A Travellerspoint blog

Scenes From a Postcard: The Big Sights of Rome

I am many many days behind on this whole blog thing and i apologoze to whoever keeps tabs on this for not being on top of it but I'm starting the process now of catching up to the present day before I get any further behind, here goes.

After an easy and restful boat ride and a quick train across Italy I got into Rome. Right off the bat I could feel it was different and that I really was no longer in Eastern Europe but in a whole different part of the continent, one that thankfully was warmer, but also a place where my limited euros would not be going nearly as far. Luckily though thanks to Matthew and Carla accommodation wouldn't be a part of the budget for this leg and I was grateful for this as soon as I started looking at restaurant menus.
Matthew met me at the station and guided me through the roman subway system to their place near the outskirts of the city. Carla had set up a double stacked mattress for me in their walk in closet and, though small, it was the coziest accommodation I'd had so far. Since it was barely past noon Matthew offered to take me around a slice of the huge sightseeing Mecca that is Rome. We started with the Parthenon, impressive as I ever could've imagined it and free of charge which was an awesome surprise, then made our way to the Trevino Fountain. The thing about Rome that I first realized at the fountain and then later confirmed on the days after, is that no matter how many ruins or sights you've seen of roman culture, the size, craftsmanship, and beauty of everything in Rome is just at an entirely new level. The Trevi fountain is huge and is not just a few sculptures but an entire scene immortalized in marble, a scene that has been viewed by patrons for millennia. I was blown away by it and also by the number of patrons viewing it that day. Coming from Eastern Europe I was in no way prepared for the sheer number of tourists that exist in Rome any day every day and it took me a while to get accustomed to the fact that while I was in Italy, in certain parts of town English was the dominant language spoken.
The next day I started hitting the big guys, beginning with a sight I had already seen countless times on just about every poster, postcard or anything really having to do with Rome, the Colleseum. There's a certain feeling of wonder at seeing with your own eyes an image that you've viewed so many time before but from an artificial perspective. A few days ago I watched Gladiator and there's a line in it where they're approaching the Colleseum and russel crowes friend (the guy whose also in blood diamond) whispers, "I didn't know men could build such things." For me, growing up in a world of skyscrapers and jumbo jets, the Colleseum still evoked in me a similar thought. For all our engineering and architectural feats of modern day the artistic care and style the Romans used in their buildings has never been matched and that is none more true than the Colleseum.
I also visited the forum of Rome that day and again was impressed by the grandeur that still remained in these ancient structures and ruins. Having been to Ephesus while I was in turkey I had an idea of a roman city but, like everything else, in Rome it was bigger and better. A point I should make also about all these sights is that fact that they are surrounded by a modern day metropolis and this simple fact adds a wrinkle in the whole experience as you can see at the same time what the city once looked like thousands of years ago, and then jump ahead those two thousand years and see what the city has become, very cool.
The next day I woke up and got some breakfast before asking Carla how I would make my way over to St. Peter's Square . She told me and I headed out and hopped on the metro. At my stop I got off the train and entered chaos. I was heading the wrong way in a tide if thousands of people doing their absolute best to see how many people they could fit on the subway at one time. Slowly I worked my way above ground and saw that I had only experience the tip of the iceberg. For the two miles in between myself and the square the roads were packed with people. It slowly dawned on me as I worked my way through that today must have been the first Sunday the newly elected Pope Francesco had been in charge for and that accidentally I had almost gotten there in time to see the man with my own eyes. Kicking myself slightly for not getting up earlier to see such an historic event I finally got in and was able to see the popes new digs. Even though its not somewhere I would live in its a pretty nice place all told and he must have a hell of a view outside that window of his that only a few minutes before I'm sure he was enjoying as thousands of people watched and listened to what he had to say. I wandered around the square for a bit and then attempted to get into the Vatican museum only to realize that the place was closed on Sundays.
With some time on my hands I researched and found an awesome, family-run restaurant nearby and had the first of many incredible Italian meals in Rome. Simple, delicious heaped bowls of pasta, what's not to like?
The next day I had thought of leaving but I hadn't seen the Vatican museum yet and Matthew said it was definitely worth the price (15 euros) I decided to stay one more night. After an hour and a half wait i made it in and began the journey through, and journey is definitely a good word to describe it. The museum is huge and filled in every room with works that alone would be the masterpiece of any other museums collection. Fresco followed by frescos followed by frescos to the point that if don't catch yourself you can begin to tire of them, at which point I would enter a new room and realize again just how stunning and impressive the works were that I was looking at. Raphael's work adorned many a ceiling and wall (he's as good with a paintbrush as he is with his trident daggers). The culmination of the museum is the huge masterpiece known as the Sistene Chapel. And again, like everything in Rome, it is bigger and more jaw-dropping than anything else that you could compare it to, which is impossible really just in general. I'm not religious in any way but the scene of the creation of Adam is powerful and beautiful no matter what your beliefs are. The outstretched hands of Adam and God evoke a desire, need, of connection that whether you feel a desire to connect to God or to the earth or to another person or anything, is powerful, as all amazing artwork is.
My itinerary complete and my mind struggling to retain all the amazing images it had seen in just a few days I packed up and said my goodbyes to Carla and Matthew who I have said little about in this post but who are some of the best and most interesting people I've met on the road. My final night Matthew and I discussed and explained many of our ideas and desires we had about our time here on this beautiful planet and how we could use our time to help, teach, learn, and improve the world around us. An awesome conversation that I hope someday we can continue.
Throwing on the backpack the next morning I caught a train towards Florence but my destination was not there (yet) but rather to a small town in Tuscany that I had contacted via couchsurfing and had accepted me, a little place that called itself the Pirate Cave.
I'll tell you of my time there shortly,
Jesse

Posted by jesse.tutor 05.04.2013 09:00 Comments (0)

Whole New Worlds

A Week in Croatia

I pulled into Zagreb excited to be in a new country but still wiped and with a slight cold. My night of fun in Budapest was having lasting consequences and I vowed I would take as many days off as I had to to get healthy again. Luckily the hostel in Zagreb was quiet and I spent my first evening chatting with a few of the other guests there, one of them being a guy from Philly doing a very similar adventure as mine and on a gap year like myself. We talked about our similar experiences of being a younger-than-average traveler doing the backpacking thing but also how awesome it was to be taking this time to have experiences and see places we would have never gotten to otherwise.

The next day I toured around Zagreb, a small city with no lack of charm but with little to set it apart from other eastern-European cities, a motif I am ashamed to say I was getting a little tired of. I got back early in the afternoon and got set up to cook a dinner of every backpackers staple in Europe, spaghetti. Most people simply just go with a box of the cheapest noodle they can find and a jar of sauce but I am always of the mind that why buy the sauce when you can make it? It always costs me a few extra Euros Crowns, Leus, Zlotys or Kunas but I never regret it, especially because half the enjoyment of the whole meal is the act of cooking it. That night I found onions, garlic, leeks and sausage to add to my tomato base and happily sat down with a huge steaming bowl of delicious food. I think I get a little better at it every time.

I awoke bright and early the next day to catch a bus to Plitvice, home of the Plitvice Lakes National Park, a destination I had been set on making it to ever since I started thinking about this whole adventure. The bus ride there was stunning. We wound around and in between small mountains flecked with snow and it seemed as if every five minutes a new, beautiful vista presented itself through the bus windows that was even more breathtaking than the last. Little did I know that this was to be the most bland bus ride I would go on in Croatia. I made it to Plitvice in the early afternoon and though I wanted to get into the park as soon as possible, I first needed to find a bed for the night. The park attendant directed me to the small village a half k behind me but warned me it was very quiet this time of year. I set off, hopeful I could find something and began knocking on door of houses that had signs proclaiming "Sobe" which I am pretty sure means room in Croatian. The first few houses produced no results at all and the third offered me a place to stay but for 200 kuna (about 34 US). Outside of my price range but if there was nothing else I would have to bite the bullet on it. The fourth house wasn't accepting guests but the lady at the door suggested I try Ana's, the last house at the end of the road. I thanked her and headed down, finally finding the little B&B with a smiling lady gardening out front. This was Ana and after a broken conversation she told me a room at her place for a night was still 200 kuna... but included both dinner and breakfast with the price. I grinned and told her I'd take it. After she showed me around I slung off my backpack and headed back to the park, intent on using the rest of the daylight I had to explore the lakes.

It really is going into a different place when you enter the park. More than once I had to rub my eyes to make sure I was actually seeing what I was seeing. The Plitvice Lakes are all relatively small bodies of water than cascade down one from another, through hundreds of tiny waterfalls that have been created due to the dissolving of limestone and dolomite rock in the area. These small rivulets connect the lakes that at the time I was there, almost glowed they were such a bright shade of green, though green is shamelessly simple and inaccurate way to describe the color. Not only that, but the color would meld and shift as you gawked at the lakes, sunlight creating a azure tint to the waters while shadow intensified the martian-esque tone of the lakes. Camera at the ready constantly I moved my way down to the walkway that allowed me to cross over to the other bank and get closer to the most intimidating and deafening feature of the park, the Veliki Slap or Large Waterfall. Since I was there just as spring was starting and the snow was melting the waterfall was going full bore and you could barely stand near it without being doused by the spray coming off it. One main flow down the center merges with others in its free-fall and slams down with a power that only nature possesses. It is a truly awesome sight to see. Unfortunately, I discovered after tearing myself away from the waterfall that much of the park was still closed due to snow and after exploring every inch of the park that was open I went back to my room at Ana's, relishing the peace and quiet of having privacy and my own space for the first time in a month.
That night I was not only served dinner, but a three course slice of heaven that was almost as incredible as the lakes. It began with an apertif of slivovitz, a plum brandy that is hugely popular not only in Croatia, but all over Eastern Europe under different names. The one that Ana served me was made by her husband and from what she could tell me it is the norm throughout the country for families to make their own, rather than buy it in the store. Slivovitz tastes nothing of plums but rather tastes similar to bourbon, except having a slightly lighter and fruitier taste, although the potency is the same if not stronger. Following the drink I was started with a noodle soup, hot and warming to both the body and soul. This was followed by spaghetti and grilled chicken breast and the meal concluded with chocolate pudding. With both my stomach and mind happy and filled with food and experiences, I slept soundly and long that night.

I woke up finally rid of the sickness that had been stuck on me for the past week and showed up at Ana's kitchen bright-eyed and hopeful of another great meal. I wasn't disappointed. Home-made jams to match freshly baked bread, hard boiled eggs and a number of cereals to try along with great coffee and tea. Not only that but Ana had set out sliced meats for me to make sandwiches with so I would have food for my bus ride later that day. The kindness was incredible and I struggled to express my gratitude to her as I packed up my things following breakfast. I said goodbye and promised that someday I would do my best to come back and hopefully bring my family back to this magical place. The bus I caught later that day was taking me to Split, a town on the coast that I hoped to be a jumping off point for an exploration of the islands off the coast of Croatia. Like I said before, I thought I had seen some beautiful places on my way to Plitvice but the ride that day was even more breath-taking as we climbed higher up mountains and down lower into fields that were just beginning to show the first shades of spring green. The light faded as I rode and it was dark by the time I finally got off in Split. Stepping off the bus I inhaled deeply. And then took another breath, wondering why the air felt very, very different here. It was not just being on the coast, something had drastically changed. Slightly puzzled and excited I grabbed my bag and started off attempting to find the hostel I was booked at for the next two nights. With my head down looking at my directions I didn't notice them until I almost ran into one. Palm trees. Somehow, during the bus ride I had gone through some type of portal that had taken me out of the damp and chilly climate of Eastern Europe and teleported me into the lush and green world of the Mediterranean. It was all I could do not to laugh with joy. I got lost trying to find the hostel but hardly cared I was so giddy over my new surroundings. I did finally find my digs for the next couple of days and introduced myself to the few other people at the hostel with me, a gang of three Romanians and two girls from California. I also had made a connection with a girl on couchsurfing in Split who, though she couldn't host me was game to grab dinner. I met up with her and two other couchsurfers and ate awesome pizza that didn't hurt the budget too bad, drank a cheap beer and marveled at where I had made it to in the world.

Needing to see more of the greenery that surrounded me the next day I wandered up into the park on the western side of the town. I couldn't get over the fact that everything was just so alive and it boosted my own liveliness and energy. Up and up I went till I finally crested the hill and was able to look out over the whole town to my left, the red clay roofs glowing in the afternoon light, and gaze upon the dark blue waters of the Adriatic on my right. I snapped pictures and soaked up the experience for my memory before heading down to the hostel and seeing what the plan was for the evening, it was Saturday night after all. Unfortunately (or fortunately) Split had yet to really get the swarms of tourists and travelers that flock there in the summer and while Erin, Lynn (the girls from California) and I tried to find somewhere to go we never found anything interesting and the night ended with me not unhappily munching on a kebab from a place down the street.

Sunday proved to be a rainy day and I took the opportunity to look into my next move down the coast. My plan for island hopping was quickly shot down as I found out that nearly all the ferries running between the islands didn't start operating until June. So, I re-evaluated my plan and decided to take the bus down to Dubrovnik that afternoon, a town known as "the pearl of the Adriatic", famous for the fact that the old town is completely surrounded by a thirteenth century, meter thick wall. How could I not see something like that? Fortunately getting to Dubrovnik was a much easier proposition and my host at the hostel told me there was buses that left every hour for the town. With time to burn and food needed for the trip I ventured into the local market and came out with not only a kilo of mixed nuts, raisins, and craisins, but also oranges and bananas and ingredients for what has proved to be my favorite and affordable sandwich on this whole trip, the P.L.T. with cheese, the P standing for pancetta; amazing, delicious, affordable pancetta.

Sandwiches packed and bag ready I grabbed a seat on the bus. After making our way out of split and onto the open road we made a turn and I found myself again in a entirely new place. I thought I had seen amazing views and huge vistas on my other two rides. This was in a completely different class. Our bus was hurtling along the side of a mountain, a small one compared to the sheer rock faces of the magnificent peaks I saw up ahead, not two feet from the edge of a two hundred foot drop that ended in the Adriatic that extended for as far as the eye could see. Scattered among the blue water green islands peacefully sat enjoying the afternoon sun. I don't think I closed my mouth for the first half hour. Every now and again we would slide around a corner of a mountain and enter into a picturesque Mediterranean village, the white faces and red roofs accenting the natural colors of the area and making my head spin from the beauty. It was a trip I will never forget and one I hope to make again sometime in my life.

I got into Dubrovnik at dark and wandered my way into town till I came across what was without a doubt the old city wall. It is seriously like walking into a castle, drawbridge included, by far the coolest entrance into a town you will ever see. The wall rises up above and at night the lights illuminating it only add to the almost surreal feeling you get going in, like your walking into a movie set and that this can't possibly all be for real. Yet here I was, walking the main street of a town that in large part is identical to how it looked more than half a millenia ago, stunned by this places existence and my prior ignorance of such a unique part of the world. No cars can get inside the old city and most of the roads are barely wide enough for two people to pass each other, only adding to the feeling that you have gone back in time as well as making it very hard to find a small place such as a hostel. I felt silly I had yet again gotten to a destination only to discover I had no idea how to complete the last half kilometer of the trip when I was hailed by three people. "Who would I know here?" I wondered as I walked towards the three people. I was happy to discover it was the Romanians from the hostel in Split and I gratefully asked if they knew where the Villa Angelina was located. They erupted into laughter and before I could wonder what it was I said that was so funny they explained that they were all staying there as well and just to follow them. Relieved and happy to be among some people I at least had a minor connection to I followed them up the hill that the old city rests on (lots and lots of stairs) and into the Villa Angelina, a small and homey hostel run by one of the most gracious and helpful hosts I've met on my journey, Dario. He had room for me that night but warned me that they might be totally booked tomorrow, a problem I decided not to worry about till the morning as I ate my final PLT and headed up to my room.

With a goal in mind (finding a bed for that night) I got up early and did some quick research on hostels in the area. There weren't too many to choose from but I got the information on three and struck out. Unfortunately the three I had found were all a ways out of the old city and it took me all afternoon to track down the three I had picked out. The man running the first one was very surprised to see someone looking for a room at this time of year but was certainly not upset by the fact and showed me the rooms he had available, all of them as it turned out. They were nice enough but after my time in Plitvice and the quietness of the hostel in Split I had my fingers crossed I could find my way to a place with some other backpackers in the same boat as myself and make some new friends I could explore this awesome city with. I only realized after checking out the second place (looked abandoned) and the third (locked up tight) that I was a rare sight to be in this part of the world at this time. Deciding I was pretty committed on staying at the first hostel as it was the only one even open I went back to Angelina's to grab my stuff. Dario met me at the door with a smile on his face, "I have a bed for you!" he told me to my surprise and delight, "same price as before." Life can be pretty awesome sometimes.

The next day I finally had the time to see and explore the amazing city. Dario insisted I start by touring around the city walls and I was grateful he did. While Dubrovnik is spectacular from the ground, it is absolutely uhh (I'm running out of descriptive adjectives to explain beauty and awesomeness) out of this world (haven't used that one yet right?) from above. You can look down into the narrow cobble-stoned streets, or up and survey the wall that surrounds the town, or out, into the massive ocean. Popping up above the normal sized buildings the towers of the monastery and Rector's palace, bedecked with sculptures of past leaders and priests of the city. Lookout towers along the walkway remind you of the battles and sieges that once took place along these very same walls while the cable-car lines up to the top of the hill behind the city remind you that as easy as it is to believe, you aren't actually in the 14th century. I took my sweet time circling around the city and seriously thought about starting over and doing the whole thing again when I reached the stairs I had taken up. But I had dinner to make (spaghetti with pancetta) and a soccer game to watch later (Barcelona vs. AC Milan). Both were great, though the soccer game was definitely more exciting than my dinner.

I caught a bus the next afternoon after visiting the Rector's Palace and doing my best to see any part of the city I had yet missed back to Split where I am right now, sitting in the same hostel as before and about to make more PLTs for my ferry ride in a couple hours. I'll spend the night traversing the Adriatic and wake up in the morning in Ancona, Italy. From there I'll catch a train to Rome and if all goes according to plan meet my friends from Budapest Matthew and Carla at the train station. Without even asking Matthew invited me to stay with them a couple weeks ago and I couldn't ask for better people to spend more time with as I barely got to know either of them when we last saw each other. Should be a great time.
Peace,
Jesse

Posted by jesse.tutor 03:12 Archived in Croatia Comments (0)

Harlem Shaking in Cluj-Napoca

After a semi-concious train ride from Budapest I arrived in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, a town I had only just learned existed a few days ago from a guy at my Budapest hostel. He was heading there on the recommendation of a great hostel there and from his description of the city I decided on a whim to send out a few couch requests there. And after being accepted by Mia, who I desperately hoped had seen my message I had sent right before getting on the train and was waiting for me at the station, here I was, pulling into the city. Thankfully Mia picked me out as soon as I stepped off and after the initial slightly awkward introductions that always happen when your meeting basically a stranger in an unknown city, she showed me back to her small but cozy apartment. On the way back she mentioned a party she was planning on going to that evening and asked if I could come with her. Not wanting to disappoint the girl who was letting me stay at her place for free yet still a bit bleary-eyed from my previous nights escapade I asked if I could take a quick nap when we got to her place to regain some energy for the night ahead. I woke up energetic and rested... 14 hours later.

Apologizing for my extreme tardiness Mia told me to not feel bad and that she was glad she got some rest as well. Over breakfast she told me the basic plan for the day of showing me around the city and shortly afterward we were walking around the main square of the town, complete with their own Man on Horse statue that from my experiences almost seems a required component of any Eastern European city. Cluj's is as impressive as any. At a coffee shop later that afternoon I realized that my friend from Budapest who had told me about Cluj was most likely still in the city and I shot him off a message. Two minutes later he replied, telling us he was lounging in a teahouse nearby. Mia knew the place and we made our way over there. Upon opening the door we entered into a different world. Gentle music wafted through the air as we took our shoes off and made our way over to Brett's spot, descending onto the cushions and pillows scattered about the low table. We shared a pot of Cup of Good Hope (brilliant title) and pondered evening plans, finally deciding on going to Mia's favorite bar, Flying Circus. The night was a fun but calm one I was grateful for and for the second night in a row I got to bed early and slept like a rock.

The next day I decided I had to head out and start moving west to Croatia. "My trains scheduled to leave at 3" I told Mia, "Perfect!" she replied, "You can leave right after the Harlem Shake!" I had seen the posters all over town but I need Mia to explain what the actual event was. If anyone reading this doesn't know of the Harlem Shake phenomenon, its a viral trend where groups of people get on the wildest costumes they can find, play this song called Harlem Shake, and basically go nuts. The one I was about to be a part of was supposedly attempting to be the biggest one one yet. Needing some soothing activity before the antics I would soon be a part of I took the time to visit the Cluj Botanical gardens where I fell in love with their Japanese garden and suspended disbelief for a few hours to believe I really was in a forest surrounded by more forest and not buildings and traffic. Losing track of time I rushed back to the main square where the event was already in full swing. Morphsuits, masks of all shapes and sizes and people in outrageous get-ups all excitedly milled around the two towers of speakers that would soon blast out the song. I could describe it to you but its better if you just watch this video of it, Mia and I were pretty much smack dab in the middle of the crowd. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-ZxJ7eg6t0

Still grinning on what I had just been a part of I thanked and said goodbye to Mia, hopped in the nearest cab, and headed to the train station, getting on the train about 5 minutes before my departure.

Next stop, Zagreb, Croatia.

Posted by jesse.tutor 07:42 Archived in Romania Comments (0)

Ruin bars and a famous bath. You do the math

Budapest

I arrived in Budapest in late evening and had a relatively easy and uneventful night, watched a movie at the hostel I made my way too and fully enjoyed the unusual privacy I had in having a 8 person dorm to myself. The next morning I awoke to find an array of cereals out provided by the hostel and knew right away it was going to be a good day, how could it not be when it starts with free breakfast? During my happy munching a fellow guest struck up a conversation with me and asked if later that afternoon I wanted to go with a group of people from the hostel to the Széchenyi baths. Knowing little what the baths would be like I agreed and with only a few hours before our meeting time I took a quick walk around the area near the hostel and got back in time to grab my towel and shorts and head out the door. Leading our group was a Minnesotan ( is that the right term?) by the name of Andrew who was using his job as a courier to check out the city for a few days. We also had two solo Australians with us, Beau and Brett, and a pack of three French and French Canadian girls who were studying together in Paris; Amelie, Marina and Anne Laure. Even though I didn't know what to expect with the baths, I certainly didn't expect the 20+ pool complex that I arrived at. You could probably spend days at the place and still miss a pool or two. The establishment was set up in a ring shape with the center having the three main baths (hot, slightly less hot, and a lap pool) and a huge building encompassing the pools that within held many many more baths. After exploring about and getting in a good soak Andrew and I discovered the subterranean sauna that was hotter than any i've ever been in. Thankfully not ten feet from the door an ice-cold plunge pool beckoned to your sweat soaked body and the sensation of diving into the cool relief was for me one of true bliss. To top it off next to the plunge pool an ice machine allowed you to take a small ball of cold comfort in with you when you entered the scorching sauna and I contendly did circuits between the three for as long as I could stand, realizing halfway through that few dishes are as delicious to munch on in a sauna as a big ice ball.

Feeling like a new man I left the sauna renewed and utterly cleansed. On the way back someone suggested a trip to one of Budapests famous ruin bars was in order and after dinner we made our way over to Szimpla, one of the most well known in the city. When Budapest was attacked during WW2 many buildings were destroyed and from the rubble of these buildings bars were created. In Szimpla the bar is actually the remains of two buildings and what was once a street down the center. The remains of windows and doors exist everywhere and the result is a winding, dark and surprisingly cozy place with a great atmosphere that's accentuated by christmas lights and numerous plants. I loved it. The night was topped off by the single best thing I have ever eaten at a bar. Midway through our night a waitress came by with a large bowl and offered us, wait for it, carrots. After my initial confusion I looked in the bowl to see a collection of huge, delectable carrots that you could enjoy for only 200 forints, not even a euro. Everyone at the table bought one and my belly, body, and eyes thanked me for such a great purchase.

I decided the next morning to finally get out and see the city. The Royal Palace was only a couple miles away and I hoofed over to it, crossing the mighty Danube on my way and entering into the Buda half of the city. The palace was impressive from the outside but unfortunately to enter any part of it cost a fair chunk of change and my frugal nature thought better of coughing up the money. On my way back I bought the ingredients for a luxurious spaghetti dinner and back at the hostel I enjoyed the feeling of cooking a meal rather than buying one. Relaxing with a full plate of food I heard voices at the desk that surprisingly had no accent I could detect. Looking up I saw three girls that all looked very decidedly American, a surprise to see as besides Andrew I had met almost no one on the road from the U.S. After they got into their room and made their way out into the common area I asked one of them if they were in fact from the States. As it turned out Gracie, Allie and Allie were from South Carolina (Gracie) and Kentucky (both Allies) and were students at UK but studying abroad in Sevilla for the semester. Since they were only planning on being in Budapest for two days they had planned out a huge city tour that included everything I had yet to see and invited me to come along the next day with them.

Noon the next day found me climbing the final set of stairs and arriving at the Citadella, a monument at the highest point of the city. Along with the girls Andrew had decided to tag along for the days forays as well and we all took a seat at the steps of the monument to catch our breath and survey the amazing vista that now surrounded us. Earlier we had explored the Budapest Market (Andrew and kept ourselves entertained as the girls looked at gifts far outside my price range) and following our rest at the Citadella we visited (or revisited in my case) the Royal Palace that even on a second visit still impressed me. Of course, no Budapest trip would be complete without a trip to the baths and for the second time in three days I ended up at Széchenyi, anything but disappointed at returning to the place for round two. After another long sauna session and swim we got back to the hostel with a plan to visit the club Instant that evening, a place we had all heard nothing but positive reviews about.

Now, if you know me then you know I can get very excited (to put it mildly) if I find myself in celebratory atmosphere with good music and fun people. It just so happened that Instant was one of those places. Losing all track of time I danced and smiled my way through the night without a care in the world, realizing only when the music stopped that it happened to be 6 30 in the morning and that I didn't have to go home, but I couldn't stay there. Luckily, the hostel was only a mile away and with the remaining energy I had left in the tank I got back to find that a couchrequest I had sent to a girl in Cluj Napoca, Romania, had accepted me. Without a second thought I checked the train schedule, saw the next train left in a couple hours, and followed Andrew out the door, who, not being part of our clubbing group the previous evening was awake and could see I was grateful for some assistance in my sleep-deprived state. He bid me adieu as I stumbled my way onto the train and I collapsed into my seat and fell asleep immediately, my last thoughts wondering why nights when your having fun go by so very quickly.

Posted by jesse.tutor 07:46 Archived in Hungary Comments (0)

"Krakow Krakow! Two direct hits!"

Writing this now I can't honestly remember what my inclination was to go to Krakow following my Prague experiences (some of the reason was definitely due to the quote above, a Calvin and Hobbes line) but after shaking out the cobwebs I hopped on a train headed in that direction. Aleksandra (my host via couchsurfing) met me at the station and showed me the way back to her comfy apartment. I happened to arrive only a short time after Aleksandra's mother had dropped off a batch of amazing polish food and for dinner and almost every other meal I had in Poland I dined on hearty, meat and potatoes fare that left me always stuffed and with a smile on my face. Though Aleksandra and her friend Nehow wanted me to stay up and drink with them I decided that I really needed a breather on all things alcoholic and hit the sack early, grateful for a night of rest.

The next day I was shown all around the city, an easier task in Krakow than any other place I had yet been due to its smaller size. The weather was quite chilly still but with all of my layers on I stayed comfortable. I had found out the night before that Nehow and his friends had a few years ago discovered the great American pastime of beer pong and, after I told them I had played my fair share of the game, had excitedly started contacting their friends in preparation of a tournament. Of course, like any evening in which a drinking game is on the docket, it was discovered around 5 that we possessed no cups with which to play with and a desperate search was begun all over the city so that the night wouldn't end before it could even begin. Cups were found at long last and a couple hours later I could've sworn I was in an American dorm room trying to make last cup, except for the fact that the language flying around me was gibberish to my ears and the cups were not the distinctive red SOLO kind (they don't exist over here as far as I've found). I enjoyed the easy familiarity (and better beer) throughout the evening yet still was grateful when Aleksandra asked if I was ready to leave at a reasonable hour. Of course, a reasonable hour over here is 2 in the morning. Still, I got plenty of rest again that night and woke up ready to start checking my options for another city. I hit on Budapest right away as all reports said it was not only beautiful, but cheap as well, matching both of my major criteria. I found a train leaving bright and early the next morning and after a nice walk through the city again and a dinner of Zapikanka ( a toasted half loaf of bread cut down the middle with cheese, mushrooms, salami, you name it, all for a euro or less) I got another early night in and left the next morning feeling rejuvenated and ready for the next adventure.

Posted by jesse.tutor 05:20 Archived in Poland Comments (0)

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