Sunday, July 27, 2003

Thursday, July 10, 2003

Eastern Europe Trip - Final Part

This is my last night in Budapest. I have a early flight in the morning.

Last night I had a really good dinner at a nice Hungarian restaurant and as I was coming out I bumped into a guy named Tomo from Montenegro, one of the smaller areas of the former Yugoslavia. We ended talking for awhile about our two countries as we walked down the street. He has been working in Budapest for awhile in a restaurant. We ended up stopping at a bar and getting a beer and talking some more until about 1am. He was a real interesting guy.

Earlier that evening, I was buying a postcard at a little street-cart when I noticed that the kid was playing hacky sack with himself while waiting for customers. After I bought the postcard we ended up kicking the hacky sack around together for about 45 minutes. His sister and her boyfriend who owned the cart ended up coming over also and we had a nice little circle going. I don't what else to say but I was having a blast.

I guess I will wrap up with some random sights I have seen the last day and a half.
-- I saw a man with no arms driving a three-wheeled motorcycle with his feet.
-- A group of kids break-dancing under a bridge. They were pretty good.
-- On Margaret Island in the middle of the river, they have a crowded jogging track that surrounds it. I was resting on a bench and watching all the joggers when a guy jogged by holding a sword and shield and wearing metal armor covering his shoulders and arms. I still am curious about the reason.

Well I am off to visit my last part of the city. A section of town that Tomo said was a cool place to hang out and get a cup of cappachino.

Wednesday, July 09, 2003

Eastern Europe Trip - Part 3

I just got back from one of Budapest's famous thermal baths. It is in good walking distance from my hotel and is inside a giant building along the Danube river. They supply you with a tiny white apron to wear inside, but I wasn't feeling that adventurous so I wore my trunks instead. I felt like I was inside the baths from the first James Bond movie with Pierce Brosnan. High ceilings, sculptures, pillars, and art deco tile-work everywhere. I thought about also getting the $5 massage when I was at the ticket counter, but I am glad I didn't after I saw the masseur. Heh! :) They also had a nice sun terrace and unique little wave pool.

I arrived in Budapest yesterday by train. It left Prague at 9:00 in the morning and arrived in Hungary around 3:00pm. Since this was a day trip I was able to enjoy the countryside along the way. Lots of yellow sunflower fields! I got a little travel sight-seeing bonus because the train went right through Slovakia and its capital along the way. It was a fun trip because there was a young Czech girl going on a business trip to Slovakia in my train compartment and we were able to talk awhile about the Czech Republic and Eastern Europe and she was also pointing out the flood damage from the previous summer to me along the way. She speaks 4 languages (boggle) and works for a French development company. I like talking to Europeans because they are always very aware of world events and not afraid of speaking their opinions about them.

I have been living on Goulosh with bread dumplings since I arrived in Prague and now also in Budapest. It tastes so great and I can't get enough of it. Hmmm! I think I will have it again tonight. :)

I enjoyed Prague but I mostly did the usual tourist stuff. I did help a blind women to the side of the road, somehow she had lost her way and kept bumping between several taxis that where parked in the middle of the street. She didn't speak any English but no one else seemed to be helping. I also saw a guy wipe out on a scooter taking a sharp turn on some slick cobblestones. He must have been very embarrassed and not very hurt because he jumped right up and took off real fast. I think he should of given a little bow to the crowd, but Oh Well!! Beside that, nothing too interesting happened there, maybe that will change here in Budapest. I am off to visit the Buda Castle, supposedly they have an underground Labyrinth you can visit at the castle. I hope it is a cool maze I can get lost in.

I will visit Statue Park tomorrow. It is where they put all the old communist statues they took down in Budapest after the Cold War ended and the Soviet Union broke up. Sounds interesting.

I haven't been able to get hot water yet in my Budapest hotel room. I think I will speak to the desk clerk about it when I get back. These cold showers have been a little too brisk!!! :)

Only two days left of my trip.

Sunday, July 06, 2003

Eastern Europe Trip - Part 2

I arrived in Prague after a being awakened by the train conductor with a breakfast tray and a steaming cup of coffee. I was lucky and got the three-bed sleeping compartment all to myself for the night. I was woken up only once when the Passport Check and Custom officials came aboard around 1 am. It was nice to get another stamp in the ol' passport.

I had another bit of luck when I arrived, for some reason I got bumped out of the 3-Star hotel I was booked for into their 4-Star hotel down the street. That's Fine with me! :)

The visit to the Salt Mine the previous day was very interesting and I couldn't resist taking a lick on one of the passage walls. Diana, the polish girl on my plane, had told me she had done it, so I had to try it myself. Luckily I was carrying a bottle of water with me. My group ended up hiking down about 400 feet to the third level. The mine was full of statues that the miners had carved by themselves over the centuries. The ride back to the surface was quite fun as nine of us squeezed into a tiny metal cage-like elevator and wooshed up the mine shaft to the surface in complete darkness.

After the Salt Mine, I went to a nice Polish Restaurant that was recommended by the two British guys I met at the mines who have been living in Poland for a year teaching English. They mentioned this special lard spread that comes with the bread, saying it was very good, but obviously very bad for you. I was very hesitant to try it when they brought out the little pot of it. It looked like they had emptied out the grease pan into it with little chunks of who-knows-what inside. Anyway, I spread a little bit on a slice of bread, took a bite, and almost died. Never again!! :) The cheese, meat, & potato dumplings made up for it afterwards.

The highlight of my trip so far has been going out Thursday night in Krakow. I had seen the main tourist attractions of the town but I really enjoyed hanging out and talking with the locals. My biggest memory of the night was being squeezed into a booth with 4 very drunk, but very friendly Polish guys who knew about 5 English words between them. They kept sharing a plate of french fries with me as we struggled to talk to each other. I think they wanted me to drink vodka with them also but I was already pretty buzzed on beer. The polish girl who was in the group I had been playing foosball with earlier kept smiling and laughing good-heartedly from the bar as she watched me try to communicate with these guys. I ended up talking with her for a long while afterward. She is a Flight Attendant on Polish LOT Airlines, so she spoke very good English.

Anyway, it is a bit rainy here in Prague right now, but walking along wet cobblestones in a European city just seems right.


I visited the Prague Castle today up on the hill. It had great views of the city and I watched the changing of the guard outside. I stopped on the way down and had an excellent panini and some cheese cake in a little cafe before visiting the Museum of Medieval Tortures. It was a good thing I ate first or I would have lost my appetite for awhile.

Prague is excellent city to just wander around in. The sun came out today. I saw this nice little Czech restaurant last night right as it was closing. I think I will eat there tonight.

Tomorrow I am going to check out the Alphonse Mucha Museum, the Czech Art Nouveau artist. I saw an exhibition of his in Balboa Park before and loved it.

Friday, July 04, 2003

Eastern Europe Trip - Part 1 (Poland, Czech Republic & Hungary)

Well I am into my second day in Krakow, Poland and I have had a fun, crazy time so far.

My trip started out adventurous with me getting to the airport in Krakow in the middle of nowhere and everything was closed. I got lucky and a pretty Polish girl, Diana, that I met on the plane offered to drive me into the center of town to my hotel. I found myself crammed into a tiny, beat-up Russian car drinking Polish Vodka (it had piece of wheat in the bottle) with her three friends who had come to pick her up. She had just arrived home after working in Dubai for a year and her friends were real excited to see her. Her girlfriend was trying to teach me how to say, "I love you" in Polish as we got kinda lost trying to find our way to the center of town, but we arrived with a lot of laughs to my hotel. They had me take a picture of them in front of their Russian car which they nicknamed the "Russian Limousine".

The next day I walked to the Train Station, where I must of looked very lost trying to find the correct train to the Auschwitz Concentration Camp when a older man offered to drive me out there for a reasonable price. After a little apprehension I accepted and I found myself in a little beat-up Polish car that sounded like it wouldn't make the hour-and-a-half drive out to the camps. The Polish countryside was beautiful though. My guide had a good English vocabulary but it was very interesting to talk to him because he seemed to only use nouns when he talked. Heh! He pointed out all the interesting sights on the way, and he had a funny habit of telling me exactly how far everything was from the center of Krakow in kilometers.

It was a good thing I took the guy's offer because the two main camps were both a mile apart and both a good couple miles from the little town's train station. The camps were very interesting but also depressing, but my guide took me all over each and gave me a lot of detailed information I might of missed on my own. I remembered a lot of the buildings and views from "Schindler's List", a good movie which was filmed there.

On the way back we talked about the Polish economy, his favorite classic-rock bands, and how much different electronics cost in the U.S. versus Poland. We also had to stop for a second time to put another quart of oil into his little car with its interesting zebra-patterned seat covers. He dropped me off in town at a little restaurant-bar where he helped me order a Polish meal and a beer. It was some kind of breaded pork-chop with potatoes. Very Good!!!

After a short nap, I went back exploring the main Market Square. After a cappachino to wake myself up I wandered into a bar where I met another American from Northern California playing darts with his three Polish friends. We all ended up over at the foosball table where we played for rounds of beer. Naturally my team kept winning :) until about the twentieth game where I started to get pretty buzzed from the strong polish beer. That bar closed so we all ended up at underground Irish Pub with many levels. I ended up finally leaving around 4:30am as the sky started to lighten into morning. I had a fun time talking to the interesting people.

I feel a little hung over this afternoon, but I just got done exploring the Wawel Castle built on top of an ancient "Dragon Cave" where according to Polish Myth a shoemaker was able to kill the dragon by feeding it tons of sheep with their wool soaked full of water. I might have the story wrong though. :)

Now I am off to explore the Royal Salt Mines in the nearby hills, and then I catch a night train to Prague.