Tuesday, October 30, 2012

BuDaPeSt, UnGaRn.

Buda-Pest were two different cities on the banks of river Danube, the second longest river of Europe which is now known as one "Budapest" after connected by the Famous Chain Bridge. The Buda is on the western side and the Pest part is on the eastern bank. It is the capital of Hungary and also one of the famous cities in Europe . With so much history behind its name, the beautiful castles and palaces, its worth a visit.

Well, I won't be mentioning out the places to visit in Budapest as there are ample of websites offering the same, however, I'd like to give some useful insights based on my personal experience starting of with your trip planner.If you wish to make your own Budapest trip plan, then I'd recommend Tripomatic a very useful web tool which is unambiguous and gives out useful suggestions including the GPS coordinates.
http://www.tripomatic.com/ , A rating of 3,5 /5

If you are a student reading this post, and I'm guessing you are not too much into museums and stuff, then I'd say two days is more than enough to explore the city. You will be covering all the must visit attractions. Art and history fans can add another day to visit the museums in peace. Many parts of the city can be covered by taking a walking tour which I prefer is the best way to explore any place. One can also do a cycle tour by hiring a bicycle on a hour/day basis at very nominal rates. 

Stay in Budapest is not at all a worry as there are numerous hotels and hostels offering at very reasonable prices. Make sure to just book in advance as Budapest is one of the hottest tourist attractions and you don't wanna end up wasting time in searching for a place to crash.
Well of course one can browse thorugh www.hostelworld.com , you can find many hostels closeby to city centre and train stations, but on a personal experience note, I found Wombats to be a very good choice.
Wombats Hostel, Budapest

It is highly recommended in terms of ambience, location, facilities, price and of course the staff.  A well sized 8 bed(no bunk beds) dorm costs you about Euros 12 a night. Breakfast cost you about Euros 3,5.  Some pics are posted in this link, check it out. http://www.wombats-hostels.com/budapest/hostelpictures/ . I rate this place 4/5. One can also find the so called party hostels for as less than Euros 7/ night but don't book these unless you wanna party into the wee hours.  

Language is a problem as its totally different and its hard to read out the sign boards too, but I'm sure no one will have a problem to get to any place, unless you suck at reading maps. But sometimes it so happens that the names are so confusing, one can easily get lost in the so many "Utcas" like we did. We miss read a place "Kiray Utca" with the actual "Kirayi Utca" and ended up wasting two hours..!!

One of the must visits which people might just chuck it off is the caves of Szemloehegyi and Palvoelgyi.
http://www.budapestinfo.org/caves.html. These are too good to be ignored, make sure to visit atleast one..!! Both are pretty close by to each other. We did a one hour guided tour although the caves stretches for about 40kms. It was just a walk on the trimmed to perfection cement pathway but got to see some very strange formations. It is believed that the present land bodies were once covered with water and vice versa.Hence fossils of sealife can also be spotted. Later we got to know by booking early( a week in advance atleast), one can do spelunking with an expert for about 3 hours.


Talking about the local transporation, it is amazingly cheap compared to other major cities in EU. Hungarian Underground Train network happens to be the first in the entire continent. The Trains and buses are not updated  to modern fancy coaches and can be compared to the old city buses of Chennai ( No offense), but considering the economy of Hungary, I am not surprised, although the connections of trams, local trains and buses are brilliant with very good frequencies. The day ticket costs about 3100 HUF for three persons, which is roughly 3 euros per head and the ticket is valid for 24 hours, not just till the day end. 

Coming to food, its very cheap,  a good meal costs you about Euros 7-8 max in a good restuarant. The food is a little spicy compared to the the western europe. Veggies please beware that Mc Donalds offer no veg stuff here!! . Make use of local super markets to buy fruits and chocolates. 

Some snaps of a Typical Food street.

For currency exchange, I'd recommed some forex at city centers rather than bus stations or hbf etc. we ended up losing quite a few euros initially by exchanging at the bus terminal( They sold at 240 Forints and bought at 280 Forints a Euro). The Forex in the city zentrum are pretty reliable( They sold at 280 Forints and bought at 290 odd Forints a Euro.) Initially carry a few Forints with you as you might need it to reach the Forex place atleast :p .
Ps: The prices indicated were as on my travel date, so expect changes. The link below can give you the present convertion rate.
*Currency Convertor* >> Hungarian Forint to Euros.  

Finally , if you are flying, the Airport is pretty far from the city centre, so make sure to atleast keep 45 mins for the travel as there is no direct local train and one needs do the last 20 mins by city Bus.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Spelunking in the Ice Caves of Salzburg, Austria.

The Ice caves of Salzburg (popularly know as Eisriesenwelt) is perhaps one of the most beautiful place I have visited on earth so far. Its  a 42 km Stretch of beautifully created Stalagmites and Stalactites discovered sometime in the early 19th century by some daring spelunkers.   It is by far the worlds largest Ice caves situated atop a mountain roughly 1700m above the sea level. One can get there by foot or by cable car.

The trek is roughly about two hours considering the time taken to click some amazing landscapes of the Alps visible at a distance. Starting off early gives you a beautiful view of the sunlight falling on the mountain peaks, a real treat for the eyes. One must note the Trek is a bit tricky. At the Entrance counter where one can buy tickets for the Ice Caves tour and the cable car (if needed), we were advised against trekking, but we chose to do it anyway. The pathway is not very clear and easy to walk on, filled with stones and presence of no side railings for most part of the trek makes it a little scary as you have nothing to hang on to.  But if you are an enthusiast , its a must as you get to see some breathtaking views of the Alps and a good trekking experience.  After an ascent  of about 1700 m you can see the entrance to the caves.

Although one does not get to explore the entire 42 km stretch of the caves, a guided tour of first one km is possible. Its a one hour duration tour wherein , one will have to climb roughly 700 stairs equivalent to that of a 40 storey building.  No lightings inside the caves gives you a better feeling of the same.
Before entering everyone is given a Lantern & since the temp are around the freezing point,winter clothing is recommended.  The tour is comprehensively done in English and Deutsch.  The guide will explain the history , how it was discovered and of course some science.  If you are an Indian, you will find stalagmites very similar to a huge Shiv Ling, roughly 30m tall.  Its a shame that photography is not allowed inside. !!
     Pic Source: Austria.info

Getting There:

* Its about 40 kms from Salzburg ,Austria close to a place called Werfen. One can reach Werfen by local "S Bahn" from Salzburg Hbf. A day  ticket is available for Euro 10/ person. It takes about 45 mins to reach Werfen Train Station.
PS: For someone travelling from Bayern area of Deutschland, a ticket called Bayern-Bohemia ticket is valid till Salzburg Hbf.
* From the station, there is a Bus service to the foothills of the mountain organised by Eisriesenwelt every half an hour starting at 8:47 in the morning. A to and fro ticket to the Werfen station costs about Euros 6 and the journey is around 20 mins. 
* At the foothills , one can buy a ticket to the cave tour, costs around Euros 9 . If you wish to reach the caves the cable car, add another Euros 11 to your budget.  Although it is possible to buy a one side travel for Euro 5,5o for someone willing to trek t0 the caves and return by cable car as we did. 

# Please make sure to carry some supplies for the day(Plenty of  water) as there is only one restuarant atop the mountain and the food is pretty expensive. If you are a vegetarian, carrying food is highly recommended.  If you on the move, a Spar supermarket inside the Salzburg Hbf is an ideal place to shop for the trip. Pick up some fruits, choc0lates & drinks. Don't heavy your bag if you are planning on trekking as it really gets difficult.
#Please don't wear any sort of Flat/Plastic soles for the trek.  Since we were not aware of the trekking pathway before, one of our group member had a very tough time by wearning one. !! 
#The caves are opened only in summers,  April - October !! .... Lockers are available for free @ the entrance incase you want to shed down some weight and explore in peace..:-) .
#If you are planning to do a one day trip of Salzburg, make sure to start off early in the day around 7 am to the Ice caves so you be back to Salzburg by 3 pm and you still have about 4 hours of day light with you, very much sufficient to have a quick tour of Salzburg city . 

The link below gives some more info about the place to plan better.