Monday, October 1, 2007

Rhine River, Germany

In the beginning of my trip I stayed in Berlin and went through Dassau so this time I decided to explore the beautiful western parts of Germany. I booked my accommodation in Köln and for two days I took cruises along the Rhine River to view the beautiful scenery of vine yards, forests, the river and numerous castles and churches. The first day I went from Koblenz to Köln and the second from Koblenz to Mainz. A lot of people thought I was crazy for doing the two cruises in two days on top of the train rides from Köln to Koblenz and Mainz to Köln but I figured it was the best way to see a large part Germany and the beautiful Rhine river in such a short amount of time.

I loved it as it was very relaxing and it was a great way to explore the sites in the rain. Whenever there was a break in the rain I went out on the deck to enjoy the fresh air. The food and drinks on the cruise were great and fairly inexpensive as well. It was a great way to relax and see a lot before the end of my trip as I have become somewhat exhausted from traveling for 2 months. I only wish I would have had a couple of more days so I could have explored the small towns and castles along the Rhine a little more but I want to head to Freiburg to hike through a little part of the Black Forest and spend my last day in Munich to check out the city and October Fest before heading back to the states.

Krakow, Poland

Krakow is known as the "next Prague" with many medieval style churches and buildings. It was a beautiful city and I had a great time with a group of travelers I met at my hostel in Wroslaw. Since we were traveling to Krakow on the same day they invited me along with their group so I bought a train ticket for the same time and a booked myself a bed at the same hostel they were staying at.

This was a lot of fun as they were a very diverse group of 8 friends coming from Spain, Scotland and Poland. They defiantly knew how to have a good time. It was also very nice having someone in the group from Poland as he was our tour guide and translator. Everyone was so much fun, it was very exciting hanging out with them, especially because I have traveled by myself for most the trip. We explored the city and some great pubs and restaurants together and pretty much had the hostel to ourselves as there was only a couple of other travelers booked there as well.

We took a day trip to Auschwitz which is the largest concentration camp from the Nazis during WWII. It was very intense and emotional for me especially having German heritage but I am so glad I went. I learned a lot about the devastation and impact the Nazis had on the Jews as well as other countries and cultures throughout Europe. I left very upset not only about what I saw but also very mad about the deficient education system of America. When we are taught about the war we are told it from an American perspective about the United States role against Germany and the devastation against the Jews in a general sense but it mainly focuses only on Pearl Harbor. I felt so ignorant not knowing the wide spread devastation the war had on all the countries in Europe, about what exactly happened to the prisoners at the camps, quotes from Hitler and other political figures or the protests against the Nazis.

When I was taught about the war it only emphasized the Nazis being against the Jewish race but they were also against the Polish, Hungarians, Czechs, Romanians and so on. It was an eye opener for me and I learned more than I could have imagined. I was very sick to my stomach seeing the camp where millions died a brutal death from gas chambers, disease, starvation, hard labor, torture, gun fire and overall inhumane treatment. It becomes very overwhelming and real seeing everything in front of you rather than reading about it and looking at pictures from a book. Not only did I see the prisons, unsanitary living conditions, crematories and gas chambers but I also saw displays of millions of shoes piled in mountains, thousands of glasses, brushes, combs and suite cases which belonged to the prisoners. There were also piles of hair that were cut from the women which were used to create textile and sold. I also saw pictures of many of the prisoners who were so full of anger, sadness and some even had a glimmer of hope in there eyes. As I looked at the faces of men, women and children each one had a story, family and friends. Each had a life which they were deprived of and I felt so empty and sad.

What got me the most was seeing the pictures of the women and children who had brutal medical experiments conducted on them and to hear about how the doctors performed sterilization treatments on the women.

I just cannot imagine how anyone could have the mentality to inflict the kind of harm that these prisoners went through. How any one could think their race was superior to all and any one not of their race should be brutally annihilated. I just do not understand it.

I wish I was traveling for another couple of weeks so I could stay in Poland longer and I am very sad my trip is coming to an end so fast. I would have loved to explore the capital and some of the other cities in Poland but with less than a week left I took a night train to Germany to explore the west part of the country before catching my plane home from Frankfurt.

Wroslaw, Poland

Poland is such a beautiful country and I had a great time in Wroslaw. It was recommended to me by one of my dear friends who studied abroad for a semester there to visit the rapidly growing and diverse city. I was very excited to meet his Polish fiance as he fell in love while studying abroad. She was so amazing and I learned a lot about her as well as Polish culture and history in a day as she took me around the city. We also relaxed in local pubs and restaurants which happened to be my friend's favorite places to go while he was there.

Unfortunately, I only had 2 full days so I was not able to visit all the sites I would have liked but I spent a good amount of time walking around, exploring the city and visiting the beautiful gardens near the university. It was very relaxing with a huge pond with fountains and water falls going throughout the middle with trees, plants and flowers everywhere. It is so beautiful this time of year as autumn is here and the trees are beginning to change to fiery red, orange and yellow colors. Part of me wishes I stayed another day so I could explore other gardens and parks and hang out with my friends fiance some more but with only a little over a week left of traveling I left to my next destination.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Prague, Czech Republic (Praha)

The beautiful medieval Prague comes close to being my favorite city in Europe, although I really do not have favorites because I like all the cities I have been to for different reasons as they are all diverse. Everything was amazing I explored old town, the Jewish quarter, the little quarter and of course Charles bridge and the area of the Prague Castle.

The history is very interesting with quirky little facts about each building; however, I only discovered a few stories as it would be impossible to hear the entire history of Prague in 4 days. I had a very great time walking round especially because it is not so easy to get lost in this city relative to previous cities on my trip. I heard about a vegetarian restaurant called "Clear Head" (English translation) which was amazing!!! For the first time in Europe I felt like I was eating in a restaurant back home with salads that actually contain vegetables in them (and not only iceberg lettuce) vegetarian entrees, and great freshly squeezed juices. I ate there every night I was in Prague and for the first time I felt like I was receiving nutrition from the food I ate. Oh, the glass of vanilla soy milk was amazing as I actually forgot what soy milk taste like (it had only been 6-7 weeks).

Throughout my stay I took 2 day trips to nearby towns to check out other castles. The first trip was to Kunta Hora to see the church with human bones from around 40, 000 people on display. I know it sounds morbid but this church did such a beautiful job displaying the bones, creating designs hanging from the ceiling, including a chandelier. There was a detailed display of the crest of Prague made from the human bones as well as rooms with pyramids of bones stacked to the ceiling. Sculls were displayed on pillars which surrounded the crypt where the most important and rich corpses lay. Like I said it seems morbid but when you are there you cant help but think how beautiful it is.

The other day trip was to Karlstein were a beautiful "fairy tale" castle is among a forest and along a small river. It was so beautiful and relaxing to enjoy the views from the castle walls and walk around the forest for awhile. I wish I would have been able to plan my day better so I could have stayed there longer but a couple events lead to me having a later start to my day than planned.

I joined a couple of people I met from the hostel to a nearby club called Mecca and danced until 3:30 in the morning. It had a great ambiance with really good techno music in one room and pop music with a techno twist in another. It was really fun as this was the first dance club I went to Europe. This resulted in me waking up a little later than planed.

The other event which delayed me was being sold a ticket to the wrong destination. I went to the ticket office the morning before with my Euro rail timetable with the train departing from Praha and going to Krakow, Poland by night train circled. I also stated (in English) I needed a train from Praha to Krakow, Poland for the next day but apparently I was sold a ticket to Frankfurt, Germany instead. I don't get it! I could not have spelled it out for her any more than I did. I told her verbally were I needed to go and also showed her on paper with the time and destination circled. I did not notice the ticket was wrong until the next morning so the ticket office would only reimburse me 50% of my ticket. I was so frustrated because they were so unhelpful even though it was the mistake of the agent who sold me the ticket and when I asked for a manger they kept telling me to go upstairs but the manager (who is supposed to be available 24/7) conveniently wasn't. I dealt with the situation for an hour but when the manager was not to be found I gave in taking the 50% refund so I could reserve my train to Poland and catch the next train to Karstein. It was such a mess and what I believe to be a scam to screw travelers over and receive more money. If that is not the case then there are agents working for the train station who do not have half a brain cause I could not have spelled it out any clearer where I needed to go than I did.

Well, my stay in Prague was amazing and I could have stayed longer to stroll around the parks and gardens some more but I am now off to Poland as I am getting close to the end of my Euro trip.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Pecs, Hungary

Unfortunately, Earthdance (the international festival for peace) was not what I was expecting as the event was very different than back home in Laytonville. I was under the impression the event was from Fri to Sun with camping and since I did not have camping gear I decided to arrive on Saturday so I would only have to worry about my sleeping situation for one night.

I arrived around noon and the event was still being set up as it was not going to start until 6 in the evening and was going to end 5-6 in the morning on Sunday. This made me grateful I did not show up on Friday evening. I could tell by the set up the event was going to be small and it was weird cause I felt as if I was in a mini theme park as there was little kids rides everywhere. The site was very beautiful though as it was in the Forest up in the hills of Pecs so I decided to try to wait it out and stay for the event until it got very cold and started raining. All I had was a small sweater so I figured it was probably not a good idea for me to risk staying for the event.

The zoo was nearby so I walked around looking at small selection of animals there until the next bus came to go back to the train station. I changed my reservation and left on the next train to Budapest so i could catch the night train to Prague. I figured I would rather spend an extra day in Prague than be wet and cold for an event that I did not know what to expect. I did enjoy the beautiful scenic train ride though as Hungary consists mainly of rural plains and hills. I also enjoyed the beautiful Forest of Pecs even if I only spent a couple of hours there.

Budapest, Hungary

Hungary was such a beautiful and relaxing country. Outside the main cities the landscape is full of rolling hills and grassy plains. I think the train rides trough this country have been my favorite as far as seeing the beautiful nature of Europe.

The city of Budapest was amazing and very relaxing. I treated myself to a hotel in the country side of Buda, on the outskirts of the city in order to get away from the urban and hostel environment. It was great as I needed to rejuvenate for my remaining travels. I have become pretty exhausted from all the site seeing and city life especially since I have always lived on the outskirts of the city, having little experience figuring out city transportation and the environment in general.

For my birthday I enjoyed the healing mineral waters of the natural thermal baths as well as the sauna and a deep tissue massage. This was followed by a stroll through the park as I was waiting for my bus tour of the city to start. The tour was great as it took us to all the main sites including a brief historical overview of Budapest and had 3 stops 2 of which were in the castle district and had panoramic views of the city and river. The castles were so beautiful! I met a couple on the tour and throughout our conversations I had mentioned it was my birthday so after the tour they invited me out to dinner with them as a birthday treat. It was really nice to have some company for my birthday as we talked over dinner for hours and they sang happy birthday to me. I then bought a bottle of Hungarian wine and relaxed at the hotel for the rest of the evening.

The next day I explored the beautiful paths of the castle district some more, catching the sunset but unfortunately most my day was wasted exploring the city center looking for a post office and standing in lines to mail some souvenirs home. I could not believe how expensive the mail system is in Hungary. Everything else is relatively cheap, except the postal services.

On my last day I went to another thermal bath to enjoy the relaxation of the mineral spas, saunas and another massage. I also enjoyed walking through 2 caves which were over a million years old but have been in formation for an estimation of 40 million years as the sea use to cover the country. On the sea floors many shells and water life became fossilized. As tectonic plates formed and the sea levels dropped through millions of years caves began to form through the the underground thermal springs. It was so amazing walking through learning about how the caves and minerals were formed and seeing calcite and gypsum in formation. There was also a cave climbing tour which would have taken me through the passage ways inaccessible by the walking tours but unfortunately I did not have boots so I could not go on it. Oh well, it will give me something to look forward to on my return to Budapest.

Overall, this city was amazing and I spent most my time relaxing in the parks and at the hotel as it was so remote and peaceful with a goldfish pond and a mini waterfall in the back yard . It gave me time to reflect on my trip and life in general as well as catching up on some writing in my journal.

Venice, Italy

Unfortunately, I only spent a day in Venice as I scheduled a night train to Budapest so I could arrive there in time for my birthday. This little island of Italy was so beautiful but very expensive so it was probably good I did not pay for accomodation. Since I was limited on time I did not do much site seeing as far as going into museums, churches and so on but I strolled through a mini park to relax and enjoy the scenery as well as a few of the many bridges with beautiful views of the canals and city. I ate some great pizza for lunch followed by some souviner shoppping. I also bought a boat pass for the day so I could enjoy the views of the city by boat, managing to catch the beautiful sun set. I will definately have to explore this city again in the future.