Bathing in Budapest

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13th -14th July, 2014

I had grand plans of doing the walking tour on Sunday, especially because I know it’s not running tomorrow. But the three hours just seems a little long, besides I need to go and fetch my passport, and starting at 11am would kinda mess with my day. Would it not be so much more efficient to leave at 8am before the sun eats you up, then you still have most of the day to do fun stuff? So that gets flagged before it’s even properly considered.

Astonishingly last nights experience hasn’t deterred me 100% from getting amongst Budapest’s bathing scene and Cam is keen to get his togs a work out. I flat out refuse to return to Hero Square on the grounds that I’m sure this is not enough time to drain the pools, disinfect and refill. Lucky Cam is a good bugger and doesn’t mind following my grandmother’s recommendation of going to the Gellert Baths, which is conveniently what Nicole has planned too.

After an untimely bout of rain upon arrival we soon find ourselves in a lounger, cocktail in hand and soak up the sun for most of the day.

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Monday sees us doing some more exploring on foot. We saw a lovely cathedral, I invested/splashed out on a bright pink North Face jacket and Cam and I caught the overnight train to Krakow, Poland at 8.05pm.

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Budapest on foot and SPArties (warning – never go to one).

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Saturday 12th July, 2014

Unsurprisingly I was never told what time check out is but when I wake at 10.48am I assume that it’s no later than 11am. Unfortunately I glimpse myself in the mirror as I hustle to the shower. Clearly I had priorities that didn’t include the removal of lipstick and eyeliner at 4am this morning.

I check out in a haze without asking for my passport being held at reception and trudge down the street to Wombats Hostel where I meet Cam and Jake. The three of us set out for Buda Castle. En route we find a cute market trading local made everything. I find a green wallet that I quite like and bargain the price down due to the fact it’s a little damaged.  At the castle I wish I knew a bit more about what I am looking at and consider doing the walking tour tomorrow morning. We wander about, taking photos, picking up postcards and having a snack, in my case breakfast.

 

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Hero Square

Afterwards Jake leads us down to the main shopping district where I see an entirely different side of Budapest. The side where the pavements are clean, bright flowerpots hang from the old English style lampposts that line the streets and familiar brands call me from the sidewalk. In a central square we are treated to a very colourful traditional Hungarian dance performance and some kind of gymnast/aerobic routine. As if I need a reminder that right now I probably can’t even SEE my toes over six weeks of meat, carbs and ice-cream, let alone touch them.

We walk down to the beautiful buildings (maybe that’s just a redundant expression now because I feel like all the buildings are beautiful) where Jake attended uni then he shows us to another previous haunt of his where we can indulge in some traditional goulash. I’m in love with the restaurant, every surface of which, (and I’m talking walls and ceiling) is entirely covered with notes and memos from customers. In Hungary goulash is a hearty meaty stew with vegetables that tastes exactly like it looks; not terrible, not awesome. It’s a hot day and after the goulash I’ve got the boob sweats, which I may have mentioned in the note that I left on the wall.

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Back at the hostel, I am delighted to meet my roommate Nicole, a 31 year old optometrist from Sydney that studies politics and ancient history and goes to trance gigs in her spare time. The talk of the town is the Sparty that is happening tonight. That is a spa party. Giant spa. Pretty much just a pool party really. In Budapest they are all about the baths.

Nicole is travelling solo also and is keen to see what all the fuss is about. Jake and Cam have also been talking about it for a day so I’m surprised that a call from them waking me from my siesta tells me they’re not keen any more.

Happy to go it alone with Nicole, by way of pre-drinks I buy two non alcoholic drinks accidentally (very confusing when you can’t read the labels) and have one cider, which was about 34 ciders too few for what we were about to encounter. Nicole isn’t much of a drinker so we are on the train in no time following the din of party goers. On about the fourth stop the din turns into a full scale party when 60 plus British teenagers whistle, yell, sing and jostle their way into the carriages. And from this point it just doesn’t stop.  We exit the train and line up up with the masses. The very testosterone charged, youthful masses.

The set up is undeniably impressive. There’s two big pools with a fully set up DJ and light show in the middle of them and the music is pumping, no, thumping. In the pools we notice everyone else wearing lanyards with their money-charged cards attached.  After enquiring about where to get them we get back out of the pool and line up at a marquee. After 10 minutes of no movement, discovering the cost of the lanyard and drink prices, we decide it’s not really worth it, besides, it’s cold, and two drinks isn’t going to change our experience.

Our somewhat short night unfolds by way of bug-eyed teens, guys that buy you a drink and think it’s and entry ticket to your bikini bottoms, guys that are checking out their own abs as they fist pump on the stages, but the drop that overflowed the pool was the condom that floated onto Nicole’s arm as we were chatting.

To our credit we stuck it out for half the night, sober, even despite the rumours that you can catch an STI just from getting some of the pool water in your eyes.

Stupidly, neither of us thought too hard about how to get home, as the trains don’t run after 11-12sh and we missed the one night bus because of our inability to communicate with the locals for directions about where to catch it. We wander around Hero Square for some time before acknowledging that we don’t really know how to get back to the hostel and so catch a cab. After long showers we tick off ‘wild pool party in Budapest’ from the bucket list. For young women reading at home this should only be on your bucket list if you want to get groped, laid or diseased and return home smelling of all kinds of piss.

Hello Budapest

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Friday 11th July, 2014

After a delicious breakfast of French toast and fruit salad Melissa drives me to the train station where I meet Cam and Jake for our 11am train to Keleti, Budapest.  The train is lovely, and sets the precedent far too high for what is to follow.  I take the metro (and it’s important to say metro not train I’ve learnt because apparently trains only travel long distances, they do not make up the local underground) one more stop from Keleti and, after a debacle at the main intersection where I couldn’t find any kind of crossing (hint, look underground), on the guidance of others, check into Carpe Noctem Hostel around 2.30pm. They were not able to book me in for my whole stay due to unavailability but I was adamant to see what the fuss was about so I have one night with them before moving to Wombats Hostel with Jake and Cam. Probably a stupid idea in hindsight, and the hostel definitely isn’t worth the fuss. It’s run by a bunch of (mostly) unhelpful Australians and the reception and common room quite honestly look like the flat of a Dunedin first year. I get that it’s a party hostel, and perhaps I have just been treated very well at my accommodation thus far, but I don’t receive any information about the city upon check in and unlike other places the guy wouldn’t even show me to my room until I had gone to get the local currency (called forin but the abbreviated version is HUF so we call them huffs).  He held my passport at reception which was not returned to me on check out and when I asked for a refund on my unused pub crawl voucher (later on), I’m pretty sure I was short changed.  Having said that my room was fine and surprisingly unrowdy and it was nice to see single beds and no bunks (not sure if the whole hostel looks like that though).

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Cam and me bound for Budapest

I meet up with the boys and we do some walking about on foot. I get two cheeseburgers at the nicest looking McDonalds I have ever seen (so bizarre how over here McDonalds is yellow and green not yellow and red!) and an obligatory new-city ice cream. We walk across one of the four or five bridges and get a good view of the iconic parliament buildings.  Jake, who has previously lived in Budapest, takes us to one of his old haunts, a delicious crepe house, which doesn’t disappoint. My impression so far is that Budapest is pretty grungy, which surprises me because my very proper English grandparents profess to love the place. However, I have been taking public transport, the stations of which always contain drunks and beggars and, I assume I’m staying in a different part of town than they would have.

 

One thing I have heard about Budapest is that it is a huge party city with lots of colourful bars and clubs.  We meet some other hostellers in the Womabts lobby, soak up some drinks with them, then head out to one of many ruin bars called SIMPLE.  Don’t ask me what ruin bars are, I thought they were bars built in or around ruins, I was picturing Ephesus all over again, but I think they’re just really old bars.  SIMPLE lives up to its reputation as a generally awesome place to hang out, and, if you’re Cam or Jake, pick up girls. It’s quite hard to describe just how it is awesome, the random decor including chopped in half bath seats definitely keep my eyes interested which I’m thankful for because a number of times I am forced to do just that due to lack of engaging conversation/any conversation.  We go to at least three more bars, one of which is really awesome where I am at one with the Hungarian club music, literally one.  Solo dancing and loving it. By about 3-4am I find myself, drink in hand, literally looking at the ceiling, everyone in the original posse having coupled off.  Thank god for two Irish online poker players that provide half an hour of interesting conversation.  Maybe it wasn’t that interesting.  Maybe it was just me being gobsmacked that they were paid to play online poker.

By 5am I am two hours past being ready for bed and unashamedly bail.

There is no record of these nights on any digital device, for obvious reasons.

The colours of Vienna

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Monday 7th July – Thursday 10th July, 2014

It’s actually really nice to stop and have a breather from typical backpacking travel and I truly treasure every day that I am here, never mind that some days all I do is not much, it’s the company that I enjoy the most, particularly my one on one time with my aunt and each of my cousins.

On Monday I take a long walk to the Vienna Woods and make a pathetic attempt at some exercises.  In the afternoon I visit a beautiful swimming pool  with Melissa.  And let me tell you, I have never seen pools like they have in Vienna (and probably all over Europe).  This one is a particularly ancient swimming hole and it’s on a hill.  We pay the ridiculously expensive entrance fee to a little old lady and her dog in a small wooden room filled with crocheted blankets and other homely knick knacks.  After passing through the beautiful old wooden lockers that smell divine we emerge to the outdoor area.  The pool and small plots of loungers are ensconced in grassy wooded areas separated by steps.  No need for a locker apparently.  Melissa is comfortable getting changed by selected lounger, so …. when in Europe!

We spend the next four hours sunbathing, crosswording, reading, chatting about life and family, and swimming when we get too hot.
Life is good.

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Best. Swimming experience. Ever.

After a delicious home cooked meal I meet Ben after work at the Town Hall, outside of which they are showing a variety of recordings every night for the 2014 Film Festival.  Tonight is a ballet performance that was a tribute to Charlie Chaplin.  A little odd but still enjoyable.

 

 

On Tuesday Sam and I hang out at his friend Sophie’s in the afternoon then the three of us get some cheap eats at an Aussie pub called Billabong.  Sophie splits and Sam and I meet Ben at Ryan and Michaels apartment for a few drinks and to watch Brazil get well and truly booted out of the World Cup by Germany.  At half time Sam and I go back home and watch Vicky, Christina, Barcelona, an unsatisfactory story about a love triangle, or was it love square?

 

On Wednesday I don’t see either of the boys and have a day with Melissa to myself.  We go to the famous Schönbrunn Palace where I do a self guided audio tour that lasts just over an hour.  I learn about the 300 (approx) years of Austrian monarchs that lived there until the monastery was destroyed at the end of WW1, but what I enjoyed more was the aesthetics.  The rooms have been kept in their original condition and the details are just beautiful.  Stunningly ornate fabrics, patterns and colour schemes keep me entertained for the whole time.  Afterwards when I’m roaming the palace gardens I bump into my friend Cam, who I was planning on meeting later anyway.  Him and his friend Jake help me in a moment of distress when I can’t find Melissa, my phone is out of credit and I lose my Australian sim on the ground somewhere.  I’m in a bit of a rush by this stage but we plan a rendezvous tomorrow morning.

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Having located Melissa we head to the Vienna markets and walk through stalls of all variety; fresh produce, food, clothes and home-made everything.  We have a brief lunch stop here before moseying into the city.  I am delighted to stumble upon a glorious place called Karl’s Garten, a small community vegetable garden smack in the middle of the city.  Much of the wooden seating and the raised planter boxes are made from wooden crates, as are the insect houses, specifically designed using bark, pine cones etc. to detract insects from the garden beds.  Seedlings are grown in a fence of inverted bottomless plastic bottles which saves water and is a good use of the dreaded plastic. I’m impressed, and a little in love.

 

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Lost in a daydream

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Walking down the main shopping street in district one, Melissa points out the company that Ben has just started interning at, Peek & Cloppenburg, a department store.  I tell myself I will just take a peek inside.  After two hours my shopping bags and I emerge.  And I told myself I wouldn’t do any shopping in Vienna!

Icecream downed, we walk up the canal, the sides of which are covered in street art which makes me miss Melbourne, jump on the tram and head home for a quiet dinner, TV and a foot bath, massage and pedicure.  Best.  Auntie.  Ever!

 

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YES.

On Thursday I meet Cam in the morning for a thorough catch up over a glass of something red with strawberries in it.  Cam lives in Vancouver but grew up with Adrian in Auckland and I hadn’t seen him since August 2011.  He and Jake, his friend that I met yesterday, are planning on going to Budapest tomorrow.  That’s also my next destination so Cam books us on an 11am train. Boom!

I meet Sam at midday for my arts fix at the Museum of Modern Art (or something).  Now I’m the furtherest thing from an art expert.  I was the person that, when my flatmate in 2009 told me she was going to see Monet at the national museum I responded with “oh is that what they called the giant squid that’s on display?”

We check out three exhibitions and I’m just glad that at least MOST of it isn’t artwork that I look at and say “I could have done that”, which is a voice in my head that I can never manage to stifle when I look at much of the modern art these days.

Sam and I head back and put on movie number three “We Need to Talk About Kevin” (recommend it) and we have a delicious Japanese noodle salad for dinner.  Ben comes over for an hour or two and we say our goodbyes 😦

So what do I think of Vienna as a city?  It’s very beautiful with all of its grand buildings, statues, parks and Viennese architecture.  It’s very socially advanced in many ways. From stories Melissa has told me there is a lot of support available for people unable to work or with young families.  Maternal or paternal leave can be taken for up to two or three years with the parent receiving their full wage in the first year and around 60-70% in the following one to two years.  And there’s the environmental piece which I am so passionate about.  The downfalls are the unfriendly locals and the smoking thing which alas, even I fell victim to.  Having never smoked an entire cigarette in my life, Ben told me on Saturday that I had been helping myself to his cigaretteS on Friday night.  I know “because everyone else is doing it” is not a valid excuse for anything but I can only reason that I would have felt weird with no drink (because I didn’t need any more) or cigarette in my hand surrounded by a group of addicted youngsters.  Shame on me.  My punishment was a slow to develop searing throat followed by an unshakeable cough for the following two weeks.  But the biggest reason I couldn’t live in Vienna?  Simply the lack of ocean.  However, paragliding over the Mediterranean, climbing mountains in Montenegro and visiting lakes in Croatia all pale in comparison with the week I have spent refreshing and cementing the surprisingly familiar bond that is family.

 

My Viennese home.

Cousin love in Vienna

Saturday 5th July Sunday 6th July, 2014

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Having spent yesterday saying “yeah, I don’t really get hangovers” today I come to the realisation that maybe it’s because I’m just sensible about how I drink.  That sensibility went out of the window yesterday in the excitement that came with seeing my cousins.  I don’t have much family in NZ so I really am tempted to scream from the rooftops, “I’m hanging with my COUSINS!”

So today I really feel quite ill.  Sam and I are both sloths, unable to make decisions or coordinate ourselves to do anything remotely productive.  We watch a very intense movie called Snowtown which is scarily based on the true story of a trio of Australian murderers in the 90s.

I have planned to meet Ben for dinner at his place.  That is, Melissa has given me some pasta and other bits and pieces and I have brought some WINE (why, I’m not really sure) because Ben’s cupboards are empty and the supermarkets shut at 6pm.  Even as I step off the tram at 6.25pm, I am suppressing waves of nausea.  However pasta in tummy and one glass of wine down and I am back in the game.  Bottle of wine finished and I am 110%.  I was looking forward to a quiet night in, maybe a movie and good conversation.  However Ben’s friend Anita is having a birthday function at her house and had already planned to meet her for a celebratory drink there.  I could have stayed home.  But instead I go to the birthday function of a 43 year old woman I have never met with her posse of gay male friends. Long story short, my eyes are well and truly opened to the gay scene of Vienna.  Think, men wearing more make up and less clothes than me, a club called The Meatmarket, four hours of doof doof techno music and the most beautiful men I have ever seen in the world.  All topless.  All not interested in me, thank god. I crawl into bed at Ben’s sometime after 4am.

 

Neither of us having drunk much last night we rise at a reasonably sociable hour and Ben takes me on a tour of central Vienna.  We see all the main buildings – the museums, parliament, the town hall, the library, cathedrals, the Hoffburg Palace – and more statues than is really necessary in a city of two million.  There is scaffolding around parts of many of these buildings.  Not just normal scaffolding but scaffolding that is covered with an image of what the building looks like underneath, which goes some way to softening the blow of ruined photographs.  Ben explains that most of these buildings are made of sandstone.  They blacken quickly due to pollution so cleaning teams are moving round the bigger buildings all year around to maintain their natural colour.  We walk through many of the parks and sit down in one for half an hour, the shade a welcome reprieve from the hot sun.

From what I can gather, Vienna has 20 something districts, like suburbs, each one with it’s own flavour.  The first district is in the city centre with all of the main buildings mentioned above and the most expensive real estate in town.  From here, districts 2-8 more or less spread out in rings and the remaining districts are in clockwise clumps.  Ben lives in district nine and Melissa in district 17.

From what I have seen an heard so far, I am impressed.  There are minimal homeless people on the streets, everything is really clean and the standard of living is high.  Me being me, one of the first things I notice is that environmentally speaking, Vienna is doing it right.  There is no plastic bag culture at the supermarkets, the rubbish cleaning/disposal tower in the city is a beautiful, stand-out building designed by a well known architect, not some smelly, derelict place on the outskirts of town and you can even recycle your kitchen oil!

At about 3pm I leave Ben to catch up with his grandma and tram back home.  I’ve got into the bad habit of not buying tram tickets.  Each trip is €2.20 and I figure I can plead innocent tourist if I’m ever checked, because what happens is you buy the ticket then have to validate it on the tram so in my head I would just say that I didn’t know I had to validate it.  During my whole time in Vienna I think I probably got around free of charge for about half the time.  Nearer the end of my stay Sam warned me that they would charge me on the spot if caught so I then I started buying them again.

Melissa cooks an amazing roast chicken dinner for the family and we have a lovely, civil night in.

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Krems and my first night in Vienna

Friday 4th July, 2014

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After breakfast and a delightful reunion with my younger cousin, Sam, the three of us head out for a day trip to a town called Krems about 45 minutes drive away. It’s a sunny day and we wander about the quaint town, popping into whatever shops take our fancy. A traditional meal that can almost only be found in this town is smoked fish crumbed with paprika, I can’t remember the German word for it. We can see them being cooked right in front of us. The fish are about 20cm long and are skewered vertically over a smokey pit. The fish is served with a slice of bread and it is delicious. Hands down the best fish sandwich I’ve ever had, after I got all the bones out.

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Tastiest sandwich ever!

We cross the road and stick our feet in the Danube before heading home.

At about 4sh Sam and I head into the city on the tram to meet his older brother Ben who is the same age as me. We head to one of Ben’s favourite joints, of which there are many, and have drink number one and catch up on the last eight years.

 

Then we go to another bar where Sam has a friend working. And that’s where the damage is done. Can you imagine having happy hour between 10-midnight?? This just would not float in Australia. We do not need any further encouragement to drink at that hour. I thought the whole idea of happy hour was to try and get people in the pubs early??  After several glasses of something green and Long Island iced teas we are well and truly in the throes of family bonding. Sam has a friend DJing at a well known club called Pratersauna and has managed to get our names on the door. We go there maybe around 11-12 and walk in in front of a queue of about 30 partygoers. We dance in the DJ booth, chill outside with Sam’s friends and dance some more. I am gobsmacked when I go outside and see the sky getting lighter. And lighter. And lighter. Ben, who has work the next day (!) leaves about 3sh and Sam and I jump in a cab after 5am sometime and promptly fall asleep on each other in the back seat. I look at my phone as we stumble in the front door and it’s 5.32am.

 

 

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Loving the cousin bonding time. This is the first time we have hung out as ‘adults’. Ben and I dancing in the DJ booth at Pratersauna

 

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I guess Sam and I jumped in a cab shortly after this photo
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xxx

 

Being that it’s three years later that I finally get around to publishing this blog… I googled Pratersauna  and found:

  1. This glorious photo

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2)  That it had been shut down in 2016. I think this quote from the article titled ‘Vienna says goodbye to its most influential club, Pratersauna’ probably summed it up the best: “Suddenly there was a beautiful, dirty club full of dirty, beautiful people. It had after-hours parties that lasted till midday, drugs and some kind of anarchistic spirit. The sound system was bad and the bartenders were even worse. In other words: it was magical.”

The Castle on the Hill & the Church on the Island

Thursday 3rd July, 2014

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Today I tick off two must-do activities in Bled, climb up to the castle overlooking the lake and hire a row boat and get to the island. It’s a hot day and I’m glad the climb to the castle is a relatively short one, about 15 minutes or so. It’s a beautiful day

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My $9 Turkey cons still going strong
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View from the top of the hill. Was a bit tricky to get any photos of the castle due to its close proximity to my camera lens

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We continue around the lake and pay our €10 for an hours boat hire. When I was 14 I did a school exchange to Australia and remember being quite good at rowing.  Well those skills have entirely dissipated in the decade that has passed. With me and the two Aussies sisters Beth and Kate taking turns, we somehow manage to row to the middle of the lake and dock at the tiny island. As expected, there’s not much going on, but we walk around the cute church and I bask in the sun whilst eating an icecream, a record first in at least a week now.

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The Johnston sisters  (Kate left, Beth right) making docking row boats look easy as pie

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After a slightly faster return journey, we walk back to the hostel the way we came so I can get ready for the train. I farewell the girls that have been such fabulous companions on and off for the past few weeks, a bit sad knowing that our paths won’t cross again until we are back in Melbourne.

Then I bus to Bled train station, take a train the short distance to Ljubljana then hang around for an hour or so before catching my 4pm train to Vienna. It does pay to ask the hostels advice about such transport as I nearly paid €60 to leave at 9am then after asking Mika’s advice, discovered the €30 special that left at 4pm.

This is my first Euro train and I actually really enjoy it.  Is it bad that one of my first thoughts is that the train is just like the ones on the Harry Potter movies? The aisle is on one side and the cabins that can fit about six people on the other. Unexpectedly I have a cabin to myself for most of the journey, which is great because I pass out across three of the seats for the first few hours anyway. The countryside is very green and quite similar to that of NZ bar the lack of fences that we have to keep all of our sheep in. Once we cross the border, in Austria I see a couple of old castles on a hill which makes it seem even more Harry Pottery.

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Bye Slovenia! Miss you already

My aunt, Melissa, whom I haven’t seen for eight years, picks me up from the train and takes me back to her beautiful apartment in Hernals, district 17 (so we’re in the Hunger Games now?!). I have never been more grateful to have a double bed in a beautiful room, all. To. Myself. Heaven. It’s after 10pm so we have a quick catch up then head to bed.

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