28 June 2009
While Prague was rainy the whole time I was there, I ended up having a good time. It’s a really nice city with a lot to see. My second day there I walked around for probably 10 hours just checking everything out. I went to the Communism Museum, which is in the same building as a casino and a McDonalds (go capitalism?). It was small, but interesting and had some cool stuff on display. Their advertisements were the best though. There were vicious looking matroyska dolls on one of them and the other, my personal favorite, had a picture of a man who looked like Stalin next to two women that looked like porn stars and it said “Get intimate with Communism.” I think I have a photo of it, if I do I’ll post it. But besides the museum, I saw the Astronomical Clock (Pražský orloj) in the Old Town Square. Every hour, the doors at the top of the clock open up and there’s a procession of figures. It was impressive. I also walked down to Charles Bridge (Karlův most), which is lined with statues. The bridge was partially under reconstruction, but it was nice nonetheless. I walked around the Jewish area for a bit, through the New Town area, and all over the place. I walked along the river and eventually came to the Frank Gehry building there called The Dancing House (Tančící dům). It was wavy and kind of cool in that Gehry fashion, but I wasn’t overly impressed by it. I also found this excellent little vegetarian restaurant and had some delicious and cheap food there. When I was done I went into the Old Town Square to write in my journal while waiting for Gloria from Austria to get in. While I was writing, this guy came up and sat down on the bench next time and kind of stared for a little while before asking me “Are you student?” Turns out he was a drunk Slovakian guy who just wanted to practice his English, but he hadn’t really spoken it since leaving high school. I felt bad because I couldn’t understand everything he was trying to say, but in the end it was an amusing experience and it’s always nice to meet random people while traveling on your own.
The next day Gloria and went to the Kafka museum. I’ve never read any Kafka, but Hannah said the museum was good and I should check it out. She was right – the museum was really cool. I definitely want to read some Kafka at some point. Also, random, but outside the museum there’s a hilarious fountain that is two male statues peeing. I chuckled when I saw it.
After the museum, Gloria and I went to the castle area. We walked around it, but didn’t pay to go in or anything. We wandered around for a while by the castle, then through the rest of the city. A little bit later we went to that vegetarian restaurant that I had gone to the night before. It’s so good! After that we had some fun by going to two bars.
The last day in Prague I slept in a bit, and it was storming or just raining all day so I spent it inside getting things sorted out for my upcoming adventures. I almost missed my train to Berlin because I was at the wrong station, but I made it on time and it ended up being about 40 minutes late. It arrived eventually, which brings me to where I am now – Berlin!
I left the train station and walked past the Reichstag. Then I walked along the river towards the Museuminsel, an “island” with several museums. That was near where I was meeting Mary, a friend of mine from Middlebury who is letting me stay at her place here in Berlin! After we met up, we dropped off my stuff and went to a vegan restaurant with one of her German friends named Jerome. I had a delicious tofu burger and some really tasty fries, and being in Germany I had to try a dark hefeweizen. All of it was good. After dinner we met up with one of Mary’s other friends named Amanda who was at a bar with a guy named Russell. Turned out to be a gay bar having a Michael Jackson night, but it was good fun. Mary didn’t realize it was a gay bar at first, which is pretty amusing, and it was my first time going to one.
The next day we met up with Anatole and walked around for a little while. She showed us the Reichstag, Brandenburg Gate (Brandenburger Tor), and tons of other cool buildings. But the main attraction of the day was the Gay Pride parade. It was huge! I had never been to a pride parade before, and I’m glad I went to this one. There were so many people there and the whole thing was supported by the city, political parties (even their “conservative” party), and plenty of other organizations. There were lots of costumes, drag, music, and just people in general. My camera batteries had died so I didn’t get any pictures of anything that day, but it was a good day.
That evening we went to Wabe for a concert. Three bands played – The Folks, The Wake Woods, and The Blue Van. The first two were pretty good, the last one I wasn’t really feeling. We met up with a guy that Mary knows and some of his friends there. It was a good night.
Today Mary showed Anatole and I the New Synagogue (Neue Synagoge). There was an exhibition on the history of the synagogue and Judaism. There was pretty intense security going in – a couple of cops outside, and then airport-type security measures going in. We then walked around for a little bit and got some falafel, but came back early so Mary could do some work. I’m just hanging out right now waiting for Anatole to get here so we can go out somewhere. Hannah mentioned this place that looks cool called Kunsthaus Tacheles, so I think we’re going to go there. But who knows! Tomorrow we’re going to go to Checkpoint Charlie and the Berlin Wall, and then Anatole and I will be off on an overnight train to Krakow. I’ll update again when I can!
22 June 2009
At any rate, Vienna was cool. Unfortunately all my photos from Vienna were accidentally deleted. I don’t know how it happened, and there weren’t many, but it sucks. Anyways, there wasn’t an overabundance of things to see and do, but I made do with my short time. I was exhausted when I got in, but I met Gloria, Bianca, and Sarah, three Austrian girls, right away. We all hung out, and a guitar was being passed around while we had some coffee. Gloria ended up being like my guide for the city for my time there (thank you!). She showed me around to all the major sites and was an excellent host. We checked out the MuseumQuartier where they have some pretty awesome yellow chairs and several museums and wandered around the city. We saw the Naschmarkt, which is a huge outdoor market that has everything in it. I saw plenty of churches and cool buildings as well, and wandered my way past university buildings and through the Heldenplatz and botanical gardens and pedestrian areas. One of the days I was there was a holiday, apparently (I don’t know which one), so a lot of things were closed. But I saw quite a bit. And I went to the KunstHaus Museum, which had a pretty cool Picasso exhibit going on. The building itself was pretty cool – lots of colors and the floors were all wavy. We followed that up with a walk by the Danube to see the graffiti on the walls (where it’s legal to do it!). There were some pretty cool things there. Overall I had a good time in Wien, but because of the people I met there. Oh! And Gloria gave me two dread ties, so now I have some color in my hair too. Woo!
Also, it’s tough to be super excited about Vienna when I was looking forward to my extended stay in Scotland. I had another late night for my last night in Wien, but luckily my flight wasn’t until the afternoon. My second flight, from London to Edinburgh, was delayed by 40 minutes, but no big deal; it still beats the 14 hour bus ride I was originally going to take. Hannah met me at the airport all decked out in neon which was amazing. I was super happy to have finally arrived! We dropped my stuff off at hers and then went up the hill by her house to get a view of the city at night before going off to meet some of her friends. The next day we headed off for Midge Fest, which was a lot of fun. Think camping and lots of music in the idyllic Scottish countryside. And Caroline came up for it as well, so it was like a little reunion for the Three ‘Kateers. ☺ . I met some more people, but it downpoured for a good amount of the weekend. I was sleeping in the car and the rain was strong enough to wake me up.
Apart from that Hannah showed me around Edinburgh, showing me the sites and taking me around to her friends’ places and introducing me to people and all that good jazz. I can see now why she talks so fondly of Scotland (and in particular Edinburgh) – it’s so nice! Even when it was rainy it was still nice, but maybe that’s because I think it’s always raining in Scotland. We went to the Dean Gallery and on a ghost tour of Greyfrair’s Kirkyard and the Covenanter’s prison. We walked up several hills, went to a quarry, and one night made our way up Arthur’s Seat. Such an awesome view from up there! Speaking of awesome views, we also went up The Scott Monument and had a view of the city during the day, which was also pretty cool. Oh yeah, and I did a lot of catching up on sleep!
We also went to Glasgow for a night and stayed with Hannah’s friend Nikki, who I met in Amsterdam in October. We hung out at hers the night we got there and then the next day I was introduced to a British TV series about a crime solving magician’s helper called Jonathan Creek before we headed out for lunch at an awesome vegan restaurant called “The 78.” We all got chickpea burgers. They were amazing! After that we kicked around the Kelvingrove Museum before heading back to Edinburgh.
Basically I had an AMAZING time and I’m so happy that I could go. I can’t believe that my 10 days there have already flown by…
… which brings me to where I currently am now – Praha! (Prague!) I’m exhausted. I didn’t sleep last night and after having to say goodbye to Hannah knowing that I won’t see her for a year I wasn’t much in the mood to do anything when I arrived. I checked into my hostel, which is pretty dismal. I wasn’t sure if it was actually open or not until I walked right up into it. But hey, for less than $9 and free wifi, I can’t complain. Besides, it seems pretty secure and not dirty, just a bit run down and overgrown from the outside. I dropped off my stuff then went out exploring for a few hours before the rain started. I haven’t even looked at my map that I picked up today, but I wandered around by some museums near the train station and in the city center. I don’t know if I’m going to actually do anything tonight or if I’m just going to wait until tomorrow. But so far Prague looks great. It’s a pretty city with quite a few supermarkets (crazy what you notice right way, eh?) and I did manage to stumble upon an outdoor market that had plenty of puppets. Tomorrow will be a better day though! I’m going to go exploring and maybe the Kafka museum. (Well, I’m going to the Kafka museum one of the days that I’m here at any rate).
So, that’s all for now. I hope that was a good overview of what I’ve been up to. I’m going to go make some dinner and have an easy/early night. Until next time…
10 June 2009
On my second full day in Budapest I did a lot more wandering around again. I like doing that – just getting to a city and wandering around the streets for a few days. I walked up to the Citadel on the Buda side of the river, which had some pretty epic views of the city. You could see everything! It was a long walk, but totally worth it. I had a late start to my day, so that was in early afternoon. After the citadel I wandered through the Central Market in Pest, which has plenty of vegetables, fruits, meats, alcohol (hey, it’s Hungary, where can’t you buy alcohol?), and souvenirs and such. I didn’t get any that day, but the cherries are so delicious and cheap! After that I made my way to the other side of Pest and checked out the Parliament building. It was hot, and I was a bit tired, so I hung out for a bit before making my way to the baths. I had 2 hours to relax in the different temperature pools and saunas before they closed. It was a bit lonely being there on my own, but it was relaxing. And I had my first experience in a sauna. Let me tell you, it’s a weird feeling when the metal on your piercings actually heat up and are hot to the touch.
I didn’t do anything that night, kept it low key because I had to get up early the next day to go to Bratislava!
I got into Bratislava around noon yesterday, and after dropping my stuff off I met and hung out with Vojtech and Ian. Ian is an American traveler and Vojtech is Slovakian. He had to work, so Ian and I wandered around the city a bit and saw everything in just a couple of hours. The castle was unfortunately undergoing a lot of construction, so that was closed, but the views from up there were awesome. After seeing the sites we wandered to the park and hung out there for a bit, then walked through a nearby cemetery that had some awesome headstones. Vojtech got off work at 1am, so we met up with him and went to an after party for a Marilyn Manson concert in a club in a nuclear fallout shelter. When we got there, R.E.M. was playing, which I found hilarious for a Marilyn Manson after party. After that we hung out until well after sunrise. (The sun was already rising at 4:30am.) OH, I almost forgot! I was super excited yesterday when I was able to find peanut butter for a reasonable price. I almost finished the whole jar yesterday. Woo! That is definitely one thing I miss from the states, and as soon as I get back I’m going to go to Hannahford and buy a giant, family sized jar of chunky peanut butter.
Now I have about an hour and a half until my train to Wien (Vienna). Luckily the train is only an hour long. I’ll update again when I can!
07 June 2009
When I got in the weather was a lot nicer than when I left Ljubljana. It was sunny and a comfortable temperature and I didn’t have much trouble finding my way to where I’m staying. I’m fairly close to central Pest, on the left side of the Danube. After I got myself situated I decided to head on out and explore. I wasn’t gone more than 30 seconds before I heard an American girl who lives on the street I’m staying on trying to get my attention. I was wearing my Middlebury Quidditch t-shirt, so she wanted to know if I went there and if I knew someone. Turns out she knows someone who I have hung out with on several occasions. What a small world! So she asked me if I had any plans which I didn’t, aside from going to check out a supposedly vegan friendly restaurant that my Lonely Planet: Europe on a Shoestring suggested and I can do another time, and she invited me to come to an Indian restaurant with her and her friends. Another small world instance – one of her friends goes to Bard and knows the bridge on Buckwheat Road that we jump off of in summer! When we got to the restaurant there was an Italian girl who just graduated from Bard. So I ended up hanging out with the girl I met on the street, her flat mate- a guy from California- and the girl from Bard after dinner at this bar/café/performance place that was pretty chill. It’s weird going into places and seeing smoking still allowed inside! There was a concert going on downstairs that I caught a bit of. It was okay, the bassist and the drummer were really good, but the guitarist was nothing special. He did make some pretty epic guitar faces though. After that we attempted to go to a club, but it was mobbed and we weren’t sure if you had to pay that night, and I was tired after getting up for a 6:15am train. So since it was so crazy I just went back to get some sleep.
This morning I got up and left around 10:30 to start exploring. I walked past St. Stephen’s Basilica (Szt. Istaván Bazilika) through the main pedestrian area of Pest to the Danube (Duna) and then up along the Danube to the Chain Bridge (Lánchíd). My camera batteries had died, so I didn’t get any photos on this part of my day. The inside of the Basilica was pretty impressive. It was huge. I crossed the bridge and made my way up to Fisherman’s Bastian (Halászbástya), which had some pretty epic views and was just all around cool to be at. I decided I needed to take some photos so I bought some batteries at the souvenir shop there. Unfortunately almost right after that it started to downpour. It was nice when I left so I had no jacket and no sweatshirt with me. I made my way to Buda Castle (Budai Vár). There were some museums there, but nothing that I particularly wanted to go in, so I just chilled out under the archways until the rain cleared, or at least let up. Once it did let up a bit I made my way back towards Pest so I could grab my sweatshirt and figure out the rest of my day. I was originally going to go to the Baths with Kaye and Brandon, two of the people I met last night, but because of the weather we scratched that idea. I decided to go to the House of Terror (Terror Háza) instead, which is a museum about the dual occupation of Hungary by the Nazis and the Soviet Union. The rain had let up, so I ventured back out, but that wasn’t to last. Luckily the House of Terror wasn’t too far, and it was pretty cool. Best of all, it was free! I was expecting to pay 750 Ft (about $3.75/2,60€) for a student ticket, but hey, I’m not complaining! When I got out it was still raining, which brings me up to the present. I’m just chilling out now, but I’m probably going to meet up with some people this evening.
I know this is getting long and I’ve probably lost some of you in all of it, but one last thing. It’s so weird hearing prices in the 100s and 1000s, but it does make me feel like a baller to be carrying some currency in the thousands, with a 10,000 Ft bill. The exchange rate right now is about $1 / 1€ = 200 / 286 Ft, so it’s not that much, but yeah. I’m straight gangsta’!
Okay, that’s all for now. I’ll update again when I can!
05 June 2009
The next day in the city it was pretty hot and I had to carry my backpack around all day, from about noon until 9:30ish. That wasn’t pleasant, but I met up with Derek, an Australian I met in Rome. I saw more of the city that I hadn’t seen during the previous day, as well as the stuff I had already seen. I want into Basilica di San Marco because it was free. It was so massive! But unfortunately you’re not allowed to take photos inside. The floor was all wavy from centuries of tidal movements underneath it. It was definitely impressive.
Also, check out this beauty right here: That’s right, a diamond-encrusted skull. How ostentatiously badass is that?
Anyways, I got in Ljubljana in the middle of the night. When I woke up a little bit later I wandered all over the city. The castle is so cool, but unfortunately the tower was closed. It’s such a pretty city; small, but pretty. And there’s a Tivoli Park! (I lov it!) I mostly just wandered around and took pictures during the day, going from one side to the other. There are several different types of buildings, from Soviet-influenced bloc style housing, to art nouveau style, to just massive structures. And there are a lot of green spaces in the city, which is nice. The temperature here was a little bit colder than in Venice, but that was a relief.
I went into one museum, the Narodni Galeriji (National Gallery), because there was a Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition going on! His work is so great, and I was happy to see that for the most part these photos were different from the ones in Florence. His photos are just incredible! And, speaking of photos, I met a Slovenian girl who took me to another photography exhibition that her friend had some photos in. It was free, which is always great, and there was free wine and snacks, which is even better! After that we made our way to Metelkova for a concert. Metelkova is an autonomous area in the city that was taken over by squatters in 1993. It used to be used by the Yugoslav National Army. Now it’s a really cool place for alternative culture and concerts, and there is even a hostel there. The concert was decent, nothing to special, but it was cool to go to a concert since I haven’t been to one in a little while. The bands played some heavy post-rock type music. And I was able to meet a bunch of Slovenians.
Today the weather hasn’t been too great, which is why I’m updating this blog in the middle of the day. I’m not sure what I’m going to end up doing, if anything. It seems like whenever I step out the rain just starts to come down more. I did manage to go back to Metelkova to take some photos of the graffiti and buildings and things. I like it there.
That’s all for now. I head to Budapest, Hungary early tomorrow morning. I have a stop over in Zagreb, Croatia as well, but it’s only an hour so I don’t think I’ll be able to see much if anything there. I’ll update again when I can!
02 June 2009
So Venice. What can I say? It’s true that walking down the pedestrian streets and along the canals is like stepping into a photograph. Every other street (if not every street), you want to stop and take a photo (Mom would be going nuts, she’d come home with thousands!). It is a beautiful city, but it is an expensive one. Well, eating and shopping and that kind of stuff are expensive. Apparently, the museums aren’t too bad, but they add up because there are a lot of them. And the lines are long. So today I didn’t go in any of them. I spent a good 4.5 – 5 hours wandering around the streets. The shuttle from the campground brought me to the main bus terminal, and from there I just picked a direction and started walking. This was just after 9am. It was a bit chilly, but if today is an indicator then I can say mornings in Venice are pleasant. So I set out by myself, some music playing on my headset, without looking at the map first. I came across a bunch of churches that I don’t know the names of, but unfortunately I didn’t go into a majority of them because you have to pay. Forget that, I’m not paying to go into churches. But the architecture was beautiful, and the few churches I did go in had some excellent paintings. The streets are narrow and some are serpentine, or you take random alleys between streets that you may not take in other cities. Since there are no cars, it’s safe to assume that even the tiniest of alleys is okay to walk down. I walked from one end to the other. And snaked about in between. I saw gondolas, parks, canals, bridges, churches, and other cool buildings. The Piazza San Marco is incredible (the photo above is of the Basilica there). I may try to go into the gallery there tomorrow. I also some the hilarious site of a young, well dressed Italian guy who couldn’t be much older than myself walking around smoking a pipe. What class. I did go into a free exhibition on Vivaldi and violins. That was pretty interesting.
It was also pretty hot today, so after almost 5 hours of walking I decided to come back to the hostel and sit by the pool. I didn’t go in at all, but I chilled out and read my book (currently reading Punk Fiction, a collection of punk-inspired short stories that Hannah lent me. I finished The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera the other day, that was an excellent read) and had a low key afternoon. I was going to go back into town in the evening, but the shuttle is infrequent, and while the buses aren’t expensive I don’t know if you can actually get the bus tickets on the bus or if you have to buy them ahead of time, and I didn’t have any on me. At any rate, I’m going to be in the city in the evening tomorrow before my night train to Ljubljana in Slovenia.
Otherwise, Venice is okay. My overall impression is that it’s very pretty, but I don’t think I could spend more time here than I already am. My campground/hostel is nice, but it’s tough to meet people. I met a nice Australian guy tonight and we talked for a bit, but otherwise I haven’t met anyone. But yeah, that’s all I have to say for right now. I’ll update again in Ljubljana!
01 June 2009
I arrived in Firenze (Florence) in the afternoon on the 30th of May. Keith, a friend of mine from Middlebury, met me at the station and walking between the station and his apartment near the center of the city I already knew it would be a city I would like. To start, it was way less crowded than Roma. The weather was nice on my arrival, which is always a plus. Keith’s apartment was great, and he played my tour guide for the brief time I was there, so thank you Keith for everything!
That first afternoon we wondered around a bit. Keith took me up to a spot with an astounding view of the city. All I could think was “WOW! This place is so pretty!” Afterwards checking out the view, we walked back down the hill and after some bagels at an excellent little place we crossed the Arno on Ponte Vecchio and started going meandering the city. Sculptures, or replicas of famous structures, dotted the cityscape. The architecture was beautiful. The Duomo was one of the first massive structures that I saw. I never ended up going into it or up it because of lines, but the outside was impressive, as was the outside, and in particular the doors, of the battistero. But this afternoon had something special in store. It’s impossible to go to Florence and not have Michelangelo’s David be on your list of things to see. We made our way to the Galleria dell’Accademia. After standing in line (for the shortest amount of time of any of the lines I waited on in Florence) we made our way in, but we didn’t head straight for David. I’m glad we didn’t. There was an incredible exhibition that only opened a couple days before my arrival showcasing the photography of Robert Mapplethorpe. His work was so unbelievably incredible, I recommend checking it out. There’s no way I could put into words how awesome it was. Then the David. I’ve seen pictures, and heard about it from people who have seen it, but nothing compares to seeing it up close and personal. All the detail, the way the marble looks like it’s skin covering bones, muscle, veins…I’m still reeling from it as I think about it now. The rest of the museum was also great, but it’s hard to get excited about religious art and other sculptures when the Accademia has work by Michelangelo. Just incredible. We also saw a street performing mime that was pretty hilarious. He would just mess with or intimidate people as they went by. He sent an Asian tour group running, played Patty-Cake with some random girl, and was just hilarious overall. I’ll see if I can upload one of the short videos I took of him.
The following day we were ambitious and went to two museums. It was raining for most of the day, so that seemed like the best idea. (Yes, two. But I was in Florence and where’s better place to see amazing art?) We first tried to get into the Uffizi, but the line was so long that we made reservations for later that afternoon and made our way next door to the Signoria. Both were incredible, but by the end of a long day of museum visiting it’s tough to keep your interest peeked. At the Signoria there was another incredible map room (woo!) and plenty of gold all around. Keith was telling me that because the paintings on the ceiling of the main entrance room were so heavy they had to have a special mechanism to keep it from falling. It was tough to take in everything, but both museums were totally worth the visits. I saw all the famous works in both, with the Uffizi boasting Botticelli’s Birth of Venus as well as works by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael (woo, ninja turtles!), among others. Unfortunately a lot of work was not on display because they were being restored, but it was still a memorable and amazing visit. It also means that I don’t have many photos of Florence because I spent a lot of time in the museums.
Today I got into Venezia (Venice) to much nicer weather (it was raining when I left Florence this afternoon), and I briefly saw a miniscule amount of the city while looking for my bus. I ended up on the wrong one, but managed to navigate my way to the campsite/hostel without any real problems (and without a map, go me!). AND, despite having reserved a 3 bed room without a bathroom, I was given a 3 bed with one and I think I have it to myself. Cool.
It was well after 6 pm by the time I got here, so I think I’m just going to chill out for this evening, take care of some stuff I need to get done, and then get up early and explore the city tomorrow during the day and night. Being in this campground makes me feel like I’m on one of the family trips with the camper (aww, look at that, I think of my family sometimes ;-) ). So that’s all for now. I’ll updated again when I can! (Maybe tomorrow, depending on how much of this pay wifi I use up tonight.)