Wednesday, June 22, 2005


It was a silent ride and finally he dropped us off, but in the middle of god knows where. It was a subway stop, but I didn't have any Euros yet and I didn't see any ATMs so it was a godsend that Michaela was being picked up by a friend and Sebastian was kind enough to offer me a ride to the main train station. I thanked him profusely and wished them both good luck finding jobs as he was recently laid off and she was going for an interview.I was to stay at The Tent and the directions said to take tram 17 to Bontischer Garten. So I looked on the map and noticed Bontischer Garten was about 2 blocks away. So I walked. I quickly learned that the actual Garden and the actual tram stop are miles apart. So I hopped the tram and checked in. I had the option of a dorm bed in a smaller tent or a spot in "The Tent". I opted for "The Tent" which is gymnasium sized with lockers, a wooden floor and somehow is colder inside than outside. They gave me 2 foam pads, 3 blankets and the option to upgrade. Bought a beer, talked to the fellow campers around the nightly bonfire and turned in.I awoke and used the 2euro credit they give us for a coffee, roll and a danish and then took the tram into the city. Got off at the main train station and walked towards Marieplatz Sq. where the New Gothic Rathus (town hall) is with the tall Glockenspiel. You quickly realize that the Bavarians are very fond of lions. They are found everywhere, each one colorfully painted with different themes. My favorite was Stonehedge Lion. I walked on thru HofGarten and then arrived at the famous Englisher Garten which is the biggest municipal park in Europe. It's also probably the biggest nudest park in the world! So, when in Rome....Laid out for a few hours and then got some movies and pics of guys surfing the standing wave generated by the river which runs thru the park. Pretty cool for being 6 hours from the nearest beach. After all that I was hungry and extremely thirsty so I found the world's most famous beer hall, Hofbrauhaus. But after getting a look at those 1 liter steins of beer I figured on my empty stomach I wouldn't make it out of there on my own two feet so I passed on the beer. Back at "The Tent" I hung with Stacy and her ex-baby sitter Andy(MN) and Kirstee (Perth) till 1:30 when we all turned in. Now my last day in Europe has arrived and I'll be damned if I'm gonna do anything but go back to the park again and lay in the grass!!This semester is over!! Like all students, I got a little lazy and bored at the end (It all starts to look the same after 100 days, at least the cities). But absolutely no regrets and I'm sure I passed this class and I think I did pretty well! Maybe could have done more. Or could have done less, but it doesn't matter. I'm on my own path and I did it. And now I'm very much looking forward to the next course: India 201- 3rd world cultural&spritual studies. It will certainly be more challenging, but I'm sure also more rewarding!!!! :)


Arrived at the Golden Sickle hostel which was reccomended to me by the Irish guys in Krakow. It's supposed to be a top 10 hostel, but I don't see it. It's ok, but with only one toilet and two showers between three dorms! Maybe the other rooms are better? It does have a nice courtyard to hang out during the day and an excellent pub right next door. It used to be a bomb shelter so like in Krakow when you first enter you think it's the smallest pub in the world, but then it just keeps going and going. The only thing on tap in Pilsner Urquell and that's alright with me! Got in kind off late the first night so I just walked around a bit. Praha is much bigger and urban than I had pictured in my mind.
The next morning it was drizzling so I put on my new rain jacket, but neglected to put on my boots and rain pants since it looked like it would clear. I was wrong. I crossed Kurlov Most brigde and headed up into the hills. I thought I took a wrong turn and wound up in France when I came to the mini Eiffel Tower. Saw the minature museum where you look at everything thru microscopes. Caught site Strahovsky Klaster, Loretta and a couple old churches and museums and the changing of the guard outside of the palace. But the rain was really putting a damper on things so I started to make my way back to the hostel. John (NZ) and AJ (OZ) from Kismet Dao hostel are here also.
At night AJ and I went for some Pilsner Urquel's (The only thing on the tap but that's fine with me) next door. Again deceptively looks small at first, but it was a bomb shelter originally and goes on forever. Beth and Becka (N.H.) joined us and after the drinks I spent from 1-7am on the internet and chatting with Megan (US) and Gordon (Scott) who works the graveyard shift for the hostel. Booked a two day excursion into Czech for the following day. Woke to the sun shining, had the free breakfast and went back to bed. Woke again and arranged my Mitfharzentale German Shared Ride to Munich. Stayed on the Hostel side of the river and walked around taking in the sites including the Jewish Quarter. Made it an early night and went to bed at 3:30am.Packed up and traded The DaVinci Code for Lucky Man-Michael J. Fox. Then hiked to the meeting point for the excursion into Czech.
Peter the trip leader arrived with Varun (NJ), John (FL) and Deserete (CA) and our last stop in Praha was to pick Johan (Sweden). We had a nice 1.5hr drive out of Praha and arrived at Kutna Hora to check out the Bone Church. The story goes: at some point a monk returned from Jerusalem with a couple handfuls of dirt which he spread in the cemetary. Well this made it "Holy Land" and very popular with the rich locals who now all wanted to be buried there. The only problem was that they were full. So they dug up the old poor peoples bones and started burying the new rich ones. (If you don't have alot of money you might want to consider cremation:) Eventually someone figured, "we have all these bones lying around, why not use them to decorate the church?" Well that's exactly what they did. After the church we went for some Czech food at a local pub which for me meant fried cheese and fries! At least the beer was real good!After a little more driving through the beautiful Czech countryside we arrived in Peter's home town of Dalecin where we would spend the night. It's a tiny, picturesque town and there we met Daniel (CA) and Robin (Vancouver/S. Africa) who both were on the last trip but refused to leave because they liked it so much.
We settled in and then strolled along a babbling brook and took some pics of part of an old castle wall. Continued on to Didta's pub for some more local food and drink. This time it meant for me frozen pizza with ketchup!! But again the beer was excellent and we traded shots with the locals while shooting shots of pool. Robin and I won the final 3 game match of the night, but they were gracious losers and invited us to a huge party the next day which unfortunately we couldn't make due to our date with Moravsky Kras Caves. BTW: Robin is a travel journalist for a Vancouver paper and also has a website ( He asks everyone the same three questions and then posts the answers along with a headshot. Finish the following sentances: 1)Today I'm inspired by.... 2)Today I regret... 3)Today I'm thankful for...
Next morning we embarked on our trip to the caves. First a 3km walk thru a nice forest and then a walking tour thru the first part of the caves followed by a boat tour thru the second half. It's 48 degrees in the cave so bundle up and watch your head or you'll come out with lumps! It was nice and worth doing but not particularly mind blowing. I would have been more interesting if the tour had been in English. After the caves it was time for some more authentic Czech food. This time I sampled fried mushrooms and fries. OK I accept that being a vegetarian I have to suck it up with regard to local cuisine, but does it all have to be FRIED!!
A quick jaunt into Brno to drop off Deseret who was going to Vienna and then a peaceful ride back to Praha. Checked into Hostel Levir where I was happy to meet 3 Swedish girls and Dieogo (Brazil). After reading a little (including a Jehovah's Witness pamphlet I turned in.On leaving Diego offered me Angels & Demons which was very nice, but I already read it. Went to a park near the hostel and it took forever to find an entrance. Apparently there is only one.
Layed around in the park for a while and then caught the metro out to the pick up point for my ride to Munich. Had a little time so I wandered thru a mall playing American classic and alternative rock??? I was really hoping for a BMW, Porsche or even a VW since this guy giving us the ride was German and does the trip every week. What did me and Michaela (Czech) get: a 1991 2 dr beat up Ford Escort with no a/c or radio!! Oh Well:( It was a silent ride and finally he dropped us off, but in the middle of god knows where. It was a subway stop, but I didn't have any Euros yet and I didn't see any ATMs so it was a godsend that Michaela was being picked up by a friend and Sebastian was kind enough to offer me a ride to the main train station. I thanked him profusely and wished them both good luck finding jobs as he was recently laid off and she was going for an interview.
I was to stay at The Tent and the directions said to take tram 17 to Bontischer Garten. So I looked on the map and noticed Bontischer Garten was about 2 blocks away. So I walked. Only problem was that the actual Garden and the actual tram stop are miles apart. So I hopped the tram and checked in. I had the option of a dorm bed in a smaller tent or a spot in "The Tent". I opted for "The Tent" which is gymnasium sized with lockers, a wooden floor and somehow is colder inside than outside. They gave me 2 foam pads, 3 blankets and the option to upgrade. Bought a beer, talked to the fellow campers around the nightly bonfire and turned in.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Krakow, Poland

It was a cold rainy day when I left Budapest. A good day to travel. Arrived in Budapest without incident and walked to Kismet Dao Hostel. The references to eastern philosophy were what drew me there which turned out to be spot on. Nice staff, Brand new, spotless, free laundry, free breakfast with kitchen, nice common room and a 24\7 supermarket around the corner. The first night I just bonded with the crew of Irish and English travelers.Woke up to rain so I took my time rousing myself. Went for a walk in the on and off rain for about 3 hours, all the time keeping my eye out for a rain shell, but couldn't find any. That night the crew was bigger and around midnight we all decided to check out a club called "Frantic", but a couple of us were denied because we had on sneakers. So we went to "Prozack" instead which was cool. Looked deceptively small at first, but as you start exploring you find little offshoots everywhere. Wound up downstairs on the dancefloor with a couple of good DJ's spinning. Ordered a 7zt beer ($2) and gave the bartender a 20zt bill. "Do you want change?" "What do you think!!"The next day it was raining again, but can't let that get in the way of the necesary history lesson. So I broke out the emeregency rain parka (basically a trash bag with a hood) and after a little searching found the minibus going to Auschwitz. I spent the 1.5 hour trip wishing I could speak Polish so I could talk to the stunning Pole woman sitting next to me!Aushwitz is obviously sobering and depressing, stirring up a lot of anger! About every 3rd barrack has been converted into an exhibition with tons of literature in Polish, Hebrew & English. If you read everthing it would probably take a few days to complete. Each building deals with a particular aspect of the horror. Poles, Jews, Gypsies, etc. They have displayed:prison uniforms, prayer shawls, heaps of eyeglasses, shoes, suitcases and a really spooky room filled with about a ton of womans' hair collected after the gas chambers for sale to the fabric industry. Complete with traces of cyanide! Outside they still have the barbed wire fences and reconstructed part of the firing squad wall as well as a hanging post where 12 Poles suspected of aiding escapees were publicly hung to warn others. In general it's a horrible place, but seemed sterilized somehow?Walked about 30 minutes to the other camp: Birkenau. It's scale is incredibly daunting and dwarfs Aushciwitz in size. Even though its difficult to fully appreciate the size because most of the buildings have been burnt down their brick chimneys still remain and you can make out the huge area of the camp. It's more of a landmark than a museum. Not much literature here, just an opportunity to fathom the scale of the atrocities! Rows and Rows and Rows of barracks. Horrible conditions, horrifying experiments. Pure Evil! Upon disembarking the train the prisoners were lined up for selection. Not sure if it was better to be selected or not? 25% were selected for a slow drawn out death by hard labor, malnutrition and disease. The other 75% unfit for work marched thru a one way gate to the gas chambers. Went back and drowned my sorrows.Another rainy day. Went to check out the city anyway. Walked thru Rynek Glowny Square which is the largest Medieval Square in Europe. They carry on a tradition there where every hour a trumpet player performs a 5 note, two minute song which ends abruptly which represents the moment the original player got shot in throat with an arrow! Headed past various old churches and past Wawel Castle. From there continued souteast to the Jewish Quarter. Visited the Old Synagogue which is now a museum and the oldest synagogue in Europe. Saw a few more synagogues and circle the old cemetary twice, but apparently the entrances are sealed. Or maybe I'm just blind. I finally found a rain jacket at the Jewish flea market and everyone in Krakow can thank me for that because it immediately stopped raining and the sun came out!! :)Later after hanging with the Kismet crew we decided to go out to Prozak again, but they wouldn't let us in. I probably shouldn't have rolled up with 12 rowdy/loud Irish guys! Early that night the square was realy afire with activity because Krakow won their football championship and it brought out the riot police. But by the time we got there it was just a very quiet Sunday night.The next morning it was at least dry so I went to see Wawel Castle, the old Royal residence. Then rolled down again to the Jewish Quarter which is really kind of boring, but I had nothing better to do. Everyone was kind of burnt that night so I just collected my clean laundry (free!, which is nice cause you usually have to pay about $10 for one load in Europe!!) and packed up for Prague.

Sunday, June 19, 2005


Made the 7:10am train and sat with a couple from Seattle who had rented a sailboat and cruised the Croation islands. Arrived and hooved it 2 metro stops to teh Almos Hostel. Got there and there was a note with a number to call to be let in. Pain in the Ass!! I had no Hungarian money so I went in search of an Atm. Couldn't find one! Apparently I went in the wrong direction because after backtracking I found one 2 blocks away from the hostel. Now all I have to do is break a 10,000huf note($50.00). Tried to buy a coke, but they wouldn't do it so I bought some authentic Hungarian food, Subway:) Made the phone call and the receptionist got there within five minutes. The hostel was tiny! A kitchen, a bath, and two rooms with with eight beds. Good location though. She marked down the sites to see on the map and left. I climbed into bed for a nap, but Konstatine (Clark from L.A.) checked in and we started talking. Two Aussie girls (Kathy & Jo) overheard me talking about Croatia and joined the conversation. Around 10pm we went to a bar recommended to them called Szimpla. It used to be housing, but has been converted to a locals hangout with the courtyard serving as an open air patio. Cool place and cheap. 360huf ($1.75) for a good beer. Sat and talked with an Ex-pat from L.A. and two of his local friends. They shut down at 2am. Jo & Clark were fired up for more action, but it was Sunday and there really weren't any options so we headed back to the hotel. We were barely through the front gate when some old lady yells something in Hungarian from inside her apartment. Presumably, "Shut the hell up!!!". We all turned in and within seconds Clark is sawing logs.Woke up and had a cup of Joe with Jo, Kathy and Clark and we all decided to go to the Hungarian thermal baths. We walked up thru Varosliget Park and Hero's Square. The seven main "hero's" were the leaders of seven tribes who were instrumental in forming\liberating Hungary. From there we made it to the Szechenyi Furdo Baths. Very enjoyable and relaxing. Mulitple mineral pools inside with graduating temperatures, saunas, various outdoor pools, a steam room where I couldn't see my hand in front of my face and even a whirl pool which whisks you around in circles. Lo and behold who do I see in the whirl pool circling behing me, Dave, Alex and Will from Croatia. Something weird is going on behind the cosmic scenes to cause all these paths to cross and recross. $10 for all day, but you get an automatic refund if you use less time. Well worth it! Afterward we tried some Hungarian pretzels. Huge with the salt baked inside and then stopped for some falafel pitas. On the way back we checked the times for "Taming of the Shrew" at the famous opera house, but no shows tonight.The girls left early to continue their journey and Clark and I had some more authentic Hungarian food for breakfast, McDonalds Egg Mcmuffin:) We then went exploring the city. First to Margaret's Island which is essentially a huge park. The story goes: A warring king declared that if Hungary won the war they were fighting he would sacrafice his daughter! Well they won the war, but to avoid sacrafice his daughter became a nun. She lived on the island for over 20 years and when she died they renamed the island after her. We strolled down the Danu river and took in some great views including a climb up "Castle Hill" which was a great place to check out the impressive Parliament building as well as the whole city. Passed the "Citadel" and then I dragged Clark and his blistering feet (he just started his trip and wasn't acclimated to all the walking) back across the river to search for Buddha Beach. We found the area, but I didn't spot one Buddha!!?! Along the way we found a vegetarian restaurant called "Eden" and stopped in for dinner.Clark had a Russian cous-cous kind of thing like his mom used to make and also ordered a walnut pasta dish which he wound up taking to go. I had a "Wheat Beef stew" dish with soy dumplings and a strawberry milk shake. All was great except the drinks cost us 3 times as much as we thougt they would because the menu prices were for 10cl while we got 30cl drinks. I still wound up getting a great meal for about $8.00.After dinner we went back and changed for the Ballet and brought along a newcomer, John (PA). We got a little lost and got there late, but it didn't matter. The show started at 7pm, but the ticket office closed at 6:30pm which is when we left so we would have never made it. So we picked up a couple of English girls and went for a beer. When the bill came the girls didn't have enough to pay so they went off to the Atm while we sat and wondered if they would come back. They didn't seem the type, but you never know. They were taking a long time on a chilly night so we were contemplating a plan to run. Hey, we left our share! They eventually came back though and all ended well. The next morning I planned on going to Krakow, Poland. Well that was the plan. I went and bought my ticket, but didn't specifically ask for the 11:50am train and instead got an overnight ticket. That was no good, especially since I've heard way too many stories of people getting gassed of the Poland/Czech overnight trains and waking up with everything gone. So I got back on to a superslow line and by the time I got up to the window the train had gone! Changed the ticket anyway, emailed to Krakow hostel regarding the delay and searched fpr a bed for the night. Wouldn't you know it, nothing available!!! Uh, Oh!! So I went back to the Hostel I was at hoping for a cancellation and prepared to beg for a couch for the night. Well there weren't any cancellations, but there was a big bed in the office which was offered to me. DONE! Left and went out for pics of the largest synagogue in Europe as well as a nice basilica. Then went back and changed for the opera. Luckily I had bought my tickets earlier in the day because I found myself jogging to the opera to make it on time!! It was interesting. And by interesting I mean bloody awful!!! Of course it was in Hungarian, but it did have subtitles. In Hungarian!?!? Which was ridiculous because I don't speak Hungarian and I could follow it. It was about two guys, one rich and one poor. They apparently both like to sleep in. The rich guy gets awoken very gently and lovingly. The poor guy gets beaten out of bed and cursed at. Poor guy sleeps on a park bench, Rich guy meets a whore and screws her complete with climax scene. Very Slow. Until the last scene of the first act when the whore comes out and does her Aria. No, I don't think it could be called an aria. Let's say solo. Until this it was all very classical, but now changes to Vegas Caberet number complete with 16 guys doing coreographed moves behing her. Very strange!! I enjoyed it most when I closed my eyes, tuned out the singing and just tuned into the orchestra which was very good. Tomorrow I hope to make it to Krakow......??????


After getting to stretch out for a while on the train eventually 3 guys from Croatia/Macedonia joined me which turned out to be a good thing since they were able to translate for me the message that we had to unexpectedly change trains upon crossing the border. I got my passport stamped on this trip more times than in all my previous travels combined. We arrived in Zagreb and two of the guys were continuing on to Split and since I didn't think there was much to do or see in Zagreb I tagged along to the bus station. I decided to go all the way to Dubrovnick which is supposed to be the crown jewel of Croatia and then make my back up to coast. After a 9 hour train ride from Venice I wasn't looking forward to the 12.5 hour bus ride, but ya gotta do what ya gotta do. It seemed like there weren't any local buses in Croatia, just this one bus hitting every out of the way stop in the country. I think we were on the freeway maybe an hour in total and throughout the night we stopped and picked up rowdy party people going home for the night. More stops upon entering Dubrovnick for ID's. I think they were just making sure no underagers were entering since they didn't take any real interest in my US passport. Travel tip: don't bother trying to book a hostel in Croatia. First of all, there really aren't any (well maybe one). Second of all, as soon as you get off the train you'll be accosted by a group of people running towards you offering rooms. A lady offered me a room for 100kn, but I talked her down to 90kn and saved a whole $1.50! She spoke just enough English to do her business, but her daughters spoke it well and it was a decent enough room with kitchen access and a good location. When we got there she offered me coffee, but I was worn out and declined. Instead I climbed into bed and passed out. Woke up and went straight to the beach. Quite a decent into a nice cove with quite a few people on the beach which was not sand. Rounded stone with splotches of tar! Gotta deduct points for that! The water was nice though and had a good swim while checking out the local kids cliff jumping from some dizzying heights (~11 meters). One of three Brits (Dave) I left my stuff with on the beach did the big jump. Didn't hit it perfectly and hurt his back a little. To add insult to injury his mate (Alex) didn't get the pic because his battery died. After the beach I headed back to the room where I was very excited to cook up a nice veggie/cheese omlette, but between the time I dropped off my groceries and retrieved my knife from the room the lady of the house had poured me a bowl of noodle soup, bread and 2 mysterious fish. Well I couldn't say no so I ate the soup with bread, but put the fish back. My omelette will have to wait. Went for a walk along the coast, briefly me the middle daughter and later that night I finally got to enjoy my eggs.The next day I went for a walk in a state park, but apart from the views and some guys pilfering rocks there wasn't much to see. Back at the residence I met a couple from Perth who were headed to Rome so I gave them some information and in exchange Collin offered me The Davinci Code. "Sweet, Thanks" (Good book, but I think Angels & Demons was better). Repeated the beach scene, started my jogging again and in the after sunset I went for a stroll to check out "Old Town". Which isn't really old since it was bombed to hell and then faithfully rebuilt recently. None the less it was cool to check out even though I'm sure back in the day it wasn't overun with commercialism like it is today. Or maybe it was, just without the flourescent lighting? Later back at the house I met the oldest daughter, but our conversation was cut of abruptly with the arrival of her boyfriend!Repeated everything again the next day. Beach, jog and then pics in Old Town. Next morning I walked to the bus depot for a 4.5 hour bus ride to Split where I was again surrounded by landlords. One actually thought I'd pay 20 euros for a room! Eventually a nice lady offered me a room nearby for 120kn, but I told her 100kn was my limit and she agreed. Nice room with a tv and since I was staying two nights Grandma (thru the husband cause she didn't speak any English) gave me permission to use the kitchen. Dropped of the pack and went wandering along the coast. Hordes of people on the beach and frolicking in the water which is incredibly shallow. It's about knee to thigh deep for a good 120 yards. Croatia is pretty famous for nude beaches designated by "FKK", but I only saw on pair of breasts! Later I learned that there aren't any FKK's in Split:(Went for a jog in the other direction along the coast, came back and met Jeff (England) and the retired to watch a interesting movie called "Blaze". True story of Earl Long (Paul Newman) who is the Governor of Louisiana and gets involved with a stripper. Which along with his progressive stance on civil rights causes him his office. Then he runs for Senate and wins, but dies before the last vote was counted.Next day I skipped breakfast and went straight to the beach. Plenty of cute girls and many older woman, but I'll be damned if I know where they are hiding the 20/30 somethings!! Sitting at a table a group of teenage girls asked me something in Croatian so I smiled and said no comprende. But they, as all young croatians know English so I quickly realized they needed a whole Kuna (~16 cents). I gave it to them and they went off and to probably a soda. Then a teenage boy came up to me and asked for a cigarette. But when I told him I didn't have any he asked if I'd mind talking with him and his friends. I invited them to sit and we discussed politics (Bush/EU), traveling and music. One had travelled quite a bit and another was really into Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, etc. Which was very suprising to me since they were barely out of highschool. After a while they made me promise that if I made it big in music that I'd come back to Split and play a concert. I told them I'd do one better. I'd bring Dylan to open the show. Next day I'm catching the 11:30pm bus back to Zagreb so I spend the day much like the rest and settle in for a 6.5 hour ride. Arrived and asked a couple of students who were walking to school (on Saturday!? that sucks) where I could find an internet connection. They walked me there, but I found no availability in Budapest. Damn! No sleep last night and it looks like I'll be spending another sleepless night in a train station. The internet showed absolutely no hostels in Zagreb, but I went and got a hotel guide and lo and behold there is a hostel and it's only 3 blocks away. It was run down and I couldn't check in untill 2pm, but it was cheap and in a great location. Walked around and chilled in a park till check in and then crashed. Woke, walked, took pics, went for a jog and capped it off with a very cold shower, not by choice! Met a young couple from Oregon who pointed out an earlier train to Budapest than I had seen, went and confirmed the train and finished off the night watching the locals hanging out in the park on a Saturday night.
To conclude: Croatia is a nice place to visit, but regarding Dubrovnick I feel I have to make one last comment. Everyone I spoke to said "YOU HAVE TO GO TO DUBROVNICK!!!". Well for the record I'd put it in the category of: "It's a nice place to visit for a couple of days, but don't make a special trip". It was really overhyped to me, so I just want to adjust the bellcurve a little. :) (However if you happen to be an ant with your own wave generating machine you could have some epic waves all to yourself. So Flat!!)