Love for the Eastern Bloc and finishing Europe where its history all started
01.06.2013 - 30.06.2013
The Contents Highlights:
1. Poland: having fun in wild cities followed by a shot of cold history
2. Budapest/Bratislava: happy going off the original plan
3. Vienna: being amazed at the beauty of the artsy city of Austria
4. Bavaria: Hitler’s hide-away, Munich, and more castles
5. Greece: Island hopping while getting in some quality family time
1) The road trip continued with the fun guys we picked up in Riga, Latvia. We all had our hearts set on spending the most time in Poland’s best city, Krakow. But we had to break up the 9hr drive with a quick stop/night out in the capital Warsaw. Even though we all had a blast, it is safe to say Krakow takes the cake on nightlife in Poland! Krakow also has a rich history with an incredible old town that escaped destruction in WWII. The city is packed with attractive historic buildings and timeless streetscapes! The Jewish area, just outside the old town reminds of a different past with genocide memorials, the site of the old Jewish Ghetto and Schindler’s Factory (famous for Spielberg’s touching movie, Schindler’s List). It was crazy watching the movie the night before going on a tour of the famous Factory and the Ghetto—feeling the not so distant past and remembering horrible things the Nazi’s did to the Polish Jews. The depressing theme only continued the next day with our trip to Auschwitz on the way to Budapest (now just Peter and I heading south). Even though you go into something you know is going to be hard to take in, nothing could have prepared me for Auschwitz. Our tour guide grew up in a Polish town nearby and was very passionate and direct in her presentation of both camps.
She wasted no time in getting to the tough stuff like the torture bunker, the process and astonishing numbers of those gassed/cremated, and the rooms full of prisoners belongings left behind by the Nazis. I got pretty choked up seeing all the prosthetics and kids shoes displayed behind glass walls. It was a hard way to conclude our week in Poland but it was one of those things you learned growing up that is hard to believe and seeing first hand truly makes you appreciate living in a place and time of relative peace.
2) We originally planned on going right to Bratislava, Slovakia for the next few days but changed our plans when every traveler we talked to said Budapest was worth going out of the way for. Happy we listened because ‘Buda’ (hill) ‘Pest’ (west bank) was an extraordinary city situated on a beautiful hill and luscious river valley. Literally all roads lead to Budapest and with them come most of the influential Hungarians. This political and cultural center rivals the beauty and infrastructure of any Western European City without the higher prices and snooty attitudes. We practically biked around the entire city in one day, seeing the view from Castle Hill and all the important parliament buildings/cathedrals on the ‘Pest’ side. We finished the day soaking our strained muscles in the famous thermal baths surrounded by art nouveau architecture. We stopped for lunch in Bratislava on our way to Vienna to pay tribute to our original plans but we were happy we only did lunch—not nearly as charming as Budapest but not as bad as they showed it to be in the movie Eurotrip.
3) Wow Vienna. I would have never imagined the capital of Austria would become one of my favorites cities in the world but in only two days there I can say that. It’s hard to put my finger on any one thing that made it so great but the few that stand out besides its overall beauty and vibrancy, feel something like this: old-trams buzzing by in place of smelly cars, people politely ringing their bells as they pass you on the perfect street bike paths, couples playing with their dogs in an amazing mulch-covered doggy park, artists leisurely drawing a beautiful sculpture in one of the many parks, an orchestra of three playing the theme of James Bond in a pedestrian square, people soaking up the sun on happy hour overlooking the river…We also took the time and effort to hike the 363 steps of the Stephansdom Cathedral that rewarded us with amazing central views of the expansive City.
The Gothic interior was equally impressive because of the unique stained glass, giving a truly spiritual ambiance.
We finished the day’s enjoyable experience bbq’n out with new friends at the hostel, enjoying Vienna sausages and beer! The next day we found ourselves with another full car headed for Munich and with another side excursion insisted by moi. We would have stayed another day to see Austria play Sweden for the World Cup qualifier but we had a set date to drop the car off in Munich—I’ll surely be back to Vienna one day!
4) The nice Canadians we met were more than happy stopping at the famous Eagles Nest that Pete and I had read about. This last hide out of Hitler’s was given to him for his 50th birthday and still remains high on a Bavarian mountaintop. It took 11 years, 5,000 men, and ungodly amounts of German money to build the impressive complex. A bus took us whipping around a well-built but hairy mountain road and dropped us off to a tunnel leading a couple hundred feet in the side of a mountain where an elevator, built of red leather seats and gold-encasing mirrors swiftly lifted us over 400ft to a stone fortress.
We snapped a few pics overlooking the gorgeous Bavarian countryside and got on our way to Munich. We checked in late to our lively hostel and but still had time to find one of the better beer gardens for dinner. It’s crazy how many people pack into these outdoor beer/food halls and it was impressive that everyone had at least a half-liter of beer in their hands. We had a wonderful German friend show us all the good sites around town explaining all the historical significance and good luck charms- I will forever be lucky and prosperous if the legend of the Lions hold true! Of course we had to finish the touristy day with a beer at the famous (and gigantic) Hofbräuhaus. We also did a day trip to what looked like the true Walt Disney Castle. It sits up against the Bavarian Alps and has a great hiking route that grants you amazing views back down to the Castle and the countryside.
I finished the trip in Munich with a visit to the worlds largest Science and Technology Museum called Deutches Museum. There was way too much to see but my personal highlights were an awesome prosthetic leg in the Robotics section, learning a ton on tunnel construction with their actual size exhibit, and geeking-out in the renewable energy and green living exhibit! Pete and I were happy with our successful Euro road trip and were more than excited to continue the adventure with our Mom in Greece!
5) There’s no better way to finish a perfect European trip then to go where it all started. After a pleasant reunion with our mom in the Athens airport we flew down to Greece’s most easterly island of Rhodes. Rhodes Town takes the cake for the most impressive, intact and picturesque ancient old-town in Europe. We spent most of our time getting lost in its maze of narrow cobblestone streets and navigating its fortress walls by bike. Since it was pretty affordable to rent a car we decided to make a day trip exploring the rest of the island. The Acropolis overlooking the peninsula town of Lindos was very cool but our random stop at a lonely monastery on the way was even more memorable. A Greek orthodox priest talked to us for over an hour about everything you can imagine—it was quite the unique cultural experience. The next island deserved every bit of the 5 days we were there. Crete was so big we had to focus on visiting the highlights of the west part of Greece’s largest island. The first night was spent in our own little camper permanently parked next to an empty beachfront. Our little rental car did well hugging the cliff face turns as we made our way down the Western coast road, giving us access to enjoy the famous beaches of Falasarna and Elafonisi.
We stayed the a night in the cute fishing town of Paleohora so we could catch the early morning ferry to drop us at the trail head of the lower part of the Samaria Gorge (Greece’s largest & deepest canyon). There’s a section of this trail called the “Iron Gate” where the deep canyon walls come within a few meters of each other. It was a rewarding hike but it was nice to cool off and relax in the beach town of Rourmeli that is only accessed by the Samaria Gorge trail and/or by the ferry we came in on and left with. We capped off our Crete experience with a visit to the ruins at Knossos and a night in the busy capital, Heraklion. It was impressive to see the remains of the first plumbing systems the Minoan civilization built around 27th century BC and even more so was the detailed and well preserved artifacts on display at the Archaeological Museum in Heraklion (i.e. jewelry, weapons, mosaics). Santorini was island number three and what a weekend we had staying in the classic Greek white & blue town of Oia. The manager of our hotel invited us to join her for a traditional Greek meal with the owner of a sailing excursion company and his boat Captain. By the time the 3hr dinner wrapped up we had ourselves a free day trip on a catamaran sailboat the following day. It was an amazing way to see the collapsed caldera island of Santorini. Captain Nick showed me the ropes, let me guide the boat and even put me to work on the sails to earn my keep.
Mom got in her snorkel time and we swam in the sulfur hot springs in the center of the caldera to top off a perfect day out on the water.
The next island was a quick 2-day stop in Paros but we took in the family style charm of this relatively cheap island in the Cyclades. The island hopping finished with a bang in wild and beautiful Mykonos! It worked out pretty perfect because my mom found us a great little family-run guesthouse with a quiet beach for her and stumbling distance to the lively Paradise Beach for Pete and I. It was a good mix of fun and relaxation and Pete even got in some kite boarding before we had to take the long ferry back to Athens. We of course hiked up to the Acropolis and saw the famous Pantheon when we were in the country’s capital. We took in the panoramic views from one of the most important ancient monuments in the Western world after discovering the eclectic flea market downtown.
We fit in a lot in 20 days and all agreed the Greeks are what make Greece so great! Sure they have amazing history, beaches, and food on their side but the charm of all the strong Greek personalities we met along the way taught us that family is what makes you rich in life and when you’re in Greece you’re treated like family!
July: Nepal, Japan
End July: Hawaii (a good friend’s wedding)
August: Home sweet home!!!
The bro and I just finished our trekking in Nepal and I’m working up a play-by-play for you all right now but the main take away is we’re both healthy and still in one piece. After a week in Japan we’ll be State side and I’m getting real excited to come home and share these adventures in person with many of you!
Happy belated 4th of July- remember freedom ain’t free ☺
“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it! Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it.” -Goethe