Archive for August 2011

I Had Breakfast in Venice this Morning

August 28, 2011 - 9:25 pm No Comments

Almost immediately after sitting in my familiar chair at my familiar desk in my familiar room, the trip I just took seems like it was all a dream. Did I really spend the last 10 days in Europe?

It was truly a whirlwind tour of Europe. The pace was challenging, the walking destroyed my feet, and I got really damn tired of being hot and sweaty. But trips are like relationships. When you’re in it, you tend to focus on the bad, but after it’s over, you only remember the good. Memories of being hot and sweaty and tired have been replaced with the memories of being in great places doing great things with great people.

Of the cities we visited on this trip, my list from best to worst might be:

  1. Prague
  2. Berlin
  3. Venice
  4. Český Krumlov
  5. Bled
  6. Krakow
  7. Vienna
  8. Budapest

Not having to worry about the daunting task of organizing accommodation in cities or transportation between them made it all possible. Intrepid took care of everything, allowing us to spend most of our time enjoying ourselves. I’d definitely consider taking another trip with them in the future.

I’ll be busy for the next few months, if not years, finishing this blog and working on the thousands of photos I took on this trip. It’s a lot of work, but I know that when I’m old and gray (well on my way), I’m going to love looking back at this stuff.

No Regrets.

A Moment in St. Mark’s Square

August 28, 2011 - 5:42 pm No Comments

Frank and Alex are continuing on a tour through the rest of Italy with Intrepid, giving them another week in the country. For a while, I thought about changing my plane ticket and joining them, but a girlfriend and work commitments at home prevented me from doing so.

Do Not Get On or Get Off During the Closing (more…)

Venice: Canals and Crumbling Buildings

August 26, 2011 - 10:49 pm No Comments

Today is a big day for Frank, as he is of Italian descent, and this will be his first time in the motherland. He plans to trace the roots of his grandfather by going to the town he came from and talking with the locals. Pretty cool.

Leaving Bled, we met a group of English girls on our train who thought I look like Matt Damon. Not the first time I’ve gotten that. To thank them for what I perceived as a compliment, I taught them how to play a simple mind game played with three rows of crumpled up paper balls. When they pushed me to name the game, I told them to call it “Jeff’s Balls.”

While on the train, Tomi was supposed to let us know when we crossed the border into Italy. He didn’t, and when we got off to change trains in Gorizia, we found out that the reason Tomi has seemed a little nervous and timid lately was because this was the first time he’s done this itinerary. He’s familiar with all of the cities, but he’s never run this route before. In any case, the signs were in Italian and police sirens had a different sound. Just like that, we were in Italy.

Our train came stopped in Mestre, the urbanized mainland district of Venice. We parted ways to find our various hotels, dropped our bags, and then met up again at the station to catch a train to Venice. From Mestre, a short bridge connects the mainland to the islands of Venice. We arrived at the station in Venice and met up with Christian, Tomi’s boss, for a quick orientation walk.

The Train into Venice (more…)

Adventures in Bled

August 25, 2011 - 11:14 pm No Comments

Woke up early for a day trip to the mountains with Emerald River Adventures. Our guide for the day was the typical guy you normally see running these kinds of tours: skinny, happy-go-lucky, ill-fitting outdoorsy clothing that says he’s cool and laid back, flip-flops, wrap-around sunglasses, arrowhead necklace, and facial hair that suggests that he smokes a lot of weed when he gets off work at the end of the day. Though I’m working with a very small sample size, Slovenians have that Slavic look, with wide-faces, high cheekbones, spacey eyes, and small teeth. They seem like a mostly happy, friendly people.

We headed into the Julian Alps, and the cool, crisp morning air was the freshest I’ve ever smelled.

Julian Alps (more…)

The Hills are Alive

August 24, 2011 - 10:10 pm No Comments

Most of today was spent on the 3-leg, 10-hour trip to Bled, Slovenia, the longest journey of our itinerary. We headed through southern Austria, where the tunnels were impressively long and the mountains and valleys were suddenly majestic. The hills are definitely alive.

Hochosterwitz Castle (more…)

Budapest: The City That Doesn’t Care

August 24, 2011 - 1:37 am No Comments

Like Vienna, Budapest is an expansive city with an indiscernible historical center, so seeing all the highlights means a lot of walking. And I walked my ass off today.

Frank and I started our day by heading into the Soviet Bloc subway and going to the Great Market Hall, a huge indoor marketplace on the south side of the city.

Train 345 (more…)

Vienna to Budapest

August 22, 2011 - 11:58 pm No Comments

Another amazingly smooth ride. It’s almost silent, except on turns, when it sounds like a dragon is being tortured underneath us. This particular train had screens with maps that tell you how fast you’re moving (140 km/h, or 87 mph).

All the travel coordinated by Tomi has saved us a considerable amount of time and stress. Along the way, we’ve met other tourists who agonize over train schedules and complicated bookings. It’s nice not worrying about any of that. My favorite part is when we’re riding the train and Tomi jumps up to save us from a ticket inspector charging through the car and barking at people in a foreign language.

We glided over the unmarked Hungarian border, past herds of giant wind turbines, through the hills of Buda, over the Danube, and into the business district of Pest (pronounced “pesht”), which in 1873 officially merged with Buda to become the larger city known as Budapest.

Taxi drivers and tourist operators were waiting for us at the door of the train to offer us rooms and rides. Lots of aggressive shouting by locals with darker skin immediately gave Budapest more of a Middle Eastern feel than any of the other places we’ve been to, which makes sense since we’re now a bit closer to that part of the world. From looks to language to food, there are shades of difference between each country we’re visiting, and it’s fascinating how it all blends together.

Budapest Keleti Railway Station (more…)

Vienna: Falco, Mozart, and Schnitzel

August 21, 2011 - 10:36 pm No Comments

Vienna’s got a touristy center, but it’s not as concentrated as the other cities we’ve been to, so the only way to really see everything is to use the trains and buses. The trains here make a cool Spies Like Us alarm sound when the doors are closing.

We started our morning with Mass at St. Stephen’s Cathedral. I poked my head in for a quick listen, but so did every other tourist in Vienna.

Inside St. Stephen's Cathedral (more…)

The Bouncy Bus to Vienna

August 21, 2011 - 4:15 am No Comments

A local guy with a minivan provided us with shuttle service from Český to Vienna. He drove like a bat out of hell, swinging around the windy, crumbling roads of the Czech hills without even tapping the brakes. I don’t normally get carsick, but this was pretty extreme.

The road straightened out a bit, and we passed under a nondescript wooden canopy in the middle of nowhere. Turns out that it was the border, and just like that, we were out of the Czech Republic and in Austria. Signs changed from Czech to German, and the roads got smoother. An expressway took us into Vienna, or Wien (“VEEN”) as it appeared on the signs. Seeing the local spelling, it suddenly dawned on me where wieners and wienerschnitzel comes from.

After stopping at the hotel to check in, we took a train into town for another one of Tomi’s city orientation walks. At the train station, I spent 20 euro cents on a public scale and weighed myself with all of my gear: 96.5 kg (212.7 lbs). No wonder my feet hurt. They are used to 30 pounds less than that.

Vienna is expansive, with nothing that really stands out. It’s got some history, but there’s nothing all that impressive about it. The cathedrals, churches, government buildings, and museums all seem to have scaffolding around them. Vienna seems to be in a constant state of repair.

St. Stephen's Cathedral (more…)

Český Krumlov: Old and Wet

August 19, 2011 - 10:57 pm No Comments

Another obscenely early departure, made even more obscene by my batshit crazy idea to get up at 4:30am to take pictures of Prague’s Charles Bridge at dawn. Tomi had bet me that I wouldn’t be able to take any photos of the bridge without any people on it, and he was right. There were some drunken tourists stumbling home, two couples making out, and a few sleeping/dead homeless people.

Old Town Bridge Tower at Dawn (more…)