A Travellerspoint blog

Istanbul


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On the night train we were awoken at 3am to get our visas squared away. To do this we had to step outside (it was freezing) and go into this tiny little office and pay up ($15 US), we got our passports stamped and it was time to go back to bed. We got to Istanbul around 8am and walked from the train station to our hostel. While we were searching for it, it started raining, what a day for a birthday.
Our room wasn't ready yet, so we headed out to eat with a few people we met in the lobby of our hostel. We had some delicious apple tea, Darren had an omelet and I had a flavorful curry. Once we had finished our food we headed back to the hostel and our room was ready. We were pretty tired from the train ride, so we took a nap. When we woke up we decided to walk around the Sultanhamet area for a bit. Sultanhamet is a great area to stay because all of the major attractions are right there, as well as many restaurants and markets.

We saw Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque from the outside, we knew we'd be visiting the inside of those later:
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We went back to the hostel in time for a free supper of sausages and rice and of course a couple of beers (it is my b-day after all) Then we got a recommendation of a place to go for good dessert, and we ended up only a block away from our hostel, but it was perfect. We ordered a sample platter of desserts and some wine. Sounds good huh? Candied figs, baklava, bananas and ice cream. It even came out with sparkler on it. They sang happy birthday to me in english, then a South African couple sang to me in Afrikaans. It was pretty cool, a very memorable birthday.

The next day we were tourists, first thing was to visit the Blue Mosque. A guy just came up to us and said he wasnt a tour guide, but would be happy to show us through the Mosque if we would just check out his store later. He didnt give us a bad vibe, so we said ok. He gave us a great history lesson about the mosque, he was actually a great guide. The Blue Mosque was named for all of the blue tiles adorning the interior walls.
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In the courtyard of the mosque
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After leaving the mosque he took us over to his shop, which turned out to be a carpet store, and we politely told him that we were not an the market for carpets, let alone be able to carry them with us; We thanked him for the free tour and left.
We then headed over to Hagia Sofia and went inside. This place was a former orthodox patriarchal basilica before becoming a mosque and now a museum.
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We had some delectable turkish food:
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Then we walked down to the Grand Bazaar, where they sold anything and everything. It was kind of like the souks in Morocco, but much nicer. We only ended up making one purchase, Darren bought a Turkey t-shirt. We made our way back to hostel to chill out some before the nights festivities.

Darren got an amazing picture of the sunset just down the street from our hostel:
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That evening we had kebab's from a street vendor just outside the hostel, it was delicious. He had everything very organized on his cart, the meat, veggies, and spices.
Our hostel had a free belly dancing show that night. While we were waiting for the dancer to show up, we learned to play backgammon. A very common game amongst Turks.
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Then the belly dancer arrived, and guess who got pulled up to the floor? Nope not Darren:
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We hung out in the upstairs lounge area with some of the other guests in the hostel and we met a couple who were fantastic to hang out with. Cat and Philip. Cat is from Canada and Philip is from Switzerland. We drank a couple bottles of wine with them and hung out until about 1:30am.

The next day we visited the Basilica Cistern - it was built in 532AD and is still intact.
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We then made our way to the water front because we wanted to get on a Bosphorus river cruise. Low and behold as soon as we got there a guy asked us if we wanted to join a cruise, they were leaving in one minute. He hauled us into a van and drove us to the boat. The cruise was pretty cool, figuratively and literally, and it was a great way to see the city because its such a huge city.
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We walked through the spice market on our way back to the hostel and for supper we enjoyed more kebab from the street vendor.

The next morning we ran into Cat and Philip as they were about to head back home (currently outside of London):
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We decided we wanted to see Cappadocia before leaving Turkey so we made arrangements with a travel agency that would get us back to Istanbul so we could make our flight to Cairo.

We lounged around most of the day, part of which was spent dismantling a fresh pomegranate (its not easy, now we know why it mainly comes in juice form). We split a kebab for dinner, then we took a very long overnight bus ride to Gerome in the Cappadocia Region.

Posted by crantravel 12.17.2009 03:05 Archived in Turkey Comments (3)

It really is Greek to me!

and here I thought knowing some of the greek symbols from math would help

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After getting on the Ferry from Bari, Italy to Patras, Greece we had 15 hours to relax, take it easy and sleep. With our Eurail pass we actually had a free ride on the ferry, but they were in a large compartment filled with airplane type seats and a large luggage rack at the front to keep your stuff in. We thought about it for a few seconds, then decided to upgrade to a room. It was definitely worth every penny! It had a shower, bathroom, and most importantly a bed to lay down on and stretch out; no cramped legs in an airplane seat. Plus we didn't need to worry about our packs, because they were locked in the room with us. We even got a good nights sleep. We were also happy to learn that neither of us suffer from sea sickness :-)

Once we arrived in Patras we had a few hours to kill until our train left for Nafplion. We basically found a nice cafe that had free internet... Our trip to Nafplion took much longer then we expected, we were on a train, then a bus, then another 2 trains. The train system in Greece is not like the rest of Europe, the trains are old, and the tracks are pretty limited on where you go and what time you can get there. But, at last we finally made it to our destination, though at midnight and we had no place to stay... We ended up picking one of the first places we found that was still open, it was more than we had wanted to pay, but we just wanted to sleep. Here's a pic of our room before we crashed for the night:
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The next day we found a much cheaper place to stay and we booked 2 nights.
While we were there, we hiked up to the castle and had an amazing view of the city and the sea.
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At night from our new hostel we had a great view of the castle lit up:
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During the day we also took a little swim at the beach in the inlet you can see in one of the pictures above. The water was so much warmer then in Croatia, and it was still super clear.

After our third night in Nafplion we decided to head up to Thessaloniki where we would catch our train over to Turkey. We didnt want to deal with the train schedules, so we booked a bus to Athens, where we knew we could then catch a train to Thessaloniki. We again arrived much later than we planned, but thankfully this time we had already booked a place to stay for the night. It took us a while to find it, mainly because there was so much construction going on in the city it was a bit hectic. But we slept well that night.

The next couple of days we walked around the city, saw a couple of the sights:
The White Tower
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The Arch of Galerius
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We went to the archaeological museum that displays excavation findings from around Thessaloniki and the border area of Macedonia. They had a ton of coins on display that were circulating Macedonia from the 6th century to 148 bc. It was really interesting. They also had sculptures and a bunch of other artifacts found during excavations. We couldn't take any pictures inside the museum, but this one we took of this art piece just inside the entryway of the museum.
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The largest Kebab we have ever seen in our travels so far:
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We found a friend in the park, how cute was she! Too bad we couldn't take her home with us.
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This is a chain burger and fries fast food joint within greece; we enjoyed their food a couple of times, and they do make a really good caesar salad.
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That night we got on the train (our very last leg of our Eurail pass!). When we woke up in the morning we were in Turkey and Colleen left her 20's behind, it was her birthday :-) She turned 30.

Posted by crantravel 12.16.2009 22:31 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

When in Rome...

rain
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In the morning we woke up to rain in Cinque Terre and it continued all the way to Rome. We made a stop to see the leaning tower of Pisa. There were tons of people standing outside insistent that we needed to purchase umbrellas from them,
Here we are in front of the tower, we're really small but we're there.
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After Pisa we headed to Rome where it was down pouring! We were able to find our way to our hostel only getting a little wet. Later we went out looking for food and we got soaked. There weren't really any good food places close to our hostel, that we could find anyways. Darren ended up getting a bad piece of pizza and I decided to wait until morning to find some other food.

The next day it was still raining. Since we only had a few nights booked we had to take advantage of all our time in Rome, even though the weather was not cooperating. The first stop was the Colosseum. After getting drenched, we decided to spend some money for a hop-on hop-off bus, at least it would keep us dry and it'd take us to all of the top destinations. We ended up riding it around for quite awhile before deciding to get off at the Vatican. We went through the tombs of the popes that exited into St Peter's Basilica and by the time we made it outside again the rain had stopped! Yeah!
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For lunch we ate a couple of overpriced slices of pizza and we made our way back to the colosseum:
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We walked around a bit before heading back to the hostel. We bought some groceries for supper and just hung out at the hostel that evening.

The next day we decided to go to the Vatican Museum, we couldn't leave Rome without seeing the Sistine Chapel; along with many other artifacts that are in the museum. Everywhere you look in the museum there was bound to be something to catch your eye.
Sculptures:
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Art on the floor:
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Painting on the ceiling:
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Paintings on the wall:
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And of course the Sistine Chapel - Pictures were not allowed so we don't have any to share of the amazing painted chapel

We walked around Rome some more, taking in the sights, or ruins...
Pantheon:
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Circus Maximus - Area where the chariot races took place:
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Ruins
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We made our way back to the hostel and ended up going out with a bunch of people who were also at the hostel. (the internet of the whole area where our hostel was went out, so everyone was feeling social since we couldn't chat with our friends back home) We went to this little italian restaurant our hostel recommended and it was pretty good. Darren and I just had dessert because earlier we had eaten our food from the grocery store, but the tiramisu was delicious.

The following day we left Rome and headed for Bari, towards the south eastern edge of italy. From there we took a 15 hour boat ride to Patras Greece.

Posted by crantravel 12.07.2009 20:46 Archived in Italy Comments (2)

Cinque Terre

5 Hillside Villages on the coast of Italy

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Cinque Terre is beautiful, as long as you have good weather you could spend weeks there. We were only there for a couple of days, but on the day we left it was pouring rain, so it wouldnt have been any fun to have stayed any longer anyways.
The first night we arrived and stayed in the town Manarola. The towns in order from South East to North West: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso. The hostel there was great, they even had a personal chef; cooking delicious Italian food for a decent price. They had a framed X-mas card from Rick Steve's on the wall, So we knew this place had to be good! For dinner we had some pesto gnocchi and walnut sauce gnocchi; we had the best italian food at this hostel, mainly because we couldnt afford to try it anywhere else. (just pizza)

There are a bunch of trails to hike along and in between the villages, since we only had one day we decided to do the most popular one and go from Manarola to Monterosso. The hike started off easy, but entering the town of Corniglia you had to ascend over 300 stairs.
On our way to Corniglia:
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We made it!
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Heading to the next town Vernazza:
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Vernazza in Colleen's sunglasses:
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Leaving Vernazza and heading to Monterosso:
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Colleen on a bridge from Vernazza to Monterosso:
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Darren with Monterosso in the background:
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The hike from Vernazza to Monterosso was the most strenuous of all of the hikes between the villages, there seemed to be a lot of elevation changes, going up, and then going down, up and down...the path connecting the towns was really thin too you had to hug the rock on the hills if someone was coming from the other direction just to be able to pass each other. We couldnt imagine hiking these paths after or during rain, it was all rocks or thick dirt which would be extremely slippery when wet and it would be dangerous to hike, there weren't many rails along the edge either to keep you from falling down the cliff. But, the villages are so picturesque, it was definitely worth a stop to soak in the views. I love all the bright colors of the buildings too, it made it fun to take pictures of too :-)
Us on the beach of Monterosso, we stuck our feet in, but it was too cold for us to swim in, though a guy next to us on the beach dove right in (he claims it was much warmer deeper in the water, but we weren't willing to test his theory)
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After spending some time on the beach we headed all the way to Riomaggiore to finish our loop, and walked from there back to our hostel in Manarola. This walk is called the lover's walk and all along the path you see tons of padlocks that couples put there to represent their love and they trow the key to the lock in the ocean.
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Back to Manarola:
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Posted by crantravel 12.02.2009 21:49 Archived in Italy Comments (2)

Venice

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When our train arrived in Venice we had to take a water bus to our hotel. With specific instructions from our hotel we made it there without any problems. Our hotel was really nice, we spent a little more than planned, but definitely worth it. Especially after hearing horror stories about the hostel in Venice, bed bugs, bags being stolen out of locked lockers in the middle of the night, ugh! We were very, very happy with our room. We even got breakfast brought to our door each morning, we got to choose at what time too. That was pretty cool.
Our first night we decided to get a little lost (not to worry we're stuck on an island, you really cant get that lost) We made it to the main square found some statues, and the Basilica. IMG_1209.jpg
There were a ton of rather expensive shops, well, it is Italy, and Darren found one that he had to enter:
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While we were wandering around, getting lost, we just had to have a delicious dessert crepe, of chocolate and coconut! Earlier we had ourselves a couple of slices of pizza (that's really the only food we could afford - except for the desserts)

The next day we did more of the same; Wandering around the city that is barley above the water. Through the canals via water buses and walking around the canals and tiny streets of Venice.
Here are some more pictures we took.

Gondolas in front of the main bridge in Venice:
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A view of the canal, from the bridge.
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Basillica
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Posted by crantravel 11.27.2009 22:21 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

How do you pronounce the capital of Slovenia? (Ljubljana)

loo-blah-nah (they just wanted to throw in a couple j's to confuse us)

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We arrived in Ljubljana around 7:30-8pm and headed straight to our hostel called Zepplin Hostel. We had met a couple of Slovenian's while we were in Seville, Spain and had stayed in contact with them, so we had to give them a call while we were here. Dejan was happy to hear from us, and he is attending the college in Ljubljana, so we set up a time the following day to meet up :-)

The next day we decided to go on another free walking tour of the city. Again our guide was awesome, and we had a fairly small group so that was nice as well. The symbol of the city is a dragon, and we saw them everywhere. It was very cool.
Of course we saw the Dragon Bridge:
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This is a relief on the door to the cathedral, telling the story of Slovenia:
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View down the river:
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Little steel dragon:
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After our tour ended by their open air theatre
View from the Ljubljana Castle - notice the Alps are in the background
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Another Dragon on the wall in the entry way to the castle
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The Ljubljana Castle:
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That evening we were able to meet up with our friend Dejan for a quick cup of coffee before he had to catch his train home. We walked through Metelkova city, which is a basically a city block that has been left alone by the authorities. It's an "alternative area" that consist of a bunch of old military barracks that were taken over by homeless kids. Now it consists of night clubs, music venues, and all kinds of random artwork. There are similar places in Berlin, but this one seemed really unique and almost out of place in sleepy Ljubljana.

The next morning we caught a train to Venice with a connection in Austria, which we almost missed but the conductor had them hold the other train to wait for us! That was very nice, and unexpected, we thought for sure we'd end up having to look for a place to stay that night (after already booking a place in Venice). But luckily it all worked out :-)

Posted by crantravel 11.23.2009 20:27 Archived in Slovenia Comments (1)

Fun in the Sun in Croatia

sunny
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We left Budapest in the afternoon and took the train to Zagreb, Croatia where we planned to take a night train out to the city Split along the Dalmatian coast. About an hour into our train ride we met the most amazing person. We were sitting in our 6 person coach/car by ourselves when we heard a knock on the door. Then enters a dog, followed by a man carrying a long white stick with red at the bottom of it, and he had a huge pack on. His name was Antoni and his dogs name was Ugo. Turns out that Antoni was from France and Ugo was his seeing eye dog, he was completely blind. He was traveling from his hometown of Lille, France all the way to India and back using only trains. We road the train with him all the way to Zagreb. This gave us a few hours to visit about our travels. When we arrived in Zagreb we walked Anthony and Ugo to the tourist information office. Ugo seemed to sense that we were being helpful and he followed us all the way to the office. As we parted ways, all of the problems we've encountered didn't seem so bad. It adjusted our whole perspective what its like to travel.

Once we arrived in Zagreb we had a few hours until we had to catch our overnight train to Split so we wandered around Zagreb for a bit. We got some delicious pizza at this little pizzeria before hoping on our train.

We arrived in Split around 7am, a bit too early to check into our hostel, so we walked along the coastline towards our hostel and grabbed a couple of much needed cups of coffee. The weather was perfect, the sun was out, it wasn't too hot, or too cold.

We walked out to the beach, stuck our toes in, but didnt go swimming because we didnt have our suits on.
Later in the day we went to the Bell Tower and got a great view of the coastline.
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Ship in the harbor.
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The next day we explored more of Split. We did end up taking a dip into the water too. It was rather chilly, but refreshing.
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Apparently, they have some really big fish off the coast of Split.

The next day we took a day train back to Zagreb. We spent the afternoon walking around the cemetery. The Day of the Dead was a few days away and the cemetery looked like an amazing garden. The Croatians take enormous pride in honoring their past loved ones by placing flowers and plants on their graves. Out of respect for the dead, no pictures were allowed. We ate dinner at the same pizzeria, then we caught a train to Ljubljana, Slovenia. During the ride we met an older man from Serbia. His english was about as good as our Serbian, but we had a few laughs and he offered us some homemade liquor that he made from apples. It was really good and really strong. Soon after we arrived in Ljubljana and called it a night.

Posted by crantravel 11.22.2009 04:12 Archived in Croatia Comments (2)

Republic Day in Budapest, Hungary

Sometimes un-successful revolutions are the ones worth remembering...

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The train from Vienna was only a few hours long so we arrived in Budapest in the early afternoon. There was a ton of construction going on by the train station and somehow was unable to find where the metro was, so we ended up walking down the street to the following metro stop in order to catch it to our hostel.

Our hostel was located up three flights of stairs with an open plaza in the middle, it was pretty cool. As soon as we arrived we were given a map, a glass of wine, and shown where to go to explore the city.
We headed straight to the market place, three stories of produce, meat, souvenirs, and shops.
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From there we went in search of a place to eat. We ended up at this little cafe and enjoyed some Goulash and Sausages with sauerkraut.
We ended up taking a little mid-day nap before exploring more of the city during the evening.

The next day was a national holiday - Republic Day - it commemorates the unsuccessful 1956 revolution against the Russian communist regime. We headed to the House of Terror museum which explains some of the things that happened during WWII under the Nazi's and what happened after the Red Army took over putting Hungary behind the Iron Curtain in the Communist regime. So many of us think about all of the horrible things that happened during WWII and under the Nazi's, but forget that the terror for so many people continued as they were taken over by the communist party.
Here's a picture showing what you see as soon as you enter the museum:
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These are all faces of victims that were hung in gallows in the basement of this very building during the communist era
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After the museum we walked up the street to a large square with statues and a city gate where people were setting up a stage for shows, in which we can only think that it is for Republic Day.
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From there we wandered to the Jewish district and saw a beautiful Synagogue:
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Then walked to the Cathedral
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We ended up eating lunch at this fast food pizza/pasta place, it was kinda cafeteria style, but fancier. We both ended up getting huge bowls of pasta and we could choose our sauce and if we wanted it spicy or not. We both got peppers added to ours for extra spice :-) It was yummy.

As we walked around we noticed there were more police out than anyone else, apparently there had been riots previous years on Republic Day, so they were being extra cautious in case something did break out they would be ready for it. Nothing happened, no riots or anything, at least that we're aware of.

We were told by many people that if you're in Hungary you have to go to one of the bath houses. So we walked across the bridge from our hostel and went to the Gellert Bath House.
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It was a neat experience, but it was basically an indoor swimming pool with warmer baths in other rooms. I guess its really cool in the summer, they have an outdoor pool and a wave pool which were closed because it was pretty chilly outside. Sorry, no pictures of Darren in a Speedo.

That night we ended up just getting a couple things from the grocery store for supper, since we were still full from the huge lunch.

Posted by crantravel 11.11.2009 00:01 Archived in Hungary Comments (1)

Meet Manic the Monkey


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I'm sure Vienna is a wonderful city with many sights to see and things to do. However when you travel this long and this fast, you need to take a day or two and catch your breath and just lay low. For us Vienna was a good location to do this.
So, in Vienna we didnt really do many touristy things we decided it would a be a "working" couple days, for us to catch up on our blog, pictures, etc. We also found a little mascot, and we named him Manic the Monkey (...so, we're going a little crazy, nuts even, but at least we're keeping each other entertained right? at least that's what we tell ourselves...)
Manic hatched from a Kinder Egg, for those of you who dont know what that is, its basically an easter egg wrapped in chocolate and inside the egg lies a toy.
The following pictures illustrate the "hatching" process:
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These are popular toys for kids, but as you can tell, even adults can be easily entertained with them.

He even has a theme song (to the tune of "Manic Monday")

Manic will be joining us on the rest of our trip and just might be featured in future blog postings.

Posted by crantravel 11.10.2009 11:25 Archived in Austria Comments (2)

Krakow, Poland

rain
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We got to Krakow really early in the morning and decided to book a tour and just keep our bags in a locker at the train station. Since we had some time before we could check into our hostel, we booked a tour of the concentration camp Auschwitz/Berkineau. This was a very heavy experience for the both of us. It was a cold rainy day and it seemed to fit the mood we were in as we made the one hour bus ride to the camp. The tour was a very strait forward explanation of the terrible events that occurred during WWII. No questions were asked, and we weren't allowed to take any pictures inside the buildings. We all learn about the Nazi's and the "final solution to the Jewish problem" in high school history, but seeing this place in person is like getting punched in the stomach. We walked through some of the buildings. Many of which contain tangible displays that are meant to convey the shear magnitude of people who lost there lives at this hallowed place. We also walked through a gas chamber. the chamber still has wheel-barrels that were used to dump the bodies into the incinerator. We also saw what is left of Berkineau. The train tracks that carried countless cattle cars of jews to their death have been reconstructed and provided a very haunting display of how so many innocent people where exterminated. This was the first time either one of us has been to Aushwitz and it will most definitely be our last. We only took a few pictures, to truly get a feel for this place you have to experience it in person.
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On a lighter note, the city of Krakow is really an amazing city.
That evening we walked around the square and had a delicious Polish meal of Perogi's mixed salad (different kinds of cabbage, coleslaw, etc) and a Pork chop with cooked cabbage on the side. It was soooo good! It really hit the spot after a cold, rainy, dismal day.

The next day it was still a bit chilly, so we decided to take a tour of the city in a little golf cart. As our driver went around the city there was commentary pumped through little speakers above our head telling us about the various sights we were driving by. Here are a few of the pictures we got:
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There were pigeons everywhere, and they all seemed to be carrying a little extra weight...I couldnt tell if it was because it was getting cold and they were bulking up for the winter, or if it was because everyone fed them a ton of bread. (Picture above, the lady just gave them bread from the 2 plastic bags she's holding, they were full!)

Later that day we booked a tour of the Wieliczka Salt Mine. It was about an hour bus ride away, but definitely worth it. The salt mine is enormous, and we had to descend 378 stairs winding down into the mine, and we only went to the 3rd level, there are 9 levels down. Our guide said we only saw 1% of the mine.
Since the miners spent so much time underground during some spare time they carved out sculptures in the salt and tied stories to each. They also have a gorgeous church in the middle of the mine and all of the walls are decorated with religious scenes carved out of the salt, extremely detailed; it was beautiful.

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View looking down into the church, its kind of hard to tell in this picture, but there are carvings all over the walls.
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The Church Altar
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The Last Supper
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Looking up into a chandelier
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Darren in front of a wall sculpture
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After we returned to Krakow, we ended up eating at the same place as the night before, this time we got a picture of our yummy food;
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Posted by crantravel 11.10.2009 10:39 Archived in Poland Comments (2)

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