Sunday, October 4, 2009

10/4: Thoughts on the trip -- and bonus photos

(left: Winnie the Pooh Street in Warsaw. right: hallway in sealed-off old Warsaw Jewish ghetto taken through a poophole)

Here are thoughts on the trip as a whole -- and unrelated photos we took during the trip but didn't know quite how to incorporate into the daily blogs.

(left: Woody Allen boxed set billboard in Warsaw. right: basement of cafe in Krakow old town - you can see stained glass, which means the square must have been built up about 7 feet over the last couple of centuries)

I started the trip thinking we were in Eastern Europe. Sure, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary seem Eastern, right? Austria can come along for the ride too - Vienna is technically further east then Prague. But as the trip had rolled on, it seems that Eastern-ness is a state of mind rather than a physical location. The cities we visited feel as Western as any other in Europe. I entered Eastern Europe, but returned from Central Europe.

(left: Hostel Good Bye Lenin in Krakow. right: minks art installation in Krakow)

Everywhere you go, you hear that the beer in Eastern Europe is extraordinary. The Czech Republic invented Pilsner, the Polish drink beer with sausage for breakfast, etc. Being a fan of dark microbrewed beer, I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed only two beers on this trip: the X33 from the U Medvídkù brewery/hotel, which they claim is the strongest beer in the world, and the honey beer in Poland. I could probably survive on just those two though!

(left: Olga dancing to Mentos video/audio ad truck. right: locks on a fence near Lennon wall in Prague)

Funny note: On our first night in Warsaw, I saw somebody drinking a golden-colored Polish beer. I wanted to order some and asked "Is that a Pilsner?" He replied "Hell no, it's Polish!" In that part of the world, Pilsner refers to a city in Czech Republic, and beer made only in that city.

(left: Mario mushroom on bench outside Operett in Budapest. right: trees trimmed flat in garden at Schonbrunn palace)

Some countries you visit have a culture of being ultra-organized and on-time: Germany, for example. Others seem to have their own time zone which is 30 minutes to 2 hours later than the rest of the region: Russia, Italy, France. Everywhere we visited this trip seems to fall into the first category -- perhaps all those centuries of being ruled by the Austro-Hungarian empire was unable to be undone by 40+ years of Soviet influence.

(left and right: diagonally opposite corners on an intersection in Budapest. See the difference some maintenance makes)

We had expected things to be inexpensive - and for the most part they were - but not quite as much as I had expected. Some of our least expensive purchases were: night at a pensione in Eastern Hungary, cigars from a certain Latin-American country, standing room spots at the Opera. Some of the most expensive were city hotel stays, guided tours (walking, bus), dinner at restaurants. Perhaps things are setup to be inexpensive for locals, but certainly not for tourists.

(left: huge waterfall at Gellért Hill in Buda side. Right: photo of tunnel behind waterfall taken through a small crack in a door)
The search for desserts varied from country to country. Poland had wonderful piekarnias (bakeries) with a wide assortment of fresh pastries, cookies, things filled with cream, things filled with jelly, and an assorted of chocolate-covered scrumptiousness. In Prague, we started finding these difficult to locate. In Hungary, we passed a few, but they were always closed. Then in Vienna, we were able to get tasty local desserty goodness everywhere. It all depends on the palette of the locals.

(left: Ancient Roman ruins discovered under Vienna. Right: synchronizing my watch with an old Viennese clock)

The people we met on this trip were over-the-top friendly and helpful -- more than I can remember on any previous trip. Standouts include everyone from Poland and villagers from Eastern Hungary. Please visit these places while you can!

Store window advertisement: Napolean saying "And the stomachache is history"

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