Saturday, October 07, 2006

Planes, trains and automobiles...

We took many different kinds of transportation on our journey. In no particular order: commercial jet airplanes, private buses (Poland), public buses (Croatia, Poland, Vienna), streetcars (Warsaw, Zagreb, Vienna, Prague), taxis (Dubrovnik, Vienna, Prague, Warsaw), private cars (Sopot/Gdansk), ferrys (Croatia), a catamaran ferry (Croatia), river cruise boats (Austria), a rental car (Croatia), subways (Vienna, Prague), trains (Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, Czech, Poland), commuter trains (Vienna, Sopot/Gdansk) and a night-train in a sleeper car (Prague to Warsaw).

And lets not forget a lot of walking :-)

It was fun! Didn't expect to do any driving, and the number of ways we got around by some sort of bus always surprises me, especially in Poland, where private buses are everywhere.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Lexan utensils

This is an odd post, but at times on our adventure, I kept asking myself "what have I really used, and, conversely, what do I regret packing and lugging around for thousands of kilometers across Eastern Europe"...

Several years ago I bought some lightweight lexan utensils for backpacking. They are light and strong. Especially since I was flying, anything handy like a metal knife or multi-tool was not an option. But the serrated blade on the lexan knife worked well in a pinch, and having a spoon and something to spread and cut with turned out to be really handy. Sounds like a small thing, and it is, but when you need utensils and you're stuck on a bus, boat or train, it's so satisfying to pull out your own set and dig in to some chow or open a tough package.

I was continuously happy I had them. Not to mention, the fake carabiner I had them attached to came in very handy as a bottle opener on a host of occasions, much in the same way many folks use lighters (although I discovered, in service to Ania, that Bacardi Breezer caps are virtually impossible to remove without a bloody pneumatic press, or, I suppose, a proper bottle opener ;-)

Peaches and Bees

So, one morning when I was at Ania's home in Krasnik, she asked me to go out into the yard and pick some peaches from her father's peach tree for brekkie. I went out to the tree which is near the detached garage, and saw several tempting peaches on some of the branches that were just out of reach. Naturally, I decided to climb up a bit and grab them, despite all the bees that seemed to be crowding together near the base of the tree (presumably after the nectar from the fruit that had fallen). Right as I turned to hoist myself into the tree - smack - I knocked my head on an unseen branch hanging a bit lower than the rest. What's more, I managed to hit myself with the one protruding stub of a smaller branch that had been broken off. So, not only did I get a nice goose-egg on my noggin, I had a nasty little bleeder on my skull. Not deterred, I swore under my breath and continued to climb for those delicious peaches... Inside I put pressure on my silly little wound, and enjoyed the fruit.

Two mornings later, as Ania and I were preparing to leave on the bus to Warsaw where we would spend our last night together, she went out to gather some peaches. I was inside getting my things together, but when she came back inside, she had been stung on the ball of her left foot by a bee ! I swear, that tree and its bees had it out for us ! It didn't seem too bad at first, but as the day went on, she began to notice it more and I felt really bad for her, since the next 24 hours was going to involve at least some walking, and carrying of bags, etc. In the Hotel Ibis in Warsaw, she kept dousing her foot with cool water. At least she isn't allergic, and it only lasted a couple days. Still, it was an unfortunate little thing to have happen right before I left.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Beer, sweets and coffee

Between us, we had a lot of all three.

The sweets in Vienna were amazing. I always say I don't really have a sweet-tooth, but in Vienna, even a hard-liner on dessert like myself is taken down a notch or two. Particularly memorable was the "Irish Cream Torte" we shared near the Naschmarkt. Honorable mention also goes to 1516 in Vienna, for a very nice apfel strudel. I also really enjoyed the ice cream in Korčula and in Gdansk, and there was a very memorable bannana-split I helped Ania eat in Ljubljana.

The coffee at the breakfast buffet for our hotel in Dubrovnik (Hotel Adriatic) was the most foul thing I've ever seen accused of being coffee. It was an insult to even the worst coffee I'd ever had: bitter, acrid, acidic, thin - they all apply - but somehow I still drank it in the vain hope that it did in fact contain caffeine. It literally didn't even taste like it was made from coffee, but it wasn't chickory either. I don't know what we drank those two mornings, but it was an awful, horrid, vile thing that I regret putting my body through.

In contrast, we had some very good coffee as well. As long as you're a little careful, it's hard to get bad coffee in Vienna. Prague is a different story - for some reason I've never had a satisfying coffee there, but I'm sure it's possible. I don't recall getting much coffee in Ljubljana except from the fantastic machine they had at the breakfast buffet at Hotel Emonec. Hands down the best coffee I've ever had from a machine. The machine ground the beans for each cup, and it had several options. So, with a little creativity, I was very satisfied with the coffee we were getting out of that contraption. The Josef K. Café in Sopot, Poland had really good coffee as well. They pulled a clean tasting espresso, with great cup appeal, and made a killer latté.

I drank a lot of beer. See the Beer Post for intimate details. Beer was refreshing and gave the sightseer energy. Ania and I agreed that she would enjoy sweets, and I would enjoy beer. I definitely held up my part of the bargain ;-) I learned a bit of politics and economics through beer: the rivalry between Union and Laško in Slovenia, for instance. I saw (and already suspected) that you can get a Guinness just about anywhere. Heineken and Carlsberg, too. I saw Croatians drinking Corona, and a Polish man buying American Budweiser in Warsaw. I saw all manner of odd things mixed with beer, among them: fruit juice, Coke, tonic, wine, other beer, and last but not least, coffee. Hot, spiced beer was on several menus in Eastern Poland, as was mulled wine. I saw high-schoolers in Poland walking along the Wisła with .5l cans of Warka, and old ladies in Austria with .5l mugs of Helles. In Slovenia, I watched a local slam a can of Laško before going to church. I love beer. I really do.

The Beer Post

If you think that making a list of beers is stupid, obsessive, anal retentive, boorish or simply a waste of time, then this post is not for you. If, on the other hand, you are curious about my impressions of the beer I drank on my trip, read on.

I really enjoyed sampling beer as I went along. I had some definites on my list - Budvar and Velkopopvický in Czech, Siebenstern Prager Dunkels and whatever Horst at 1516 had on tap in Vienna, Żywiec and Perła in Poland, but there were also many surprises. I'm sure I'm missing a few too. I drank a lot of beer, much of it pretty darned good :-) Anyplace a beer appears in italics, that means I had it, but it was not from the country I was drinking it in (notable here are Pilsner Urquell in Poland, Gösser in Slovenia and Guinness almost everywhere). Unless specifically noted, I'm commenting on tap beer.
  • on the LOT flight from Chicago to Warsaw, I had a few Żywiec in 330ml cans - not bad, but not anywhere as good as fresh & on tap
  • our first night in Poland, I had Pilsner Urquelle - interestingly, I enjoyed this more than any other P.U. I had on the trip
  • in Krakow I had Okocim, and Tatry from the can; also had Żywiec in a can on the Sky Europe flight to Dubrovnik
  • in Croatia I had: Karlovaško, Ožusko, Jadransko, Guinness, Laško and Velebitsko from a bottle
  • in Ljubljana: Laško Zlatorog, Union and Gösser
  • in Austria: Ottakringer Pils, Zipfer Pils, Kapsreiter Helles, Gösser, Guinness, Franziskaner Weizen, Wieselberger, Kaiser Fasstyp, Stiegl Pils; and at the brewpubs: 1516's Stout & Hop Devil, Siebenstern's Prager Dunkles, and both the Pils & the Gemischt from Salm Braü
  • in Prague I just went straight for the gold: Budweiser Budvar, Velkopopovický Kozel Svetle, Velkopopovický Kozel Černé and Pilsner Urquelle
  • back in Poland: Żywiec, Okocim, Koźlak, Tyskie, Pilsner Urquelle, Lech, Guinness, Perła Chmielowa and Warka
  • and last but not least, a few Żywiec in 330ml cans on the LOT flight back to Chicago

So, my impressions? Here are a few:
  • In Poland, if you like lager, Żywiec is a good bet, and you can find it nearly everywhere - it's the national beer, and worthy of the title (unlike many other "national beers"). I like Okocim, too, although it's got to be fresh. For dark, sweet Baltic Porter, Koźlak is very very nice, although on the sweet side for some, it goes down easy and smooth. Still, by far my favorite is Perła Chmielowa from Lublin - it is a brilliantly balanced beer, and stands up easily beside its peers in not only Poland, but in Czech, Austria and Germany as well. It's possible I'm biased because Lublin is near Ania's home, but I think it stands on its own quite handily - one of Poland's best.
  • In Croatia things got a little hard to follow. I had so many new beers in such a small time, and I wasn't particularly keen on taking copious notes with so much new to see. Still, having pizza in a plaza café on a hot day in Dubrovnik, I thouroughly enjoyed Ožusko. I don't remember any of the Croatian beers striking me as particularly unpleasant, although neither did anything really stick out too far above the rest. Overall I liked the beer in Croatia, however there was much better to come...
  • In Slovenia, I was surprised by what seemed like a real lack of beer choices. Slovenia is small, so I guess this makes sense. Union and Laško were bascially everywhere, and aside from the predictable imports like Gösser, Carlsberg and Guinness, there wasn't much else. I read a bit about a couple brewpubs in and around Ljubljana, but we didn't try any. With a bit more time, it might have been fun to explore a bit more and find some locally brewed beer. Alas, neither Union or Laško are bad, and I think I prefer the latter, but there didn't seem to be much choice. In fact, to be dreadfully honest, I think I drank more Gösser, which is from Austria (and not particularly remarkable), than anything else while in Ljubljana.
  • Austria. Now we're getting somewhere :-) Beer aplenty, and some of it has got to be some of the best beer anywhere. Seriously good beer in Vienna. I knew this after living there, but every time I go back I'm more and more certain of it. Kent and I were both surprised at how good fresh Zipfer was on tap at Da Capo restaurant, and Siebenstern's Prager Dunkles and 1516's Stout both really stood-out as excellent examples of the craft.
  • Czech was nice. I didn't get any Regent, which I was hoping to find fresh and on tap, but besides that, I thouroughly enjoyed both Velkopopovický Kozel varieties that I had, and Budvar, of course. P.U. is always nice, but Budvar and Velko easily best it from most taps, in my opinion.

Some memorable beer moments:

  • while eating tasty pizza in Dubrovnik, Ožusko on a HOT day.
  • in Dubrovnik, sitting at the "Most Beautiful View" with a cold Ožusko (neither claim on the sign was wrong)
  • the Pilsner Urquelle I had in a 1 liter mug at Podwale in Warsaw
  • fresh Budvar in Old Town Square in Prague at night
  • Perła at a café alongside the Wisła in Kazimerz Dolny in Poland
  • the Prager Dunkles from Siebenstern in Vienna, in the biergarten, under a chestnut tree with Ania and Kent
  • sipping Guinness in the Old Town in Lublin
  • Koźlak on tap in the Café Josef K. in Sopot

There were many other great beer moments, but those were the most memorable. In retrospect, I could have kept better notes (especially in Croatia), and I could have tried a lot more than I did, but as it was, I had fun exploring some new beers, and confirming my opinion on several others. Getting Koźlak fresh from the tap was a nice and unexpected treat in Sopot. The stout that Horst was serving at 1516 in Vienna was astoundingly good - I wish I could remember its full name (Kent would laugh at me for not remembering). As I pointed out in a previous post, Siebenstern's Prager Dunkles in Vienna is probably my favorite dark lager anywhere. Budvar in Czech is wonderful, but Velko light takes the prize there if you ask me.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Back again...

I got home last night - arrived in Albuquerque right on schedule, just before 21:00. I was tired but in relativley good spirits, considering. My house is fine, and I have two frantically active kitties, who seemed very happy to see me.

I'll post more later after I sort things out a little bit around here~

Friday, September 22, 2006

So, Heidi can post !!

So happy to read Heidi's post. Glad everyone is keeping up with us by reading the blog. I'm in Gdansk on the Baltic coast of Poland today. Ania and I are renting a small flat in the nearby resort town of Sopot, and took the train in today to sightsee and visit a cousin of hers who lives in Gdansk. We made it to the Baltic! It's been quite a journey, cutting a swath across Europe from the Adriatic to the Baltic, and getting a nice cross-section of the Slavic world in the process. In this context, Vienna is an interesting little peninsula of Teutonic influence jutting out into the Slavic parts of Europe. Yet, so much of the architecture and culture many other places we have been owes a debt to Vienna, from the days of the Hapsburgs. We left Vienna on Monday, and got to Prague at about 20:30.

Considering its reputation, it may sound odd, but Prague was an expensive detour. Although I tried in good faith to cancel our first nights' reservation in Prague, as I suspected, it wasn't exactly successful, so when we got to the pension we were staying in, we got charged for both nigths, instead of the one we actually stayed. Prague is such an odd set of contrasts - more than any other place we've visited on this trip. It knows well its identity as a tourist Mecca, however, it also seems firmly entrenched in its own traditions - sometimes difficult to understand when you seem them side-by-side. Prices are now inflated to match its tourist identity, and you have a hard time avoiding paying what you know is much more than you should for certain things. Everyday items in shops are dirt cheap, but even a pack of gum from a kiosk near Stare Mesto (old town) is the same as you'd pay in Vienna. Our Pension was a bit outside the main city areas, and we wound up in taxis more than I'd have liked. Nothing like the insane cab ride Heidi and I took five years ago, but we did get nailed with the late night tourist tax in a cab at 02:00 to get from Charles Bridge back to our Pension. The Pension was a bit out of the way, but quite comfortable, and we wished we'd had more time to enjoy it. We had a palatial room (at a palatial price, I might add, especially considering we paid double for it), which did include a nice brekkie in an adjacent restaurant, which had a typically Czech cellar with low red-brick ceilings and wooden accoutrements. Since we were taking a night train from Prague to Warsaw, we had all day the next day to sightsee in Prague, after checking out of the pension at 11:00.

We dodged the throngs of tourists in the old town as we walked toward the Mucha Museum, which I really wanted to see, and hadn't seen before in my previous visits. It was great! Just the right size, and I learned a lot about Mucha that I didn't know before. But - to see those oiginals. Oh my :-) For me it was a more intimate experience than the Klimt gallery in the Belvedere in Vienna. We picked up a few goodies in the accompanying shop, and contuned on toward the other side of Charles Bridge.

The night before, after dealing with the squirrely checkin at the pension, we took a tram into the old town. Ania will post her impressions, but suffice to say Prague by night is truly a spectacle. Every time I see it, it gets more and more under my skin. We sat at one of the cafes lining Old Town Square, and had food and drinks. The Budvar-Budweiser was sublime :-) especially in that setting. We then enjoyed a walk out along Charles Bridge, and Ania patiently waited as I went nuts taking time exposure pictures up and down the Vlatva. We continued our walk, and found a secluded nook alongside the statue of some anonymous saint, and had a very romantic interlude. It was cute to watch other couples occupying other similar nooks and crannies along the bridge. We were in the right place for our mood.

The next day, after the Mucha Museum, we ran across an interesting thing... an ambassador from Tibet (or someone - it wasn't clear who), was emerging from some state building, and was escorted away under full police gaurd and motorcade. We had a nice meal after that, in a little cafe looking over the Vlatva, and I had another beer epiphany - Velkopopovicky Kozel dark. I'd had two of my favorite beers in the world in as many days - ahh Prague :-) Eventually we made it up to Prague Castle, although the weather had been threatening rain all day, and it was getting breezy up on the hill. We took a brisk stroll down the Golden Lane, which is a quaint area made famous by Franz Kafka, and took in the views from the steps leading up to the castle itself. We did some more strolling along the streets of the old city, and stopped for some food for the train.

Eventually, around 19:00, we collected our bags from the pension, and made for the main train station, where we sat, ruminating on the potentially rough night we had ahead of us on the train from Prague to Warsaw. We had purchased our tickets earlier in the day (which turned out to be our saving grace, as the sleeper-car was full), and, unlike the tickets from Vienna to Prague, which cost about twice what I thought they should have (€87 for both), we got what I thought was a great deal on what turned out to be 1st class sleeper-car tickets to Warsaw. Instead of a nightmare 6-bunk cabin with 4 strangers, we were treated to a wonderful 2-bunk private cabin all to ourselves. In the station before we left, Ania had a little time left on a phone card she had bought, so we called my parents in the States. We both talked to my father for a while, and it was really cool to touch base that way.

The first part of the journey out of Prague saw many stops, and there was a lot of noise, making it hard for us, and Ania in particular, to sleep. The rain the had been threatening all day finally came, and as we started to climb into the mountains to the east of Prague, things got charachteristically grey and glum in the sleepy old stations we kept stopping at. Finally, we crossed the border near Ostrava, and after the passport check, we had hardly any stops. We both fell soundly to sleep, and were woken-up with only about 30 minutes to go to Warsaw by our conductor at about 06:30. I actually felt relatively rested, and I could tell just by Ania's face that she had gotten some sleep too.

In another scheduling near-miss, we caught the train to Gdansk/Sopot from Warsaw with only a few minutes to spare in between our arrival from Prague and its departure from Warsaw. We knew that it might be difficult to catch this train, and were prepared to waint in Warsaw until the next one at nearly 09:00, but as we arrived, the only other train on the platform in Warsaw (and the opposite side of the very one we arrived at!) was the one we needed to catch to get to Sopot. What fortunate timing. I might add that it is SO NICE to have Ania to translate. Polish, although I am slowly learning bits and pieces, is impenetrable, and I am incredibly fortunate to have a native speaker to travel with here. Questions get answered quickly and accurately, and not in broken English or vaguely correct German (mine). This ride went easy, and we arrived in Sopot just before noon.
We had a couple of hours to kill before we could meet the owner of the flat we are staying in, so we found a really really cool cafe right off the main drag in Sopot - the Josef K. Café. It had comfy couches and good espresso, and it felt good not to be on the go for a bit. We moved on from there still with time to spare, and rather than lug our bags around in an attempt to sightsee, we ate a small lunch at a nearby restuarant serving traditional Polish food. This was a good place to remind myself how much I like Polish beer. No, Czech definitely is the top of the heap (although Vienna isn't shabby either - more about that in my "beer post" coming later), but beer in Poland is good. Damn good. So are the prices. Poland, much like Slovenia, is still incredibly affordable, and a nice contrast after Prague, and, even more so, Vienna. Our flat is a bit of a hike from the train station, but it was worth it. Ania handled all the arrangements, for which I was thankful. We have a neat and tidy 2-room apartment with a kitchen. It is comfortable and relatively quiet, and a nice change from our hectic schedule since leaving the relative splendour of Kent's place in Vienna. We took a little nap, as, despite our relatively restful night on the train, we were still exhausted. I might add that the weather here is sublime :-) Low 20's during the day, and a downright chilly 10C last night. It's sunny though - not a cloud in the sky - and we spent several hours yesterday just relaxing on the beach. We didn't venture fully into the water as we had in the Adriatic, but I was still tempted enough to go in up to my waist. It was pretty cold at first, but as the nerves numbed themselves, it was nice ;-) haha. But, for the first time this whole trip, I'm downright comfortable walking around, and not dripping with sweat at every turn. It feels good.

As we were making our way from Vienna, through Prague, and up here to the coast of Poland, I began to notice that autumn is definitely around the corner. In the foothills of the Tatras in Czech, the birches were starting to turn, and the willows in Prague had little touches of gold on their branches. Further north, similar signs of fall are evident, and it seemed that in the outskirts of Warsaw I noticed more color than when we'd been there a couple weeks before. The Baltic coast is nice. Very nice. Differences in architecture and lifestyle almost reminiscent of Danish or even Dutch zeitgeist. This is definitely a different place than the far East of Poland where we will be headed tomorrow - Lublin and Kraśnik.

Our first night in Sopot we walked out along the longest modern pier in Europe - a full 500m. The views of Gdansk and Glowny off in the distance were neat, and the old lighthouse and luxurious Grand Hotel along the water in Sopot were compelling. We stopped in a very groovy little restaurant (called Euforia) along the main street in Sopot that served mainly Italian food, and I had a delicious sampling of local seafood in a taglitelli frutti de mare. Italian food, but with a nice baltic twist. The mussels were fresh, and not as big as the ones you'd get in Ireland, which is more to my liking. It had squid, octopus and crab, and little prawns that were delicious.
As good as it was, Ania and I both agree that of all the places we've visited, Vienna is a gastronomic paradise. Maybe not quite up there with London or New York, but for my tastes, it's hard to beat.

If it might make things easier, I am going to review the rules I set-up for posting and making comments. I'd really love to hear from anyone and everyone who cares to drop a quick note here. I don't want to totally monopolize Ania's cousin's computer so I wont upload any more pictures for now, but more will come soon.

Hope everyone is well! I'll be returning in a week, which will be a sad moment for the two of us, but this trip has been incredible so far. I'll be coming back with so many new impressions, and, although I know it sounds a touch melodramatic, I'd have to say not the same person as when I left. Travel gives us (well, me anyways) perspective. I hope my postcards have started rolling in. I've sent a bundle, and although I know some were not given the right postage, I hope they make it. I tried the shotgun approach, so I'm sure some will arrive. Which ones, we'll see :-) Enough for now. We have Gdansk to see! Dowidzenia!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Faithful Reading by Gheester

Nice pics! The water ones amazed Brian and I, who were looking at them last nite. Like the ones of you two too, some of them are really cute. Jaime-your hair is so long! You look like your sister when it is that long-I bet if you stuck us side by side, we would look like fraternal twins at this point! Anyway, just wanted to let you know that I have been faithfully reading the blog and anxiously await updates. I have to admit-my heart sunk a little when reading about your adventures in Wien-I would have LOVED to be there with you two, I have such a fondness for that city. Reminds me that I need to get back there. Soon. Well, keep enjoying each other and your adventures, can't wait to hear about Prague!!! (Ahhh-Prague)......

Monday, September 18, 2006

leaving Vienna today

Just a quick post to say that Vienna has been really nice. Not only sightseeing and rediscovering, but hospitality, relaxation and the comforts of home - all thanks to Kent. I always forget how good things are here. Food and drink in Vienna are amongst the best anywhere, and we enjoyed it all fully. We leave in a few hours to Prague, and hopefully still have accomodations ;-)

Until next time !

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Just the two of us ...

I just added a few more from the later half of our trip! Enjoy~

Here are some pictures of the two of us together... so nice to have such a romantic time when traveling :-)

Sunday Morning and all is well in Vienna

We've spent the last couple days enjoying Wien and environs. We spent some time yesterday at the Naschmarkt - Vienna's largest open-air market - perusing the goods, produce and other items for sale. We bought some cheese filled olives, hummus and falafel from a vendor on the Naschmarkt, which were very oily. Inevitably, I wound up spilling olive oil all over my shorts, and had to launder them in a public toilet - much to Ania's amusement. We also got some great baklava, an enjoyed it with Viennese coffee near the Naschmarkt.

We walked a bit further, and Ania spied a Konditorei - a specialty bakery - with some very appealing looking treats. I had been raving about the dessert delights to be found in Vienna, and unfortunately our first attempt at an intense dessert fix a couple days before was a bit underwhelming. This was not, and even I (not having the sweet tooth that Ania does) was impressed. We had flavored cream filled "torten", and I'm not sure but Ania might have blacked-out for a few seconds in a sugar and chocolate induced coma ;-)

We walked by the famous Secession House and snapped a few pictures. The facade was done by Alfons Mucha, one of my favorites along with Gustav Klimt. We walked by the Stadtsoper, and the Sacher Cafe, home of the famous Sachertorte. Being Saturday afternoon, it was bulging at the seams with tourists and locals enjoying the elegance of Vienna's finest coffeshops. Ania wanted more time to stroll along the Graben and Kärtnetstraße, the big shopping streets in the city center. We bobbed in and out of shops - a window shoppers delight. It had grown cloudy, and was starting to spit a little rain - finally a taste of the Vienna weather I rememberd.

We continued our leisurely walk around the city's center and historical district, and meandered past horse-drawn carriages and tourists, until we found ourselves in Judenplatz - which is at the center of Vienna's Jewish Quarter. There is a holocaust monument there with the names of all the concentration camps, and the number of Polish names really stands out. Sobering reminders of the more recent history of this part of the world. The weather was a bit gloomy, and seemed appropriate for the melancohlic mood of the memorial.

We eventually returned to Kent's house, and found nobody home. He came in right on our heels from shopping, and Ania took a nap as he and I talked about photography and computers and other things. After a while we all three headed out to Salm Braü, another of Vienna's fine brewpubs, built into one of the palace walls of the Belvedere, where we'd seen lots of fine art (including Klimt's "Judith" and "Der Kuß") the day before.

The food and beer was really remarkable. We were treated to more rain, in typical Vienna style, and really really really tasty food. Salm also makes and exports "brewery in a box" setups, many of which can be seen in other brewpubs in Austria and even some places in the States. It was a nice evening, and we returned to Kent's place to wile away the rest of the evening with a couple more drinks and some story telling. My antics over the years provided plently of fuel for both Kent and Ania to discuss, with me humbly smiling and looking on. It was a pleasant way to spend a Saturday.

We were planning on going to Prague today, however we canceled our first night's accomodation there in favor of one more night here with Kent. He's been very hospitible, and has made us feel very much at home over the last week. Espeically having access to laundry and other amenities, as well as a large and comfortable bed to rest our tired walking feet, we both are grateful for his hospitality.

We will go to Prague tomorrow for just one night, and dodge the tourists in the old town there. I do want to see the Mucha museum there, and drink some good Czech beer. This last week in Vienna has been a great chance for me to rediscover a city I consider almost a second home, and a nice chance for me to introduce Ania to it. We've also had a more relaxed pace than our first 10 days on the road, which was really nice. After Prague, we'll be on a LONG train to Sopot, on the Baltic coast of Poland.


Friday, September 15, 2006

Happy Friday !

We spent yesterday cruising on the Danube along the Wachau valley to the northwest of Vienna. It was a beautiful sunny day, and we were really impressed with the views of the castles, monastaries and abbeys along the river. Although I've been to many of the towns there (Krems, Melk and Dürnstein), I had never taken a cruise along the river. It was very romantic :-) We had a wonderful time, and, although it might have been nice to have more time in each place along the way, the views were spectacular, and I learned a little more about the history along that stretch of the Danube than I had known before.

We are headed off to the Belvedere palace this afternoon, to visit the Gustav Klimt exhibit, and view, among other works, his most famous - "Der Kuß". This evening, we'll probably go to a pub or two, and enjoy some socializing with the Friday night crowd in Vienna. We began the day with a relaxed brekkie which I was happy to be able to prepare for Ania. Such a treat to be able to cook for someone, and Kent's nice kitchen makes it an extra pleasure.

So, enjoy Friday and the weekend ! I know we will :-)


Wednesday, September 13, 2006

colored pencils

When we were in Plitiviče National Park in Croatia, Ania aptly pointed out how surreal the color of the water was, and how it reminded her of colored pencils from when she was young. It was this almost spooky shade of blue. The geology there is mostly limestone, so the sand and rock under the water is pale white. This makes the color from above look like this crazy translucent aquamarine. It's really hard to describe, and I'm not even sure if the pictures will do it justice. It was almost hyptnotic, and - in my case anyhow - I felt drawn in by it if I looked too long (although any thoughts of jumping in were quickly dashed away by all the schools of carp swarming around anything that moved in the water - obviously hoping for handouts).

Wednesday night and Ania is staring at me with quizzical eyes

I got uncharachteristically frightened today as we took an elevator up through the mezzanine of Karlskirche - one of Vienna's finest Baroque cathedrals. They are currently restoring all the frescoes on the inside of the dome, and there is scaffolding lining it and the choir. They're letting people go all the way up, which is pretty neat, execpt... it was not super sturdy feeling, and there was a 10 person limit posted, and there were probably 25 people on the thing. I had a tiny moment of terror as my lizard brain decided that this was patently unsafe and we were all about to topple about 20 meters to the floor of the cathedral. Of course nothing happened, but I don't usually have such fear of heights. It was pretty funny in hindsight, but there was this moment of abject terror as I saw my life ending in a pile of twisted metal and 400 year old plaster. Alas, the perils of travel. At the very least, maybe our fall could have been broken by the "United Buddy Bears" exhibit that was outside the cathedral on Karlsplatz. They lined the reflecting pool, and represented most of the countries in the world. Some like the Irish one were obvious, and others, like the one from Poland, were not so obvious, but equally interesting. I don't know for certain. but we got the impression that the bears were a traveling exhibit - so you never know - you might find them somewhere close to you in a few years.

Eating in Vienna is always an exciting experience. I had my first schitzel today - at the Siebenstern brewpub, which incidentally brews what Kent and I have surmised to be the finest dark beer anywhere. It was a fine meal - we ate in the biergarten - the garlic cream soup was divine - and the beer was teriffic. Company wasn't bad either ;-)

Ania is impressed with the scale of the architecture in Vienna. Being the heart of the Hapsburg empire for so long, the buildings have a grandness that you don't find many other places. Things here happened on a grand scale, and it is impressive. When you walk through the Hofberg palace complex (where we had a nice picnic lunch), the scale of the thing is a little tough to grasp, especially the first time through.

hair longer, haha

I can almost pull my hair all the way back now, which is nice, considering it's been fairly warm most of where we've been, and it feels nice to have it off my neck.

Ania and I made it to Vienna two nights ago in fine shape, and got to Kent's house shortly thereafter. We had a 6 hour train ride up from Ljubljana, however, the time passd quickly for most of the journey because we were fortunate to sit with a really well informed Slovenia man who was a professor of Philosophy, and had a lot to say. It was one of those travel experiences you always hope to have. Among other things, it was really cool to hear his perspective on the Yugoslavian breakup in the '90s.

It's nice to see Vienna again. Really nice. Ania and I are taking advantage of our relaxed schedule and sleeping in. I made Ania a nice breakfast yesterday, and we did some laundry, and then went out to the Hundertwasser house, which is only a couple blocks from here. We're still very fortunate and the weather is holding - nice blue skies, and warm temperatures.

Vienna is a bit different than last time I was here 5 years ago. Lots more English is spoken now, and things seem like they are becoming more and more cosmopolitan, if that's possible in a place that is already one of the more cosmopolitan cities in the world. Yesterday evening, we waited to meet Kent at the U-bahn platform in front of the Vienna International Center where he UN/IAEA is, and seeing all the people from so many different places around the world reminded me quickly of how much of a crossroads Vienna is, and has been for a long time in its history.
I also had a chance to show Ania my old apartment building and the neighborhood around it and the Danube, and we even had Indian samosas from the little Indian shop that was (and remains) on the block I lived on.

I'll try posting some pictures now...

Monday, September 11, 2006

On to Vienna

We leave Ljubljana today for Vienna. It's been a really nice stay here. I'll make a plug for the Hotel we stayed in - Hotel Emonec. It is clean, tidy, has a really nice brekkie included with the room, and is right in the heart of the city. I can't imagine it being better for the price.

I'm psyched to be heading to Vienna today. We still have the rest of the morning and early afternoon in Ljubljana, and then we have a 7 hour train through the mountains to Vienna.

Figs... we ate fresh figs in Korčula (I still can't get Korčula out of my head - it was such a nice place). Here in Slovenia, we enjoyed a central cafe each night we were here where they had the most amaying desserts, and better beer than several other places we tried. Great people watching too, and frequented by locals as well as tourists. Slovenes have shown to be very friendly. Ahhh.


Sunday, September 10, 2006

Moving along

Dobry den !

We liked Ljubljana so much the first day we were here, we decided to cancel our plans to see Lake Bled (so we just have to see it some other time), and stay here one more night. Heading to Vienna tomorrow.

I'm very excited to be able to show Ania Vienna. Seeing my old buddy Kent (who we will stay with) is going to be cool too. It will be fun to have Ania meet some of my friends. It will also be a chance for me to upload some of my pictures, which I'm really anxious to share.

Ljublana is so nice. It's been fortunate we've had marvelous, sunny weather. Ironic that I'd be getting tan here, while in Albuquerque I tend to keep out of the sun. Things are extremely neat and tidy here - almost reminicent of the Netherlands in an odd way. And, since they are just on the verge of switching over to the Euro (you can use either the local currency - tolar - or Euros almost everywhere even though the Euro isn't quite official yet), the prices are incredible. Now is the time to be here. Food and drink is cheap, even compared to Croatia, and the room we have in this great little hotel is a fantastic value for the money. Even so, there is an air of affluence here that wasn't as obvious in Croatia, and generally it feels much more mainstream Europe than just across the border. Zagreb is still only about 150km away, but this feels in many ways like a different world. For one thing, it's very comfortable. I'm not constantly drenched in sweat as I had been just about everwhere in Croatia. We're up in the mountains, and you can tell. Ljubljana is ringed with hills, and off in the distance in just about every direction are extremely tall mountains.

Yesterday we toured the castle here, and had a nice history lesson in ˝virtual museum˝ with 3D glasses and everything. This city has been important since Roman times, and there is a lot of the same sort of connection to the Hapsburg world as you find in Vienna, Prague and other big cities in this part of Europe.

Amusingly, we found a really good Mexican restaurant here ! I was surprised, as normally Mexican food is pretty sketchy in Europe. But this is pretty good. Ania enjoyed it so much the first night, we went back again last night. And, she ate Jalepenos without flinching, and they were respectably hot (no, no New Mexican green chile, but what could one expect). Anyhow, the traditional food is good here too. Mostly what you would expect - a mix of Alpine and Mediterranean, with the ubiquitous gulasch and similar dishes. So far, I'd say I like Croatian beer better than what I've tried here, but that may just be because I haven't tried the right ones (yet!).

Ok, more of Ljubljana awaits.


So, one of the things you never count on is how just a little while in some places can be really rewarding. On our way from Warsaw to Dubrovnik, we had a few hours to kill in Krakow, and although not really a destination, it was fun to walk around Krakow again, taking in some sights I remembered from my trip a year ago, and some new ones as well. We had lunch at a traditional Georgian restaurant we had enjoyed eating at before, and it was neat to feel like we were ale to cover familiar ground.

Similarly, in Split Croatia, we had just a few hours, but we made the best of it. It was very cool to see the palace of Diocletian, and the giant open air market there. I suppose we could have enjoyed more of it, but what we saw was nice, and more or less unplanned, but definitely added to the sightseeing. Little stops like that really make the days seem full.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

It is amazing the difference 15 minutes can make...

In Slovenia now, and what an adventure is has been since Dubrovnik. Lots to tell...

We left Dubrovnik much later than anticipated, as we missed the main bus to the island of Korčula and had to sit in the Dubrovnik bus terminal begin bugged incessantly by local ladies holding signs for ˝Sobe - Zimmer - Rooms˝ - it got annoying after the umpteenth time. At least the terminal had comfortable benches and was air conditioned.

We finally got on the bus and wound our way northward along the Dalmatian coast to the town of Orebič, where we caught the last ferry - at 22:45 - to Korčula. We were still about 3km from the town itself, and we were lucky to find someone to call us a taxi into town. We had called ahead from Dubrovnik to let the proprietress of the B&B we were staying in know we would be very late, but still we wer all relieved when we finally arrived at her house.

It was a wondeful place to stay, and relatively inexpensive to boot. It was dark at first of course, but in the morning we awoke to the most amazing view! We had a window looking out over the bay, and there were fishing boats gently bobbing on the crystal blue water. Wow! We were only a few meters from our own little bit of beach, and a few hundred meters to the old town.

Korčula is said to be the birthplace of Marco Polo, and, as we found out later that evening, we were incredibly fortunate, as we were there for an annual celebration of the seige of Korčula, where the Genoan navy had captured Marco Polo and brought him home to Korčula in chains. There was a mock naval battle as the Genoan fleet circled around the harbour, with cannon firing from both sides. As the story goes, finally the Genoan attackers prevailed against Korčula, and they brought Marco Polo home, but as a captive. Well, the big thrill after the reenactment was that the whole town came out to party, with free food (sausages, hamburgers, bread and mussels) and wine! We drank and ate our fill, and enjoyed a spectacular evening with a waxing moon, clear skies, and ocean breezes. Really, really cool. We found a nice cafe and enjoyed live folk songs, local beer (Croatian beer is plentiful, cheap and quite good) and an ambiance that could'nt be beat.

We started to realize that this place was too nice to leave the next day, so we arranged another night with Tereza DaPolo at Villa DaPolo, and spent the day relaxing in the sun (me a little too much sun), and swimming in the adriatic. That night we had a nice meal on the walls of the old city, and strolled along the docks, among other vacationers from all around the world, moored on their fancy boats and catamarans. It was definitely a little highlight of the adventure so far. I would love to someday go back and explore the rest of the island, as it has some hilly inland regins that were covered with olives and pines and limes, and seemed ideal for some hiking and camping.

We had to depart Korčula fro the big Dalmatian coast city of Split the next morning extremely early, on a ferry that left at 06:00. We made the ferry, and Ania amused me at one point by showing me a lemon she had picked from Tereza's private garden (which she had invited us to take from). Split was HOT (33C). We needed to get to Plitviče National Park that day, but we had no luck finding a good bus connection. So... after some coffee at a little cafe near the bus station, we decided to rent a car. Oh boy, I would get to drive in Croatia... We arranged a one way rental for two days, and would drop tha car off at the Zagreb airport. We had a few hours until we needed to pick up the car, so we had time to explore Split a little. I was thrilled about this, because I really wanted to see the Palace of Diocletian, which is one of the best preserved Roman ruins anywhere. We wandered a bit amongst the palace grounds, took lots of photos, and then explored the basement network of the palace. It was very cool - I was most impressed with all the infrastructure to handle water and sewage, but also the pressig of olive oil. It was really cool to see the channels, presses and containers all for dealing with moving olives and olive oil around.

After the palace we got some little filled baked goodies of Hungarian origin, and then explored a giant outdoor market, and bought some fresh veggies. Lettuce, basil, tomatoes, green beans and peppers. Mmmmmm... very tasty. Eventually we got out car, a little Renault Clio. It was a standard, and although the key fob had an interestingly stuck contact that caused the lock to engage and disengage pretty much with a mind of its own, there weren't any other issues with the car. Renting was a perfect idea, because we had some ability to make our own schedule. Getting out of Split was pretty easy, and on the open road we got to see the inland countryside of Coroatia. We were on the seaward side of the mountains, and it was relatively dry, especially by European standards. Away from the coast, the olives and palms were replaced by junipers and other scrubby plants, and it was reminiscent of th American Southwest. Then, after climbing a pass and several tunnels, we emegred on the leeward side of the mountains, and it was all beech and pine and hemlock, adn reminded me a lot of New York State. I could see I was going to enjoy this side of Croatia as well. We were spitting distance from Bosnia, and there was some evidence along the motorway (which was brand new and in excellent condition) of the war. Many small houses that had been destroyed hadn't been rebuilt, and the next day outside of Zagreb, we passed a memorial with lots of wreckage of tanks and aircraft - sobering reminders of the recent history here. Still, it seemed very safe, and Croatians in general were very friendly and accomodating.

We finally found Plitviče National Park, and our guest house. It was really good we had the car, as I don't know how we could have found our accomodations from the bus. What a cute little place it was. A littel mountan chalet, run by a little man who spoke no English (a first!) and only a tiny bit of German. Luckily my German (such as it is) came in handy.

That brings us to yesterday. We awoke to partly cloudy weather, and to me it looked like it could rain (and boy was I right). But, it didn't start raining until we'd had a chance to tour the park in the morning. Plitviče is an inerconnected series of lakes and waterfalls, all in a series of gorges. The geology is mainly white limestone, which gives the water a remarkable and almost hypnotizing blue color. We got to take a boat around a bit, which was very relaxing, on the blue water, with schools of carp and ducks looking for handouts. We jiked around the main waterfalls, and it was spectacular. Wait until I get the pictures of that place up!

We finished our tour in the early afternoon, had a meal of pancakes (Ania) and trout (me), and beer of course, and right as the rains came. Up until then, we'd had wonderful sunny weather. After some last minute postcard writing, we headed back on the road to Zagreb. We knew at this point that we'd missed the early train to Ljubljana from Zagreb we'd originally intended to take, so we were somewhat winging it... and now to the title of this post...

We found the airport in an immense and intense driving rain, and delivered the car in short order (with a tiny little adventure topping up the car with gas). We hopped on a bus that would take us to the main bus station, and then onto a tram to the main train station. We arrived and checked the departure board, and saw that there was a train leaving in 15 minutes that would get us to Ljubljana at about 20:45 - giving us comfortable time to find our hotel (where I am right now). What delicious luck we had. Although, when the Croatian passport control office looked at Ania's passport on the way out, we got asked a lot of questions for some reason, but we had all of our trip documents and such, and nothing came of it.

There's so much more to write, but Ljubjana awaits, and we should go explore.

Until next time!!!!

Monday, September 04, 2006

In Dubrovnik !

So, the Adriatic is everything I'd hoped !

I flew into Warsaw 3 days ago now - that was Friday, and Ania and I have spent the last two days in Dubrovnik, Croatia. We're leaving in about an hour, and as I expected, our stay here has been too short. I'll write more about Dubrovnik when I am not paying for my time, but suffice to say it definitely met and exceeded my expectations. And, Dalmatian food and beer are both wonderful. Ania and I are having a brilliant time. We just were out wading in the surf, dodging very tan Italians on the waves. No card reader on this compy, but I'll have pictures posted to Flickr when I get to Kent's in about a week.

Impressions... without beating the geopolitical horse too much, it's amazing and heartbreaking to think of this place under the pall of war but a scant decade or so ago. It's done a remarkable job of recovering, and is a treasure. Although toursim is strong here, it doesn't feel overrun like it could (of course, if we had come here a month ago it might have been that way). The weather has been great (in fact we're slathered in sunscreen, most of which I'm sewating off in short order). Our hotel balcony had a great view onto a harbour - the blues of the water and the red rooftops and green of the limes, cypress and rhododendrons is intoxicating.

We head to the island of Korčula by bus and ferry in about an hour - hopefully I'll have a chance for an update there too.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Off I go...

Charles just called, and he's on his way to pick me up and take me to the airport. So, it begins ! More when I can ...


Here's the basic itinerary for my trip:

Aug 31 - Albuquerque (ABQ) -> Chicago (ORD) -> Warsaw (WAW)
Sep 01 - arrive in Warsaw, Poland
Sep 02 - train to Krakow, then fly to Dubrovnik (DBV), Croatia
Sep 04 - bus or ferry to Korćula, Croatia
Sep 06 - ferry to mainland at Split, bus to Plitvice National Park, Croatia
Sep 08 - bus to Zagreb, Croatia, then train to Ljubljana, Slovenia
Sep 10 - train to Lake Bled, Slovenia
Sep 11 - train to Vienna, Austria
Sep 17 - train to Prague, Czech Republic
Sep 19 - train to Warsaw, Poland
Sep 20 - train from Warsaw to Sopot, Poland
Sep 23 - train from Sopot to Krasnik, Poland
Sep 28 - bus to Warsaw, Poland
Sep 29 - fly Warsaw (WAW) -> Chicago (ORD) -> Albuquerque (ABQ)

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

a fistfullof € ...

... and some definite pre-flight jitters, but I'm basically ready to leave. Leaving for a month is a bit of a challenge, I'd say. But not as much as I thought, and honestly, I'm finding it relatively easy, with some preperation, to put my normal life aside for a bit and submit to my thirst for adventure.

I'm meeting Ania, which triples the excitement for me. We haven't been together in person since Christmas, so this will really be a nice reunion for us. I'm counting the hours until I am able to look out on the Baltic Sea knowing I'll be in Warsaw soon. I can't wait to stroll down that jetway and find Ania waiting.

Summer is just wrapping-up here in New Mexico, and I know when I return at the end of September it will be over, and autumn will be in the air. It's been a fantastic summer for us here, with record rainfall and relatively low temperatures - it's a rare August when the desert is green. It'll be nice to transition from this season to the next in Europe. It will be nice to come back to Albuquerque and
see all the traditional signs of autumn - yellow cottonwoods, blue skies, balloons and roasting green chile. In a way, one of the best parts of leaving is coming home...

Monday, August 28, 2006

First Post!

Hello! As most of you already know, I'll be in Europe for the next month or so, and I had this great idea at the last minute (ha!) that I'd create a blog for the trip. I'll do my best to keep up with this along the way. We'll see how good I am ;-)

More as I get closer to leaving (Thursday morning).