Emails from Europe
In August / September 2010 I travelled to Europe for a six week holiday. It all started about twelve months earlier with my parents asking if I wanted to tour Rome with Fr Zsolt. Fr Zsolt is a relative of mine on my mother’s side and he is a Catholic Priest in Hungary. I had not been to Rome before and so of course I said yes. Plus who can turn down a guided tour. Then my parents asked if I wanted to go to Iceland, well of course that was a yes too. In the end I travelled over with my parents and toured Rome and Iceland with them, however the rest of the trip was done as independent travel.
Lucky I had paid for my air tickets and tour of Rome before I was made redundant from Anglicare Canberra & Goulburn. The trip was absolutely awesome; I travelled through ten countries in six weeks. It was the first time I had been to eight of the countries. I travelled on planes, trains, buses, trolley buses, coaches, cars, taxi and on foot. I experienced a lot, learnt a lot about myself, learnt about the places I travelled and meet some great people. The trip was a mixture of sightseeing, adventure, history and socialising.
Photos from the Trip are available here.
The following are emails that I sent back to friends at home in Australia:
17 Aug 10
Well my trip is off to a good start. I have just spent my first night in Budapest. It is a big trip over to Hungary, but I got to watch 6 movies and catch 3 planes…. What more could I ask for, movies, food and an uncomfortable seat to sleep in….. Though I did get the opportunity to walk through first class on one flight and I was so dreaming how good that would be. But the trip did get off to a bad start. I slept in and missed the taxi, thank goodness there was another taxi in the area.
Travelling through the Sydney Airport the Duty free shop was handing out free spirit samples…. I so took advantage of this….. This also made the flight a little easier to take. So after the first three movies we ended up in KL, Malaysia for a brief stop and change planes. Free internet in the airport was handy to finish off my uni assignments. Then another 3 movies to Amsterdam, Holland. This was a 4 hour transfer, where I went out exploring the airport. I so should have brought my Defence Diner’s card to get access to the Diner’s lounge.
Then the final flight to Budapest, a relative shorter flight, only 1h 45 mins. Uneventful, except my bag stayed in Amsterdam. But anyway, I hope my bag turns up soon, as I so need my clothes. Then travelled to my parent’s apartment in Budapest. Nice views from the 7 level. A pic of the apartment is attached, it is the building with the Hungarian Flag on flying from the top. The other pic is me in town, all wet (yes I do not have a change of clothes).
As we arrived in Budapest around midday, there was plenty of time to go out and change money etc. This was an adventure, It was all hot and muggy on arrival, then going out to get money changed it poured, it was a thunderstorm…… I got soaked. This is such a great combination, hot, sweaty and wet when you only have the one change of clothes. Then my parents had a business meeting so I went out for a walk. The sun come out and I dried out….. The weather is just as bad as Melbourne.
On my walk I must so look like a local, I had someone asking me for directions…. Like I know where I am and where to go….. poor bloke he must be really lost asking me. Then I went to the supermarket to buy some toiletries….. Just I need a shower. I found everything I needed except shavers. Now shavers is not a word I know in Hungarian, so after a demonstration to the man at the supermarket he helped me find the shavers. I did have an early night as I was stuffed. In fact my phone rang four times and I was 2m away and did not hear it. So my first full day in Budapest today. So much to do, like one get my luggage. Then tomorrow to Iceland.
Until the next update, all the best,
19 Aug 10
My first full day in Budapest involved a little bit of traveling around the city. My travels took me to the last place my mother lived as a child in Hungary. Now days it is a very run down building that needs to be knocked day and rebuilt. The apartment was actually all bricked up to stop squatters living in there. The good news is that across the road from the apartment is a chocolate factory. Yummy….. As you all know I love my chocolate. Though the prices are good, there was no free samples (I could not believe it). Anyone who is holding out for chocolates on my return, don’t bother I will have them all eaten before I get back to Oz….. Chocolate is such a weakness of mine.
There was also a trip to the markets. These were cool, not small but not super big either, but it was two stories of stalls. The day also involved a trip to the opera house. It is a very new building with a political story behind it….. Nothing is ever simple, but apparently a previous government had commenced major works on the old opera house closer to the centre of the city and then when the government was voted out, the new government scrapped the project costing a fortune and build the new one. Ohhh well, it seems that governments everywhere are the same.
Good news too, on returning to the apartment, guess what? That is right the bags had arrived. I now have my bag and all my things, yea. I knew you would be happy for me. Then in the afternoon before dinner, I went for a run in a park near my parent’s apartment. I took my brother with me…. I nearly killed him, then he got lost, it was a mess. He took off like a bull possessed, I was struggling to keep up and thought I was in for a tough run. After running past the Chinese Markets (yes Chinese markets seem to be everywhere) we arrived at the park. At that point he said “is it time to go back?”….. Anyway to cut a long story short about half way around the park he stopped and headed back to the start, but got lost. I ended up running twice around the park looking for him and finally found him…..
Today has been an early start to catch the flight to Frankfurt then to Iceland. On Holiday I should not have to get up earlier than when at home, but that is life. Well Frankfurt was an experience. We technically entered Germany, like they care though as I am on a EU passport. Then left the country without any passport control, then to top it off arrived in Iceland and have not used my passports once. I have no idea how they track who is in the country. Also for a small country there was heaps on people in the airport it was busy as. I think most of the people were in transit between Europe and the North America.
Well, my first impressions on Iceland is that it has lots of new buildings, no wonder they nearly went bankrupt (or did they). There is very little vegetation. The capital is very cute and it reminds me of the alpine regions of Australia, except a lot bigger. But anyway…. Tomorrow we are off to start exploring this interesting country, where the temperature in summer (now) is about as warm as Canberra in Winter. But it is definitely summer here as the locals are in t-shirts….. The tourists all have coats on….
Until next time,
20 Aug 10
Well, what a day, my first full day in Iceland. Travelled over 400 kms. Firstly though the sun is out 18 hrs a day here at the moment, so the sun was out when I went to bed at 10pm (early for me, but I was tired) and it was up when I went for a run around the bay before 5am. This morning was a quick walk around the capital, including some pics of the church that took 41 years to build. Then the four of us in a small, no, tiny car (1.4L) for the road trip.
The landscape was amazing. There was glaziers, mountains, volcanos…. There was also geysers (they harness for producing electricity). Then there is also the snow capped mountains…. Amazing. Here is a funny one, we are travelling on the main highway, highway one, and there are cattle grates all over it. We stopped in one town to change money at the bank and found it closed. They only open 10:30am to 4pm. What a great life. There is so much more, but it was amazing…. Though I did try something new.. Hot choc with rum….. It was not that exciting.
22 Aug 10
Over the last two days it has been a trip all over southern Iceland. From Hofn back to the international Airport at Keflavik. Yesterday I went for an early morning run along Highway one….. It was so quiet I only saw one car…. People here seem to like to sleep in, I do like that. We travelled around the largest glacier outside of the Arctic circle. We went for a walk out to the glacier, but the path run out before the ice, so in my usual way I had to cross the creek formed by the ice melt and get on the glacier. This I did achieve, but not after I ended in the creek…. Ohhhhh it was cold, but I achieved my mission and got on to the glacier.
In the settlement of Vik, where banks only open in the afternoon, we stopped and had some traditional Icelandic Soup…. It was lamb and veges. But nice and warm…. Just what I needed. The weather also moved in in the afternoon, as the rain fell. Apparently quite normal for Iceland. I also discovered some locally made chocolate….. being purchasing and eating a steady supply. Two points to note about Iceland. Firstly there is no real cafes…. At one place I paid to make my own hot chocolate.. The other point to note is that alcohol is very expensive. One restaurant had a glass of wine at $30 a glass and this was not an expensive restaurant.
In the evening we were to stay at accommodation on the edge of the highland area. The adventure was getting there. My brother and father (the two drivers) refused to drive 20kms on a good dirt road to get there, so we detoured 200km to get there….. what a waste of time…. On arrive there was very little about, except the wind, ohhh what wind. It felt like frontier country and I was waiting for Indians to come charging over the hill (I know wrong continent). The next fuel was 263kms away. We could not go any further without a 4×4 and I had to walk 1 km in the wind to get internet access.
Another interesting point about Iceland is the taps in the showers. There is 2 taps like Australia, but it is not a hot and cold tap as one would expect. One tap is the water pressure and the other is the temperature. At first I thought it strange, but I have grown to like it.
Well today has been a full on day. We hit another dirt road…… at least this time they drove on it…. Common sense prevails today. We visited a large waterfall. It was very cool…. Then in the coffee shop got our first updates on the election in Australia. After the waterfall we headed off to the world’s second largest geyser. Got some cool pics and video clips on the geyser. Though I am thinking now of the amount of time that I spent waiting around with my finger on the trigger on the camera on the phone.
Finally our day ended with a visit to the Blue Lagoon. This is a natural hot baths…… ohhhhh so nice to lazy around in the hot lagoon. But I went through the full treatment and got the mud stuff on my face…. Totally pampered…. Hey, got to give it a go. I feel about 10 years younger. Tonight we are staying in the township of Keflavik, which is across from the international airport. We fly out tomorrow morning very early for Budapest, via Amsterdam. Then the following day onto Rome for that adventure.
26 Aug 10
Well, I am not sure where I left you all….. But I think it was in Iceland. Since then I returned to Budapest for about 24 hrs and then out to Rome. This update is written from a Pizza Bar in Rome, I am a little pissed, so if it does not flow my apologies.
Well at Keflavik airport in Iceland I parted way with my travel companions (parents and Bro)…… That is another story, but I flew back to Budapest via Amsterdam airport. Here is a funny one for you, I bought a bottle of water to drink in Amsterdam airport and they asked for my boarding pass. Then they scanned it in….. I do not get it, but anyway. Then in the airport the male toilet (I did not check the female one) had open windows to the tarmac. MMmmmm, I do hope they were one way windows….. But anyway the view was nice.
Arriving back in Budapest I had to find accommodation in a hurry….. It is nice and warm in Hungary and Rome for that matter. I found accommodation, after the first place I found was closed…… There is a number of things that made it interesting. Firstly from the outside it looked very run down….. But inside it was total new and renovated.
I had most of the day in Budapest to tour around and relook at the places I have already been too….. It was nice to see. I still getting used to crossing roads, which way do I look……? I have looked into my travel plans for when I get back to Budapest from Rome…. Looks like Slovakia, Slovenia and Croatia….. We will see… I have been invited to Ukraine….I have managed to do my studies along the way….. Only a little behind…. Today is a shocker, I was at the pizza bar, eating, drinking and studying….. Hate to see what I wrote and submitted….. In fact that is where I am sending this email from…..lol.
The tour of Rome is great, we are a group of 10 including two priests (1 I am related too) who are the guides. They know Rome really well and we are doing more in one day than most people do in 3 days. Plus the priests are cool…… they travel fast and at night we get on the piss and they have the best grog. I am staying at a Hungarian Pilgrim place in Rome….. Very interesting….. My Hungarian is not quite good enough to know what is going on, but it is okay.
Rome is really nice, I am loving it…. Not as clean as I thought it would be….. and people are thrown out of the churches and sites if not dressed correctly….. so funny……. Anyway did the Vatican Museum today. Done heaps of churches and other places….. more over the next few days……
01 Sep 10
Wow….. What can I say….. Roma (Rome as it is known in English) was great. Here I am sitting in one of Budapest’s two international airports after flying back from Roma. It is just after 2am here and in about 4 hrs I need to be at the international bus station to get on a bus to Slovakia.
Roma was awesome. Saw all the usual touristy things. Went to the Vatican several times. At the Vatican we went on several tours that are only open to select groups. Stood on the Popes Helipad inside the walls of the Vatican, toured through the three gardens and visited the Vatican Shop…… Yea I thought it was the supermarket for the Vatican staff….. how wrong was I….. I was full of expensive goods, like handbags, electronics, watches, perfume, etc. And because it is it’s own country it is all tax free. They also have a service station. Okay, all the touristy places are awesome too…. It is hard to imagine the actual size of the buildings until you have been there. I was on top St Peter’s Basilica and the people below looked like ants….. Then the effort that was put into the buildings and the details is fantastic….
The temperature in Rome has been min 20, max 33….. Quite nice an warm, pity about the dress code for the religious places, as my jeans started to get quite hot. The food is fantastic also…. I have eaten why too much pizza and spaghetti, but hey I am in Italy. Also went an saw the Catacombs which were also amazing and I learnt so much. I had the totally wrong picture about catacombs until the tours. You do need to watch out for the drivers in Italy, they are worst drivers than me and that is saying a lot. Though I have seen no accidents.
We spent a day to go see the Pope in his country house, as he did not come into Rome / Vatican City for our time there. It was a cute little town and awesome views over a lake….. I can see why he did not come into Rome…. The crowd went wild when he came out…… I was only about 20m away from him…. I thought that was pretty cool. Then I found out that night when I got back to the accommodation that I was also on TV. The staff at the accommodation told us that the Vatican station had broadcasted a section of the crowd and they could see me. Pity the rest of the group were not spotted…. I guess I was just in the right place at the right time.
Well there is heaps more, but I do not want to bore you too much. The main thing is I am good and having fun and I hope you all back at home are also having a good time…..
04 Sep 10
After getting back to Budapest from Roma, I had less than 5 hours until I was on a bus to Bratislava, Slovakia. The problem is that these 5 hours was from about 2am to 6:30am…… Should be sleeping, but not worth getting a room…. Anyway I finally got on the bus and took the whole back seat and got about 3 hrs sleep….. One of the3 weird things in Hungary is the fact that you have to pay to go to most toilets. It is about 50 cents to go to a public toilet, hardly seems worth putting a staff member on just to collect the cash. A little better then Roma, where there was a lack of public toilets.
It was so cool to pass from one country to another….. The bus did not slow down and all there was to show that was the border was and abandoned border crossing. My phone even got confused and connected to the Austria network for about 5 mins…. Slovakia is a nice little country of about 5 million. The capital city is about 400 000 and is very similar to Canberra….. I kind of liked it. I also arrived on a bank holiday, but I think everyone thinks they work for a bank, most places are closed. Which made it hard to find restaurant that serves local food for dinner. As much of Slovakia was part of Hungary for a while many people speak Hungarian on the streets…. It was kind of weird to hear Hungarian everywhere. The reception at the hotel even wanted me to speak Hungarian with them rather than English…..
Well Bratislava is very small and after a day I will move on….. So the next day it is off to Wien (Vienna) via train. Now we arrived on an international train at one of the train stations around Wien that international services arrive at. I meet up with two Finnish girls and a guy from Turkey. When we got off the train none of us had any information or maps. My lonely planet guide is for eastern Europe only…. But hey international train terminal will have an information desk right? Wrong….. all four of us were on the street and there I am stopping people in the street to find someone who speaks English to tell me which way and how to get to the city centre.
I was so tired in Wien, too much on my feet, so it was more a wander through Wien than sightseeing. Good news everyone….. I got a Chai Latte….. Starbucks in Wien serve Hot and Iced Chai Lattes. Cool hey. Another thing in Europe that strikes me and I see this in every country is the lack of respect for flashing lights on emergency vehicles. No one gets out of the way for them….. go figure. However it is the opposite for street crossings for pedestrians. Everyone stops on the red, maybe I am missing something, but I find it interesting. I got to watch some of McCloud’s Daughters (not sure how you spell it) in German. I have no idea what was happening, but that is okay I never watched it in English anyway. I saw some sights. I cannot remember what, however my visits included the UN city and the tower over the city. Then for a nice shower….. The shower exploded on me…. Water everywhere……
Today was a train trip back to Budapest…. Budapest is starting to feel like home…. Even some people I spoke with on my return to Budapest said are you home then…… The train got up to 160km/h and it was not even a fast train. And it was nice to get back to Budapest, even if I stay in a different place each time I come here. But I am starting to get a handle on the language and it is better to be somewhere where I know what people are generally saying and not completely in the dark. I am due to stay about 4 days, then head down to see the people I tour Roma with.
10 Sep 10
Well What can I say, I am on the move again, in fact today I think I have spent all day on Trains and studying. I do not where I am at the moment. It is dark and about 8pm. I am on the night train south. I am due to go through about 2-3 countries until I end up in the capital of Slovenia at 2:30am….. Great timing hey…. But I tried the bus which was a little more direct and arrives later in the morning and it was booked out for days. So the train it is. Though I prefer the train, it is just on this leg that the timings are really bad. So I looked up the lonely planet guide and got advice from a friend and I called ahead and booked some accommodation in Slovenia…. I just did not want to get caught on the streets at 2:30 am….. And in the accommodation I wanted I got the last bed in the place….. how lucky am I.
But anyway I need to wind back a few days to when I got back to Budapest from Wien & Bratislava. It is funny how when travelling you do things that you normally do not do back home…. For instance in Budapest I have eaten way more McD in the last few days than I would eat in a month or two at home. But I guess the free WIFI internet has sucked me in. I had a relaxing day as I have been on the move for ages. I set out to have two days rest, but that didn’t work. You know me, after the first morning of rest I was back into it, sightseeing, doing stuff. I have also had a good opportunity to catch up with all my studies, both CIT (Tafe) and Uni. I went to the shops to buy some stuff and can normally bluff the staff that I speak Hungarian. But I was busted the other day at the supermarket, all good until the end and then she asked me a question which I had no idea….. Okay she accepted that I was a foreigner and my Hungarian was okay, then she saw the name on my credit card….. Oh but you have such a good Hungarian name….. opps….. But you will be happy to know that my Hungarian is heaps better at the moment. I am even understanding Hungarian TV….. I watched Hungarian X Factor…. There is a program I would never watch in Australia.
It was so cool on the Sunday to receive happy father’s day phone calls and emails from my awesome kids…. They are the best, it was a great to hear their voices. Technology is great…. Thanks Attika, Angela and Anna. I went up to the Buda Castle in Budapest… It is the main castle overlooking Budapest. Been there a few times so only had a look at a few things up there. One being the Marzipan Museum….. It was awesome, I have got so many pics of what they have built with Marzipan. Yummy…. I even got a sample to eat….. what can I say Marzipan is up there with chocolate as vices for me. Then went for a walk through Margaret Island, It is a large park island on the Danube in Budapest….. What a nice relaxing way to move around. Later in the day I bumped into someone I have not seen for 16 years. In fact it was dancing in a club at Lake Balaton (in Hungary) that I last saw her. Weird hey…. Anyway she was with my brother…. So who knows maybe there is hope he will get a girlfriend…. Joking. I also used my time in Budapest to hit the night sense… out dancing at night. I also had a chance to catch up with some friends I made in Roma. All in all the normal social me…..
Then I head down south with my parents to meet up with the family and friends I went to Roma with. That was a good 2-3 days. Went to the most famous ice cream shop in Hungary…… Yummy… and the cakes…. I even got a white hot chocolate…… oh I will be putting on the weight. I also had an interesting tour of a military contractors factory….. He has contracts with governments all over the world for some bizarre stuff. I saw metal containers being made to store uranium. But the real reason I was there was to see his private collection of military stuff….. talk about having enough weapons to arm a private army. Everything from swords & knifes to ballistic missiles. In fact there was 4 nuclear missiles based in Hungary during the cold war and he owes 3 of them….. With the war heads removed of course. But that was interesting place with all the stuff he had…. But in true Hungarian fashion we started with a palinka (the Hungarian national drink)….
Then off the fun part of the trip down south. We went to a winery…… it was raining, but it was okay as we headed down into the cellar….. and they had huge metal vats full of wine…… okay so where we start…. That is right, we tried just about all of them and it was good fun. I even got to mix some of my own wine….. The guy there was a little worried that I was making the mix a little too sweet…. Too sweet is there such thing? Then that night got to try some palinka with chilli peppers in it… now that is an experience…… talk about burning the throat out…. Not sure what was worst the drink or the chilli peppers in the drink. Well that just about brings me up to date. I trained back to Budapest, hoping to bus out later to Slovenia, but instead I am on the train, which is more comfortable. The only other news is that I finished my book (over 1200 pages….)…. So I have nothing to read either….. bummer…. I will have to find an English bookshop soon.
Hope all is good back in Australia…. It will not be long until I will be home…. For as long as, until my next trip……
14 Sep 10
It seems like forever since the last update, because I have been travelling so much. I wrote the last update on the Train to Ljubljana, Slovenia and now I am leaving Slovenia for Croatia. I am on the train out of Ljubljana to Zagreb. Before I get onto Slovenia and the great time I have had there (I know I have a great time wherever I go), I want to tell you about the train trip from Budapest to Ljubljana. The train goes through Croatia and because Croatia is not part of the EU there is border controls entering Croatia and re-entering the EU (Slovenia in this case). It was almost like the old days. The other thing that I have to say that the Hungarian word for border translate into English as frontier, which sounds a lot more exciting. So I will use that word more and it almost sums up the Hungary-Croatia border crossing experience.
First I knew it was going to be interesting was when I went to the dinning carriage for dinner and they advised that they were closed for the frontier (I was speaking in Hungarian with the staff member). Then we stopped in a holding area on the Croatian side of the frontier. The Croatian police came aboard and searched the train, including opening up the cavities with their tool kits. I did want to ask why they bother, after all who is going to try and smuggle themselves from the EU into Croatia, but I thought that may offend them. Then Passport control came through. The second country to stamp my Hungarian passport that I have been using for about 7 years. Then customs came through. I do have to also note that due to travelling on a Hungarian passport, I was questioned by all the Croatian frontier staff in Hungarian, which I was able to respond without raising too much suspicion. I had to declare my homemade unlabelled bottle of palinkia (not sure the spelling, but Hungarian national drink). This process included bag searches. Something I had not expected or seen for a while.
On the way through Croatia we stopped at Zagrab station and there was a party and a half going on in the train station, it had been turned into a disco / night club. Then we hit the Slovenian frontier, which the process of frontier control started again, but was less intense. This was back into the EU. As I arrived at 2:30am in the morning in Ljubljana I did something that I have not done a lot on my travels. I booked a bed…. And I mean bed. It was the last one at the hostel that I wanted to stay at and only available for the one night. 5 beds in a room that was about the size of my private room in Budapest. The hostel had been built as a prison by the Austro-Hungarian soldiers back in the day. Though it had be refurbished considerably it still had that prison feel to it.
Well, it was a quick look around Ljubljana, but it is a very small place. Drivers actually get out of the way of ambulances here, unlike the rest of Europe I have visited. The castle was small but nice. As I finished my book on the train ride, I bought another, though I fear that I may need to buy another as I am process quickly through it too. But the best part (not quite, but very good), I got to wash my clothes. Awesome to have nice fresh clean clothes again…. When travelling it is a good idea to do some research and plan your trip to see the things you want to see. You can do this by guide books, the internet or talking with locals and other travellers. My original plan for Slovenia was Ljubljana and Bled, however……. Things changed on the train. Specking to people (which is hard as I am so shy), I found out about some world famous caves and also a town on the border with Italian, so here goes change of plan and an awesome Slovenian adventure.
That afternoon I took the bus to Postojna. There is a castle, military museum and caves in the area. But can I say the mountains of Slovenia are so green and beautiful. I so enjoyed the trip. I lashed out that night and stayed in a 4 star hotel, such a nice change. In the morning I visited the caves, which were very cool. It has been a while since I been to some caves. A train ride underground to get the start of the tour, then tours in about 10 different languages, however the English lined seemed to have all the people that could find their line. Had a really good guide. Then onto the bus to Nova Gorica and the Italian frontier. There is a really good freeway system in Slovenia, however the bus took all the back roads, winding through the mountains….
Arriving in Nova Gorica was interesting….. A friend had booked me accommodation, but there was no map, signs or information at the bus station. A Norwegian friend I meet on the bus was on his way to Venice, Italy and the two of us wandered around town trying to find anyone who spoke English. Not many spoke English on either side of the frontier in this part of the country. We did manage to find the frontier, so he headed into Italy and I found someone who could direct me to the hostel (well kind of). The history of the area is quite interesting. Gorica was the provincial capital and belonged to Slovenia, but after the war was given to the Italians, who renamed it Gorizia (as you do). Then Tito (the leader / dictator of Yugoslavia) in an act of pride build a model city on the Slovenia (back then Yugoslavian) side of the border. So in fact you have a town that was split down the middle with barbed wire during the cold war. During the Balkans wars in which Slovenia gain independence, it then joined the EU, so in fact apart from some signs that tell you the frontier is there it is nearly one town now.
The weird thing is that the locals on both sides do not speak each other’s languages. They use the same currency, have no frontier controls, can study and work in each other’s countries. However very few Italians seemed to speak Slovenian and very few Slovenians spoke Italian. In fact there are houses less than 100 meters from each other where they cannot talk the same language as their neighbour. I had a good time making the most of the frontier. Ice tea in Italy then 10 mins later dinner in Slovenia. I went jogging through both sides of the frontier. Just to say I can and I did. There is even French royalty buried in the town at the monastery. Had a look at the little museum about the history and the old photos of the barbed wire with a Yugoslav soldier on one side next to the Italian soldier on the other.
From Nova Garica I took the train (mostly) through the beautiful alps to Bled. There too there was adventure. Due to railway works on a bridge, they put us on a bus for part of the trip….. Wow the road were hardly big enough for the bus, yet it was two way. Trucks and buses going the other way. I was glad to get back on the train. Bled is the most popular tourist destination in Slovenia and it certainly lived up to all the stories I was told. It was a like a magical kingdom. A cross between Jindabyne and Disneyland without the rides. The moment I got off the train I was mouth open admiring the view. It was just so picture perfect. There is a lake, a castle on the cliff, a big church on an island in the lake and the list goes on. There is a track around the island which I did on the tourist train, walking and then also running.
Bled is also famous for the Bled cream cake. Which to me looks very much like my favourite Hungarian cake with cream in it. But I am not one to argue and ordered one anyway….. Not quite as good as the way the Hungarians do it, but I am biased. This morning I topped off the adventure by going paragliding. It was awesome. Even though I am scared of heights, and we were very high up, it was awesome as my French, but living in Australia friend said (we were the two customers). The world below looked like Google earth, but the vehicles and people were moving….. So so so awesome.
Well, I must admit all this travel has been great and I was meant to use it to work out what I am going to do next year, in particular career wise. However I must say that I have gotten so much more from the travel. I have come to realise how much in my last job my passion and soul had died. I have started to get that passion for life again and what it has to offer. As I look out my window on the train and see the green mountains with the crops in the valley and the little villages I have been totally re-energised with a passion for life. I have over the last 5 or so weeks get on top of my studies. I am currently studying two courses, one fulltime and one part-time, travel around Europe and re-energise my passion. It has been an awesome mix. Even the people I meet are making positive comments about my passion and enthusiasm for life. They are inspired themselves just by being around me. I have not been like this for a while and it does bring home that a purpose is more important than a career and that doing what your passionate about means you will never work a day in your life. So do I know what I am going to do next year? Not exactly and I do not expect to know when I return, but I do know some of the things I have planned for next year and that I am passionate about.
Well it is not all smooth sailing as they say…. I have had some interesting moments. I am starting to forget what country I am in. I woke up the other night and had no clue to where I was and for I moment thought I was in the lock up. I am assuming that is because I did spend a night in a former prison. Last night I thought I was in Croatia and was confused to find the Slovenia paper in the accommodation. But hey, if these are the hazards when travelling, I will put up with it.
Until the next update, have fun, live with passion,
17 Sep 10
Well, it is getting to the end of my trip and I have started to pick up the pace….. sometimes it feels like the amazing race, but I am loving it. I am currently in Montenegro and thinking of going down to Kosovo before heading back to Budapest for my trip home. I am so glad to do the Croatia coast. It is really as beautiful as the guide books say. It is not yet that commercialised which was really nice.
But anyway this update starts with my travels from Slovenia into Croatia. I caught the train back to Zagreb and found cheap accommodation near the train station which was handy. In the evening I was amazed at the number of people out in bars and dining out. So much for a GFC. Zagreb is an old European city, just like many of the old European cities. It is much smaller than most though and easy to get around on foot. But the reason I came to Croatia was to go down the coast. So after purchasing my ticket on the express tilt train to Split (still a 6 hour trip), I had some spare time which I used to do my online test for one of my courses I am studying. Once done, I am on the train to Split. Interesting trip.
On the train were people from everywhere. There were Croatians, Swedes, Austrians, Australians, Canadians and that was just within 2 seats from where I was sitting. It is amazing however there are people from all over the world traveling around, it is cool to hear all different languages and ascents. It was also fun to overhear some of the young’uns (18-22 yrs old) talk about life in their various countries, work, study etc. I am so glad I am past that stage in my life. It was night by the time we arrived, and the lights along the coast were beautiful. I must admit that I did not find the tilt train that smooth and even got a little car sick.
Now this part of Croatia, accommodation is a funny thing. At the train station there is people everywhere offering accommodation in their homes, known as private rooms. I got a room for a good rate and it was close to the old town and the bus / train station. That evening I had a walk around the old town and it was really nice. Some of the streets would barely fit two people side by side. Like Roma, there was cats here too. The next day I had a look around in the morning before heading to Dubrovnik for my next bus to Montenegro. I caught the bus down the coast and it was beautiful to see the coast during the day. I was nearly out of Croatian Kuna (Local Currency) and down here in the south not many accept credit card, bummer. Anyway the bus down the coast was full…… no over full, there were people standing in the isle and yet they kept stopping to pick up more people. Crazy stuff.
There was little beaches everywhere and there was no large crowds (okay, I am out of session a little). The funny thing was as we travelled down the coast we headed in Bosnia Herzegovina as they have a few kms of coast. Apart from the passport control, you would not be able to tell. Even the bus stop café accepted the Croatian Kuna in this area. After 5 hours we arrived in Dubrovnik. A beautiful coast town. This town was shelled during the Balkan’s war, but there was no indications of the war, except a few bits of military equipment that are on display from the war. I did not have time to get to the old town, so I will have to come back again sometime. I did have a look around the marina.
Then onto another bus for my trip in Montenegro. This was a nice trip down the Montenegro coast before heading inland to the capital, after a very lengthy border crossing. Once again I was travelling with people from all nations, New Zealand, Belgium, Montenegro and Singapore. The bus also did not have aircon…… ohhh so hot….got to love travelling it is an adventure. My impressions on Montenegro is that it is economically not the wealthiest country. However there is construction work everywhere, in particular on the coast. The Russians are building hotels and apartments everywhere. In fact there is more development on the coast than in Croatia. However it was amazing the very tall steep mountains were right up to the coast and it was as if the houses and buildings were just handing on along the sea.
Well my mobile phone does not want to connect in Montenegro, despite the networks here. Not to worry, though occasionally it does connect to a network in another country. Anyway I have learnt how lucky I am to be born in Australia and have the opportunity and resources to travel. It has been an awesome trip so far and now for the last part I will race around to hopefully find my way back to Budapest for my flight home.
19 Sep 10
Well I have got back to Budapest for some rest, catch up with friends, finalise some studies before I head back to Australia. Time flies when you having fun and my holiday has just about come to an end.
Montenegro is a country that is not as strong economically as most of Europe. It is currently working towards EU membership and uses the Euro as it’s currency… I do like how so many countries use the same currency, it makes it so easy to travel and compare prices. There is a lot of investment at the moment in particular in the property and the tourism markets in Montenegro by Russian investors. The capital city, where I spent one night, Podgorica, is not very touristy, it is mainly for business and government. A lot of the buildings are the old soviet style buildings, that are really run down. However there is some new buildings and a lot of construction. I have been told that the North of the country (the mountains) and the coast are very beautiful. The coast was very beautiful, with much construction of apartments and hotels. Anyway I will need to come back and stay on the coast and see the North some time.
I could not find any Hostel type accommodation, so I stayed in a nice little hotel near the bus and train station. It was very pleasant. I even fell asleep and had a nap out the front during the day, when I doing some reading. So pleasant. Well I have a plan to head to Pristina, Kosovo via bus overnight and then bus up to Serbia, Belgrade for a train to Budapest and get to see some other parts of the Balkans. However my plan is not to happen as I will explain later in the update.
I hop on the Pristina bus at 2300 hrs (9pm). At once I knew this was going to be a different ride to all my previous ones. Firstly no tourists, all the people were locals to either Kosovo or Montenegro (mainly Kosovars). No one spoke English or their English was very very limited. The bus was in worst state than the previous bus ride. However on the bright side there was in bus entertainment. There was Albanian music and TV shows playing all the way to Pristina…. Got to love it. You know you alive when you have no idea what is going on, but you find the comedy funny at the sometime as the locals. There was a 2/3 moon for the bus trip so I got to see large valleys we were travelling through and the sides of cliffs that the bus and road were clinging onto. I think I was a novelty to everyone on the bus, they keep staring at me. But they were very friendly and sharing. I was offered so much snacks over the trip I was full. Kosovo is officially the poorest country in Europe, but the people have been some of the friendliest. I hope as their economy develops they maintain that friendliness, as it was touching to see, especially as I explain later in the update some of what they have been through.
Once again frontier control points at both the Montenegro and Kosovo side of the frontier. This was a very lengthy process. The longest so far. I think though I was the cause for holding up the bus. Being the only no local they had to process my paperwork. I was the only one that had my travel documents stamped and this caused delays. Also to travel to Kosovo you need to have a reason and evidence of that reason. I will explain later meeting a deported German from Kosovo. I am just a crazy backpacker that wanted to see Pristina, Tourist (most languages understand the word tourist). So my continued stating, in a funny ascent (I tend to change my ascent when people do not speak English, I don’t know why) “Tourist, Tourist”, I was accepted into Kosovo. Arrived in Pristina at 5am…. Cool saved one nights accommodation and I am stuffed. There is not a lot to see in Pristina, so plan to move on that same day.
A bit about Kosovo. Kosovo is the newest self-declared independent state in the world and is not recognised by all nations in the world. It is also a UN / NATO Protectorate. NATO troops are mainly in the background with the exception of the Serbian enclaves (mainly in the North) where they keep the peace and also the NATO troops protect the sites of historical or cultural importance. For example all the Orthodox churches that I saw had been abandoned and NATO troops had place barbed wire around them to protect them. On my trip I saw very few NATO troops. Just some Italian solders that had pulled into a truck stop, near the border, to get some goffers and then at the airport on the way out, as they were flying too. So all in all the areas I were in, were in the control of the local Kosovo Police. The roads in Kosovo are in a very poor state. It was the roughest bus ride so far. And the capital was not much better. In fact Pristina reminded me of the movies that depict Lebanon during the war, there with pot holed roads, but Mercedes everywhere. The only difference in Pristina is that Mercedes are mainly the taxis and there is no shooting.
I must admit that Kosovo did bring a tear to my eye. Everywhere else I travelled in the Balkans where the war was, on the surface the people have moved on and rebuilt. Thought there is a lot of official mistrust of the different ethnic groups. However I felt that Kosovo has very much still got the wounds open. There is along a fence to a government building the photos of the missing. These are people that went missing in the war and still have not been founded or identified. Then in the city centre the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had a display about their mission in the Balkans (not just Kosovo). From the conflict the ICRC still has 15,000 persons recorded as missing. The ICRC is using DNA and other methods to identify human remains to try and bring closure to the families. It is a mission that will continue for years to come. I guess this was a war that I watched on the TV and being also Hungarian it was close to what I knew. So I found it very hard to believe what we humans can and do, do to each other. We really have a responsibility to look out for each other.
The bright side of Kosovo is that food was cheap. I had not eaten a proper dinner and was starving by 9am. I also had not slept a lot, so a hamburger seemed reasonable to me at that time. The guy in the café /food outlet looked at me as though I was crazy. The hamburger with the lot and a bottle of Ice Tea cost me 1.80 Euro (about $2.70 Australian). I looked at him and had to ask a second time that he charged me for everything. Over breakfast I fully looked into my travelling dilemma. In Montenegro as I planned my travels (I only plan 24, maybe 48 hrs ahead in the schedule, as this provided flexibility in my travels), a red flag was raised about Kosovo.
Serbia does not recognise Kosovo as an independent country and to them Kosovo is still part of Serbia. I guess that is another reason for NATO troops in Kosovo. So to this end Kosovo’s border crossings are not officially recognised by Serbia. When in the café I confirmed with the Serbian authorities that unless you cross into Kosovo via Serbia (on land), then you will not be able to enter Serbia by land directly from Kosovo. So I came in from Montenegro, therefore could not take the direct route to Belgrade across the border. I would be required to travel either back to Montenegro or across the Macedonia first and then to Belgrade, Serbia. Well I am stuffed as I have not slept, I need to get back to Budapest to return to Australia and do not really want to spend an extra 8 hours on a bus. So I took the easy option. I will fly home (Budapest) from Pristina. There are daily flights from Pristina to Budapest. But there is a trick here too. The Serbian authorities will not allow the plane to fly in Serbian airspace so it will take and extra 30 mins to fly around Serbia. But hey 30mins compared to 8 hours…. Count me in. Pristina has a small but awesome airport. There are heaps of flights to all over Europe and even the USA. Not bad, but I guess it is the easiest way in and out of the country.
On the plane there was about a dozen Hungarian Soldiers serving with KFOR (the NATO Kosovo force) and also a German that was being deported from Kosovo. He was that morning arriving in Pristina for a business meeting and the Kosovo passport control rejected him, so he was deployed. I thought it funny (not for him though), as he was asking me how I got in the country. I just told that at about 2am that morning my bus crossed into Kosovo and no one spoke English and here I was…. Poor guy… At Budapest airport he had an armed security party meet him to be taken away. Well for the first time in years I had to go through passport control in Budapest airport. But once again the people spoke a language I understood and I felt at home. Strange as I have nowhere to stay yet.
In summing up the last 10 days, it had been awesome. Slovenia was a treat, I had an awesome time and saw more of Slovenia than the other countries. I also got to go paragliding. So I must admit Slovenia was my favourite. Croatia was also nice, in particular along the coast. It was good to see such an awesome coast line that had not been overly developed. Montenegro was a place that I do need to explore further in the future, most likely combined with a tour of Bosnia Herzegovina. As for Kosovo, it was the emotional side of the trip to see and read about the stories from the war. It makes one understand that we humans are capable of such evil, but at the same time we also need to ensure that we look out for each other and do good. I must admit I am missing Australia and I am so lucky to be an Australian. I tend to find from travelling it makes me appreciate how good it is in Australia.
The Email that was not sent
So I was back in Hungary for a few days before heading back to Australia. In this time I headed to the Chinese Markets, the Magyar Nemzeti Bank (the Hungarian Reserve Bank), visited St Istvan’s basilica, went caving and said goodbye to friends I had made. At the Chinese markets they sell everything bulk… You can buy shoes by the box load. Too many for me at this time, I only need one pair.
The Magyar Nemzeti Bank had on display notes and coins from the past to present. It also had some interesting video presentations on the history of money in Hungary and also on the Euro (Which is not yet implemented in Hungary). At St Istvan’s Basilica I climbed to the top and got a wonderful view of the city.
The caving was awesome, we caught three buses to get to the outskirts of the city and then put on overalls. Off we went with our crazy guide in the dark dark cave…. I was in an adrenalin rushed team which was awesome. I am claustrophobic, but the caving was awesome. There was a little bit of time to say good bye to friends I had made.
On the day of departure from Europe I had some time in the morning. After six weeks travelling around I was a little worn down. I spent the morning to buy a book, a pair of shoes (the old ones were worn through) and aftershave. After all that I still had two hours before I had to head to the airport. I am not good at relaxing and was looking for things to do……
Out of Budapest we were on the plane with a bunch of actors. Then in Amsterdam security had be increased due to some extra risk. I had a tight connection which meant I had to run the whole length of the airport to catch the next flight. The airport was so much bigger than I remember….. However I made it, yes, sweating, but I made the flight.
The funny part was that I had a tight connection in Amsterdam, but I had a five hour transfer in Singapore. Go figure. I had to change planes in the Singapore and when I tried to get on the plane in Singapore I tried to get on the wrong plane. Oppps…. Security was kind enough to point it out to me and point me in the right direction.
Finally I arrived in Sydney. I so love arriving in Sydney. That said I like travelling too. I was surprised that my bag made it to Sydney. I expected it to miss the plane in Amsterdam, as I nearly had. All I can say is the processes that the bags go through must be very efficient. Then before catching the bus back to Canberra, I had a shower and breaky. Breaky was a Chai Latte (Ohhhhh, how I had missed it) and banana bread.