A Travellerspoint blog

Internet woes!!!

Lack of internet means no time to update the blog!!

sunny 28 °C

Mateja, his father and I are at a cafe in downtown Nis right now. Unfortunately, internet is hard to come by right now and this is the best I can do. I have so many stories to tell about the trip and I hope to eventually have time to update the blog.

Mateja and Andreja's dad, Bratislav, says "Hello!" and that everything is okay. We're just hanging out in Nis. Milos's birthday is tomorrow. In a few minutes we're going to go eat Chevapi and Shopska for lunch and then tonight Mateja and I are heading to a Rakija (brandy) bar. Should be a good time!

I'm going to be at Milos's house tomorrow night and maybe for a few days and he has a good internet connection. That might be my best opportunity to play catch-up with the blog.

All my best! I'll be in touch soon.

Posted by DavidJFabe 05:24 Archived in Serbia Comments (1)

Illness

sunny 30 °C

Sorry about the lack of updates - I have food poisoning in Dubrovnik! Plus there's no internet at the hostel so I risked running down the road to the internet cafe to alert you to my status. I'm starting to feel quite a bit better but I'm still not feeling 100%. What's unfortunate is the last time I was in Dubrovnik I was also extremely ill. Also, it dumped rain (in July!!!) while we were in Sarajevo this time AND it also happened back in 2005. Both things Emily can attest to. I feel like my trip is repeating itself - at least the bad things.

In other news - Mostar was really awesome. I hope to put up a post about it eventually but I just don't have time right now.

Posted by DavidJFabe 07:00 Archived in Croatia Comments (2)

What happened?!

My last blog entry disappeared!

I made a huuuuge blog post about Sarajevo and it's gone! Anybody see it? It's totally confusing me. I'm going to be extremely bummed out if that huge post is gone....

Posted by DavidJFabe 14:57 Comments (3)

Vienna

all seasons in one day 30 °C

Leave it to the Austrians to build something that is both fantastically functional and incredibly beautiful. That is the condition of Vienna. It's a truly incredible city. The infrastructure and incredible Art Nouveau and Baroque architecture was consistently surprising me as I traveled about the city to visit as many sights as I could in the limited time that I had.

Let me preface the description of the things that I did with this: the entire city looks like this: http://www.elkhazen.org/vienna/uploaded_images/vienna-02-748789.jpg . It's quite impressive. Then there are the palaces that dot the city. Not to mention the monumental churches and various other buildings of state. It's a sublime city. I've heard many people say that if they could make their life in one European city it would be Vienna and I have to echo the sentiment. It's both beautiful and functional and that's a combination that you don't just find anywhere.

So, let me begin with yesterday: I caught my train after running all over Krakow Glowny, the central train station. Krakow's train station is a mess. It's ridiculously hard to figure out where your train is departing from and there are so many ins and outs you can easily get lost for 30 minutes.

Plus it's ugly so that doesn't help it at all. Anyway, after I caught my train I was sweaty and hot but happy that I was on board. The trip went smoothly and I arrived in Katowice in plenty of time to catch my train to Vienna. I whittled away my time buying an authentic Polish sausage and some sort of very tasty pseudo croissant with strawberry filling. Twenty minutes before my train was due to depart the station I made my way to the platform that it was supposed to depart from and waited.

And waited. Waited some more. And waited some more. I asked a few people around me if there had, in the layers of Polish gobbletygook that was being constantly spouted out of the loudspeakers, heard anything about the train to Vienna being delayed or having a change of track. However, it turns out that everybody waiting for the same train as me either didn't speak any English or didn't speak any Polish. At any rate, the train finally pulled into the station nearly an hour late. By that point in time I was on the verge of a heart attack thinking that I'd somehow missed my train.

Thankfully, upon arrival in Vienna I found the transit to my hostel incredibly easy to use. I hopped one tram from Sudbahnhof - the train station I arrived at - to Westbanhof - the train station I will be leaving via tomorrow morning and the closest tram stop to my hostel. I walked a couple blocks to my hostel and found Wombat's "The Lounge". I booked "The Lounge" because it had literally the highest ranking of any hostel in the world. I was a little stunned by what greeted me when I walked through the door.

"The Lounge", which incidentally is where I'm sitting as I type this, is less hostel but more a combination of a hotel, a youth center and the officers houses at Fort Warden (for those of you who don't know, the officers houses at Fort Warden basically feel like your average hostel). It's positively massive, very clean and made to be about as user-friendly as possible. Unfortunately, that means that it's relatively anonymous to be a guest at "The Lounge" and I never made any short-term friends.

After an excruciatingly hot night's sleep I got up and set out to tour Vienna. I found the U-Bahn very easy to use and after one transfer arrived at the Schoenbrun palace. Like most palaces and tourist sights in Europe I was forbidden from taking photographs so you'll have to look it up for visuals of the interior. Anyway, the inside was gorgeous. I toured through 40 rooms featuring some spectacular furniture, paintings and decorations. Many of the rooms are the same familiar rooms used to shoot the film Amadeus, which I had watched just a couple months prior to leaving for Europe. I then climbed through the gardens at the back of the palace to the Gallery which featured a nice view of the city and the palace grounds (see photos).

Next I returned to Westbahnhof to purchase my train ticket to Belgrade. Unlike Krakow, I found the process incredibly straight forward and easy - thankfully. I was in and out in less than 10 minutes, ticket in hand. Once again confirming that Vienna is a very easy city to navigate and deal with.

Train ticket stowed carefully in my hostel room I took the underground again into the city center. My first stop was St. Stephen Cathedral, which has been under construction for nearly 1,000 years. It was totally ABC (Another Bloody Church) and not really worth the time. Thankfully, entrance was free. However, entrance to the tower was not and I chucked out my 4.50 Euro to see the thing. It was horrifically underwhelming. Tip: if you go to Vienna don't bother going to the top of St. Stephen Cathedral.

Around this time I was starting to get a little peckish so I waltzed down the strasse to the original birthplace of the Sacre Torte - a rich chocolate cake with a filling of what I think was apricot? It was good but the price meant that it was also somewhat underwhelming: with coffee my bill was 10 euro.

My trip to the center was feeling a little weaker than I was hoping prior to arriving. Pressing on I strolled to the east side of the Hofburg palace and was floored by the size and power of the architecture. The only sight in the Hofburg that I was interested in paying to see was the Austrian Royal Jewels. The jewels exhibit covers many different eras in Austria's imperial history - Habsburg, Holy Roman Empire, Austrian Empire, etc.... They're frequently compared to the British Royal Jewels in terms of pure value and while I think they lacked some of the glittery aspects of the British jewels (the Brits had an unparalleled collection of diamonds and other precious stones) the Austrian collection featured the most ridiculously ornate royal costumes I've ever witnessed. And a ton of them. I didn't really take any pictures because you really have to see them with your own eyes - the gold and other colors just didn't translate on film. The other thing that Austria beats Britain on is the massive collection of religious relics. They were the head of the Holy Roman Empire for 400 or so years, after all.

Leaving Hofburg I found my way to the Austrian parliament. I can't help but compare the capital to what was Europe's largest intercontinental empire, London, to the capital of Europe's largest continental empire, Vienna. The royal palaces of Vienna are prettier than their British counterparts but the Austrian parliament, while pretty, pales in comparison to Westminster. Inside I watched a 30-minute documentary on the history of the Austrian parliament (Wow! They didn't edit out the bits from 1933-1945! I expected those details to be glossed over....) and went on a guided tour. Of interest is that the rooms currently used for parliamentary debate were destroyed by Allied bombs in the Second World War. The reconstructed rooms are much less decorative than they had been. Oddly, the old House of Deputies, which wasn't destroyed by Allied bombs and was, in fact, completely untouched by WW2, is now almost never used. Surprising!

During the tour I also noticed that my knee was bleeding profusely. I still don't know why that was.... It stopped now!

After the parliamentary tour I returned to my hostel to do laundry in the knowledge that I wouldn't have another chance until after I get back to Nis, Serbia from my 7 or so day tour of former Yugoslavia. After I put my laundry in to wash I went down the street to a eatery that had been recommended to me by the name of "Mozart's Cafe" and ordered (what else?) Wienerschnitzel and a dunkel lager. Yum!

Now I'm waiting for my laundry to finish and I'm off to Beograd! Wish me luck! I might not be able to check in for a couple days. We'll see!!

PS - It was so freakin' hot all day today and within 10 minutes of me getting back to my hostel it was raining like it was Florida in hurricane season (which I guess it is hurricane season....). But unlike Florida the rain didn't let up for nearly 45 minutes. I guess that's why Austria's been experiencing record-breaking floods this year....

Posted by DavidJFabe 11:50 Archived in Austria Comments (0)

I'm leaving on a diesel train

Don't know when I'll be back again.

sunny 28 °C

Just a quick check in before I leave for Vienna.

Yesterday I visited the bulk of the sights in Krakow (didn't make it to Auschwitz or the salt mine, unfortunately) with Jason and his three college friends named Joy, Meg and Allegra. The best sight that we made it to, in my mind, is St. Mary's Cathedral which is in the north-east corner of the main market square (Glowny). Inside the church was decorated in a orthodox-cum-catholic style with the traditionally advanced architecture of a catholic church but featuring the highly decorative icons and painted ceilings so typical of orthodox churches. It is to color what Rococo is to texture. Unfortunately, not pictures were allowed but you can probably do a google image search for St. Marys in Krakow and find some nice shots.

It was nice having company while sight-seeing. I probably wouldn't have been as motivated to see everything were I alone. That's what I'm facing in Vienna but perhaps I'll make another short-term friend(s) to keep me company. Well, I have to get on the road. I don't want to miss my train! Wish me luck as I have to transfer in Katowice (Ka-to-vee-tsay) bound for Vienna. Habsburgs here I come.

Posted by DavidJFabe 01:13 Archived in Poland Comments (0)

Krakow arrival!

Back in the USSR (Not really. They were only a satellite.)

semi-overcast 25 °C

Got up late this morning. I had set the alarm for PM AND the wrong time. Realizing that we were waking up 15 minutes after the time that we had planned to leave for the airport I loudly exclaimed "SHIT". Hearing the hurried movement in the neighboring room, Anne, Daryoush and Ella got up as well. We quickly finished a couple tasks and were out the door in probably less than 10 minutes.

Upon arrival I quickly bid Laura adieu. I had hoped to spend more time with her before jumping our planes in opposite directions but a quick goodbye kiss had to do. I jumped on line to get through security and raced to the gate only to discover that I still had 45 minutes before the plane left. As it turns out the Stockholm airport, Arlanda, is much less hectic and intense than its American and British counterparts. I was left feeling remorseful that I could have indeed spent more time with Laura but I had opted to hang out in a room with a bunch of strangers.

The flight to Krakow was very uneventful. I had heard rumor of thunderstorms around southern Poland but thankfully they didn't materialize while I was inbound. It was rather overcast but the descent was smooth and easy.

When I stepped off the plane I was greeted by warm and humid conditions. Krakow airport is the most crowded airport that I've ever been in -- at least to my memory. It was difficult to walk through the immense crowd.

Thankfully, I found an ATM rather quickly and withdrew 300 Zloty (roughly $100). But when I went to buy a train ticket to the Krakow city center I discovered that the machine only took small denominations of Polish money. I walked on hoping to find a place to buy a ticket from an actual person but as I approached the little platform that appeared to be the Airport rail station I realized that I had no option but to return to the Airport and try to get smaller bills.

At this point I found another American in the exact same predicament as myself, Jason Burke. Together we walked back to the airports, bought some coffee, used the change to buy train tickets (less than $2! DAMN I love Eastern Europe and their reasonable prices!) and returned to the train JUST before it left (catching the train necessitated running and sloshing hot coffee all over my hand, but that's the price of rushing).

Once in town I checked into my hostel (Mama's Hostel which couldn't be in a better location from a tourist's standpoint) and together with Jason grabbed some lunch. We went to a very swank looking restaurant and in total, including drinks and tip, spent less than $7 each.

Now that I'm showered and rested I'm waiting to meet up with Jason and his three friends. Hopefully they'll keep me from being too lonely in the absence of Laura.

Posted by DavidJFabe 07:40 Archived in Poland Comments (0)

/Stockholm

The end of the trip for Laura.

sunny 28 °C

We've been staying with Anne, Daryoush and Ella for the past four days. It's been a great time: Anne, Laura and I went to some tourist attractions in and around Stockholm, including Carl Milles's home/museum and Sigtuna - the medieval capital of Sweden; I went to an Iranian demonstation/protest in downtown Stockholm; Laura went shopping with Anne and Ella; Laura and I spent countless hours playing with Ella; we all had dinner at Daryoush's parents home; and I was thoroughly beaten at poker by Daryoush, his brother, his father and his cousin.

We spent the day today at Daryoush's family's summer home about 20 miles away. We had a BBQ and went swimming in the lake. Now we're doing laundry and starting to pack up because tomorrow Laura has to head home :'( and I'm heading on to Krakow, Poland. I'm both excited to be moving on to Eastern Europe (it's been EXPENSIVE here in the west, plus I feel more comfortable there as a tourist) and bummed out because I won't be with Laura any more.

So, tomorrow I'm on a plane to Krakow at 9:20 and Laura's on a plane back home at noon. I'll be (probably) checking in more often now that I won't have to worry about ignoring Laura while I do blog stuff.

Posted by DavidJFabe 10:20 Archived in Sweden Comments (0)

Tallinn!

In former Soviet Union boat cruises you!

sunny 23 °C

Tricked by the fairly inexpensive cost of booking passage on board the Tallink/Silja line between Stockholm and Tallinn, Laura and I jumped at the possibility of venturing into the territory of the former Soviet Union. This is in marked contrast to my trips to places such as Hungary or Bulgaria because Estonia was actually a constituent republic of the Soviet Union and not simply in their sphere of influence. Despite the cheap ticket price the cost of transporting oneself in reasonable comfort was relatively astronomical.

Acting on the advice of Rick Steves, Laura and I decided to spring for the Smorgasbord - an all you can eat buffet. The quality has apparently slipped since Rick Steves took the Silja ferry from Stockholm to Helsinki, Finland as the food was fairly bland. At ~$35 it was nothing short of a disappointment. Drinks also ran in the vicinity of $8 each. While traveling you have to let go of some of your frugality but it was very difficult to feel good about spending that kind of cash.

In the morning we awoke and disembarked the ship into the capital of Estonia. Tallinn was very pretty and incredibly easy to traverse by foot. The entire old town was only about 1 kilometer in length. Another unfortunate fact was that we arrived during the Midsummer holiday. It's Estonia's biggest celebration!... but it's celebrated by closing up shops, museums and government offices and heading out into the country for a 48-hour party. At least some of the sights were still open. Among the sights that we got to was the huge Russian Orthodox cathedral strategically built by Czar Alexander during the period of Russification of Estonia. Of note: Orthodox churches tend to be fairly plain in their interior architectural detail (at least in contrast to the detail of a Rococo Catholic cathedral). Instead, Orthodox churches invest their money in "icons" which consist of highly decorative "paintings" of saints and Jesus covered in gold, silver and jewels. They're truly spectacular to behold but due to the draconian photography rules in so many sights here in Europe I can't produce photographic examples. If you do a search for "Orthodox icons" I'm sure you can find some brilliant examples.

We ate lunch at a great Russian restaurant in the central square of Tallinn, Raekoja Plats. We were going to eat at an Estonian restaurant but the fact that it was another buffet turned us off and the Russian restaurant was highly recommended by our guidebook. The review was completely apt as the food was pure class - maybe even being the best meal we've had on our trip thus far. The rest of our time in Tallinn was spent tramping around doing some souvenir shopping and eventually we made our way back to the cruise-liner.

Back on board Laura and I decided to make the most of our cruise. We bought tax-free cans of beer and cider from the super market and drank them up on the deck while the sun set (which, due to our location up north didn't happen until well after 11pm and even after it set the sky never lost it's pink/purple hue). Then we caught the midnight show in the lounge at the back of the ship -- an unintentionally funny act called "Viva Las Vegas" which consisted of some impressive dance routines and some hilariously bad covers of American dance songs from the 70s. What made them bad wasn't the musical acumen that accompanied them but rather the Estonian or Russian accents of the people singing.

In the end we had a great time on the cruise and Tallinn made the trip totally worth it.

Posted by DavidJFabe 12:39 Archived in Estonia Comments (0)

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