Friday, 30 September 2011

Hi from Spectacular Prague

Oh my God…I almost missed the train again!!!!  So not my fault this time!!!  I am still puffing from the exhaustion of trying to run, lift and drag my suitcase up a flight of train steps and along the platform two seconds before the train conductor signaled that the train was leaving the platform.  Actually, he helped me shove my luggage onto the train whilst yelling something to me in Polish. 
Rewind – I got to the train station in Krakow with 45 minutes to spare this morning (train left at 9.30am to head to Prague).  I asked the ticket lady which platform and she said 4.  As I am walking to the platform I hear my name being called out.  So exciting!!!  To be recognized in Poland!!!  Yes, a ‘sliding doors’ moment.  It was my old mate Canadian Bob from the Salt Mine Tour.  He was catching a train from the same platform (leaving 5 minutes earlier than mine).  So off we walked together and stood at the platform chatting until he left.
Then a few people around me who were catching the same train started getting a little concerned as it had just ticked over to 9.29am and still no train.  Then we look over at the next platform and one guy calls out, “that’s our train.  They’ve changed the platform.  And it’s about to leave”.    And off we all run!!!  Not an easy feat when you are dragging a 24kg (yes it grew again!) suitcase and carrying an 8kg daypack on your back!!  Down two flights of steps, along the underground walkway and up two flights of steps, then along the platform to the waiting conductor (with a whistle in his mouth about to signal it was leaving).
As soon as I stepped onto the train the doors closed and off we went.  My heart was pounding!!! Gosh, I won’t miss these “Amazing Race” style adventures of mine (as one of my friends called it the last time I almost missed the plane)!!
Oopps, don’t you hate it when you are eating something while typing on the laptop and you drop crumbs down into the keyboard.  Bugger!!  I just polished off this delightful little twisty bread thing that I bought at the train station (a Polish treat I discovered in my 4 days there) and the crumbs just found a way to wedge themselves in between the keys.  I’m on the train typing this.
Now, where was I?  Okay, how quick did those 4 nights at Krakow go!!!  You are so not going to believe what movie was on last night in my lovely Hotel Room (in English)!!!  EAT, PRAY, LOVE!!!!!!!  Is that a sign????  It was amazing to watch it again and actually be able to relate to so much of it personally.  Especially when Julia Roberts was pigging out on that huge pizza!  Been there, done that…many times over J. And of course the other more deep and meaningful stuff……..  But, I’m left asking the same question over  and over again – WHERE IS MY DONATELLO????????
I was amused when I watched the part where Julia Roberts stayed at ashram in India to meditate and ‘find herself’.  When I was in Italy, I looked at the possibility of staying at a Monastery for a few days thinking it could offer the same thing.  Well, after visiting the Monastery in Montenegro, I was thinking how fortunate I was that I didn’t pursue it.  That particular one had only smelly drop toilets!!!!!!!  I am sure the only thing I would have meditated about for three days would have been ‘strong bladder control’ so I didn’t have to use them!!!!!!!! 
On a more serious note, when I was in Krakow I did a day trip out to the Auschwitz & Birkenau concentration camps from World War II.  A very moving reminder of the atrocities of war.  It seemed impossible that it could have happened.  As part of the tour we were shown displays of clothing, personal items (suitcases, brushes, spectacles, shoes etc) and even women’s hair that were taken from the Polish Jews and others who were sent to the camp.  Over one million people lost their lives there.  Unbelievable, but true.

I also did a tour of the Wielickza underground salt mine.  The best part of that tour was meeting Bob.  You just never know when you might need a Canadian lawyer???  The rest of the time I wandered around the Main Market Square, churches, monuments and surrounding streets taking photos (and visited that lovely shopping centre).  And of course, (as I said in the last email which I know you religiously read) I climbed the bell tower. In some of the towers, there is a guy who plays the bugle out of the bell tower windows every hour.  This was the first time that I had actually been in a bell tower at the very time that the bugle player did his thing!!  Was great!!  He lent out of the window and played his little tune, then gave the crowd below a royal wave.  Was sooooo cute!!

And now about Budapest!!  I absolutely loved Budapest.  I think it comes a very close second to Prague as the place to ensure that you visit!!!  It caters for all.  The photography, sights, architecture, history, shopping…it has it all!!  I could have stayed for a week and wished I actually did.  Four nights wasn’t long enough to see everything. 
I did a city tour which helped orientate me (still have that great sense of direction happening??). Just ask Ros….who continually had to remind me which way I should have been going!!  And that was also in the Hotel!!  When you are travelling alone and opt to do a city tour, you always secretly hope that you meet someone nice on the tour.  Well, my city tour ended up being a personalized trip for two!!  The only problem was the only other person on the tour was a very odd little American man with a comb over.  He tried to crack jokes the whole way by talking American slang to the guide, which didn’t go down very well, as the stern Hungarian guide just kept getting frustrated saying, “I don’t understand what you mean”.  Neither did I, as a little voice in my head kept repeating “Would you just shut up!!!”  I really enjoyed my own company for the rest of the day!!!!
I spent the next two days wandering around the sights in absolute awe!!  The architecture was fascinating.  The shopping streets were also very pleasing.  I finally bought those new jeans to replace the old ones that seem to have shrunk in the wash??  I had to.  The weather changed from a warm 32 degrees in Eastern Europe, to a very cool 22 degrees in Budapest and Krakow!!!  Even the scarf came out!!! 

Oh, that’s right, there was another thing I did last night while I watched the movie.  Usually my Mum fixes my hem lines on any new jeans or trousers I buy.  Well, I painstakingly stitched up the hem of my new jeans using the little complimentary sewing kit my beautiful Hotel provided.  By some miracle I actually managed to thread the cotton through the tiny hole in the needle. I think it just slipped in by accident as I couldn’t even see a hole at the end of the needle. I just knew it was the opposite end to the pointy bit and poked the cotton towards that??  I am now just hoping no-one looks too hard at the bottom of my jeans.  Hey Mum…when you read this….can you please fix them when I get home????
And again 4 nights just disappeared as quickly as they came.  Oh, I just remembered!!  Mum will be impressed with this.  One night when I tried to watch some TV in Budapest, the only English channels I could find were news channels.  So I ended up watching an Italian soapie!! 
And now I think we are all up to date!!  I decided to go back to Prague for another 3 nights as it rained so much last time I was there, I didn’t get to see as much as I would have liked.  After Prague I am heading to Salzburg….home of the “Sound of Music” Movie!!!  Can’t wait!!
And that’s it for now.  Exactly one month left of this amazing journey.  But how will it all end?  Stay tuned for next week’s enthralling (??) episode of “Days of Joy’s life”!!!!!!
Yes, I agree, I think they are putting something weird in the water over here???

Made it to Prague safely and the weather is spectacular!!!  Will try and have the photos for the last email and this one onto the blog by the end of the weekend.  Will send a very very tiny email to let you know when.
Hope all is great with you all. 
Joyous xxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Hi from Krakow, Poland

Hi all,
Princess Joy arrives in Krakow, Poland!!! Yesterday, as I got off the bus in my very crumpled pants I didn’t look anything like a princess, but when I saw the spectacular four star Hotel that I had booked myself into over the internet, I decided I must be J. Ohh wow!!!   I am here for 4 nights and am so very excited!!!  It is one of the most beautiful Hotel accommodations of my holiday.  This morning’s breakfast even surpassed that of Prague & Vienna!!!!  The Porter may have to push me out of the door on my last morning, as I am sure to shed a tear as I press the ‘stop’ button in the lift just so I can savour the last few moments of Hotel bliss. 
I’m afraid Melinda and Ros not only taught me to shop better/faster/longer but they accustomed me to enjoy the pleasures of good accommodation.    So, all my good intentions of staying in hostels with the poor people seem to have gone by the wayside.  Surely THIS is the life I was born to live!!!  And don’t all those real estate shows on TV talk about “Location, location”.  Well halleluiah to the ‘location’ of this hotel!!  I walk a mere 15 metres to the left of the Hotel entrance to step into the largest shopping centre I have seen in Europe so far!!!  All my prayers have been answered!!!! 

This afternoon I did think that I should walk a little further than the shopping centre; so I walked in the other direction (convinced myself it had to be done), and found the amazing Main City Square.  Oh My God….plus thousands of people!!!  I couldn’t work out whether there was a festival on or whether the street entertainment and mass of crowds was a usual Sunday thing.  The atmosphere was amazing.  And of course, heaps more churches, coloured buildings and cobbled streets for me to photograph J.
However, before I go on further about Krakow, I will just retrace my steps for the past two weeks.  Briefly since my last email, Melinda, Ros and I spent 2 nights in Mostar (Bosnia), 4 nights in Dubrovnik (Croatia), 4 nights in Kotor (Montenegro), 1 night in Belgrade (Serbia) and after they flew back to Australia, I spent 4 nights in Budapest (Hungary) and am now in Krakow (Poland) for 4 nights.  I am loving this country hopping!!!
Mostar was a cute little town in Bosnia.  The main attraction of the town was an old stone bridge over the Neretva River.  It is 20 metres high and local daredevils collect money from tourists to jump from the bridge into the cold river below. Surely there are safer ways to make money??  I wasn’t quick enough to capture a photo of the one guy we saw jump from the bridge, but I did get some photos of crazy young guys jumping off a smaller tower into the same river.  That looked scary enough!

After Mostar we caught a bus to Dubrovnik.  I loved Dubrovnik!!  It rates highly as one of the most appealing cities I’ve visited on this trip, and certainly the best in Croatia. And after much taste testing we did discover that Dubrovnik also sold the best gelati in Croatia!! Of course it had nothing to do with the extra large scoops that the gelati store provided???
The ‘Old town’ of Dubrovnik is completely surrounded by 2km’s of stone walls.  You can climb up steps to the top of the walls and then walk the 2 km’s around the town taking in the incredible views!!  Melinda and I took so many photo stops as we walked the walls that it took us 3 hours to get completely around instead of the advertised 1 hour. 

The old town was also full of narrow streets lined with fabulous little gift shops, with the most interesting window displays that COMPEL you to enter!!! It’s like this gravitational pull that sucks you into the shop.  Then this magical spell came over me which coerced me to purchase three special little angels from three lovely little shops (because they were all very unique of course).  Actually we (Mel, Ros & I) were all overcome by that magical ‘shopping’ spell ………and somehow it seemed to carry over into the next two towns/countries???
The narrow streets were also lined with wonderful restaurants which catered our evening meals.  The atmosphere was wonderful. 

From Dubrovnik we took a bus to Kotor, Montenegro.  Ros had booked us into an absolutely amazing apartment with the most spectacular evening view of the Kotor Bay.  The only downside was that it was a half an hour walk to get to the Old town.   So we certainly got our daily exercise as we did the trip at least twice a day.  Melinda also made us climb up the side of the mountain (1200m ascent via 1350 steps!!!) to get the best photographic views of the town.  Again, I do have to admit, it was well worth the effort (but don’t tell her I said that). 

Budva - town next to Kotor

Melinda and Ros would read their Lonely Planet guide & Eyewitness Travel book daily to see what the attractions were for each city and generally we would try and fit them all in (in between the eating and shopping??).  It was strongly recommended to visit the Ostrog Monastery (which was about two hour’s drive away).  So we excitedly booked a tour and off we went.  Except our driver/guide couldn’t speak a word of English, so we still haven’t got a clue as to what we saw.  He drove us there.  We followed him into the Monastery.  We looked around at all these dedicated pilgrims praying and rubbing noses with religious artifacts and handing over monetary donations; took a couple of photos (spending all of about half an hour there) and then drove the two hours back to Kotor.  To make matters even worse, Melinda overlooked the part that said you had to wear long pants and we were the only three people out of hundreds of pilgrims there that were wearing shorts!!! 

The only good thing to come out of the tour was Matt, a 35 year old pommie guy who was on the tour with us.  Matt was on his own in Kotor for a week’s holiday while his girlfriend was in South America.  Yes, shame about the girlfriend part and we all thought he was just lovely!!  I think he was amused by the ‘three Aussies’ and ended up joining us for dinner that night.  And of course became my latest Facebook friend J.
And then it was time to fly to Belgrade, Serbia.  A flight we won’t be forgetting in a hurry!!!  We turned up at the Airport for our scheduled 9.45am flight only to be taken off it, as they were reducing passengers due to strong winds.  They probably saw how large my suitcase was, and figured the plane was never going to get off the ground???  Anyway, we weren’t going to let a small delay stop our enthusiasm.  We did what any good female would do with spare time on their hands.  We headed to the cafeteria for coffee and cake (only because the airport was too small and had only one shop)!!! 
Then we finally got on the next plane flight at 12.30pm.  However, as we were walking on the tarmac to the plane, the wind was so strong I had to help an old lady or she would have been blown over.  A little wave of panic may have raised the hairs on the back of my neck!!! Even the ground staff on the tarmac were struggling to stand against the wind.  I may have done a little sign of the cross as I walked up the stairs.  As we sat down we could see that we were evenly spread around the plane and it was confirmed when the flight attendant asked us not to move from our designated seats!! They had also reduced passengers on this plane so there were many empty seats (lucky them I was thinking at this stage).  And off we went down the runway, lifted off, and were then bounced around in the clouds for about half an hour!!!  Just a little unnerving, to say the least!!! Thank God it was only an hour flight.  And yes I thanked God many times over when we landed safely!!!
And then we were in Belgrade for our last day together and all Melinda and Ros wanted to do was shop because apparently they hadn’t purchased enough in the past 5 weeks????!!!!!!!!  We checked into our room at the Hotel and as we were walking down the flight of stairs, I slipped on the marble steps (yes, another flashy Hotel) and fell down.  All I can say is that I was most fortunate that we were going shopping because my ribs & elbow were cushioned by my leather handbag when I fell hard on the steps!!!  Can’t say the same for my right thigh where I still have a nasty black bruise!!  But in case you were wondering….of course it didn’t stop me from shopping!!!
And then it was time to say good-bye to my two wonderful travelling friends!!!!!!  Last Tuesday Melinda and Ros flew home from Belgrade and I drove on to Budapest, Hungary….and the diet started!!!!!!!!  HHmm, am not sure if eating pastries at breakfast falls under the concept of dieting, but my gelati/cake intake and size of evening meals have certainly reduced in the past week. 
And yes of course I miss them.  We had such a wonderful time together.  We even bought “Tour T-Shirts” which we would wear in each City we visited.  We would get lots of smiles as we walked around.  Never too old to rediscover the inner child!!!!!!!!

Back again.  Ros’s favourite thing was to ‘people watch’ (she was very observant of all their features and clothing) and then she would get very excited if we had a ‘sliding doors’ moment later that day or the next day where we would cross paths with the person again.  Well, this morning at breakfast I thought I would do the same thing and take note of all the people in the room.  As I looked them over (discreetly of course), I tried to work out what their life story might be, based on how they looked and what they were wearing.  I took special interest in a middle aged man who was sitting alone.  He had on a plain old brown jumper (which reminded me of a Lotus Glen Prison jumper) and faded old cargo pants.  I thought to myself that he must be single as his wife surely wouldn’t let him out in public dressed like that. 
Anyway, I was doing an organised tour this morning and as I entered the Hotel foyer to wait for the tour guide, who should be sitting there but the boring brown jumper guy!  And who should then start having a conversation with me – you guessed it – BBJG (boring brown jumper guy).  And the first thing he said was that he was not only on this tour with me, but apparently he had been on the same day tour as me yesterday!!!! Gosh, he must have been wearing even plainer clothes yesterday and blended into the bus, because I didn’t notice him at all???
He then sat across from me on the tour bus and continued to chat.  He said he was a professional ‘celebrity’ photographer (which is obviously why he noticed me yesterday…he could see my future potential??) and for a few minutes I got very excited.  But the excitement wore thin when for the next 30 minutes he proceeded to tell me how great and special he was. BBJG soon became known to me as a new acronym -   FIGJAM (F*ck I’m Good Just Ask Me).  He then showed me one of his favourite photos on his camera that he took on the previous day’s tour.  I did smile silently to myself as I had taken the same shot and thought mine was even better!!!
Thankfully I was saved by Bob, an old Canadian guy, who decided I was his NBF (new best friend) and followed me around the whole tour (leaving FIGJAM to wander on his own).  However, I’m beginning to think I’ve become an OMM (Old Man Magnet)!!!!!!!!!!  Where are all the single guys in their 40’s?????????????  It is not a huge ask!!!!!!!!!!!!  Bob wanted to catch up for dinner, but I opted out for fear that he was going to take me to the local RSL club.
Hopefully I will have more luck tomorrow as this evening I found another hairdresser (at my now favourite shopping centre) who cut and coloured my hair. I am once again looking youthful and beautiful (?!!), so surely I will be noticed by someone other than a pensioner???
Oops, Back again.  Promise I will finish this off this time.  I’ve just popped into the Hotel room for a tiny rest as my back is sore from all the walking I’ve done today.  I found another Bell Tower to climb this morning.  239 steps this time!!  But oh wow..what a view!!  Worth every step!!  Before I climbed up I thought I should do a quick toilet stop.  Wanted to avoid the urge to go half way up.  If I counted how much money I have spent on going to public toilets in the last 5 months, I think I could have purchased my very own portaloo, with the truck to drive it around in!!!  I was amused at the sign that was up in today’s toilet.  Quite discriminatory actually!  Men who used the urinal only had to pay half the amount of those that wanted to sit down!  What is with that!!!!  .50 Polish Zolty’s (their money) for a number one and 1 Polish Zolty for number twos!!! 

Okay, Okay, that’s it!!!  I will leave the photos and description about Budapest & Krakow until the next email or you will need a week to finish reading this.
I hope all is great with you.  Only 4 weeks and three days and I will be home!!!!!!!  Just a few more cities and countries to squeeze in first.

Love Joy xxxxxxxxxxxxx