Monday, May 31, 2010
Friday, May 28, 2010
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
After this interesting tour, I walked up the Andrassy avenue (the Champs-Elysee of Budapest) and found the city park - and apparently all the city's inhabitants. It was a holiday and everybody was hanging out in the sun, playing ball games, and just having the time of their lives. So I just joined in with gusto! In the evening, after a quick trip up the Castle Hill (the picturesque little streets were nice, but I had already seen similar ones so often.. But the Fishermen's Bastion with its little turrets was great!), I had a snack and chat with an interesting Jordanian guy before returning back to the hostel and watching most of 'Into the Wild'... which gives a whole other direction to the term of backpacking...
Pecs is sweet and has a beautifully done-up city center. However, although it is one of the three 2010 European Culture Capitals, half of the museums were closed due to renovations. Apparently they were extremely behind schedule, and a lot of the EU money just disappeared without a trace. According to Hunor, the extremely helpful and knowledgeable staff member at the Big Fish hostel I talked with a looong time about Hungarian politics and everything else, corruption is still widespread and politics is especially marred in this pessimistic feeling of 'we can't do anything anyway'. And that with extremist groups gaining power...
I jogged up to the TV tower which offered a stunning view of Pecs and the Hungarian countryside, then came down and walked round the city a bit until a thunderstorm made me seek refuge in a museum and then in the hostel. A sold-out folk concert meant that I spent my evening at the hostel as well (other than a reaggae festival, there wasn't that much going on..), but it was really fun times talking to fellow travellers and exchanging views over some home-brewed wine which the hostel owner brought over in the course of the evening...
The next day, I left for Budapest and spent my time in the train dozing (the night had been short) and occasionally snatching glimpses of gorgeous stretches of nature. Budapest was big, confusing, exhilarating after these few small-town days, but after finding my hippie-esque hostel in the Buda section of town, I set out exploring, climbed up to the Citadel for yet another great view (I'm really getting into hiking here!) and slowly made my way over the chain bridge and by the St. Istvan Cathedral to the Opera, where for 900 Forint (about 3 Euros) I experienced a great performance of the 'Barber of Sevilla'. I mean, it would've helped if I had read the story in beforehand, or if the subtitles hadn't been in Hungarian... But who wants to complain...
Friday, May 21, 2010
How to be stranded in Hungary for Dummies
1. Pick a travel route that requires you to change regional trains at least twice and at the smallest train stations possible.
2. Make sure that your first train is delayed just enough to make you miss your connection.
3. Get off at the random train station anyway because you don't have another plan and your ticket doesn't take you to Budapest.
3b) Optional: for maximum enjoyment, try getting off the train before the Hungarian border guards have checked your passport, causing the control person to bellow "What are you doing? Sit down again!"
4. Realize that nobody at the random train station speaks any other language but Hungarian.
5. Realize that you don't have any of the local currency on you.
6. Take it as an adventure.
I had assumed that since I was taking a regional train, even if I missed the connection it would be fine because those trains run hourly or something. Well, no. Fortunately enough, there was another train to my final destination (Pecs), but it left a good three and a half hours later. So, time to explore the city! Um, town. Village really. Wait, do five houses count as a village? After I had tried to find the city centre and walked along a road of never-changing basic grey concrete houses in diverse states of dilapidation, I realized that the little square in front of the train station was the city centre! Yeah, Gyekenyes is that hardcore. Looking it up, I can't believe I missed the famed attractions of chapel and mine lake! Apparently, "The former closed border station has become an open-minded village by now aiming to focus on the development of tourism in the future." LOL. I ended up giving my survival apples to really sweet kids excited to see an alien backpacker in their environment, though our communication was limited to "hi" and "bye". The rest of the three hours had me sitting in the square, in front, in, and behind the train station, althewhile trying to dodge the looks of "what a weirdo with a backpack is that" that I got from diverse Gyekenyesers. Seriously, I felt like I was the first tourist they ever saw. That focus on tourism might have to be a touch better developed.
Finally, the train pulled in (it was the longest three hours ever, I was really tired but terrified of sleeping through the train and having to sleep in Gyekenyes), and after bording it the next adventure begun. Don't get me wrong - the Hungarian countryside was crazily beautiful, a lot flatter than Slovenia but with the same charm, but the adventure was rather how the train sometimes slowed down to probably around 5 km/h and followed the railroad tracks that seemingly went across a lake! It must have been raining like crazy the last couple of weeks, because the whole area seemed inundated and the train seriously was maybe half a meter above the water's edge. Wildlife sightings included water snakes and various kinds of birds; it sometimes felt like the train was slowing down in order to give us a scenic tour instead of just trying to snake along the tracks.
Finally, finally arriving in Pecs around 6.15pm, I was impressed by the beautiful old town centre (I know, same old, same old) and am looking forward to explore it in more detail tomorrow. Knock on wood that it won't rain too hard!
Thursday, May 20, 2010
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Sunday, May 16, 2010
The night train from Paris to Verona was a great experience, though we didn't sleep much with one huge snorer (and not even me!) in our cabin. But I met a girl from near Verona who answered all my questions and gave me insider tips; she was super nice, and I hope to stay in touch. She even told us when we would pass Lake Garda, which offered a stunning view:
After lunch in a little cafe in a side street that just allowed the mid-day sun to shine down on the tables, I did a second round of tours and discovered the Piazza del'Erbe and the Piazza Populi, where street musicians began to play and I stretched out in the sun... Well, until this old Italian guy started talking to me and wanted to ask me out for a coffee. Kinda sweet... if creepy. I graciously refused and he kissed my hand when we parted ways. Old manners, old manners... In the afternoon I decided to skip the museum, buy myself gelato for that money and sit around a little more before taking the train to Padua. And in Padua, I first lost the way, then found the main cathedral (that I wasn't looking for), within the cathedral the dried tongue of Saint Anthony (a relique) and then finally found the hostel, which is good, if very business-like, and almost nobody is there. Might have to do with the fact that they have a curfew at 11.30... Which is why I'll see more from Padua now. Ttyl!!
Saturday, May 15, 2010
Since I am pretending to be interested in the new Macbook to get internet for free, I'll keep it sweet and short:
Friday, May 14, 2010
My bags are packed, I sat on my suitcase to close it, and we’ll leave Trois-Rivieres in a little more than an hour and a half to get to the Montreal Airport.
Now that the volcano cloud seems to have hear my prayers (I’ve gotten terribly superstitious because you really can’t do anything but wait and see…), I think I can say truthfully that I’m on my way.
Though I just had to include this video for the wonderfully goofy nerdiness of it, and of course the music, the lyrics don’t really express my feelings that well, because I’m really not going “from misery to happiness”. I was really happy in Montreal, and will be when I come back after (at most) 15 months. But I wanted to experience something new, extraordinary, improve my skills through new experiences and live to the fullest. So maybe this Phil Collins song is more representative of my feelings right now (yes it is from a Disney movie. They’re cool, ok? =)":
Tell everybody I'm on my way
New friends and new places to see
With blue skies ahead yes
I'm on my way
And there's nowhere else
that I'd rather be
Tell everybody I'm on my way
And I'm loving every step I take
With the sun beating down yes
I'm on my way
And I can't keep this smile off my face…
Thursday, May 13, 2010
1. I can lift my backpack.
2. I didn’t go over the weight limit in either of my pieces of luggage.
3. I managed to pack Baking with Julia. Don’t be fooled, it is absolutely necessary for me spending a year in Paris close to all those fabulous but oh, so expensive bakeries.
4. The sun is shining here and will most probably also be shining when I arrive in Verona.
5. I have a host family in St. Petersburg!
6. Sciences Po didn’t send me a letter rejecting me… (though of course also no acceptance letter yet. It’s not as if we’re waiting for it or anything.)
7. Life is good. And I like the number 7. Which is why I’ll stop now with happy travel updates.
Saturday, May 8, 2010
Watching Anastasia today (because it was a rainy day and I didn’t have anything else to do on a rainy day except unpacking and repacking boxes) made me realize the funny similarities between my itinerary and hers. Coming from St. Petersburg, making my way through Western Europe, only to arrive in Paris hopefully like her:
Yeah. I mean, except for the fact that I’m not a Russian princess. Trying to find her long-lost family and on the way falling in love with her former servant. And I hopefully won’t have to jump off a burning train to avoid crossing a destroyed bridge and hitchhike my way to Paris. But, you know, the similarities are astonishing, right?
Also, just because I haven’t had anything to worry in about 37 minutes, that lovely volcano in Iceland had the lovely idea of spewing some more ashes over Europe, making my travel plans dangerously flexible… As in, oh, no, I don’t need to arrive in Europe before the 26th anyway! Thank god I purchased good travel insurance. You never know when your next plane will be delayed…
Friday, May 7, 2010
… bare a bed and even that will be gone by tomorrow. The floor is covered in half-packed boxes, different-sized stacks of papers, a couple of books here and a backpack there; this is how I am living right now. Thus:
The noise in the backyard (my landlord is digging a hole there for whatever reason) plus the sunshine outside are not very conducive to changing that situation right now; I think I’ll just go read my tour book outside and come back and pack tonight. Yeah, that sounds like a plan.
My hostels are all booked now; there are some very cool places that I’ll be staying at, so stay tuned! I figure that 17 – 20 Euros per night including breakfast is something I can easily afford, especially with the rest of the work of my part-time job that I finished off this week during a near all-nighter until 4am. So much to the unstressful last week in Montreal…
But no, I did have that; especially yesterday night when we went to see TOTEM, the Cirque du Soleil performance! It was not allowed to take photographs, so I only have what I was able to scavenge from the internet to show a little bit of the amazing atmosphere and performance. TOTEM is supposed to be a non-chronological representation of different stages of manhood; and sure enough, there were frog-like amphibic creatures on the uneven bars, monkeys hopping around, Native American-inspired performances with wooden hoops that the artist brought into amazing forms, futuristic artists balancing on vibrating bars… it’s really hard to explain. But the trailer on the website does give a good insight, so check it out!
UPDATE: After a last day in Montreal at the Botanical Gardens…
and at Patati Patata (go there! It’s really yummy!) my room is now fully empty and I am sitting at my parents’ place where I will stay for another week before departing on my adventures. Bye Montreal! Au revoir! I will be back!!!
Sunday, May 2, 2010
Now that I don’t have to worry about studying any more, I can finally concentrate on getting my travel plans together! This is exciting and slightly nerve-wrecking at the same time. As much as I want to be spontaneous and adventurous, even finding people that will host me as couchsurfer appears to be harder than expected. In the past couple of days I must’ve sent off about 30 requests in different cities and looked up different travel routes. By now, I am looking more favorably upon the youth hostel option; at least you have a bed for sure there, and they are not that expensive either. The nice thing is that other than my arrival in Verona and departure in Budapest, I have all liberty of deciding where to go. And what a good thing; I might not find a bed (either by couchsurfer or hostel) in Verona, since it seems to be a city for lovers and there are plenty of B&B’s with double rooms, but only one youth hostel that is already booked out. Sigh. Maybe I’ll sleep in Padua then… I have learned to be very flexible with my plans. Also because I just discovered that the only direct connection between Venice and Ljubljana arrives in Ljubljana at 1.14 in the morning! Not something I want to do as a single traveller…. So maybe I’ll take the convoluted way by Austria and just enjoy travelling that much longer (which would mean that I need to find a bed in Venice though…) I am just glad for the internet – I cannot even imagine finding all of this out on the road and having to adapt instantaneously…
But for the second part of the post – I got gear! After wandering around hours in Montreal I finally found the Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) and was so glad that I did! The staff is amazingly helpful and the prices are top. Look what I got:
The MEC Brio 60 backpack was the one I finally settled on with the help of the very friendly vendor. It is a very simple model, but online reviewers rave about the sturdiness and the value for money. The top is detachable and can be used as a pouch if you are going around the city; and it has a side-zipper that lets you access all of your belongings without taking everything out. Also, the couple of one of my favorite travel blogs, Sending Postcards, are using these backpacks on their round-the-world-trip, so I can’t really go wrong there, can I?
I also got some see-through pouches which will help me to organize my stuff; these were also widely advised by all travellers (yes, yes, I did my research). Also:
A money belt was one of my obligatory purchases, I would just feel weird carrying around my passport and valuables in my backpack just like that.
in case I get sick…
or thirsty. And best of all – it all added up to be just the value of the next most expensive backpack! Now I’m ready to explore the world… If I find a bed or two to nap in ;)
School is finally done! Yesss! And to celebrate the completion of our last final, our Russian class went out to dinner to ‘La Caverne’ or Погребок in the Russian neighbourhood in Cote-des-Neiges. I’m telling you, if that is anything like what Petersburg will be like, I’m ecstatic to go! The food was really good, the people were nice, and after the table next to us downed a 1 litre bottle of vodka (they were 4 people; though the standard group size per bottle of vodka is apparently three…), they started to dance to the music of the live entertainer and made us dance as well! So much fun…
we tried to replicate the weird looks of the people in the ad that our teacher gave us… unfortunately it isn’t anywhere to be found on the internet… But Tim and Bradley are doing a great job, let me assure you.
please note the bear head at the wall. we also found an elk, some fox skins, and one or two stuffed weasels. I guess they are supposed to contribute to the cozy atmosphere.
This is when the Russian lady asked Tim to dance with her…
and dance they did. As much as we did…