Trenčin, Slovakia

>> Tuesday, July 8, 2008


We figured out a bus to Aushwitz though it was a little difficult in figuring it out. Some Swedish girls were insisting it was on one platform but we made a quick decision and got a seat on a mini-bus (a lot of people were left standing).

Aushwitz was very moving as expected. I still remember Dachau, but when they took us to the expanded Birkenau site, there were about a 100 houses, each holding at least 2 or 3 hundred prisoners. We also went through the crematorium, you could see the fingernail scratches in the concrete.

We went back to Krakow and our mood lifted when we went out for dinner. We had the local favourite, Kebobs, which was a type of pita filled with hand carved meat and spicy vegetable fixins'. It was so good we had it two nights in a row.

Next morning we hopped on the the train to Trenčin, a small college town which has one of the most important and spectacular castles in European history. The castle was at a crossroads to many important trade routes. In the base of the cliff on which it is built is etched some Roman phrase and it is dated at 205 AD. It is a commemoration of some battle that occurred where 800 soldiers triumphed.

We walked around the castle (which was built in the 1200s) and found it was very non-touristy (give it a couple of years), saw some very old weapon relics and an awesome view of the surrounding countryside. That evening we took in dinner and drinks and saw sunset over a big church on the cliffside.

Today we are off to Bratislava, then on to Budapest,

Mark.

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Krakow, Poland

>> Sunday, July 6, 2008

Djen Dobre,

In Visoce Tatry we decided to go for a hike despite the drizzle. Wouldn't you know that as soon as we started hiking the rain stopped the clouds parted, and we even got views of the mountains! It was exactly what we needed, some decent views and exercise. After we had some delicious Slovak food and beer we called it a night.

The next morning we caught a bus to the Slovak/Polish border. A big drunk guy spoke to me the entire hour about how Communism was the best system and how America is corrupting the world. He invited Chantelle and I to his private cabin in the woods but I politely declined.

After arriving at the border, we had to walk across to the Polish side which was chaos. The bus to take us to Zakopane was running and waiting for us, but we had no Polish zlotny. Chantelle ran into the line for money exchange while I stalled the driver. We luckily made it on and were on our way. When we were dropped off in Zakopane we were told that the next train to Krakow leaves at 12:15pm on platform 2. Of course at 12:10 we get on a train that says Krakow that is sitting on platform 2. Well, our Polish must have been off because at 12:15 another train departs and we are still sitting there. I asked a young polish guy and he says that that was the fast train that departed for Krakow from Platform 2 - the one that we were supposed to be on. The train we were sitting on was the slow 4 hour train ride from Platform 1 track 2. Ahhh! Then a really drunk bum started trying to talk to me and it was a comical conversation. "Deutch? No. Swedish? No. Spanish? No? Czech? No." I thought this was going to go on forever so we switched cars and started talking to a pretty cool Australian guy. The bum finally found us but the Aussie kept him busy by playing his guitar.

We finally arrived in Krakow and it was insanely busy. There is a Jewish festival here and it already attracts millions of visitors each year, so the main square made Venice's main square look small and quiet! We had some trouble finding a hostel since everything was booked, but we finally found one (and consequently lost the Aussie).

That night we went to dinner in a nightclub/bar and wander around until we got to the Jewish quarter. The whole area was alight with loud music and people dancing, the Jewish can really party! We had a few beers on an outdoor terrace and called it a night.

Today we wandered around and checked out the Wawa (pronounced Vava) castle. It holds a mighty cathedral and some pretty interesting ancient archetecture. It kind of reminded me of checking out the Roman ruins in Rome.

We then went a little out of the town and checked out the Salt mines. The mines are super huge, in fact we went down 130 meters to level 3 and there are actually 9 levels! The sculptures made out of salt (everything there is carved out of the salt) and are very impressive.

Tomorrow we are off to Auschwitz and are planning to spend one more day in Slovakia.

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Vysoke Tatry

>> Friday, July 4, 2008

Nazdrav,

I am in the High Tatras today and it is drizzling pretty much all day. Getting here was pretty interesting though. We took a bus to Poprad yesterday and wanted to find a place to stay. We were told to near the base of the mountain to a place called Nova Lesna. We took an electrica (electric train/tram) to the small town and a gypsy woman approached us if we needed a place to stay. We said yes and she took us to a dark corner of the town and showed us an awful room. We tried to leave and she got very upset, I was starting to wonder if we were safe! We found a nicer place down the road and set up for the night. We went to the main town and had a great dinner and drank with the locals.

The next morning we were up an ready for our hike. We tried to find the Penzion owner to pay and give the keys back, but she was gone to do her laundry! (her neighbour told us). We finally pounded hard on the door and the owners mom came to the door and took our money, but had to ask the neighbours for change (very strange scene).

Unfortunately a storm came in and the weather is not very good, you can't see the beautiful mountains that are right in front of us. We have even skipped our hike today, maybe after dinner a short hike, not sure.

Tomorrow is a holiday in Slovakia, but we are hoping to catch one of the few buses to the Polish border where we will walk across where another bus will take us to Zakopane, Poland.

Davi den,

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Kosice!

>> Wednesday, July 2, 2008











I finally have time to write, so much has happened. Yesterday started out as the day from hell, we caught a streetcar to the trainstation, but going the wrong way. We finally realized this and with our terrible Hungarian eeked out a conversation with someone to explain where we were supposed to go. That's when the fun began. After getting to the station with our heavy packs, we ran all over the place to find where to get tickets. We were weaving through caverns due to construction, waited in line, and were told to take a ticket. No problem - still 10 min before our train leaves. Wait in line again, buy our tickets, but which platform do we go to? The guy doesn't know, he says to wait in the other line. No problem, still 5 minutes left so we wait in line. The agent says platform 2, so we go to what we think is platform 2, (the platforms are poorly labeled) and get on the empty train. We wait 5 more minutes, go back to the agent and she says "Hurry, your train must be leaving!", we run out, ask a few more people why the train to Kosice is not moving and nobody knows. Turns out after asking the 5th person that we were standing at the wrong platform (I guess they just know) and we missed our train by 5 minutes. So we now had to wait a few hours to the next one.

We had some errands to run since Chantelle thought she left her book at a restaurant the night before but on the way back to the train station we got busted for failing to pay for metro. We actually had a ticket, but it wasn't valid for transfers. They held us and took our passports so we wouldn't run, and we had to pay an $80 fine to get out of the mess - almost missing our train.

Once we got on the train our day completely changed. Beautiful Hungarian and Slovakian countryside led us to Kosice where we caught another train to the medevil town of Levoča. We wandered around at night, had a great Slovakian dinner and hung out with the young crowd in a cool pub afterwards. I had a shot of Slivovica, a very Czech liquor made from plums.

This morning we took a bus to PodPišs, a little town at the base of the šspiskzy Hrad (huge castle). The castle is enormous and you can freely walk around the grounds and check out the rooms and dungeon. The day was very hot and the lunch of beer, cheese, bread, and chocolate we brought with us hit the spot. It was very non-touristy, in fact, the only tourists were the Czechs! I haven't heard english or german for a couple of days now.

I'll try and upload some pictures, until next time...

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Budapest!

>> Tuesday, July 1, 2008


Finally made it to Budapest, the flight itself was uneventful, but getting there was close. We got caught in a storm on the way to the airport and the border crossing was slow. I can still picture my poor dad clutching the wheel and weaving through traffic in the torrential downpour. The airport was angry at us for arriving so late but hey - we made it.

Budapest is a great city, I can see why it is often overlooked as a travel destination though. No single building is the Eighth wonder, but all the old buildings and architecture are really amazing. I could wander around for hours. The language is very difficult to speak, we are struggling. I have figured out a few words to get me by, but we constantly get blank stares.

Our hostel is a private dorm hosted by Maria and Istiban, luckily they speak a little English and can help us out. Today 3 Swedish woman are checking into the room next to us. My imagination has gone wild, but Chantelle told me to calm down, she is expecting 3 retirees. I am still holding out hope though. :)

This morning we figured out a train to Slovakia tomorrow, we hope to be in the mountains by tomorrow.

Sorry no pictures todaz, the computer we are on does not have a USB connection.

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Finally made it to Toronto!

>> Saturday, June 28, 2008

Wow. Think of the worst flight you were ever on and I had a much worse flight yesterday. It didn't start out well since because of mechanical problems the flight was an hour delayed. It should have been a warning because an hour into our flight everyone was woken up by the pilot announcing we were making a landing in Great Falls, Montana since one engine has run out of oil and may stop. Then we were stuck in the plane with a 1 1/2 year old for over 3 hours since there was nobody at the airport to let us out! The pilot said they were going to fly a plane in from SLC, but that would be a few hours before anything would happen. We finally got let out, but then the SLC flight was also delayed for an hour! We also missed our connection in Cincinnati and couldn't get on the next one since it was full. A lot of the passengers were yelling, swearing, (one lady was sobbing). We finally got on another flight that took us to Toronto at 6pm the next day, almost 24 hours after we left Seattle.

I'm not looking forward to the plane ride to Budapest tomorrow, but will be glad when I can kick back and relax.

It's been great spending time with my parents and enjoying my mom's cooking, I almost have my sleep caught up for the trip (almost).

Next post will be from Europe,

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Last minute packing

>> Thursday, June 26, 2008

Leavin' on a jet plane tonight...

So I'm sort of packed, will hopefully keep up the blog while I am in Toronto and then onwards to Europe. I still can't believe I have a near 24 hour journey to Budapest! We leave Burlington by car, drive to Buffalo, then fly with 2 connections to Budapest and arrive 21 hours later. That's what happens when you book using Cheapoair.com (yes, that is the actual name).

My poor parents hopefully won't expect many pictures of Landon in the first couple of days. He face-planted on some hard ground yesterday and has a huge bruise on his forehead and a cut on his nose. Murphy's Law this happens the day before we leave.

Looking forward to some time off!

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First "Letters from Bilbao" entry

>> Friday, June 13, 2008

Letters from Bilbao? Ok, it's a play on words from a great song from a great band called The Lowest of the Low.

Not sure if I will be keeping this blog permanent, but will hopefully keep it up for my upcoming trip to Eastern Europe. The trip is barely two weeks long, but with my busy schedule lately two weeks seems like an eternity.

Plan is to fly to Toronto with Chantelle and Landon, drop Landon off with my parents, backpack Eastern Europe with Chantelle, come back to Toronto for some reuniting of friends and family then back to Seattle. Our plans in Europe are tentatively Budapest -> Bratislava -> Krakow -> Budapest.

Packing will begin next week, the following week will be off!

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