A Travellerspoint blog

Transatlantic Cruise

Barcelona to New Orleans

We arrived at the cruise ship terminal close to noon and the line up was very short. We ran into Greg,who sings in the choir at home with Doug, and Greg's three friends in the line up. We knew they were coming on this cruise but did not expect to run into them so soon. Doug, Heather and her sister Sally are from Red Deer and we all seem to get along really well.

A buffet lunch was waiting for us and it was so wonderful to see a salad bar and different menu choices, (ask me how I feel in16 days from now though.)

The ship is huge and we spend a bit of time exploring the upper deck. Hundreds of lounge chairs surround the small pool and above is a large screen where they show movies (outside) and during the day they have scenes of snorkelling the reefs. Loud music is played during the day from the rock and roll era of the 70s 80s and 90s.

The floor above has a serenity pool with a water fall and it is also surrounded by many lounge chairs. This is an adult only area although there are only a dozen or so children on this ship anyhow. There are double hammocks and double lounge chairs.

We also find a sports area with walking/running track, ping pong, billiards, basketball, huge water slides and a rope challenge course.
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At 2PM we are able to get into our room and find that is is larger than most of the hotel rooms we have had. We booked a cabin on the lowest passenger deck in the middle of the ship as I am prone to seasickness and this area has the least movement. Our ocean view cabin is bright, furnished in blue and yellow and we are very happy here.

After a rest for a couple of hours we made our way upstairs for dinner in one of the many dining rooms. I am happy to see a few choices for vegetarians on the menu.

Our 16 day repositioning cruise came in at $700 each, so with tip it works out to $55 a day. This includes meals, room and entertainment. It's cheaper than staying at home.

Day 56. Our ship arrived in Mallorca, Las Palmas islands. Sally, Greg, Doug and Heather joined Doug and I on a hop on hop off tour of Mallorca today. We hopped off at two stops, one at the castle on top of the hill and the other the church and palace in town.
It is a very beautiful city and we enjoyed our short time here.

Later in the evening we had a wonderful dinner and then watched a comedy show which was pretty funny

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Some of the street entertainment we have seen.

Day 57. Sea day. I joined a boot camp up in the gym and today was the first day. The gym is very modern and it felt great to work out again.
This afternoon was spent watching a live musical show with Beatle tunes, swimming and sun bathing by the pool, and talking to the many staff on board who are from all over the world.

The average age of the passengers on this ship is probably 60. There are many well travelled people aboard who love to share their stories, wether you want to hear them or not. Some folks are on their 60th cruise. It appears that for quite a few it is a contest as to who has been on the most cruises. There are some very interesting people aboard but like any large group of people, there are some that we would rather not spend time with.
There is one older couple, we will call them Jim and Millie, I can't remember their real names. We sat beside them at lunch and asked if they had done many other cruises. Well the flood gates opened and he told us about every place he had ever been, as though he was the only one who had ever been there. Millie didn't say a word, Doug said he saw her nodding off a few times as I am sure she has heard these stories a million times.
After 40 minutes or so of this one sided conversation I stood up to leave. He started talking about another destination that he had been to. I put on my backpack. He kept talking. I slowly backed away. He kept talking.
I finally said, "well, gotta go now". And we left.
He did not even ask us where we were from, the basic question on a cruises ship. Greg and crew said they met them as well and had the same experience.

People like Joe and Millie, and there are a number of them, must love cruising because they have a new audience every day.

Day 58. Malaga was our port of call today and once again we did the hop on hop off bus to tour the city. Another beautiful Spanish city with wonderful beaches and interesting buildings.

This evening we did another comedy show, and then up to the pool deck to watch a movie under the stars.
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Day 59. Sea day. Boot camp again followed by pool time, sun time, lunch and then another Beatles sing along. I look around and see all of these old people swaying to the music and singing along. How can these old people be Beatle fans? It is hard to comprehend that they are probably the same age as us. Perceptions.

After a wonderful siesta and a great dinner we watched another comedy show and then went to the piano bar to listen to a young man play piano and sing some of Elton John's and other songs.

Day 60. A short port day in the Canary Islands, Las Palmas. Because we only had four hours we opted to do the ships shore excursion which was a tour of the island. The passengers were lined up and slowly boarded the many buses waiting in port. The roads to the top of the lookout to see the crater from the volcano were very narrow and winding. When two buses or cars meet it would be quite a nail biter. The tour meant sitting on the bus 90% of the time, so not my cup of tea but Doug and others really liked it.
I think that there are beaches and prettier areas in the Canary islands but the area we saw was very dry and hilly. They have not had rain for a long time and it shows. There are many different types of cactus and bougainvillaea, some grapes and potatoes growing.
This evening we went to another comedy show after dinner

Day 61. We have sea days now for six days. Nothing but water on all sides We are following the equator so the weather is quite warm, (29C) and blue skies. The sea is fairly calm, a bit of rocking and rolling at times but my ginger pills and the absence of alcohol seem to be keeping sea sickness at bay for now.
Boot camp followed by more sun bathing and swimming. The pool is like a wave pool with the swaying of the ship which is kind of fun. They show old tv shows in the morning at the pool, Happy Days, I love Lucy and Mash followed by loud music from the 70s and up.

We gained another hour today. We gain 7 hours over the course of the cruise which is pretty cool. No jet lag when we get home.

We spend a lot of time talking to other passengers and crew as I said and the time passes much quicker than I thought it would.

The crew are involved in a murder mystery game where we need to figure out 'who done it' in the next week.
After dinner there was a fantastic show "Epic Rock from the 80s' the singing dancing and visual effects were amazing and we were all blown away by this 35 minute show.

After this show we went to another area for an hour to listen to live rock and roll from the 80s again and watch others dancing.

Day 62. Miles and miles of ocean. Another hot and sunny day spent pool side. Today I decided to mix it up a bit and do pool and sun first and gym later. I watched tv while in the pool, it is getting very hot.
Working out in the gym is challenging when the boat is rocking so much.
The movie 'Lincoln' was playing at the pool this afternoon which Doug watched but I found it hard to hear so went to the cabin.

After dinner we watched another comedy show which was funny.

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Day 63. Another time change last night. I can't figure out what time it really is anymore. Hot and muggy today. We look to be in the middle of the Atlantic right now. We see some of the same people over and over and forming a friendship with a few.

Pool time and boot camp at 2PM today which was a bit too late for me but I survived,(barely). We started with 6 women and 4 men and 3 of the men dropped out cause it was too tough....

An early night after dinner.

We have a different towel animal on our bed every night. Sometimes we are not too sure what it is....

Day 64. Had a great night sleep. There are a lot of people with colds, it is sweeping the boat. I am fighting it off but Doug is suffering.

After breakfast I went to check out the water slides and decided to try the slow one, yellow. You had to climb up around three stories or more and then choose one of three slides. It felt like it went on forever and threw me around inside a lot.

After that Doug and I went swimming and laid in the sun for a short while but it was over 30C today so too hot to stay out of the pool for long.

Greg and I decided to tackle the rope sky course. I had my sandals on and one of the young men said that I needed runners. I told Greg I would have to come back and the young man gave me his runners to wear! The staff is fantastic here. I felt like a clown from the circus, they were a few sizes too big but I got harnessed in and off I went.

The first station was a tightrope across. You had a rope to hold on to and also your harness.
"I think I made a mistake, I don't want to do this"

There was a line forming behind me. So I went.

The old "don't look down" didn't work too well here. I made it across the first two stations and then freaked.

A balance beam that seemed to go forever. One of the young men who worked there came over and talked me across and stayed with me the rest of the course.

I watched others just zip across, but my balance is terrible and I am terrified of heights. I could not believe I finished this without falling off, or freezing. One woman a while ago just stopped in the middle and would not move. They had to get a pulley system to bring her down.

As soon as I got down I ran into a woman that we sat with at dinner a few nights ago and she wanted to do the water slide with me. After I stopped shaking from doing the ropes we headed over.

She got in the blue and I did the green, we were going to have a race. I crossed my ankles, laid down and crossed my hands across my chest as instructed.

We went so freaking fast, but my head was banging on the back as I went down.
Bam bam bam. Ouch, that hurt. I am going to have a headache from that.

Hazel said the blue one didn't do that and talked me into going down again on that one.

The blue slide was so fast! I got to a corner and flipped around and got a face full of water and before I knew it I was at the bottom. With a huge wedgie. Damm that was fast.

That's enough of that!!

My body is a little sore right now.

Another great dinner tonight and then we went to another comedy show and in bed by 9.
No wait, 8 , another time change.
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Day 65. I went up to the gym to weigh myself this morning and the digital scales went up and down 15 pounds continuously because the waves are so bad today. It was quite funny. Kevin, our trainer, said we would not use weights today because the ship is rolling too much, just our own body weight and the resistance of the waves. I would be doing push-ups and thinking "wow, this is so easy" and the the wave would go up and it would be so hard. Really cool but a tough work out.

Pool time, reading, relaxing. Lots of wave action in the pool. You can do laps without moving, it's like one of those resistance pools. No seasickness yet which is fantastic. I find it fun so far.

Most of the passengers are American, then Canadian followed by European, Russian, German, English, Israeli and Spanish.

Today is November 11, Remembrance Day. I made each of our 6 a poppy from the daily newspaper in our room, Carnivals colors are red. We had a moment of silence at 11am.
There was a remembrance gathering in the after noon that Doug went to.

After dinner we went to another "playlist" show. This is with the professional dancers and singers and tonight was a 70s theme. Our cruise director and some of her staff came out to where we were all lined up to go in, and asked who wanted to be a VIP, who could do the "YMCA song."?

For reasons that remain unknown, I yelled out " I do, I do!!!"

I was given a VIP neck tag and interviewed about the 70s and then my party , Doug ,Heather, Doug and Sally, were al escorted in and put in front row seats. What have I gotten myself into? They did the same with about 10 more people.

Sally took off thinking that they would have all of us do something. Greg was In his room nursing a bad cold.

The show started and the music,dancing and costumes were fantastic. Third song in one of the women dancers came over to me, put a pair of glitter cats eye glasses on me, which really impacted my vision, and we started to dance. There were six other guests on the floor partnered with the other dancers.

We then made our way on stage to do " the hustle". Well I have no rhythm but was doing pretty well following her lead until they moved me to the front and I had no one to watch, I was two left feet dancing.

She brought me up again at the end of the show to dance and it was a lot of fun. Normally I hate this type of thing but really didn't care that much.

Day 66. Changing the clock back every night is getting tough. Everyone is waking up at 3 or 4AM . A lot of tired people in the gym this morning.

I have a siesta around 2 or 3 every day, but find I am not tired then and feel the need to sleep at dinner time instead which is inconvenient. I haven't had my nap for three days now, but going to bed around 8 PM is helping.

I sat at the pool and read but only lasted around a half hour in the sun as it is so hot, over 30. The pool looks like there is a convention happening, standing room only. There are so many crispy critters laying by the pool. They are going to be sore tomorrow.
I moved into the shade to read for a few hours and then the pool side theatre showed the Michael Jackson movie "this is it" . I have seen it twice before but still loved it the third time.

After dinner Doug and the other two guys went to a ventriloquist show which they said was great. I stayed in tonight.

Day 67. Port day. Turks and Caicos. Another carnival cruise ship pulled in just before us so the place was packed. But what a place! The ships pulled in just a few meters from the beach. We walked down the walkway, through the duty free shop and out to find our shore excursion. We are on Grand Turk, one of a few islands here.

Carnival owns this part of the island which has stores, bars, a huge swimming pool, and many lounge chairs on the beach and under to palm trees. It is a great set up.

The beach has powdery white sand framed with Palm trees and the water is a gorgeous turquoise. We can see the tropical fish from the pier.

Doug and heather and the two of us signed up for the "ultimate snorkel tour". There were around 50 of us on a catamaran that had two snorkel stops. The crew were all wonderful and we left for our two and 1/2 hour sail at 10:30am.

The first stop was not great. I am so spoiled from Belize but just dead coral and a few fish. I was so disappointed.

The second stop was much shallower and there were many more tropical fish and some colorful coral. Two nurse sharks and a barracuda were swimming with is as well.

All too early we had to head back but stopped to watched four dolphins playing in the water. It would have been great to snorkel with them.

The rest of the afternoon was spent swimming in the beautiful warm crystal clear water and relaxing under the palm trees. This was such a wonderful break from the ship. I think I would like to come back here one day for a couple of weeks. When the cruise ships aren't here it would be very peaceful.

After dinner we went to a show by one of the entertainers who sang and performed and we all really enjoyed it.

No time change tonight. Yeah!!!!
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Day 68. We talk to the crew a lot, especially the wait staff. One young man from Indonesia has really touched our heart and we spent some time talking to him about his plans etc.

I said I would like to ask him a question but he didn't have to answer if he didn't want to. Does Carnival pay you well?.
"No, we don't make any wages, only tips"
What? really?

Three years ago they changed their policy and quit paying them, but after a straight 8 or 9 month contract they will pay their flight home and back after a holiday.

He said they book them on the milk run to get the cheapest flights, he would rather get a salary and book his own flight.

These guys and girls work so hard, 12 hour days or more. If you talk to them they give you all the time you need, and now I know why.

There is a mandatory tipping of $11 per day per person divided between staff,, but you can also give extra to whom you want.

No wonder cruises are so inexpensive.

After my boot camp Doug and I sat on lounge chairs on the upper deck and read. The weather changed and it rained a bit, we moved under cover.
There are a number of silly, (in my opinion) games on the ship and today was no exception. Today was the men's hairy chest contest.

Did I mention the average age on the ship is 60? It should have been the hairy back contest. Older men with pot bellies strutting their stuff and then two women in their 70s would run their hands through the chest hair of these strangers. Yuck. It got really silly after that and I tried not to watch and just read my book, but it was like a car accident, I just had to look up now and then.

Lazy day, lots do reading and then we dressed up for our second, and last, formal night dinner. We were also treated to another playlist production with more amazing dancing and singing with the eight very talented young men and women. The theme tonight was Latin songs and the colors and costumes were fantastic.

After the show we went to a comedy show and he was the funniest we had sen yet.
Stayed up until 11PM tonight and then had another time change back to 10PM. Whohoo

Day 69
After my workout in the gym Doug and I met for breakfast and sat with a couple from England who were probably in their early 70s. They lived close to Liverpool and had a very thick accent, but delightful to talk to. They described the Serenity deck (the top pool deck), as an old folks home. People go there and lay in the hammocks and lounge chairs all day and don't move. He said he saw one guy even drooling as he slept, and they even have their meals brought to them. It was very close to the truth and we found him very funny.

The weather was very rainy and bleak today. We did a lot of reading and after dinner went to a comedy show which was funny. At each port stop we have new comedians and entertainers board and the old ones leave.

The ship was really rocking tonight. I had a hard time walking.

Tonight we had a jazz band from New Orleans, the "dirty dozen" which had 7 men playing brass keyboard and drums. Not sure why they were called dirty dozen? They were very good but incredibly loud. The only thing about this cruise I would complain about is that the music and events are far too loud. A lot of people ended up leaving the show because of the volume, including me.

Day 70. My last morning in the gym. Doug and I went for a swim this morning after breakfast, the weather was great today.
We arrived at the Mississippi River and started our way up to New Orleans. We sailed past many oil rigs and then to an area of marshland. Large pelicans flew overhead, cows grazing on the grassland. Everyone was on deck and it was very exciting to come to New Orleans this way.

After lunch there was a Mardi Gras party on the pool deck, with the jazz band from last night, who turned the volume down thankfully. It was a lot of fun to watch and a great way to spend our last day on the ship.

At 4pm the ship anchored in the middle of the river and immigration boarded to go over all the papers, mostly of the crew. Because this is our first point of entry into the USA and the crew is from all over the world they will clear them fist so that no one slips in tomorrow when all the passengers disembark. Paranoia about crew jumping ship to stay here I guess.

We gave some extra tips to some of the staff members who went above and beyond for us. It is hard because they are are all so wonderful. One buss boy that Doug gave a bit of money to was so grateful, well they all were, but he said, " you know it's not the money, it's the respect"

We had an early night tonight. Had to pack up and get ready to leave what was our home for the past 16 days.

On to New Orleans.

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Posted by debbep 20:53 Comments (1)

Florence and Barcelona

Day 48. A different route was chosen for our drive back to Pisa though some very hilly and winding roads. The landscape changed the further north we got, with many more trees, hills that were more rugged and grapes replaced by olive trees. The trees were heavy with black and green olives just waiting to be picked.

A detour to the hill town of Volterra took us up a very steep climb and offered great views from the top. A stop just long enough to stretch our legs and walk around and then back on the road to make sure we were on time. If we are more than a 1/2 hour late we are charged an extra day on the car.
We found one of the few Roman ruins that we have seen here in this small town.

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Very pleased with ourselves we check the car in, no dents or marks and a half hour early, not getting lost.

A short train ride into Pisa central and then we took the next train to Florence. We had planned to go into town to see the leaning tower but decided that we just wanted to get to Florence right away instead.

Our hotel is spacious and clean and only two blocks from the Duomo, which is in the major tourist area in Florence. We went out for a walk down the pedestrian road which was very crowded with tourists from all over the world. The stores and cafes look fantastic. A few stalls are on the side streets selling leather goods and scarves etc.

Our walk takes us to the Ponte Vecchio, a well known medieval bridge in Florence which dates back to 996. Shops selling gold jewelry are lining both sides of the bridge and there are many people and vendors here tonight.
We look forward to exploring more tomorrow.

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Day 49. We had prebooked tickets for the Uffizi Art Museum for 930AM. This is one of the most famous and oldest museums in the western world so it gets very busy.

The museum is overwhelming. Paintings and sculptures by DaVinci, Raphael, Botticelli Rembrandt just to name a few. After an hour of seeing so many amazing works of art your head is spinning. We took a coffee break on the roof for an hour and then went back to discover more masterpieces for the next couple of hours.

I think that visiting this museum would be better over a few days to really appreciate the art in smaller pieces. It was one of the most amazing galleries we have ever been to.

After lunch we went back to the room for a few hours and then walked the streets for a few hours before dinner.

I love to people watch and notice that the tourists must get up in the morning and say to themselves " I want to be comfortable" and dress accordingly.
Italian women on the other hand must wake up and say " I want to look Fabulous" and they do. They throw together items of clothing that shouldn't work but do, and look amazing. They have such a sense of style. The men throw sweaters over their shoulders, wear bright scarves looped around their necks and expensive looking shirts and shoes. If they wear glasses the frames are very colorful, and some quite outrageous for the age of the wearer. I love it.

There is also a lot of passion on the streets. Lovers young and old practically making out on the streets You will be walking behind someone and they will just stop and get into this very heated embrace. We are so conservative at home.

I went shopping tonight for a short while and did end up finding a pair of boots.
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Day 50. The Duomo was on the agenda for this morning and so we lined up early and got inside when there were not too many others there. What a gift. The Duomo, or cathedral, called the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, is huge and unlike the others we have seen. The building was started in 1296 and finished being built in 1436. At the front of the cathedral is a dome that has wonderful paintings on the ceiling.
The tour groups and throngs arrived. We all do what I call the tourist shuffle. Cows to slaughter. We MOOOVE slowly from place to place in a huge crowds shuffling our feet.

Doug and I sat on a bench for a while and just looked around at this extraordinary building. We can see the dome from our hotel room and it is a great landmark. When we don't know which way is home, we just look up for the dome.

I love watching other tourists. I turn around and there are about a hundred or more all with their cameras pointing up to the ceiling, a few more hundred iphones doing the same thing. It makes you wonder exactly how many of the same photo there are in existence.

We wandered next door to the museum but there are under construction and only a half of a dozen or so works on display.
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Day 51. Tonight we fly to Barcelona on a low cost flight so we packed our bags and left them at reception for the day. I have been reading reviews of the airline and I barely slept last night worried about our luggage being over 23Ks as they will charge you $20 for each kilo you are over. That can quickly add up to negate any savings on the airfare. You can also bring 10K as hand baggage which they weigh and measure at the gate however. We have no way of weighing our luggage so we spend the morning throwing out any thing that we didn't need. I wore most of my heavy jewellery and three lawyers of clothing. More on that later.

We had tickets to the Academia where the statue of Michalangelo's David is. The crowds were not too bad and the museum also had other paintings and statues that we found very interesting.
David ,however, is a masterpiece. I thought, " yeah, I have seen pictures, and I even saw the copy that is in one of the squares in Florence, how great can it be?"

We sat and just marvelled at it for close to 45 minutes. The perfect body made from marble. It is truly magnificent. Every vein and muscle is so perfectly carved. You wonder how on earth he could have made this from one huge piece of marble. And a piece that was turned down by many other sculptors as being too narrow and imperfect.
We were very glad we went and it really is worth seeing in person. We could not take pictures of it, so this is the copy in the square.
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Exploring Florence for a few more hours until it was time to take our cab to the airport. Florence is a huge city. We did not realize how big because we just stayed in the old quarter. Our cab driver is very skilled at driving as it is a real challenge in Florence with the narrow roads shared by bicycles, pedestrians and other vehicles.

Our bags were each 14 lbs less than the maximum. Can I take some clothes off now and repack? Too late.
Our knapsacks were also under weight. All that worry for nothing. THe flight was good and we arrived in Barcelona at 9PM

Barcelona. What a surprise this city was. It is so huge, the cab ride from the airport cost more than $50.
Our hotel in on the Ramblas which is a very popular walking area with many hotels shops and places to eat lining the streets. A wide pedestrian area in the middle is flanked by streets on either side and many trees to offer shade in the heat of the summer. This well used walkway is always crowded with young old as well as many families. Tourists and locals alike are found here.

It was a very long day and we went straight to sleep.

Day 52. After breakfast we walked the Ramblas and came upon a large indoor market. Once again it is similar to Granville island but larger and extremely crowded. We bought some fruit for our day and wandered around looking at the different types of fish fruit and offerings.
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As the city was so big we decided to do a Hop on Hop off bus tour and got the two day pass. Today we did the green route which took two and a half hours and we did not hop on or off, just enjoyed the tour.

We went past many different areas of Barcelona, as I said it is huge, and past a large marina with thousands of boats, some of which were large yachts. They have a very big aquarium here with the water tunnel above so that the fish, sharks and rays will be swimming all around you. We did not have time to visit however.

Barcelona is on the coast and they have developed a cement pathway along the many wide beaches that go for miles. People are walking , jogging, skateboarding roller blading and biking on this wide promenade. It looks like it is well used. There are a few people sunbathing and a number of sailboats in the water.

The architecture is so diverse. If you were a student of design this would be a great place to come. The buildings are all different. There is no area where only one style is permitted. You will see Art Deco next to modern next to Gothic. It is really quite spectacular to see all the different styles together.

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We got off a few stops before home and went to the cathedral of the Holy Cross and St. Eulalia, also known as the Barcelona Cathedral. It is a gothic cathedral and seat of the Archbishop of Barcelona Spain. It was completed between the 13th and 19th century and quite fantastic.
I was here in 1973 and don't remember too much about the trip but do remember this cathedral and wanted to see it again.

Doug and I went inside and marvelled at the paintings and interior design.
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On our walk back we came upon another indoor market, this one was more of a cross between Whole Foods and Granville Island and offered many varieties of cheese, nuts, vegetables and what ever you wanted.

A restaurant was attached and we stopped to have lunch. The design and atmosphere reminded us very much of being in Granville Island.

Later that evening we went out to find a place to do our laundry. The fellow there convinced us to let him do it for only a few Euros more and it would be ready in an hour and a half. How could we refuse?

A few doors down was the Gaudi Palace. Gaudi was an architect and has designed many buildings around Barcelona. They are very distinct and quite unusual. After giving him his diploma, his teacher at school said," he is either a genius or a lunatic".

It was a great time to visit, 7PM, because there were very few people there. We had seen extremely long line ups for many of his building's today and did not want to spend the day queuing up.

His design is fantastic and so unique. He used metals, leather and wood all at once. This was a home (palace) commissioned by a wealthy industrialist to be built by Gaudi. The price of admission included an audio guide which was very informative and there was a short film about his life to give you a better understanding of who this man was. We spent just over an hour touring this work of art. The chimneys for the many fireplaces were colorful pillars on the rooftops

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Our laundry was done, we dropped it off at the hotel and went out searching for dinner. We found a square lined with restaurants on all four sides. Doug wanted a paella but most only make them for two and he wanted seafood and I vegetarian.

We managed to find one in an out door seating area and the paella was fantastic. It took forever to arrive but worth the wait and fun to people watch in the meantime.

Day 53. The orange route was explored today on the bus tour. The top of the bus offers great views and the temperature is nice and warm today. This route took us through a different area of the city and then up to the top of a hill to see a wonderful panoramic view as well as where the gondolas leave from to take you over the city. If we had more time I would have loved to do that.

The summer Olympics were held here in 1992 and at the top of the hill is the massive indoor pool and stadiums. Nearby are the old buildings and exhibits from the World fair that took place here in 1929. We also pass a huge art gallery that would have been worth a visit had we had the time.

The bull ring was on our route. Not used any more and now a shopping centre, I can remember seeing a bull fight in this building in 1973. Linda and I were cheering for the bull, which did not go over well with the other spectators. It was a horrible event and I am glad this building is now closed.

Lunch was at another of Gaudi's buildings that had part of it turned into a cafe. Doug wanted to go back onto the bus tour 'green line' again. I went part way and then got off to shop for a few items needed for our cruise, toiletries etc.

This evening, our last in Barcelona, was spent walking the small streets looking for a place to have dinner. We found a small one and once again had paella which was very good.
It is Halloween today and many children out dressed up going from shop to shop. We see a number of young adults in creative costumes as well and there was a party atmosphere in the air tonight.
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Day 54. Barcelona deserves at least a week in my opinion. There are so many things that we would have liked to have done here. Today however, we leave for our cruise towards home. We will make our way to the ship around noon and start our 16 day cruise to New Orleans. I am excited but nervous about this next chapter.

Posted by debbep 03:28 Comments (2)

I LOVE ITALY!!!!!!

Day 40. Our room has a lovely outdoor patio with metal chairs and table to enjoy our coffee and bread in the morning. Two women from Australia are in the room beside us and very friendly. I don't think that there is anyone left in Australia, they are all travelling.
I asked if they had been to Cinque Terre, ( pronounced Chinka Tah Rah ) and they told us about the boat that goes once a day. She saved us a lot of time as we were going to take the train to the first stop and I really wanted to see the towns from the water.

The boat leaves Levanto at 10AM and the dock is only a ten minute walk from here. We arrived early and by the time the boat arrived there looked like hundreds of people were there waiting. I could not believe everyone would fit on the boat, but in the end there were still lots of empty seats downstairs. Most people wanted to be on the top deck outside.

Levanto is not one of the Cinque Terre towns, just north of them and I had read that it was better to stay here as it was quieter and less expensive. The boat stopped at four of the five towns, as one is closed due to a major landslide two years ago. The ride past the villages was fantastic. Small hamlets located on the west coast of the Riviera cling to the cliff face or are concealed in miniature inlets perfectly blending in to this unique and unspoilt landscape. There are few roads to these towns and most people come by boat or train. The area has been turned into a UNESCO site. Many artists have come here to paint these colorful little towns, and a lot end up staying.

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We went to a town further on, outside of the five, and started there, Porto Venere.

The boat stopped here for two hours and we walked along the town that is hemmed in by a number of tower like colorful houses, which effectively turn the harbour into a fortified citadel.

A restaurant at the end of the path looked inviting so we stopped for lunch and had the water on one side of us and the 4th century church perched above us. The sun was shining and it was a perfect 23 degrees.

We walked up the hill to look at the church and the castle above and then wandered back through the town taking our time until our 2PM departure.

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Our next stop and first of the five was Vernazza of which we had an hour to explore. This was a very small town with narrow alleyways leading down to the fairy tale bay. After walking for a while we sat at a seaside cafe and enjoyed a sinful hot chocolate until the boat came.

The last stop for today was Monterosso which has many medieval churches and buildings. We have two hours here so after walking around we stopped for a light dinner. Doug had brushetta with tomatoes and pesto and I had a foccacia sandwich with brie, tomatoes and pesto. The pesto was amazing, the best we have ever had.

There is only one boat back to Levanto, at 6PM so it made for a very long day. It also meant that there were many people waiting for the last ferry. When it pulled up it was already packed to the rafters. Oh oh. But almost everyone got off at Monterosso, it was like the clown car at the circus, the people kept coming and coming. You wonder how on earth they all fit on this ferry? And where are all these people staying in this small town? I figure some of them must be catching the train somewhere else. A lot of people come here for the day.
There was room to spare on the boat for all of us going to Levanto and we arrived back at our hotel at 7PM after a great day.

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Day 41. We had planned on hiking some of the trails today between a few of the towns of Cinque Terre. Yesterday we saw many hikers, all serious hikers with expensive gear, good hiking boots and poles with the points on the ends like ski poles. Hmmmm.

After doing some research on line I found that there is only one hike that is not too challenging and that one is closed because of the landslide. It says that you need proper gear and preparation for the other trails as they are straight up a very narrow path and can get treacherous with sheer drops to the ocean below. My balance is off right now and we don't need any broken bones so decided against it. I don't have proper hiking boots with me any how. We were both happy with what we did and saw yesterday so okay with doing something else.

The Australian women told us about a bike ride they did yesterday so we grabbed two bikes, (our hotel provides them) and went off to explore. We ended up on an old railway line that is now used as a bike and walking trail. It went north on the coast and parts of the trail went through tunnels that went for half hour or more, by bike. It took over an hour each way but we did stop a few times to admire the view. We both love bike riding so this was a great way to spend the day, relaxing, quiet and scenic. We came to the end of the trail which was a railroad station, and there was an elevator to the beach below. We watch from above for a while as people were learning to scuba dive in the very calm clear blue waters of the Italian Riviera. It made me want to learn to scuba dive.

Half way back we stopped at another town and had a nice lunch and explored the area for a while.

This evening we walked around our town and then had dinner in a lovely restaurant in an alley. We had a little table outside and the food, service and atmosphere were perfect. The costs here are much less than Venice. Levanto was a great stop for a few days, quiet, not touristy and gave us a feeling of being in a regular Italian town.

Day 42. The owner drove us to the train station at 8AM and while waiting for our train we talked to a Dutch couple who are now living in Osoyoos. In their 70s they are very fit and energetic. The four of us are in car number 8 and there are usually 9 cars on a train but it depends on where the engine is as to whether it is at the back or the front. The train came screaming in, and in the small towns they only stop for 5 minutes. Number 1 stopped in front of us and number 8 was at the front so we had to run with our bags to get on. The older couple got on in no time and I heard the guy blow his whistle. I looked at him and said, ' wait'
He gestured, ' get a move on'. As Doug climbed on the car the doors slammed behind him. That was close.

Pisa Central was a one hour train ride and then we transferred to the airport train which only took five minutes. We decided to rent our car at the airport so as not to have to drive through the city.

A brand new standard Fiat 500 in a beautiful blue color waits for us. Very cute (translation : small) and sporty we take off south towards our new home in Tuscany.
Doug was a little nervous about driving in Italy, he said " Remember, this is where they invented the Lamborghini Maserati and Ferrari"
The driving is not too bad however, only a few cars travelling at light speed.
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Tuscany. I am in love with Tuscany. It is so beautiful, with the rolling hills, cypress trees, brilliant green crops and orchards of grapes. It is more beautiful than I had imagined. The leaves are just starting to turn and a lot of the fields are plowed. This is my new favourite place in the world. I can see coming back to stay for a longer period and taking an art class or something.

San Gimignano was on our way, sort of, so we went off the main highway to have lunch there. An old walled city from the third century it is one of the more popular tourist sites in the area, and we can see why. You can not drive in the walled area so we found a parking area on the outside and then walked up. The towns are always on a hill.

A very beautiful little village and not too crowded with tourists. Doug and I split up for lunch and I had the best salad I have had since I left home. Lettuce, raisons, walnuts apples and this fantastic cheese. Washed down with a fabulous capuchino. Heaven. Doug enjoyed his grilled chicken lunch too.

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We explored for an hour and then tried to find our way back to the car. Hmm, this does not look familiar. We were walking around in circles for a while until we asked a few people and finally found it.

We had arranged to meet someone to let us in our apartment in San Quirico D'Orcia at 5 PM, but called to say we would be an hour late. The scenery on the way just gets better and better. Six nights are booked to stay here and I wish now that it was longer.

As San Quirico is another walled city we need to park our car outside the wall and walk to the centre. There are 2500 residents in this small town and it is lovely. Christine is from Austria and takes care of the apartment for the owners who are from Germany. We are located right off the main square and on the third floor. It looks better than the pictures I saw when I booked it. We are in a very old building that has been re done. Our one bedroom apartment has every modern convenience that you would want and beautifully furnished with antiques and tasteful furnishings. We love it. Windows open to the towns famous gardens and it is so quiet and peaceful. I could live here.

Dinner tonight was in our new home and consisted of bread, tomatoes, with fresh pesto and I bought some delicious sheep cheese from the local area called Pecorino. Doug had a mystery meat. A bottle of local red wine was left on the table for us and I thought it would be rude not to try it.

I am in Tuscany drinking red wine and having bread with cheese and pesto and local olives.
What could be better than that?
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Day 43. I woke at 5:30AM to booming thunder. Making my way into the living room I opened the windows and wooden shutters and watched an electric storm for about an hour. It was a great light show with sheet lightening followed by the occasional forks. I could smell the bread baking at a nearby bakery.

Surprisingly the weather was dry and calm this morning. I went off for a walk on my own at around 8AM just as the town was waking up. It was very quiet and peaceful. I found a bakery and bought some fresh bread, (you buy it every day here), and butter and honey for our breakfast.

Today is going to be a lazy day just hanging around the apartment and getting to know this small town.

It took around ten minutes to explore. The business all close down between 1 and 4PM except for a couple of restaurants. We found one that made fresh pasta so I ordered the hand made ravioli stuffed with spinach and ricotta and served with truffles. I had to try them. I don't like mushrooms but thought that truffles would somehow taste different. They didn't. The pasta was great however.

Doug ordered handmade spaghetti with wild boar which he enjoyed.
We don't have any internet in our apartment so I asked the waiter if he had wifi, to which he responded 'of course'.
The only choice I saw for internet was 'Alice-346790'
I asked, it is under Alice?

" Alice?" he asked and looked at me as if I had three heads. " No, it is Aleechiea "

Huh, don't see that one.

Oh, you mean Alice is pronounced Aleechia? This is happening to me a lot. I am not sure who is pronouncing things wrong, them or me????

During lunch we saw that the rain had started and was pelting down, so much so that the bottom part of the restaurant was flooding and the staff were running around like crazy trying to clean things up.

We ran home, thankfully just around the corner, and sat in the living-room to listen to the thunder and watch the electric storm again. You are supposed to count between the sound of the thunder and the sight of the lightening to see how close it is. We didn't get to number one. The storm was right over head. It did not last too long and as we had decided on an inside day anyhow it was quite exciting to watch.

The sun came back at 5PM and we walked again and then came home for dinner and spent time researching the area with the many travel books provided in the apartment.

Day 44. Woke to a cloudless blue sky. We drove east and got lost around noon so decided to stop for coffee in the town of Chiusi. We discovered a church from the 6th century with beautiful frescoes made from tiles, as well as a bronze statue of Romulus and Remus with the wolf mom.

We passed by an open market and bought some fruit and vegetables. You can not choose your own in markets and small shops. You must point and let them pick them out for you, which does not always work out that well.

We re checked the map and went on to Cortona where the book 'Under the Tuscan Sun' was based and some of the filming done. The scenery is breathtaking but it is almost impossible to stop on these narrow winding roads with very few pull offs. We see some serious cyclists and wonder how they can manage on these narrow roads with trucks and cars passing on corners. Nerves of steel.

Cortona is another walled city, we park the car at the bottom of the steep hill but this one has a bonus. An escalator to the top! What a treat for this tired soul. We found a lovely outdoor cafe and had some lunch. There are quite a few english (American) tourists here. There are a number of cute little shops on the narrow roads but our suitcases are already too heavy so we venture off to a museum that houses some amazing Italian paintings from as early as the 4th century. The bottom floor has an Oratory with the original frescoes on the walls and ceilings and a beautiful sight to see.

An Etruscan museum was also in this small town which we explored for an hour. Cortona is an area that has had many archaeological digs and a number of unique and interesting finds are in this building which used to be a palace.

Our drive home took us through more fabulous landscapes, every turn a photo op but so frustrating for me as we could not pull over.
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Day 45. I went out for a walk by myself this morning and came across a woman with a great haircut. I tried to ask her where she got her hair cut, as I am badly in need of a trim. She did not speak a word of English, and I mentioned before my Italian is limited to a few words. She was trying to explain where the shop was, we were just not communicating well, and finally she grabbed my arm and walked me a few blocks to the shop. We went in, they were just opening, and she talked to the woman in Italian, I heard the word 'Canadian' and a few other Italian words, they both laughed and then the other woman left. I thanked her very much and the next thing I knew I was getting a wash and cut. It is quite short but I like my new Italian haircut.

Doug and I set off in the car for about 10 minutes and drove down a small gravel country road a few meters and then pulled off to the side to walk the rest of the way. This was a hike suggested by our host and we climbed the rolling hills of the Tuscan countryside for three hours hearing only the sound of our footsteps. It was quite warm, 23 degrees or so and a wonderful peaceful morning. We came upon a small stone church and sat on a bench to enjoy an apple and to drink in this pastoral view.

The fields are plowed for the winter and the colors are intense greens browns and oranges. Cypress trees are planted in rows to act as wind breaks.

Back in the car we decided to drive to the next town, Pienza, for lunch and explore this walled city for a short while before heading home .

A lovely relaxing day.

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Day 46 Thunder, lightening and rain greeted us this morning. We got an early start and drove north to the town of Siena travelling through flooded roads and witnessing collapsed banks into the rivers. We thought about turning back but saw a window of blue sky ahead which was encouraging us to go on.

In an hour we reached the city of Siena and found a place to park at the top of the hill, near the centre of the old town. Once again you can not drive in the centre. The rain stopped and the sun came out.

The main square, Il Campo, is unlike any of the other main squares in that it is a lot larger and slants down. We had lunch at the edge of the square and felt like we were leaning into the square sitting on an angle. There is a nice ornamental fountain here as well, unlike the other squares.

The Duomo, or cathedral, was just up the hill and we purchased our tickets and audio guide for this breathtaking building. There are a number of tour groups but it did not seem too oppressive as we were arrived fairly early. The marble mosaics on the floor and tile work and paintings on the walls and ceiling made this a unique and very remarkable site. There are sculptures of the heads of 172 popes who reigned from Peter's times to the 12th century, peering down from the ceiling above. The interior is very busy with an art gallery's worth of early Renaissance art.

We then went into the museum beside to see more art and carvings from artists such as Donatello and Duccio as well as other well known masters.

A very long narrow winding stone staircase takes us to the top to offer a panoramic view of this city.

The last visit today was to the Crypt below the cathedral. A century after it was built it was filled with dirt to act as a foundation for the Duomo and rediscovered recently when excavated. The original frescoes on the walls are in amazing condition and tell stories from the bible.

After our lunch we slowly made our way back to the car and drove home in much better weather conditions. Siena had so many wonderful gift shops and fantastic ceramics with brightly colored plates and dishes tempting us. Next time I will come with an empty suitcase. A big one.
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Day 47. Doug went out for his Italian haircut last night, again the barber did not speak a word of English and Doug stopped him just in time before he shaved off his beard. Looking good.

A slow morning today, our last full one here so we spent time enjoying the apartment.

We drove for around 20 minutes to the town next to us, Montalcino, which is at the top of a huge hill. I think this was one of my favorite towns, except for the steep climbs. There are a number of popular wineries here and therefore lots of vinyards turning color for the fall.

Walking around the edge of the town we met a woman from England who had arrived for the 'Thrush Festival' which was happenig this weekend. She had read a book about the area a few years ago and it was her dream to come here one day. I don't think she had too much money but her family got together and paid for this trip for her and she was so excited to be here.

We stopped for coffee and croissants and then slowly made our way back to the car. I say slowly because it was at the top of a very steep hill.

Tomorrow we drop the car back in Pisa and then take the train to Florence for a few nights. Our Italian vacation is coming to and end and I am wishing it were longer.
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Posted by debbep 09:26 Archived in Italy Comments (2)

Croatia part 2 and Venice

Day 31. Our boat left very early in the morning, but thankfully the rain held off for us. The bus station was a ten minute walk from the dock in Split and we bought tickets to Zadar, which is four hours north, about half way to our destination.

We asked at the train station about taking the train, and she said
"You are much better off to take the bus"
The buses in Croatia are very modern, clean, inexpensive and extremely punctual. At exactly 8:30AM we headed north on our four hour journey. They lock the bathrooms on the bus, but the drivers all smoke so I know we will stop every two hours for a cigarette or bathroom break.

Our hotel in Zadar is a short walk from the bus station and although we booked a studio he put us in a one bedroom apartment. It was clean and nice enough was somehow strange. We were not comfortable there and glad to be only staying one night.

We walked into the old town which was about 40 minutes away. Zadar is about the size of Nanaimo, a university town, walled city and has some nice points of interest. We just walked around for a while, had lunch and then back to our room with some food bought at the market.

Day 32. Another early morning to catch our bus to Opatia, which is northern Croatia and very near the Italian border. The bus showed an American movie but the sound was turned off as there were Croatian sub titles. It was a nice distraction once in a while even though we could not really follow the movie.

The bus drivers are careful, not going too fast which is a good thing because the narrow road twists and turns through the mountains with the sea below.
We passed many seaside villages with lots of sailboats, sea walls hugging the coast and they all so very inviting. Most of the homes are white or light colored with red tile roofs and against the dark blue Adriatic it is very dramatic. In almost every small town however there will be one rebel who paints their home bright pink or yellow or something.

" We are in the yellow house, you can't miss it"

The weather changed quite often during our five hour drive from sun peeking from behind the clouds to rain pouring off the bus so that you could not see anything.

We arrived in the small town of Opatia and the skies opened as soon as we got off the bus. It was like standing under a waterfall. There was not a bus station, we didn't know where to go, so we dragged our luggage through a few inches of water to an overhang to collect our thoughts.

Normally I get instructions to our hotel the night before, but we did not have internet in Zadar. No taxis were to be had. After 10 minutes or so the rain subsided and we asked directions to the Hotel Istra. It was about a 15 minute walk so we decided to drag our bags there, as there were not a lot of options.
The hotel is older but nice, waterfront and the clerk upgraded us to an ocean front room with a small balcony which was appreciated. Our suitcases are soaked so we took everything out to dry them. Most of our clothes are in plastic compression bags so they stayed dry thankfully.

The town is very beautiful and later in the early evening we walked back into town to explore. The waves were crashing on the promenade and were about 10 feet high. We were not sure at the time if that was normal or not, but found out that it was not. I was sorry that I did not have my camera with me as it was really spectacular.

During the night there was an amazing storm with booming thunder, sheet lightening, lots of heavy rain and huge waves.
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Day 33. Buffet breakfast is included with our room and there is a good variety to choose from. We walked into town to take the promenade to the next town of Lovosko.
Five minutes in to our walk the skies opened. I am really starting to get fed up at this point. I am not a happy camper, enough is enough. We went into a cafe so that I could have an attitude adjustment and a hot chocolate was just the thing to do it. The hot chocolate that we have had in Europe is unlike anything we have had anywhere. It is like chocolate mousse or melted dark chocolate in a cup. Heavenly.

The rain stopped, my attitude was better so we set off again to finish the 4K walk along the water. On tripadviser it says to take your bathing suit as it gets very hot on the walk and there are many platforms to go into the water along the way. It looked very inviting and must be a wonderful place to come in the summer months, or even at this time of year when the weather is normally much better.

The small fishing village is very picturesque and we stopped to have lunch at this very fancy looking restaurant with white tablecloths and elegant furnishings. We enjoyed one of the best meals we have had so far, which was a wonderful surprise and the price was very reasonable. Our walk back seemed much longer for some reason but the weather was better and we enjoyed the beautiful scenery.

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Day 34. Rain again. We walked into town to buy our bus tickets to leave tomorrow.
We sat in our hotel room and read until the rain finally stopped at 4PM. We walked the seawall in the other direction to the town of Icici. There was a marina with some of the biggest yachts we have ever seen, and so many of them. There is a lot of money in this town, it appears very prosperous. The homes are very large and some extravagant.

Half way back we stopped at a restaurant and sat on the patio overlooking the water to have our dinner. There was hardly a cloud in the sky, the moon was reflecting on the water and we watch as sailboats search for shelter for the night. What a perfect way to spend our last night in Croatia.

Day 35. Our 5:15AM wake up call seems just too early. There was only one bus to Trieste this morning so we arranged a cab to pick us up at 6AM. Waiting at the bus stop we chatted with another couple around our age from Australia who have also been travelling around Croatia.
Our drive to Italy takes us though many fields of wheat and farmland.

Upon arrival in Trieste we walked next door to the train station and bought our tickets to Venice. We splurged and spent the extra $8 on first class. The train was not a high speed train but travelled quite fast through the countryside.

In two hours we arrived in Venice. Stepping outside the train station we were on the canal with boats, gondolas and the grandeur of Venice in front of us.

A vaparato, boat, took us to the Rialto bridge which is where the instructions for our hotel said to get off. Venice is crowded. I can not imagine what it must be like in the summer because it is wall to wall people now. The alleyways are only for pedestrians, there are not any cars or bicycles allowed here. Others like us are also pulling their luggage behind them,running over toes and feet along the way. It is a maze. We are walking in circles.
We stopped for lunch and checked the map, I went on google maps on my ipad and we were still no further ahead. We asked directions every 30 yards. Two hours later we found it and it was not very far from where we had lunch! Apparently this is very common. You will see so many people with suitcases walking around confused looking at the maps and just fed up.

Doug's sister told us that she had stayed at this monastery/ convent last time she was here so we booked it for four nights. The location is perfect. A five minute walk to St. Marks Square and not much further to the Rialto bridge,so right in heart of everything. We are on a canal and there are gondolas right outside our door. We have never stayed in a convent before so this is another first for us.

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Our room is very basic but large and clean and the price is 80 euros per night, which for Venice is fantastic.

After a rest we explored the area for a few hours, and love it here. The weather is warm, sunny, dry and the food is so much better. Being a vegetarian has been extremely limiting in selection for me, but so far the food in Italy is great.

Doug's sister Sydney ended up at another convent about a half hour from here but we met for a fantastic dinner and caught up on all our travel news.

Day 36. Sydney met us at St. Marks Square this morning and we spent a few hours walking Venice. The shops are amazing. I want it all. The fashions, leather handbags, gloves, shoes and merano glass jewelry is fantastic. I will spend one morning shopping for sure.

We arrived at the Academia art gallery which houses many huge incredible Italian paintings. We all enjoyed the gallery a great deal.

We found a small restaurant and had another delicious meal and then I headed back to the room and Doug and Syd went to the Peggy Guggenheim museum which they enjoyed.

During the day the convent has a Catholic school and a daycare and there were many adorable little children in white smocks and pinafores playing in the reception area with the nuns and some of the parents. It is very noisy but with my earplugs in I was still able to get a couple of hours sleep.

The three of us all enjoyed our dinner tonight and then went to a small grocery store to get some fruit to keep in the room.

Venice, although incredibly crowded with many tour groups and cruise ship passengers, is a wonderful city and we are so happy to have four days here.
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Day 37 We had pre booked entrance to St. Mark's Basilica for 10:45AM and as we were just around the corner from it we were able to have a leisurely morning and breakfast beforehand.

There was water around the church and platforms with scaffolding were arranged to get into the building. Apparently this happens all winter at high tide. By noon it is dry again and the planks are removed.

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It was unfortunate that the audio guides were not working and we did not have a guide and although it was a beautiful church I am sure there was a lot more to it than what we thought. The crowds once again were oppressive and we all shuffle around from room to room.

I spent some time taking pictures outside of the square and we just hung around for an hour or so taking it all in and people watching.

Sticker shock. We were living on a total of $60 per day in Romania. I knew Venice would be more, but we are lucky if we can get through lunch on $60 here. The way to do it would be to do a lot of stand up fast food take out which is more reasonable, relatively speaking.
This morning for example we ordered two plain omelettes , one piece of toast each, one coffee each in a pretty plain cafe and it came to $45.
Yesterday I had a big piece of fantastic vegetarian pizza at a take out place, but you could still sit down and it was only $6.
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I convinced Doug to do a Gondola ride with me and our driver pointed out a few sites along the way through some narrow canals and then onto the Grand Canal which has bigger boats as well.
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Everything here is delivered by boat. Flowers, fruit, vegetables, beer kegs, lumber. Delivery men need to unload the boat from the canal point nearest to their destination and then use a trolly for the rest of the way, negotiating through the hoards of people. I saw two guys this morning with a huge trolly of liquor bottles working together to go up the stairs to get over the bridge and then down again. Everything is an effort.

While I was resting in the room Doug went exploring for a few hours to other parts of Venice. He arrived back shortly before we we met Sydney to go to an Opera that we had tickets for.

We all really enjoyed the opera which was a medley of different performances done by very skilled musicians and two male and one female singers. Everyone was in Venetian dress from the Baroque period and they involved the audience at certain points. I just loved it and the one and a half hour show was over too soon for me.

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Our convent has a 10:30PM curfew which I did not think would be an issue, but we would have liked to gone out after wards for a drink of something. Mother Superior would have us locked out if we were late I think, so we walked back just in time.

Day 38. Every year at this time there is a huge modern art international exhibition in Venice called the Biennale. Sydney and Doug spent the day exploring some of the exhibits that were at various locations around Venice and really enjoyed it.

I am not a big fan of modern art so chose to spend the day on my own shopping and had a fabulous time. I learned pretty quickly that every store has pretty much the same price for the same goods, it was just a matter of choosing which one.
I bought two Italian leather purses, some Merano glass jewelry and a sweater. All for me!! The prices were not that bad, not much more than at home but completely different from anything I could buy at home. As a matter of fact my Italian leather handbag was less than dinner for two. So I have it all figured out, don't eat, just come to shop. There were so many amazing things. The clothes and shoes!!! The jewelry is all bright jewel tones and lots of fantastic glass work.

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I got back to the room around 2PM exhausted. Doug and Syd were still out until 6PM so at 4 I went to St. Marks Square and just walked around and enjoyed the sun for a couple of hours.

Sydney is leaving Venice tomorrow as are we. She is heading home in a day and we are off to Cinque Terre. After dinner we packed our suitcase in preparation for our train tomorrow.

Day 39.
We wandered around Venice for a few hours and then left on the Vaporato for the train station. It took a lot longer than we anticipated and we had to go straight to our train and not pick up any food for the ride.
There were a young Australian couple beside us with their two adorable girls around age 6 and 8 who had taken a year off to travel around Europe. The first half of our trip to Milan went by very quickly as we talked the entire way.

A short connection to our next train but Doug took the luggage and I ran off and was able to find some food for the next three hours of the trip. We were joined by four 30 something women who were going to Cinque Terre for the weekend and spoke Swedish the entire way and were having a great time. I put on my headphones and tried to sleep.

We travelled across Italy to the West coast and came into Genoa. What a gorgeous city, large palatial looking villas with palm trees overlooking the Italian Riviera. I think it may warrant a trip back at some point.

At 7PM we arrived into Levanto, our home for the next three nights. We were picked up by the owner of our hotel who does not speak a word of English and our Italian is pathetic. We have a cute little room with a terrace. We walked a short distance to find a place for dinner and find that none of the menus are in English or anyone speaks English. This will be interesting..

Posted by debbep 12:19 Comments (2)

Croatia part one

Trogir is an island connected by bridges on both sides to the mainland. Sardines were on the menu for lunch today for Doug which he enjoyed a great deal. He remembered having them in Yugoslavia in the early 1990s when he was here and had been anticipating them for weeks. Apparently they did not disappoint.
Our leisurely walk around the island took about 15 minutes. There are many large sailboats tied up for a regatta that is taking place. Large tour groups and individuals come from Split for a day trip to Trogir exploring the narrow alleys with the many shops selling jewellery wine and souvenirs.

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Day 26. There appears to be a huge church bell ringing in our room at 5:30AM. It sure sounds like it is in our room. Who thought 5:30 was a good time to wake up? I just get back to sleep and another set goes off at 6:30. No call to prayer here though, all Catholics.

After breakfast we caught the bus to Split for a few hours. Doug notices a huge difference from when he was here last. The small boardwalk has been redone in the past couple of years and is very wide with palm trees and vendors lining the walking street which hugs the Adriatic. On the other side are many outdoor cafes and behind lies Diocletions' Palace. This palace is huge, probably two or three blocks long.
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The sun is out and it feels so great to have the warm weather and blue skies.

We hired a guide to take us through the palace and she was worth every penny. Unlike many other Unesco sites, this area still has people living and working inside. We considered staying in Split instead of Trogir and a couple of options were small hotels inside the walls of this Palace. Hotels, stores and restaurants line the narrow cobblestone streets.

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Diocletions' Palace was first built in the turn of the fourth century. Diocletion was a soldier who rose through the ranks to became a Roman emperor in the year 284.
He had the palace built as his retirement home. Over the centuries it has been modified a number of times, but there are still many of the original walls and statues today.

We missed the bus back and had to wait an extra hour which made for a very long but enjoyable day.

Day 27. It was a very relaxed day, partially due to the weather which has turned on us again. We walked across the bridge but did not find anything of interest on the other side. A fortress tower was at the far corner of our little island so we climbed to the top and enjoyed the expansive view it offered.
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Today is Sunday and the Church bells rang quite frequently. We came upon a small monastery and went inside to look around. I think they may be the ones who have the bell at 5:30AM.

A number of large wooden boats are tied up, with cabins for passengers and bicycles on the dock to use. These boats go from island to island over the course of a week and you use the bikes to get around when you dock. The prices were not that bad and if we are able to come back to Croatia in the future I would love to do this.

The skies opened so we went back to our room and read for the rest of the afternoon and evening which was just fine with us, some well deserved down time.

Day 28. Check out was at 10 so we left our luggage and walked for a while and then had lunch at a sidewalk cafe where the sailboats had been the day before.

The one o'clock bus to Split had us there early for our 4PM boat to the island of Brac so we sat on the boardwalk and nursed a couple of drinks for two hours and people watched. The rain held off for the day so we felt very fortunate.

One hour on a catamaran took us to the town of Bol, on the island of Brac and we were instantly charmed by the place. Our one bedroom apartment is a five minute walk from the port and has a balcony overlooking the sea.

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Oranges, grapes, cheese, meat, eggs and bread were purchased for our breakfasts before stopping for dinner at sidewalk cafe. A young man played guitar and sang while we ate and made for a wonderful evening.

Day 28 Turned into an inside day today. Torrential rain greeted us this morning. At 11AM there seemed to be a break so we went for a walk along the sea wall only to have the skies open after ten minutes. That would not have been too bad except that it was accompanied by howling winds so from the raincoat down we were soaked and lost another umbrella turned inside out. Headed back and spent the day reading, playing cards and having a relaxing day. Very thankful for the large apartment to spend the day in. We ventured out at 7PM for dinner at the same place as it was close and we enjoyed the food and music the night before.

Day 29. Could the weather get any worse? Apparently so. The forecast looked very dismal. Our landlady came up with cake in hand for us, feeling so badly about the weather for our sake.

There was a break in the rain at 11AM so we dashed out for a walk. A wide pedestrian walkway follows the coastline and we follow it for just over half an hour. There are many vacation homes and three large hotels along the way as well as vendor carts which are locked up for the winter.

We came to a large beach area and sat on the lounge chairs and imagined what it must be like here in the summer heat with hundreds of tourists sunbathing and swimming in the crystal clear sea. I think I need to come back when it is warmer.
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On our walk back the skies opened again and we went home to dry out and rest.

I was woken from my nap by something shinning in my face. What is that? The sun?
Quick, lets go for a walk! Once again we went to the beach at the end of the boardwalk and watched a few brave souls go swimming. This was a gift as the forecast said it would get worse.

Tomorrow we will take the boat back to Split early in the morning and then take a bus north. We are not sure where we will spend the night at this point, we will decide that tomorrow, but hopefully we will find some sunshine and warmer weather.

Posted by debbep 11:32 Archived in Croatia Comments (2)

Bosnia and Herzgovina

Bosnia

Day 22. Periods of heavy rain followed by constant torrential rain. We arrived into Sarajevo at 7PM and were met by our pre arranged cab driver. The city is huge, around 400,000 and a mixture of old and new. Our hotel is located on the top of a very steep hill on the outskirts of the old town and is very quaint and full of charm. Apparently Michael Moore and Richard Gere have stayed here in the past (not together).
We went down for a wonderful breakfast and the back to our room to procrastinate going outside. At 11 AM it was apparent that it would not let up we ventured out.
We walked around and we were soaked to the skin even with raincoats and umbrellas. Are we having fun yet? No.

The old town was a series of shops, many coffee houses and restaurants on a cobblestone pedestrian walkway. We ducked into one for some Lebanese food. There is such a strong Turkish influence here. I would swear we were still in Turkey and not Sarajevo.
Fed up and still soaked we started to walk back and came upon a photo gallery museum about the war in 1993 so we went inside. A young man gave us and 6 others a history of what happened. He spoke very quickly with a heavy accent so we only caught around every second word, but we got the idea.
I realize just how ignorant I am about politics and history when I travel, which is one reason I love to do it so much. I have always had a hard time figuring out exactly what happened in Yugoslavia in the early 1990s and now I am a little bit clearer.

We started in a room with hundreds of photos of men and boys between the ages of 12 and 70. There were a couple of women too, but mostly men. These were just some of the people who were killed during the war here in 1993. Ethnic cleansing. Once again.

A 27 minute video was shown at the end as well as interviews with some of the survivors, mostly women. Heartbreaking. Like Poland the men and women were separated and the men were taken away and shot. Some escaped into the hills.
The Dutch arrived to staff a UN base and it was a safe zone for the refugees. Thousands of women and children arrived. Eventually the Serbs told the Dutch that they had to send them all away , and as the Dutch did not have a clear mandate of what they were supposed to do, they did and most of the refugees where then killed. The Serbs also took some of the UN uniforms and tricked a lot of the people who were hiding into thinking they were saved, only to be shot.
There are still many who are considered missing as their remains have never been found.

The Serbs would be up in the hills with sniper rifles and fire into the city. You can still see so many bombed out and shot buildings. They have done a great deal of rebuilding but there is still much evidence today.

Outside there were a couple of women about my age, or older, with their hand out for money. One was quietly sobbing. I couldn't help but wonder what her story was. Did all of her men get killed in the war? Was she now alone. I keep thinking about her.

We walked back to our hotel and just hung out in our room for the rest of the night.

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Day 23. Church bells ring at 6AM to wake us. Two sets. They are followed by the call to prayer. One is right beside our hotel and very loud but the fellow has a lovely voice and we don't mind starting our day this way.
A drier day greeted us today which we were thankful for. We had booked and paid for four nights here but have decided to leave one day early and head to Mostar. Sarajevo is a big city and the weather is not great so we will try something else. But for today we are here, so we walk the city.
The woman at our hotel told us that the transit strike was still on today. The trams run on electricity and the company did not pay their electric bill so they were cut off. Half way to our destination we see the bus' and trams running again so I guess they paid their bill.
A very small museum was near the bridge. This is a famous spot where the Arch Duke Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated which started World War One. Yugoslavia was part of Austria at that time and he was here on an official visit. Five men were involved with the plot to assassinate him, the first attempt of a bomb failed but the second attempt of shooting them was successful.

Once again we wandered the old town, had lunch and went to an open market to buy some fruit and bread for breakfast tomorrow as we leave to early to eat at the hotel.

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Day 24. 7AM train to Mostar Herzegovina. The train must have been luxurious in it's day, but falling apart now. We choose the non smoking cabin but it did not seem to matter as everyone smoked in their anyhow. I am under the impression that pretty much everyone here smokes and there are not any no smoking areas.
The train passes through beautiful rolling hills , craggy mountains and farmland as it goes through the mountains on the many switchbacks and through tunnels. At 10 AM we arrived and walked blindly to find our hostel. A lovely woman asked if she could help us, we looked lost. I said that I could not find any street signs and she said ' Yes, since the war they have not been replaced'. She pointed us in the right direction and we dragged our suitcases down the broken sidewalks for about 20 minutes. Just before we found it she came around the corner again to make sure we were still on track which was so nice of her.

We have booked a tiny room in a hostel that is very clean and in good repair. Run by a lovely German couple it cost only $27 per night. After dropping off our bags we make the short walk to the old town and the famous Stare Most bridge. As soon as we rounded the corner I was so happy that we left Sarajevo for Mostar. It is just beautiful. Another old walled city with narrow cobblestone streets with vendors on each side selling the many scarves, copper ware, jewelry, and souvenirs. Years gone by there were vendors here selling silks, copper and goods for the people in the area. It was a very important area of trade from Turkey to the Far East.

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Mostar is a very popular destination for day-trippers from Croatia and Sarajevo. Large tour groups speaking Italian, German, Japanese and French congregate on the bridge.

Warm and sunny it is a breathtaking sight to see the green fast flowing river and the white bridge and towers beside it. A small museum was in one of the towers which we explored and learned more about this Unesco site.

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The bridge was blown up in 1993. The rebuilding was symbolic as a sign that the war was over. It did not get finished until 2004 however. One of the pastimes of the local boys is to jump off the bridge and we saw footage from the 1950s of the original bridge as well as recently the boys do somersaults, backflips and swan dives into the river below. Judges hold up numbers from 1 -10 after they jump to say how they have done. We only saw one young man jump while we were there.

Once again there are many bombed out buildings and damaged homes. I have never been anywhere with such recent evidence of war.

Another small museum was toured and then back to our hotel for a few hours before venturing out for dinner and poking around the shops. We both just loved Mostar and were very glad we spent a night here.

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Day 25. 6:30AM we are driven to the bus station by the owner of the hostel. Our bus is modern, clean and the no smoking signs are obeyed. Doug and I each sit on opposite sides of the bus as it is not crowded. The drive to the Croatian boarder takes us through many switchbacks and mountain tunnels. The small towns in the mountains look prosperous with newer homes and huge vineyards. Rolling hills and grapes as far as you can see.

Three hours later we see the water. Oh how I have missed the ocean. We are high up on the mountain highway and the dark blue Adriatic Sea is below fringed by turquoise blue and white sand at the edges. It looks so lovely, although I don't see anyone swimming in it. It is October after all, but none the less it looks magnificent. Our drive takes us along the Dalmatian coast for around an hour before arriving in Split. Our bus for Trogir is leaving right away so we are fortunate to transfer to another 30 minute bus ride.

Upon arrival we drag our suitcases across the bridge and through the tunnel in search of our home on this small connected island for the next few days. The instructions were vague so we need to ask a number of people. We are in a walled medieval village and head down narrow cobblestone roads with high walls on either side. It is like a labyrinth. Finally we find it (well someone else found it for us). We are staying in a heritage site, a former palace, and make our way up the small, narrow circular staircase to our lovely small room. The sun is warm and the sky blue, water surrounds us. I am very happy to be here in Croatia.

Posted by debbep 00:35 Comments (4)

Romania

Transalvania

Day 15
Not knowing where to go next we decided on Transylvania because of all the great reports and it sounded so different from where we had already been. Our train arrived at the Sighisoara Station at noonish. We hailed a cab and made our way across the river to our home for the next three nights, 'The Joker' hotel. A few minutes walk from the centre of the old town for $30 a night it proves to be a great place to wind down for a few days. After a rest we walked around the small town. We instantly fall in love with the new and different architecture and the many colors of the buildings.
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Sighisoara is a Unesco world heritage site. This well preserved medieval town has buildings dating back to the 13th century and quite different from what we have seen so far on this trip. The clock tower and churches are at the top of the hill in the old walled city so we make our way up the cobblestone road to look around. There are not many tourists here and it is all so laid back and relaxed.
Dinner was a hearty vegetable soup and bread. Bread is a staple everywhere in Europe it seems. They have little take out windows here on a couple of storefronts that sell these round bagel/pretzel looking things that people line up all day for. We had to try some of course and were immediately hooked.
The roofs of the buildings are very steep and have the rounded red tiles. Home owners take great pride in their homes and gardens with many flowers in bloom and tomatoes, grapes and corn ready to be picked.

Day 16. A short hike back to the top of the hill to the walled city allows us to explore the many buildings.
This is the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler, AKA Dracula. The real story is that Vlad's father was given the order of the dragon for bravery and dragon in Romanian is Dracu. There is a very long story about Vlad, but the short version is that he became a very good but brutal fighter against the Turks. He killed and tortured up to 100,000 men women and children burning entire villages. He became very feared by the Turks as when they were advancing upon a town to conquer, they would find people who had been impaled by Vlad lining each side of the road and so the invaders would quite often then retreat.
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Bram Stoker did a story and movie loosely based upon this and in fact he had never even been to Romania before.

The walled city is all hilly and difficult to walk on the narrow roads with uneven cobblestones. I feel drunk. No high heels are worn here.

People are still living inside the walls and there are two schools. The high school is at the top of a covered walkway which has 176 steps. We climbed to the top and found a lovely old church and a very informative and friendly young man who explained about the area for us. Under the church was a crypt. I asked who would have been buried there and he said the rich. That is where the saying 'stinking rich ' comes from. The rich would be put under the church and the congregation would have to endure the smell of rotting bodies during the church service.

A graveyard adjoined the church and dated back many centuries with family plots that still have residents buried there now, condominium style I assume.
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A large Catholic Church rings the bell at 7AM, noon and 7PM daily. It rings and rings and rings, maybe 25 or more times a go. This is a tradition that has carried on from days gone by so that people knew when to stop and have their meals.

Later in the evening we went out for dinner again. There are not many restaurants here as it is a small town. There seem to be a lot of coffee houses where you can get alcohol as well, but other than pastries no food. Everyone seems to smoke and inside the restaurants as well. The non smoking area appears to be outside.

DAY 17. Last night we arranged to have a local guide, Peter,our guide and driver, picked us up at the hotel at 9AM for a day out in the country. Peter is around 35 years of age and the name of his company is Wanderlust, which I thought was appropriate. He had a great deal of information to share with us about Romania. There are a lot of German speakers in Romania and communities of people of German ancestry. For that reason Romania was not bothered too much by the Nazis in the Second World War until 1944, (unless you were a gypsy). The EU so far has not been great for Romania. Farmers are paid an allowance of so much per hectare for farming their land. More if they let it go to grassland than farm it. They want France to provide most of Europe with produce so a lot of farmers and factory workers have been displaced in Romania. It sounds like there really isn't much of an export business here at all any more.

During communist occupation, which similar to Hungary was after the war until 20 years ago, everyone was working but the factories were not profitable so after the occupation many of them closed down.
70% of the produce that the farmers grow are organic. There are monsanto and fertilizer companies but most farmers can't afford to buy it and figured out pretty quickly that the old fashioned way was better anyhow. Most of the farming is done by horse or hand. The miles and miles of corn are all picked by hand. Most farmers around here can't afford tractors and the cost of gas is high. The farms are on hillsides and they find that horses are better to traverse them than tractors anyhow.

Our first stop is an old church in a small village. On the hill we see a fortress. At one time there was a tunnel to the hill from the church so that people could escape from approaching invaders. These churches are both a place to worship but also a place to hide and fight the enemy.
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When an enemy was coming the church bell would ring to warn everyone. There were three kinds of rings. One to warn of enemies attacking, one for a fire and one for church.
The woman, children and large animals would head up the hill to the fortress. The men would go to the church.

At the back of the church, which dates back to 1300, there is a stone circular staircase. It is narrow, dark and difficult to climb. Circular stairs always cork screw the same way. They are designed for defending. The soldier coming down the stairs could fight with a sword in his right hand, however the attacker is unable to use his sword because of the angle of the stairs. I suppose most were right handed back then.

We arrived at the top and were in a room above the church. There are small windows and holes in the floor where the residents would defend their church from. They could pour hot oil, water and drop rocks onto the attackers with ease. They also would shoot arrows and crossbows (and later muskets) though the windows. These men were not soldiers but farmers and town folk. It is amazing that this church still stands, relatively in tact as it was centuries ago.

The next town was down a very long and badly kept road. We pass many shepherds with their flocks of sheep. It would be a very lonely and boring job to be a shepherd I would think.
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Prince Charles has a home in the town we arrive at. A very modest home in a town of only a few hundred. He likes to come here for a couple of weeks in the year to get away from it all and just be a regular person. The towns people leave him alone and he gets to walk the hills, hunt and ride the horse and wagon around. It is a very peaceful place.

We tour another church /fortress which has a museum in it. We are learning about the life of Romanians from early times to present day. Transylvania is a melting pot of religions and cultures. There were never any wars over religion here during the past few centuries. I find the Romanian language sounds a lot like Italian to me. They sing when they speak, it is quite lovely.

Lunch was waiting for us in another small town at a farm. Everything was from the garden, or in the case of the meat, shot by the sons of the owner. Doug had a plate of beans with Venison and Wild Boar. I had beans, vegetable soup, sour cabbage and macaroni with sheep's cheese. We were offered a fruit liquor, like schnapps , that everyone has a shot of for lunch. When we politely declined we were brought a pitcher of wine. We declined that as well. Drinking for lunch and dinner is the norm. I sit and eat my lunch in a lovely room decorated with antlers, skeletal heads of big horned animals and taxidermy on the walls.

The owner was redoing the roof of the building. The clay roof tiles will last up to 300 years, only the wooden struts need to be replaced and the tiles used over and over again.

A final church was toured, each one different from the last, and then we started our journey back home after a long but interesting six hour tour.

Day 18. The train to Brasov was supposed to leave at 11:30AM but we did not board until 1:30PM. We splurged for first class seats for an extra $10 but find that there is not much difference from second class really. The costs here are very inexpensive. We are living on around $50 each a day, but this will quickly change when we reach Italy I am sure.
Upon arrival at Brasov we arrange a taxi to our hotel. For the second time we are charged four times what it should be.Funny thing is that the driver gave us some great rates for day trips while we are here, but because of the rip off we won't use him now.
Our hotel is in the old part of Brasov and the nicest we have stayed at so far. New and clean we are happy to rest here for a short while before exploring the old town.
A wall surrounds the main area which we followed past a small creek with the white and black towers on top of the hill.

Brasov is another lovely medieval town and we are instantly captivated with the old colorful buildings with the various architectural styles.
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Transylvania was part of Austria in the past so there is a definite Viennese style once again. Many outdoor restaurants are found on the pedestrian walkway but we chose to eat inside as there is an unusual cold front right now. Everyone is in their winter clothes, I definitely did not pack enough warm clothes.

Day 19. Last night I emailed a fellow that was found on the internet and arranged a tour to three outlying castles. He website said 'tour guide' but alas he turned out to be only a driver who talked as we went from place to place. When we arrived at our location we were on our own which was a disappointment. While driving he was a wealth of information and very opinionated about the Romanian Government and politics in general.
A sunny but cold day we started off at Bran Castle, the one used as the castle for 'Dracula' movies.
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Bran is located at the top of a hill and was given as a gift from Romania to the much loved Romanian Queen Mary and King Ferdinand. It is a very modest castle, as castles go, but I loved it.

One of the most interesting things at this castle was a weigh scale that they used in the Middle Ages to see if convicts were followers of satan or not. The prisoner would sit on one side and they would put rocks on the other. They believed that if you weighed less than they thought that you should, you must be a Satan worshipper. You were then tortured until you admitted being a follower of Satan. If, however, the convict weighed what they thought he should, he was then set free.
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Outside the castle was an area of tourist souvenirs and food items for sale. This is a large sheep farming area and you could find slippers, vests and items made from sheep skin. There were a lot of tour groups here today. An older man was selling apples from his farm and I took one and asked how much. He said in gesture "only 1?" No charge. I insisted on paying but he was adamant that I needn't pay for only one apple. I got another for Doug and paid him a small amount. The Romanian's are so kind and gentle.

Our next stop took us through the Carpathian mountains and hills which are covered in deciduous trees of yellows oranges and reds. In a couple of weeks they will be an explosion of color and rival the East Coast of Canada I am sure.

Rasnov Fortress was perched high on a hill overlooking the farms and villages below. A young man asked if we would like to have a guide and we accepted his offer. This was a decision that we did not regret as he was full of interesting historical information about the fort and the area. In 2000 an Italian businessman bought the fort from the Romanian government and changed a number of things in the hopes of turning it into a hotel. He made up stories of historic events that did not happen and had no knowledge of restoring the fort to keep it's historical significance. Eventually the Romanian government realized what was going on and bought the fort back from him before more damage could be done.
Our guide informed us that in medieval times they used poison ivy to cover the meat in the cold area of the castle as this would help to preserve it as well as keep the flys off.
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Peles Castle was the third stop and the Grand Palace of Queen Mary and King Ferdinand. Even the Hermitage in Russia was not quite as over the top as this. It was quite fantastic and rather than see if for the gaudy and opulent place that it was, I looked rather at the amazing work of the artists who contributed to it. There were walls, ceilings and furniture with intricate inlaid wood and marble pictures. Mirrors and glass work that must have been created by very talented craftsmen lined the walls and chandeliers.

We were at the end of a very long but full day and went for dinner before heading back to the hotel. Our guide did not allow us the time to stop for lunch so we were famished.
The food here is very good, but everywhere we have been thus far has a huge Italian influence with most of the menu being Pizza and Pasta dishes.

Day 20. Satisfied from our full breakfast we left our luggage at the front desk and spent the day exploring Brasnov. The city is the size of Victoria but we concentrate ourselves only in the old historic part. The pedestrian walkway is very busy, it is the weekend and there are lots of people from Bucharest and outlying areas that come for a holiday. A weekend market is set up with farmers selling their produce and locally made preserves and baking.

I found a pair of sandals to replace the ones I lost in Vancouver. They are not great but only cost $8 so will do if I can't find anything else on our travels. An art museum was on the agenda. The two floors of Romanian art displayed had virtually no light so the dark paintings, which I am sure were great, were very difficult to see.
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Our last stop was 'The Black Church' which is called that because it was in a huge fire in the 1600s. We tried to visit earlier in the day but there was a wedding taking place. Someone was tuning the organ so we sat in the pews for a while and listened to some beautiful music. The church is very unique and magnificent

Our train left for Bucharest on time and took us through picturesque farmland, craggy mountains and hills ablaze with trees in transition.

The only problems we have had in any country so far with being ripped off has been in train stations by taxis so we arranged to have our hotel send a car for us.

Romanian people are very patient people, until they get behind the wheel of a car. We were originally going to rent a car but saw how they drove and the cost of renting a car and driver was not much more so glad to have made that choice. Lanes are just a suggestion and tailgating a national sport. It is not quite as bad as India but nerve-wracking for sure. Our ride tonight was with a man who had been a champion rally driver and it was very apparent. He was very skilled at weaving in and out of traffic with ease.

Day 21. To travel west by train proved to be quite an ordeal and was going to take 24 hours because you had to go north then south. To save time and money we decided to fly, but need to fly to Istanbul to then fly west. That is where we are now as I write this, killing time on our 7 hour layover in this huge and busy airport.

To sum it all up Romania was a wonderful surprise. The people, countryside and history was more than we expected. It was a very inexpensive country to visit and we always felt safe and hotels and restaurants were always clean and more than satisfactory. We are very glad that we decided to go.

Now onto find some warmer weather......

Posted by debbep 12:15 Archived in Romania Comments (2)

Hungary

Budapest

Day 11. Budapest welcomed us with sunny skies and a warm 19 degrees. Our hotel was a large palatial home of years gone by. Many, many years gone by. Not much has been done to it in the last century for sure. The location however is perfect. Our train arrived late, around 10PM and the street we were on was dark as was the entrance to our apartment. A young fellow met us, gave us our keys and helped to carry my bag up to the first floor, which was like two floors because the ceilings are so high. The stairwell was very dark, dirty and kind of creepy. Dusting and cleaning had not been done for some time. Our room is in a wing that has a half dozen rooms off a sitting area and is spacious enough. The furnishings are new but the twin beds look a bit dodgy on first glance, but turned out to be okay. Our room was clean and that was more important than the lobby. The location however could not be beat and for $50 a night in this area is just fine.

We are just off one of the many pedestrian malls and we set off in search of breakfast. It is 7AM and the city is waking up, not much open yet but we did find a great buffet. In an hour we are surprised as to how many shops are now open and people milling about. Budapest is awake.

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As usual we seek out a walking tour for our introduction to the city and get our bearings. Another International group joins us as we walk around the city for the next three hours learning about the history and landmarks from our entertaining and knowledgeable guide Zoltan.

The buildings were a combination of Baroque, Romanesque Art Deco, and some Renascence and were some of the nicest we had seen. Our guide would point out the stark lines of the communist buildings in between these works of art and how they just did not fit in.
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Budapest was actually two towns, Buda and Pest. In the 1800s they decided to make this the capital of the country and each city was too small so they joined them to create Budapest. We are staying on the Pest side with a number of large bridges over the Danube connecting the two areas. The Chain bridge is the most popular and we made our way across past the two large lions guarding each end, like the Lions Gate in Vancouver.

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Up the 200 plus steps to the top of Castle Hill to walk the grounds of the Castle, which never had any royalty staying there. The views and architecture are beautiful.
Zoltan tells us that the Hungarian people for the most part all look stone faced and non expressive because of years of living under communist rule has gotten them into the habit of this. When you get them in a social situation however, they are full of fun and life. Very similar to Russia.

The tour was over and we were hungry so joined Zoltan in the government cafeteria. Everything was written in Hungarian and none of the employees spoke english but Zoltan explained the menu to us and we had an authentic Hungarian meal.
We walked around a bit more and then decided to take the funicular down the hill. The car going down pulls up the one going to the top. It was fun to do and offered a great view.

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We walked across the bridge again and back to our apartment for a few hours. Our evening was spent walking on the pedestrian sidewalk/road again after dinner and looking at all the goods for sale. There was an ice bar. We didn't go in but the room was made of ice and you were given parkas to wear and then sit on ice chairs and drink beer from glasses made of ice.

Day 12. Grabbed an americano and headed to the end of the pedestrian walk to an indoor market that we had heard about. It was about four times the size of Granville island with many fruit and vegetable stands, lots of meat and sausages, pastries and what ever you like for your cooking needs. Upstairs on the second level had food stalls and stands selling beautiful leather purses, clothing, jewelry and souvenirs. Even though it is early in the morning the market is packed with tourists and locals doing their daily shopping and looking around. Doug and I each found something to eat and then wandered around but only ending up buying some fruit for our train ride the day after tomorrow.

The train station to our next destination was quite a ways from where we were so we walked to find the metro. Budapest has three train stations and I got it wrong and the one we went to was not the one we needed. We were able to buy our tickets there anyhow but glad to have bought it a day early and not shown up at the wrong station on departure day.

On the walk back we found the National Museum and there was some sort of religious gathering in many tents around the grounds. We did not understand any of it, but walked around to see many denominations represented. Doug went into the museum and later said that he really enjoyed it. The Roman exhibit was better than the ones we saw in Turkey he thought. I just walked back to our place for the afternoon.

A block from our apartment is a vegetarian restaurant which we enjoyed and then walked the pedestrian walk again to people watch and just get out. A small restaurant had a man playing a violin and another a piano so we sat on the patio and enjoyed an amazing hot chocolate. It tasted like melted chocolate. Yum. With not many patrons he came over and played some tunes for us, asking for requests. I said I wanted to hear Hungarian music so he played some wonderful fast Hungarian tunes. He was an extremely accomplished musician.

The Hungarian people are very good looking for the most part. WIth ancestors from Asia, Turkey, Germany and the Slavic countries, they have taken the best traits of each. People are again very stylish and well dressed. The shoes, oh to be able to wear some of these shoes!!!!!

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Day 13. So far Budapest has not been our favourite place. It is nice, but a huge city, with over 2 million population and we are just spoiled from Prague and Krakow being so amazing. If we had come here first it may have been a different story.
But, I wanted to give it a chance so we decided to do the 'Hop on Hop Off Bus'.
The ticket included, whether we wanted it or not, a boat tour on the Danube so we started there. It was nice to see both sides from the water and we were told that the "Elizabeth Park" at the end of the tour was a great place to get off and walk for an hour. It is an island in the middle of the river between the two sides and similar to Stanley Park in that people come here for family outings etc.

There is a jogging track around the island and as it is Sunday it is packed. The middle of the track is recycled rubber so easy on the feet for the runners. Tennis courts, swimming pools, waterslide park, rowing club, playground, gardens and even a small zoo are on the island. A nice escape from the concrete jungle of the city and seems to be well used by the locals.

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A hour spent walking we made it back to get our boat back to the starting point. We now looked for the double decker bus to start our tour of this huge city.

Budapest was under communist rule for 50 years after the war, just like Poland. Not much upkeep was done during that time and then the Hungarian Government didn't have the funds to do the work. Recently they have started to do the repairs and upgrading needed but that means the the city is in pieces. Roads closed, torn up, blocked off and dust and dirt everywhere. Perhaps that is why I didn't enjoy it as much as the other cities.
That is one reason that the bus tour was not the greatest. The stops were not marked because they had to keep changing them and then when we finally did get on the but they never had any information that was good on the head sets and waited 15 minutes at each stop.

I was fed up by stop number 6 and we got off and walked the rest of the way. Too bad because in every other city we have done this tour it has been great.
The other weird thing is that there were three companies that called their bus "Hop on hop off", they were just different colors. How does this happen?? We had the 'econo line'. Get what you pay for.....

We found a great place for lunch, one of the best yet, and then walked back to the room. We packed up and went for a Vietnamese dinner at a small place across the street from us. It was wonderful and the young man from Vietnam who owns it was very
charming and friendly. He ordered a cab to pick us up at 10:30PM for our train tonight.
We paid for four nights here but decided to leave at midnight instead of the morning to save time. We were grateful to have the room to hang out in until that time.

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We have an overnight train and I am writing this in our lovely little cabin, nicer than the last one. Needing a change from the big cities we are heading to some small medieval villages for a while.

2:30 AM Doug wakes me to say there is someone knocking on the door. He is on the top bunk so I open it to find a young man in uniform.
"Passports."
Groggily I find them and after scrutinizing for a while he stamps and returns them to me.

3:30AM. Knocking at the door "Passports"
Didn't we just do this? Same routine. I try to get back to sleep but notice that now that we have crossed the border the train feels like it is on a washboard track. Shake rattle and roll I feel like a milkshake.

Day 14, 7:30AM. Pulling up the blinds reveals the countryside with miles and miles of corn for as far as the eye can see. Sheep, cows, gardens. We see 'peasants farmers' picking the corn by hand and loading it into large wooden wagons pulled by horses. It looks lovely and we can't wait to explore this new area.

Posted by debbep 13:21 Archived in Hungary Comments (1)

POLAND

Day 6. We checked out of our room and left our luggage at reception. I remember now why I never do bus tours. We had the worse tour guide ever. Our little bus of 20 people from all over the world agreed, she was terrible. The day was spent driving out to the countryside which was nice to see and the first stop was a church that had been decorated by human bones dug up from the local cemeteries. A picture is worth a thousand words in this case.

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We stopped at a small town and toured around, some pretty shots were taken. After we got back to Prague we had dinner and then went to the train station for our 10:30PM departure. The cabin was very small but had bunk beds, a little sink and a place to hang clothes. It actually could have been made up with three bunks but it would be very tight in there. The door locked so we had no worries about our luggage. It was an eight hour journey on which we slept on and off. At six AM we were woken by our car's conductor and served croissants and coffee to get ready for our departure. There are no border crossing or passport controls in the EU.

A taxi took us to our pre booked B and B, The Tango House. The owner is a tango dancer from Argentina and there are many posters of people dancing the tango and we hear tango music playing. It is a restored 16th century bath house. There are only 5 rooms, ours is at the top of a narrow circular wooden staircase, 4th floor. The room is bright and charming but the best part is that it is literally around the corner from the main square.
As I write this I can hear the bugle player from the top of the tower, which sounds every hour. He does not finish his anthem however as in the 12th century the bugle player was sounding an alarm as the Tartars were coming to attack in the night. He was shot through the throat mid play and the tradition of playing the tune only part way carries on. Now, after 4 nights of hearing the bells and the trumpet four times every hour it is not quite as charming. It is a real person playing, firemen who volunteer and take 24 hour shifts.

It was only 7AM when we arrived so our room was not ready of course. We dropped off our bags and went in search of breakfast. Krakow is just waking up.

Or going to sleep for some as we see a number of young people staggering around still drunk from Saturday night and heading home or places unknown.
We managed to find an open shop and had the best cup of coffee to date. The woman at the hotel said we could probably check in early, at noon, so only four more hours to kill.
The square is massive, 10 acres, and surrounded by huge buildings and churches from the 14th and 16th century. It is the largest square of any medieval town in Europe.

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After walking a while we came to a park and sat to rest. I can barely keep my eyes open. So Tired....I think I will just lay down on this park bench for a bit. Doug was uncomfortable with my decision but I couldn't help it, or care at this point and slept for around 40 minutes. Apparently two people came up at different times to see if I was okay. I guess it is not the norm to see an older woman sleeping on a park bench.

After my cat nap I was good to go for a few more hours. There was a big fundraiser relay today in the main square. Thousands of people were lined up to do the 5 km run around the square and it looked like the Vancouver Sun run or similar.

Finally we could check into our room, she had already taken our suitcases up the four flights for us (bless her heart) and we had a shower and slept for a couple of hours.

Refreshed and renewed and back to the square for a late lunch and wandering. There is a huge building in the middle of the square that dates from the 16th century, the Cloth House is where vendors would come to sell their wares. The tradition still goes on and today the stalls sell souvenirs, leather goods and lots of amber. Amber comes from this region and some of the pieces are enormous. I saw pendants that were around 6 inches x 4 inches. They would be very heavy to wear I imagine. Some have bugs such as mosquitoes and pieces of plants in them which were neat.
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Like Prague the city is very well kept, clean and the buildings are spectacular. A great deal of young people once again. There are lots of street musicians, magicians, dancers
and entertainers of great talent in the square. It is not quite as vibrant as Prague however and certainly not as crowded, except for the special relay run today.

I convinced Doug to take a carriage ride with me. It was a 1/2 hour ride around the centre but I loved it. There was a piano recital at a palace on the square so we bought tickets for the 7PM show. The building had been converted to apartments during the occupation of the communists but a number of years ago a Polish philanthropist bought the building and had it restored. We were in a room overlooking the square that was decorated in the baroque style. The drapes were about 15 feet high and like duvets, they were lined with down comforters to keep the cold out from the windows most likely. It was a very small crowd and an extremely accomplished young man of 24 had us all mesmerized by his playing of Chopin on a baby grand piano. I don't think we have ever heard anyone play so well.

I have just finished reading a few novels on Poland, one of them being Michener's 'Poland' and took myself back to the early 1900s in Poland when I would have been dressed in a gorgeous gown, arrive by carriage to this beautiful palace and sit in the chamber with other nobility and aristocrats listening to such a performance.

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There is a large police presence here, some riding around on segways. In Prague people drank openly in the square, walking down the streets and where ever they wanted with mugs of beer , wine or what have you. A different story in Krakow. Police are constantly going up to people drinking, some from paper bags who are trying to convince the police that the bottle of beer is in fact not beer. There is a hefty fine associated with being caught.

The fashion here is fantastic. The stores all show modern colourful well made clothing of great style. The shoes, both men and woman's, are all fun and interesting as well. Leather purses of different shapes styles and colours hang from store front windows.
The Polish people are very stylish dressers, and for the most part, are very small in frame, even when they get older.

Poland has been invaded and conquered by so many of it's neighbours over the last number of centuries. It is amazing to me that there is a Polish language and culture at all, they had to work hard to preserve it. At one time Krakow was part of Austria and you can see a Viennese influence here. After the Second World War they were 'liberated' by Russia but then under Communist rule until 20 years ago.
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DAY 7 started with a walking tour of old Krakow. Our international group included 15 people from countries such as Argentina, England, New Zealand, Australia as well as a young woman from Peru whom we spent time with. The three hour tour gave us a good overview of the buildings and history of the area.
The Polish Pope was from Krakow and so loved by the people. There are 17 statues of him around the city as well as large pictures. One of our stops was outside his former residence which had a huge picture of him on the window/balcony that he would talk from. The young people would congregate in the park across the street and call for him. He came to the window and said "How can I get any sleep with all this racket going on, do you think that it is easy being a pope?" He was joking and had a great rapport with the people of Poland, talking to the young quite often, being very approachable.

Wawel Castle was at the end of our tour and these well preserved buildings on top of the hill were spectacular. Poland has spent a great deal of time and money renewing this special place. Again for me it was fantastic to see the places that I have been reading about and statues and crypts with names that I recognize.

Later in the afternoon we did a tour to the Jewish area as well as the ghetto from the 2nd world war. Too late to take the walking tour we opted for a golf cart tour instead. Mistake. A canned commentary was played, in English, but the fellow driving would be past what the woman was talking about and we would constantly have to say "what is she talking about?"
He tried to give us information as well, but he spoke so softly that we could barely hear him, and I think he just made some of it up. The guides on the walking tours have very strict rules to be licensed and get a hefty fine if they make anything up and get caught. Not so with the cart drivers. Live and learn. We still got something out of it of course. A stop at Shindler's factory was included but we did not go inside. A small part of the wall still remains around the ghetto and we were shown buildings where resistance fighters would meet and plan escapes. It made it all so real, remembering the movies and books seen on this time in history.
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A typical polish meal was on the menu tonight. Polish dumplings, or perogies, Meat for Doug and cheese and potato for me.

Day 8 was a cold wet and windy day. Blow your umbrella inside out kind of a day. After breakfast we walked back to the castle to tour the inside. The cathedral complex was huge and Doug thought one of the most spectacular that he has seen. Quite a number of the statues were from Italy.

There were only 71 steps up to the bell tower, but they were very narrow, high and the stairwell was dark. At each landing there would be a huge bell. Thankfully they only rung it a few times a year and today wasn't one of them. To get to the next landing you would have to squeeze between large timbers. The view from the top was great and touching the bell was supposed to bring good luck.

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The Cathedral and Castle complex are constructed with a combination of Gothic, Romanesque and Renaissance architecture. It was built in stages over many centuries and during different rule.

Coffee and a light snack followed at an outdoor cafe on site. Pigeons are quite prevalent in Krakow, and not appreciated by a lot of Poles. There is a fine for harming one which deters putting them on the menu. A couple at the table next to us were having sandwiches and the pigeons flew right to them trying to take the sandwiches out of their hands. It was like the movie 'The Birds'. The woman was kicking and hitting the pigeons but they were very aggressive and tenacious for quite some time before finally leaving.

A tour of old Wawel was next which took us to a very well done exhibit of what the pre 13th century castle was like. The way it was done was exceptional with glass walkways over the original rooms and stonework from hundreds of years ago. Artifacts from the time were also on display in well lit cases.

State Rooms were next on our agenda going through the many rooms where the Rulers, Treasurers and heads of state would rule the land. The paintings and wall hangings were in perfect shape and not covered by glass but left to the elements which surprised us. Carved ceilings and painted frescoes on the walls made the rooms very dramatic in appearance. Many of the paintings and furnishings were from Italy as well as the Orient, Turkey, Holland and other countries.
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Dinner tonight was again in a typical Polish restaurant where Doug ordered perogies with Deer Goulash. I had, once again, an eggplant dish. We met a couple from Australia at the next table whom we spent the evening talking to. Our paths may cross again as we are on a similar journey
A large bag of groceries were purchased on the way home. It was full of fruit, vegetables, yogurt and other items and cost only $8. Poland is certainly an economical country to visit.

Day 9 was a beautiful and warm sunny day. It was also a very emotional but enlightening day. Auschwitz and Birkenau.

Picked up at 9AM in a modern comfortable van we joined 18 others for our one hour drive out of town. On the way we were shown a movie, one I had never seen before, of footage and commentary from a Russian reporter who at the young age of 20 something arrived with the Russian troops to liberate the prisoners of the death camps. Not sure of what he was supposed to do, and quite unprepared for what he found upon arrival at the camps he shared his photos and films with us, the audience. I had to look out the window a number of times to keep from fainting, it was information that I had not heard or seen before. The scenery outside was lovely however, rolling hills, beautiful little towns with modern as well as older homes along the way.

When we arrived at Auschwitz we were told to stick together, given name badges to identify our little group as the place was packed. Over a million visitors from all over the world come to bear witness to this atrocity that happened only 70 years ago.
I could not help to imagine what it must have been like to be one of the many thousands of people arriving by train and being herding into areas and put into groups. For us it was one station to get head phones, another to get the recorder. In the 40s you would have been separated, male from female, and your belongings immediately taken from you. Each person was told they could bring 25 kilos of their most prized possessions. What would you bring? Pictures, jewelry, family treasures? A promise of a work camp is what they were expecting. The suitcases were then taken from them as soon as they got off the train.

The entrance gates read ' Work shall set you free'
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A doctor would be sitting down as you lined up in front of him. After not much more than a glance he would decide your fate. If he pointed to the left you would go immediately to the gas chamber. More than 70 percent of people who arrived on the trains did not survive more than a couple of hours. All children under 16, the old, sick or handicapped were sent to the left. Mothers with young children, even though healthy, would all go left so as not to create any hysteria separating moms and children.
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If you went right you were sent to work-camps. Factories, local farms and work in the camp itself. Others were used in experiments. The first few years of operation every prisoner would have their picture taken with name, age, date of arrival and date of death. Most only lasted a few months and died of hunger and exhaustion. The prisoners who went left never had their photos taken. There were immaculate records kept of the ones who stayed and the entire operation was so efficient and throughly planned out.
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Photos of every prisoner proved to be too expensive and the last couple of years is when they decided to just tattoo numbers on forearms and the paper records would reflect the information about each prisoner.

Having read many books, articles and seeing countless movies about the death camps did not prepare us for the magnitude of this.

During the war there were prisoners working in the storage warehouses where they would sort the items taken from the people arriving. They called these warehouses Canada because they imagined that Canada was the land of plenty, like these warehouses were.
Auschwitz used to be Polish barracks so the buildings were well made of brick and had indoor plumbing. It was much better to be sent here than Birkenau.
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Our tour guide, Michael, a Pole was easy to understand and gave us a lot of information but did not have any emotion in his voice. I can not imagine giving this tour multiple times a day, day after day. It was a very sombre day for everyone.

Why didn't more people try to escape? The camps were surrounded by electric fences and guards with machine guns and dogs, however if you did succeed they would then capture your entire family (if they were not already there) and either incarcerate them at Auschwitz or just kill them all. They would also punish and sometimes kill the others in your barrack. A deterrent for most.

Birkenau was built because they wanted more efficiency. The goal was to exterminate
11million people in the end and Auschwitz was just not doing the job fast enough. Birkenau was five times the size and could exterminate and cremate three times more per day. The buildings however were built to be temporary so they were mostly made of wood with latrine houses behind them. In some buildings the snow would come inside and the temperature would drop to minus 30 so you can imagine the conditions.
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We just discussed our visit with two young men from England who were there as well. They agreed that it left you with quite a different impression from what they had already thought it would be like. We also agreed that we were amazed at how organized and efficient the entire operation was.

That is all I will say about it, but I feel that hard as it is, everyone should go. I had been to Dachau concentration camp in Germany many years ago, but a death camp is quite a bit different.
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Our last night in Poland was spent at an underground museum. It was very well done but unfortunately we did not understand much of what we saw. It would have been a great place for either headsets or a guide, neither of which was offered however.

Day 10. 8AM train to Budapest involved a 2 1/2 hour layover where we changed trains and then arrive tonight at 830PM. I am spending the time working on this blog and enjoying the beautiful pastoral scenery. Our compartment has six seats and they are all full. Four young people from Budapest returning home from somewhere on business have joined us. The Polish trains are very modern, quiet and comfortable. The second train was not as nice as the first, but still much better than I was led to believe.

I don't think I want to spend an entire day on a train again however. I think time is better spent doing night trains and saving the day for sightseeing. So little time and so much to see. We are contemplating where to go after this????

But for now, on to Hungary...........

Posted by debbep 14:07 Archived in Poland Comments (2)

Prague is amazing

So much history.

Our arrival in Prague was not without a bit of drama, that being a luggage mishap in Vancouver. We walked on the Departure Bay ferry and then had coffee with Doug's sister Sydney at Starbucks downtown Vancouver. Our flight was not for a few more hours so we had time to catch up with her. On the walk to the skytrain my beautiful little carry on bag fell apart. The pull up handle fell off. There was no way to fix it, perhaps in a luggage shop but the chance of one being in downtown Vancouver was pretty slim.

As we were standing outside the 'Bay' I dragged Syd and Doug to the luggage department to find another bag. I was overtired, it was past my daily nap time and when I am tired I make bad decisions and panic. Both of these happened, and on a grand scale. I was darting from bag to bag with the help of Doug and Syd as well as this poor employee who kept bringing me bags to try. My clothes and items were all over the floor of the store as I would try to fit everything into another 20 inch carry on. It seems the one I had was very generous in size.
In the end I left with a 24 inch very expensive, boring black suitcase. Somehow my dress sandles got left behind I discovered later. They are probably inside one of the suitcases that got put back on the shelf.

The flight on Briish Airways to London was very pleasant, we had a five hour lay over in London and then continued on to Prague.

It is always such a relief to me when I see my baggage arrive at my destination, and ours were the first ones on the carousel and in one piece as well. We were then thrilled to see a fellow standing with a sign that had my name on it, our transfer to the city. It was now 10PM local time and although we did sleep a bit on the flight we were tired.

We were taken to our home for the next 6 days, a one bedroom apartment in the centre, walking distance to pretty much everything we want to see. It is large, has great curved lines in the ceilings and we are very pleased with it. After unpacking our bags we crashed into bed and slept until 7 the next morning which was great.
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DAY 1. Prague is amazing! I think it is my new favourite place that we have been to. There does not seem to be much damage to the buildings from the wars as there are many Baroque buildings from the 17th and 18th centuries most in pastel shades. The narrow, winding roads and sidewalks are all various types of cobblestones. Very few cars are in the old part of Prague which is a good thing as there are many, many tourists and locals walking on the streets as well as the very narrow sidewalks. The cobble stones are easy to walk on, quite even in height.

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A five minute walk takes us to the main square which is where everyone ends up. It is PACKED with tourists. I can only imagine how busy it must be in the summer months. I had found a walking tour on Trip Advisor that we wanted to take so we signed up for the 11AM tour. As we had not had our coffee yet we found a small cafe on the square to wait the 1/2 hour out. Two small cups of 1/2 full coffee arrived for 160 koruna, or $8. Yikes!
Prague is expensive, but the cafes on the square are outrageous. It was good coffee however.

The square is packed with tourists, to the point where you can barley move. Hundreds of different coloured umbrellas are pointing in the air
with guides leading their flock to the next statue or building where they all hang on every word of the leader. French, Italian, German, Czech are all heard speaking about the same monument at the same time. Crazy.

Our guide was a very charming and witty young Australian man, who lives in Prague with his Czech wife. Our 2 hour tour was busy but very informative about the buildings, history and people of Prague and the Czech Republic. There were 21 in our little group from places such as England, Italy, Brazil, Israel and Australia.

The weather was perfect, overcast but comfortable. At the end of the two hours we felt a couple of drops of rain. We were back at the main square and although I knew that the prices would be crazy I was too tired to hunt for a place for lunch so we ate at a covered sidewalk cafe. The food was good and five minutes after we sat down the skies opened. We timed that well.

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Raincoats and umbrellas were in our packs which we put on and made our way back to the apartment. We both slept for a couple of hours and woke at 6PM. During our tour we passed a Spanish Synagogue that was advertising a concert at 7PM tonight so we decided to go and dashed out to find it again. The rain had stopped and it was a pleasant walk. Prague must be an easy city to get around as we have not gotten lost yet. There are so many tiny little streets going right and left but for some reason easy enough to remember.

We joined about 25 other concert goers in the large, very ornate and beautiful synagogue. A few minutes after we sat down a string quintet walked onto the pulpit area and played a few old classics which included Motzart . The acoustics were amazing and we were all spell bound. A few times during the hour long recital a woman would come out and sing opera. Evita, songs from Bolero and some more modern musicals were chosen. Her voice was flawless and overall the concert did not disapoint.

Our guide had told us of a resteraunt/bar close by that had the best beer in the world I think he claimed. Prague is known for it's great beer and as you know Doug and I don't drink but felt we had to try this. The bar was called 'Locale' and the beer, made on site, can not be older than 3 days as they do not use any perservatives. We heard that the beer consumption in Prague is the largest in the world as well, so the three day rule is probably not an issue. We stood at the front for a while, the place was packed, and finally a fellow said to us
"go find a seat"
We walked through this massive long narrow room with tables on both sides, filled mostly with young people. There was a soccar match on the big screen in each section, Czech versus someone else, and there would be bouts of cheering now and then. We finally found a small table and sat down to oder a small beer each as well as a bit of food. I had pickeled camanbert cheese as it was the only thing on the menu I could eat. Doug had a plate of sausages.

The beer was great. Mild, no after taste and very refreshing. I don't really like beer but this was very good. Afterwards we slowly walked back to our apartment past the many shops selling amazing brightly colored Italian leather purses, Bohemian crystal, Swarovski crystal jewelry and Czech crystal jewelrey. There may have to be some shopping time I am thinking.

DAY 2. I woke at 7AM and was hoping to get to the Charles bridge at sunrise, but slept in. We threw on our clothes and made our way to the famous bridge before the throngs of tourists arrived. A foot passenger bridge only now, the bridge is from the 15th century and lined with statues on both sides. We slowly walked to the other side of the Vitava river along with a few dozen other early risers. Joggers, locals going to work and a few tourists like us snapping photos in the morning light.
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We were now in search of breakfast but because it was early few places, other than McDonalds and Starbucks, were open. We finally found this charming little cafe and sat down to have a delicious meal and extremely small but strong coffee.

Grocery stores seem non existant. Vegetables do not seem too prevalent on the menus, nor do fruit. On the walk back towards the bridge we came across a 7-11 type store and they did have a few bananas and oranges. I went to pay with my VIsa and on the second try the woman says
"you have not any money here"
Well I knew I did, especially $5, so when I got back to our apartment I called home on Skype and sure enough there was a message from VISA to call them. Someone, in Canada, had tried to put though a charge for $750 for sunglasses to a BC company the day prior. Good on Visa to figure out this was not my pattern. I only buy drugstore sunglasses for under $20.

Well this means that my card is cancelled now.....great! I have an extra which is good, but I wonder how that happened?

Slowly making our way back across the bridge we see that the vendors have arrived and setting up their kiosks selling paintings, jewelry and crafts. The tour groups with Mary Poppins in the lead are coming towards us.

It was noon when we arrived back at our home and we both went back to sleep until 3PM and then set out once again, this time to a museum of decoration. There were fashion pieces including jewelry, clothing and shoes from as far back as the 1800s as well as clocks watches and dishes from as early as the 15th century. It was a small but interesting hour and 1/2.

As we wander the streets it is hard not to notice how many young people there are, lots of couples pushing very expensive baby buggies, all very good looking and fit. I am not sure how though, there is a pastry shop at every turn. Gorgeous buns, breads and sugary goods tempting you with the amazing smell as you walk by. And hand made Gelato and Ice cream every few blocks. I did indulge in gelato tonight. The cones are only around 2 tablespoons of gelato however, so not toooo many calories.

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Dinner tonight was at a typical Czech restaurant. I had the eggplant with tomatoes and goat cheese which was nice and Doug ordered the Farmers platter which was every kind of meat you can imagine, pig, beef all surrounding an entire small duck in the centre of the plate. Vegetables as I say are non existent unless you specifically order some but there are not many on the menu. A couple from California sat beside us and we had an enjoyable conversation. They are starting a Rick Steeves tour tomorrow going to many of the places we are going to. The man ordered a Czech specality , Pigs Knee. It arrives with nothing but the huge piece of pork, the size of a small child covering his plate. The vegetarian in me is looking for my 'happy place' as I am seeing and smelling this meat all around me. I concentrate on my plate of eggplant and keep myself from gagging.

We pass through the market on the way home and it is just as busy at night with the many buskers performing everything from bagpipes to strings to medieval instruments as well as dancers and other performers. I wanted to get some pictures of the bridge at night but without a tripod they did not turn out. Again it was a madhouse of people. Don't these people ever stay home?

Most people who live in Prague seem fairly affluent. The cars are all newer BMWs, VWs, and Mercedes. We have seen perhaps a dozen or so people begging, all men. They go to the edge of the sidewalk, or road, and kneel down with their arms outstreched with a cup or hat, and head down. Almost the downward dog yoga position. They stay like that for hours. If you put a coin in the cup it is like they are awoken from a trance and don't look up but say
"Dekuji" (thank you)

I am like a crow sometimes, I see something shiny and I must go investigate. The walk home was spent darting in and out of shops selling stunning amber in the regular orange color but blue and greens as well. I found an gorgeous pair of square blue ones that she said because I was from Canada she would give me the best price....:} I will sleep on it.
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DAY 3. Lazy morning. Hung out in the apartment until 10:45 and after having our breakfast of instant oatmeal, bananas and tea went out in search of coffee. A few blocks away is another museum which we venture to. This one is an old Baroque stately home in need of repair. The rooms are all empty but there are descriptions of what would have been in the rooms. It must have been very grand indeed.

The fouth floor houses a temporary modern art exibit. Lumps of wet grey cement were dropped onto a board and then pieces of film and pencils were stuck into it. Boring and bland in my opinion but I am sure some must find it inspiring. Not me, I lasted five minutes. I don't think that the female guard liked it either as she gave me a knowing smile as I went out to wait for Doug.

Doug continued walking around while I went back for my afternoon sleep. FIrst I put on a wash. We have a tiny little washing machine in our apartment so I filled it full of our dirty clothes, and went to sleep.
A few hours later it was still going, and going and going. We had to leave for the concert so I just turned it off and decided to deal with it later.

We had purchesed tickets to a concert at the palace tonight and hoped to get there early to see some of the grounds and rooms first. The palace is overlooking the city and has a wonderful view of the tiled red roofed city below.
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The cathedral was massive and very impressive. The crowds were manageable at this time of day and quite pleasant. Our concert was in the old convent, St. George's Basillica. A stone church dating from the 10th century it had beautiul frescoes still visible on the walls and ceilings. Doug and I took our seats in the front row and the string quintet played Mozart, Vivaldi, Pachelbel as well as others. As the night before a female opera singer would come out periodically to sing. The accoustics were extraordinary and the hour long concert passed far too quickly.
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The rain started again as we walked down the many steps to the city below. Crossing the bridge got us back into old town where we were in search of a vegetarian Indian restaurant that we had heard of, Beas. Through some back alleys, tunnels and side streets we finally find it to discover that they were closing in 15 minutes. It was a self serve buffet style and most items were already finiished. We were so hungry that we just filled our plates with the rice and dal and few vegetables that were left and enjoyed our meal. A balance out to last night's carnivorous feast.

We came across a travel agency in one of the alleyways on our journey back to the room. After some conversation with her we decided to book an afternoon tour to a small medieval town a few hours from Prague on the day we leave for Krakow. We need to check out of our room at 10AM but our train is not until 10PM so this will work out well.

Back at the apartment I turned the washing machine back on and did some reading. A hour later it is still rinsing. There is a manual for everything in this apartment right down to the toaster, but not the washing machine. I googled the manual and still couldn't figure it out. We called the guy from reception who came up right away. He was about 20 years old and he couldn't figure it out so he called someone and they talked in Czech for a while
and 'voila' the machine drained out the water and stopped.

I took out the clothes and they are dripping wet. We had to wring them all out and hang them around the apartment to dry, which will take around a week in this weather.

Day 4. The clothes are still wet. Tuned the fan on them to hopefully speed things up. After breakfast at home we are in search of coffee again. There is no such thing as a 'coffee pot' here, it is all americanos. I need to get used to the small cups , half full. I suppose that they are doing me a favour however as it is very strong coffee.

Tomorrow we leave by the train so decided to do a dry run today and walk across Prague to check out the station and make sure our tickets were good. . The main train station is massive, it looks like Metrotown Mall inside with the many stores and cafes inside. We checked with the fellow at the station that our internet paper confirmations were acceptable for tickets tomorrow, I did not want a repeat of Russia.
Yes ,they are good.
Doug wanted to go for lunch and I wanted to go shopping so we split up. I braved the metro, changing once and then transferring to the tram and made it back to our place. It was at that point that I saw some shiny things in a window and needed to investigate. I ended up buying a Swarovski crystal necklace and earrings that were made here in the Czech Republic.
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On the way home I came across an outdoor market with many stalls selling trinkets and fruiit. For $12 I bought two bananas and a small basket of berries. Now I know why I don't see too much fruit.

After a rest we headed to another vegetarian restaurant down a dark alley that was recommended by our guide. The atmosphere and food were fantastic, although we were clearly the oldest in the place. It was packed with young 20 somethings and many languages heard around us. Feeling wonderfully full on great fresh food we walked for a couple of hours exploring more of the old town. I would still be out there wandering if it were not for Doug. He had a much better sense of direction than I did today.

Tomorrow we will take a half day trip to a small town and then leave Prague for an overnight train to Krakow Poland. We really enjoyed our stay here and highly recommend to anyone who is thinking about Eastern Europe.

Until Poland..........

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Posted by debbep 13:51 Archived in Czech Republic Comments (1)

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