A Travellerspoint blog

I'm bleeding...for Lake Bled...

one of the most beautiful places I've been

View 2009 05 11 Jasonian Loop de Loop on jreuer's travel map.

After leaving the isle of Rab we climbed the mountains we dropped off of a couple days earlier and crossed the border into Slovenia. Croatia isn't part of the EU so we had passport controls both entering and departing Croatia. Entering Croatia we didn't have to get off the bus. Exiting we had to get off the bus and file one by one with our passports back into the EU. Then board our bus (which had crossed ahead of us).

I have been very extremely impressed with the scenery the whole way. The driver takes interesting routes - two lane routes - that take us through mountainsides, valleys and beautiful beautiful scenery. So in fact the bus rides have been something I have very much enjoyed and look forward to. I never sleep. Eyes always glued to the window to see what new and never before seen by me thing there is around the next corner. Most of the group sleeps on the bus. I'm not sure why. Everyone seems to go to bed at 9pm. So they aren't suffering from the lack of sleep.

We stopped for lunch in Slovenia at a castle. A castle built in front of a cave system.
Apparently this gave the occupants a huge advantage when under siege. The castle had been renovated (as renovated as castles go) and returned to it's original 'look' or so we were told. We poked around and took in the views.The castle was in some fairly gorgeous countryside. DSCF5796.jpgDSCF5793.jpgOh and it was raining. :) The green pastures leading out of the castle valley to the poofy trees with cows munching the ultra green grass was really pleasing to take in. The guide arranged lunch at some sheltered tables at the one and only cafe and arranged a lovely spread of fresh cut veg, some local meat pastries from Rab and the usual bread, meats and cheeses. The local meat pastry was great. filo like dough with a spiced meat inside. Yum.

Our trip is scheduled to have a quick stop in Ljubljana. Ljubljana is a place I considered spending a day or two after lake bled. At the last moment I switched deciding instead to head directly from Lake Bled directly to Vienna. I am extremely pleased I did. After the major capitals and fantastic cities we have seen Ljubljana is a very quaint, but small college town. We basically had an extended potty stop here. The bus dropped us off and we were given a quick orientation and told "be back here in two hours" after a couple minutes I was ready to get back on the bus. No disrespect meant. It was Sunday, late afternoon and I still had a cold. There was no market and few shops were open. The town is small and aside from a couple buildings to glance at...well there really wasn't much else to do Okay there was a bridge with some dragons on it. oooooh.. DSCF5864.jpgFortunately for me I bumped into Keven and Mari thinking the same thing. So we went and had a Cappuccino I was in dire need of a pick-me-up.

The cafe area is lively at least. We while away time sipping our coffees and laughing about this and that trying to stay awake long enough to make it to the bus. DSCF5924.jpgDSCF5920.jpg

Many of us were waiting to pile on the bus and head to our next destination when Anton drove up. Once we were all accounted for we headed for the 30 min drive to lake bled. We took the expressway and as we left the flat lands mountains quickly appeared on both sides. Once we hit lake bled our eyes popped out of our heads.

Take a blue green lake with a cliff on one side. Have this lake be in the alps. Throw a castle on top of the cliff. Throw an island in the lake.Throw a church on the island and voila you have the fairy tale makings that create the resort town of Lake Bled.


Surrounded by soaring alpine mountains on all sides, having, once again, blue green water and all the makings of something from Disney, you wouldn't know that a castle in some from has been in the location for over 1000 years. White swans inhabit the lake and terrorize unwary tourists that think "oh I'll just go touch it" uh...no. Swans are huge and would just as soon peck your eyes out than let you get near them. Graceful yes. Domesticated? Not on your life. They are very protective of their swans - signs circle the lake telling folks in 3 or 4 languages to please don't feed the birds. AND what does everyone do. Feed the birds. People are funny.

Lake Bled, is as you can imagine a resort playground. They don't allow motorized boats and in fact we were told the only boats that are allowed in the lake must be approved. The hotels and shops are concentrated on one side of the lake leaving the rest of the lake area fairly free of development. There are the occasional palace and they did extend the one end a bit for Olympic rowing. But other than that the area is really gorgeous. They had one of those tobogganing things you ride a chair lift up on and then ride this track down...sadly it is only open on weekends and we were there on a Monday. Boogers.

We had one organized feature for our day at the Lake and that was a boat ride propelled by a gondolier to the island. It was early morning (as all our tour activities tend to be to beat crowds) and the water was gorgeous and reflective. We got in in the hotel area and the gondolier shimmied us in our flat bottom boat (read VERY TIPPY) to the island - one of the only ways to get there. The boat men, according to the book, are part of a "union" that has been run in the family for years. The union has something worked out with the bled officials and they are the only ones providing boats on the lake. The boats design and everything being passed down from generation to generation. So if you wanted to throw a boat in and hawk some boat rides you would be unable to - even if you provided a wood bottom boat. That's what we're told. More on that later.DSCF6109.jpg

We had to have a couple boats for our entire group and we carefully unloaded onto the island where you are presented with a gigantic stair case up to the church. DSCF6444.jpgIt's customary for folks who get married in the area to bring their brides to the island and carry their brides up the monumental flight of stairs. As we were leaving another group was just arriving and some guy tried with his wife. I was hoping the island had an AED (automatic electronic defibrillator) cuz this guy was goin' down. Well, sadly, he gave up before entering the cardiac arrest zone. Would have made for a much better story had he keeled over and rolled down the stairs. There is a church on the island that is popular with weddings. Tourists can ring the bell for good luck - I rang it.

We piled back in our boats and headed back to shore. DSCF6081.jpgOur Gondolier - Roger - had gone to school in Baltimore, but he was born and raised in Bled. Grandfather and father did the boat thing. He was fun to chat with and had a great sense of humor. I asked why he wasn't singing...he reminded me I wasn't in Italy. DSCF6160.jpg

After the boat ride we had free time in Lake Bled. Part of my time was spent going to the pharmacy.

It used to be I would, for whatever reason, vomit in each country or continent Jimmy and I visit. I think it's part of a jet lag thing for me. My tummy gets upset with the time change. So far I have escaped it the last few visits and this one. This trip, however, I seem to have to have the pleasure of visiting the Chemist, Apothecary or pharmacists in each country. Sadly my cold didn't start until AFTER Poland. So I didn't have the bonus of having to use their system and getting to check them off my list...but I used them in all the rest. As I mentioned in Hungary I got some cold meds that weren't terribly effective, In Croatia I got some cold meds that were effective but decided against stocking up hoping I would be over my cold. When we got to Lake Bled I was decidedly NOT over my cold and had run out of my Croatian wonder drugs. Soooo first thing Monday morning I find the Chemist and do my usual song and dance "waters in nose" "sneezing" "Coughing" and present her with the box of the Croatian cold med variety. She did speak some English and told me they didn't carry that one. But had another with similar stuff but not with Patenol (You'll recall that really knocked down my cold aches). So I said fine. Give me a box of that junk and a box of patenol. She raised her eyebrows like "interesting, why didn't I think of that." and Gave me the dosage and I was off. I later had to go back to confirm the dosage because she didn't write it down and I could have sworn she said 1 tablet twice a day. She wrote it on the box. The dosage seemed weird. And indeed it was only moderately effective at drying my nose up. But using my Afrin for 3 days on/off seemed to be helping.

After getting my drugs we explored the castle.

Of course we explored for food options.

walked around the lake.

There wasn't a whole lot to do but enjoy the views and relax so that's what we did. I walked around the lake and ran into this quirky artist on the far side of the lake doing 5X7 water colors of the island. He wasn't asking much for them so I bought one and he insisted on painting me (in silhouette) on the back. While he did so we chatted. He mentioned how living in such a beautiful place you would think the people who live and work there would be happy. He claimed they weren't. He had a nervous twitchy laugh but kind eyes and a harmless spirit. I said "well what about the boat guys - they must be happy" he said oooh they are the least happy of all. They are the local mob. And then he told me how they control the boats in the lake and how much money they make. All lore I suppose, but it was an interesting slant on it. He twitched on and giggled and grinned as he worked on the back side of the mini painting I had selected. He was a nice man. Ernest. He included some sort of "chart of bled" has circles and angles on it. No idea what it means. Went in the trash. I'm guessing it's some astrological chart thing. Too bad the other crap he included stuck to the little painting of me he did. Oh well.

I have been sweating a lot this trip. Sweating when it's cold because of walking with a bunch of clothing on generates heat but it's cold before you get going, sweating when you walk into European shops - for some reason they all seem to have their temps set at 90, sweating because it's just super hot. When I finished walking around the lake I walked by a shop that had some merchandise I wanted to buy. I went in and made my selections. It was on the way out only that I saw myself in a mirror and my face was shiny as wet high gloss paint. Streams of sweat were rolling down my forehead. I was mortified. It wasn't like I was jogging but lord I was a-sweatin. I'm sure the shopkeeper thought I was going through a heroin withdrawal or something. It was that bad.

We had our "farewell" dinner in Lake Bled. Peter organized a lovely meal. The group had a grand time eating and drinking. After dinner kind words and toasts were said. A tear appeared in an eye here and there. Peter gave us all a group picture taken at the winery some weeks before and some paprika. A sheet had gone around earlier for people to provide contact info. So everyone was just biding their farewells and lingering. You could tell there was a sense of not wanting it to end. The forced association of 27 folks for 17 days and 16 nights was suddenly going to be missed somewhat. You could tell folks didn't want to leave the restaurant because that would be the end. But it was. Our tour was over.

Earlier when Peter was organizing everyone's departures I discovered another couple and I had coincidentally purchased the exact same train tickets to Vienna and we were heading out in the morning from Lesc-Bled station. Peter the guide had arranged transport from the hotel to the train stop all we had to do was show up one last time.

Posted by jreuer 10:22 Comments (0)

Island Days

I say Rob you say Rab...

View 2009 05 11 Jasonian Loop de Loop on jreuer's travel map.

After Plitvice we headed to the Island and city of Rab (pronounced ROB) of the coast of Croatia - the Dalmatian coast. Passing through more beautiful countryside punctuated by reminders of the recent war, we climb up a continual grade that doesn't seem that steep. Then we make a turn and the road seemingly drops off the edge of the world. From the top of the mountain you can see all the way to the Adriatic. The bus somehow doesn't high center on this razor edge of a mountain road pass and we start our decent which involved numerous switchbacks and a dramatic change in flora. Starting at the top with almost jungle like lushness as we make our way down the mountain we are graduated into rocky scrub. Rocks being bright gray/tan and the scrub being dark green.

Even overcast the coast is beautiful. Deep blue waters, white bald islands with random patches of vegetation. Winds and salt water keep vegetation down on the wind sides of most of the islands.
DSCF4922.jpgThe island of Rab is no exception.

You have to get there by ferry...which is fun. A 20 min ride. Just enough time to get off the bus and get to the top of the deck.

Where you reach the island by ferry is a wasteland of white rocks DSCF4935.jpgbut as you travel to the other side of the island it ends up vegetated with palms and other Mediterranean trees.

The old town of Rab is beautiful. White rock buildings with red roofs 3 main streets on a sort of peninsula. DSCF5021.jpg The stones of the streets polished shiny by the century's of wear. On our way there the guide was describing the place and he said "it's a beautiful town with streets paved with shiny stones" I thought it was a translation error - it wasn't the streets really are paved with slick shiny stones. DSCF4981.jpgOur group was to eat dinner together that first night. We met in the lobby of the hotel and caterpillared our way to the restaurant. It was an upstairs place and our group was extended down the stairs - those of us on the bottom not knowing what was going on at the top. Then the caterpillar seems to turn backward on itself - those at the front coming back? Well this causes no end of confusion. Somehow the caterpillar manages to reverse itself down the stairs on to the street and we who were on the stairs find out the Restaurant somehow didn't have our reservation and our guide got the Croatian shrug when he protested. The Croatian shrug is what you get when a shopkeeper, restaurateur or anyone else hears your situation and either can't do anything about it or doesn't care about your situation. This is what our guide got. This caused some concern in the caterpillar...27 people spreading out all exactly at the same time into a small town to find a place to eat - ALL WITH THE SAME GUIDEBOOK - can cause serious restaurant bottlenecks. Instantly the caterpillar separated into it's various and predictable segments - much like a marching band in formation. The groups all speed walking to be the first to the recommended restaurants.

There are about 4 churches several with tall bell towers. I manage to not go into the churches (refer back to previous posts about my super-saturation of viewing the sacred innards of churches) but I do venture into the top of one of the bell towers - all of which are external to the churches in this town. It was my first morning. It was overcast and there was a warm Adriatic breeze. Okay there was an Adriatic gale. BUT after nearly freezing to death in Krakow and wearing every layer I brought with me in Plitvice the warm, moist, salty 800mph winds were welcome. Did I mention It was windy? VERY windy. I wanted to kick the vantage points on the island before the bulk of the travellers so I went right to the highest of the bell towers first thing (or was it the oldest - I forget). DSCF5065.jpg I was the only soul moving around it seemed. Streets were dead. I found the tower easily and went up the rickety, creaky unstable stairs to the top of the tower which happened to be on the highest point in the city - or so it seemed. The stairs swayed and at one point one of the steps was half gone and the half that remained was about to go. The handrail often laying on the floor of the various levels as you went up through the access holes. DSCF5042.jpg At the top the wind was so strong I thought I was going to get sucked out of the top - it seriously crossed my mind "Tourist dies getting blown out of a bell tower. Somehow the tourist slipped through the narrow windows and ended up on the roman cobble below..." I didn't get sucked out, obviously a the vew was magnificent. DSCF5037.jpg I had difficulty holding my camera steady the wind was blowing so strong, tears forming in my eyes from the rapid evaporation of my existing mucus layer. Any scrap of cloth attached to a pole was sticking straight out and straining every fiber as it whipped and snapped to be free from it's anchor. It's a very clean island. No trash laying around. :)

The ocean was gorgeous deep blue graduating to greens as it approached the seawall. The island at the city edge has made sea walls that the ocean was doing everything in it's power to knock down. Waves shot up like schizophrenic geysers making pedestrian passage along the seawall a roulette game of dry/not dry. Since the sea wall binds the city there was no beach to speak of and the tide was up.

Continuing the cold saga. My Hungarian cold medicine - though may be working for my congestion, which the efficacy is questionable, was definitely not working for my "I have a cold" rotten feeling. So I went to the Croatian Apothecary. She spoke some English and with some basic words and sign language al la "Guestures" she gave me some stuff that worked great. It has patenol in it which is the Euro equivalent of Tylenol but it works really well with my body chemistry and makes me feel like I have been reborn.Who cares if the decongestant isn't working. I think I mentioned they don't give you much, maybe 3 days supply. I was hoping to be better in 3 days but I made a comment to my companions "I think I should go buy some more" they were like "Naw, you'll be better in 3 days." So I didn't make a return visit to stock up.

We had a free day on the Island of Rab. I spent a couple hours of that sitting on a bench, feeling the breeze, watching and listening to the waves crash and shoot 6-8 feet high against the sea wall. I was near the point of the Island and maybe 2 people walked by that whole time. It was great. Saw more lizards than people.

China has ruined the souvenir trade - that or tourists incredibly bad taste. The stuff that was passing for souvenir was questionable. Most was junk. I like to get stuff that was actually made by someone from where I am visiting. Something hand crafted. Not bulk churned chachki. So from Rab, Croatia I take only memories, photos and cold medicine.

Check them out in the gallery. I don't link to all my photos in the blog text. You can sort on the left by location (Croatia, Budapest etc)

Posted by jreuer 08:06 Comments (0)

Plitvice Lakes National Park

A beautiful place you have likely never heard of...

View 2009 05 11 Jasonian Loop de Loop on jreuer's travel map.

The drive from Budapest was Beautiful and sobering. Once we crossed into Croatia the full evidence of the turmoil in the area just 15 years ago was easy to see. Common was the sight of a house with it's roof blown off and windows blown out. A shell of the safe haven it once was for a family. The yard and gardens in ruins. The stucco riddled with softball size divots made by bullets. The family, still owning the property not yet returned from where they fled in self imposed exile. I tried to get some snaps out the bus windows.DSCF4290.jpgDSCF4289.jpgDSCF4287.jpgDSCF4286.jpgDSCF4285.jpg

Beautiful green fields edged with dark green trees filled with grass red poppies, blue salvia and yellow flowers all behind signs warning that the area is full of land mines and you should stay out. The war pitted families against families, family members against family members. A complicated situation I'm still not 100% clear on. Stable now, the countryside is lush, green and quite inviting except for the occasional mine field.

The inland area is dense with forest. Deciduous mostly. The surrounding hills almost look like they are covered with Jungle. If I had been shown a photo and asked I would have guessed Jungle. Villages here and there with nearly every house having the most tidy gardens I have ever seen. Poles set for beans, potatoes, corn and pepper all in even well kept rows. You would see the occasional local out tending their gardens, often a woman in a skirt with a scarf on the head. Every so often you would see a land owner cutting tall grass with what I thought was an obsolete long scythe - the kind "death" uses in movies - or is it a sickle? Then we drove buy a couple plowing with a hand plow...the bicycle style metal wheel with the handles behind. No animals in front. While it made for lovely memories and pastoral views as we headed to Plitvice I couldn't help but think how "difficult" and different their lives are from mine. As we whiz by in our air conditioned luxury bus replete with bottled water/Soda, iPods, digital cameras, laptops and snacks I imagine what happens in those villagers lives after the breeze and noise from our bus passes over them. They continue blowing with that old metal plow - at least a couple acres or finish cutting a huge swath of grass with their sickle, finishing up to wearily sit at a dinner table - serving what I wonder? The woman tending her garden, standing up working the cricks and kinks out of her back because she has spent the morning tending her acre(s) plot of veggies. She has to go in and tend to the laundry which she hung up to dry - even though it's raining. We look forward to vacations. Time away from our work. Their very existence seem to be all about work but do THEY ever take vacation? What do they look forward to? Then I wonder if I am projecting too dismal of existence on to them. They might want for nothing and be happy as can be. A simple life but a happy one.

Ever since I saw a documentary on the Plitvice area I have wanted to visit - I think that must have been 5 years ago or more. I was so happy it was included in the Eastern Europe tour. It's a UNESCO protected site and a national park. You can Wikipedia it for more info.

We reached Plitvice in the evening after a full day of driving, stopping just across the border in Croatia for lunch. It was pouring rain and foggy. Matched the way I felt. My cold was in full swing and I felt crappy. Some of the group ventured out. I didn't. I figured we had the day tomorrow to tour the area and why get wet now. My REI water resistant coat is not. The second any moisture gets near it it wicks the dampness quickly to the seams. So even if you use and umbrella it manages to get clammy and cold - I'm going to return it if I can. I'm disappointed in it. But I digress. Dinner had been arranged for us that evening in the Hotel. Lovely local foods starting with a traditional cheese spread, some skewered meats and a local concoction that seemed all the world to be Spanish rice but we were assured it wasn't. I am sure there was dessert but I don't remember what it was. All the food has been great on the trip.

Our hotel had chartreuse hallways. DSCF4316.jpgReally quite weird. Coupled with the florescent lights everyone looked quite dead. There isn't much to do there at the park after dark so everyone just went to bed.

The next morning we were greeted with sunshine...THANKFULLY! Well it was bright crisp and cold, overcast and not raining. It was a challenging photo day with the flat bright light. At least it was for me.

Plitvice is a lake district that has several levels of cascading lakes. The area is full of sink holes and porous limestone (I think it's limestone) so there are many underground rivers and caverns. The rivers erupt and form lakes. The water is full of calcium carbonate (I think) so the water is brilliant blue green BRILLIANT and anything falling into them become covered with this solution forming dams. The water flows over these dams and voila you have Plitvice. DSCF4474.jpg A steamy wonderland of rushing water, green pools, green lush vegetation and potentially treacherous paths for the unwary or unsteady.DSCF4700.jpg

First thing in the morning we took one of the park buses to the top of the park and began our walk back toward the main park entrance. The park is full of paths taking visitors by the lakes, pools and waterfalls. Wooden poles laid down side by side. They are a bit wobbly and have no rails (would never happen in the US). I'd guess about 4 or 5 feet wide. They graduate the elevations so every once in a while they will throw in a drop of a few inches. The way the logs are arranged the steps are quite thoroughly camouflaged. DSCF4468.jpg For the first half our guide wanted us to at least be able to see that someone from our group was ahead of us so we would somewhat stay together. I felt very rushed during this part. There was so much beauty I was frustrated that I couldn't savor and enjoy it. So much beauty and I was just marching through. But I tried to focus on the beauty laying before me and was the last person during this leg of the park. At a point you have to take a boat across one of the larger lakes to the next set of lakes. We piled on and then I saw a serpent in the water heading toward our boat. I freaked out and stood on the bench in the boat. I really dislike snakes. This one looked deadly and I know it was after me. I quite unintentionally made a few folks laugh shrieking and squatting with my feet on the seat of my bench. shudder....

Once on the other side of the large lake there were a couple food places and a gift shop. It was around 11 and this was our Lunch break. We were then able to continue on on our own as long as we were back to the bus by 1. I was glad the sprint was over.

The lakes themselves are beautiful. Vegetation is lush and thrives at the lake margins. The blue green water is crystal clear DSCF4663.jpg and you can easily see fish swimming and often the bottoms of the shallower bodies. DSCF4555.jpg White cliffs jut out of the water making delicious contrast with the aqua colored water. The sound of falling water was everywhere. It was such a treat to see this special site. I was so thankful it wasn't pouring rain. At the end (the beginning for everyone else) i hiked up this lookout over the highest falls. I realize now you can't tell I was almost equal with the height of the falls...but I was.

The closer we got to the main entrance the more people we ran into heading up to where we had just come from (starting at the top and working down is a way to avoid the crowds). The first half we were basically alone. By the end you were sharing the narrow paths with hoards of school children pushing and shoving. The "work backwards strategy was brilliant" and we avoided this for most of our time there.

I can't remember if I mentioned this but apparently the schools around here (Eastern Europe maybe Europe in General) are required to have a certain number of outings per year. They save them up and after exams they en-mass all the school children do group tours. So at the main entrance there were many many many hundreds of kids.

By the middle of the park I was way too hot - between our light jog through the first part of the park and the sun coming out all the humidity from the rushing and falling water I was roasting AND sweating - both very much like a hog. I had worn every long sleeve layer I had with me (it was quite cold in the morning) and by the time I finished the park had stripped down to just one. I looked like a Bedouin in need of a opium hit with my many skirts and sweat pouring down my face (coats and shirts tied around my waist and sweat...well you know what causes that) With the plague of school kids swarming like locust in a wheat field all I could think was "thank god we were leaving." I bought a $5 bottle of water and me and my flop sweat and skirts got on the bus leaving the beauty behind for another visit.

Posted by jreuer 00:20 Comments (0)

Buda or Pest?

Since most of my time was spent in Pest perhaps I should say Pestbuda?

View 2009 05 11 Jasonian Loop de Loop on jreuer's travel map.

I felt rushed here for the first time this tour. Krakow was small and easy. Pestbuda is big and metro feeling. Too big for just 2 free afternoons. My socks barely had time to dry. That and yesterday I did feel just a skooch off. Tired, a touch crabby, back hurt a bit (soft bed), had to hit my emergency power bar to keep from killing people but I was still snapping. Bettie and Mary are slightly picky eaters. They wanted pizza for lunch yesterday and that sounded good to me too...I had seen a place on our way to the market hall. So I walked us there. They checked out the menu, then checked it out some more, then started discussing options. I suggested "Perhaps we would all be happier to be making our choices sitting down in the restaurant!" They giggled, told me I was being crabby, to which I agreed we went down to the pizza hall (in a basement) so we could all make our selection and organize a satisfactory lunch.

I re-visited a park our group had been to that morning. I was kinda tired of new new new and wanted to review and savor some places I enjoyed. The familiar, when you are traveling so much is actually appreciated. I took the metro out and enjoyed an afternoon stroll...mercifully free of tour groups. The square we had been to was choked full of them that morning...by late afternoon they were gone. It's a beautiful park with what the locals call a "Disney" looking set of buildings in one corner. Very charming and photogenic. The park was cool and lush. I absorbed its tranquility. Unfortunately I couldn't hang out indefinitely...we had a boat trip organized that I had to get back for.

The evening/night river cruise was really quite neat. The lights for the bridges and buildings actually came on as we were traveling on the Danube. Spectacular. Our whole group was on the roof of the boat raising hell - I think I mentioned they were loud. ;) One thing was very interesting. The boat had a giant LCD monitor mounted in front of our seats. Mind you were were on top of the roof so open air. And in front was this video screen. They played and showed shots of things we were looking at. I suppose the dramatic readings and whatnot were for effect...but I thought audio would have been sufficient? Then they kinda did the nose cam thing (planes now have nose cams when you take off you can watch the runway and takeoff...pretty cool). So you saw the water in this boat nose cam. Kinda weird.

I felt a whole lot better by evening. I went out after our cruise for dinner that evening with a core "group" of couples that have been traveling together. They were a fun bunch. The restaurant and staff were great. Accommodating 9 folks easily and amusing us and we them. Italian food...delicious Italian food. It was at this dinner I proclaimed my "disappointment" with the Rick Steves Eastern Europe book. Literally GASPS rose up. I said "Sorry, but I have used better books. I feel like this one is half assed." Then I gave my reasons. No real maps. No maps with street indexes. That and if you take public transportation his book doesn't tell you what metro/tramstop. That and his referrals lack reference points on a map. Almost no pictures. Plus he has discussions in multiple places with multiple crude maps. I explained that Is my primary beef. I know you can pick up maps where you end up. But I have kinda gotten used to the DK and TimeOut books...and though I do very much trust, like and seek out his recommendations I don't find his book the ONLY book I would travel with. Especially after it BEING THE ONLY book I'm traveling with for this leg of my journey and me wishing I had others (I have my DK Vienna, DK Top 10 Vienna and my Time out books all in my bag for Vienna so I'm set). Well lord you would have thought I would have taken a big o' poo right there on the table. Shall we say Shields UP! Everyone got defensive and starting saying how much they loved his books blah blah. I was like "...yeah. But the maps suck. I navigated all over Paris with my DK book it gave metro stops for the various attractions and suggestions etc" They were like "okay, yeah...but you are to do research before you leave" I was like "no, most folks don't have time for that BS. Your book should have at the very least coordinates for their recommendations" Then there was talk of "Well I think if you buy the specific country books you get more" I was like okay. I'll accept that as a possibility. The deciples defended their leader, I smoothed their extremely ruffled feathers giggling to myself that I got them all so riled up. In the end all was well with the world.
The woman next to me leaned over and whispered so her husband couldn't hear "The DK books ARE magnificent"

Woke up this morning definitely catching a cold. People have been hacking around me. One douchbag sat in the last row of the bus (I usually stake out the next to last) on one of our legs a few days back and coughed and sneezed and hacked and trumpeted - all without the slightest attempt to cover his various orifice which was spraying sputum, mucus and contaminants all over the place. Jerk. I wanted to slap him. Especially when I overheard they sat in the back to "protect the rest" But LORD KNOWs he is old enough, he should know better cover your mucus holes with SOMETHING when they are venting! So I made sure fresh air was pointing over my head to staff off the germs. But I think I got it. That and he isn't the only illin' person. Bob woke up running a fever. Joe has been coughing the entire trip. It's like a convalescent van!

In Budapest I am stopped and asked for directions by Hungarians in Hungarian. Budapest is a beautiful city. Gorgeous buildings all over the center. My interactions with the locals were very pleasing. Very similar to Paris...on a smaller scale.They have developed some very lovely pedestrian boulevards and centers and are in the process of developing more. The street in front of our hotel being one...many streets were torn up as they reduce the car traffic and put in more tram lines and pedestrian blvds. interestingly our guide told me when they became a republic everyone thought they would own a car. So they tore out some tram lines, removed sidewalks for parking ect...they are now reversing that realizing it's impossible for such a large city to rely on car only. So they are expanding their metro and tram lines and making more ped friendly streets.

So needless to say I once again wasn't feeling great when I went on our tour the next morning. The "Castle" (which is a misnomer as it's really just a municipal complex and museums - the inside was long ago gutted of any value/beauty) has this enormous banner on it that I imagine says "If you lived here you would be home" or maybe "Office space for lease."

The Hungarian language is beautiful to listen to...impossible to grasp in a couple days. Most of us in the group can barely say thank you or hello. (just about the time you are getting those 2 simple greetings we leave) When you do manage to get them out you get smiles and giggles from the locals because we mangle them so badly. Anyhow...I digress. I'm finding the tours informationally interesting and expertly done. Lot's of history that give meaning to what you see.. I don't want to spend an hour in another freaking church. I don't wanna! But I do cuz the group does. I would have rather not "RUN" across the chain bridge (I swear we walked faster across this bridge than this whole group has walked anywhere) and taken some pictures in the morning light. Argh. The pitfalls of tours. So when I am forced into a church or some other dull place I amuse myself by taking pictures of people I don't know. Trying to "steal" pictures without them knowing - or getting caught and smiling and waving. Taking pictures of textures, paint, floors. Photographing cops. Finding the obscure things most people miss. Like I was looking at this crypt today because we were given time to "enjoy" the cathedral. Some crypt of some dead king and queen or something - at this point it was all blah blah (they know they were queen and king cuz their bones were tall or something) anyhow I'm looking at this crypt. It's your average king type crypt. Marble, Dude in armor, Lady in gown. Side by side forever, Feet on lions or dragons or some such fierce beast. I'm looking at this crypt thinking "oh lord...another one" and I see this pair of feet on the floor beside it. I'm like "what the hell! THIS Is interesting" So I became engrossed with the adjacent marble feet no-one mentions AND it seemed nobody noticed. DSCF4107.jpgIt's funny when you point your camera at something and take some time...it attracts other camera people. They horn in like boy dogs sniffin each other "oooh what is he taking a picture of..." I don't think any of them saw the other pair of feet their cameras were all pointing to high. Dorks.

There is a particular statue that if you touch a certain part of the statue you are to have good luck...In all our guides tours we were the first ones to actually do it.

After the tour we are usually cut loose. At this point I notice another interesting "tour group-izim" Everyone scatters once a tour is over. If I don't attach myself to someone post haste I'll be left as everyone scampers off with their travel companions to "do their lists." I have given up on lists. No lists. I just stand and look around and walk in a direction. Our group didn't do the usual scatter. Most were following the guide at this point. I was following him because I told him I may need some cold meds and it's likely easier to get them here than in Croatia...he agreed. So the group caterpillared along. Several times nearly severed due to inattentive street crossing. I cut off at the pharmacy to get my meds.

Another interesting thing about these countries who have 3 zeros after the cost of most items. The ATM Machines only spew out gigantic bills. For example when we first crossed the boarder I got out 50,000 forins...only about $250. ATM's only give these giant amounts to you in increments of 10,000 so I got only 5 bills each 10,000. However NOBODY wants to take them. When you do try to use them there is always a whole lot of grumbling, eye rolling and sighing when they realize 1. you have no idea what they are saying to you as you look at them your eyes showing how enamored you are with the lilt of their beautiful language 2. it's the only money you have and NO you don't have the odd "cents" to make it an even paper dollar amount from their cash drawer (Which I might add is always abundantly overflowing with rainbows of bills).

I got my meds and realized I was in a hunger crisis. We had dropped a segment of our caterpillar at a cafe on the way but I thought going to the market would be "more fun" AND I could check out something in the "antique" shops to buy from pest. Turns out I wasn't in the mood for either shopping OR "let's have fun ordering and getting food" I just WANTED FOOD NOW" I went into a single antique store and realized my eyes were seeing things but my brain didn't care. I went to the market walked the market a couple times realizing I was aimlessly going nowhere AND didn't want any hassle. My brain had locked on the charming cafe we had dropped some of the group off at and I decided there is where I must be - no matter it is NO WHERE NEAR where I am. In my zombie food needing state I wandered to the Cafe.

I must say this Cafe was EXACTLY the tonic for my food weary soul. It was shady and cool. French in style. I spent nearly 2 hours taking my lunch. When I first arrived the group we had dropped off were just leaving (so even though it felt like hours had passed barely one had). I was so zonked I ordered a cappuccino right away. Then made my food choices. All through lunch the business guys next to me had papers that kept blowing off their table at me. One of them left and the remaining guy said as yet more paper flew my direction "they sure like you...they really do" I'm not sure what that meant - REALLY - but it was cute. Feeling fortified and rejuvenated I went back to the shops I was trying to enjoy before.

I entered one I have had my eye on since yesterday afternoon. The shop keeper was outside chatting with other shop keepers I recognized from the market the day before (I don't know why but sometimes I DO lock onto faces). When I went in the shop he soon followed. His shop was mostly porcelain with paintings on the wall. I was thinking to myself I'd be surprised if I saw anything of interest. The shopkeeper said "Please...Don't be shy...If you want to look at something please do...if you need me to take something out of the case, please ask" He said this in a genuine way. Not a "I need to sell you something way." Then I saw it. A porcelain beetle. It was great. Easy to pack. Perfect condition. From the 30's. A great memento. So I ask the guy to get it out of the case. He thrusts his arm into the case with gusto somehow missing everything (clearly he has done this before) and fishes out the beetle. He insists I take it out to the street to look at it in the light. I'm not a barterer but he quoted a fine price. I gave a long pause. He then quoted another lower price and discounted it if cash. I paused. He said "You go think about it. If you want it, come back." This seemed reasonable. So I thanked him and left. I stopped into a few more shops. The shop keepers in the other shops were off-putting and desperate. They annoyed me and I saw nothing of interest. After looking around for some time I couldn't get the beetle out of my head. So I hit the cash machine and began making my way back to this first store. They guy was, where I noticed him yesterday, sitting at the neighboring cafe enjoying a drink. I walked up and said "I want to buy the bug" he was like "Sit down, you want a drink?" I declined the drink but said "it's good to sit" We sat and talked for 20 or 30 minutes as he watched his shop door. We talked a bit about Budapest. The bug I was going to buy (from the northern forests). He talked a bit about his shop. He has been in the same place for 17 years. Owns the shop. He said "if people want to buy something they will, I don't need to force them, if they don't, they don't. It does not bother me." He doesn't want to do online because he realizes pictures always look better online than in real life and doesn't want the hassle. He buys on ebay and whatnot but doesn't sell online. We continued to talk until someone walked into the store so we had to follow. He greeted them and then set about the business of wrapping one beetle. The other customer left. He handed me my beetle now cocooned in paper and bubble wrap suggesting I put it in my bag if there was room. I then paid for it. I saw pictures of what I assumed were his wife and child behind the counter and asked if they were. Indeed they were. We had talked about his family earlier. As we were concluding our transaction I asked "Do you have a card?" he smiled and said. "You know, I'm out of cards. Ran out yesterday but I have one in the car. Let's walk to my car and I'll get you a card." I was like "Oh goodness, no I don't want to take you from your shop" but he insisted. So he locked his shop up (this is in the middle of the afternoon) and we walked the block to his car. I realized we didn't have any introductions so I said "I'm Jason by the way" He said "I'm Robert" I was like "that's not a Hungarian name" and he then talked about how his father was German and his mother was Hungarian. He mentioned a special name for his father I'll have to ask our guide what the name was. But his father was a German who re-immigrated back into Hungary after the war. We got to his truck, he retrieved a card. At this point I was like "do you mind if I get a picture with you. You have been THE NICEST person I have talked to here in Budapest" he was like "absolutely"

Posted by jreuer 15:29 Comments (0)

Krakow Koncert

More Music

View 2009 05 11 Jasonian Loop de Loop on jreuer's travel map.

Friday evening and I can go to a concert!
I have been trying to go to concerts wherever I go in the world. It's a fun opportunity and you get to see 'natives' as foreigners don't typically seek out the "real" venues.

Krakow is no different. They offer a few tourist concerts in a couple of the churches in town...and many in the group go to those...but I like the real thing. Peter our guide told me the Philharmonic was playing Friday and Saturday night. Ended up I could go Friday. So I popped over around 6:30 for the 7:00 show. Bought a ticket from the ticket office only about $10US (thankfully minimal words are needed for that exchange) and walked into the lobby. A small cramped affair. I was there early enough that I was shewed toward the cloak room which was downstairs. Egads. I was counting on wearing my green over coat as I wore short sleves...gasp. People dress for the orchestra here, lots of suits and dresses. Oh well. So I handed my coat over and went upstairs. I had my ticket in hand but when I got upstairs I realized. Hum...I don't know the word for "row', nor the word for "seat" my number combo could be either. Drat! So I had to ask an usher "Row?" as I pointed to the word I hoped was row. She spoke a small amount of English and said "yes, on the right." Yippee...Then I realized my wallet and money were in the coat. You typically have to purchase programs in Europe. Drat. Oh well it would be in Polish anyhow.

They allow people very late seating which surprised me. What surprised me even more was them clomping down the aisle. DUH we are trying to listen to music here you Clydesdale! Aside from the late seating I think this was the quietest audience I have been in attendance. There were some ladies that were whispering (you cannot quietly whisper Polish btw...lots of tire leaking air sounds "psh, schp" etc). There were a couple small children in front of me. Two darling girls one around 6 or 7 the other around 5 or 6. They were angles. Not a peep and they seemed to enjoy and know the music. In between movements the hall didn't sound like a tuberculin ward.

The concert was great. Guest conductor from London. Playing Hayden and some other Requiem I was unfamiliar with. DSCF2140.jpgThe Hayden was short and quick...the Requiem was really very nice. there were 4 soloists and about a 100 person choir and the pipe organ. The acoustics where I sat were great. Every few min you heard and felt the rumble of the tram on the adjacent street. The hall was relativity plain (by Prague standards) but very lovelyIMG_0381.jpg. The seats were very tall...which was kinda nice and the hall was not large. Probably 24 rows on the floor with a balcony.

One of the soloists was this bottle dyed red head. Lord she looked like she would be a hoot to know. She had this black number on that I swore the top was made of rooster tales but I think it was something else. She lead the group of 4 out and started walking the wrong way...she made an exasperated face and got on track. She had a great voice. On the red hair. There is a style that hits women in Europe...it's the bottle red hair color. It varies...but brassy shades of burnt orange to deep burgundy (and all colors in between - NONE Found in nature) is quite common among a certain age group. Once you notice it you see it everywhere. It's quite interesting.

Anyhow this is the night I had kabab.

Posted by jreuer 09:01 Comments (0)

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