Archive for April, 2008

San Sebastián, Spain

Karie on Apr 21st 2008 11:04 am

Adam & Nicki spent most of their trip doing slow-paced tourism with us in Barcelona, with the exception of a brief getaway to San Sebastián. I figured out that an over night bus would be cost-effective and give us more time in the city than flying. Adam & Nicki, being the troopers that they are – and having taken their fair share of janky buses and trains around the world – were game.

Luckily several passengers got off at some of the earlier stops on the route, giving us the opportunity to spread out in separate rows for part of the night. Scott, Nicki & I all got a little sleep – about as good as you can expect on an over night bus where you have to consciously hold your body onto the seat to prevent yourself from rolling off when our Formula One bus driver would stop, go or turn. Adam got about 20 minutes max. His row was across from mine, and every time I would wake up (about every 10 minutes I think), all I saw was him sitting straight up with a slight look of panic on his face as he stared directly forward.

I was absolutely right – taking a bus gave us significantly more time in the city! In fact, thanks to our bus driver, we arrived way ahead of schedule, and a couple hours before the sun.

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Crime Busters

Karie on Apr 18th 2008 10:07 am

So our good friends Adam & Nicki from CA came to visit us here in the pickpocket capital of the world. They both studied in Germany for a while and have done their fair share of traveling, so they already knew the basics. For example…

  • Men, keep your wallet in your front pocket.
  • Women, if you must carry a purse, make sure it has a zipper (and preferably a flap over the zipper), and a long strap so you can wrap it around your neck/shoulder.
  • Don’t carry your passports on you unless you’re actually traveling
    Note: most places in Spain will accept a photo copy of your passport or your U.S. drivers license as ID, so hide the passports somewhere safe and leave them in your hotel. (I don’t know if this is true in other countries, but it flies in Spain)
  • Be extra alert when on crowded public transit
  • When seated, make sure your purse/backpack is in your lap or somewhere that you can see and feel it (don’t just put it under your chair).
  • Get one of those cheap carabiner things to hook the two zippers on your backpack together. It’s not a lock, but it’s hard enough to open that it will annoy you when you need to get into your own bag.

Scott is actually working on a resource for safety tips, so more to come on that later. To sum it up for now, there are plenty of targets out there, so do whatever you can to make yourself a difficult one, to encourage the thieves to move on to someone else. We are certainly not experts, but we see people making themselves easy targets all the time, and if we can see it, the thieves can see it.

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Prague, Czech Republic

Karie on Apr 10th 2008 07:21 pm

Prague is said to be one of the most beautiful cities in all of Europe. It was largely preserved during the war, although it was bombed toward the end of WWII. However, any damage caused throughout the decades has been replaced or restored, in some cases with even greater magnificence.

When you walk around Prague, look up. Some of the cities most beautiful and unique treasures are on top of buildings, or sometimes even hanging over the edges. For a while it was quite popular for young, undiscovered artists to take it upon themselves to decorate the city with sculptures (sometimes in random places). They often received no fame or recognition, nor did they expect it; it was simply their contribution to their beloved city.

Even the houses are decorated. Each building has (or had) some type of unique sign by which it could be identified. Before street names & numbers existed, you could send a letter to “the house with the three flying ducks”, and the messenger would know where to deliver it.

It’s hard to imagine that such a beautiful place was under such oppression not so long ago. We took a free walking tour (yes, we’re becoming quite fond of the free walking tours, especially when we don’t have a lot of time in a particular city), and our tour guide was a girl around 30 years old named Victoria. She was a Prague native, born into communism, but her parents gave her and her brother “Western” names in hopes that they could grow up and immigrate, in order to make better lives for themselves. Thankfully now, it is not necessary for them to leave their country to find opportunities.

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Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

Karie on Apr 7th 2008 09:59 pm

Cesky Krumlov takes the cake for the “Most Likely to Make You Want to Stay Longer and Do Nothing” award. When you plan your trip, figure out how long you want to stay, then add a day or two. It has the relaxing feeling of a beach resort, except that there are no beaches and it’s not overpriced.

It’s a charming medieval village set in what feels like the middle of nowhere (about a 3 hour bus ride from Prague). There’s a river that winds through the town, on which you can raft or kayak in the summer months, but don’t bother trying to orient yourself based on the river as you will get lost following its many twists and turns. However, as our hostel host told us when we first arrived “getting lost is just part of the experience here.”

It doesn’t take much aimless wandering before you stumble across the castle, which includes one of my favorite attractions of the city. Back in the days when the castle was still in use, the mote surrounding it was stocked with bears for protection, rather than water. The bears are still there just for nostalgia, although they are well-fed, slow-moving, and don’t look like they’d really give a rip if you fell into their mote. That happens to be my favorite kind of bear.

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Kraków, Poland and Auschwitz

Karie on Apr 4th 2008 10:58 pm

After our near miss of the flight from Vienna, we arrived in Poland and promptly took the least efficient route to our hotel. We finally identified the correct bus, which was packed to the gills, and figured it would eventually take us to city center. We’ve been to enough airports now to know that the road leading into town always looks the same… a highway, on which you can expect to pass an Ikea, Carrefour, and some random office buildings. Not Poland. It was just a 2-lane road through the countryside that reminded me of driving from Lodi to Acampo. If you don’t know where that is, I guess that is the point.

Our primary reason for coming to Kraków was to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau, which is about an hour outside the city. There’s really not much around Auschwitz, so most people stay in Kraków then make a day trip to the largest of the former concentration camps.

I went back and forth on how much I wanted to write about Auschwitz, or if I wanted to (or should) write at all. I hesitate to impose my experience on someone else, at the risk of it affecting your own personal experience, should you ever choose to visit it yourself. There are also those people who have never visited Auschwitz and have no intentions of doing so. I was kinda one of those people. Scott almost took this leg of the trip on his own, but I later decided that it was something I… wanted isn’t the right word… needed to do? Felt like I should do? Might regret not doing? I dunno. Anyhow, I went.

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Vienna, Austria & Bratislava, Slovakia

Karie on Apr 2nd 2008 08:39 pm

This was our first trip with sunshine since we went to Italy in September/October. How refreshing it was! I was so taken with Vienna, but I honestly don’t know if it was the beautiful city, the sophisticated culture, or just the fact that it was sunny. Probably all of the above.

I got a bit of the German vibe in Vienna, and not just because of the language. I think it was the tidiness and efficiency. The Viennese also have a soft spot for romance. Beautifully maintained (and restored) buildings, parks that beg you to stop what you’re doing and sit down for a while, appreciation for music and art, even their own waltz.

Austria claims to be the capital of classical music, and rightly so, as the home of some of the worlds most famous composers, including Mozart and Strauss, as well as one of the most prestigious opera houses in the world, the Vienna State Opera.

It costs 15 Euros to tour the Wiener Staatsoper, or Vienna State Opera, and considerably more for a seat at an opera or ballet. However, we had heard that if you wait in line a couple hours prior to a performance, there’s a possibility of getting “standing tickets” for only 3.50 Euros. Hmm…. 15€ to visit the building while it’s empty, or 3.50€ to see it with a live performance.

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