Return from Vienna

<< Previous episode : Castles & cities in Slovakia

Vienna was the last great stop of our trip. A city where we couchsurfed like we did in Berlin and Kraków.

We arrived soon in the afternoon at the south train station and had plenty of time to walk down to the center and then to our host’s place.

The station is under construction. It’s supposed to become the main station, Hauptbahnhof, of Vienna in 2014. A bit north of it starts the Belvedere gardens.

Belvedere castle grid

Belvedere castle

Walking down the gardens led us directly to the ring, a belt of large boulevards surrounding the center of Vienna with a lot of big buildings from the end of the 19th century. From this perspective, Vienna is the European capital city that reminded me the most Paris.

We walked a few hours in this amazing center, very crowded, before meeting Lisa, our host, who just finished her last exam and was happy to celebrate it and host couchsurfers.

In the center

In the evening she came with us in the gardens of Schönbrunn. This castle is the Viennese Versailles, but the comparison stops there. Schönbrunn is rather close to the city and has huge gardens where we had a pleasant walk. Lisa showed us the old glass houses, which have a great architecture.

Glass house in Schönbrunn

And the alleys seemed not having an end …

Schönbrunn gardens

There is also a zoo in the gardens, we only saw bisons from outside.


The gardens are going uphill from the castle, offering great views on it.

Schönbrunn castle

We walked back to our host’s place and it took forever. But at least it gives the true measurement of Vienna. We’re not anymore in the small medieval cities of central Europe.

Lisa took us to an Italian restaurant beside an open-air cinema. The movie that night was in arabic with german subtitles, impossible to follow 😉

The folowing day we eplored the city on our own. On Lisa’s advice we started with an urban heating plant designed by Hundertwasser.

Hundertwasser thermal power plant

Then we walked along the Donau Insel, a narrow piece of land in the middle of the river.


After that we crawled the center again starting at St-Stephan’s cathedral.

St-Stephan's Dom

Street in the center

On the Kohlmarkts, walking to the Hofburg, we found the Viennese equivalent of Stanfords in London : Freytag und Berndt maps and travel bookstore.

Kohlmarkt to the Hofburg

Then we reached the Hofburg, the imperial palace, which looks like a city in the city. Several buildings you can cross with shops and cafes, and of course museums.



Crossing it leads along the ring and its great buildings.

Austria Parliament

Along the Ring

Along the Ring

After enjoying a beer during perhaps the warmest day of those holidays, we head to the Hundertwasserhaus.


Last sighseeing of the day we went to the Naschmarkt, the biggest market of Vienna. We found there some great chocolate.

Lisa throw a party at her place that evening. The weather unfortunately didn’t offer us the chance to have a picnic.

And now is the last day of this trip. We left very early in the morning to catch our train to Munich. It was perhaps the more modern train trip we had. Screens displayed real time position and speed …

In Munich we had a 1h20 switch. Just enough time to run to the main square and back and have a sandwich !

Munich gate

Munich Frauenkirche

Munich city hall

Another ride later led us to Stuttgart. We spent almost 5 hours in the city, which doesn’t offer a lot of sightseing. It looks more like a shopping mall. And due to frequent showers we spent most of our time inside shops. Mainly a bookshop where we found card games for the last train ride.




A fast ride in the TGV led us finally to Paris. This great no-plane-no-car-trip was over. Even if our goal was to hike in the mountains we spent more time on side-trips this way of travelling allows. All this was worse the 40+h spent in public transport 🙂


Castles & cities in Slovakia

<< Previous episode : Tatras

Now that the hiking adventure has been shortened, we had 2 days more to explore the cities and castles of Slovakia. From now on, our trip was improvised on a day to day basis. Only schedule : be in Vienna 5 days later.

We started with the castle of Spiš, 40km east of Poprad, which is supposed to be the largest medieval fortress in central Europe. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1993.

It took a bit more than an hour to go to the village of Spišské Podhradie and then we had to find our way up to the impressive castle that dominate it all.

Spiš Castle

Half an hour uphill later we met the lazy tourists buses, brought directly at the door of the castle. But at 9:30 in the morning there weren’t that many people in the fortress. The view is wide from the highest tower, but the High Tatras are invisible, hidden behind another range.

Spiš Castle

And the stairs are narrow to go up with backpack.

Narrow stairs

We went all over the place !

Spiš Castle

There were no immediate buses to go back to Poprad and we had picnic in the village, tasting Kofola for the first time, tchesch coca cola, far better than real one I think. There was a folk festival and people in traditionnal dresses were dancing while waiting their bus.

No direct bus to Poprad before late in the afternoon, so we took one to Levoča, which happened to be a very picturesque medieval city.




Back at Poprad-Tatry train station, we took a train to Trenčín, only because there seemed to be a nice castle. This was our longest and more expensive train ride in Slovakia, 3h for 220km, and still less than 10 euros. The train was really crowded and some people were standing in corridors for hours.

On arrival, we chose an hotel among the very few in town (surprisingly Poprad is a lot more touristy),  and discovered the castle from downhill.


The center itself is nice to, with a large square, churches, a belfry and a synagogue.


And the next morning we saw it from the castle above. We visited it with a guide who could speak only a few english words. Otherwise th tour are planned in Slovak, but there were only us too, so she didn’t had to speak that much.


Trenčín castle

We had then an hour to kill in the city and we went to a bookstore. There were cheap maps and guidebooks. I bought one about Bratislava and surroundings, in German, for less than 2 euros.Interesting but fastidious to read during transportation time.

An hour and twenty minutes of bus ride later, we reached Prievidza and the neighbor city of Bojnice. There is probably the most visited and most interesting castle in Slovakia.


All 3 castles we visited were very different, starting with the medieval fortress, ending with Bojnice which was still inhabited in the 19th century, which explains its very good conservation and gothic architecture elements.


Outside is a huge linden tree. There is a story about a king who liked to spend time under its foliage. But I forgot already.

Bojnice linden

Then we left Prievidza by train. We just missed a bus, but a train was leaving shortly after. As it was an omnibus, it took 2h for only 77km to reach the city of Nitra.

Despite the stars on the map and the flattering depiction in the « Bratislava und Umgebung » guidebook, this was just a nice place to spend the night and a few hours.



Even the cathedral was closed when we tried to reach it, on top of the upper city.


The following day we reached Bratislava, and stopped on the way in Trnava. Nice medieval city surrounded by walls and with numerous churches. It also appeared very lively.


My favourite church :


Finally we arrived in Bratislava on a remote train station, Nove-Mesto. And a short, accidentaly free, tram ride brought us close to the center.

The medieval center is really small, only a few streets but very pleasant and interesting. And even with its small size, it’s full of tourists, I guess it is due to it’s position of capital city and the cheap flights arriving there from all over Europe. And also young people like it because beer is cheap, it’s a bit sad to go visit a place because beer is cheap. So cheap tha Viennese people call it « Gratislava ».

Bratislava, primatial square

On top of the hill is the castle, which has, in my opinion, no architectural interest, it’s basically a square. But its location offers great views over the city.

Bratislava castle

The nex bridge on the Danube is one of the symbol of the city.

"New" Bridge

View on the center, and the St-Martin Cathedral under scaffoldings.

View on city center

A narrow street in the city center with the Michalska tower in the back.

Street in the center

Gothic tower

St-Martin's Dom

The main square, besides hosting upper class cafes, is also home to the city hall, Japanese, Greek and French embassies. Good location.

The main square

The Michalska tower.

Michalska tower

There are also some realistic street sculptures at several locations.

Street art, man at work

On the main square

And finally on the way to the train station, there is the palace of the presidency.

Palace of the presidency

Now we are heading to Vienna.

Next and last episode : Return from Vienna >>


<< Previous episode : Berlin & Kraków

It takes 2h in an empty bus to reach Zakopane. But according to our host it can take up to 7h to come back from the mountains around Christmas time. Zakopane is a very popular spot for hiking in summer and skiing in winter, some would say it is the Polish Chamonix. Poland is mostly flat except along its south border.

Tatras are a small mountain range  about 80km long and the highest mountains af all the Carpathian range. Zakopane is the only city on their feet on the Polish side and so we started hiking from there.

The main street of Zakopane is pedestrian and almost all buildings are made of wood. An it starts with the church at the bottom of the street.

Church of Zakopane

Followed by many restaurants, sports and tourist shops while going up.

Building in Zakopane

We entered the Tatras National Park at Kuźnice, just south of the city, following the main street. And walked from there to the mountain hut Murowaniec.

As soon as we started walking up, we had a nice view on the Giewont mountain. One of the most popular hike in the Polish Tatras. Our hosts in Krakow said they once waited 2h to be able to go on top !


Going up from Kuznice

The forest is huge on this side in the Dolina Suchej Wody and only some small shelters emerge from it.

Forest in Dolina Suchej Wody

They are a lot of other tourists on the trails, although we are in June. But that’s because the mountain hut is very close from the city, less than 1h30. And a lot of work as been done on the paths which are often cobbled.

When arriving on the mountain hut, the hills turn really into mountains.

Cobbled trail

Dolina Suchej Wody

And here is the green roof of Schronisko Murowaniec.


A black smoke is blowing from the chimney … because it’s powered on coal !

Coal powered Schronisko Murowaniec

They are plenty of people here. The hostel is almost full, one day later and we would have had to sleep in the dining room. And the hostel has more than a hundred beds. We arrived at 3pm and it started to rain shortly after. So we had a long afternoon inside, reading maps and putting a stamp on it.

The day after we walk up at 7am. But we misunderstood the breakfast time and thus started hiking after eating cookies from our own bags instead of waiting. And because we were unsure of the weather, we preferred walking in the morning. Beside that, our roommates left at 5am, after being particularly noisy for an hour …

So here we go to the Swinica mountain, 2301m, the one in the center of the picture, through the pass on its right.

Gasienicowa Dolina

Lakes in Gasienicowa Dolina

Very nice valley plenty of lakes before reaching the Swinica pass.

Reaching the Swinica pass

Swinica pass

And still 1h to go to the summit. But we don’t trust the time anymore. Indeed it took us less.

Swinica pass

And on the way we met our roommates again. What’s the point of leaving so early if we’re on top before ? I’m being sarcastic, they used another way.

At the end there are some chains at some points.

From the top the view is amazing, there are lakes in every valley around. Here is the view on the northern side, with Schronisko Murowaniec in the forest under the patch of grass. And more north it’s flat. The mountain range is really small.

From Swinica

Towards Murowaniec

On the other side we see the valley of the 5 lakes. Even if we never saw the 5 lakes at once !

Valley of the 5 lakes

On the slovak side we se the northern face of the Krivan. This mountain is a national symbol. It’s on the coins of 1, 2 an 5 euro cents.

Krivan from Swinica

And some wild valleys towards the west. We really expected to see a bear somewhere, but we didn’t have the chance.

Ticha Dolina

On the way down to the 5 lakes valley, there are still some chains. It makes everything a lot easier.

Chains on the way down

In the valley we had our first close encounter with the mountain wildlife, a marmot.


Then we passed the nicest mountain hut on the polish side, Schronisko w Dolinie Pięciu Stawów Polskich. But we just asked them to call the next one to see if they had some space for us to be closer from Mt Rysy for the day after.

Mountain hut of the 5 lakes valley

The trail between both mountain huts is a very nice balcony.

View on the 5 lakes valley

So beautiful that people come here to have pictures for their wedding !

Getting married

The next hostel is a huge tourist spot. It’s next to the lake Morskie Oko (Marine Eye) and at the foot of Rysy, which is the highest mountain in Poland (2500m) and our next destination. (Rysy is the pyramid shaped mountain in the background on the left, the one that appears smaller)

Morskie Oko and Rysy

Truth is it deserves this crowed because the place is really beautiful.

Morskie Oko and Mnich

Rysy itself, also not that easy because it has a lot of chains, was also supposed to be very crowded. But the weather was very unsure. So following the example of our previous roommates we woke up at 4am. It was light enough outside because the sun rised around 4:30am. It’s supposed to take 4h to go on top. at the second lake, there are still 3:20 to go and it really starts to go up steep.

Rysy sign

Both lakes, Morkie Oko

We saw some chamois, but hard to take a focused pictures in the poor morning light. The way up is pleasant in the snow and then with a lot of chains. We are pleased by the weather. Rain was on the forecast.

Snow to Rysy

Chains to Rysy

On top, the view is great on both sides. Clouds are starting to go up. Here is the view towards East and the High Tatras.

From Rysy towards East

And here is a lake shaped like a footprint.

Footprint lake

From top we see the way down on Slovak side. Which seems a lot more gentle than the way up.

Slovak side of Rysy

It took us less than 2:30 to go on top instead of 4 hours and there was absolutely no-one on the Rysy. We were the first people on top that day.

On the way down we stopped for a real breakfast in the Chata pod Rysmi and started to learn some Slovak words. And here we can start paying with euros. While having breakfast, the fog arrived and shortly after we started to go down it rained. So we were really lucky to be on top so soon !

We arrived in Popradske Pleso as soon as 10am, so it let us plenty of time to go sightseeing around. Beside the lake there is a « symbolic cemetery » full of painted crosses.

Symbolic Cemetery

To the cemetery

We started to see the nice yellow signs of the Slovak side. With approximate translation, especially in French.

Snow warning sign

Here is the hostel and the lake. The weather went again better in the afternoon. Actually, for the following days, it kept changing.

Popradske Pleso

The next step was a balcony at the border of the range. The only way up was a pass (Sedlo pod Ostrvou) in the morning.

Up from Popradske Pleso

Sedlo pod Ostrvou

On the other side is a great view on the slovak forest, and also the mountain resort Strbske Pleso.

Strbske Pleso


The path was again very well maintained.


View on the forest

We stopped at a very nice lake, Batizovske Pleso, on the foot of Mt. Gerlach, the highest mountain of the range (2654m).

Batizovske Pleso

Tatranska Magistrala

On the way down we saw that the forest was actually in poor shape. We learned later that there was a huge windstorm in 2004 which turned pine trees forest in meadows. Still impressive.

Former forest

We made a pause in the village of Stary Smokovec to refill our bags with food. Some nice buildings, but too much mixed with hugly modern buildings from the eighties.

Grand hotel of Stary Smokovec

Then we took a modern and expensive funicular and spent the night at Bilikova chata. Great food, and nobody there compared to the previous nights.

Thev view from there gives a measure of another calamity beside windstorms : insects.

Forest from Bilikova chata

The next days we were supposed to explore the 2 Studena Dolina (cold valleys). But the weather started to get colder and rainy. So we just walked again on a kind of balcony, without going a lot up.

Water falls on Studeny potok

Good choice because at the cable car station of Skalnaté Pleso we encountered snow. And it is only 1700m high, late June. After staying a bit inside we walked down under snow and then rain in a very pleasant forest until Tatranska Lomnicka.

From the village we were able to watch the snow cover on the Lomnicky Stit.

Lomnicky Stit

Then we took a train to Poprad, the main city next to the Tatras in Slovakia. We were surprised how cheap trains are in Slovakia, this ride was 96 cents.

Train in Tatranska Lomnicka

There is not much to see in Poprad itself, but the location is convenient. The center has 2 wide pedestrian streets and the church rings every hours like an ice-cream seller !



We found a great hostel. They made a discount, although we didn’t ask for one. And on the last floor we had a great view on the Tatras from our balcony.

Tatras from the hotel in Poprad

Now the hiking part of the trip is over. But there is still a week of sightseeing to go ….

Next episode : Castles & cities in Slovakia >>

Berlin & Kraków

First episode about my late June trip with my brother.

Pictures are dispatched on 4 articles. Don’t miss some !

We went hiking in Poland and Slovakia. And as we decided to go there by train, there were plenty of side-trips on the way.

It started with a Friday night train from Paris to Berlin. About 12h30 of light sleep, but still enough to be in good shape to meet the German capital city and our host there.


Time to understand the public transport prices and half an hour of S-Bahn after our arrival at the all new Hauptbahnhof, we met our host at a bakery at a corner. First thing, bread is maybe not as good as in France (pure chauvinism) but it’s cheap. We shared breakfast with Yvonne in her huge flat and then she took us for a tour in her neighborhood. She’s living 2 blocks away from Charlottenburg castle.

Schloss Charlottenburg

The castle as a great garden and is in the heart of the city. At first sight Berlin seems really green, and it was confirmed all day long.

A short bus ride later we were already at the Zoologischer Garten, but the Souvenir Church was under scafoldings. After hanging around the shopping streets around the KaDeWe we took the subway to the Alexander Platz.

Alexander Platz

The Marienkirche is at the foot of the television tower, one of the symbol of the city, with the Brandenburger Tor.

Marien Kirche


The Red Rathaus was the city hall of East-Berlin.

Rote Rathaus

And a few steps further is the cathedral : the Berliner Dom.

Berliner Dom

We didn’t get further to the center because another guest from Hong-Kong was coming at the same time. So we went waiting for her at the main station, where we arrived in the morning. There was a weird looking horse sculpture in front of it.


Walking south from the train station we found the political district, including the « washing machine » and the Reichstag.

Washing machine

The Reichstag

We continued to the Brandenburger Tor, the main tourist sightseeing. And hen walked along Unter den Linden, one of the main avenues, eating a currywurst on the way.

Brandenburger Tor

Rain stopped us and we didn’t saw much that day except a supermarket. But it’s usely something very enjoyable outside of your own country, whether at home it’s boring. In the evening we had some « german tapas », consisting in small amounts of various german dishes… It’s original, but I won’t say german food is made to be eaten in such small amounts.

The next morning, 24h after our arrival we left for Kraków, Poland. So this Sunday was a 10h (+40min delay) train trip. A bit boring at the end but rather interesting. You feel like your destination is at the end of the world. And you see the landscape changing, from the pine forest of east-Germany, through the abandoned fields after the polish border, the industrial Silesia and the Beskid mountains in the background…. Much more satisfying than a 2h Ryanair flight.


Our friendly hosts, Maciek and Magda picked us directly at the train station and shared there meal with us. Fully advised on what to see in the city we spent the whole following day sightseeing.

And sure there is a lot to see. Arriving from the train station you enter the city center in a garden along a theater. The former city walls almost disappeared and are now replaced by a garden totally surrounding the historic center, Stare Miasto.


We enter the center through the main gate, protected by a small fortress called the Barbakan.

Florianska gate

From here the main street, Florianska, leads directly to the main market square, the heart of the city. Still wet from the short shower we just received.

Market square

Beside St Mary's Basilika

Most of the monuments and old houses are around, or in the center, of the market square. Like the belfry. Unlike Berlin, almost every building in the center is centuries old.

The Belfry

South of the center is a small hill toped with a castle, the Wawel. It has a very nice courtyard and the cathedral of Kraków is also on the Wawel.


A tower of the Wawel

Castle courtyard

Going down from the Wawel


Out of the center is the Jewish district Kazimierz, a pleasant part of the city with a lot less tourists, because it’s just nice to walk around, but there are not many things to see. Or maybe we didn’t found !

Church on the right bank of the Vistule

Back to the main market square, the afternoon was a lot sunnier than the morning. And so I have much better pictures of the St Mary’s Basilica.

Every hour, on top of the left tower, a man plays trumpet in four direction to reminds the Tatars invasion from the 13th century. They’ll never forget.

St Mary's Basilika

The Belfry

St Mary's Basilika

And at the foot of the Basilica is a bicycle that will soon need new clothes ! (reminds me another one in Lund, Sweden last year)


We spent the evening with our host in a Georgian restaurant, eating some new unknown food with good georgian wine and then drinking maybe the fourth different beer brand of the trip and talking about our plans for the next days in the mountains.

The next morning we left Kraków already. By bus this time. Surely faster than train to reach Zakopane and the Tatras mountains …

Next episode : Tatras >>

PS : An amazing video about Berlin