After spending some time workaway-ing at a nearby farm, it was time for us to get back to the big city and enjoy the sights and charms that Kiev, the capital of the Ukraine, had to offer. Life was simple back on the ol’ farmstead, and we enjoyed the daily chores of milking the goat, feeding the animals, fetching water from the well and scouring the property for eggs never laid in the same place twice. Evgeniya, our host, had bought this large property in the village of Bobryk and started a farm in order to independently sustain her family. Pretty much all the food we ate was grown from her land, including the delectable chicken eggs (when we could find them) and fresh goat’s milk. As much as we enjoyed having a break from being a tourist, a time to let our minds rest with a few chores to keep us busy, Ashleigh and I were eager to find out what was beyond the outskirts of this small village.
The day before New Years Eve we set off on a hop, skip and a jump through Slovakia, with only a week before our time to be exiled from the Schengen area, and kissed Austria goodbye. My mind was completely open to whatever this country of former Czechoslovakia had to offer and I was hoping to explore the best parts within our restricted time-schedule. Banská Bystrica was our first target in Slovakia (not counting Bratislava)– a small, university city on the south-western edge of the Low Tatra Mountains.
This is terrible to admit, but before I visited Slovakia the first thing that came to my mind when I thought of “Bratislava” was that funny movie Eurotrip from 2004. Essentially, the lead characters end up in Bratislava by accident after a hitchhiking adventure gone wrong. Stepping out of the lorry they rode in on, they are confronted with a desolate, Soviet-esque block of litter-strewn, grey apartment buildings complete with an old man bathing from a bucket and a dog holding a severed human hand. Awful, eh? Putting that out of your minds for a moment, Bratislava isn’t at all the depressing, desolate capital that Eurotrip pokes fun of. It’s vibrant, fun, and was the perfect weekend-getaway for us while we were living in Vienna.
Having a weekend off from babysitting duty in Vienna, we were trying to figure out the best place to spend our Christmas holidays– and it had to be somewhere cheap because Austria was killing us! A fine thing about being in central Europe is that you’re rarely more than a couple hours away from the nearest border, Austria itself being closed in at all sides by Slovenia, Hungary, Slovakia, Germany and the Czech Republic (don’t forget Liechtenstein!). Surveying our choices, we decided it would be fun (and cheap) to take a couples’ vacation up to Brno, Czech, only a couple hours by bus from Vienna. Czech is a country we’ve visited before on our trip to Prague and Karlovy-Vary, and we were more than happy to return to its loving embrace.
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Vienna?
For me, hmmm… the Grandeur. Stately, Baroque palaces and government buildings lit by crystal chandeliers, grand ballrooms attached to richly furnished lounges. Considering the area has been inhabited since 500 BC, it’s not surprising that they’ve had some time on their hands to build such a beautiful city. Esteemed artists would come to Vienna from all around to live and work, surrounded by inspiration. Mozart, Beethoven, and Strauss (I and II) are just a few superstars I could name that have filled Vienna’s cobbled streets with their music.
When we arrived in Salzburg, Austria on Dec. 5th, Christmas had already come! The streets were lit up with brilliant lights and the smells of baked goods wafted deep into our senses. Around every corner Christmas carollers galore sang traditional tunes, accompanied by brass bands and accordion players. Mulled wine was being quaffed in sickening amounts and temporary stalls, set up in several of Salzburg’s squares, were selling a multitude of bees-wax candles, holiday decorations, and mountains of sugary sweets. Little did we know that all of these familiar festivities were leading up to something strange…. and possibly terrible.
We arrived into Ljubljana a bit earlier than expected, but excited nonetheless. We were right on time to watch the Christmas lights start going up and in just a few days the city would be lit up! In the meantime, time to get to know the city behind the dragon.
Ljubljana is a great mix of everything I love to see in a capital: laid-back vibe, easily walkable, great cafes and restaurants, and plenty to see. The central market was perfect for grabbing everything we’d need. Besides the fresh fruits and veggies, there were cheeses galore, mountains of sauerkraut, fresh flowers, and even, if you so desired, running shoes. The Christmas markets were just getting going, mostly Advent wreaths in every size, shape, and colour possible.
Deep within the Finnish wilderness, there is a secret valley. The valley is surrounded by a thriving, untouched wilderness and a magnificent forest of tall, dark trees. There is something special about this forest, something ancient that lives, and breathes, and watches. The people of the small, nearby village of Fagervik do not know about this secret valley nor do they dare go into the woods, for it is said that only those of pure heart are allowed entry.
We arrived in Stockholm bright and early, eager to get the most out of our stay. We had planned on a two-night-extravaganza-adventure in Stockholm before taking a ferry to Helsinki. We lucked out and found a great deal on a hostel right in Gamla Stan, the historic old town!
We couldn’t believe how affordable it was considering how ideal the location was. Everywhere we could possibly want to go was within walking distance or a short train ride. Added bonus? We had booked two beds in a four bed mixed dorm, rather than a private room, to save a bit of money, and no one ended up booking the other beds so we had a room to ourselves anyway! Perfect!
My Top Five of Denmark
Frederiksborg Slot was built by King Christian IV in the early part of the 17th century. It was a bit of a train ride north of Copenhagen, but situated in a lovely little city of Hillerød it was well worth the trip! We loved the lived-in (and spooky) feeling of the rooms. It was easy to imagine the royal family gazing out the windows at the lake or beautiful gardens. There were walking paths out behind the castle leading to the well-manicured palace gardens (we had a lovely lunch) as well as rougher trails leading into the spooky forest (with a witch’s house! Or at least, we imagined it was 🙂 check it out). We could have spent all day wandering the palace and the grounds, well-worth the admission!
Sweden, Sweden, Sweden! We had a brief stop in Gothenburg on our way to Copenhagen, so here are some pictures! We decided on staying just two nights since we weren’t thrilled with our hostel and we were eager to see Copenhagen. Besides taking a moment to make the obligatory Batman jokes, we also found time to take in a rather interesting art exhibit (you’ll see what I mean).