortable than I had imagined. We arrived early morning and had our first Italian coffee in a little cafe near the station.

Capuccino love

We had a couple of days enjoying Venice with its beautiful canals and bridges.

And of course the venetian masks and Aperol flavoured gelato!

From Venice we flew with Alitalia to Palermo in Sicily and then took a train along the coast to the tiny village of Falcone.

Sicilian coast from the train

Although Portorosa is only a few kilometres away from Falcone, there are no buses on a Saturday to the port and also no taxis! We had to get the yacht rental company to come and pick us and our luggage up in the car to get to the marina.

Portorosa - waiting to board the yacht.

The next morning we set sail for the Aeolian Islands. It was a little overcast, but there was a good breeze.

Putting up the main sail!

Plotting the course.

The thing I loved about being at sea, was the peace and tranquility - nobody around for miles.

Early morning sun over the Tyrrhenian Sea.

 But occasionally a local would putter past in a boat.

We headed to the island of Salina and arrived at the port mid-morning. It was a scorching hot day.

Reversing into our berth.

Then it was time for lunch - a very nice 3 course set menu with a crisp, white wine.

We headed back to the yacht and set sail for our next destination - Panarea. We arrived in the evening and headed onto the island for a cocktail.

Panarea at dusk with Stromboli in the distance.

The next morning we set off early to head over to Stromboli and had our morning cup of tea on the way.

Soon Stromboli came into view - breathtaking. The best part of the trip was seeing Stromboli erupting at night. Sadly my camera was not good enough to capture any shots of that, but the orange lava shooting up into the starry sky was unforgettable.

We dropped anchor off of Stromboli and there was time for a quick visit to the volcanic beach. I loved the black sand.

I'm not exactly sure where you are supposed to run to on an active volcano if a tsunami strikes!

We decided to run for the pizzeria instead :)

Lunch time on Stromboli

Next stop was Lipari. I headed into town early the next morning and enjoyed the views across the bay as well as a wander round the little grocery and souvenir shops. The main thing to buy here is jewellery made from obsidian. I got myself a nice little bracelet as a memento of our trip


Once back at Porto Rosa the next morning, we had to get up early to catch virtually the only train of the day across to Messina.

That night we caught the night train to Rome, which goes onto a ferry to cross the sea to the Sicilian mainland. After a bumpy overnight journey we arrived in Rome, with a few hours to see the main sights before we caught our Sunday evening Wizz Air flight back to Brno.

Quick stop-off at the Vatican

Back in Brno we got a taxi back home - I was too tired for the bus and tram!

Saturday, 1 September 2012

The Posh Side of Prague

Many tourists go to Prague for stag dos and cheap pivo, however, there is a chic side to the Czech capital. When our Tasmanian friends came to visit, we decided this would be the perfect excuse to check out all those fancy places we had walked past and read about, but not tried out yet.

We found the hotel Pure White online and made a reservation through, as reserving through the hotel website was not that straight forward. The photos of the hotel looked great and when we arrived we were not disappointed. The entrance and reception area is stunning and the rooms are modern and tasteful with some nice touches.

Double room at Pure White

Toilet and wet room with rain shower

The best thing about Pure White is the price; for a 4 star stay, €53 a night is excellent value.

Once we had checked in and freshened up, we decided to head into the centre of Prague. First stop was the beautiful Zdenek's Oyster Bar. I had walked past this little place, tucked into a side street, not far from Staroměstské náměstí (Old Town Square), on a previous trip. The bright Veuve Clicquot parasols caught my eye and I knew I had to come back and try it some time.

At night, the interior of the bar is simply gorgeous. I'll let the photos speak for themselves.

I was a bit dubious about having seafood in Prague. After all, the sea is a long way away. However, our Australian friends were happy with their Marennes oysters and my shrimp and prawn platter was very fresh and much bigger than expected for the price. We each had a glass of 2004 Veuve Clicquot, which was served with complimentary caviar.

We left the sultry interior of Zdenek's Oyster Bar for another dimly lit establishment: Hemingway Bar. This cocktail bar only opened about a year ago and as you can probably guess is decorated with photos of American writer Ernest Hemingway. Upon stepping inside you feel as though you are entering a gentlemen's club (not of the Spearmint Rhino variety, but the old fashioned London variety); there are leather sofas, book cases and lots of dark wood.

The cocktail menu has some classics, but also a good list of house cocktails that I had never tried before. I went for the "Walk in the Clouds". The pink pepper on the top and the white chocolate syrup made it really unusual, yet delicious. My OH had a "Hemingway's New Fashioned", which comes in a small bottle inside a book!

Many more cocktails ensued, naturally. Well, with the bar being open till 1am, it would have been rude not to, wouldn't it?

Cherry Julep

 Apricot  and White Chocolate Caipirinha and Six Fingers Cat

It was great to have a little luxury for an evening and better still, it cost us a fraction of the price it would have done in London or Hobart. 

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Tram Geekery

Each weekend, from 10 June to 30 September 2012, the historical H4 tram will be conducting a short circuit in the centre of Brno. This weekend, I was lucky enough to catch one (they don't run very frequently) and had a pleasant trip back in time.

All aboard! *Clang*

Lovely wooden interior

Leather hanging straps are so much nicer than plastic ones!

Time to get off - Hlavní nádraží

Monday, 25 June 2012

Changing Horizons

"Sick of London, sick of life", or so the saying goes. However, after 5 years living and working in the capital, I found that inhabiting this concrete jungle was making me feel increasingly aggravated. Don't get me wrong, London has a lot to offer culturally and socially, but the daily commute to Westminster and the dirt, deprivation and noise in my East End neighbourhood, were getting me down.

View from my desk, Victoria, London

I found myself longing for outdoor space, greenery and above all, peace and quiet. Something inside me just couldn't put up with the grit of urban living any more. We tried to move, but it was just as the UK housing market crashed, so we were forced to stay in our one bed flat with no outdoor space.

After some months planning, we left our jobs, cleared the flat and both moved to France in search of a better  quality of life. Everyone thought we were totally mad, but also brave. Mainly mad, though. We didn't have any jobs, after all and didn't really know the new city we were moving to: Strasbourg. "Le Carrefour de l'Europe"* as it is called locally, is a much quieter and certainly more beautiful location than the East End of London.

View from our balcony. Sunset over Strasbourg.

One of the things I noticed when we first moved to Strasbourg, was the difference in noise levels. On a Sunday it was so quiet, you could hear a pin drop. From time to time the faint clang of the bell could be heard as the tram trundled past our apartment. In France, nobody dashes around on Sunday in their cars, going to the supermarket or the DIY shop. This is because absolutely every shop is closed. Sundays are family days spent walking in the park or having long lunches together. The only other sounds to be heard were the swallows swooping past chirruping and occasionally, from its nest upon a rooftop, the "clack, clack, clack" of a stork's beak.

After a year and a half in Alsace, we moved to the Czech Republic for new work opportunities. This time to a city we had never even visited before! We weren't sure what we would make of the place and moreover we couldn't speak the language (unlike in France). It's 5 months since we arrived and although Brno hasn't got the picture postcard elements of Strasbourg, it has a pleasing, rolling green countryside.

View from the balcony. Brno, Czech Republic

I was hanging out my washing on the balcony this morning. The sun was shining brightly and the bell from the village church was chiming. Underneath that, birds were chattering and the lazy buzz of insects quietly filled the sonic spaces between. A neighbour walked past and I called out "Dobrý den!". He looked up and waved. I felt content. There is nothing awe-inspiring about the view from our flat, but it is so much nicer than what I was faced with every day in London, that I feel very pleased to have landed in this little corner of the world.

*Crossroads of Europe

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Discovering South Moravia

Znojmo is not a place I had heard of before going there. The DK Eyewitness Travel Guide only deems it worthy of a few lines and doesn't go into any detail about what you will find when you get there. However, I am really glad that I made the trip. One of the 3 most important Moravian towns along with Brno and Olomouc, Znojmo has a wealth of baroque buildings, squares and churches along with what has to be one of the most breathtaking valley views I have seen in a long time.

We booked on to a day trip run by the Brno Expat Centre. The day didn't go according to plan, as 4 people dropped out of the tour at the last minute, meaning that the mini bus hire was no longer viable. Undeterred, 6 of us, lead by our Czech organiser and guide, decided to take the public bus. We just managed to get on board before it reached full capacity. We spent the scorching hot day enjoying the sights of the ancient town.

Before reaching the old town, there is a Parisian style roundabout with grandiose buildings dating from the mid-19th century.
Old Town Hall

Inside the underground labyrinth, dating from medieval times.
Fine if you are small like me, not so good if you are tall like him! It was interesting to go down,
but the tour was a little naff what with fake skeletons and goblins!

The intrepid day-trippers head through the back streets 

Inside the Gothic Cathedral of St Nicholas lies St. Boniface in all his finery

Incredible globe pulpit

Cathedral of St. Nicholas with neighbouring two-tier chapel

Dyje river

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Viennese whirl

I thought I would share with you my walk through the Naschmarkt last Saturday morning in Vienna, Austria, in photos.

This market has everything from trendy cafes and traditional restaurants at one end, food from around the world and up the nearest mountain in the middle and bric-a-brac and antiques at the other end. Enjoy!

Wiener breakfast - fortification for the day ahead

Julius Meinl coffee with the usual mini water on the side

Pfingstrosen - beautiful even in the rain

Not just cheese at Kaeseland!

I so wanted this, but resisted

An oddly French-style public convenience

Familie Michael - great local cheeses

A lady checks out the giant mushrooms

Shot glasses

A colourful parrot hides amongst the bric-a-brac

Lederhosen! Of course

Thanks for taking the tour!