Friday, May 31, 2013

Poland


May 31, 2013 7:45 PM—Krakow

Yesterday we traveled from Prague to Krakow. It took us all day but we finally made it here by around 6 PM. So by the time we got settled we weren't up for doing much. However, we did go out to get a little something to eat (an ice cream and a pretzel) and we looked for a newspaper. Unfortunately I don't think the people of Poland read newspapers, because since we arrived yesterday we haven't been able to find any.

Today we went on a tour to Auschwitz and Birkenau. These are the two remaining camps out of the three camps that were in the Auschwitz complex of concentration camps. Our tour started off with the bus ride out there. It takes about 1 and a half hours to get there and on the way our tour showed a documentary about the liberation of these camps by the soviets in 1945. Then we arrived at Auschwitz. The next part of the tour was a tour of the Auschwitz camp, which lasted almost 2 hours. During this tour we saw many of the different blocks where the prisoners lived, washed and were tortured. It was interesting and a bit eerie, but you just couldn't grasp the full magnitude of it because everything has been cleaned and organized and nothing smelled at all. I don't think that's how it was in the early 40's.

People from all over Europe were brought to Auschwitz




After seeing Auschwitz we made our way across town to Birkenau, which was often referred to as Auschwitz II. Birkenau is a much larger camp. It is about 15 times the size of Auschwitz and there isn't as much left of Birkenau as there is of Auschwitz. We had a one hour tour there where we got to see some of the remaining blocks, the selection platform where the prisoners came in on the train, and even the remains of the crematorium. After seeing Birkenau, our tour was over and we took the bus back to Krakow.



I'm really glad we took this tour, but sometimes I feel like they are trying to rattle you with statistics. We were told today that there was one 8 week period that is considered the most deadly, where about 400,000 people were killed. Now, don't get me wrong, this is tragic and shocking. However, I can't help to think about the Rwandan genocide in more recent history where a million people were killed in about a month. This is over twice as many people in about half as much time. One thing I think is ironic about this comparison is that it is not that people don't care about Rwanda, but they may just not know about the genocide that happened there in 1994. In fact, I personally think Rwanda is more tragic, because it is much more recent. It occurred in an era where most people didn't think things like that happened anymore. And they shouldn't happen, but it is partly due to this lack of caring that they do happen. I guess the bottom line is that people treat the Holocaust like the end all be all and that this has never happened before or since. And the point I want to get across is that is has. (Now I'll get off my soap box).

After getting back into town and taking a short nap, we went out and got dinner...a real dinner. We haven't been doing that much lately. Both of us seem to prefer street food or something you can eat on the go. But tonight we went to a restaurant in the main square, which is a short walk from our hostel. And it was worth it! We both totally cleaned our plates because it was so good.

Once we finished eating we took a short walk. The huge main square is totally happening at this time of day. So there were people all over the place eating, drinking, biking, and just generally wandering. So we again looked briefly for a newspaper to no avail. Now we are back at the hostel and thinking about getting ice cream in a little bit. Otherwise, we are done for the night. Tomorrow we plan to stay in town and see Krakow. And from what I've seen so far, I don't expect it to be much short of amazing.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Czech Republic


May 29, 2013 10:00 PM—Prague

We arrived in Prague yesterday. When we got here we did a little wandering before calling it a day. However, today we set out with a little bit of a mission. We took the train this morning to Kutna Hora, which is a town about an hour outside of Prague where there is an ossuary called Sedlec Ossuary. This church is unique because it has been decorated with the bones of 40,000 people. The bones were really well arranged. They even made a chandelier that hung in the middle of the place that was all made out of bones. It was quite an interesting site and totally worth the trip out there.





After we finished seeing what we wanted to see in Kutna Hora, we made our way back to Prague. When we returned we first came back to our hostel and rested up for our next mission. When we got up and out again at around 5 PM, we walked to the Charles Bridge, across the river, and up the hill to Prague Castle. We didn't go in the castle, but we wandered around it for a little while. It is the biggest castle in the world, so it is quite a site. Once we finished there, we got something to eat as well as a little ice cream and then we called it a night.






I've been to Prague once before, but I wasn't here for long (just one night). And I always wanted to come back because I felt like I had missed something, but from what I can tell now, I don't feel like I really missed much at all. Going out to Kutna Hora was awesome, but as for Prague itself, I feel like it is over-hyped. There are way too many tourists if nothing else. I actually think there are more tourists than residents. Maybe I'm just comparing it a little too much to some of the other places I've been recently, but I was a bit disappointed in Prague this time around.

Tomorrow we are heading out and going to Poland. We start off with Krakow for a few days before moving on the Warsaw. Tomorrow is going to be a long travel day, but it will be nice when we get there.

Update (January 23, 2014): I recently found this article (if you can call it that) about Sedlec Ossuary.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Austria (Part 4)


May 27, 2013 7:00 PM—Vienna

Yesterday and today were both spent in Vienna. We started off our Viennese tour yesterday at Schönbrunn Palace. This was the summer residence of the Habsburg monarchs. After taking a tour of the palace we then made our way across town to the Belvedere which is a historic building that also used to be used as a palace. Now the Upper Belvedere, which is what we went in to, is used as an art museum housing paintings from various artists of many different styles of art. Some of these more famous artist include Renoir, Monet, and Van Gogh. There is also a large collection of pieces here by Gustav Klimt, including his most famous piece, “The Kiss”.

Schonbrunn Palace

The Belvedere
The Kiss

Today we started out by going to St. Stephen's Church. This church was really interesting due to the design with the stain glass windows. All of the windows were a solid color and when the light shone through them it turned the walls of the church all these different colors. We didn't stay at St. Stephen's very long because it was totally overrun by tourist. After that we walked the short distance down to the Hofburg. The Hofburg is another royal residence. It was the main residence of the Habsburg monarchs. There we got to go into the silver collection (lots of dishes), the Sisi Museum (Sisi was the most well known emperoress to live in the Hofburg), and the imperial apartments. And finally the last site we saw today was the Donautrum, which is a tower in the middle of the Danube river where you can get a great view of the city.






All in all Vienna was a really nice city to visit. It is much more urban than Salzburg or Innsbruck and you don't get quite as much culture, but it was clean and well organized nonetheless. In the past two days we have learned how to take the public transit system here, which is quite an accomplishment. Vienna has a really great public transit system, but it is quite complicated. However, we eventually got the hang of it and utilized it fully. We also ended up getting almost all of our meals at the nearby train station and for a good reason. This train station has almost anything you could ever need. There is not only an ATM and a post office, but there are numerous places to eat of many different varieties and there are even many stores that sell anything from clothes to household goods. So we always had our pick of food from Chinese and Japanese to sandwiches, pretzels and pastries. We even got take our Weiner Schnitzel yesterday.

On the down side, we have been having a hard time with the weather. You would think that Europe in late May would at least be mildly warm, but I think global warming is getting the best of us. In Vienna since we got here it hasn't gotten above 60 degrees, its been raining on and off, and it couldn't possibly get much windier. You can tell this isn't normal weather for this time of year simply based on the store windows. Everywhere we go you can see displays showing shorts, t-shirts and even bathing suits. I doubt the people here in Vienna go laying out in there swimsuits when it is 50 degrees and raining. And from what I can tell the rest of Europe is also experiencing a lot of this unseasonable weather. When I was looking at the paper the other day, I saw a weather map where it looked like the same storm system was just totally encompassing the entire continent. So unfortunately I'm a bit skeptical that we will get any nice weather. Hopefully at the very least we will get some sunny days, but this is not the weather I expected when I planned this trip.

Tomorrow we are off to Prague and hopefully some nicer weather, but for now we're hanging in there.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Bratislava, Slovakia


May 25, 2013 6:15 PM—Vienna

On our way from Budapest to Vienna today we took a little side trip to Bratislava. My guess is most people have never heard of Bratislava and for a pretty good reason. Bratislava is the capital and largest city of Slovakia, but there isn't much there. When we first arrived we decided to walk down to the river and at first we weren't seeing many stores open and we didn't see very many people at all. There was a lot of graffiti and the town was pretty dead. However, we did eventually make it all the way down to the historic old town where we got lunch and wandered around for a while. Even though we found more life in the old town, there still wasn't much to see in Bratislava. It really makes me wonder what the rest of Slovakia is like if there is so little going on in their capital. But nonetheless, we enjoyed a few hours there and then we continued on the train to Vienna.

The Presidential Residence


Bratislava Castle


We are now in Vienna for three nights. I'm not sure what our plan is for the next couple days, but I'm sure we will see what this town has to offer before moving on.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Hungary


May 24, 2013 6:50 PM—Budapest

Yesterday morning we left Zagreb and set out for Budapest. We had quite the journey. Our train which was supposed to take 6 and a half hours ended up taking 9 and a half hours (I thought stuff like that only happened in Uganda...go figure). Because they were fixing the train tracks we had to get off the train at one point and get on a bus to get to the other side. This involved the border crossing (which took forever) and it took about an hour and a half. When we arrived at the station on the other side we apparently missed the train we were supposed to take and we got one that was leaving shortly after we arrived, but it took forever. There were some stations in the middle of nowhere that we would sit at for about 20 minutes. Don't ask me why...

Needless to say we arrived at our hostel at about 8 PM last night. This morning we set off early. We must have seen everything in this city. We started by taking our own little walking tour. We walked across the river to the Buda side of the city and then we crossed back over into Pest. At 11 AM we took a free walking tour of the city, which was 3 hours long. And then we really saw everything. We saw everything from the Opera house and the 2 main churches to the bridges, the castle and the changing of the guard at the presidential residence. It wasn't the best free walking tour I've ever been on, but it was pretty good nonetheless.


The Danube River

The Opera House

Inside the Opera House

St. Stephen's Basilica

Matthias Church


The Changing of the Guard

Parliament

Our walking tour ended on the Buda side of the river, so we crossed back over to Pest and went to see the inside of the main cathedral. After that we walked back down towards our hostel to go to a museum called The House of Terror, which is where the Nazis and the Communists both set up camp in Budapest at different periods of time.

Now we are back at our hostel relaxing for a short time before we go out to get dinner and see the city by night. Today was really exhausting but totally worth it. Budapest is amazing! I really wish I had more time here. There is just so much to see and do. I could have spent a week in Budapest alone. But we are leaving here tomorrow. We are taking a short day trip to Bratislava, which is the capital of Slovakia and then we are continuing on to Vienna where we will be spending 3 nights. So far, I'm 1 month in and still going strong. I can't wait to see what the rest of this trip has to bring.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Croatia (Part 2)


May 22, 2013 3:30 PM—Zagreb

Today we really saw Zagreb. We walked everywhere and say everything from the cathedral in the upper part of town to the parks and squares in the lower part of town. There isn't much in the central part of this city we didn't see. We even saw a canon fire. It goes off everyday at noon from the top of a tower in the upper town. Once we felt like we had sufficiently seen everything we wanted to see, we stopped and had some lunch at a small cafe. Then we returned to our hostel. We may go out and get something to eat a little later, but for now we are just resting up for our trip to Budapest tomorrow.





The canon that fires everyday at noon







Can you see the guy in the red shirt? (Guess who he is...)


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Croatia


May 21, 2013 10:30 AM—En route to Zagreb

Yesterday we left Naples and took the train up to the Adriatic coast where we got the ferry in a small town called Ancona. The ferry was great! It was like a scaled-down cruise ship. It was a little smaller and a little less plush than a cruise ship. But, nonetheless, we had our own private room with a bathroom and everything. When we got on and dropped off our bags in the room, we went exploring. The ship had a few different lounge/eating areas and it even had a small casino as well as a duty free shop. We sat and had some hot chocolate as we watched the ship sail away.




By 10 PM, we were back in our room and getting ready to sleep. I slept really good on the boat and I didn't get sick at all (unlike the Zanzibar ferry). This morning we got up around 6:30 and got some breakfast on the boat before we disembarked in Split, Croatia.

When we arrived in Split, we first found the train station and made sure we knew where we were going. Then we put our bags in a locker and went to see a little bit of this small town. It really is a cute town. It would have been nice to spend the night there before moving on, but we had to take the train today to Zagreb. So after spending an hour in Split we got on the train and now we are well on our way to Zagreb.