A Travellerspoint blog

Poland

Warsaw and Krakow


View RTW 2008 on jezems's travel map.

We left Berlin after four days and it seemed like we left the warm weather, the killer euro and clean train toilets with it. I'll give it to the Germans, their cities and facilities are clean, organised and rather fancy in that cool European way so it was really obvious as the train hurtled towards Warsaw that we were heading towards an Eastern European country - even the German train conductor jumped off at the border maybe I should have taken this as an omen???Arriving at the Warsaw train station we were greeted by a group of drunken British men who were here as part of a stag night (supposedly this is quite common in Eastern Europe - they have such a bad reputation some places have banned them altogether.) Anyway, this bunch were wearing matching t-shirts with the English flag draped across the front, they also had nicknames printed on the back. I had the unfortunate experience of being wolf whistled by "sweet cheeks" while another of his mates struggled to cross the street with a pint in one hand - this was 2pm. I could see that Warsaw was going to be a tough place especially after Jez and I had to walk around the working girls that had marked their territory on the steps of the railway station.

Thinking that our hostel would be a refuge from the harsh reminders of communism, we arrived at Hostel Tamka and who were shaking up in a room next to us? Another group of British Stag boys, I could tell that this was going to be a long weekend. The place was revolting, words cannot describe the state of the toilets and showers, and needless to say I nearly passed out while trying to have a shower as someone had mistaken it for a toilet - perhaps one of the stag boys? The hostel was fully booked, which didn't help matters, unbeknownst to us a big break dancing comp was on so we were swamped with Russian versions of Ali G - it was scary believe me.

Because our hostel stay was turning into a nightmare we tried to spend as much time out and about so we visited the Uprising Museum which was pretty new and learnt more about the atrocities of the Nazi's and the Red Army after them. While in the Museum it started to rain, and didn't really stop after that. One of the interesting things about Poland is that the Government sponsors milk bars to provide cheap meals. This being exactly what we were after we decided to try it.

We finally found the one recommended to us and it was styled in communist minimalism. In trying to order we ended up with two of the same meal (and worried that there were another two of the other meal we thought we ordered on the way) one coffee, one hot chocolate and a cup of warm milk (we have no idea how we got the milk but it was nice!) Although it's no fault of Warsaw it is really a depressing looking town. It was all but completely destroyed in WWII and then was rebuilt by mad Russians. We were kind of glad to leave and after a lot of difficulty working out which train to catch (timetables had changed) we were on our way to Krakow, hoping that surely it would have to be soooooo much better than Warsaw and it was!

Krakow is a beautiful old city that amazingly survived unscathed from WWII and was also able to maintain its beautiful castles and churches under communism (no mean feat). We spent the first day exploring the old city, even though it was raining most of the time we managed to get around and soak up some local atmosphere with some pub grub. The next day we headed out on the public bus to visit Auschwitz- Birkenau.

It was an hour and a half drive out to the concentration camp and it rained the whole way - as we entered the museum we were invited to watch a 15 min film that was shot by the Red Army as they liberated the camp in 1945. The voice over was done by an English actor and the film was shocking in its matter of fact description of genocide. We saw children who had been victims of Nazi medical experiments, men and women who were being slowly starved to death, victims of torture and abuse. The film concluded with the announcer asking the rhetorical question whether the perpetrators of such crimes had gotten off too lightly? The film suddenly cut, the lights were back on and our tour guide was waiting for us.

The guide took us through the torture rooms, the extermination camps, crematoria and the work shops. We also saw what was left of those who did not make it to see the liberation of the camp -suitcases, shoes, spectacles, kilos upon kilos of women's hair - the sheer enormity of the holocaust came into focus and that of the twisted nature of the Nazis. The Nazis kept all these items and anything else of value that belonged to Holocaust victims – for example gold teeth and artificial limbs were collected and used to aid the war effort, hair was used to make blankets, the SS even used the ashes of holocaust victims as mulch for their gardens. Words cannot describe the horror that was unleashed in this place and as Jez and I walked along the train tracks - the same track that delivered millions of people, mostly Jews to their death, I couldn't shake the heaviness that surrounded this place. As we made our way to the gates which read, " Arbeit Macht Frei" (Work will set you free) I took one last look at Auschwitz and quickly jumped onto our bus and headed home.

The tower in Warsaw called Starlins Finger, strategically placed next to the model of consumerism McDonalds

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Castle in Krakow and Emily singing in the rain

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Auschwitz

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Birkenau

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Best meal yet at a weird little place called Kuchina U Babci Maliny

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Posted by jezems 10:11

Berlin


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We left Helsinki on an early morning flight and were farewelled by Timo at the airport after clearing customs we headed to our departure gate - our European backpacking adventure was about to begin.

We arrived in Berlin clueless as to how to get from the airport to our hostel so we queued up to speak to a transit information employee to get some advice, on what bus we should catch and where it departed from and any other tips that were going - sounds logical right? We'll after waiting for 20 minutes to speak to someone we got the most obnoxious and rude German on the planet; as soon as I opened my mouth he started off on a angry rampage in German - he looked like Helmut Kohol's little brother - I kept trying to repeat the suburb I wanted to go to "Alexanderplatz" each time trying to do it in a more German accent. Obviously I was unsuccessful as this made Helmut's little brother angrier and angrier, in the end we walked away, more confused and a little bewildered then when we started.

Anyway, we ventured outside where there were some bus stops and another transit employee who must have seen the exchange - called out to see whether we needed help - of course we did and we were soon on our way to our hostel.

We arrived at our hostel in one piece and were looking forward to a shower - we went to our room and met one of our room mates - a Canadian who couldn't speak English? Yes, she was from Montreal, and proclaimed that she could not speak English. At the time I thought this slightly bizarre – am I the only one?

We discussed her Francophile inspired travel itinerary as she preferred to travel to french speaking countries and our conversation abruptly ended with her declaring that she was getting tired of concentrating on English and so with that I (gratefully) bid my adieu and went to have a shower.

We also met a bloke named Raphael from Brazil who had been living in Dublin. He had been deported from Brittan and was in trouble in Ireland for working on a student visa. Although he was a little depressing telling this story over a beer on our first night in Berlin we told him he should try to get into Australia and gave him the name of a contact (Kevin Rudd :)). It made me realise how lucky we really are to be able to travel around with relative ease, Raphael was deported before even stepping foot outside the airport in London!

The next day Jez and I did a fabulous walking tour and got to see all the major sights in Berlin, checkpoint Charlie, the remains of the Berlin wall, the new parliament ( we went up in the dome thing the day before) the holocaust memorial and Hitler's last bunker (well were it was and is now a car park). One thing that struck me about the old East Germany was that the architecture was so depressing - this was made even more evident when we caught the train to Warsaw, you go from clean, modern minimalist design to grey concrete blocks. For an ideology claiming to create the worker's utopia its design and creativity didn't reflect it.

Anyway it was a great tour but a long day so we headed home to have a shower before heading out for dinner at a traditional German restaurant. We headed to our rooms only to discover that someone ( a new roomie) had taken my bed! Yep, she removed my towel which indicated that the bed was taken and had put new sheets on and left her books on the bed. I was a bit annoyed but as there was a vacant bed in the room figured I would just sleep there for our last night. As I made up the vacant bed the new roomie walked in - she had beady eyes and weasel like features so of course I thought she was French but Jez thought she was German. I wanted to say something but as soon as she walked into the room she gave Jez and I a harsh look and jumped into bed, covering her head with her sheets (or were they still mine?). Oh, well I bit my tongue, packed up my bags and thought about the international incident that could have been.

Jez and I then headed out for dinner and had the biggest pama's we had ever seen and some nice locally brewed beer as well. The next day we headed to the Pergamon Museum which houses art from the ancient worlds. I was surprised to find that the Museum had some really great pieces and wondered how they had managed to maintain such vast collections especially with WWII and the German partition. Well, according to my guide book its seems that Hitler was a bit of an art buff and like a good Fuhrer liked to pillage the art collections of nations he conquered. He also requested or should I say ordered that that all German museums safeguard their collections by storing them in underground bunkers - this was before the outbreak of WWII. He also instructed that the Jewish cemetery in Prague be left untouched as he planned to turn it into an exhibit for a new German Museum that of "an extinct race"..................................................

arty farty

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some wall

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Parliament- its always exciting

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Chilling with locals (Jeremy if he keeps eating those kebabs!)

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Posted by jezems 09:30 Archived in Germany Tagged tourist_sites

Hong Kong - Helsinki


View RTW 2008 on jezems's travel map.

Ok so it has been a little while since we added an entry so here goes. We made it to the Saigon airport after some discussion over the price of the taxi and the exchange of an additional $2 AUD coin for services rendered. We were pleasantly surprised to be allowed entry into the Cathay Pacific 'orchid lounge' thanks to Emily's ever increasing ranking in the Qantas club (now gold). So in the hour and a half available we ate and drank as much as possible! Our destination was Hong Kong, but of course this was only a short flight we also got lucky with the plane, it was less than a week old (would have loved it for the flight to Japan).

3 hours later we landed in Hong Kong airport, the new one on the manmade island. This place was fantastically organised and was a precursor to a really tourist friendly city. Within the hour we had collected our bags, passed customs, caught the train into Kowloon and caught the free shuttle bus to a block from our hotel room.

We dumped our bags in our compact but clean room and headed out into the streets, towards the walk of stars by the harbour, stopping along the way at numerous shopping centres (just looking). Down by the harbour we had a fantastic view of the lights of the city and caught the somewhat cheesy light show where all the buildings shot lasers and lights in the air to an odd little musical ditty. It is here we found a cafe and some English broadsheets and spent an hour or two catching up with what had been going on in the world.

The Olympics countdown was really on here, posters, 50m high neon light billboards and Olympic rings were everywhere. On your way back up Nathan road we passed some lantern like Olympic mascots, the funniest of which was a panda with a handgun, as pictured below.

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Armed with our walking tour maps we set out the next morning to see some of the sights in Kowloon, Hong Kong Island and then headed up to the peak on the tram. We did a walking tour and visited practically every market Hong Kong had to offer; Ladies Market, Electronics Market, Bird and Flower Markets oh and of course the gold fish markets. Yes, we walked through streets full of shops selling gold fish - I suppose for many apartment dwelling Hong Kong Chinese that's the only type of pet they can own.

The trek up to the peak was well worth it. The views were amazing and the fact that we made it up there was a feat in itself - the tram at one point felt like we we're going up the peak vertically, it was so steep! Back in colonial days wealthy English aristocrats use to be carried up the peak on the backs of peasants, hmmm talk about putting your life in others hands.

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The next day we packed our bags checked out of our rooms and headed to Helsinki - time for Emily to show Jez her one time second home. We arrived in Helsinki at 3pm (the 10 hr flight was a killer and I was slightly scarred by seeing a fellow passenger covered completely by a blanket for 10 hrs - she looked like an upright corpse - and at one time I thought a priest should be called to perform the last rites) anyway on arrival we were greeted by Timo, it was great to see a familiar face again. The sun was out and we had a lovely afternoon tea with Timo and Eija - oh and Esko (the cat). We were exhausted so we had a sauna and went to bed. The next day we went sightseeing with Timo, a grand tour of the city and its history (helped by Timo's past as a town planner!) before heading to Heli and Thoumas' for pizza and to check out their new yacht.


The next day we bussed into the city and then ambled along the tree lined Esplanade, checking out the Finnish designer goods and passing the local family of beggars (not the most appealing country to beg in winter I would think). Quite a new phenomenon in Finland and it seemed like where ever we went we saw the same family, just different members panhandling (of course these were not Fins but our first encounter with gypsies).

We had some lunch and went to check out the Helsinki City Museum. The city has seen a surprising amount of war and has changed hands between the Swedes (yes they were once very powerful) and the Russians. The Finns are now very proud of their country and independence and we happened to be there for two flag days on which flag poles across the country fly the Finnish white and blue flag. After the day out we headed to Antti’s for coffee and to check out the new Sauna (everyone needs this in Helsinki). It was soon about 10pm and the sun was still out, Emily and I were just starting to wake up and the locals were getting a little tired I think.

The next morning we were up and headed into the city for our last day and headed straight to Suomenlinna - a military sea fortress which is only a short ferry ride from Helsinki and I think another UNESCO recognised cultural sight. It was quite windy but the scenery was worth it. We meandered around the island and decided to hit the mainland again to get some lunch before heading back to pack.

When we arrived home Timo arrived soon after and was soon ready to take me for a swim at the local pool. At this stage I was desperate for a little bit of exercise that didn’t involve walking and had asked Timo if there was a pool nearby. As the ever gracious host Timo took me to his local pool to do a few laps while Emily set about packing for Berlin (read: relaxing reading a book). Now the Finnish know how to set up a pool! You enter directly into the locker rooms where your access card (to get in to the rooms) allows you to lock a locker and the key to the locker has a rubber ring around it so you can put it on your ankle. Now unlike Australia everyone has a shower before entering the pool. The pool itself was about ten lanes with a bulk head in the middle of half for those who wanted a 25 meter pool rather than a 50. I opted for the 50. Now as with car traffic on the roads the directions of pool lanes is backwards here. Despite being told before I got in I still managed to swim on the wrong side a few times, luckily not hitting anyone.

After I had finished the session of dodging the slow swimmers doing breast stroke (there were no fast or slow lanes) I went over to the pool Timo was relaxing in (after he had also done some laps). This pool was a therapeutic pool. It had big water pipes that shot water out like a waterfall giving you a great massage, underwater jets on the floor that gave the feet a massage and some others I didn’t try. Feeling really relaxed after this pool I headed into the change rooms for a dip in the “cold hole”. Sound nasty but is basically a small round pool about six feet deep with a ladder into it. The water is about 8 degrees and knocks the wind out of you, but is great for muscle recovery. After that we hit the steam room and then the hot Sauna before showing and heading home. Afterwards I hardly felt like I had done any exercise, I was so relaxed and ready to take on Berlin after the flight the next morning.

Berlin, Warsaw, Krakow to follow soon...

Posted by jezems 01:58

Farewell Ho Chi Minh City -Vietnam


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Our last blog entry from Vietnam is typed with a heavy heart as both Jez and I thoroughly enjoyed our time here, however, looking at our diwindled supply of hand santizer and travel wet ones its probably time to go :)

Last night we headed to the Sheraton for HH and to enjoy their stunning views from the 23rd floor - in a way it was our farewell to Vietnam. We had a lovely traditional vietnamese dinner with rice paper rolls and beef noodle soup. It feels like one leg of our journey has ended and our attention is now focused on Europe where the full on budgeting and backpacking begins!We depart for Hong Kong in the next hour or so and spend two nights in Kowloon before heading to Europe. I've just googled the weather for Helsinki and its a chilly 6 degrees so I think we'll be experiencing Canberra weather ourselves sooner than we originally thought.

More photos of Vietnam will be up soon...........................................

Posted by jezems 20:21

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