Monthly Archives: June 2011

The Golden Coast

After 8 flights, 18 train rides, 2 night trains, 3 ferries, 1 night ferry, 4 buses, 1 car rental and a total of 11 countries in about 68 days, I arrived this afternoon in San Francisco. The happiness I felt in my heart when I saw the bay through the airplane window surprised me, since I had felt so melancholy earlier about leaving, and I actually smiled when the plane touched down. It does feel good to be home…until next time.

I am so grateful to all the new friends and family I met along the way for the fun times and impact they’ve made in my life, and for my friends and family at home who were with me in spirit and through this blog. With your comments, emails and phone calls I have realized, more than ever, how fortunate I am!

Coming soon: Berlin and other stories of my trip I have yet to tell.

Oh and here’s a pic of wiggle worm Ruby who would not leave my lap the entire ride home. I think she might never leave my side again…fine by me.

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San Sebastian: Part 2 and Bilbao, Spain

After meeting Brian in Barcelona, we headed the next morning on the train for San Sebastian because I didn’t get enough of it when I was there the first time in May. 

Overlooking Playa de la Concha
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Just arrived on the train to a beautiful day.imageOn the beach. They had put up these chairs to be rented since I was last there. I think it was nicer without them, and no one was using them yet.
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imageThe only downer was that I left my leather jacket that I’ve had for years on the train from Barcelona. I realized it that night as we were getting ready to go out. This is me drowing my sorrows, seriously, I am still a little sad I lost that jacket.
imageBut I couldn’t be upset too long and, of course, being with Brian we found a bar that played good metal music, complete with an awesome bartender who totally looked the part.
imageAnd you can’t be upset in a place where they build sand art, can you?
imageOr where you can have Calimochos (red wine and coca cola)?
imageOr eat Pinxtos (Basque Tapas)?
imageAlmost all the restaurants and bars have lavish spreads on their counters, but you can also order individually as well, which I prefer to do…
imageKangaroo Skewer
imageMushroom risotto
imageBeef cheek.  I also  had some of the BEST scallops that apparently neglected to appear on my camera.
imageUnfortunately, we had a rainy day when we were there, and although we were really craving more beach time, we sucked it up and went to Bilbao. Which, fortunately, is only an hour bus ride away from San Sebastian and is home to the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.
imageThe Guggenheim, designed by Frank Gehry. Fantastic in every way…
imageexcept for…
imageTHIS GUY! I  hate spiders. With a passion.
imageThis is as close as I would get. Could not walk under it. There were even eggs in the belly.
imageI much prefer this cute flower dog that was out front.
imageOr these tulips
imageOr just this…  🙂
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Sagrada Familia and Other Gaudi Architecture in Barcelona

 

I was in Barcelona twice. In early May after Lisbon and before Italy, and then for about one day in mid-june after Budapest when I met up with Brian before we headed off to San Sebastian (again). I didn’t really spark with Barcelona like a lot of people apparently do. I prefer Madrid. BUT, I really liked Gaudi and went to Sagrada Familia (his church) twice. That was the highlight of Barcelona for me. On my first visit I had taken a Gaudi walking tour, and the tour guide explained that people either think Gaudi was a genius or completely insane. She thinks both.  I happen to agree, but lean more toward the genius side.

Starting with the more simple to the incredibly ornate.  I am going to let the pictures speak for themselves. But just so you know, the first three houses were commissioned by the owners and lived in (yes, please!), but are now museums.

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imageI was into the ornate metal work.
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imageSagrada Familia.  The church that is still a work in progress. They estimate that it will be complete in about 22-30 years, if there are no more wars, or natural disasters that set them back.  Gaudi knew that he would not complete the construction of the church in his lifetime, but left plans for other architects. Unfortunately they were destroyed in the Spanish civil war, but after 10 years of research they gathered enough information from friends and colleagues to continue on. *Note: Neither one of my cameras could capture the splendor of this building.

Nativity Facade
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imageI was trying to get a closeup of the serpents.
imageThe Passion Facade
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imageAnd the interior.  Breathtaking. (I’ll update this with better pics later).
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Budapest, Hungary

Once I was in Sarajevo I had to figure out how to get back west a little bit so I could get to Barcelona to meet Brian by the 13th. I had originally planned on going to Prague, but there was no easy way by ground to get there and flights were expensive.

But that’s one reason why hostels are great environments when you are traveling with a fairly open schedule like I am. You meet a lot of people who are either coming or going from where you are going or where you have been, or where maybe you should really think about going instead. It seems like the initial conversation when you meet someone always goes like this:
Where you from?
Who are you traveling with?
How long are you traveling?
Where did you just come from?
Where are you going next?
And from there you either hit if off or not. Get good information or not. I’ve been very fortunate and have met wonderful people. In this case, 5 out of 5 people I talked to initially in Sarajevo who had been to both Prague AND Budapest, recommended Budapest if I had to choose between the two. So Budapest it was! Since I haven’t been to Prague I can’t give my opinion if it was better or not, but I did have a great time in Budapest and would definitely go back again. There was a lot for me to learn about the place, lots of history to absorb, and culture to soak in (literally at the Hungarian Baths – not pictured since I forgot my camera when I went).

Now for the pics:
Budapest, from the Buda side, looking over at the Pest side.  I was on a lift that went up the hill to the Buda Castle.
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The hill elevator I went on.
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imageThe Chain Bridge, walking from the Pest side over to the Buda side.
imageOn the Chain Bridge, overlooking the Danube. To the left Buda, to the right Pest.
imageCheck out this bus swimming in the Danube.
imageParliament Building
image Photo exhibition of life in rural Hungary, Slovenia and Romania on display in front of Parliament.
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imageThese bronze shoes are a memorial to the Jews that were lined up along the Danube and shot into the river by the Nazi’s. They were made to take off their shoes before. It’s extremely powerful. imageMy Jewish Quarter free walking tour guide. We had stopped at a ruin bar and he was telling a story. Pretty interesting guy.
imageThe ruin bar we went to, and went back to later that night.
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imageRuin bars are in abandoned courtyards. And everything in them is supposed to be “found”, aka, free. This makes for a lot of creative and interesting spaces.
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imageOn the Jewish walking tour: Dohany Street Synagogue. The second largest synagogue in the world, and the largest in Europe.
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imageA new thing I learned on the tour: All synagogues have the ten commandments on the top of them. I had no idea…I grew up Catholic.
imageThe graveyard/memorial in the courtyard of the synagogue.
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imageHolocaust memorial tree, donated by the late Tony Curtis (best picture I could get through the gate).
imageThis area of Pest is where the ghetto was in WWII
image The entrance to the House of Terror. A museum and memorial to the victims of the communist occupation of Budapest that were detained, interrogated and tortured at the site.
imageCastle in Pest
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imageMarket at the castle.
image Here they were cooking yummy sausage.
imageHero’s square
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image I’m a little obsessed with chariots on top of buildings.
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Sarajevo

I feel like I rave about every place I go to (except Naples), and it is true that they have all been awesome places to visit, especially in such succession. But there are a few places where I have really left a little peice of my heart behind: San Sebastian, Rome and Sarajevo (not in any particular order).
So, Sarajevo. Initially intriguing because of the 90’s siege that I kind of remember from my childhood, but inherently lovable for its diversity, culture and strength. And, probably the strangest part of all…I love the food! On the train to Hungary, after Sarajevo, the Americans I was stuck on the train with (see my post, The Silly Tourist: Part II) were saying how they couldn’t stand it, its awful, etc. Even if I’m in the minority, I disagree. Even the weird “hamburger” that I had late one night after going out I liked. And all these reasons and more is why Sarajevo is in my top three.

The pics:

My first night in town, just off the long, hot bus ride, when all I was dreaming of was a good night sleep, I was pretty much cajoled into going out to a traditional Bonsnia club, then salsa dancing afterwards (salsa pics are on my other camera).  I protested a lot at the beginning, but then I just went with it and, of course, I was so happy I did. You can sleep when you`re dead! Here are the dark and hazy (everyone smokes here, everywhere) pics of this awsome movie theater turned club. Hopefully you can make out the band on the stage.

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imageNow the food:

The 2am “hamburger”. It was a thin white meat patty, with mayo, hot red pepper flakes, and a giant bun.  Who loved it? I did.
imageI am not going to know what any of the following dishes are called…but they were delish!
imageThis one is my most favorite EVER! Onions filled with meat…I think some veal, which I do not usually eat, but I wasnt going to be picky…there were potatos, zucchini and more meat all in this delicious broth with a sort of sour cream white sauce. I want it right now!
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imageThis is really not a flattering picture of this sandwich. I should have wrote down the name (so fired!) but you can order it with 5, 10, or 15 meat sticks. Sometimes it comes with onion and that white sour cream sauce too.
imageThe Sarajevan beer
imageSarajevo
imageSince I was pretty naive to the reasons behind the Serbian/Bosnian conflict in the 90’s I spent a lot of my time learning about it and visiting historical spots. This one is where Franz Ferdinand and his wife were shot, which was the catalyst to the start of WWI.
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imageRight across the street from that spot is Miljacka river.
imageIn my continuing education of the 90s seige, I took a Tunnel Tour. Which is a must if you go to Sarajevo. Here the guide (who was 5 when the war started!) was explaining how the war started, and how crucial the tunnel was to the Sarajevans in holding their ground. For more info go here.
imageThe house that was the entrance to the tunnel. See how it still retains evidnce of shelling and gunfire.
imageIn the tunnel!!
imageThe backyard where the tunnel kept running through until it got to the…
image…airport, which was neutral territory.
imageThe mountians in the distance that was free territory, and over which they brought the supplies.
imageSurrounding houses that were also shelled. Sometimesthey would have to move the entrance to the tunnel as the Serbs found out where they where gaining access.
imageA shell they have left in the floor to remind us of those that died.
imageSniper Alley.
imageThe Holiday Inn along Sniper Alley where AP Journalist stayed, this was supposed to be neutral territor and the Serbs could not fire on it.
imageThe newspaper tower, the new one.  The old one was destroyed in the conflict.
imageA building along Sniper Alley that is still in the state it was during the seige. There are not many of these left.
imageThe Sarajevo History Museum. Another must go to place.  It tells ALL about the conflict, with heartbreaking pictures and the building is still very much the way it was. There are still shell marks in the floor in the museum, and as you can see on the outside.
imageIn the courtyard. The stars on the building cover the shelling marks.
imageMonument outside the museum.
imageOk! Enough war stuff!  Sarajevo is more than that!  They really have an outdoor cafe culture, so here are some pics from my walks around.
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imageThis is part of the old town area.
imagePigeon square.
imageThere is also a lot of religious freedom in Sarajevo. So you will see a church, synagoge, and mosque all along the same street.  I found the prayer calls throught the day very beautiful.
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imageAhhhh….Sarajevo!
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Bus To Bosnia

In Split I met Julian, a really nice guy from France, and as we talked I told him I was a little up in the air about my next destination. He had just been to Sarajevo and made an excellent case for going there. So after a few sun-filled days spent in Hvar, one morning I left on the ferry back to Split and caught the bus to Sarajevo.

It was an uncomfortable ride on a little bus with no toilet (I have an unreasonable fear of being stuck somewhere like that without a toilet), it was hot, and about 2-3 hours longer than expected…a total of nine hours. Like most things, there is always an upside. In this case it was the spectacular views outside my window, and my excitement at going somewhere completely unexpected and unlike any of my other locations.

The following pics are mostly my views out the window throughout Croatia and up to the Bosnian boarder, where we sat for a while in customs, and then maybe one of a Bosnia vineyard, because then my phone died. So a lot of my pics of Bosnia coming into Sarajevo will be saved for a later post when I can download photos from my camera.

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Croatia (re-post)

Note: Here’s the updated post, since last time the pictures were so messed up.

After two weeks it was time to leave Italy! From Rome I took a four hour train to Ancona to catch a overnight ferry to Split, Croatia. My good friends Karin and Adam had honeymooned there a few years back and highly recommended it. I had no set plans after Italy so I decided to go for it. Best decision ever.

I arrived in Split about 8am on the ferry. I hadn’t booked any place to stay yet, so I got cozy at a cafe for a little bit while I made my plans. I decided to stay one night in Split and then head to the island of Hvar the next day for two nights. I booked The Beach Hostel in Split which was only about a ten minute walk from where I was at. When I rang the bell I was greeted by the gracious Ladybird, who runs the hostel, with a big smile and a “Welcome home”. It felt so good to be there after being exhausted from my journey, plus I had been a little sad leaving Italy. I really can’t beleive that I only spent one night there because it felt like so much longer, and it felt like I was instantly friends with everyone in the place. That’s the magic of Ladybird.

That day you could’ve found me either on the beach, in the water playing a game of Croatian hand ball that is sort of similar to hacky sack (but I cannot remember the name), at the bar, or at a restaurant along the water eating yummy Croatian food. It was really rough.

The next day I took the hour long ferry to Hvar island. I stayed at yet another amazing hostel called the Villa Skanski, and actually two other people from The Beach Hostel showed up there that day as well. Villa Skanski is so nice for being a hostel. I think I spent half my time in Hvar on its balcony, drinking cheap beers and talking with new friends. It was just cheaper and more comfortable than the places in town, although of course I did get to some of them as well. I ended up staying one more night in Hvar than planned, and wish I could have stayed for longer (the story of my life these days).

Pics:
1. The ferry I took from Ancona, Italy to Split, Croatia
2. Sunrise over Croatia
3. My first look at the Croatian coastline
4. The “kissing area” on the boat. Complete with lone guy sleeping in a sleepingbag on the deck next to a bottle of beer.
5 & 6. The beach in Split I hung out at.
7. Divingboard into the ocean. Time to walk the plank!
8. The Beach Hostel gang.
9 &10. Views of old town Split on my way to the ferry (you can see where my priorities lied).
12. The little beach cove in Hvar that was a 20 minute walk from my hostel.
13. Me on the walk back, just a little disheveled from being in the water, but se la vi!
14-18. Around Hvar
19. View from the balcony at Villa Skansk
20-21. On the most beautiful day imaginable, me and 5 other people from the hostel rented a boat together to go explore some on the neighbouring islands. It was a little 6 horsepower boat, and we got passed up by everyone imaginable but so much fun! The only downside, being stuck on the boat with Capt. Douchebag. See if you can pick him out. He’s a whole story unto himself, and one that will not be told here. However, I became good friends with two cool Australian girls that day, so it all equaled out!
22-24. Views from the boat.
25. Good times at Villa Skanski. Pictured are two US Marine’s and the owner of the hostel.

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