Camel toes, cheap wine and a bad joke
Trip Start Aug 27, 2003
4Trip End Oct 13, 2003
Map your own trip!
Show trip route
my last log was left in Graz in Austria where i flew back to london for a few days before returning and heading north to Vienna.
after a long train journey and faced with a complicated underground system (its not really) and with two rejections from full hostels i finally dumped my bags at around midnight. luckily the next day was superb, vienna was all that i had imagined with a lively town centre and a wealth of ornate buildings including the exceptional St Stephens Cathedral with its patterned roof tiles and the imposing Habsburg palace seemingly surrounding the old town. after a quick look at all the mainstream sights, i managed to find a lesser known series of buildings inc
the afternoon was gloomy and by nightfall the heavens had opened, so there was not really a chance to see vienna by night, most cities i believe look better at night. Given the rain and my limited time i was keen to escape the western european feel and head into Hungary and peak behind the old iron curtain. The next morning i headed to a town called Sopron (pron Shop-ron)just over the hungarian border and the change was immediately apparent. The magyars as the hungarians call themselves are a proud race that is the one exception in this region that does not descend from the Slavs, hence the language is entirely different, even an accomplished linguist would struggle with this one! after finding that sopron couldnt keep me entertained for too long and with the added crappy weather, i decided to cancel my accomm. for that night and catch the evening train to Budapest..luckily i convinced the owner that i shouldnt pay half the cost of accomm. and instead bought a couple of pints at the bar to help me on my way!
the trip on an old rattler, complete with the smells of thousands of cigarettes, body odour and god knows what else, was fantastic, a carriage to myself and sweeping views of the hungarian plains, complete with the stunning colours of sky you see just after a storm at sunset..ahhhhh the romance! the train eventually wobbled into Budapest...
id heard so many good things about Budapest and i was especially keen to spend some quality time just exploring aimlessly, with a few museums and sites mixed in...my decision to head straight to Budapest was rewarded with great weather and revealed a bustling historically rich city divided by the Danube into Buda (mostly older) and Pest
after getting to know some of the other guests at our cosy hostel, and realising that alcohol was ridiculously cheap a few brews were sunk that evening and in the wee hours..hence the next day only one thing was on the agenda..Thermal Baths. Budapest, well hungary i guess is famous for its underground thermal springs which supposedly cure your ailments..mine was a severe hangover on the local beer Dreher. We picked a bath and headed down only to find that it must have been an open day for retirees, invalids and assorted freaks of nature, no bikini-clad beauties here. luckily for us, patrons are required to wear swim suits..phew! the thermal bath system takes you from a 32 deg bath to a 36 then on to 40 eventually which is quite relaxing
after a bit of a steam room and sauna it was off to the massage table, where i lay out before a very suspect male masseuse...after a couple of touches on my exposed behind, my suddenly it wasnt so enjoyable but thankfully it was over fairly quickly, my mate Brett though wouldnt have a bar of it and promptly took off! classic.
the next day more sightseeing was on the cards and after a leisurely late start we bounded off for Parliament and massive gothic building up against the banks of the Danube..supposedly modelled on the British houses of parliament. the tour led us through the house of reps an amazingly ornate room, the guide told us that until very recently massive blocks of ice placed in underground vents cooled the building during summer, outside the chambers were lines of cigar holders with numbers, each for a member who if only attending a short session could place his cigar still lit and return to continue the cigar afterwards..the story goes that an especially long speech in the house was called a Cigar Burner!
after a few days in the city, myself and other travellers dubbed the city the Land of the Camel Toe
another night was spent getting to know a larger array of eastern european alcohol including the local wine from the Eger region including the famous Tokaji a sweet wine with the smoothest of smooth textures, local Vodka (not so smooth), i think its cheaper than water and later on though probably not local several tequilas at a bar called Old Mans Music Club. As the university term has started again the city is brimming with students, our hostel was smack bang in the middle...
knowing exactly how to cure the hangover the next afternoon we headed to the baths yet again this time the much cleaner and flashier Szenchenyi baths (see pics), mostly outdoor. these baths also had a giant whirlpool, ahh the memories of spending endless hours making our own in that shitty aboveground pool!
and gaining a decent hunger..we decided to head to a place recommended by some other travellers i met..the MOngolian BBQ. 5 of us rocked in at about 7.30pm for the feast. All u can eat and drink for 3600 Forints, thats around 10 quid, superb. contrary to what we thought the manager actively encouraged us to down as much alcohol as possible, remarking "this is only your second beer?" we left there in a very jovial mood at a quarter to 1...the poor little hostel only had one toilet...it wasnt to know!
nursing another hungarian hangover i ventured out alone up to Mt Gellert where the statue of freedom stands, a woman with outstretched arms looking over the city..quite cool
after a quick jaunt up to Szentandre (St Andrews in English) (near the famous Danube Bend north of the city) and some touristy shopping, and another trip to mongolian bbq the next night, my week in beautiful budapest was up..though sad to leave i was keen to head up to Poland, deciding to bypass Slovakia given that i only had a week left of the trip in all.
the night train through slovakia to Krakow left at 7pm and would have us pulling into Krakow at 6 the following morning
so now Krakow, and as i said an amazing city. arriving in the morning i had plenty of time to acquaint myself with the city. a number of things set this city apart i believe, firstly its significance as part of the Piaste bishopry and medieval poland, the home of one of the only non-italian popes, the largest town square in europe Rynek Glowny, a rich but now almost forgotten jewish history, the funkiest of funky bars, an intelligent and friendly local population, mostly very confident english speakers, a splendid old town overlooked by Wawel Hill and castle, the sharply bending Vistula River surrounding, the fact you can walk into almost any restaurant and be guaranteed of a filling, inexpensive and uniquely Polish meal but most of all its probably the cheapest city in Europe!!, a half litre of beer cost you around 220 Zloty (around 40p - the only cheaper i think is Prague)
next day we almost missed the bus to Auschwitz, this is where the bad joke came in im sure you can guess what it was..anyway after a long bus ride, the tour started at 11 and went for 3.5 hours, very good for aroudn 4 or 5 quid
A bus then takes you to Birkenau where the majority of mass murder was carried out, the vastness of this place is amazing over 3kms long with thousands of blocks which were full of Jewish, Gypsies, german criminals and many more. it is simply too hard to describe exactly how bad it must have been, living in the conditions they did. A particular point called the Unloading Point along a straight railway line is significant. here a photo stands of a nazi doctor, who based on physical appearance is deciding whether people go left or right..life or death, well at least a slim chance of life, its quite spooky walking over this very spot. the tour eventually takes you to the 4 massive gas chambers, where over 1.5 million people were lead to "take a shower and disinfect before going to work" after gassing an electric lift raises the bodies into an incinerator above. these building were destroyed by the fleeing nazis, but much of the structure is still there. A monument although im not sure what its meant to represent, stands closeby
it was back to the city though. although the weather for the 3 days i was there was not the best, Krakows (pron, KrakoV)many underground bars kept me out of the rain. i met a belgian student in a diner and he said hed show me some good clubs/bars etc, i was hugely impressed by the place as once again all the pubs, clubs and bars went off..on hearing my accent a couple of people made sure that i tried the local vodka, this somewhat more potent than the hungarian type. somehow midnight became 05,30 in the morning and i needed some sleep! thankfully poland turned out a freezing rainy day, perfect for a hangover and some much needed catch up on the travelogue! and finally some pics which youll see above...
am in a town called Wroclaw (pron. Vrots-wav, go figure!)another great little town in western Poland, but unfortunately its raining and cold yet again...so im heading to Berlin tomorrow afteroon, for a few days before i fly out to London..stay tuned, there should be one more youngieonsafari!