Prague Plundered

Posted by Afrojew2 | | Posted On Tuesday, May 18, 2010 at 8:00 AM

And now for something completely different. Prague. An utter disappointment. Don't get me wrong, its a gorgeous city... when the streets aren't clogged with map-wielding, camera-flashing, tourists in groups of 30 or more - I think the only locals who live in Prague work in the restaurants and stores that serve us. But they were. Everywhere. And they rob the city of its beauty. Unfortunately I booked four nights in a hostel (the most I have ever booked at once) expecting greatness.

I did the standard walking around, drinking coffee, eating delicious food thing for two days. I hiked to the top of the biggest hill outside the city, then up a huge tower from which I got a spectacular view of the city. Like I said, gorgeous when you can't see the tourists. The next two days I spent around the hostel, blogging, planning the next 2 weeks of my trip, and resting, because holy crap I was tired of tourists and cities. At this point I made it my mission to visit a small town in Germany and spend a few days there, away from the madness. I did make it to the city center for an concert put on as an anti-communism demonstration. There I met a cool German chick and after the music we went to a ridiculous bar with 3 floors: one for drinking, once for dancing, and one for live music. We chose live music. Pretty cool.

The best thing about Prague was definitely the beer. So far, the Czech's make the best, and Budweiser is my favorite (even after my German beer experience). Thats right. Budweiser. The original, not the crappy American version. Pilsner Urquell is also amazing. So, go to the Czech Republic, definitely. The country is beautiful - the train ride to Berlin was by far the prettiest - the beer is delicious, and the locals are lovely, if you can find them. But spend only one day in Prague and the rest of your time elsewhere. Unless, of course, you like amusement parks.

Bathed in Beautiful Budapest

Posted by Afrojew2 | | Posted On Monday, May 17, 2010 at 11:28 AM

Budapest. Really, what else can I say? The name rings with glamor and age, beauty and grime, Europe and the East. And the city doesn't disappoint. One of my favorites, definitely. I arrived after a short three and a half hour jaunt from Vienna ready for a full day at the famous thermal baths of the historic city.  After checking into my hostel in Pest, run by an eager to please and neat-freaky, Korean guy, I headed out down one of Budapest's famous boulevards, Andrassy Blvd. Zoe had tipped me off to visiting the Szechenyi Baths in the city park (Pest) which is at the very end of the street. Its the only outdoor and the only mixed gender bath in the city. And it is astoundingly beautiful. Right in the middle of the park, surrounded by green trees and blue sky sits the huge yellow building fitted with sculptures, domes, elaborate windows, the works. Inside (outside, really, in the courtyard) are three huge pools, each at different temperatures hovering around 37 degrees celcius, with fountains and jets everywhere. Tons of people were there, but it never felt crowded. Inside the building are locker rooms, cabins, saunas and even more pools. I spent the rest of the day there.

Budapest is where I started smoking cigarettes. Maybe its because Europeans make smoking look cool, I dont know, but one day I craved one and no one had any so I had to get a whole pack. Then I had to finish it. Then I got another cause man do they help you sleep. But don't worry, I stopped in Berlin. Hooray for being mentally stronger than nicotine.

The next day I went to the biggest synagogue in Europe, 2nd biggest in the world. It was... disappointing. It was basically a church. Designed by a Catholic for a very reform branch of Judaism, it looked like a cathedral, and had been rebuilt after some form of destruction that I don't remember. I also had to pay to go in which sucked. It was pretty though. I also tried to do a little digging in the archives to find out if any of my relatives were members, as my mothers side of the family comes from Budapest., but they were closed. So were the archives in the orthodox synagogue. At 11:30am on a Tuesday. Fuck.

After that disappointment, I walked to the river. And wow did that change my mood. Budapest is, quite possibly, the prettiest city I've seen. The famed Buda hills roll down the river as far as you can see cluttered at times (at others dotted) with magnificent red-roofed buildings while church steeples puncture their way out of the city. One of the hills, the biggest and closest to the river, has a bunch of castles on it. Another has Buda Castle and upon reaching the top, you can see the rest of Buda spread out behind it. Incredible. Pest is also pretty, with the gorgeous Parliament building dominating that side of the river. I had lunch on the river, ducked into a few cafes, and managed to swing back around to the big synagogue for a night view (mostly because I had to check my pocketknife and I forgot about it when I left).

Two American girls checked into my small hostel that night, Regan (pronounced Reagan, seriously) and Rachel. We polished off a few bottles of cheap, 1 euro wine in the hostel and had a good time. The next morning the three of us went to Budapest's biggest market, and I managed to get us lost on the way. We walked around for a while, then went our separate ways for the day. The market was amazing. Huge, indoors, and filled with produce, meats, cheeses, breads, everything delicious. Upstairs there were some cafeteria style point-at-a-big-bucket-of-Hungarian-food-cause-you-dont-know-what-its-called restaurants. I ate lunch and dinner there. Amazing food.

After the market I went up to Buda Castle and Castle Hill, which I hadn't visited the day before. It was good that I hadn't because I got the best views on the most beautiful of days. Back at the hostel, two more chicks, Sara and someone else (I'm so bad with names) had checked in and they were much cooler than the first two, so that night the three of us got some more cheap wine and had a better time.

I decided to leave for Prague the next day. I should have stayed longer.

V for Vienna

Posted by Afrojew2 | | Posted On Friday, May 7, 2010 at 7:58 AM

Vienna was... big. The old city was the biggest I've visited to date. And the Danube, well, when you get to the Danube, its not the Danube. It's a canal from the river snaking its way next to the old city. The actual river is another 30 minutes away on foot. But once you get there its GORGEOUS. The buildings are also huge. Gigantic. Get-blisters-from-walking-around-them big. If you go inside, though, you have to walk around the whole building because you probably paid 10 euro to get in. Vienna is a most expensive city. Fortunately, I had a place to stay.

Before leaving on my European odyssey, word spread though the family grapevine of my impending adventure. Turns out I had a relative living in Vienna. To be perfectly honest, Vienna was not on my original itinerary, but that changed with this new information. My relative is my mom's cousin's daughter, Zoe, who I'd never met or heard of. I sent her an email and she instantly offered me a place to stay. Gotta love family.

I arrived in Vienna early in the morning after my overnight train from Krakow, met Zoe for about 10 minutes before she had to be off for work. I settled into my cozy new diggs, a double bed in an awesome apartment on a quiet street just outside the old city (easily the best place I've stayed so far), took a nap, then headed out. I was tired and didn't feel like being a tourist so I left the camera at home, walked around the old city, ate soup, drank coffee, and came back home. Later, Zoe and I went out for dinner and got to know each other better.

The next day was tourist day. The Hapsburg palace was first up, and its pretty incredible. Huge, marble, shiny, and intricate.

Part of it is a university library and they wouldn't let me in. The rest is a museum filled with Greek stuff from Ephesus, arms (the metal kind, not the limb kind), and old musical instruments. I guess the Hapsburgs were mild collectors. Then I went to the center of the city where theres a bigass cathedral, after which I discovered just how far away the Danube was. I didn't actually make it there. Instead I went to Prater Park and didn't rent a bike cause it was too expensive. The park is a huge, beautiful green area just across the Danube canal. Amusement parks, restaurants, bike paths... the works. After the park I went to the bigass art museum and saw a huge Egyptian collection (awesome), a Roman collection (yeah), and some classical paintings (which I don't really get or like) including a few Rembrandts (ok, he's good). Not a bad day.

I told Zoe I was into hiking and she recommended I go through the vineyards just outside the city, so thats what I did the next day. And boy was she right. Just beautiful neighborhoods and houses scattered across beautiful, hilly country. It was cloudy and grey, but still gorgeous. And best of all, Austrians enjoz wine with their hiking, so many of these vineyards are open for wine tasting. I stopped at one and had some delicious local wine while demonstrating my complete lack of knowledge of the subject to the owner of the huge vineyard. We had a few laughs and I got a bit tipsy. Austrians sure know how to hike.

After a delicious homecooked breakfast of french toast and french-pressed coffee prepared by my host, Zoe and I took a walk down to the Nascht(?) Markt, or snack market of you know Yiddish. It was a huge open-air market near the old city filled with delicious local foods and fleas (get it? there was also a flea market). I loooove markets. I bought bread, hummus, peppers stuffed with cheese, and brie for way too much money, and I headed for the Danube. I took the subway this time, to the long, skinny island in the middle of the river. Its a spectacularly beautiful river. I stayed there for a long time. There were swans.

The next day was the best day of my trip so far. I woke up early and took a train (Austrian trains are awesome) to Melk, a small town on the Danube, about an hour West of Vienna. Its a pretty touristy town but I got there before all the rest of them, so it was quiet and beautiful. People come here because of the river and the Abby. Stift Melk, as its called, is a huge monestary sitting atop a cliff over the town. Its amazing, mostly for the views from the top. After that I walked around for an hour trying to find a place to rent a bike cause the information center was closed and the guy at the train station told me where to go but after i couldnt find it told me he actually didn't know where to go. I finally found a hotel that I could rent from. I rode along the river for about 20 km, through tiny towns, meadows, and fields surrounded by gorgeous green mountains until I arrived in the town of Spitz. There I stopped for lunch at a Hariger, which is the home a local vinyard owner turned restaurant with tables set up outside. I sat down with an older couple from Linz and they helped me order from the German menu. I had the house wine and some cheese spreads. Just amazing. We chatted for a while and they paid for one of my glasses of wine. Wonderful people. At the second Hariger I went to I had more wine and some cake. I could have Hariger-hopped all day like my friends from Liz, but I was full and I had to get back to Melk to return the bike. I was going to ride back on the other side of the river so I asked my server (the owner) where the next bridge was. "Theres no bridge here," he replied, "only in Melk or Krems" which was another 20 km up the road. How wonderful, in a completely non-sarcastic way. 40 km between bridges, and I'm used to cities with four or more just downtown. Its nice to be in a place where rivers are respected, especially one as beautiful as the Danube.

I returned home just as Zoe was preparing dinner. We ate pasta, talked, and I think bonded in the way family should. Pretty much the best day ever.

Next Week on Planes, Trains, and Wagons East: Hungary? I'd like some Pest with a dash of Buda.

ps. sorry for the lack of pictures. I'll change that when I get to a computer that can handle it, but I'm getting too far behind to wait for that.

who I am

My photo

Who I am is a man with a plan.
A master of disguise with his eyes on the prize.
A lean, mean traveling machine,
Who always goes for it but loves to blow off steam.
I’ve been living in the past and coming up last,
So now I’m looking to the future where I’m sure to have a blast.
I’m a yes man who doesn’t just say no,
I like to take my time unless I’ve got somewhere to go.
I’m easy going, easy to please,
Easy on the eyes, but tough to read.
I pluck my strings to the rhythm and blues,
And belt it out when I find my muse.
Nobody’s perfect but I strive for greatness.
The shoe never fits as I wander aimless.
I have an open heart, an open mind
Which opens doors I seek to find.
So open up and open wide,
It's open season on this journey of mine.
Get in line, I’m a sight to see.
I hope you feel better,
Now that you know me.