This blog consists of 4 parts, focused on Prague, Vienna & Bratislava, Hallstatt & Krippenstein and Budapest respectively. Feel free to jump to the section of your choice.
The capital cities of Prague, Vienna & Budapest are often referred to as the Golden Triangle. And while little Bratislava often passes under the radar, it deserves attention during any visit to this area - for the welcoming people, if nothing else. In 11 days, we covered all these cities, AND a fascinating Austrian gem a.k.a must-visit, even though it took us beyond the triangle. Here is how to do it all right.
Part 2 - Hallstatt & Krippenstein: For us, a trip to Austria comprised of two parts: city and the mountains. To begin our Austrian adventure we decided to explore the mountains first with these two gems. If possible, we’d advise you to take a train straight to Hallstatt, past Linz. This will allow you to stop by to see the city if you’d like. It depends on the time of the year because your trip really should revolve around the opening times for Krippenstein cable cars from Obertraun. What’s all this, you ask?
Hallstatt, is considered one of the prettiest little towns in existence. A picture-perfect lake town, it’s a hidden gem that a lucky few had been able to visit until it exploded on the Instagram scene (which means overtourism). Like us, there is a good chance that you too might see yourself retiring here. Luckily, the train station is on the other side of the lake, which means not only do you get a jaw dropping view of rivers, lush greenery and snow-capped mountains to train-ride by, you also get to ride a boat on the pristine lake to the gates of the town.
How to guide your walk in this town? You really can go in either direction, climb up stairs, cross over to different levels or circle around. Hallstatt is really about soaking in the town vibe, the shades of existence that make you feel fortunate and draw your attention to fresh air and calming sights. Visit the church, visit that cafe by the dock, visit the quaint square and its shops, try a pie in one of the cafe-restaurants there, dine by waterfront and order whatever, walk up to the bus stand and walk back again, or hike up the levels.
Take your time here, but make sure you’re back across the lake to catch the train to the very next stop (literally 2 minutes away) at Obertraun.
There’s so much said about Hallstatt but thankfully, little is known of the other gem in the area - Krippenstein. Timing is key to catch one of the last cable cars going uphill from Obertraun after you’ve soaking in Hallstatt to satisfaction. Two rides up the cable car will leave you top of the Austrian Alps, at Krippenstein. The day we arrived was the first open day of the season (hence, the need to time our entire trip around this). If a lucky few get to Hallstatt, the luckier still get to Krippenstein.
This station is the second of three stations on this route, with the final station leading to the Dachstein glacier. There is a lodge here for you to spend the night, which we absolutely recommend. The chance to hike in the area up till the 5-Fingers, observing the majesty of Alpian peaks on the way (and the occasional, scarily ominous approach of dark clouds as if they’ll hit you right in the face) is worth every step. As is the chance to sit in the restaurant balcony, also the highest outlet of Pilsner beer in the world, and to sip and soak it all in. As is the chance to look at the glacier, even if you haven’t visited the 3rd cable car station. As is the idea of waving goodbye to the silence of a starry sky and waking up to a sunrise high in the solace of mountains.
A stay in Lodge Am Krippenstein is made amazing not only by the incredible hospitality of the staff there (so behave!) but also the option to go paragliding and cave hiking the next morning. First, the staff. The days we stayed, the area was still laden with snow despite the beginning of its summer season. The staff not only lent us snowshoes to help us hike up the mountain to 5 Fingers (a lookout point over Hallstatt) but also gave us a bike ski ride from the hotel to the cable car station in the morning. As Mr Fly never misses to point out, when in the mountains, do take a moment to pay your respects to the grandeur of nature. Mountains can be a tricky place after all.
As we descended down the mountain the next morning, we stopped at the cable car station 1 to head to the Dachstein Giant Ice Cave. There are several caves in the other area, including the Mammut Cave, all reachable by short steep hikes. You can time yourself based on the ticket you purchase for the guided tours. The ice cave is awe-inspiring in the magnitude of ice buildup from mere trickles of water from the surface of the mountain. And on these slippery ice slopes, curving into the dark unknown, we learnt that the region holds periodic performances every year! Can’t imagine how, but it should be one to experience. Also part of the experience are light-and-sound shows as well as a tete-a-tete with Ben & Boris - cave bears from the local folklore!
The journey down the last cable car is almost instantly nostalgia inducing to what you have experienced. And as one section of the mountain ends to reveal the lower mountains with a view of the ground, you almost want to cling on and no let go. For us, however, much of our trip remained - with Vienna & Bratislava and Budapest coming up next. And if you want to read about our Prague part of the trip click here.
If you ever decide to go on trip across the golden triangle, Prague, Vienna and Budapest, don't forget to stop over at Prague's Original Beer Spa. Trust us! It's a heavenly experience.
On the second day of our visit to Prague we woke up late & headed out for this very Czech-start to our morning. The Beer Spa is just as awesome as it sounds. It’s a unique concept where you get to sit & soak in barrels of beer (technically, it’s a mix of beer ingredients) while sipping on limited beer on a dedicated tap right beside you (!) and munch on bread! In a country where beer is cheaper than water, it should come as no surprise to see this as a possibility.
Reservations are advised for a one-hour session, during which Mr. Fly and I had the room to ourselves. The process is as follows: once you are led to your room and introduced to the concept, the host leaves you to things after starting a timer. You start with a very quick shower in the adjoining bathroom, post which you can step into the beer tub.
2 things to keep in mind for the beer spa, besides making an advance reservation:
As we stepped in and sat down the tub, the warm water (read: beer) bubbling with underwater jets soothed our muscles while the beer detoxified our skin (that bit looks to be scientifically true). This is your moment to fill in your mug with free flowing beer on tap right beside you, grab a slice of bread to munch by the side and enjoy the combo while the beer does its job on your body - both in and out. We chit chatted and cozied up in the ensuing minutes, wary of the time though.
With around 15 minutes to go, we moved out of the tub and onto… a straw bed! As if the experience needed more of a barn feel to it, we spent the next ten minutes or so gently dozing off and letting our bodies cool down and relax more. The straws can poke your skin, which is why you are provided with a bed sheet to spread over, and a blanket to be extra warm. You will be inclined to doze off too, but give yourself the last 5 minutes once the warning buzzer sounds, to get dry and get dressed before the host shows up in the room.
While your stay in the room is limited to the clock, your visit to the beer spa isn’t. You are free to help yourself to more beer and bread outside in the lobby. With beer inside helping your mind loosen up and the beer outside helping the muscles (and your now-glowing skin), the spa leaves you with a rather oxymoronic feeling of a soothing sense of fun. A unique experience worth trying!
To explore other such fun experiences in Prague click here.
Ever had that feeling that you needed a vacation from a vacation? Well, that was what we felt after a nearly two week trip filled with visiting relatives and friends, and living out of our suitcases. So to restore that feeling of a vacation, my brilliant Mr. Fly came up with a fun idea for our 2019 winter layover visit - An evening in Helsinki! But what can one possibly do in the long dark evenings of a frigid Capital on the shores of Baltic Sea, on a Sunday?! I was in for a pleasant surprise.
Getting to Helsinki from the Vantaa airport is a fairly simple ride aboard the local commuter train (Line I or P) that takes you to the Helsinki Central Station. We stepped out of the station, expecting closing shops and citizens retired in their homes. Yet there it was, hello Helsinki! We could instantly feel the Christmas magic in the air with its pixie lit streets. And of course, knowing yours-truly Mrs. Fly excited to go shopping, our first stop on the itinerary was a visit to Forum Mall across the road! Although lined with more commonly known brands such as H&M and Mango, this mall is a great place to explore some of Finland’s most loved ones too. I highly recommend snagging a cute coin purse from the Moomin shop! With the cute coin purse by my side and handsome husband holding my excited hand, it was time to hit the jackpot with food! In the mall itself is KIPPO - a local vegan joint, this little food stall is positively plant obsessed and delicious! Our hot plate that day was a sandwich called Johnny Cashew. Made of cashew cheese sauce (yep!), avocado, red bell pepper, pickle and basil, this is one treat that still has my mouth watering 2 months later! Next up was the much heard about Fazer Cafe. Personally, I felt this is one of those places you visit just for a check mark, given the omnipresence of Fazer chocolates in Finland.
With our bags and bellies full we then decide to soak in a few moments of peace at the Kamppi Chapel. A mere 4 min walk from the mall this chapel is the epitome of silence. Adorned with a beautiful wooden interior, it’s no surprise that this chapel won the International Architecture Awards in 2010. Sitting in its well respected silence, I could swear that I could hear the air wizz around me! A refreshing change for every person considering our modern and busy lifestyles. If you love adoring unique architectural designs I would also recommend a visit to the nearby Temppeliaukion Rock Church - A 12 min walk away. We decided to skip this one having been to a rock church on our recent trip to Budapest. But should you have an experience from a visit to the Temppeliaukion Rock Church you that would want to share with us, do leave a comment about it. Nonetheless, surrounding the chapel is a fascinating urban flow of tiles that invite you to climb up and down in frolic. Take a few pictures, pretend a micro-hike and wonder what inspired it! Oh and speaking of which, Finland believes in the right and freedom to public spots - so you are allowed to access most places. In other words, if you come across a towering rock on your walks, feel free to scale it as long as you do it safely and responsibly.
Next up was a walk to the harbour front where awaited a surprise for me. The walk had me starry eyed with the endless streams of overhanging pixie lights. It was in these moments that we realized how lucky we were to drop in on this city in the dark, when the lights and glimmer were in full bloom.
On our way to the harbour we approached a street that left us feeling as if we had walked into a Christmas magic movie. At the centre of it stood a huge Christmas tree decorated with magnificent ornaments and surrounded by reindeer statues brought to life with beautiful lighting. Snuggled around this magical set up were people sipping on a Finnish version of mulled wine called Glogi. While you may feel that you are familiar with the taste of mulled wine, I assure you that a sip of this Finnish drink on a cold November night will take you on a hot, spicy and exotic adventure. Sipping on a glass of Glogi each we approached the Helsinki Christmas market lined with vendors selling traditional Christmas goodies. With a quick stroll through the market it was now time for the much awaited surprise. My darling husband had booked us a stay at Hotel Boat Issosari! What this meant was that we were spending a romantic night in the deep dark waters of the Baltic sea snuggled in a cozy cabin. But wait, it wasn’t over yet.
After quickly freshening up we headed towards the next phase of this surprise and what would soon be the most relaxing moment of the day, Loyly Spa! In the World Capital of Spas where every building seems to house one, this urban oasis occupying a stretch of beautiful Helsinki waterfront is a must have experience while in Helsinki. For a mere cost of 19 Euros per person, you and your partner can enjoy a relaxing thermal treatment ranging from cozying up next to a fireplace while you sip on a glass of wine, sweating out in a hot stone room to taking a plunge in the Baltic sea! I highly recommend reserving a spot for yourself in advance as this place is usually very busy even in the peak of winter!
Nearing the end of our stay at Helsinki we headed to our last stop before we called it a day - a restaurant located a 5 minute walk away from Hotel Boat Issosari. Ravintola Laava is a funky restaurant/lounge with a class of its own. With various dining rooms and different themes to choose from, we decided to sit in the Hidden Grotto. Designed to look like a mysterious cave in the Usva forest, the stalactites, hazy pond and artistic forest decor of this room created a unique atmosphere for us to get lost in. The menu had few vegetarian options to choose from but we would highly recommend their Pumpkin Risotto. Made from roasted pumpkin in a new Italian risotto, a touch of white chocolate and fried pistachios, this was definitely an amazing treat to end our day on. A special shout out to the chef who very sweetly so made a special dish for us, on the house, with a combination of local spices, sweet corn and a blend of cheeses; an absolute gastronomical experience!
In the hours that we had spent in the Finnish capital, as we retired to our boat cabin facing the silent pitch darkness of the Baltic underwater across its circular window, we had forgotten that this was simply a layover between flights back home. An early morning wakey wakey and we headed back to Vantaa to conclude our 1 day trip to Helsinki and what I would remember as one of the best birthdays ever!
Important Note: Just in case you happen to wander over to one of the lounges at the Vantaa airport, don’t underestimate their hot chocolate and their Oreo dunked in fresh milk. That’s the magic of freshness delivered in some simple pleasures of life - the Finnish way!
Who are Mrs. & Mr. Fly?
Mr. Fly is a central character in the ongoing Kalki Evian series of books. Originally conjured in the fictional narrative to describe an unbiased view of our everyday world, he was soon joined in real life by a jolly Mrs. Fly who taught him how to truly discover pleasures in little things often missed while living out fast-paced lives. As they began exploring, this blog took shape with a view to share what they saw.