Hiking through the Scottish Highlands and Travel through Eastern Europe
My parents arrived in town about three weeks later so there was an excuse for more travel. It wasn't hard to fit them into our typical backpacker, 100 people in two bedroom, style flat with so many of the flat mates away. Melanie and mum and dad spent a week on a little road trip and got to Edinburgh for the weekend. Arran from my work took us up to the Lawers Ranges on the Sunday for some hill walking (training for a charity challenge I agreed to do through work)
. I bagged my first two munros (Scottish for mountain), Ben Ghlas and Ben Lawers but mum, dad and Mel didn't make it. I didn't realise how tough it would be and I don't think the pishing rain helped. But I hope they still had a good day. On Monday we drove down to Newcastle via Jedburgh, where we stopped and checked out the Abby and Castle Jail, and then via part of Hadrian's Wall. I was happy as I don't think I would have had a change to see any of the Wall without a car. When we got to Newcastle we jetted off to Hungary and landed in Budapest late at night. We spent Tuesday touristing Budapest .
We went to the market hall for breakfast then strolled along the streets before taking a bus tour all over town, Buda and Pest sides. We had a great Hungarian meal at a local restaurant. Food is all part of travelling. On Wednesday we crossed over to the Danube to the Buda side and spent hours in the Castle district. We went to the Museum too and my favourite part was the basement tunnels you can get lost in. They were very labyrinth like, with a chapel here and there. Mel and I had booked us all on a mini-bus tour around eastern/central Europe for a week which started on the Wednesday. We stopped in Bratislava in the Slovac Republic for lunch. It was a really pretty wee town, at least in the city centre. On the other side of the Danube there are still concrete block apartment buildings from the Communist days.
So we just stuck to the prettier old town, walking along the cobbled streets, through St Michael's Gate, past a park with a statue of a man holding a machine gun (why, I'm not sure-it was all Slovac to me), past the man made of street sewer caps with his head out of a sewer, around St Martin's Cathedral where all the Hungarian kings and queens were coronated back when the countries borders were different, and up to the castle. The castle gardens were nice and there were some good views of the river and UFO bridge and some not so good ones of the concrete block buildings. After crossing over the border into Austria , we drove through some pretty towns and past many ruins of old fortresses, arriving in Vienna late afternoon.
We drove around looking at some very grandiose buildings before we got to the hostel. We had a few beers in the afternoon sun and went into town to a restaurant, 1516, for dinner, followed by a night walking tour of Vienna . We couldn't get to the Hapsburg Palace though because there was some official function or conference on, blocking off most the street. We did get around to the Parliament Building (great fountain) and stopped at the geusthaus, where a classical music concert was going on, to mark the 250th anniversary or Mozart's death or birth (can't remember which). It was showcasing young talent.
The next morning we spent hours at Schonbrunn Palace , Maria Theresia's summer residence. We didn't go inside but the gardens were amazing and sun was beating down on us. We walked up a big hill in the back garden and could see over the city centre. I rolled down part of the hill and when I stopped I was so dizzy I fell over. Then we went to a Henderwassett house, an architect who reminds me of Gaudi. The house he designed was covered in trees and was all over the place. It was very cool to look at. Later in the afternoon mum, dad, Mel and I went back to St Stephen's Cathedral and walked down to the Hapsburg Palace-definitely worth looking at and wandered the gardens and streets of Vienna for awhile before going out for dinner to a traditional wine tavern. After leaving Vienna we drove on to the Czech Republic via the Wacchau Valley .
The Wacchau is Austria 's best wine region. I the first winery we got a tour of the cellars and a run down on how they make wine in the region. Then we tasted three of their wines (and they don't spit in Austria-tasting can get pretty messy!). Their bottles for sale were really cheap because the wine is meant to be drunk young and the Austrians had already tried 2004, etc. We drove further into the valley and stopped in a wee village to walk up a hill to some castle ruins where Richard the Lionheart was kept when he'd been kidnapped by the Austrains. Great views and good training for my charity challenge. When we got back down to the town we stopped a little place to try some liqueurs and jams.
They really like their cinnamon and apricots in that part of the work. The next winery was another family run place and we had a barbeque and wine drinking there. Wandered along the Danube after lunch then drove over the border and into Czech. We stayed in a place called Czesky Krumlov, and it would have been a lot of fun if not for all the rain. But we did explore the castle, gawking at the brown bears kept in the moat, a church, the town's little alleys and some of the surrounding area. We went out on the town and saw a cool funk band and some other cool bars. After leaving Czesky Krumlov we stopped at the Budweiser Budvar factory for a tour of the brewery. It was quite interesting and we got to see the bottling factory and taste the young beer straight from the kegs.
We pretty much drove straight to Prague after that. We got a four hour walking tour and my memories of Prague became a bit clearer (still no better on the directions though!). We went up to the Castle then down to Charles Bridge , the Old Town Square and Wenclelas Square . Prague is beautiful at night. The next day only my family was out of bed. We went into town and did some shopping and wandered along the streets and alley ways. We watched the astronomical clock chime the hour which was disappointing, but some of the crowd cheered so I guess they liked it. The king who commissioned the clock had the clock maker's eyes plucked out so that no other city could have a clock as beautiful as Prague but before they did the clock maker tampered with the mechanisms and now the chimes don't, and never will, finish how they were originally planned. So it was probably supposed to be a lot more impressive.
We climbed the clock tower after the hour and got some great views of the city. We had a picnic lunch in the Wallenstein Gardens which weren't as peaceful as I remembered but I guess people are discovering it now. But then it pished down rain and people left. I showed mum and dad and Mel the church with the wax baby Jesus then we walked up the road to where there are statues on the some steps leaning slightly forward. We were right in the middle of copying them for a photo when the skies opened up again and we were soaked. But the good thing was that we weren't in Scotland so it wasn't cold, just wet. I left the family in Prague for another day and flew back to Edinburgh on Wednesday.
I went back to work for a couple of days and Saturday was my three munro charity challenge. A guy through work organised for us to drive to the Trossachs and climb Ben Lomond (950ish m), kayak across Loch Lomond (1k), drove to the Lawers ranges and climb Meal Nan Tarmachan (1037m) and then drive to a place near Aberfeldy and climb Sheihallion (1084m). In a day. I thought it was a bit ambitious but we left Edinburgh at 5.30am and got back at 1am . Ben Lomond was a good walk and it only rained a little. I fell flat on my face on the way down though but was more embarrassed then hurt. Just skinned my knees like a little kid. The kayak was good fun and gave my feet a rest. We had the best weather on Tarmachan but I found it was hard on my knees on the way down. I just kept on plodding away though.
The last hill was probably my favourite. It started off nice and sunny and the path was easy. It turned to rocks after awhile and the concentration really took my mind off the pain in my knees. So did the wind, the rain, the hail and the SNOW! I was enjoying myself despite the wet but I do think it was the first time I'd been snowed on and hadn't danced around about it. I was really proud of myself for making it to the top because visibility was very limited and the hail stung. Two guys turned back but the rest of us kept plodding away. Then we had to get down off the mountain. We got down before dark (though I still used my new head torch for fun) to find hot chips waiting for us. Being soaking wet and freezing cold, they were the best things I'd ever tasted. I really enjoyed the day but don't think I'll ever walk up 3 munros in one day again. It was tough getting out of bed on Sunday but a lot tougher trying to walk. Stairs were a big problem for 3 days and the family laughed at me for hobbling like an old lady. But I've got a taste for it now and I'm considering climbing Ben Nevis this weekend. We'll see how my boots are holding up. There are 284 munros in Scotland and I've got 5 in the bag so I'm on my way!