?>

Archive for August, 2011

25th August
2011
written by Justin

Our plan to leave Budapest was a good one — take the overnight train to Belgrade (Serbia) and then take the train the next day to Sofia, in Bulgaria. This would be a long, but not ridiculous train journey that took us most of the way down through Eastern europe and get us to a place where the travel time to Istanbul would be reasonably short. It didn’t turn out that way — in a thankfully rare instance where the Eurail pass failed us — because it turns out that Eurail “Global” passes (the ones with travel through the entire Eurail network) were not valid in Serbia! This is written in fine print in a few places but was not noted on our map or on our ticket. Thankfully we discovered this fact before we boarded the sleeper train (we would probably have been kicked off at the Serbian border) and made a hasty decision to reroute through Bucharest, in Romania. That way we’d be able to arrive the same day as before and also to use up the same number of days on our Eurail pass.

Unfortunately that also meant that we’d be on the train for nearly 24 hours! We boarded the sleeper train in Budapest and found that we had much more friendly cabin-partners who spoke English. They also didn’t mind leaving the beds out the whole time so we each had our own little space the whole sleeper train. Hazel and I both enjoy sleeper trains; the swaying motion of the train car is much more relaxing than an automobile or airplane. The motion on a train tends to rock you to sleep instead of jolting you awake. Another benefit – free coffee! What could be bettter! And Romanian scenery is really beautiful so we were entertained the whole time.

We only had about an hour once we arrived in Bucharest, unfortunately, because it turned out not to be enough time to prepare for our trip on to Sofia. First, the ATM wouldn’t dispense money — I guess Romania is a risky area for Visa and so they just block any withdrawals. We only tried to take out a small amount to buy lunch with, but they wouldn’t have it. On top of that, the places wouldn’t take Euros and would only accept credit cards with a PIN! So we were unable to buy any food for lunch or dinner which would pass on the coming train ride.

That ride was the worst train on our entire Eurail trip! It was a cabin which had 4 people on either side all crammed together. Combine that with no showers for a day and 100 degree weather, and you have the makings for a really horrible ride. We also only had one sausage (luckily we bought a big enough one to last us the day), one loaf of bread, and half a big bottle of water to last us. The water was the first to go. I think that the heat really increased our need for water because we normally wouldn’t drink that much all at once; we felt pretty parched by the end of the journey. Then the bread went and I ate the rest of the sausage and then we were out. A quick glance at our watches told us we still had a few hours left on the train! We managed, but the only nice parts about the end of the ride were that all of our cabin-partners left us and that the temperature got a lot nicer. I don’t know if we would have survived otherwise!

Our troubles were not quite at an end, though, because we arrived in Sofia after dark. Hazel and I hate to arrive anywhere after dark with all our stuff and this was one of the worst places we’ve done that, because the train terminal was empty and we had to walk to the bus terminal a few hundred yards down the road to catch a taxi to our hostel. Of course it was raining and the taxi driver got the wrong name from the hostess at the taxi rank. So we were taken to a different hostel than we had booked! After the taxi driver tried to get the directions to the other hostel from a few hookers on the corner near the first hostel, we wrote down the address and finally convinced the driver to use his GPS to take us to the other hostel. So we arrived — finally — and crashed in our super nice room at the hostel, wiped out but safe and sound.

7th August
2011
written by Justin
House of Terror

House of Terror

Each country that we’ve visited in continental Europe has had its own story to tell about the events surrounding and following WWII.  Hungary, being a territory on the front of the war, was successively occupied by the Nazis (in Hungary the party was known as the Arrow Cross) and then by the Russians.  Both of these groups were well known for the activities of their secret police organizations, and for the real horrors subjected on the population both during and after the war.

In Budapest, there is a museum called the House of Terror which chronicles the acts perpetrated on the Hungarian people by these two groups over the years.  The name is particularly appropriate, because the building that the museum is housed in was actually the headquarters of the secret police for BOTH of the occupying forces!  Inside is a really powerful museum, featuring tons of multimedia – especially videos – that really brings the stories to life.  We spent about 3 hours in the museum and only really watched about half the videos on display.  The most compelling and disturbing part of the museum was the basement which housed many interrogation rooms and still retains the character of what it must have been like while in use.  This museum is highly recommended if you visit Budapest.

7th August
2011
written by Hazel

We opted for another free walking tour in order to get our bearings in Budapest, and I have to say, I thought it was one of the best.  Our guide was really good and we saw a lot of the sights.  The city is beautiful and we decided to give ourselves a little of a photo challenge – trading cameras for the day!  My camera has really awesome zoom capabilities, but Justin’s takes much better wide shots and has virtually no zoom.  We bought them because we knew they would complement each other, but it was a quite different experience to trade off!

Here are some of my favorites that Justin took:

Decoration on a building

Decoration on a building

Fountain

Fountain

(more…)

6th August
2011
written by Justin

Sometimes, you just never know what you’re going to get.  We arrived in Budapest by train as usual, and got out Hazel’s handy-dandy notebook where we’d written the directions to our hostel.  It was reasonably convenient to get there, just a metro ride followed by a short block, but we discovered to our dismay that nobody answered the doorbell when we got there!

Of course we weren’t about to let that stop us, oh no, so we followed another person through the outer gates of the building and entered a 4 story courtyard with anonymous doors – and no sign of a hostel!  So we split up.  I went upstairs and Hazel searched the downstairs doors.  After a good while I reached a door on the top floor that had a sign: “XYZ Hostel – Guests, please call this number when you arrive”.  This is still super suspicious because nobody was there to unlock the outer door — how could we be expected to get to this inner door?

Moreover this door was unlocked.  So we go in and find a more-or-less hostel place but completely abandoned.  At this point we are really stressed out – what happened to our hostel?  Why is nobody there?  We went out in a near-panic.  We had no hostel and no phone to contact the hostel with!  We went to the nearest hotel and phoned this mysterious number.  Here’s how it went:

Do you have a reservation? Yes?  Well sorry we don’t have any space for you.  Yes I know you paid to confirm the reservation, but I can’t help you.

So at this point we were really unhappy!  And to boot it’s getting dark and we don’t have anywhere to stay.  Eventually we find a place with wifi – the Pink Cadillac Pizzeria – and start looking for another place to stay while we eat our dinner.  We did find a place, called “Home to Home Hostel”, which was a really perfect spot for us.  It was even more central than our first pick, had really nice and helpful owners and a great vibe.  We loved it!  So all ended well after a stressful day entering Budapest.

5th August
2011
written by Justin

Everything we’d heard about Slovenia told us that we should not just stick to Ljubljana – we needed to get out to the countryside. So, on the recommendation of a fellow hosteler, we set our sights on the small country town of Bohinj, a 2 hour bus ride from the capital.  The direction we headed (NNW for the crossword puzzle geeks out there) took us into the Julian Alps section of Slovenia, a mountainous paradise with lakes and hiking and everything you could want!

Bled Lake and Castle

Bled Lake and Castle

In fact, on the way to Bohinj we passed another retreat town well-known to Slovenians called Bled.  There is a rather large lake with a super castle perched on a rocky overlook on the lake.  Unfortunately we had to pick one or the other but we will leave Bled to another trip.  It appeared much more built-up and touristy than our final destination: Bohinj!

The View from our Hotel

The View from our Hotel

(more…)

4th August
2011
written by Hazel

We felt like we had been racing around a lot, and thought it would be a nice treat to go and see a movie and take it easy.  Also, for the past seven months it seems like all of the movies we’ve seen have been dubbed into another language or have starred Steven Segal (if you haven’t watched his later movies, DON’T!  They have a strange fondness for them on South American buses, so we couldn’t really escape.  Some of the worst movies I have ever seen.)

So, we decided to go out and see the new Harry Potter movie!  And since we were in a large-ish city we were able to see it in English, with Slovenian subtitles.  Here’s what you can know about going to the movies in Europe.  It is just as expensive as going to the movies in the USA, but they serve beer and the popcorn tastes a little different.  Also, if you take a taxi to the theater (because there is no bus) you might just get driven on the longest route around the city and wind up paying much more for it than you really wanted to.

In all honesty though, it was totally worth it, at least to me.  The movie theater was really, really nice.  They have assigned seating, so you get to pick your seats off a little map before you buy the ticket, the seats are spaced much better than in the USA (there is a BIG gap between the screen and the first row of seats) and it was a big luxury to sit an enjoy a movie that I really wanted to see!  So cool!!!

Tags: ,
3rd August
2011
written by Hazel

We arrived at Ljubljana at night and had a bit of a roundabout taxi ride to get to our hostel, Hostel Print.  However, this awesome hostel refunds the cost of the taxi ride, so it was no problem.  And it is a really good hostel.  Curtained off beds, your own power socket, your own reading lamp, awesome kitchen.  It’s a little walk into town, but as we found out the next day it is a pleasant walk and a very pleasant town.  We saw the castle, walked along the river, had an apple at the farmer’s market, and some really good pizza near the hostel.  Beautiful, relaxing first day in town!

Ljubljana

  • justinandhazel's photo
  • justinandhazel's photo
  • justinandhazel's photo
  • justinandhazel's photo
  • justinandhazel's photo
  • justinandhazel's photo
  • justinandhazel's photo
  • justinandhazel's photo
  • justinandhazel's photo
  • justinandhazel's photo
  • justinandhazel's photo
  • justinandhazel's photo
  • justinandhazel's photo
  • justinandhazel's photo
  • justinandhazel's photo
  • justinandhazel's photo
  • justinandhazel's photo
  • justinandhazel's photo
  • justinandhazel's photo
  • justinandhazel's photo
  • justinandhazel's photo
  • justinandhazel's photo
  • justinandhazel's photo
  • justinandhazel's photo
  • justinandhazel's photo
  • justinandhazel's photo
  • justinandhazel's photo
  • justinandhazel's photo
  • justinandhazel's photo
  • justinandhazel's photo
  • justinandhazel's photo
  • justinandhazel's photo
  • justinandhazel's photo
  • justinandhazel's photo
  • justinandhazel's photo
  • justinandhazel's photo
  • justinandhazel's photo
  • justinandhazel's photo
  • justinandhazel's photo
  • justinandhazel's photo
  • justinandhazel's photo
  • justinandhazel's photo
  • justinandhazel's photo
  • justinandhazel's photo
  • justinandhazel's photo
  • justinandhazel's photo

We didn’t know much of anything about Slovenia until we arrived there, but it is an absolutely wonderful place to visit.  Not too expensive, incredibly beautiful, lots of people speak English so it’s easy to get around.  Just wait until you see the countryside which is coming up!!!

3rd August
2011
written by Hazel
Smurf!

Smurf!

We decided to break up our train journey from Prague to Slovenia with a stop in Vienna.  Now this is a city that you hear a lot about, so we thought we shouldn’t miss it.  With the way the trains were scheduled we had just about a four hour stop.  We did our usual routine of finding a map and heading for the sights.  Fortunately, our Eurail pass was valid on the city train, so we were able to easily get into town from the train station.  As usual, click any of these pictures to see the gallery.

First up, the cathedral

First up, the cathedral

The weather was miserable.  Cold, windy, and little drops of rain now and then.  Even the carriage horses needed coats.

(more…)

2nd August
2011
written by Justin

Many of you are probably thinking: Why haven’t they gone up to see the castle yet!  It’s so spectacular!  I don’t know, but we never did end up going to see the castle.  We heard rumors of another sight not far from Prague that sounded so much more unique and exciting to me that we went there instead!  It was the Sedlec Ossuary, a church whose cellar is completely full of (and decorated with) human bones!  This is not the type of thing that even exists in the US so we jumped at the chance to go.  It took a two hour train ride to get to the town, a suburb of the city of Kutna Hora.

Sedlec Ossuary

Sedlec Ossuary

(more…)

2nd August
2011
written by Hazel

JAZZ!!!

As we walked around Prague we saw so many signs for live jazz that we knew we had to get out and see some.  And we met a very cool Dutch couple and an Irish guy at the hostel who wanted to come with us!  The first night we were there was a Sunday and so I went online to try to figure out what was going on in the town.  The internet in the hostel at that time was slow enough to be completely useless, so we ended up just marking some places on our map and heading out on the town.

We dubbed it the “Jazz Crawl” and aside from the company and the chance to see the famous clock strike at night time (there is no trumpet player at night) it was a jazz failure.  We went by about 5 different possible places.  Three of these were closed because it was Sunday.  One was expensive enough that we didn’t want to pay for it (although the music coming out of the doors sounded pretty good).  The one place where we actually heard a little jazz was called Jazz Republic and as far as I’m concerned gets a mixed review.  The music was just okay.  The atmosphere was pretty good except that even though they advertised it as free you could only get in for free if you sat in a tiny area at the back of the room where you couldn’t really see the band very well.

We decided to try again the next night and to abandon the “Jazz Crawl” concept.

Justin did a little research and our Dutch friends paid attention while they were out walking around and we all came to the same conclusion: Jazz Dock was the place for us.  And it was.  We were there while their summer workshop was going on, which meant that every night the workshop teachers and students would have a giant jam session.  It cost a little to get in, but very reasonable and the place had a great atmosphere.  So great that we went back for a second night in a row.  We had an amazing time, heard some great music, and loved getting to know our new friends.

If you’re looking for jazz in Prague, definitely check out Jazz Dock!

Previous
  • You are currently browsing the Justin and Hazel Around the World blog archives for August, 2011.