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  • Along the Pamir Highway

    Written by Levien van Zon

    More pictures with this story: https://goo.gl/photos/gGuSuEXRN6cQKNFR7

    Just months ago, I knew next to nothing about Central Asia. Probably like most people, I knew there was a group of countries just west of China, with names that all end in -stan. I was vaguely aware of a connection to the old Silk Routes, the former Soviet Union and a few acts of recent Muslim extremism. I had read something once on the near disappearance of the Aral Sea due to irrigation of cotton crops. That was about it.

    Flying from Moscow to Bishkek, one passes over empty steppes and deserts for hours on end. Kazakhstan is in the top-ten of biggest countries in the world, yet somehow I completely failed to notice it on the world map that has been hanging above my bed for over 5 years. The country is dry, flat and grassy, and most of it is covered by the vast steppes of Eurasia that are the evolutionary home of most grasses as well as grazers, both of which have been essential to humanity. These steppes are also the home of the Turkic languages that we currently associate mostly with Turkey, but which actually originated in current-day China and Mongolia. While seeming empty and lifeless from afar, up close the steppe is home to various kinds of birds, rodents and insects, as well as herds of animals and the occasional settlement or yurt. To the north of the steppes are the forests and tundras of Siberia. To the east, vast mountains separate the “Stans” from the steppes and deserts of China. South of Kazakhstan, the mountainous countries of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are a prelude to the Himalayas.

    My first acquaintance with Central Asia was the city of Almaty, the former capital of Kazakhstan before the president decided to build a new capital city called Astana (Kazakh for “capital city”) at a more central location in the middle of nowhere. Almaty is a fairly pleasant city, although its many black SUVs and fancy shopping centres betray the fact that Kazakhstan is an oil producing country, and therefore among the wealthier of the Stans. We took a two-day trip to see some canyons and a lake with our guide and driver Sergey, a Cossack and former tank-driver in the Russian-Afghan war, who looks oddly like a Russian version of Sean Connery. After Almaty, our journey took us south, to Bishkek, capital of Kyrgyzstan. But not before one of our party was held at the border when trying to leave Kazakhstan, had to go to trial the following morning for failing to register within five days with the proper authorities, and subsequently got deported from the country we were trying to leave anyway. Such bureaucratic weirdness is one of the more unfortunate leftovers from Soviet times.

    From Bishkek we decided to travel further south, a two-day trip over the mountains to the city of Osh, one of the oldest settlements in Central Asia. From Osh we would start a ten-day trip through the Pamir mountain range, a remote region with high snowy peaks and mountain passes, salt lakes, plains and high altitude deserts. The main road through the region is the aptly named Pamir Highway, apparently the second-highest altitude road in the world, which is only accessible during late spring and summer.

    As soon as you drive over the Taldyk Pass (3650 m) into the Alay Valley, you feel like you’ve arrived on another planet. While the grassy northern plains transition from winter to 30°C in a matter of days, the Alay Valley was still mostly covered in snow. To the south, “Peak Lenin” (7134 m) and the Alay range tower over the valley and separate it from Tajikistan. An abandoned Soviet “meteorological station” with two giant half-broken radar domes added to the otherworldly feeling, as did the dusty town of Sary Mogul where we spent the night. The town could easily feature in a Star Wars movie, if it weren’t for the constant sound of chickens and braying of donkeys (and of course the conspicuous lack of alien lifeforms).

    Apparently we were among the first tourists this year able to cross the Kizil Art Pass and the no man’s land beyond, into Tajikistan. In places the road was still covered in snow and ice, and a 4WD was certainly no luxury. Beyond the pass the road runs along the rusty “Systema” border fence for over a hundred kilometres. The fence marks the no man’s land between China and the former Soviet Union, although large parts of it have since fallen over or are now missing altogether, presumably used as firewood. Despite the snow and lack of vegetation, there were quite a few birds and marmots, and we could spot the occasional vulture circling high above. Once in Tajikistan, the road descends toward Toktokul, the “Black Lake”. Despite its name and high salt content, the lake was still completely frozen over, and therefore quite white. Beside the lake lies another dusty Star Wars town with low mud-brick houses and a small forest of disconnected telephone poles. There is no electricity supply here, but most houses do have a small Chinese solar panel on the roof, which is connected to a 12V lead-acid battery. This is sufficient to charge phones and power a few LED lightbulbs in the evening, and sometimes a small television. People cook meals and boil their tea water on stoves powered by animal dung and dry desert shrubs (which unsurprisingly are becoming increasingly rare around towns).

    The strip of land between the town and the lake is covered with salt, rusting car parts and animal carcasses (or parts thereof). Several yaks graze in a marshy bit of land by the lakeside, slightly downhill from the town. I was surprised that such large animals can find sufficient food in such sparsely vegetated lands, but undoubtedly they have large fat reserves, and apparently the region is much greener in summer. Despite being dry and dusty (and sounding like a place in Mordor), Karakul is not a lifeless town. Everywhere were groups of children in colourful clothes, eager to practise their “Hello” and “Goodbye” on passing strangers. Walking to the lakeside, we were joined by a little girl called Fatima and (presumably) her two, somewhat over-active brothers. Fatima, with her purple dress, pink plastic boots and white flower in her hair, turned out to be a fairly good portrait photographer, once I had lent her my camera. I am now the proud owner of around forty group portraits, taken from the perspective of a six-year-old. Despite having no language in common with us, she was able to express very clearly who needed to be where in which picture, in the peculiar way that way only small children can.

    Night was not spent in Karakul but in Murghab, the largest town in the region, and the home-town of our driver Muhammad. Like most towns of the high Pamir, Murghab features mostly dusty streets, low buildings, telephone poles and rusty car parts. In theory there is an electricity supply, but it was out of order for an unknown period of time. As Murghab and many other towns cannot be reached for half the year, people have to stock up on food during the summer months. Even in summer the town is mostly supplied by container trucks that have to traverse hundreds of kilometres of unpaved roads through steep mountainous terrain, so this is not exactly the cheapest place to buy supplies. No wonder that many people keep a small herd of animals, that graze in the river valley and on the hills around town. Also no wonder that the food in this regions consists mostly of mutton, potatoes, onions, carrots and rice, as these ingredients are easily obtained and keep well through the year.

    After saying goodbye to our driver for the night, we decided to try and find a place where we could exchange some money. We rang the doorbell of a travel agency, as it seemed that they might speak English and may be able to help us. To our great surprise it was our driver Muhammad who opened the door of what turned out to be his family home, where we were promptly invited to tea with home-made pastry. Unknown to us at the time, Muhammad’s grandmother had died two weeks earlier, and the family was preparing a feast to mark the end of the mourning period. We were happy to have this opportunity to visit a local household, although we were also slightly embarrassed when we learnt of the occasion for the festivities. The next day, we were invited again to come and eat a meal and drink tea, while town elders gathered in the family home to eat and pray.

    Two more days of beautiful and otherworldly landscapes followed, including a visit to the Pshart Valley, a moonlit but very windy night in the remote town of Alichur and a visit to the even more remote Bulunkul town and lakes (reportedly the coldest place in Tajikistan). Then we crossed the Khargush Pass (4344 m) into the Wakhan Valley, the southernmost part of Tajikistan. The Pamir river flows through the valley, and further downstream becomes the Panj and then the Oxus (Amu Darya). The river also forms the border with a strange, narrow strip of Afghanistan known as the Wakhan Corridor, created in the nineteenth century as a buffer zone between the British Empire (current-day Pakistan) and the Russian Empire (current-day Tajikistan). The eastern extremity of the Wakhan Valley is known as the Pamir Knot, the meeting point of several major mountain ranges: the Himalayas, Tian Shan, Karakoram, Kunlun and Hindu Kush. However, we travelled west along the river, toward the mighty Hindu Kush range (“Killer of Hindus”) which rose in the background and beyond which lies Pakistan.

    The Afghan side of the river has only a narrow dirt road running along the mountain side. There were few signs of habitation there, just some goats and the occasional Afghan on a horse or walking with a donkey. Our side was not much different however, there were only a few (abandoned) buildings along our dirt road, which sometimes ran along the river bank and sometimes along a steep crumbling cliff side with the river far below. We met only a single person, probably a soldier walking from the remote checkpoint at the pass, a good two-day walk to Ratm, the nearest village. Near Ratm, suddenly green fields appear in the rocky valley, plowed by farmers using oxen and old tractors. The dry soil was irrigated through a system of simple canals that divert water from nearby mountain streams. While the people of the high mountains were traditionally Kyrgyz shepherds, the people in the lower valleys speak Tajik (a Persian language) and look more Afghan in their features and clothing.

    We spent two days in the lovely town of Langar. Spring had only just started in the valley, so fruit trees were flowering, green leaves just started to appear and everywhere we saw newborn lambs, calves and baby goats. On the lower slopes of Peak Karl Marx and Peak Engels we met two old shepherd ladies, guiding their flock among the rocky terrain. One of them was hand-spinning yarn from the wool of her animals. Trade routes ran through these valleys in ancient times, and the remains of several forts and temples can still be seen on the mountain slopes, overlooking the valley in strategic places. One of these forts is actually still used by the Tajik army to guard the border with Afghanistan, near the town of Ishkashim. However, the young border guards were very friendly and gladly showed us around the ruins, on the condition that we didn’t take any pictures of “military installations”. Apart from a small barrack, an outside cooking stove and an antenna array, we failed to see any military installations. There was one mysterious structure with lines on the ground, which we thought might be some kind of helicopter pad, but turned out to be a volleyball field.

    Our guesthouse in Ishkashim was next to a police station, which featured a large machine gun on the roof. As we found out later, there had been fighting between the Taliban and Afghan forces several days earlier, some distance from the border. This is probably why Ishkashim has a strong army presence, and official buildings are well-guarded. We had hoped to visit the Afghan market on an island in the river, between both countries, but it turned out that the market was closed for safety reasons, and it had been for three years.

    The rest of our journey through the Pamir region followed the Panj-river northward, over increasingly bad roads as the amount of traffic increased. Large Chinese-built container trucks crawl up the hills from the capital Dushanbe over the narrow unpaved road to Khorog, and from there to Murghab and Ishkashim. The many trucks and frequent landslides don’t really contribute to the quality of the road, or the comfort of the journey. But at least there is a road. On the Afghan side of the river there were still few cars, and on some sections road workers were hacking out a path through the rocks with pneumatic hammers, a task that looked like it could take at least several years of hard work to complete. Toward Dushanbe, the Tajik roads at least get better. Road workers there were busy constructing concrete walls to protect against landslides. However, a few hundred meters beyond, large sections of the newly constructed wall had already been destroyed by said landslides. I guess in the end, the mountain always wins.

  • Blog
  • Albania

    I get to the Aegean Sea in Albania. I crossed the former communist country inland from north to south over the mountains and along the valleys.

    About

    Albania is a Balkan country in the Aegean Sea. The population of the country might be around 3 million which half lives in Tirana, the capital. The country has their own language, which is different from all the other Slavic countries and is written in Latin alphabet. Their currency is the Leva and in general terms it is a really cheap country.

    The population is Muslim and Orthodox mainly. However, there are a good number of Christians and Jews. The population of Albania has a special connection with the Kosovars as they claim to have the same origins.

    There has been one time a big country call Albania after the Byzantine empire that dominated most of the Balkans and is the proud of the nation. Albania also belonged to the Ottoman Empire and during the 19th century a strong communist dictatorship left his trace in Albanian history. After the death of their leader  Enver Hoxha, the country came peacefully to a democracy and to Capitalism.

    Getting there

    The bus from Struga to Skopje travels along the Ohrid like up to the mountains where is the border between the two countries. It took us a while in the boarder due to the different customs controls and a bit of traffic. In Albania, the mountainous landscape was impressive. The mountains and hills were all covered with brown, red, orange and yellow colours of fall season. There was also a bit of green, but was the warm tones of the leaves what made a big contrast with the blue sky. Not far from the border, from the top of a hill we get to Aegean Sea.

    Anecdote

    At the bus station of Struga there were other Backpackers waiting for the same bus I was waiting for. There was a French trio, two boys, one girl, and solo-traveller. There I didn’t feel like talking with anyone, but having my peaceful journey processing my last days in Macedonia.

    However, it was anecdotic to me to see how the solo-traveller was trying so hard to get well with the trio. He tried again and again to communicate with them, but the girl and his boyfriend answered with short monosyllabic expressions, and the other guy never payed attention. It was easy to see from the outside that it was not about to work. I wonder if I would be wise enough to avoid been in the same situation myself. For sure that reaffirmed my idea that it was worthless talking to them.

    Tirana

    About

    Tirana is the mayor city of Albania hosting half of the population of the country. Due to the communism, its urbanism combines old historic buildings with the new modern buildings that have been built with the democracy. It is not a touristic city, however, if you are visiting Albania, It is worth stop in the city one or two nights.

    Experience

    Thanks to my previews research about the city I get out from the bus before it gets to the main bus station. I stopped in the city centre while the other backpackers were wondering themselves what to do. Little by little I get to feel super confident of my decisions and indifferent to others judgment.

    The hostel I was staying was cosy but had only two toilet-shower for all the guests. Hopefully, the hostel was almost empty as it was out of season. In my dormitory of 6 beds we were only two that night.

    I hadn’t drop my backpack on my bed and I was already talking with my roommate, Christian. He was a Norwegian guy who had been travelling the previews 3 months from England across Europe by bike. No need to tell that we shared a long conversation about his and my journey. He explained my how he was doing his travel and how he prepared everything.

    After dinner, I meet with Alyona. She is a girl from Couchsurfing that offer to host me but it didn’t happen because I changed my time to come to Tirana in order to stay longer in Ohrid. After getting lost in the “Block” the restaurant and bare square of the city, I get to the bar she was 30 min. late. I hate to be late, but sometimes is not easy when you have not the precise address. Sorry Alyona!

    Breakfast at the hostel was included but it was almost inexistent. After grabbing some toast and a tea I catch the Free Walking tour at the city centre. I believe more and more, that the walking tours are a fast way to get to know the more important facts of the country, region and city you are visiting. They help me to understand the people and present culture.

    We visited the main sightseeing of the city. They are not many and all are around the big central square. From the museum with the communist mosaic we passed by the clock tower, the Ottoman mosque, the old fortification of Tirana, the parliament, the Christian and the Orthodox church and the concrete pyramid. On the way, we passed some bunkers and other memorials of the communist times.

    Bunkers in the city

    St. Selfie

    The old Bridge

    It was here, at the walking tour when I heard about my possible destinations in Albania in my way to Greece.

    Anecdotic was that the Albanians claim that Mother Theresa was Albanian. They recognise that she was born in Skopje. However, they claim that she was daughter of an Albanian family. Sometimes it seems to me so ridiculous how every city, region our country claims the impossible to be known worldwide. It looks like a country can’t be a good country without the biggest/largest/oldest whatever or without “superheroes”.

    After the walking tour, I went to eat to a local restaurant that the tour guide suggested. I ate Kifqui – which are rice balls with species and chess and a piece of oven lamb with a shot of homemade Raki. The lady of the restaurant, member of the owner family talked to me about Albania, the small regions and the production of Raki from grapes and how they mixed with some fruits to make it flavoured.

    Back to the hostel I had a message on Couchsurfing of people to meet. First, I met Andi and then Bella. Incredible, but both speaks Spanish.

    With Andi I spoke Spanish almost all the time. We met for a tea and then we went to meet Bella together, but he had to go. He liked to travel and most of all sex. Most of his speech happened to be about sex here, sex there and sex anywhere. Girls to fuck and how he had fuck a lot of girls from many countries. We also talked about Spain, as he loves the country and he visited it every year, and also sex in Spain.

    Anecdote

    Walking in the street speaking Spanish with Andi, we stopped as civilized people in a traffic light. In front of us there were three girls that start gossiping and softly smiling when they heard us talking Spanish. Andi, not shy at all, ask them in Spanish – Do you want to talk Spanish? – Two of them turn around and smiled to us. So he insisted – Don’t be shy, here my friend is Spanish, he can speak with you in Spanish.

    After that, he explained to me that many people understand Spanish due to the Latin Telenovelas or Spanish TV programs.

    Not one hundred meters ahead, pointing to a girl that was coming in the opposite way he asked me in Spanish. – Do you like that girl? She is pretty, isn’t she? Would you like to fuck her?

    I was astonished.

    Then he stopped the girl, introduced her to me and told me that she was a college of him from the Spanish philology university.

    Later on, I meet Bella and her friend which name means flower. Bella happened to be a German Criminal investigator that loves to learn languages. Half German, half Albanian, she spends as much as she can in Albania. They taught me some words in Albanian, some music – mainly Albanian Hip-Hop – and places worth visiting.

    Back to the hostel Christian had gone and I have two new roommates. This time was a British couple. He was from Wales and she from Scotland, and together they were as well traveling around Europe by bike.

    Anecdote

    Talking the previous night with Christian he told me about his possible future plans. He was on his way to Athens. From there he was thinking on crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Egypt where continue his ride in winter across Africa. He was traveling alone most of the part. However, as it happened to me, sometime he met people with whom he shared part of the journey. In between them, he told me about a British guy he met that wanted to continue with him from Athens across Africa. The only doubt he had was that his Girlfriend didn’t want to go to Africa.

    As you may already figure out, the once that were that night sleeping at the same bunkbed were the same ones he told me about.

    Once more, we spoke for a couple of hours about travels, anecdotes, future ideas, and for sure I told them that I met Christian the previous night.

    With them I also talked about how difficult happened to be to keep updated a blog when you are travelling. It happened that they are also writing their adventure to keep a record of it. Here I leave the link to their blog in case you want to follow them and learn from their experiences.

    That night I was thinking on going to have a drink somewhere nearby, but I spent most of the night talking on the phone with friends and family.

    Anecdote

    At the hostel, there were two girls from Kosovo that invited the members of our room to come to their terrace to have a drink. We never came. As I was saying, I spent most of the night at the seating room on the phone. However, they passed by a couple of times. They went to the supermarket, a friend dress in a suit came to visit them, and at the end they went out for a drink. Every time they passed by they looked at me hanged on the phone.

    I went to bed after hearing and meeting indirectly the life of all the guest of the hostel.

    During the breakfast, I talked with the Kosovar girls. One of them was partially from the Netherlands. They asked me if I finally went out the previous night and I told them that I end up staying talking till late. They told me that they ended the night at a Karaoke place. Probably the only one in Tirana.

    Anecdote to be continue…

    Berati

    About

    Berati is a small village in the mountains of Albania. It is known by hikers because of the mountains around it, where there are really nice trails to the top of the mountains with amazing panoramas and because of his fortress protected by the UNESCO.

    I originally planned to go to Vlora on the seaside, but several people told me that it is just a beach destination for summertime and there will be nothing there but empty beaches. Instead people told me to visit Berati, which has an old town, a fortress and hiking trails.

    Getting there

    There are several buses from Tirana to Berati along all the day. The bus station to get there is out of the city in the northwest, but there are many city buses that takes you there. Buses in Albania are not the cheapest in my road trip, but aren’t either expensive.

    Experince

    I get to Berati without an accommodation. I knew there were a couple of hostels and guesthouses in town and as it isn’t high season, I felt sure that I would found somewhere to stay. Once in the city, I stopped in a coffee shop and checked in internet possible accommodations. I end up booking one dorm in the best-known hostel of the village.

    I addressed myself to the hostel and there I meet Kate, the girl in charge of the Hostel. She is British and she came to Berati to work in the hostel with her boyfriend. However, the boyfriend was in Barcelona in an interview. The hostel is about to close during winter and they would move to Spain to work there during the winter season. Next summer they would be back to Berati as the ones in charge of the hostel.

    Panorama of hostel side of Berati

    Anecdote

    ….Anecdote Continues here

    While I was accommodating my stuffs in the room came the second guest of the hostel. He was Ivan, a Lithuanian guy. After a fast introduction, he told me that he came from Tirana. After a while talking about what we have been doing and visiting in Tirana he told me that the last night he went to a karaoke and stayed there till late. No doubt I told him about the girls from my hostel that went to a karaoke the same night. Few words later I found out that he was the guy on the suit that came to hostel the previous night. He looked alike but I would never though that someone would have been backpacking with a suit. He explained me how he gets the suit in a second-hand store for a party with some friends.

    I told him that I was the guy who spent all the night on the phone and he laughed. Understandable. He then told me that they three happened to talk about me and how I could spend so much time talking on the phone. He never gets to tell me what they were really saying, but it doesn’t matter.

    As we were talking a Korean guy came to the hostel. After the appropriate introductions, which includes the proper description of everyone’s journey, we went together for a walk at the city. We walked to the fortress up on the hill.

    The Fortress of Berati is an old defensive building that controlled the valley. It is protected by the UNESCO, but it is not preserved. However, there are hoses and commerce inside of the fortress and there is people leaving there. To access to the fortress, you have to pay 100 Lekes, but only if the guy who control the access is there. We had the luck to be the last of the day. After we payed he closed his “office” and everyone else who came after us was free of charge. We couldn’t but laugh of that.

    Fortress of Berati

    At the top of the destroyed minaret of the white mosque we watched the sunset over the mountains. We spent seated at the tower the time it takes a deep introduction into Buddhism. “Juan” the Korean guy told us about the religions in Korea and China. He considered himself atheist. However, he has a really deep knowledge of the religion of Buda and the three ramifications. Why? I forgot that part, but it is not the most important. He also told me about China and why I must go to China and what to do once I get there. I think than then I will text him to refresh the information.

    After the religious knowledge masterclass and some topics of world politics and travel issues we went down to the old town. There we did as al the locals do. We walked up and down the boulevard along the river.

    Ivan and I stopped to have dinner in a fast food place Kate recommend us. “Juan” preferred to cook something at the hostel as he was having a problem with the ATMs and couldn’t get cash.

    Back to the hostel we brought a couple of bottles of wine and some nuts to share with “Juan” we end up drinking from them with Kate the owner of the hostel. We had a really chilli night talking at the terrace. We shared travel anecdotes of all kind. Including the fact that Ivan and I had meet the previous day. The hostel staffs shared with us anecdotes of the guest. It was the end of the season so they have plenty from the last year.

    Drinking in the terrace

    Also the owner, who was a British guy that moved to Berati to renovate a house and run the first hostel of the town, told me about his entrepreneurship adventure and many details of the restauration process and the construction stile in Albania.

    Next morning, I woke up early for breakfast. I spent the morning talking with Kate about her future plans and her attraction for Berati. She insisted that I should go to Gjirokastra instead of going to Vlora or Saranda. She also recommended me a hostel there and how I could do it.

    After such a nice chat with Kate I went to visit the mosques of the city. One was closed. But granted me with the funny image of four girls taking pictures to each other as if they were models, at the narrow street of the entrance. At the second mosque, I get to get in but 5 minutes later a guy was waiting for me at the entrance. After I took two pictures he called my attention and asked me to leave. He told me that there was no problem taking picture and informed me that the mosque was closed.

    Mosque of Berati

    Gjirokastra

    About

    It is the mayor city of the south region of Albania. It is located 30km. from the boarder with Greece in the slopes of a hill that controls a long valley. In the valley is where the noble families of the city used to have their farms and harvest lands. The city houses are most of them big seigniorial houses of the landlords. All the houses are organized so all of them have view to the valley. At the top of the hill there is a big citadel that has been the nightdream of all the armies that tried to conquer it along the history.

    The city grew remarkably during the communism thanks to the industrialization. This expansion of the city creates a new city below the old city. As a tourist, the more interesting is the old town.

    Getting there

    To go from Berati to Gjirokastra I had to take the bus to Saranda. 5 hours later I was in Gjirokastra. The bus driver was a friendly guy but with a little of nerve. I also discover that in Albania people uses the buses as a post service. They just drop their packages to the driver and he take them to its destination. Not to say that you just need to shake your hand anywhere on the road and the bus will stop to catch you up. It even stopped in the middle of the highway.

    Anecdote

    In the old town, most of the roads are in the slope of the hill and some of them are quite steep. All the roads in this area of the city are built with local stones, what made them not only inaccessible to girls with high hills, but also made the street so slippery. However, as this is a rainy area of the country, local builders combined three different type of stones. The black ones, are the ones you should steep in when the street is wet as they are the non-slippery ones. Every local would tell you that.

    I get to Gjirokastra little before sunset. Without any reservation, I walked to the hostel Kate suggested me. I had already checked that it was the cheapest accommodation on the Internet. The prices at the hostel, as expected, were the same I saw on the web. At the entrance, Maria, a local girl welcomed me, showed me the hostel and explained me what I could visit in the city. Keeping a big distance from me she took note of my personal details and checked me in. Little later, Walter, the owner of the hostel introduced himself and welcome me to the hostel. I had a really comfortable bed in a spacious six-bunkbed room with only one roommate. My roommate was Chinese middle-aged man who didn’t speak a fluent English.

    After a shower and cleaning my clothing I went to dinner to the nearest restaurant Maria suggested me. Great local food for a really cheap price. The service was really slow though, but I was in no hurry so I entertained myself hearing the conversation next-table. They were a tour group of retired people of the United States. They talked about Trump, the differences between countries and asked their guide about Albanian political facts. They guide even also talked to them about the hostel I was staying at. It seemed that it is well known there. Later on, I would find out that it is due to the fact that Gjirokastra is a little city of those where everyone knows everyone.

    It just took me to get back to the hostel to find it out. There, after some few distractions I ended up again talking till late with the Dutch owner of the hostel. Walter use to be a traveller that two years ago decided to move to Gjirokastra, restore a house according to the traditional ways of construction and transform it into a hostel. His travel experiences made him think about every little detail a hostel should have. I seriously congratulate him for such a nice hostel.

    He not only told me about his entrepreneur adventure, but also about lots of details of the restoration of the house. With him I found that the roofs of the cities where heavier than a regular house. That is due to how they are made with tones of tiles of local rocks over a wood structure. The weight of the roof itself force the walls to be thick ones made of stone. Albania is located in a regular seismic area. In Byzantine times constructors solved this issue introducing in the walls lines of flexible wood every half or one meter and some limestones between the grey stones.

    The breakfast at the hostel was awesome. The best was the jam that Walter get from the guy who installed the Air Conditioning. As we were few in the hostel it was like having breakfast with a bunch of friends.

    During the breakfast, I met the friends of Walter that were at the hostel visiting him and all the other guest. But I will talk off them as they happened to be part of my story. After breakfast, I ended up talking with a German couple who’s names I feel afraid I forgot. As they were also thinking to go visiting the fortress we arranged to do it together after they organise her future plans. Meanwhile I went for a general walk around town and watched the peculiar housing architecture.

    Walking Gjirokastra

    The Fortress or Citadel of Gjirokastra is far away from a building restored, but as I remarked, they have been 3D-scanning the building. Most probably an intervention is about to come. Inside of the fortress, 200 lekes the entrance, there are three museums for another 200 lekes. In the museums, you can learn about the history and folklore of Gjirokastra, a collection of weapons of the las century wars that took place in the area and during the communism, and the prison that was installed in the fortress.

    The rest of the fortress is the fortress itself which is huge and impressive and have such a nice view over all the valley landscape and the mountains on the other side of it.

    Fortress of Gjirokastra

    After the Fortress, we had something to eat together in a terrace that Maria suggested us. Again food was nice, but better was our talk. As we had already spoken about travels and Albanian issues, during lunch we talked about future plans, volunteering, workaway and the current world situation.

    From lunch we went to visit one of the Houses of the Landlords. The one in front of the Ethnographic Museum is the only one that has a guide in English included in the price. The inside is even more surprising than the outside. It is a functional house that express perfectly how was the Albanian culture in the past.

    House of Gjirokastra

    The lower level of the house is built with thick solid walls of stone with only thin apertures, enough to control the streets nearby as a castle. That was due to the differences between neighbours. It happened that the different families hate each other so much that there was a little war all across the city. In this lower floor they even had a bunker to protect themselves not only from other families, but also from the war bombings

    The upper floor host the bedrooms and the kitchen. In every bedroom used to slept a family unit of the big family. Also, here they had a visitors room. In order to keep the women always separated from the male there where passages and double door wardrobes. This flor has already some windows, but not big ones.

    It is the top flor the one that has the largest panoramic windows looking to the valley. In this floor is a big main central room with a balcony that connect the different rooms. In one side the last matrimony room. An independent room for the last married member of the family. In the other side is the feast hall that was designed to host the marriages of the family members. Here the room get separated by areas in order of importance and gender. Visiting this house, I get to learn a lot about the Albanian traditions.

    That night I went to eat to the third restaurant of the city that Maria suggested me. There were eating Walter and his Dutch friends who invited me to join them at their table. There they told me about their lives. Walter friends’ area couple that are expecting a kid. He loves running marathons and has really good marks. He trains every day. Even here, on holydays, he goes every morning for a run. Among the conversation, I liked to talk about the Netherlands and Spanish past, mainly about those crazy times that both countries were part of the same great empire.

    The following day, we went for the tour, Walter, who was driving, his two friends, Pedro, Maria and me.

    Pemet

    Pemet is a city built mainly during the communism, all in concrete, with no interest itself. To have a look at the city we climbed one big rock there is on one side of the city.

    Panorama from the rock

    Then we went to a little forest behind the city where after 30 minutes’ walk we get to a Byzantine church in the middle of nowhere. Walter knew what he was doing and went to get the key in one of the houses in the “village” nearby. Visiting such an old church where nothing has been yet restored and is preserve with the defects of time was such an experience.

     

    Back to the car we had lunch in a restaurant on the road to some hot springs in the area. To get to the hot springs we had to cross a Byzantine bridge perfectly preserved. The water springs where not as warm as they normally are according to Walter. One way or another we all jumped on the water and chilled out for a while there.

    Water Springs and Old Bridge

    Thanks to having a 4×4 car Walter took us to a remote village on top of the hill. You could see the village from the water springs, but there is not a proper road that takes you there. The village is all made of stone with one Orthodox Church. It’s one of this country village doomed to get desert in ten, twenty years.

    There, some locals invited us to seat in their terrace and shared with us the products of their environment. We tasted the honey they produce and the fruits that grow nearby. As the locals told Maria and Walter, there used to be another smaller village a little higher on the mountain. It got abandon only ten years ago. This happens because young people goes to the mayor towns or cities and the old people just dye.

    In this sentence, I just want to remark how grateful I felt towards the hospitality of Albanians.

    Back to Gjirokastra I went to dinner to the closest restaurant. It was good and even if they took their time to served me, I felt comfortable.

    That night in the hostel was an special date that I get to enjoy when I get back to it. Akiko, a Japanese girl that came to the Hostel four weeks ago and liked everything so much that stayed there all the four weeks, was leaving next day. Actually, she, Pedro and me were leaving together. But no doubt, that night was hers. We spent the night talking most of the hostel together at the seating room until there only us three and Lee remained. We spoke about Japan, Malaysia and China, about Akiko experiences at the hostel and we laughed a lot when Lee didn’t know how to say “life” in his mother language.

     

    Getting out

    Lee left early in the morning to Athens and with him what remained of the Jam. I will never forgive you! After breakfast, and the long farewell of Akiko, we walked to the bus station. The original plan was to catch a bus to the boarder then there a bus to Ioannina and there another to Kalabaka, but nothing turn as it should.

    When we get to the bus station of Gjirokastra the next bus was in one hour and a half. We didn’t want to wait all that long so went to try to hitchhike. We stopped on the highway that crossed the new town and in 5 minutes, there was a particular offering us a ride in exchange for money. In Albania, there are a lot of particulars that do the service as taxis in order to get some money. We offer him all the Lekes that we had as we won’t need them anymore. Our price was much inferior than his original offer, but he accepted and for less than the price of the bus he took us to the border.

    We easily walked across the Albanian border. Five hundred meters on No-man’s land and we were at the gates of Greece.

     

    Useful information

    Most of the population speaks proper English, for sure the youth and a lot of them even Spanish.

    The currency in Albania is the Leke which no one will change you back in any other country. In almost everywhere in the country you can pay as well with Euros.

    The bus is the best way to travel inside the country. It takes time, but it’s always on time.

    Driving is a bit of a chaos. Even to cross the street you better check twice both directions to avoid an accident. They almost kill me twice while crossing under the green traffic light.

    Albania is the bigger producer of Marihuana in Europe and there are fields of Marihuana on the mountains. It is suggested to ask where is safe to hike before getting in troubles with the people who watch them.

     

  • Blog
  • Macedonia

    Instead of walking back Bulgaria I decided to go west again and discover new countries in the Balkans like Makedonia (Skopja) 

    Skopje

    About

    Skopje is the capital city of Macedonia. It is a barely new city as result of the several destructions of the original one along the history. Located sever kilometres away from the first roman city it accommodates half of the population of Macedonia. With one million inhabitants is the bigger city of the country.

    As it lacks of a great historic past, the government is building it, filling the city with statues and monuments. The old town is one of the little vestiges together with the castle that remains.

    Getting to Skopje from Sofia

    I took the midnight bus from Sofia to Skopje. I was told that the bus takes 5 hours between the two capital cities. That day it took just 4 hours. I expected to spend the night in the bus, but at 3:00 am from Macedonia I was at the bus station of Skopje. Yes, Macedonia is UGT+1 as the rest of Europe. I forgot that fact as well.

    The bus station was an old station under the train station. At night, it had a look of an abandon building. At the main room of the station there were some other travellers accommodated in the chairs. Some of them in group other individually. I found a place for me and seated I hugged my best friend, my backpack and try to get a nap.

    It was not comfortable at all, but nap by nap the clock got to 6:00 am. As I couldn’t sleep more I decided to go to the city centre and look for a coffee shop. It was still night and the streets were barely empty of cars and people. Everyone was sleeping. I walked next to the river and get my first big impression of Skopje.

    First impression

    On both sides of the river I could see the neo-baroque buildings lightened, the new bridges full of statues. The bridge of culture with all kind of artists, and the bridge of history with kings and heroes. I wondered how was possible that a country barely born from the division of Yugoslavia in 1991 that had no precedent as an independent country in history could have all these historic celebrities.

    Following the river, I get to the old stone bridge and the mayor square. I was already surprise of the megalomaniac investment to create a capital symbol of the nation, but I end up wordless when I found myself in front of the fountain of Alexander the Great. Far from a beautiful monument it was the most megalomaniac statue of the modern times I had ever seen.

    The experience

    What a surprise when I get to the hostel, the staff told me that I was about to stay there on my own. He showed me my room, the facilities and gave me the key of the hostel before leaving me on my own. I had a full hostel for my own!!

    I was tired but decided to join the Walking free tour at 10:00 so I had a fast shower and went out. The walking free tour of Skopje might be one of the funniest I have attended so far. The guide, a real entrepreneur that started the business in Macedonia by his own was polite and critical. Probably sometimes a bit too much subjective. The tour started with a fast overview of the history of the territory now called Macedonia and how it belonged to several cultures and nations. The result is a multicultural country where different cultures and religions live in peace most of the time. The country is mostly Slavic orthodox, but there’s a big Muslim community as an Albanian in the southwest.


    During all the walk around the new centre of the city the guide showed us his disagreement with the governments investment on monuments and statues. He agreed that the country had not that much to presume. As the colour revolution supporters, less than one year ago, he considered that this investment would be more useful in sanitary, education or other social aspects.

    The colour revolution was a demonstration of the citizens of Skopje against the monuments. For showing their disapproval, they painted statues of monument in colours. You can still see the traces of the revolution. Personally, I think that it might be the only original trace of history in all the monuments. How sarcastic!

    With the guide, I discovered how deep gets to be the arguments between Greeks and Macedonians. As I’ve been told and confirmed in my research, Macedonians had to change their original flag design due to the Greek pressure. Greeks claim that Macedonia and all what is related with the classic Macedonian culture, including Philip II, Alexander the great and his empire are Greeks, no Macedonians and they are fighting for it. They even blocked trades with Macedonia due to the flag design.

    Now a day the fight is focus in the name of the country as Greeks are blocking Macedonian progress to be member of the European Community if they don’t change the name of their country. How crazy!

    Among these monuments, we visited the Memorial House of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. She was born here in a humble house next to were now is located the big horse of Alexander.

    Mother Theresa Memorial

    In the Old Town, where the old medina was, we learnt about the history of the people that use to leave here, no matter the country who they belonged to. The old town is like an Arabic medina on one side of the hill that goes to the fortress. From the old fortress, there is a nice panorama of the city and the new national stadium – another polemic investment of the government. Unfortunately, all these historic buildings are not restored neither well preserved. It is ironic to me, or I don’t get to understand properly, the intention of the investment in creating a new past but not investing in the real one.

    The Mosque of Skopje

    During the tour the guide offered to us some local Rakia in the restaurant we came all together to eat. Having lunch was where we get to meet each other of the travellers. We arranged there to meet again in the afternoon for a drink together.

    The night, I went out of the hostel to meet the night life of Skopje. Together with some friends, we had a drink in a cosy bar out of the city centre that we had been suggested and then went to the old town. The old town I must say is always full of life. During the day like a medina, with restaurants and shops and during the night with bars and tea shops.

    We ended the night on top of the medina in a craft beer bar with live music and Tabaco smoke everywhere. Yes, in Macedonia there is no restriction concerning smoking cigarettes.

    Matka canyon

    Getting there

    The following day, I went to the bus station to figure out how to get to Matka.

    The bus was supposed to pass by at 13:50 but it never appeared. Lucky me, I start talking with two other guys that were there waiting for the same bus. As the bus was not coming we decided to share a taxi ride to Matka as I did already in Neuswanstein Castle.

    The experience

    The gorges of Matka are located south of Skopje and are worth a visit. As we were told by the taxi driver, Matka means “vagina”. There in the gorges there are the caves considered one of the largest caves in Europe and probably of the world. It seems that there still places to discover inside them.

    To get to the caves you need to take a boat next to the restaurants and the monastery. We chose to go for a hiking along the river instead. Together with my new friends, a polish guy and a Belgium one named Piotr and Jonathan respectively, we went for a walk. We walked all the way until the end of the path. We get to see the entrance of the caves, but from the other side of the river. YOU CAN NOT GETT TO THE ENTRANCE OF THE CAVES BY FOOT!

     

    The walk was full of anecdotes and stories with my two new friends. Piotr works as a journalist in Poland and he taught me about the Polish and Ukrainian history and current situation. He’s been working in Donetsk were now a day is the Ukrainian conflict. As a speaker, and I believe as a journalist also. He was very objective always showing the positions and ideas of both sides of the conflict without judging.

    We went back to Skopje by bus, the bus station is at the entrance of the parking, in front of a restaurant. The crew of the restaurant knows perfectly the timetable of the buses and hopefully, this time the bus was there on time. I would not be surprise if I meet again Piotr on the way. He seemed to have such a free soul as mine.

    While having a beer back at the craft beer bar at the top of the Old Town is when we get the news that Motorola, a well-known soldier of the independentism faction in the Ukrainian conflict. Taking about him I realized how important might be that he passed away for the history of the conflict and how irrelevant it is for the rest of the world.

    Have you ever heard about him?

    Alexander the Great

    Ohrid

    About

    Ohrid is a little village in the south of Macedonia. In the banks of the lake Ohrid, is the summer holydays village of a country without sea. It is also visited in summer by Germans, Turkish and Netherlanders. You can feel that the city might change a lot from high to low touristic season.

    It is located in the border with Albania, which is in the other side of the lake. It is also here where Macedonians claim that Naum, student of Cyril and Methodius created the Cyrillic alphabet.

    Getting there

    It is pretty easy to get to Ohrid from Skopje, there are several buses along the day that cover that distance and they are pretty cheap.

    Once you get to Ohrid, the bus station is away from the city centre, but if you ask the driver he can stop next to the city centre before continue all the way to the bus station.

    The experience

    I had no accommodation booked in Ohrid, but I wasn’t worried at all. Jonathan and Piotr told me that here is common that people approaches you to offer an accommodation. So that is what I did. Not far away from the bus stop where I get out of the bus a man asked me if I needed a room. His English was basic but we get to understood each other. He offered me a one bed apartment. The price he was asking for it was reasonable, but in my long trip I need to save money. I just need one bed and a shower, so I believed I could get something cheaper or a hostel. I rejected his offer, before leaving he stopped me and called a friend. His friend showed me a little studio, after burgling we get to an arrangement.

    Naum happened to be a friendly old man, electric engineer retired that had always left in Ohrid.

    At 8:30 I was in the laundry with the intention of catch later the earliest bus to the Monastery of Saint Naum and visit in the afternoon Ohrid. However, after leaving my clothing on the laundry at the bus stop I found out that the bus was at 8:30 and the next at 11:30 as I had to be back to pick up my clean clothing at 14:00 I thought that missing the Monastery was the only option.

    I had the full day to visit Ohrid which is a little village, so I took my time to walk around all the little streets if the old town. The main sightseeing are the Castle on the top of the hill and the Monastery of St. Clement and Panteleimon. Near the lake is also the Church of St. John the Theologian. In the old town, there are several orthodox churches a byzantine basilica and a roman theatre. At one end of the main street of Ohrid is the mosque and there a perpendicular street with many Turkish tea and pastry shops.

    Old Port of Ohrid

    Monastery of St. Clement and Panteleimon

    Church of St. John the Theologian

    Cyril and Metodius

    Old gate

    After a long day walking I went to enjoy the sunset at the old port of Ohrid. Then I meet a couple of couchsurfers and travellers. She from Bulgaria and he from U.S.A. they were also traveling around the world doing volunteering work. In Ohrid, the showed me the little hidden treasures of the village: Some mosaics next to the old theatre that I didn’t find on my own and a paper store with original gravures. We ended the walk at one of the tea shops having Turkish tea along the secondary street of Ohrid. The main is a commercial pedestrian street that goes from the port to the mosques are. The second one is perpendicular to the first on near the mosques and is full of tea shops and Turkish pastries.

    Nest day I had the idea of leaving my studio to go to Tirana, Albania, as I had planned. But at the same time, I had this feeling of tranquillity and peace inside of me telling me to stay and relax here a little more. So I checked hostels in Tirana and Vlora. The prices where more or less the same that what I was paying for an studio for my own. After that I decided to contact my landlord and ask him if I can stay two more nights. He accepted with pleasure.

    Struga

    I went to visit the village of Struga nearby. This village is like Ohrid, a touristic summer destiny for Macedonians. The main difference is that here there are almost no historical remains. It is mostly a new city.

    Getting there

    As Struga is the main city in the area and is few kilometres away, there are buses every 20 minutes from the main roundabout near the city centre that goes straight to Struga. However if you want to go to Struga bus station, you better tell the driver in advance as he won’t go there if no one ask for it.

    The experience

    When I get there I went to the bus station from where I have to departure to Tirana to get the information about the journey. Thanks to doing this I get to know that the bus station was far away from the city centre and quite hidden.

    From there I walked the canal of Struga until the lake side where I encounter a lovely French old couple travelling in a caravan. In the city there was nothing really interesting to see. As I visited it, the greater attraction was the main commercial street and walking along the canal.

    Anecdote

    Visiting the city, I get to one of the orthodox churches they have. As I approached to the entrance an old man said me something. As I couldn’t understand him I continued. He raised his voice and pointed a bunch of bills he had in his hand. I assume that he wanted to charge me an entrance fee, but I nodded my head saying “no” and continued. He started yelling to me, but I peacefully continued in my way in. Most of the Orthodox churches I’ve visited you cannot take pictures inside, so to admire them you not need to act like a tourist. When I was getting in I felt how the old man did stand up in my direction. I already was getting in the church. Once inside I step in the middle and prayed at the time I was looking around me. I might not be Orthodox but after visiting so many churches I learnt how praying works.

    The old man stayed out of the church at the door. When I left the church in rehabilitation he did say nothing to me.

    The way back to Ohrid from Struga is the same as coming to Struga. There is a bus every 10-20 min that goes from the city centre of one village to the other one.

    Monastery Saint Naum

    I woke up early to catch the 8:30 bus to the Monastery of Saint Naum. The Monastery is located 30km. from Ohrid on the border with Albania. The monastery is a byzantine orthodox monastery next to natural water springs. It is there where Cyril and Methodius are buried.

    Getting there

    During the high season, there are several buses that goes from Ohrid centre to the monastery. However, out of tourist season, they get reduced to 3 or 4. The best was to catch the earliest bus at 8:00 am to so you can get the one back at 13:00 having time enough to visit the monastery and the surroundings. There are also taxis and shared taxis that will charge you more, even more if you don’t speak their language.

    Anecdote

    Waiting at the bus stop at 8:00 a man approaches to the locals waiting there. He told me together with them to join in his car. From the previous day I knew that there were taxis that try to pic people from the bus stops to their destiny for a bit more than the bus price. This car was not a taxi and the people that came in were locals so I felt confident and joined. He dropped people in the way and picked others. He was doing a service as a taxi and people were paying him. Normally about 40-50 denars.

    When we get to the monastery I asked him how much it was and he asked me for 20€, what in terms of denars was 1200. I told him that this was a robbery that I can only afford the price of the bus, 150 denars. At that time, I had no idea what was the real price of the bus. He asked me for 300 both ways, I ended up giving him 200 and I will give him 100 more when he picked me up from there at 10:00.

    The experience

    The monastery is a small orthodox monastery on top of a little promontory over a port. It was beautiful and the views of the Ohrid lake and the mountains from there are amazing. At around 9:50 I was ready. Waiting to the car driver to come I asked the time and price of the bus. It was 110 denars. While waiting, I thought that it was early in the morning, too early to come back to Ohrid to do nothing, looking around I found that I could visit the water springs by foot hiking around the little lake. Considering than taking the bus will be only 10 denars more than what I was about to pay the driver at 10:00 I started walking. In the way, I discovered a spring inside of a little chapel and walked in the nature in the only sunny day I had in Ohrid. There were also a little chapel and another monastery in the other side of the springs. In the way I could see snakes and lizards.

     

     

    At noon, I took the bus back to Ohrid where I had lunch at the port. Next to the centre of Ohrid, along the lake there are several restaurants with terraces. If you pay attention to the pricing and the look of the food in other tables you might find a good deal as most of them have prices for tourists.

    I spent the rest of the afternoon chilling near the lake. Next step was Albania.

  • Blog
  • Bulgaria

    After landing in Bulgaria with Maremoto Jan, we decided to travel across the country to Sofia. Traveling with Jan makes always a difference.

    About

    Bulgaria is a Balkan country, the first of my RodTrip. As most of them, it is a melting pot of cultures and it’s full of history. Their language is heritage of the Slaves, with the Cyrillic alphabet. However, their folklore and gastronomy is more related with the Balkans. The majority of the country is Christian Orthodox, but there are still Muslims from the Ottoman Empire.

    Bulgaria is now a day is a member of the European Union, but still it is not part of the Schengen Zone nor the Euro. Europe requires them to end up with the corruption. As if we had no corruption back in Europe. Even though the quality of life I felt it was as good as the European standards. In terms of economy, it is a cheap country. Not as cheap as Ukraine, but approximately.

    Varna

    My journey in Bulgaria – I may say “our journey”, as I travelled with Jan – started after we disembark from the Black Sea Tall Ship Regatta 2016. I sailed on board of the Atyla Traing Ship and he controlled the Regatta communications from the Bulgarian vessel Royal Helena.

    About

    Varna is the mayor city of Bulgaria in the Black Sea. It is the summer destination not only of Bulgarians, but also of Russians and other Balkan citizens. As you may imagine, it is full of hotels, restaurants and activities for tourists. Varna, it is also a business and university centre, seaport, and headquarters of the Bulgarian Navy and merchant marine.

    Thanks to Jan travelling at the Royal Helena we made a good friendship with several citizens. Among them, the Captain of The Royal Helena, Stoil, and his engineer. Super gently people that let us stay on board of the vessel while we were in the city.

    After the regatta as I was saying in the previous post, few vessels rested in Varna with the Royal Helena and the Kaliakra. One was the Akela, which young sailors were about to rest a couple of weeks after their long journey from Saint Petersburg to the Black Sea. The second one was Pogoria from Poland. Pogoria, due to a problem in their engine had to rest to be repaired.

    Pavel, the engineer of the Royal Helena, in his great generosity helped the crew from Pogoria to get ready to depart in a couple of days. Meanwhile, we had the chance to meet and eat with their crew. I must say that Krzysztof, Captain of Pogoria, was a storyteller worth meeting. Pilot and now captain of the Polish training ship he told us about the discipline on board and about many anecdotes in his adventurous life. He made us laugh in every dinner and drink. In his generosity, Kryzstof, even offered me to travel with them on board. Unfortunately, they were going to Poland and I was supposed to be heading East.

    We shared many moments all together as a big gang until Pogoria left Varna back to Poland and we left to Veliko Tanovo. I felt so comfortable with all of them, the captains, the crew and the liesson people that helped us while we were in town.

    Bye bye Pogoria

    I visited Varna on my free day while I was on board of Atyla. Among the interests of the city I might highlight the monument at Park-pametnik na balgaro-savetskata druzhba, the Dormition of the Theotokos Cathedral, and my favourite, the Primorsky Park.

    The Primorsky Park is a long park in the coast that separates the city from the sea. It is a garden dense of vegetation with an open-air theatre, a dolphinarium and several monuments. As it is next to the seaside but elevated from it, there are several point of views with nice panoramas of the Black Sea. The long alleys and the zig-zagging paths are perfect to have a walk or some workouts. In the weekends and sunny days, it is full of people. Still I think that what I liked the most of the park is how a green open space separates the city from the beach.

     

    Primosky Park

    With Jan I visited again most of the sightseeings in the city centre and some other places we found in our way like the puppets or the marine museum. We also liked to get lost in the city around the residential areas looking for good places to eat or have a drink, on our own or with our new polish friend Marta.

    Marine Museum

    Puppets museum

    Veliko Tarnovo

    About

    Known as “the city of the Tsars”, it is a small city among three hills capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire. Thanks to his history and the architecture it attracts many tourists. Even though, there are only few hostels in the old town and few restaurants.

    It took us a while until we finally remembered the name of the city. For some reason since Varna, until we were in Veliko Tarnovo we weren’t able to say where we where travelling to. Thanks to the walking tour we not only learned about the city history, but also that the name came from “Terranova” and to distinguish from another Tarnovo was added the Bulgarian prefix “Veliko” that means “Great” attending to it’s relevance during the Second Empire.

    The old town is located among the three hills what means that walking in the city is going up and down steep streets and stairs. As well there are nice panoramas of the city from the top and of the city from bellow.

    Panoramas

    In the old town there are magnificent architectural remains of the old capital, Orthodox churches, patios, houses and streets.

    City centre

    But the main sightseeing is the Tsarevets. It is a Citadel in one of the hills where is the Palace of the Bulgarian Emperors and the Patriarchal Church.

    Tsarevets

    Here we also learned about the Baldwin I. It happened that the first Latin Emperor Baldwin I and count of Flanders died in one of the towers of the Tsarevts after being captured by the Tsar Kaloyan. According to the legend, the wife of the Tsar felt in love with Baldwin. He rejected her several times not to betray his marriage. In revenge, the Tsar’s wife accused him of raping her for what he was hanged in the tower. Now the tower where he was prisoner is named after him.

    The other main sightseen of the city is the Monument Asenevtsi. It is in the other side of the river and it represents the four emperors of the Second Bulgarian Empire.

    Monument Asenevtsi

    As it started to be usual in our journey, Jan and I, in between visits we liked to try the local gastronomy. As Bulgaria wasn’t an expensive country we didn’t mind to visit the three main restaurants of the city. We really enjoyed eating and drinking well. In one of our romantic dinners we get to try a local wine called “No man land” according to Jan it was our place to be.

    Plovdiv

    About

    It is considered one of the oldest cities of the world with remains from the 6th millennia BC. The city has known Persians, Greeks, Celts, Romans, Goths, Huns, Bulgarians, Slav-Vikings, Crusaders and Turks. All of them left behind a trace of their culture and architecture.

    Plovdiv is crossroad in the Balkans and a commercial city from it’s very origins. Plovdiv, as Rome was settle among seven hills. However, only 6 of theme remain. In difference to Rome, it is located in a great fertile esplanade where the hills that reach even 250 metres are the landmarks that makes a difference with the environment.

    Our next stop in the way to Sofia was this historic city that we didn’t get to find so interesting. The little cheap hotel where we stayed didn’t help so much, but we overcame that fact by meeting new people. In this case other travellers.

    To visit the city as it came to be common in our travel we take advantage of the Free Walking Tour. With it we visit the remains of the romans in the city centre, the main street, the old town, the area of Kapana and walked up one of the hills of the city. By our own we visited two other hills. The clock and the big monument.

    Plovdiv

     

     

    We stayed in Plovdiv two nights, more than enough. Unfortunately, we left before the fest in Kapana It looked great. That was the area of the city where we used to eat at. It is kind of an alternative square with plenty commerce. Just note that the service in the Balkans is not like in Europe.

    IT was in Plovdiv where I visited my first Mosque in this trip. We were already in a former Ottoman region and getting closer to the Middle East.

    Mosque

    Sofia

    About

    Sofia is the mayor city of Bulgaria and its capital city. It is as well one of the cosmopolitan cities of the country with Varna. Among its population there are many Muslims, Jews and Catholics even if the majoritarian religion in the country is the Orthodox Christianism.

    The experience

    We get to Sofia by bus as we used to travel all around Bulgaria. The station was as always far away from the city centre, and we walked to our hostel having a preview of the Bulgarian capital city. In our hostel we slept in a 20 beds dorm to save money. It was a dark mansard turned into a room on the top of the building. There were 10 beds in each side and ours where at the end of the room. The roof was low and as it seems common to me and Jan found out fast, I like to hit my head daily. At the room, I increased my average. The good thing is that the lobby of the hostel was always full of life but not all the staff were nice.

    The time we stayed in Sofia the weather was rainy and a bit cold. Winter was coming. Between rain and storm, we visited the city. It is not a big city and the old town is easy to visit it in one or two days.

    The first day there, after the rain we catch the Free walking tour of the afternoon. We ended it frozen. With the Free tour we learnt about the Romans visiting the roman remains and walked the “Cardos” of the former settlement. We crossed the Byzantine walls and visited the cathedral. Also, we passed by several Ottoman mosques and the Communist political headquarters.





    Among the particularities of Sofia my favourite is that you can find a temple for the different monotheistic religions around the main square, must of them preserved by the communist as cultural buildings.

    After such an overview of the city we visited some museums and the more urban areas looking for nice places to eat, chat and hang out. As we had three days in Sofia we had plenty nice meals together and we even share some of them with people we met on Couchsurfing, Tinder or just in the bars.

    Anecdote

    Bulgaria is a country with a nice wine region in the south. We didn’t visit although we thought about it. We hadn’t the time to visit all. But we knew to taste it there was no need for it. We found a nice-looking wine bar next to the city centre. We tried to take a wine there every night but there was always an event there. Hopefully the last night we slept in Sofia the event was a Wine tasting that we could join even if we get there late.

    We get to taste 5 Bulgarian wines for less than what we expected to spend. After everyone from the event left, we stayed at the bar talking with two American girls from next table talking with the waiter and a girl that came to meet us there.

    That was the beginning of a crazy night that will end up with Jan missing his next-day morning flight after several Raki.

    Raki is a strong alcohol that in Bulgaria is made from grapes and is not sweet at all. It’s about 70% and Bulgarians say won’t cause you a headache. Not true!

    Even though, the night was kind of magical and special. Unfortunately, I had to sleep in the couch as when we finally manage to get home Jan’s bed was taken by someone else so I put him into my bed.

    Living in a rush after waking up, Jan get it to the next plane back home, unfortunately for him, he owes me a great big hug plus the interests. ;P

     

    That same day after visiting all the temples in the main square, I left Bulgaria.

    Thanks again Jan fur such a magical experience with you in Bulgaria.

    Travelling Bulgaria

    The best way to travel in Bulgaria might be by bus. It is a cheap way and connects almost every city. However, do pay attention at the schedules and that the bus stations are rarely next to the city centre.

    Regarding safety, it is a safe country were you just need to pay attention to pickpockets and some scams for tourist, mainly by taxi drivers next to the airport, bus or train stations.

    Food is great in Bulgaria, really tasty and perfect to marriage with local wines, and generally is cheap.

  • Blog
  • Across the Black Sea

    I get out of Russia across the Black Sea. I participated in the regatta as trainee at the Ayla Training Ship. A Vanuatu vessel from Bilbao, Spain.

    The Black Sea Tall Ship Regatta

    This Regatta takes place in September every year. The goal is to sail across the Black sea and every year the ports change due to political reasons. This regatta is sponsored by Russia and one of the companies which chairman it’s Putin itself.

    In 2016 the Regatta started in Constanta, Rumania to Novorossiysk, Russia, then to Sochi and ending in Varna, Bulgaria.

    Among the vessels that participated in the Regatta there where most of the emblems of Russia: MIR, Kruzenshtern, Nadezhda, Akela; the emblems of Bulgaria: Royal Helena, Kaliakra; from Poland: Pogoria; from Rumania: Adornate; and other small vessels.

    As every regatta, most of the people know each other. Sailors, as Jan has told me many times are a big huge family. Not only because their shared passion to sail, but also for the social events beyond the sailing legs. In the regattas, since the vessels get to port, there are events every single day for the crews and the visitors. Almost a non-stop party.

    Sochi

    I was in need to find a way out of Russia before my visa expires the 28th of September. It was already the 24th and to cross by land to Georgia I would need to surround the region of Abkhazia. For this I would need to be leaving Sochi without visiting it as the journey might take a couple of days.

    However, there is always another way. In Sochi I met with my big friend Jan. He is another crazy traveller. Originally from Antwerp but adoptive son of Malaga. We met for the first time in Malaga and we came to be close friends. He was in Sochi due to the Black Sea Tall Ship Regatta of 2016 where he was about to volunteering.

    As he knew about my issue getting out from Russia, we both get to the point that if there was a regatta from Sochi to Varna, Bulgaria, probably I can get out of Russia in a vessel. As he was working with the organizers, he checked If I could join any of the vessels and contacted with the captains.

    He found a place for me in one of the Tall Ships. The Atyla Training Ship. It is a top sail schooner with two masts. It was built in Bilbao, Spain but due to politics it sails under the flag of Vanuatu. It seems that Spain has struggles considering timber boats in his maritime regulations. How funny that the captain, Spanish, had my same name.

    with Maremoto Jan next to Atyla

    Atyla

    Atyla wasn’t the fastest vessel in the regatta. Moreover, it might be the slowest, but it had other qualities. It was for sure the funniest and the one with the more international crew.

    As it was about to be my first sailing experience I joined the crew as a Trainee. That means I was about to learn about what is sailing during my week on board. After Captain Rodrigo told me the terms and conditions of joining their crew, it took me 20 minutes to call my mom and tell her that I would be out of network the next week as I might be crossing the Black Sea.

    The day I joined Atyla I first had to cross the hard control of access to the port. Seriously, the security is madness in Russia. Normally it was hard to get in, but that day Vladimir Putin was about to visit the Regatta. For that I came early morning and I had to leave behind to the security the cognac I brought for the crew. Pity!

    At the time I joined the crew there were preparing for the events of the day. A Crew Parade and Putin’s speech. We took it really seriously and as we hadn’t a uniform as the other military training vessels, neither an anthem or march, we disguised like pirates. Our vessel looked like a little pirate ship, why not us?

    Atyla Pirates

    We parade across Sochi playing with the people and dancing at the rhythm of the other crews bands. We hadn’t our band, but we sang pop songs a cappella. We were the fun of the parade and maybe because of that we won a couple of trophies.

    Crew Parade

    Trophies

    After the parade was the speech of Putin, We wait for him hours and due to the wind, and the security, they whole event was spoiled. There where dancers, singers and people dressed for a big event that never took place.

    After the parade, when Putin has left the area and the security let us get back to our vessel, we opened to the public. That day was my first duty as member of the crew. I had to welcome the visitors to the vessel and watch for their security. Not at all a hard job.

    When all the visitors had left the vessel, some members of the crew, we went out for dinner a night walk a fish massage and back. Next day we would depart from Sochi.

    Fish Massage

    As you might see, the first impression I had is that the journey on board of Atyla was about to be a great journey.

    Once the ship was ready to depart we waited until the custom control double checked our passports and visas. They even checked with magnifying glass and blue light to be sure of the authenticity of our documents. In terms of security in Russia, it is never enough.

    Before starting the regatta across the Black Sea there was a last event to satisfy the visitors, a Sails Parade. That means that all the vessels release their sails and sails along the coast in line so everyone can see them, from the coast or from their boats.

    Sails Parade

    The Black Sea – Learning to Sail

    On board of Atyla we were a few. As Captain Rodrigo told me, normally they have more crew members, but Russia was a difficult destination. The need of a visa and the Russian security prevent a lot of people from joining Atyla in this part of the Regatta. From Sochi I sail with people from all over the world.

    The organization to do the watches was easy. Every time there had to be a Crew member a volunteer – watch leaders – and a trainee on watch. Crew and volunteers had a fix time to do their watches every day, trainees we changed from one day to another. As we were only two volunteers, some of the watch leaders participated in the watches as trainees.

    Workshops

    A part from our watches, the trainees we had workshops where we learn about sailing terms, maritime regulations, signals, lights, manoeuvres, knots, etc. – To sail. The rest of the time we had free time to rest. However, when we were about to manoeuver every one awake was asked to help with the sails, the ropes and the control of the boat.

    I expected a hard work on board so I was always willing to help. Jan told me that for me it would be an easy thing, that I might be able to be a watch leader at the end of the Regatta. I felt that I could be so half way to Varna. As we were few Volunteers, the workshops weren’t taking place as they were supposed to. My trainee brother felt a bit seasick so was not always available and some watch leaders where lost in other matters. As I really wanted to get deep immerse in what was sailing, I read all the boos about sailing, the manuals and I was continuously asking questions to Captain Rodrigo, Veera, the first on board, and the engineer Henry.

    In several days, I get to feel more confident with terms and explanations than some of the watch leaders. Veera taught me the NATO phonetic alphabet. The engineer gave me a steering masterclass.

    Anecdote

    That night Henry was the crew responsible and I was the trainee in watch. The wind was almost against us and strong. The sea was agitated and we were sailing with engine to get to Varna on time. By then, the leg was already cancelled. We had as every time the order to follow a precise direction. In the sea, it is in terms of degrees from the North.

    I had several explanations of how to steer, but it changed regarding who was the watch leader. I was zig-zagging +-10 degrees from my course and so was my watch leader. Henry could saw this and angry came up to the deck to complain. I accepted my mistake and told him to teach me how to do it properly. So in his anger he started teaching me how to put the boat in course and keep it there with few movements.

    Since then steering was an easy task. Next day I knew how to steer almost without touching the steering wheel.

    I learnt that accepting what you ignore you get to learn how to do it better. To complete this thought, couple of days later I had another experience. I was again Steering, this time with another watch leader. It was night and we were surrounded by dolphins and bioluminescent plankton all around. Every night was like that and it was always impressive. My watch leader who was steering – barely let me do it – wanted to had a look on the bow so she gave me the steering wheel with 15 degrees’ deviation. Trying to take it back to position I over pass other 15 degrees’ in the other direction. That, and the previews zigzag course made the crew responsible call our attention.

    I admitted I was trying to put the boat in course, but my watch leader far from accepting her fault, accused me of losing the path. I said nothing. One way or another, she was responsible of my behaviour and the one that was supposes to teach me how to do it properly.

    A part from the sailing experience, where I felt I learnt a lot we I had other adventures. One of the most amazing things that happened on board was to see the dolphins in the night with the bioluminescence waters. In the middle of the night you could see them perfectly underwater. They were like torpedoes approaching the cask of the vessel and disappeared when they jumped out of the water.

    Also, I climb the mast for the first time in a windy day. The view from the top was amazing and the movements, the rolling of the boat with the waves was such an experience. That windy day I spent most of the day running from one corner to another. I also went to the bow to end up a bit seasick in the coach after the sunset.

    The sunsets and sunrise in the middle of the Black Sea where awesome and when looking to the horizon is easy to understand why it is called the Black Sea.

    Sunset

    On the way to Varna we had days with fair winds and others without wind. We get to sail a couple of days and the other part of the journey we used the engine.

    On board relationships are more intense. As Jan used to say, one week on board with someone is like one month in land. I get to meet the people of the crew and develop strong bonds with them. As everywhere there were people I liked more than others. But in any case, it’s necessary to be tolerant and empathetic to work together with the rest of the crew. At the end, we all have one single goal.

    Varna

    When getting to Varna I was on the watch. It was early morning and we were the first vessel to arrive to port. At that time, Captain Rodrigo, tough me about the communication with the horn. In the sea, there are many ways of sending a message.

    Once in port it was time to work. We still have watches, but they seemed vanished as al the crew had to work on the maintenance of the vessel. We start fixing sails, ropes, doors, cleaning the deck, shopping and have a shower. To save water in the 6-days journey I had one shower in overseas, one before departing and every day once in Varna.

    The following morning of our arrival, most of the other vessels get to port. It was beautiful to see them arriving from our ship. In Varna, the Regatta committee had organized a lot of activities for the crews. I wanted to participate in all of them, unfortunately some competitions we need to be a team and I happened to be the only one of our crew to participate. Pity.

    Foggy view

    On my day-off, I went for a walk in Varna and I pretty much walk the whole city. But I will tell you more about Varna in the next post.

    Almost every night there was a party in one of the Vessels, if not in ours, in Adornate.

    Anecdote

    One of the first days at Varna we host the party in our ship. But first some of us went for a walk on the shipyard. We met with a Russian drunk guy who wanted to climb to our mast. As he was drunk and it was late we told him that it was late to climb the mast. He happened to be part of a small tall ship in the regatta and understanding our point, he invited us to have a drink in their vessel. There we met with the sailor kids of Akela, a Russian training boat of future sailors. The kids that sails in this boat are part of a sailing school in Saint Petersburg. There we drunk Rakia, Whiskey and Vodka.

    To get in the boat we had to leave our shoes out of the vessel in the port. What a surprise when we were coming back to the party in our ship, one of my sandals was missing. Drunk, the captain of our Russian drunk friend fell into the water trying to find my sandal. I simply assume that the sea will bring it back to me, or maybe my friend Sebastian. Who knows?

    That night we drunk a lot. Jan was there. And I say that because I hadn’t drink in all my journey as much as I did with Jan. That is why I end up naming him Maremoto Jan.

    The following day I felt more sick than any other day sailing. Dam hangover. We welcome new members of the crew that day, I had to do my watch welcoming people to the vessel as I did in Sochi and deal with my headache.

    In one of my travels to refresh myself with water, Sebastian started crying my name as crazy. When I get to the deck. Pointing the water, he screamed – your sandal! – what a coincidence I thought.

    We get one of the fishing canes and fished my sandal.

    That same day was the Crew Parade and the Crew Party. As in Varna there was no security on the port, neither the streets at it was in Sochi, the parade was hundred times better. We could run among the other crews, cheers with them and mixed with the spectators.

    Parade

    The party however was more annoying. They run out of beer really soon. I guess they feared not to get the bar full of Russian drunk sailors. After this failure party, we continued at Adornate. That was a real party. Everyone brought drinks from every vessel and the feeling was as if we all knew each other from long time ago. That night I get to meet one of the new members of our vessel that moved my thoughts and feelings. In so little time we had a really good connection, but not time enough to talk about all our ideas, thoughts, believes and experiences. At this regatta, I really felt like being party of a new family. The family of the seas.  I get in contact with so many people that shared similar passions than mines that I bet I will get back to the seas sooner or later.

    The parties and event followed a couple of days more until everyone had to say farewell. As in Sochi before the depart, there was a Parade of Sails. As Jan was sailing at The Royal Helena, and Jan arranged with the captain so we could stay on the vessel the following days, I get to sea the parade from one of the Bulgarian tall ships

    Sails parade in Varna

    It was the end of the Regatta so separately every vessel start departing from port back home. Just the Bulgarian boats, Pogoria and Akela stayed few days more. Jan and I had to find our way across Bulgaria. But that belong to the next post.

    Saying farewell to does you get to appreciate in such a few days was again painful. However, I am getting used to it and to the fact that if the winds let us, we will meet in the future someday.

    Farewell Atyla

    For this experience, I want to thank specially my friend Jan Martinus who welcome me as member of his family of the seas.

    I am more than happy to be your winds brother, friend, and travel partner.

    Thanks a lot Jan

  • Blog
  • Russia

    Visiting Russia was achieving a dream. There, people showed me how much Russians are generous, sociable, friendly and warm. Who said that smiling in Russia was exceptional?

    Train to Moscow

    As I already told in the previous post -> UKRAINE , I was in a hot 3rd class wagon. Once again, as I find it comfortable and it was cheaper, I get an upper bed. The one here had less space towards the celling as on top was the space for the luggage.

    Next to me, in the upper bed was a Russian guy with whom I didn’t get to chat too much. Bellow us to women, one from Russia and the other form Ukraine. Between them all the three spoke in Russian. None of them spoke English. However, one of the woman helped me a lot with my passport, offered me to sat next to her, and told me about her family. If you wander how we get to talk about all that, just by willing. My favourite international language, hand shaking! She even introduced to me a lady from England that was crossing Eurasia and was about to catch the Trans-Siberian. In one week, she would be in Vladivostok. That would be the fast way for me. I prefer always to take the long way.

    1515 Entering Russia

    The passport control on the train took one hour and a part form the surprise of the policeman and the soldiers that escort him when they knew that I was Spanish, we had no other surprise. As a little anecdote. One of the soldiers started playing with a kid and at the end gave his phone number in a paper to the mother.

    Moscow

    Moscow is the capital city of Russia. Heart of the Soviet Union in the past and of the communism. That is something that you can see and feel all around. AS the USSR was the “victorious” of the Second World War and the Communism ended progressively, all the monuments and symbols of that time still everywhere. There is a debate if they shall remove some of them or leave them as part of their history.

    Also, the communist even being non-religious and non-monarchical, they left many churches and palaces as treasures of the city with a didactical purpose. Other buildings that had been demolished or destroyed during the communism were rebuilt as they were originally.

    The city is a huge city perfectly connected with a concentric and radial underground. In the heart of the city is the Kremlin and there are big open areas everywhere. Not only the red square for political demonstrations, but also green gardens and parks. Even if there’s people all around the city, I never felt Moscow as a busy, crowded city.

    One of the most amazing thing in Moscow is the Underground or Metro. In the city centre, most of the stations are masterpieces. That is due to the fact that the USSR government wanted to make the labourers that they were the power of the city and that all this was made for them as the communism was great for everyone. Anyway, also the new or more contemporary stations in the outskirts of the city are also impressive. However, these ones have no trace of Communist symbols.


    13/09

    My host in Moscow sent a friend to pick me up at the train station. However, it took us almost an hour to find each other. As I couldn’t find her I looked for some open Wi-Fi next to the station and contacted her.

    She took me to Lepold’s house and told me a little about the city, where to go and what to eat. Then she went to work and left me alone. I took my time to have a shower and waited for Leopold to meet him.

    With Leopold, I spoked in French as he wanted to improve his French speaking. The first moments he asked me several times to slow down. I was so excited for being in Moscow that I forget about it.

    We ate something and he took me for a bike ride around the city centre. It was already night and a bit cold, but I really enjoy passing by the Kremlin, the Red Square, and the Church of Jesus the Saviour.

    Mockba

    Church of Jesus the Saviour

    Me and my new host at hos favourite metro station

    Also, I start to learn how was Leopold. He told me about his life in Russia and his family. With him I felt like I will bother him if I asked too much, so I just let him tell me rather than inquiry him as I tend to do sometimes.

    Back home we had a tea and went to bed.

    14/09

    Leopold went to work in the morning and when I woke up I went to visit the city centre. I started next to the Bolshoi Theatre and walked to the Red Square; around the Kremlin; across the river at the Church of Jesus the Saviour and back to Old Arbat Street.

    I didn’t want to visit any monument as first I wanted to have an Idea of what was Moscow as a city. At least the heart of the city.

    Bolshoi Theatre

    History museum and the Red Square

    Church of Jesus the Saviour

    As happy as if I were in Moscow

    I must say that everything was clean and all the buildings were well preserved. It was because it is the capital city and have to be impressive? Probably. I doubt that all Russia will be as impressive as Moscow.

    Regarding the security, there are police everywhere and bag and metal controls in every entrance to a public building: Commercial centres, Monuments, Museums, and the Metro. I felt completely save.

    As I’ve been told, Putin recently renew all the police department, the former Militia, to finish with the corruption and to grant security. All the police officers were young fitted agents.

    Back to my tour, Old Arbat is a long commercial street were the youth goes for shipping. It is one of the alternative areas of Moscow. At the end of the street is the Palace of Justice. One of the Staling Imperialist Style towers. There are seven in Moscow – and one in Warsaw. Also, next to Old Arbat is the house of the Russian architect Melnikov. As an architect, I had to visit it.

    Walking along Old Arbat Street

    Melnikof Studio House near Old Arbat Street

    Pace of justice

    After a long day walk I went back to Leopold’s to meet him there. He planned to take me to the Russian Bath.

    He prepared everything, even after asking him what did I need to go, his answer wasn’t clear to me so I just helped to put everything into a bag to go together.

    The Russian Bath is basically a big sauna next to a shower and some cold-water baths and out of the wet area a big room like a restaurant where you can drink and eat. Locals use to come once a week or a month to relax after work. They talk about football, politics, women, and hobbies while they have a Vodka or a bier with some shrimps.

    We ate some snacks and drunk water as a first-time experience. We spent 15 minutes at the sauna, whipped each other with a plant they use to open the pores and then a cold bath, a shower and 5 to 10 minutes resting at the bar. We did that like four times in two hours.

    After the experience, I felt completely relaxed. Back home we had a tea and went to bed.

    15/09

    In the morning, I tried to get early to the Kremlin to avoid the crowd and the tours. When I get there, I found no one. Not even someone that could tell me where was the entrance.

    Finally, I found out that it was closed on Thursdays. Every board was in Russian, so I couldn’t understand anything so far. Disappointed, I started thinking what to do then. At that point I saw two men struggling looking where to buy a entrance to the Kremlin. I approach them and told them that it was closed. They appreciated the information and after telling me that there were about to stay only one day in Moscow, I decided to take them around and showed them the little I discovered with my host.

    Former KGB building

    I showed them the former KGB building, the Bolshoi and the Old Arbat Street. We ate together and then they went to catch a flight to Siberia. There were two men from the U.S.A. One of them was married with a Russian and was about to move to Alicante. They came to Russia to pick their car and made a Road Trip across Europe to Spain. As you might see, we had a lot in common to talk about.

    That afternoon Leopoldo was about to meet with some friends so not to bother him I had a date with a girl from Couchsurfing. Vika showed me the University, Another Stalin Imperialistic Tower, she showed me the fanciest supermarket I had ever seen and took me for a cheap 50% reduction dinner. I felt a really good with her and we talked about many things. She was of those smiley people I like to encounter.

    University of Moscow

    The fanciest Supermarket ever

    Back to Leopoldo’s, his friends still there and we chatted and drunk together. They didn’t speak a fluent English, but we get to understood each other.

    Once they left Leopoldo and I we had our goodnight tea while I told him how happy I was feeling in Moscow.

    16/09

    I woke up after Leopoldo left the house so I had breakfast and went out. Not to end what he had in his house I went every day to the supermarket next to his place and brought some products like fruit, bred and chocolate for both of us. He almost never took of what I brought.

    Days were getting colder little by little. Winter is coming. As Leopoldo told me, normally by this time of the year it is much colder and rainy. I felt lucky. As the day was uncertain about the rain I took an umbrella and went to visit the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts.

    Total disappointment. It is as an History museum filled with replicas. I can understand it might be good to have some replicas as support to teach the kids, but then it should be much cheaper the entrance fee. Create a replica it is much cheaper than preserve an original.

    Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts

    In the afternoon, I went to try to accomplish one challenge. Elise sent me a letter to Moscow. As I have no address she sent it here. I told them to send it to the central post office, so I could pick it up there. The challenge was to recover the letter.

    I went to three post office from one they send me to another. No one spoke English so I had to explain myself with a paper a pen and mimic. There I found what a different make someone willing to help against someone who doesn’t care.

    At the end I didn’t get the letter as Elise happened to drop it at the post box rather than presented at the post office where she would have get a number to follow the letter. Pity!

    Le Corbousier in my challenge to receive my letter

    As in Russia I get a SIM card, I contacted some people to meet in Couchsurfing and we went for a beer. What started with some beers at 8 pm., ended at 4 am. with gallons of beer. We had fun though!

    Moscow fast CS meeting

    17/09

    I was alone at Leopoldo’s as he went to meet his family in a village at the outskirt of Moscow. How gently that he left me alone. I even ask him twice if he would have preferred me to leave. I really get to feel like home with him. I cleaned, cooked, and did everything I would have done at my house.

    After lunch as I woke up a bit late, I went for a relaxing walk at the park next to his place. The day was again uncertain, cold, sunny and rainy from time to time. The perfect day for a walk on a big park with nice views to Moscow, some Orthodox old churches and a forest to get lost.

     

    I wanted to relax after last day non-stop. So back home from my walk I cook some dinner and watched a movie. I had an invitation to go to a birthday party that night though. It happened to be really easy to make friends in Moscow so far.

    18/09

    As that morning, the weather was cold but it was not potentially rainy I went to visit the Kremlin. This time I didn’t care about the crowd. I just went there. And yes, it was full of tourist everywhere. AS you may imagine there is a hard security control to get in. It is there where Putin works.

    At the queue, I get confused and at the beginning I stopped in the groups one. I thought it was the only one. But it is not. There is one for independent visitors that goes much faster.

    Inside of the Kremlin you can visit most of the area and the Orthodox Churches. Also, the Kremlin museum, but you cannot take pictures inside of the buildings. Also there is normally possible to visit one of the towers, but that day it was closed due to the wind. I guess they fear that the tower may fall down. If not it make no sense to me.

    After the visit to the Kremlin, I attend a Couchsurfing Pic-Nic at the Gorky Central Park of Culture. To get to there I walked along the river watching the monuments and observing people all around. Someone told me not to smile too much in Russia and that Russians weren’t close together when they were walking in couples. All lies or inventions, they behaved the same as does people in the rest of Europe.

    At the Pic-Nic I met a lot of people and I end up talking with a girl that was learning Spanish by her own.

    Later on I had an appointment with another girl from Couchsurfing. A designer. With her we walker her favourite street, Old Arbat. She wanted to show me the house of Melnikof even if had already visited, we went back. What I wanted was more to learn about her life in Moscow rather than the city. I really liked to meet her and get to know many things of Russia with her. Also, we spoke about design art and architecture. We disagreed in our appreciation of Zaha Hadid, but that made it much more interesting.

     

    As it was about to be my last night at Leopoldo’s I get home before him to cook something for him. I prepare “Pisto” for four and none of us eat more than one dish. Hope he liked it as I left him food for the whole week.

    19/09

    This was my last day in Moscow and I was not in a hurry to get to visit anything. I knew I was leaving many big parks and monuments behind, but I was happy of my Moscow experience. So complete.

    On Facebook I get suggested to visit the Orthodox Churches at the south of the Kremlin. Half way from Leopoldo’s to the city centre. So that I did. There are all in line along the main street and when I get to the end I had a magnificent view of the Red Square and the Kremlin from the other side of the river. I spent most of the day walking the area.

    Back at Leopoldo’s I went for him to get back from work to say farewell and went straight to the train station where I had something for dinner.

    Once again a 20 hours night train. This time the destination was Volgograd. Once again in the upper bed of a second-class wagon. However, this time everyone in my compartment was speaking English.

    At the compartment, we were two girls, one was a teacher of Russian and the other her chines student. They travelled to Moscow to solve some Visa issues. The fourth was Irakli. There I met a great friend.

    Irakli lives in Volgograd and came to Moscow for some businesses. I spent most of the ride talking with him. Also with the girls, but he told me a lot about what to do and where to go in Volgograd. I know that if I hadn’t a place to stay he would have host me. He happened to be originally from Georgia when the USSR. So when I told him that I was going there he offer me the contact of his friends to help me.

    I think I have never found someone more generous than Irakli. He might be in the top class with my mom.

    Volgograd

    Volgograd, former Stalingrad. The city changed his name to the city of the Volga, the river after the Troika. Locals didn’t want their city be named after Stalin as they believe that he committed so many cruel actions.

    The city is 120km. long and host only one million inhabitants. It is a linear city along the Volga and you may take from one to three hours to drive from one to the other side of the city. Hopefully, the few touristic places of interest are in the city centre near the train station.

    It is more an industrial city rather than a touristic one. Their main business is the metallurgy industry. Due to the global crisis, their economy has fall down and many factories stopped their production.

    20/09

    Anecdote

    I get to Volgograd in the afternoon and walked to the Hostel I was about to stay. It was raining. I went to the address of the Hostel and I couldn’t find a trace of it. As I thought that I might have been wrong, I walked in the other way of the street to see if I could find it out. It wasn’t there either. I asked some police man and private security where was that address. No one spoke English, but they helped me a lot. Finally, they all confirmed me that it was where I started to look for it.

    I was checking the comments of other guest to find the location. The place had a 9.4 on Booking it shouldn’t be so difficult to find it. But yes, it was. It was in the back of a building and without any indication. Once I get to the hostel it was a regular house adapted. They simply change the furniture of the rooms to bunkbeds and that’s it. The toilet was disgusting. Soo disgusting, that I changed my stay from two days to one in the fact. And for sure I didn’t have a shower even if I felt as I need one.

    However, I spent the night there as I wasn’t in the mood to look for another place. I just went to the supermarket to buy something for dinner. I cooked and while cooking I was drinking a beer. When the landlady saw me, she freaked out and explained me that I could not drink Alcohol in the hostel. I apologised and she explained me that was the law, but I could finish my beer. My solution, and I did it in front of her, was to finish a bottle of juice I had from the train and refill the bottle with the beer. She couldn’t do but smile to me.

    After eating I spent the night talking with a Israeli guy that had a strong bond with Russia. He told me about his travels in Russia and worldwide and about Israel. We had a good chat, so good that I forget to ask his contact. Like him there will be lot of people that are going to light my day, gave me an interesting chat full of knowledge and then vanish from my life into the world.

    21/09

    First thing in the morning, moving out. I checked for another hostel in the area and move there. Not even booked online, just get to the place and asked for a bed. Again, the girl at the reception spoke no English, but we get to communicate. Half an hour later I was clean and on the road to visit the city.

    As I told, Volgograd is about to mayor streets along the river. I walked one, Lenin Street, north. In the way, I found the Tourist information, where I decided to stop to ask for a map of the city and some advice.

    There were three ladies working there. The three of them spoke English, and one also French. I spoke in both languages with them. Anastasia, the one who spoke more directly to me, explained me all I could do in Volgograd. I guess they were happy that I came in as they interview me about how I was there and my trip. I end up telling them all my story.

    Such a nice encounter. We even exchange contacts. Ans they offered me to help me in whatever I might need in the city. What a kind and generous ladies.

    From there I walked to the Stalingrad Battle Museum. What a shame that it was closed and it was about to be closed just the days I was in Volgograd. At the beginning, I thought they were restoring. But all the police control all around the museum made me think differently.

    Stalingrad Museum

    Pavlov’s House

    I continued by the house of Pavlov and the Lenin Square North to the site of the new Stadium for the World Cup. It was under construction, I could see the structure, what already caught my eye.

    Then I get below the hill of Mamayev Kurgan – Motherland – This is a huge monument of a women holding a sward leading Russia to Victory. This hill is a memorial to the Russians dead in the World War and to the victory against the Nazis.

    On the way to the top there are several memorials to the working class and the army. Before getting to the top, on the right side is the monument to the unknown soldier. I get the chance to see how they change the guard. Event that happens every hour.

     Mamayev Kurgan


    Unknown Soldier Memorial

    Behind Mamayev Kurgan is the Army museum and a little soldiers’ cemetery.

    Cemetery

    It is a long walk from the hostel to Mamayev Kurgan, but I walked back again. In the way back I ate something in a menu restaurant next to the University and cross the University to feel the environment and then I continued next to the river back to the Stalingrad Battle Museum. Pretending to be a tourist I tried to reach the gate until a Policeman stopped me and told me that It was closed.

    I crossed the railway to visit an Orthodox Church that Irakli suggested me. And in my way back to the hostel I had the chance to see the sunset and the night coming up from the top of the Train Station.

    Train Station Night

    I thought it was early to get back to the hostel, but there was not much to do around. Against my feeling I bought something to cook at the hostel and went back in. At the hostel, there were only two other guests that seemed more to have been there for a long term. We slept all in the same room. Also, there was a guy at the reception. Well, all the three of them were watching a stupid film in the TV. None of them talked to me neither said “Dobro” to answer my salutation.

    22/09

    I had all the day in Volgograd and I had already seen almost everything interesting. I had only one other suggestion from Irakli, a church to the south. I decided to walk there. First I walked to the riverside next to my hostel. The Volga is impressive. I could imagine the people having a sunbath in summer in the other riverside. I walked south and crossed a bridge to the real Volgograd. The side my hostel was, was more bureaucratic and touristic. The other side was full of people walking on the streets, shops and commerce all around. It really made a change. I walked watching people and I realized that there was a big community of students from India and China.

    The Church was a long walk south, but I had plenty time to walk back. I spent my time visiting the vivid areas of the city to see people behaviour. Walked to a mall and a street full of fast food restaurants. I ate at one of them and continued my way to the hostel where I picked my backpack

    That day Irakli called me, he picked me at the hostel and took me for a ride in his car to the other side of the Volga. He showed me the little things I couldn’t visit as they were a little too far. What a genuine great guy. I wish I would meet him again.

    He dropped me at the train station to catch my train. The entrance of the train station is the fountain of the film Enemy at the Gates and I couldn’t avoid sending a picture of it to me best friend Laura with whom I had shared a lot of comments about the film when it was released.

    That afternoon I had another 20-hours train to Sochi. At that time, I was already an expert on how to travel by train in Russia

    Tips to travel by train in Russia

    I prefer an upper bed in a 2nd class wagon. They are cheaper even some times that the lower bed in a 3rd class wagon.

    Over the door you can place your backpack and access to it whenever you need it without disturbing anyone.

    If you want to chat with someone get a cabin with people, if not, the best option is to get one empty and probably you can get the whole cabin for you on your own.

    There’s no plugs inside of the cabins, but there are two pairs of theme in both sides of the wagon. Approximately between the second and third cabin in both sides. Getting a bed in one of those cabins allow you to plug your device and keep an eye on it from inside the cabin.

    Normally people starts buying their places from the centre of the wagon as is the farthest from the toilets that might be smelly sometimes. I prefer however to take the one that’s in the other side of the cabin of the wagon assistant. Is quitter.

    The waggons assistant will serve you hot water for free all the ride and help you with any issue. That makes people walk to that side more often than to the other.

    As you have hot water all the way I suggest to bring Noodles that you can cook with the boiled water in five minutes, and some bags of tea or soluble coffee. Also, some chocolate, nuts or chips to share with the other people in the waggon. That makes friendship in matters of minutes no matter the language.

    I had the chance to travel on my own most of the way. The waggon was half empty. So, I spare as if it were my room. Just a guy came in for a while and went out all the night. I bet he was working on the train. And sometime in the night a couple occupied the two lower beds for not even 5 hours. I even play music with my phone.

    23/09

    Sochi

    Sochi is a little city in the coast of the Black Sea. It is a summer tourism city that during the high season receives Russians from all the country, specially from Moscow. It is considered to have a microclimate that mild the cold temperatures of Russia. For sure, most of the businesses here are related with the tourism.

    Also, is one of the main trading ports of the Black Sea what has a big influence in Sochi’s economy and infrastructure. However, if the name of Sochi sound familiar to you is probably due to the Winter Olympic Games of 2014. Hosting this event Sochi built a mayor Olympic city with modern architecture next to the border with Georgia.

    Even if everyone told me about the good weather here, I get in a tropical style rainy day. I had to cover myself and my backpack with my raincoat and as I was wearing my sandals to be comfortable at the train, accept that my feet where about to get wet.

    I walked under the rain to my hostel. Even if it was raining, the temperature was good and some lights of sun trespassing the clouds were predicting a sunny afternoon.

    I get to a hostel ran by an Italo-Russian family that barely speaks English. Just the daughter did. However, Italian and Spanish are friendly languages, so we get to understand each other. As I wait for the check in I did the laundry and had a shower, so I could be ready as soon as possible.

    Before coming to Sochi I have been struggling to find out my way out from Russia. My visa is going to expire, and my plan to go to Georgia from Sochi has been changed when I realized that crossing Abkhazia was a problem. Abkhazia is a region in the north of Georgia on the border with Russia. Recently, 2 years ago, they claimed their independence from Georgia. The point is that only Russia recognize Abkhazia as an independent country.

    Georgia still recognise the region of Abkhazia as part of their territory, but they have no control on the border with Russia. So, if I get to Georgia across Abkhazia, when I get to Georgia police control I would be considered to have entered in the country illegally. This would not only difficult my way out from Georgia, but also can take me to four years of prison. No need to take the risk.

    The other option to exit to Georgia is to surround Abkhazia. The problem is that will take me a couple of days. So, I will have to run to get it before my visa expires. I also checked if there where ferries from Sochi to Batumi, but they only work during the high season.

    Talking with Jan, a friend from Malaga that I will meet here in Sochi we found another possible solution.

    Jan is one of my sailor friends from Malaga. We meet thanks to the events I used to organise back there and came really good friends. He came to Sochi at the same time as I did not to meet me but to sail from Sochi to Varna, Bulgaria in a Tall Ship Regatta across the Black Sea. As there where several vessels leaving Russia we thought that maybe I could find a place in one of the vessels before I get there.

    Maremoto-Jan and I

     

    Jan was part of the organisation, so he knew most of the people of the event. He started asking for a place for me before I get there. How ironic is life sometimes, that he found a place for me in a boat with a Vanuatu flag made in Bilbao whose captain is called Rodrigo.

    To join the crew, I had to get to the port as soon as possible, to meet the captain, arrange with him my inscription and also with the Regatta and the Customs. Lot of paperwork to do in so little time.

    Once ready, I met Jan at the shipyard. Meeting him in Sochi, dressed as an organizer of the Regatta was weird but amazing. As social as he is, he started introducing me people of the Sailing world. He really welcomed me to his sailing family.

    After a little tour around we went to Atyla, the Vanuatu Sailing ship of Rodrigo. There he explained me what was to be a member of his crew and how would be my day-a-day as Trainee. He asked me to think about it before taking any decision. It just took about one hour to confirm him that I wanted to joining the Atyla Training Ship.

    Atyla

    Documents fulfilled I was welcome to join the vessel whenever it pleased me. I decided to do it the following day.

    I spent the rest of the afternoon with Jan from one corner to one another of the decks and meeting new people.

    The night was the Crew Party. All the crew members of all the vessels had a party in every city they visit. This time was in an hotel where we had beers for free and some snacks. Basically, Potato Chips. There I met for the first time the crew of the Atyla and end up talking with a Russian guy that was about to leave the vessel the day I would join it.

    Crew party

    At the end of the night Jan get lovely lost and I walked back to the city with Chuck. In the way, we met a random Russian guy with whom we spoke about the political situation of Russia, Putin and as I like to say, we fixed the world.

    To be continue…

  • Blog
  • Ukraine

    This was my first time in Ukraine and first country out of the Schengen zone. Here Latin typography changes to Cyrillic. In Ukraine I can say that I overcame my comfort zone to the East.

    05/09

    From Warsaw to Lvov

    I spent the morning chatting with Adriana my couchsurfer host in Warsaw and checking some information about Kiev and the train to Russia. The breakfast was at always fulfilling, not only for my stomach but my brain. This girl is someone who can give you references about any topic. Before living her place to pick my BlaBlaCar to Lvov she even granted me with a beautiful postcard with the references we talked about and a little beautiful text.

    13:00 I had the appointment with Mikhailo, the guy who was about to take me to Lvov. Before meeting him behind the Cultural and Science Centre I get something to lunch. The ride was about to be 5 hours.

    The ride to Lvov was quite as Mikhailo didn´t speak English and I did not speak Ukranian or Polish. However, we get to have some conversations about events and things we watched in the way.

    At the border with Ukraine we had a double control. First to get out of Poland and the Schengen Area and then to get in Ukraine. As Mikhailo told me we have been lucky as we needn’t to wait any queue. Even, both police control went fast.

    Ukraine BorderAt the border

    Once in Lvov Mikhailo picked up his friends and drop me next to my hostel. He was so gently that he offered me to contact him if I had any trouble.

    It was already night when I get to Lvov and the day was cloudy and rainy all the way from Poland to Ukraine. The city looked like a grey city with not much light in the streets. It made me feel a little sad. That night I went to an ATM to extract some cash and then to buy some food for prepare dinner.

    Lvov NightLvov by Night

    Back with the food I met Haci, a Turkish guy that was staying at my same room. There was also a blond girl who didn’t even answer when I salute her. Haci offered me to dinner with him of the fried vegetables he was preparing. In exchange, I offered him a beer and some chocolate as desert. His English is not perfect, but I guess it might be funny to see us talking.

    That night he told me a little about his life and I told him about mine. We didn’t go out but stayed at the lunchroom of the hostel till late. I forget that here it’s one hour later than in de European Community.

    06/09

    Lvov

    Lvov is a small city at the west of Ukraine. It used to be one big cultural Polish city, but after the Russians occupancy most of the wise people of the country had to emigrate or face death. The Soviets gave education to the mayor of the population int heir occupied territory, but they did dislike people with their own ideas, different from the ones of the government.

    Lvov was and might be right now the cultural capital of Ukraine. With a magnificent Opera and majestic buildings. Its Old Town is full of churches. This region of Ukraine is mainly Catholic. However, you can start to see the presence of the Orthodox. It is fascinating how religions, as ideas change as you travel. It is not related to politic boarders, but cultural influences.

    Lvov was a small city where I had planned to stay several days. Worried of getting annoyed I decided to slow down my rhythm while visiting the city. The day wasn’t shining so I took my time to leave the hostel.

    I went to visit the Cathedral first and the garden named after the Hero of the city, Ivan Franko. He wasn’t a warrior or a king as people might expect from a Hero. It was a writer.

    Lvov CathedralCathedral of Lvov

    Ivan Franko GardenGarden of Ivan Franko

    From the garden, I went to the boulevard and to the Opera Theatre.

    Anecdote

    As I had good references of the Opera House of Lvov I was wondering if it would be possible to visit it. When I get to the door I saw people getting in through the main door so I followed them. I thought that it was open to the public. Once in the main hall two big groups get separated in both sides of the hall. It was then when I realised that I had just squeezed inside of the Opera as a member of a tour. I took some pictures of the inside and as I was not part of the tour I went back to the entrance. The door was close. I was locked in with two tour groups in Ukrainian. I followed one of them from far away, seeming sometimes that I was coming always with the other group. I get to visit all the Opera without talking to anyone.

    Lvov Opera HouseTheatre Opera House

    Lvov Opera House

    Lvov Opera HouseBack to the city I started to visit it zig-zagging from the side of the Opera and the Boulevard to the Castle. Not willing, I keep following the tours of the Opera jumping from one to another around the churches of the city.

    Back to the market place I went back to the hostel to see if my Turkish friend was ready to go for a walk together. He has a hangover from yesterday night. I couldn’t explain it as we had drunk the same and I did not felt tired in the morning.

    As he preferred to rest, I went out again to continue on the other half of the old town. In the direction of the Fireman station.

    Walking Lvov

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    img_2441-webWalking in Lvov

    Fireman StationFireman Station

    I left the castle to visited with Haci. This time when I went back to the hostel he was ready to go for a walk. Together we visited the Southeast part of the old town. And surrounded it on the East to the north to get to the market. It was late and most of the market stores were closing. We were looking for some chicken for dinner. But we couldn’t find it. Neither in the market or the supermarket they had chicken. We bought some vegetables and cooked them for dinner.

    Dinner with Haci

    As the previous night we took dinner together chatting about turkey and Ukraine. We didn’t drink as the previous night, so we went to bed earlier. We planned to continue visiting the city the next day and what to dinner.

    07/09

    Second day in Lvov. I felt like if I had already seen everything here. Thinking of 3 days more here made me feel a bit like I’m wasting my time. Sometimes I’m so hyperactive. I took then the decision of do a bit every day and try to put my blog up to date. Also, to chill out and learn to relax a bit more.

    The day was sunny and warm. Much worth for an outdoor walk than the previous day. So, after doing the laundry, cooking a nice breakfast for Haci and me, arrange all my stuffs.

    During the morning, I chat with an Australian man that sleeps in our same room who also has been traveling al around the world. His son 28yo. had already visited 70 countries when he was 14. So you can have an idea of how much he travels. He did a 6 months’ travel from China to Europe. More or less the opposite way that what might be my journey.

    I went with Haci for a little walk and the train station. He showed me where to pick the bus and how to get in the evening to the High Castle.

    The public transport here is really cheap 2PLN and everyone approaches to the driver to pay their ride. It would be really easy to get a free ride, but no one those it.

    At the train station, I take the challenge of buying my train ticket to Kiev. I could have done it at the hostel on internet, but I preferred to try face to face. Here almost no one speaks English, what makes it a bigger challenge. It wasn’t difficult. I had the chance to meet the nice cashier. By writing in a paper the references of the train, the hours of arrival and departure and the prices we get to understand each other.

    Ticket in hand, we went back to town visiting the nearest Church of St Olha with his clean Neogothic style. The transparent windows made the interior so light as it was the aim of the gothic architecture.

    Walking with Haci

    Ivan Franko Garden

    Ivan Franko Garden

    Ivan Franko Garden

    Haci

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    Then we walk back the garden of Ivan Franko. There we split as he had a date. I continued my walk passing by the hostel and then up to the High Castle.

    Getting to the top of the High Castle is not a big challenge. It is a little hill at the East of the old town from where you can have a nice panorama of all the village. In sunny days like that day, at the top there where a musician, a painter and lots of couples having a romantic time together. Some of them brought up a bottle of campaign to cheers for the sunset.

    img_20160907_182547-webPanorama of Lvov

    Back in the old town I went to the Tourist information to find out what to do the following days. The girl at the Tourist information really did help me with things to do here in Lvov and the surroundings.

    As she advised me I went to dinner to a restaurant at the main square and then I went back to the hostel where I met my friends and a new British guy, Miroslav. His mother was Ukrainian and he with a friend was starting his journey across Europe to Portugal from here.

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    Miroslav playing the bass

    08/09

    Zhovka

    In the morning, I cook breakfast for me and Haci as the previews day. After breakfast, as I considered that I had already seen everything, I went to a village nearby. Zhovka, is a town on the north of Lvov. A small town with local architecture, a fortress, several orthodox churches and a synagogue.

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    Bus in Ukraine

    When the girl from the tourist information told me about the village it sounded to me as an interesting place. However, it wasn’t that much. I get there by bus after 45 minutes. I stopped in the bus station next to a street market. It was next to the Synagogue. The Synagogue was a ruin. An abandon building about to collapse.

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    Synagogue

    A bit farther in the way to the city centre were the Orthodox churches. I went to visit the first one and the complex was open, but the church was closed. I asked a woman if it was possible to visit the church. She pointed to the doorbell. I ring the bell and insisted but no one came. After a while I desisted and tried in the next church.

    The other church was under restauration so it was impossible to visit. The same happened with the Fortress.

     

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    Churches and Fortress

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    Fortress

    It seems that they had receive recently an investment to repair the whole town. AS it was lunch time I went to one of the terraces in the middle of the old town to have a sandwich. After lunch I tried again the first church, just in case it was close due to lunch time. But no luck. Still closed. I walked the abandon park behind the fortress and visited a little church with a particular local architecture style next to the bus station.

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    Traditional Architecture Church

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    After walking with locals that looked at me as a Martian and 45 minutes in the bus I get back to Lvov. At the hostel, I met again Miroslav and co. and they offered me to go out for a drink with them. I was supposed to have dinner with Haci, as it was about to be our last night together. However, he wasn’t there. I cooked but he didn’t get back so I left with the guys.

    We went to a bar that was supposed to have live Jazz music. Instead they had a bad singer singing in Ukrainian. Then we went to a bar under the opera that was supposed to have a river across it. The river was just in the entrance. The rest was a regular bar with, again, a teenager’s local band that didn’t play so well. Finally, we went to the bar we called the fetish bar. It is a bar where the waiters are dressed in leather costumes and they slash you with a whip when you get in and from time to time when they pass next to you in the bar. Lvov is a bar full of theme bars.

    After several drinks and watch some whipping challenges I decided to get back to the hostel. At the hostel, I found Haci that was cooking the spicy soup he said he was about to cook. I was feeling like going to bed. It was already over midnight. However, as he insisted and it was about to be our last night together, I joined him. Won’t regret doing it. We drank beers and a drunk Russian joined us with more beers latter. The soup was supper spicy and we offered to everyone that came back from the party to see their reaction. Memorable night. The Russian guy dances and tricks made our night.

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    09/09

    Next morning, I felt a bit tired when I woke up, however I wanted to visit the cemetery of Lvov. I went there with Mathew, a guy from the hostel that had it in mind as well. The cemetery is on the north of the city passing the University.

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    The cemetery is a big complex where are buried many relevant persons of Ukraine, including their hero Ivan Franko. Also, there are areas dedicated to the war heroes and soldiers. Mainly one for the first world war and other for the second world war.

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    Cemetery

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    From the Cemetery, I wanted to visit a an Art Nouveau House that passed from a Nobel family to a cultural centre and now a days is exhibited as a museum of itself and host several meetings and events as weddings. Mathew joined me as he had nothing else to do. The house is spectacular. However, as a multi-functional place it was too empty. The hall and the stairs where impressive, not talking about the details on the fence of the stairs and the ceiling.

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    Main Hall

    From the house, we went back to the hostel. There I just charged my phone and prepared to go to the train station. I was about to take my first night train to Kiev. I went before time to the train station to get something for dinner there. It was there when I found why in all the menus they advise the price and the portion size. I though they charged me double for my piece of cake, but it was because the weight of the piece was the double of what was written on the menu.

    At the train, I had an upper bed in a second-class compartment. As it was almost midnight, the other passengers of the compartment where already sleeping. In my bed there were missing lining and cover, but as I was inexperienced at that time and I had no one to ask I managed to cover myself with what I found around. It was far away from a comfortable night. But the only discomfort was the lack of pillow and lining, not the train itself.

    10/09

    The morning, when I was getting to Kiev, I found out that you can have tea at the train for less than 1€, that was nice.

    Kiev

    Kiev is the capital city of Ukraine. To understand Kiev now a day, you should consider the history of Ukraine. At least that it is a Post Byzantine Orthodox Christian country, member of the Soviet Union occupied temporally by the Nazis and then back to the Soviet Union until 1990. During most the post-soviet period the government was pro-Russian. Until 2014 when a student revolution that ended with students killed in the capital. From then started a movement towards Europe that divided the country. That is the cause off the current situation on the East of the country. Ukraine is in war inside of his territory. An independentism movement supported by Russia is claiming their independence in the East.

    This is something you can feel in the city. The students killed are called heroes of the revolution, and the communism is regarded negatively at the time that many monuments persist in the city as symbols of the nation. In the streets and religious buildings, you can feel the consequences of the present conflict.

    One way or another, Kiev still an immense, in extension, city. It is full of activity and culture all around. There are several universities next to the old town that fills the city with young people and new movements. It is easy to recognise the old town more alternative, the commercial and administrative area, with big avenues and Imperialistic architecture, and the religious complex.

    In Kiev, I was about to stay with Inna, a Couchsurfer. She told me how to do it to get to her place and after a coffee and one hour I was with her. She showed me her amazing and clean house in a growing area of the city. As she told me there’s a lot of people migrating from out of the city to the capital looking for new opportunities. Also, a lot of students come and go to the several universities that are located in Kiev.

    After a long introduction Inna had things to do so I went to have a walk in the city centre on my own following her advices. I made a long walk from the Circus Theatre, passing by the University and the Opera House to the main street of the city.

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    Opera House

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    Park in front of the University

    On this street is the main square of the city. There I found the first memorials to the recent revolution. Among the monuments of the plaza there are statues of all the cultures that passed over this lands, even the Mongols. Below the plaza is a commercial centre.

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    In one side of the plaza there’s a slope which roads leads to two religious complex. I visited first the Saint Sophia Cathedral. Went to the top of the tower an inside of the Cathedral. There I played Seek and Hide with the guardians to take some pictures.

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    In the other side of a big esplanade is the statue of the Princess Olga and the monastery of Saint Michael. This one is free, but once again, you are not allowed to take pictures.

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    From the monastery, I walked down the hill to the river through the garden. Other option might have been taking the funicular, but I am young to do such things.

    In the lower level of the city I walk to the old town where I simply get lost before and after having lunch. I visited a feria of products from Georgia and Ukraine, several Orthodox Churches, a modern city market and the museum of Chernobyl.

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    To get back to Inna’s I took the long way across a residential area where there was nothing of interest. Walking this area at sunset, crossing areas with no buildings but isolated ruins I realised how comfortable I was feeling. I hadn’t felt so far in danger yet. The words of friends telling me to take care in the eastern countries sounded in my mind, but I was felling right. When would I need to take care? Would I be able to recognise a dangerous situation or I am too optimistic to that?

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    Walking Kiev

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    Back to Inna’s I wait for her at the bar under her house having a local craft beer. We ate together dinner and chatted about what to do the following day together. Also travels, she had recently been traveling in Spain. She told me about the struggles Ukrainians need to pass to obtain the Schengen Visa. I thought getting my Russian visa was hard, but for Ukrainians with Schengen countries is the same or worst.

    11/09

    We had a good breakfast together and went out for visiting the city. Inna had the day off and wanted to show me some monasteries, monuments and memorials. From her place, we went to the Orthodox Monastery of Pechersk Lavra.

    In the way to the Monastery we passed by the Ukrainian Genocide Holodomor Memorial. A candle with a bird symbolizing freedom and a starving girl to reflect the misery.

    Ukrainian Genocide Holodomor Memorial

    At the monastery, I had to pretend I was coming to pray not to pay the touristic visitors fee. It was easy as I was coming with a local. I simply had to walk next to her and say nothing. She told the guardian that we came to pray and that was all.

    The monastery is one of the multiple orthodox sites of the city. This is the biggest one congregating several churches, chapels, and the most interesting for me, caves where were buried priest, saints and monks.

    Inna told me about the rituals, the praying and the services of the Orthodox. It is something I’ve been watching since I get to Ukraine, but till that moment no one told me about it.

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    Monastery of Pechersk Lavra

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    We continued our way to the military memorial and the Motherland. There is the Army museum with tanks, aircrafts, helicopters and canons from the last wars in which Ukraine has been part off. Don’t forget that now a day there is a war conflict inside of their territory.

    Motherland is a huge statue of a woman that represents the Ukrainian Nation. It is located in one hill with an esplanade with a panorama view over the newer part of Kiev.

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    Army Museum

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    Motherland and panorama.
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    We walked back to the communist city centre passing by a modern area and the Water Tower of Kiev.

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    Water Tower

    Next to the city centre we passed by several government buildings. They all recall the imperialistic communist architecture. Also, we visited the place where two years ago the students died in the Ukrainian revolution.

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    We visit the Gorodetsky House an eclectic building with figures of animals decorating its external walls.

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    Back to the centre we went to one of the old gates of the city, the Golden Gate. To finish the afternoon, we had dinner next to the Stadium built for the Poland-Ukraine UEFA Euro 2012.

    Back home we kept on chatting about the history of Ukraine, her view of the world and our future plans.

    12/09

    In the morning Inna had to work so I left her apartment with her, but I had my train at night. Another night train. This time to Moscow.

    First I went to the train station where I left my backpack and lighter I went for a random walk along the places I had already visited. I just let myself go on the streets and parks watching the people coming and going from one place to another. I even came into the University to see the people daily life.

    I chilled out at the garden next to the University and at night I went straight to the train station.

    The train I was about to travel to Moscow was a super long one. My compartment was a 3rd class wagon. What means that there is no division inside. All the beds are in one single space. It was so hot inside and there where already people in that came from Lvov.

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    I will tell you the train ride to Moscow in the next post.

  • Blog
  • In love with Poland

    Poland is the second country I discover in my journey. Recently I meet a lot of people in Spain from Poland and all of them told me good things about this country. What I found out made me fall in love with the country and the people there. And I had the luck that Elise joined me there.

    25/08

    I get to Wroclaw in the evening after an unforgettable train ride where I learnt about the relationship between Germany and Poland.

    See Previws post – Germany the Great

    Wroclaw

    Wroclaw is the biggest city in the West of Poland. Next to Germany is the historical capital of the region call Silesia. It became part of Poland after the new boarders in 1945 after the second world war. Before it was part of Germany, Prussia and Austria Empire.

    The city was considered in 2015 one of the best cities to live and in 2016 is the European Capital of Culture. It is in true a vivid city with buildings where you can tell its Germanic past.

    Once in Wroclaw I was about to meet Elise. She would arrive in town before me but she couldn’t tell me when as she had no network and she were travelling by bus. The last thing I knew when I get to Wroclaw was that she will be there by 18:00. As I get there before her I went for a walk around the area of the hostel not to visit the city without her.

    I was impatient to meet her. It was already two months since she left our house in Spain to went back to Belgium. Many things had happened in between but my feelings towards her still alive.

    When we said goodbye in Spain we knew that we were linked beyond distance and time and time. Back there we talked about meeting here and now it came to be true. I was nervous as I felt like it will bring a lot of feelings back, but at the same time it will make harder to say goodbye as from now here we won’t know when we would meet again.

    I came a couple of times back to the hostel to see if she had arrived. I tried to meet her for sunset next to the river but it didn’t work. I just get a cider for free as result of a promotion. I had my drink waiting for her in the riverbanks but she never appeared. Back to the hostel I found out that she has passed by and taken the keys of our room with her. So I couldn’t get to charge my out of battery mobile phone and no one could lend me a charger at the hostel. I wait for her to come back one hour at the common area and once I was annoyed and I had already red all the brochures I decided to went for a walk in the city. The walk I wanted to do with her.

    Sunset in Worclaw

    Sunset in Worclaw

    Sunset in Worclaw

    At that time, I was hungry, angry and impatient to meet her again. I passed by the place where we were supposed to meet for sunset in case she was there. She wasn’t so I walk all the city centre and around expecting to meet her around any corner.

    Walking in the Market place of Wroclaw a girl came to me. She looked nice, well dressed and pretty and she started talking to me in Polish. I showed her that I don’t speak polish so she continued in English. First she offered me to go with her to a nice bar to have a drink. Then she commented that the bar is free admission palace. At the end of the conversation she told me that there were really nice striptease dancers there. Is at this point, where disappointed I told her that I was not interested on stripteases.

    Wroclaw Market Square by Night

    Market Square

    That situation happened like 4 times along my walk around the square.

    In the Market square, a part from these girls there where a lot of street art performing. Wroclaw is this 2016, the European capital of Culture as San Sebastian and it was Friday. There where people playing music, Polish and English; also people with fire cariocas and fire rings. It was a circus all around, but Elise wasn’t there so I continued my walk to the garden around the city. I went all around the city thinking that Elise probably has meet someone and she might be walking around the city as well.

    Wroclaw by Night

    Wroclaw by Night

    Wroclaw by Night

    Wroclaw by Night

    After my walk I went back to the hostel where I finally found her. I didn’t know how to react as I was sad and excited to meet her again so I just let everything go on. After explaining both our situation and what had happened we end up talking of the last two months, our feelings and in between each other arms. Next day we will worry about our journey.

    26/08

    As the weekend the prices of our room in Wroclaw triplicates we decided to move to Gliwice. Home town of our Polish friend from Malaga, Aleksandra. But before we went to discover the city together. I showed Elise all what I had discovered the previews day and together we visited the interior of all the Cathedrals and big buildings in the city of Wroclaw. We were so close to each other that I completely forget that there were more people around us.

    In our walk, apart from hunting dwarfs we chatted about all what had happened to us during the last two months. We keep in touch along this time quite often, but however there was a lot to tell.

    Elise Wroclaw

    Elise in Wroclaw

    The Market square was not active during the day, but nearby we learn about the relationship between Polish and Hungarians in the past. For sure no girl approached me this time offering me a Striptease club, I was already in the best company I could be.

    with Elise in Market Square

    With Elise in Market Square

    From the centre, we walked towards the Opera and then turned around on the garden I visited the previous night. There we stop to share a quiet time together behind the angel of death at the Family of Kajyn memorial. In our walk we stopped a couple of times just to chat and enjoy being back together again.

     

     

    We stopped again next to the river with the views of the Cathedral at the other side before getting to it to climb his tower. From the top there’s a beautiful panorama of Wroclaw. In the way back to the hostel we stop for a Smoothie in a nice garden terrace.

    Panorama of Wroclaw

    Panorama of Wroclaw

    From the hostel, we went to the train station in the afternoon. There we get into the train to Gliwice. I had never need to get a ticket as I’m travelling with my Interrail Pass, but it was funny to see how Elise struggled with it when the girl at the ticket office didn’t speak English. Elise knew some words of Polish, so she succeeded quite fast, though.

    Gliwice

    Gliwice is a small city in the Silesian Region, next to Catowice they are part of a group of cities that thanks to train connections made part of a bigger aggrupation. People that lives in this area may live in one of the cities, work in another one and go meeting friends in a third one. It is known as the Katowice conurbanation.

    In Gliwice after dropping our stuff at the hotel we were staying, we went for something to eat. Back to the room we bought Polish vodka to try it at the room while talking. With Elise it’s easy to get lost in all kind of conversations. From personal experiences to African geopolitics. Also we talked about what we would do the following days.

    27/08

    Next morning, we had a first breakfast at the room with hot chocolate and tee. Then, after failing looking for a laundry machine where to clean our clothing, on the way to the centre we found a nice coffee shop where we had our second breakfast. A nice cake and coffee. Then finally we went to visit Gliwice.

    Gliwice isn’t big so there was not much to see in town. We just walk to the market square where we spot a couple of places to dinner that night. Then we went to visit the more distant churches and the park beneath the University to get back in the afternoon to the Square. In our walk we stopped for a while at one of the churches to wait for the ending of a wedding to go visiting the building. After waiting for 20 min. talking about the Polish history and current religious and political situation we get found out that immediately when the wedding finished, another one started. That was a factory of marriages. So we left the church.

    Anecdote

    Elise and I, we were having a drink at the Market Square of Gliwice trying to contact Aleksandra. She was coming on her holydays to visit his family and I wanted to meet her. Somehow, because networks and delayed messages I was understanding that she was about to get to Gliwice just the day we would leave the city. Waiting for her answer about what to do in town and how to get to meet her we were also struggling with our future visit to Auschwitz and the Salt Mines of Wieliczka. We needed to book both and there were not many tickets left for the days we could visit them.

    We end up taking the French tour for Auschwitz and an English one for Wieliczka Salt Mines. That’s another good thing of understanding several languages. You don’t need to accommodate only with yours.

    Talking about how bad would be not to meet Aleksandra in her home town while looking for which might be a good place to eat that night, I saw in the nearest bar a girl that was like Aleksandra. She was having a drink with two other women and talking. I told to Elise that she was either Aleksandra or a relative that really looks like her. We were looking at her and the girl next to her realised of the fact so she told Aleks. When she turned up to us I could see the surprise on her face to meet us there.

    We talked a little and organised what to do together that night.

    As Aleksandra suggest us, we went to try Kasha in a restaurant at the Main Square and afterwards she picked us up with her cousin to show us the Gliwice Tower. It’s like the Eiffel tower but made in timber. It is considered the highest structure in Timber in all the world. As the Eiffel Tower, it is a Radio.

    From there we went to Katowice, a city next to Gliwice where my host from Bern is from. There was taking place a Beer Festival. Entrance was free and there was polish live music and local food. Aleksandra and her cousin gave us a try of Polish sausages and vegetables. But the best moment was to see Aleksandra her cousin and everyone around singing the songs of the band on the stage. Aleks explained to me that it was a popular band from her youth whose songs were well known by everyone.

    Gliwice Tower

    Gliwice Tower

    Katowice Fest

    Beer Fest of Katowice

    Beer Fest and friends

    Aleksandra stayed at her cousins but we get the tram back to the train station of Katowice and from there a train to Gliwice. In the tram, a gently lady showed us where to stop and took us to the train station. It wasn’t difficult but she was going in the same way. She told us that two days before some people stabbed a guy next to the train station. She was a bit scare I thought.

    Train Station of Katowice

    Katowice Train Station

    28/08

    As we get home late, we did enjoy our time in bed and waked up late.

    Bye Katowice

    We picked our staffs and get a train to Katowice where we had a connection to go to Krakow. We decided to have a little walk and eat something at Katowice. Originally, after I meet Malwina in Bern we were about to stay here instead than in Gliwice. Aleksandra convinced me to do it in the other way. We enjoyed Gliwice, however Katowice seemed to have much more activities and life. Not only they had this beer festival, but next to the Constructivist style train station and in some squares of the city centre they had food trucks and music.

    We ate in one of them and followed the rhythm of a Cuban-Polish speaking coach teaching some Batuka or latin-aerobics in public.

    We didn’t have time to visit much more before getting in our train to Krakow.

    Krakow

    Situated in the Vistula River is the Second largest city of Poland. It is also one of the oldest cities. Capital of the Kingdom of Poland between the XI and the XVI century. It is a cultural city with several universities that bring the youth generations to be an important role of the city living.

    During the Nazi Occupation was the capital of the occupied territories and host one of the greatest ghettos. Pope Jean Paul II was archbishop of Krakow before been elected leader of the Catholic church.

    In Krakow, we inquiry the receptionist of our hostel about what to do and where to eat in the city. The girl was named Aleksandra as well and she really told us about the best non-touristic places to go. The touristic ones were already marked on the map of the city.

    Trusting on her, hand by hand, Elise and I went to discover the city. We walked through the doors of the city while a duet was playing Concerning Hobbits with two accordions. The old town of the city is like a medieval city really well preserved and full of bars and shops for tourists. Most of the entrances are open to the street as they link to internal patio full of more commerce. Some of them are well decorated with plants others are just empty patios.

    In the Market Square, in the other side of the Basilica of Saint Marie there was a stage and some folk music. There was also food trucks and long tables. We had a seat on one and a couple of dishes to dinner. Ok, this time we didn’t follow the advice of our receptionist, but we preferred to try the place before the fest ends.

    Krakow Market Square

    Market Square

    Krakow Market Square

     

    As Elise wasn’t feeling well that night we went back to our hostel to watch a film and rest. Meanwhile I did the laundry. Laundry finished at 4 am.

    29/08

    Auschwitz

    We had tickets to visit Auschwitz before noon so I waited till Elise felt like waking up next to her. From Krakow there’s a bus that takes you to the concentration camp in 1h30min. more or less and it drops you at the entrance of Auschwitz II here started our Tour. In the bus we had time to talk about my experience in Dachau and what I learnt about the second World War along this journey. Elise as always surprised me with her huge knowledge of the geopolitical situation in the past and in the present related to the Great War.

    The day was once again cloudy. I start thinking that it’s part of my luck to have cold cloudy weather whit a high probability of rain when I visit this kind of sites.

    Here we took the French tour as the English one was too early in the morning or too late. With us there was a Spanish couple as well. I understood most of the Tour, however I was confident that Elise will help me if I needed.

    The concentration camp of Auschwitz is free but with limited entrance per day. It is huge and well preserved. We took the tour not only to be sure that we will get an entrance, but also not to get lost. In Auschwitz II the former barracks host information of different aspects related to the holocaust: the contest, the reasons, how was life in the concentration and death camps, and many other aspects.

    Auschwitz

    Auschwitz

    Auschwitz

    Auschwitz

    Auschwitz

    Auschwitz

    Auschwitz

    Auschwitz

    Auschwitz

    Auschwitz

     

    Our guide wasn’t a passionate one. I know that it might be hard to tell about the sad stories behind this fences, but she wasn’t catchy or with a good script. I don’t know if I could have done better, but I’m sure I have had better guides. I remembered when I visited Alcatraz when I was a kid.

    In Auschwitz II the barracks are made of bricks and they look warm, however in Auschwitz-Birkenau there were of timber. From one to the other area of the concentration camp you can get with a free shuttle bus. There’s one every 10 minutes.

    Auschwitz

    Anecdote

    When we get out of Auschwitz II to go to Auschwitz-Birkenau it started to rain. So we went to pick our poncho at the luggage store room. As Elise was a bit sick from the previous day she toked with her. We get a snack while waiting to the shuttlebus and when we get to Birkenau it seemed that it has stopped raining. Once we cross the big entrance to Auschwitz-Birkenau it started to rain strongly.

    The guide suggests the group to get a poncho at the souvenir shop. There we went all the group to buy one poncho for 8 Zloty, not even 2€. I hadn’t cash enough but finally I managed to pay with credit card my new colourful poncho. When we went out of the shop I was about to wear it on when I realized that the rain has stopped.

    Most of the group was already wearing the poncho and they stayed all the tour with it. It didn’t rain anymore until we were on our way back to Krakow. However, it was funny to be the only group everyone with a different colour poncho.

    Auschwitz

    In these area of the Concentration camp is where the Nazis had their biggest or at least more effective gas chambers and crematories. There were the same prisoners the ones in charge to remove the bodies from the gas chambers to the crematories where they burned them. Those prisoners lived separated from the rest of the concentration camp and they were killed after 3 months to avoid having to many witnesses.

    The Germans, when the camp was about to be captured by the Russian they exploded all the gas chambers and the crematoriums to cover up what was the real activity of the buildings. Now the ruins stay as they were found and next to them there is a memorial for all the victims.

    That day, there was some kind of memorial as there were a lot of young Israeli Jews in groups in the area of the memorial.

    Auschwitz

    Auschwitz

    Auschwitz

    Auschwitz

    Auschwitz

    Auschwitz

     

    In Birkenau part of Auschwitz most of the barracks have disappeared. What remains is their stone-blocks chimneys. The extension is huge and it is divided by the railway in men and women areas. We visited the women area and heard about some stories that took place there.

    After the tour we went back to Auschwitz II and from there to Krakow. We went back to the hostel so Elise could rest a little bit more as she was not feeling perfect yet.

    Then we went for dinner. We went to a Pierogi place in the old town. Pierogi’s are a typical food form Poland. They are basically dumplings filled with meet, mushrooms, vegetable, cheese or even chocolate or marmalade. The bar was cosy and the two employees where teenagers. Probably working to afford their studies. They were a couple that failed not to make notice that they were together when they expressed their love to each other. It reminded when Elise and I started in our relationship in Malaga. We ended up talking about it.

    We could have taken some sweet pierogi at the same restaurant but I was feeling like having an Ice-Cream and Elise was feeling the same. We stopped two doors ahead on the same street at the first Ice-Cream store we found. It was far away from a good Ice-Cream. It was then when I realized that as I continue my way to the East, Ice-Cream would never be as the Italian or Spanish I like.

    But to make the taste of our frozen dessert we get to the square of the Conservatory where there’s a fountain illuminated with colour lights. The different squirtsof the fountain and the colours were dancing at the rhythm of some ambient music in the square. We recognized several songs like Mars from The Planets of Holst, that excited me; The Soundtrack of Pirates of the Caribbean; a Valls from Tchaikovsky, that we danced close to each other; and the Soundtrack of Finding Neverland, Elise’s favourite.

    We liked so much that after it ended we waited for a while in case it started again. Not to get cold standing there finally we move continuing our romantic walk along the garden where once was the walls of the city.

    30/08

    We enjoyed our time to wake up and get ready. No one was waiting for us. However, we are not people that sleep till late. Before 11:00 we were at the bar, Aleksandra, the receptionist suggested us for breakfast. It was a new bar next to the university that to get to be known among the students offers breakfast for 1 Zloty with a coffee. Coffee is only 7 Zlotys. There was no trick and the breakfast was good in quantity and taste.

    From our tasty and fulfilling breakfast we went to properly discover the city of Krakov. Once more we walked the Market square but this time we continued to the river, and the Castle. The old town was full of commercial activity towards the tourist. Restaurants were promoting themselves with flyers as during the night did the bars and strip clubs. It’s obvious that tourism is one of the big incomes of the city. At least of the old town.

    Krakow

    To get to the Castle we walked up the hill watching the panoramas to the Vistula river For many reasons it took us a while to get to the top. There as none of us was interested on visiting a puppet house, we avoided getting into the Castle. We chatted at the castle square about Poland and once again Elise surprised me with her political culture. Travelling with her I get to learn a lot. Then we visited the Church – Only the part with free entrance. It includes the catacombs where are buried some historic polish personalities. Unfortunately, it is avoided to take pictures here and there is security in every corner to control it.

    Krakow

    Krakow

    Krakow

    We went down from the hill of the cathedral through the other entrance. There we passed a wall full of names that we never knew what it was for. If anyone knows the reason, please drop a comment.

     

    We continued our walk to the former Jewish Ghetto of Krakow. It is located out of the old town at the south of it partially surrounded by the river. There we followed the path indicated at the entrance of the ghetto to pass by the main sightseen of the area. I wanted to visit some of the synagogues. However, to visit them you have to pay. The fact that Christian temples were for free but synagogues not took us into the discussion if religious temples should be for free or not. What do you think? We compared cases of several cities we know.

     

    Anecdote

    We were walking in front of the synagogue Remu, the one with the Jewish cementer chatting about the religious temples as I describe above. At the entrance of this temple there were a couple of young orthodox Jews dress in a black suit over a white T-Shirt, the typical curly hears and the black hat. One of them approaches to us and said something in polish to us. Our poker face made him understand that we didn’t speak Polish. Aware of that he asked to me in English if I was a Jew. I gave him a negative answer and continued my walk with Elise.

    Due to this event we made a parenthesis in our discussion to talk about when in Nice someone though that I was Arabic. We laughed about it and decided that I could be both. We hadn’t get far from the Synagogue when we saw a group of young Jews walking in that direction – Probably the same ones from Auschwitz.

    We thought that we could try to get in with the group and see if the access was or not free. Back to the synagogue. This time inside the same young Jew approaches us again and asked me again if I were Jew. First in Polish then in English. Elise and I had nothing else to do but laugh about what had just happened.

    The synagogue of Remu had free-entrance. Or at less we entered for free. The cementer in the other hand was payable. It didn’t look as attractive as the ones from Prague so we let it be.

    We walked the commercial street of the former ghetto looking for a place to eat to end up eating a kebab at the end of the street.

    We crossed the bridge to the other side of the Vistula where we visited St. Joseph Church.

    Krakow

    Back from the church we passed by the News CRICOTECA. This building made us discuss about the contemporary architecture. Also I explained Elise a bit about structures.

    Krakow

    Cricoteca

     

    Just on the other side we stopped again for a drink. Talking and talking a mid-age man came to our table and said something none of us understood so we answered him negatively. At first impression it looked as if he were begging money. Later he had a drink and seated on a table at the same terrace we were, but on the other side of the bar entrance. Another couple was in that side. In matter of 5 minutes this mid-age man started a conversation with them and moved to their table. I could feel how the woman of the couple was little by little more uncomfortable there. His couple, however, was more shy and excessively polite to stop this invading their space. As they couldn’t find a way to get rid of the unwelcome visitor, they ended up leaving the terrace.

    From this terrace we walked around the old town on it East side on the garden that surrounds the city. Talking and walking with Elise made hours come to be minutes and kilometres to seem metres. Without realising of it we were back in the area of our hostel. I’m know for walking fast, but I must admit this time we weren’t. We even stopped from time to time.

    As time for dinner was close we decided to try another of the suggestions of our receptionist Aleksandra. This time the speciality of the bar was fish and the bas was located face to the U.S.A Embassy. Once again we ate a delicious food for a really cheap price.

    Later on we had a meeting with my former housemate Kinga. We meet her at the square of the Conservatory. The one with the illuminated fountain that dances according to the music. The soundtrack of the night was the same than the previews day so I started to memorize the water effects.

    Krakow

    I meet Kinga in Malaga more than one year before. We livedtogether with Mr Kiayas. My first month with them was the only we left on our own and we get to create a good family. We spent to many nights at the sitting room talking about our lives. We shared a lot of experiences, feelings, good and bad feelings and supported each other. Probably for this reason I was happy to see her again after all this time.

    Kinga took us to two bars on the same square. In the first one we talked about our lives, about what we have lived together to set Elise in circumstance and what happened since then.

    In the second bar she made us try her favourite shot – She hadn’t one arguing that she had to drive back home, how impolite ;P

    Before going back home she gave us a fast tour of the Krakowian night life. We could find out there where a lot of Spanish speakers in Krakow.

    31/08

    Wieliczka Salt Mines

    We Woke up early in the morning, and get something to eat in the way. We knew that to get to Wieliczka Salt Mines we had to get a regional bus, but as we have been informed the stop was next where we get the bus to Auschwitz. This place is the bus station which is located on the other side of the train station. In Krakow the train Station is not only a train station, but a huge commercial centre. It took us a while to get to the other side to find out that the bus to Wieliczka was half way between the train station and our hostel.

    Once in the bus we discovered that the only way to buy the tickets for the bus was dealing with a machine. The problem we found is that the machine doesn’t take notes neither credit cards. Only the magnetic credit cards. We had no coins to work with the machine. Hopefully a guy that was watching us struggling with the ticket-vending machine gave us change so we could get our two tickets. At that time, we were already thinking on travelling illegally as we had no other choice.

    The tour started at 8:00 am. We were there before time. This time we get an English tour. Elise asked me to help her with the translation if needed but her English is perfect so she never got to need it. Our guide here was simply awesome. He was a Polish guy who really seemed to love his work. He made jokes about the facts of the galleries. There were easy jokes, but enough to make us smile and laugh.

    The Salt Mines of Wieliczka are probably one of the biggest mines in Europe. More than 2000 rooms deep underground connected like an ant colony. We just visited about 22 rooms in a depth of 150m under earth. The guide himself confessed that he just knew about the 10% of the total.

    Every room was made of salt rock. You could taste it. Roof floor and walls had been carved in the salt rock. However, as you may see in the photos, the galleries and some rooms where filled with timber. This timber helps the rock structurally so it won’t collapse.

    The Salt Mines of Wieliczka have come through several periods according to the new technologies of exploitation. Now a day it is no more a Salt Mine but a touristic activity. However, they steel getting salt from it from the phreatic water they pump out. Also, there still miners working on the mines but just to guaranty security of the visitors. Their tasks are more repairing galleries, cleaning accumulation of salt in rooms or replacing trunks.

    The tour was prepared to illustrate kids so some parts we skip them fast after a funny comment of our guide. Along the tour you get to understand how was working here. As our guide told us being a miner back in the days was a reputation job.

    Did you knew that…?

    There were Royal horses working in the mine? The horses get the name of “Royal” regarding that the mine belonged to the kingdom and now to the government. These horses where grown and then token into the Mines forever. There where special rooms for them. The horses were used to pull the cargo of salt and to work machines like the elevator. In contrast with the workers that worked in the mines for 8 hours and then they went to their homes in the surface, the horses only worked 3 hours, but once they were in the mines they never see again the light of the sun.

    There are several rooms of the mine that really took me to several scenes of The Lord of the Ring or The Hobbit. Probably Tolkien get his inspiration here to wrote about such underground dwarf mines.

    The tour was super exciting. We really appreciate our guide. Elise and I agreed that if it had been a boring lady like the one from Auschwitz, our experience at the mines could have been really annoying.

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    I must admit that sometimes I felt like getting lost in the mines with Elise. But everything was well calculated by the team of tourist guys not to get in troubles. However, we get a bit lost at the end.

    Our tour guide left us underground at the souvenirs shop as happens in every visit. There he explained us how to get to the didactic room where they display a 3D video and the way out of the mines. Well we went to the didactic room, and then to the exit. We lined in what we thought it was the queue for the elevator. Some minutes later another guide divided the group in two. We ended with a group of Polish people visiting more rooms –  this time in Polish.

    At the end he took us to the elevator and back to the surface.

    Back to pick the bus we found out that we had no change to buy the ticket once again. This time I went asking one by one all the little food and souvenirs shops if they could change me 10 zlotys note in coins. No one speaked English and after a minute explaining myself, when they get to understand what I was saying they answered that they had no “little money” I ended buying a bottle of water to get it. When I get back to the bus station out bus was leaving. We had to wait 20 minutes for the next, but no big deal. Sun was shining and I was with Elise. What Else? I just came next to her and enjoy.

    Back to Krakow we went to eat something. It ended up being a kebab again and the afternoon we just enjoyed ourselfs all around Krakow as the following day was about to be the last day together. This time we didn’t know when we would see each other again.

    Late afternoon we met Kinga at the Conservatory square, with the music. She took us to an Ice-Cream store. It was good, but not as good as the Ice-Creams I have recently taken in Italy our I used to take in Spain. From there we walked a bit around the city and then we get to a beer bar with a Spanish name. I ended up asking Kinga why so many things were in Spanish in Krakow. She confessed me that there’s a big Spanish community in the South of Poland: Krakow and Wroclaw mainly.

    We chatted until late about Poland, Spain, Russia, the future and the past. Then we went back to our hostel. As it was a cold night Kinga took us by car. It wasn’t far away though.

    That night, the pressure of knowing that we were about to separate made presence, in a good and in a sad way.

    01/09

    We picked up our stuffs, double checked that we left nothing at our room and drop our bags at the luggage room of the hostel. AS we liked it so much, we went back to the 1 Zloty breakfast place next to the University. On the way there and after a long breakfast we were analysing how summer has ended in Krakow. Students in uniform were walking to the school. The University area was also more active. There still tourist in the streets, but for locals the summer was over.

    We walked once again the garden around the city and into the city. We tried to visit the tower of the church, but the only visit available was after my departure. We went to the tower at the Market building. It was a little disappointing. To visit you pay to visit as well a little exhibition of costume and history of Krakow, but everything is in Polish. The never offered us anything to help us understand what was all about. From the top the views are limited as you can’t get out to the balconies. Pity. My feeling was negative but probably in it the fact that I was going to say farewell to my love played the big part.

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    For lunch we ate something at the Commercial centre of the train station, close to the bus terminal where I was about to get the bus to Warsaw, and later on Elise will get hers to Wien.

    We never get into silence, but everything was full of sadness. I don’t think I could smile as I always do. I was completely out of my mind with all these feelings. I almost get on the wrong bus. Hopefully Elise was there to correct my mistake.

    We said goodbye on the platform of the bus to Warsaw one minute before the bus left. I haven’t yet accommodated myself when the bus departed. I did take a place on the second floor of the bus next to the window where I could see Elise. She couldn’t see me at first instance but she stood up and waved her hand hoping I will saw her. I was shaking mine from the inside. When she got to see me I broke in tears.

    It took me some minutes to calm down and then I get out my book to help made the journey to Warsaw shorter.

    The first part of the way was over the highway, but later on the highway interrupts to became a normal two ways road. It seemed like the highway that connects Krakow to Warsaw, North and South was under construction.

    Warsaw

    In the Vistula river, it is the biggest city and capital of Poland. Today Warsaw is considered an “Alpha–” global city, a major international tourist destination and a significant cultural, political and economic hub.

    I get to Warsaw and it was already night. The bus terminus wasn’t at all next to the city centre. However, it was well connected by metro to it.

    Warsaw

    Here was waiting me a new Couchsurfer Host. She was feeling sick so she couldn’t come to pick me up. I know that if she had could, she would have done it. However, I had no problem to get the bus to her house. As it was late, she was already in bed waiting for me to get there.

    From the very beginning she happened to be a super generous person. She needed to rest so she let me accommodate myself after showing me her pretty clean cosy house. She lived at a 14th floor with amazing views of the old town.

    However, local people told me that the best top view of Warsaw is from the Centre of Culture and Science as it is the only place from where you can have a panorama of the city without the Centre of Culture and Science on it.

    02/09

    I wake up before Adrianna, my host, but I waited to wake up after her not to make much noise and let her rest. While I had a shower she prepared a delicious breakfast for both of us. We repeated this behaviour all the mornings I stayed at her apartment.

    While having breakfast she suggested me several places to visit in the city. I started thinking that three days would be too little time to visit all. Also I had the advices from Elise. This girl will never stop surprising me with her knowledge about the world.

    I could have taken the bus to the centre as I did the previous day to came to her apartment but in the way to the centre from her place there is a great garden and a couple of orthodox churches that I wanted to visit. Then I get to the statue of Charles De Gaule. It is located in the Palm crossroad. As Adrianna will explain me lately, there is always a police car below the palm to control the traffic. People in Warsaw call them, the Beverly Hills Cops.

    One of the streets that gets to this crossroad is the main commercial street of Warsaw and leads to the old town. It is Nowi Swiat. The street is full of bars, cafeterias with their correspondent terrace and lot of shops. Over this street there are also small gardens and open squares and the Presidential Palace. This street is full of history. It hosts the statue of Copernicus and the Holy Cross Church. This last one has at his entrance the statue of Jesus carrying a cross that came to be a symbol of the Uprising.

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    At the end – or beginning – of the street, next to the old town, there is an open square with views to the new stadium built for 2012 World Cup. Next to it is the Royal Castle of Warsaw and the narrow streets of the old town.

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    In the middle of the old town is the mermaid of Warsaw. Symbol of the city. As I promised to Adrianna I was about to research the legend of the Mermaid and here I drop you what I found in Wikipedia.

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    The most common legend says that the mermaid was swimming in the river when she stopped on a riverbank near the Old Town to rest. Liking it, she decided to stay. Local fishermen noticed that something was creating waves, tangling nets, and releasing their fish. They planned to trap the offender, but fell in love with her upon hearing her singing. Later, a rich merchant trapped the mermaid and imprisoned her. Hearing her cries, the fishermen rescued her, and ever since, the mermaid, armed with a sword and a shield, has been ready to help protect the city and its residents.

    I sat in the square of the mermaid to write some letters, listen to the people that come to visit her and the beautiful music of a barrel-organ.

    I continued my visit north to south, east to west until I covered all the old town and exit on the other side of the city. I exit the city through the gate Barbakan Warszawski to a street full of restaurants for tourists. All of them says that they sell local food. But as you may have red before, it isn’t true. Instead of that I went to a kebab and I ate it on top of the wall watching the groups of tourists coming by.

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    One thing I noticed on my morning walk that made me sad is that there are kids begging on the street. I remembered when that was common in my home town and I’m happy that it has been forbidden. Also, I remembered las winter when a guide in Morocco correct us from give money to a kid in Marrakech. He said that we shouldn’t give them money as that will support them to stop going to the school in order to look for tourists. Wise words.

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    Back on my way I cross again the city centre, passed by the Culture and Science Centre, to walk back to Adrianna’s place and visit on the way the garden next to her house. There I went to the military monument that commemorate the minesweepers – the people that deactivate mines.

     

    Back to Adrianna’s I rest a little bit and chatted with her about what to do next and our interests in life. Adrianna is a person full of references. No matter what subject she had books, films and documentaries to suggest me.

    In the night, she took me for a walk next to the Vistula river. The summer season is about to end in Poland but the weather still good so everyone is out, and there are food trucks all along the river. Adrianna took me to one where the cookers are refugees Every week they bring someone from a different nationality so local people can try the food from their countries.

    After eating we had a beer next to a stage with Cuban music. My first thought was that I hadn’t come that long to hear latin music. Then I wanted to believe that as it was an international fest it was justified.

    Adrianna told me about Warsaw and Poland. I get to learn my first concepts about the Uprising and the situation of Poland during the two great wars and after them. I felt a bit shame of knowing so little about their culture and history.

    We went home early as Adrianna wasn’t feeling 100% healthy. That allowed me to rest warm and long to be full of energy the next day.

    03/09

    Back again in the morning to the routine that won’t take longer than three days but makes me feel super comfortable. I really appreciate Adrianna and all what she’s offering me. Her way of thinking, her altruism and how she is generous comes to be an inspiration to me. If I ever live again with someone I hope to have this kind of understanding.

    During our morning chat Adrianna told me about her new project a new pastry shop in Warsaw but with an innovative style of creating pastry. As I don’t know if I’m talking too much about her idea, I’ll stop here. I offered her all my support as knowing how hardworking and perfectionist she is, I don’t doubt that she can get whatever she wants.

    As I already visited the city centre, this time I went to visit the big Lazienki Park that my beloved Elise suggested me. Adrianna also thought it was worth a visit. The garden is at the south of the city and it is huge. There are several styles combined and many monuments and statues. Chopin has the biggest one at one of the entrances. There’s a summer theatre, a Egyptian temple, a Roman mausoleum and a Chines garden. There is a lake and a river with fishes, ducks and swans and in the garden the squirrels approaches the visitors looking for food.

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    After the garden I went back to the Palm crossroad where I had something for lunch and wait for the Communist Warsaw Free Tour. The tour shows to the visitors the old buildings of the Soviet Poland. The guide was pretty good and made us feel what was to live in the soviet time.

    Anecdote

    The guide explained how was Poland during the Soviet occupation, how live was and how that changed people behaviour. In front of the censors building he explained us about the censorship remarking the fact that this was happening not even 50 years ago. He also remarked the fact that it was not far from now when people had a rationalisation card. He showed to us one of them. It was at that point when a man from Hong Kong I’ve been talking with, standing next to me told me at my ear – They still have things like this in China.

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    The tour ended at the Centre of Culture and Science, the emblem of Stalin in Warsaw after visiting the Constitution(s) square and other buildings of the communist government.

    From the big Soviet tower, I walked back to meet Adrianna at her place, but first I went to the Ice-Cream store she suggested me. It was supposed to be one of the best in Warsaw, however, it wasn’t as good as the Spanish or Italians but it was pretty good compare with other ice-creams I have tasted in the area.

    Back to Adrianna’s place we chat a bit I rest looking for my future trip to Ukraine and latter night she took me to dinner. We went to another area with food trucks. This time was an abandoned train platform transformed into an alternative food area. There where food trucks of all kinds. Thai, Mexican, Burgers, Sushi. In the area there were even a barber and a tattoo truck. Add the end of the platform there was an art exhibition. Food was more expensive here than the previous night. To be an alternative looking place, there were really fancy people and cars in the complex.

    We ate some Thai noodles and the most original was the Ice-cream in a warm bubble-crepe cone. First time I see something like that and I must say that I really like it. It’s an idea worth spreading worldwide.

    In Poland I started to realize that they weight the Ice-creams to be sure that they gice you the proper quantity of Ice-cream as it is expected.

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    After our dinner we went back home where we had a tea while chatting about Polish politics and history, films, books, travellers’ biographies and the biography of A. Agasi. Why not? Once again, full of references, I went to bed.

    04/09

    Once again, after an amazing breakfast with a brain fulfilling conversation I went to the Jewish square. This area was completely devastated during the second World War. First was the greatest Ghetto of Poland. When the Uprising was completely destroyed. When the Russians get in Poland they ended the job taking to the ground every single stone.

    Now is an area where new contemporary buildings are rising. Banks, insurance companies and other big companies are building their headquarters. Now you can see the big skyscrapers insignia of the different companies in the area. Also in the area there’s the Synagogue. I tried to visit it but it was closed and surrounded by private security guards. Some kind of event was taking place inside.

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    I visited then the church in front of the synagogue. Passing by the Square surrounded by all the skyscrapers I get to the museum of the Uprising.

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    Note that the Uprising museum is free on Sundays.

    If you want to understand what happened in Warsaw during the Second Great War and to Poland. It’s worth visiting the Uprising museum. Inside is really chaotic, I found that the information is not properly in chronological order and unless you follow the numbers of the audio guide it’s easy to get lost. I took my time to listen every single track of the audio guide and learnt as much as I could.

    In the museum, among the several audiovisual features, there’s a 3D animation of how was the city after the War. If you compare it with the time before the war and how is now, you might understand how vast was the destruction.

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    The Warsaw Uprising

    In short terms, as the Nazis started losing territory against the Russians, the Polish government in the exile in London and the resistance in Poland started to organise themselves. Not wanting to fall under the control of the Russians after the Nazis, to claim their independence they upraised in Warsaw against the Germans. The idea was to defeat the Germans before the Russians at the time the Russians get to the city. Unfortunately, the Soviets were one step forward. When the red army get to the boarders of Warsaw, they stopped their army at the other side of the Vistula and waited till the Germans and Polish destroyed themselves and weakened their forces. Once the Polish revolution was exterminated and the city destroyed, then, the Russians attacked the weak Nazis and took control of the city. The Polishes in London tried to claim the independence of Poland, but neither of the big allies’ countries wanted to get in troubles with the Soviet Union.

    I spent the afternoon looking in every single bookstore open in Warsaw for a book to thank Adrianna. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find none of the 3 books I was looking for anywhere.

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    That night we didn’t went out for dinner, but we cooked together at home. We created a combination of Spanish “Pisto” with a similar Polish recipe. I liked a lot cooking chatting with Adriana.

    During the day the weather came to be sunny to rainy. But the big storm arrived while we were cooking. First you could hear the wind heating the windows and see the dancing without control. Later the raindrops start heating strongly the windows. Little by little the buildings and the beautiful panorama view from Adriana’s started to disappear in the rain. The thunders started to make a strong presence and then ice rocks started falling from the sky against the windows.

    The wind was so strong that let the water leak inside the house through the windows. Together we made sure to cover every single leak with towels to avoid any mayor damage. Adrianna was a bit scary and I felt like excitement. It was awesome to be together at that time. The contrast of our emotions gave us stability and security to both of us. After several minutes the storm stopped and the only noise was the sound of Police and ambulances along the highway. The accumulation of cars in one way proved that something happened on the road.

    Back to our dinner we went to our rich conversations and as always dinner was not only food fulfilling but let my mind full of new ideas anecdotes and references.

    05/09

    Next morning the rain continued but lightly. I took time to find a BlaBlaCar and a hostel in my next destination Lvov. I amused myself talking with Adrianna and having a look to her Manga about Jesus and Buda.

    When there was time to leave Adrianna gave me an amazing letter with the most beautiful words any host has told me and with a load of the references we talked during my time in Warsaw.

    After a big hug and doing my best to express Adrianna how much I did appreciate her kindness and generosity I left to meet the guy who was about to take me to Ukraine. We met next to the Centre of Culture and Science. I left Warsaw from the same point I started to discover it.

  • Blog
  • Germany the Great

    The travel across Germany continues over the capital city of the Holy Roman Empire, the city of Johann Sebastian Bach and the rebuilt Leipzig where I met UltraMadNuss before getting to Gorlitz

    Nuremberg

    Nuremberg is a city full of history. Founded in the Medieval ages between Franconia and Bavaria has been of grater symbolism in many periods. Unofficial capital of the Holy Roman Empire was with Augsburg one of the main trade cities between the south and the north of Europe. It was in Nuremberg where the kings of Germany must hold their first Imperial Diet. It also took great importance during the Nazis, as it was the site of the massive Nazi Party conventions – the Nuremberg rallies. To lately be the host of the Nuremberg Process were the Nazis where judge of their war crimes and crimes against humanity in the first process after the Second World War.

    In Nuremberg I stayed in a hostel. After installing myself I started talking with the girl at the reception. She showed me what to visit in a map and we stayed talking for a while. I had a seat at the reception to look for some information in Internet and we kept on talking about activities and sites to visit during the weekend.

    Once I realize that most of the places to visit Agnes will want to visit them as well I decided to spend the rest of the evening cooking something healthy at the hostel and chilling a little bit.

    At the hostel apart to increase my friendly relationship with the German girl at the reception, I had a couple of anecdotes.

    Anecdote

    While cooking and dinning several guests passed by the kitchen and dining room. One, a German guy, long and tall with blond mid-long hair. Probably it wasn’t the first that came to the room, but the first I remember as he completely ignored my intention of making friends when he didn’t answer my salutation. I spoke clearly and in a proper tone to be heard, but he didn’t even turn around. As if I were talking with someone else when there was no one else at the kitchen at that time. He ate some cereals with milk seated at the long table in the middle of the room looking in the opposite direction of where I was.

    Later a couple of Asian girls came and ate precook food at the table at the end. I just keep with my cooking without saying nothing this time. A single girl, sat as well at the table at the rear of the room looking towards the kitchen. The long tables of the hostel were in matter of minutes all with someone. The only conversation was between the Asiatic girls.

    After a while, the guy that avoid my existence stud up and sat next to the single girl at the last table. He introduced himself, sat in front and they starting talking together. Couple of minutes later he bought a couple of beers at the reception desk and they move to the terrace. Note that the terrace was just a platform in a parking courtyard.

    I ate my dinner and stayed at the kitchen updating my social networks. When the hostel closed the terrace both came back in. At that time, I was talking with the reception girl that I was about to stay at the hostel this night to rest a bit and update my blog when they arrived. As we finished talking the blond girl with the German guy ask her which options they had to hang out that night. Once they thought what they were about to do, the girl came to me and ask me if I would like to join them. I, completely surprise that she asked me looked to the tall blond guy behind her. He was at least as surprised as I was. I could read in his face how this wasn’t part of his plan. Not to make him a favour, moreover to be consequent with my previous decision, I gently reject the offer.

    Anecdote

    The second event that touch me that night happened late night. I still at the kitchen watching a TV program, eating chocolate and drinking the little white wine that remained from cooking. I was seated at the first table from where I can see all the others. From time to time there was guest that came in and went out from the room. This time the anecdote is about a girl. She came talking on her phone. She had a seat a couple of tables inside facing towards me. She was crying. That touch me. I started to wondered how could I help her? What might have happened? I felt that something has happened to her that was out of her control and she could do nothing but accept her new circumstance.

    A previews me would have gone to ask her after she hang out the phone. However, at that time I considered better to do nothing. People sometimes just need time to accept their circumstances. All that I get from her quebequois French among tears is that she was supposed to travel with a friend and now she was on her own.

    I thought to tell her to join me the next day to Bamberg, but again, this time I decided to let her. From the couple of times she looked at me I may dare to say that she realized that if she need something she can tell me. At least is what I was feeling and wanted to transmit her when our eyes looked to each other.

    To be sure that she understood my message, before getting to my room, I approached to her table and gave her the chocolate I saved for her. Without words, she just gave me back a soft smile while holding his phone next to her ear.

    20/08

    Full of energy after a chilling night I went to Bamberg instead of visiting Nuremberg. Agnes was about to arrive along the day to Nuremberg and I considered more appropriate to visit the city with her.

    Bamberg

    Bamberg is a medieval city at the north of Nuremberg over the river Regnitz. Most part of the town is a UNESCO world heritage site since 1993.

    I had no previous idea of this city. However, I kind of like to go visiting small cities and villages next to my main destinations. As in Regensburg I simply get lost myself among the streets of the village. A part from the Dome of Bamberg, the city hall in the middle of the river with its decorated facades might be the more interesting point of the city. Another sightseeing is the convent of St. Michael on the top of the hill. From there you can have a great panorama of what is Bamberg, a medieval city centre surrounded of a modern city. As the city is located between a group of several islands in the river, it is full of bridges.

    Bamberg

    Bamberg and the river Regnitz

    Bamberg City Hall

    City Hall of Bamberg

    View from St. Michael

    Panorama of Bamberg

    St. Michale Abbey

    St. Michael Abbey

    I spent in Bamberg the morning and I went back to Nuremberg in the afternoon to meet Agnes at the hostel. She happened to found a bed not only in the same hostel as me, but also at the same room.

    The afternoon we went to visit the Nuremberg Process Memorial. As it is not in the city centre, we went there with the underground.

    The Nuremberg Process Memorial is the building where took place the trial against the crimes committed by the Nazis during the Second World War. It is basically a trial room, room 600 which still host trials today and a room on top of it with a lot of information about the relevance of this process. Again, the visit could have taken the full day. We didn’t get to visit it all as we had to hurry up as they were closing.

    Room 600

    Room 600

    Justice at the room 600

    German and Roman justice at the Room 600

    For sure, it is worth visiting this memorial to learn how the process changed our world. A part from being the first war trial, it is here where direct translation sat their importance. This trial was the precedent of the actual Haya Tribunal and of other international organisations.

    After visiting this Memorial, I get to understand what happened at this court after the II World War. Also I won’t forget, that one way or another, more fair or not, people in favour or against this process and its results, it was the winners of the war the ones that sentenced the looser. Another fact that I liked to learnt is how Germans dealt with their terrific past since then.

    Dear reader! If you have ever visited this place or have interest for these historic event, please share your point of view and opinion in a comment. I’ll love to read it.

    After this, in terms of new information, intense visit to the Nuremberg Process Memorial we walked back to the centre of Nuremberg. As it was Agnes’ last day in Germany we walked up to the Castle visiting the main sightseeing of the city. After the castle we followed the city medieval wall back to the hostel. After a German Kebab we went for a beer in a courtyard at the defensive wall of the city next to our hostel.

    21/08

    Agnes had to leave to the airport before noon so we woke up early to have a walk and something for breakfast. Hopefully the previous day we get to visit most of the interesting points of the city cause at the end this morning we hadn’t time to.

    In the way to lunch a Rumanian bus driver, heard us talking Spanish while we were walking and came to us. After asking us if we were Spanish and finding out the origin of Agnes accent he started his monologue. He told us about his qualities recognising languages, about how many countries he had left at, how many languages he speaks and about his believe of a third world war about to come. Winter is coming! He told us about his geopolitical approaches and believes, but never let us talk. After a long monologue where we couldn’t express our point of view we left him in order to have a breakfast. We had no more time left.

     

    After saying farewell to Agnes and thank her for joining me on my trip with a warm hug at the train station I took the U-Bhan to the Reichtsparteitstageländen.

    The Reichtsparteitstageländen is an area at the southest of Nuremberg bigger than the city centre of the city. This area was originally a garden and houses that the Nazis demolished to create the area designed for the rallies or Nazi demonstrations. In the area, Albert Speer, the architect of Hitler designed several buildings for the different events and commemorations. Where is now located Luipolds garden was the memorial for the deaths during the war. The Congress Hall is now the museum that explains the relevance of the Nazi party rally grounds and of Nuremberg during the Nazi period and the war. The last big area is the Zeppelin field now a sort of sports arena.

    Zeppelin Arena

    Zeppelin field

    zeppelinfeld-historic

    Zeppelin Arena

    Zeppelin Field

    Most of the buildings are preserved in ruins and the Luipold Arena has been transformed in a garden. The architecture was thought to demonstrate how great was the Reich and how little every single human. This was achieved with classical architecture oversized. After being there and watched the videos of the demonstrations, I can perfectly imagine how a single soldier in the crowd may have felt as part of the Nazi army.

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    Luipold Arena

    Reichsparteitag 1933, Aufmarsch der Fahnen der SA

    Reichsparteitag 1933, Aufmarsch der Fahnen der SA

    Once again, I spent a couple of hours visiting the museum at the Congress Hall. Not to talk too much about this area, I suggest you to visit it.

    Reichtsparteitstageländen Museum

    Reichtsparteitstageländen  Museum

    Congres Hall

    Reichtsparteitstageländen Hall

    Late afternoon I went back to the city centre with the S-Bahn and walked again as I did with Agnes but this time taking more time to visit every single building and wandering around every corner.

    Nuremberg

    Panorama of Nuremberg

    Nuremberg

    Nuremberg and the river Pegnitz

    Relax in Nuremberg

    For the sunset I sat bellow the Imperial Castle in a beer bar full of people. I felt like doing what people does to see what it feels. Back to the hostel I bought something to eat.

    Anecdote

    After dinner, on the way to the hostel, happy of all what I was living and discovering, hearing music, I walked dancing and singing at the time I have an Ice-cream. If you don’t know me, imagine a skinny guy that looks like 35 years old with a chocolate ice-cream dancing and singing. Like that I walked all along the city walls of Nuremberg in his interior side. To my surprise, all of a sudden, in one of my multiple jumps and 360º turn I saw at my left a red façade full of windows with neon lights coming out from the interior. One every three was closed, but the others were open with a mid-age “lady” lack of clothing looking at me with a smile in her face. I was in the red district of Nuremberg licking an ice-cream. How appropriate, isn’t it?

    You can Imagine my reaction. My face turned as red as the walls of the red district. Pretending that nothing has happened and laughing in my interior I continued my way to the hostel.

    That night at the hostel I talked with the Canadian girl before going to bed and from her experience I am just going to say that “shit happens”. She was much better and positive despite what happened.

    22/08

    In the morning I prepare myself and left Nuremberg and the Bavarian region to go to Saxonys biggest city Leipzig

    Leipzig

    Leipzig was one of the great trade cities since the Holy Roman Empire as it was located between the routes East-West and North-South of central Europe. For this reason, it has been as well a great cultural city.

    I came to Leipzig just for one day before meeting Magnus at Dresden. For this reason, I just had a fast walk at the city centre. The city is a mixture of modern buildings and historic ones. It is visible in the streets how the destruction during the war, the communism and the further transformation has left place to contemporary buildings between the historic ones. I guess there has been many debates regarding these interventions. The commercial activities are present in every street of the old town.

    In Leipzig I visited the church of St. Thomas where is buried Johann Sebastian Bach and which organ has been played by Mozart, Wagner and Beethoven. I went to the church of St. Nicholas in the city centre, and the Art Museum.

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    Neues Augusteum

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    Thomaskirche

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    Perimetral Garden

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    Reicsgericht

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    City Hall

    Not to late I get in the train to Dresden. My friend Magnus was already there waiting for me.

    Dresden

    Is the capital of the eastern German state of Saxony that needed to be fully reconstructed after controversial American and British bombing of Dresden in World War II. This city was well known for his baroque and rococo style.

    In Dresden I met Magnus at the train station. He came along with her friend Michelle.

    Magnus also called “UltraMadNuss” is a sportive guy from Berlin that I had the chance to meet at the “Camino de Santiago” (Way to Santiago) last Easter. With him, Charly, Taka and Britt we made a team that use to walk between 40 and 50 km per day. That was my place.

    Magnus then told me that he would love to meet me in my “theRodTrip” and he did. Also he came with a challenge for himself. He was about to run from Dresden to back to Berlin on his own. This guy is awesome.

    After encountering Magnus, we went to meet his friends, Jonas and Patricia. This couple with their little son Mark hosted us the two nights we stayed at Dresden. We met them at a bar where burgers were half price. Nice deal for supper.

    Later I walked with Magnus to the northern part of the river to a garden where was expected to be the party place of Dresden. I wasn’t surprise that it wasn’t. However, we had a seat on the grass and had a beer while talking about our recent life, our experiences and thoughts. It happens that Magnus and I we had a lot of ideas in common. We both like challenges and to enjoy life in a healthy way. Don’t misunderstand me, we also like beer, meat and kebabs.

    Dresden Nichts

    Dresden Nicht’s

    From the garden in the way back to the tram we stopped at a tavern with craft beer to take a drink. There, seated at the bar, we had the chance to talk to the bartender and talk with him about our future adventures. Magnus is this kind of friend that will support my craziness.

    Back to the house we were staying, that was out of the city we share a nice romantic night walk continuing our conversation talking about friendship and love.

    23/08

    In the morning, we went for breakfast with Magnus friend Michelle at a bar she use to work. There the deal was 10€ for a coffee with a huge buffet all you can eat included. Stomach filled we went for a walk on the city centre. It was then, walking along the rebuilt buildings when I realized that two Christmas from now I stopped in Dresden in the way to Berlin. It was such a fast stop that I barely remembered.

    Super Breackfast

    Breakfastslow

    Walking the Zwinger, the opera house and along the Elbe river Magnus and Michelle explained to me how the city was bombed by the Allies in revenge for London bombing. The city was completely destroyed and rebuilt after the war brick by brick. It’s easy to distinguish in the walls which bricks and stones are originals and which are new.

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    the Zwinger

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    Opera House

    Next to the river we had a long talk with a man that was selling gravures with nice texts about zodiac and professions. Unfortunately, there were only in German so it is hard to sell them to tourist. In their talk, Magnus offered help to translate them to English. It wouldn’t be him who commit the translation but her cousin who works on it.

    We continued our walk back to the city centre passing by the two big churches. We were about to get in the Frauekirche but there was a lot of people coming in at the same time, so we decided that it was not worth. So we went shopping.

    Magnus needed some stuff for his next-day run to Berlin. I, after been thinking of renewed my backpack I decided that if I saw a good one no so expensive I will do it. We went to several sport shops and at the end I get one new rucksack.

    We ate something together next to the fountain at the main commercial street studying how the bubble-makers’ business worked in the city.

    In the afternoon we went to see Jonas teaching Badminton. Jonas and Magnus knows each other as both are teachers of these speciality. Jonas told me that they had really good players from here that even get to play international competitions. They are all teenagers though.

    It was nice to see how is a badminton class with Madnus explaining me what is every exercise for. It not all about strength, also about coordination, technic and strategy and there are exercises to improve all these aspects.

    As we both like to walk, we took the long way back home. In other terms, we get a bit lost in our way back. My orientation skills didn’t work that day as good as the previous and the GPS played a little bit with us. Anyway we get home with pizzas to share with Patricia who was trying to sleep Markus.

    While we cook the pizzas I move all my stuffs from one backpack to the other and I gave my old one to Magnus.

    Before getting to bed I chatted with Jonas about his house. He wanted to make a second floor and he asked me for advice. He also explained me about badminton, the competitions and the kids he’s teaching.

    We went to bed early as next day Magnus started his way running to Berlin.

    24/08

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    ready for the adventure

    Early in the morning, we went with our backpacks to the train station where I left mine and then I get Magnus’ and a bike to follow him running. We did together 15km along the Elbe river to the North. Then we stop for a coffee in a little coffee shop. Back to the river we get in different ways next to a signal of the “Camino de Santiago”. How symbolic.

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    Farewell UltraMadNuss

     

    When saying farewell after a big hug that made me sad I confess Magnus how happy I was to encounter him in life. Is the people like him that push me forward to achieve my dreams. He admitted that he felt quite a similar feeling.

    I ride back to Dresden and once in town I visited the Frauekirche. As it was no weekend there was less people visiting it. Then I went to the train station and get in a train to Gorlitz, my last stop in Germany.

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    Leipzig at the horizon

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    Leipzig Old Town

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    Gorlitz

    Gorlitz is a little village in the boarder with Poland. Actually I may said, it is divided in two by the boarder that goes along the river that divides the city. In the other side of the river there is the city of Zgorzelec. Gorlitz is not at all a touristic destination. However, recently it has get increase the number of visitors after been in films like Inglorious Bastards. It is a really well preserved city from the time before the war. The old town is more medieval, but the immediate surroundings still keep the beauty of the XVIII and XIX century German architecture and urbanism.

    I get to the train station of Gorlitz, but my hostel was already in Zgorzelec. So actually, I was sleeping in Poland already. The train station here wasn’t as fancy as all the others I had visited in Germany. Was it because it is a village? Or because it was in the boarder?

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    View of Germany from Poland

    I went to my hostel where no one speaks English so I had to manage with my bare knowledge of German and after install myself I went to visit the village before everything closed.

    I only get to visit the cathedral on time.

    Anecdote

    At the cathedral which is free entrance I was taking pictures when someone approaches me. It was one of the guys in charge of the building. He told me that I had to pay 2€ to take pictures. I still do not understand why you have to pay for taking a picture. Any clue?

    After the cathedral I walked the city with no destination admiring the facades and the churches and other public buildings that I came across. I ended up buying one big spicy kebab and ate it next to the river watching the sunset reflected in the polish side.

    The bridge that link both countries turns to a fountain when the night comes. It was a nice spectacle to finish the day.

    25/08

    Next morning, I wasn’t in a hurry to get my train to Wroclaw as Elise was about to get late night there. I decided then to visit some of the little churches in Gorlitz that the previous day were close when I passed by.

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    Beer bath

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    Streets of Gorlitz

    They were preparing some kind of event in the village and It seemed to me that the event was about to take place in both sides of the river. That was a proof to me that in both countries they live as a single village. The big difference regarding other villages is that here, Tabaco and Alcohol shops are most of them next to the bridge in the Polis side of the river.

    After lunch I get on the train to Wroclaw.

    As always I sat in a two face two seat. Here there was no table. Little later than our depart, a lady came to me. She started talking me in German but when she found out that I speak no German she changed to English. She asked me for something of value I was carrying with me. Not need to be of economic value, but of personal value. She explained to me that this was part of an art campaign to celebrate the train link between Dresden and Wroclaw.

    After thinking for a while, I explained him that nothing I was carrying has a significant value to me. I recently get rid of everything and what I’m taking with me is just useful. If I happen to be stolen or lose anything I will have to struggle more with the fact of not being able to use this facility than with the symbolic lost. I realized that the most valuable thing I am carrying with me is my life.

    As she didn’t find a clear answer she asked me for the object that has been more time with me. Almost everything is barely new. Just few things are older than one year. Then I realize that my watch has been with me for much longer. I get it long long time ago with my uncles in the Caribbean Sea. I told her and I offered to her to paint it.

    While she was painting my watch she told me what was all these about. It seems that for long time there was no train connection between Dresden and Wroclaw due to political issues. Two cities of big commercial importance in Germany and Poland lack of a fast connexion like the train. Recently they had link them with these line and to celebrate the school of art of Dresden together with other sponsors from Dresden and Wroclaw were supporting this art activity in the train.

    I keep asking her about this issue and then we end up talking about her career and my journey. Her college after finishing her painting sat next to us and joined us in the chat. If it wasn’t because they had to continue painting, we might have spent all the journey to Wroclaw talking.

  • Blog
  • Hi Germany!

    I get to Germany  to Stuttgart from where I visited Heidelberg and  Neuschwanstein, to continue my journey with “Agnes” across Bavaria in  Munich and Regensburg. This is just the first part of my journey in Germany.

    I get to Stuttgart the 13th of August as you might read in my previous post.

    Over Switzerland and the Alps

    14/08

    Stuttgart

    I decided to come to Stuttgart is it was the first mayor city in the south next to Switzerland and France. In the original plan I even thought to visit Strasbourg before getting to Germany, but at the end I thought that I should start to slowdown the frenetic rhythm I was having in Switzerland of visiting one city per day. I also chose Stuttgart as I met some really good friends in Paris when I was on my Erasmus and I wanted to know how their city was.

    Stuttgart Castle Garden

    Stuttgart Castle Square

    Stuttgart is more an industrial city rather than a touristic one. The city has basically two castles, a big cathedral, the Stiftskirche, the Mittlerer Schlossgarten which is a big garden, the castle square and a long big pedestrian street full of shops that links all of them with the train station. One-day walking in Stuttgart was more than enough. A part from this few historical buildings, the main attractions of the city are the Mercedes and Porsche Museums and the Radio tower. All of them out of the city centre and related to the industrial aspect of the city as you may observe.

    My first day in the city I wasn’t aware of all this so I went to discover it having a walk along the main pedestrian street and around the city centre visiting such monuments I’ve mention.

    I didn’t visit the interior of the castles as it is not something I consider worth it yet. I have already seen several castle interiors. I don’t feel any more like paying for seeing castles decorated with furniture of the time great kings use to live in them. In the other hand, I am always willing to visit a church or cathedral to see the style, admire the art in its altar, walls, paintings and sculptures. Here in Stuttgart the Cathedral happened to have a combination of its historical origin on the walls and the presence of the modern times on the roof. It’s understandable when you consider that it has been rebuilt after collapsing during the war.

    Stiftskirche
    The church of Saint John, which is located surrounded by an artificial pond, happened to have collapse as the Cathedral. However, the solution for its ceiling is much more simple. Instead of glass panels creating a double layer ceiling it has a horizontal white layer that efficiently covers the temple.

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    Johanneskirche
    As I had all the day to walk around and I had visit the main buildings only in the morning I just walk without direction from one area to another as I was feeling. Probably, because it was Sunday, the city was quiet, what made it look even more boring.

    Hopefully, at the afternoon people started to get out of their houses to enjoy the sun having a walk along the mayor street, the Mittlerer Schlossgarten or chilling out in the grass at the Castle square.

    Stuttgart Castle

    Stuttgart Castle

    Stuttgart Castle Garden

    Castle Garden

    After dining something I get back to the hostel. There I met my French room mates who suggested me a couple of places out of Stuttgart to visit the following day. I decided that Heidelberg might be the better option.

    15/08

    Not need to wake up early I did it when my body felt like. It was early, though. I took the train as soon as I could and went to Heidelberg.

    Heidelberg

    Heidelberg is located an hour to the north by train. It’s a small city on the river Neckar in the area of the Black Forest. This one really is a touristic city full of them everywhere. I might say that the economy of the city is based on tourism and the University students.

    The train station is 1.5 km away from the city centre so I decided to walk to it on the other side of the river. This side has a garden all along where people comes to run and chill out under the sun (at least today). From this other side you have a nice panorama view of the city next to the river and the castle on the top of it.

    Heidelberg Panorama

    Panorama of Heidelberg

    Once I get to the old bridge – Alte Brucke – I cross to get to the core of the city where all the souvenir shops, coffees and restaurants with “local” food where waiting for me. I lunch something from a close supermarket avoiding all these attractions after walking a bit around the city centre and the main square with the city hall.

    Heidelberg Old Bridge

    Alte Brucke

    Heidelberg Castle

    View from the city to the castle.

    The main attraction of the city is its Castle, to get to it you can go by walking or if you buy the ticket to visit it at the town, it includes the train that takes you to the top.

    ATTENTION: If you buy the ticket at the Tourist office you will end up paying 3€ extra for the service. If you buy the ticket at the top of the castle it will include as well the transport to the top even if you haven’t already use it.

    I didn’t get in but this time I doubt about doing it. Once I was up at the gate of the Castle they told me that there were to fees, one to visit the garden, and other to visit the castle. I asked if I could visit the garden without the Castle and they told me that this was not possible… What? Why? Then they should offer one “castle+garden” option rather than the “garden” alone?

    I get none of them and just walk around the castle. I don’t know if there’s a garden inside the castle, but surrounding it I get to the upper level garden without paying and without doing nothing illegal. Anyway, it was here where I wanted to get as it is from here where you have the amazing views of Heidelberg from the top.

    Panorama of Heidelberg

    Heidelberg from the Castle Garden

    After a long walk and a bit rest on the top watching the city I walked down to the river again and visited the main churches in town in my way back to the train station. Passing by the University, I also took my chance to get into the university building.

    Heidelberg and the Castle

    Heidelberg and the Castle

    Providenzkirche
    Heiliggeistkirche
    Jesuitenkirche
    Back to the train station I had to wait almost one hour for the next train. I used that time to taste a local beer while writing some postcards to my family and friends.

    Back in Stuttgart I found that the city was much more active when all the stores where open in the main street so I walked up and down enjoying the ambience. There was people playing music, dancing, and doing other acrobatics for some coins all along the street.

    That day I felt like having a Kebab so I went for it. I keep thinking that the best Kebabs are in Germany, probably in Berlin, but the ones here were probably as good as the ones from Berlin.

    Back in the hostel while profiting of the low speed Wi-Fi at the bar I had the chance to observe the ritual of flirting between travellers. No mysteries.

    Guy likes girl.

    Guy ask a stupid question about the city to the girl.

    Question followed by another question and you have a long night conversation.

    16/08

    Neuschweinstein Castle

    Neuschweinstein Castle was built by the king Ludwig II of Bavaria to show his magnificence. Building it he spent all the money of the kingdom almost bankrupting. The castle was built in 1881.

    I left the hostel early in the morning to get to Füssen, the village next to Neuschweinstein Castle. The castle is located in the south of Germany next to the border with Ostrich in a hill. From the village that is in a flat valley you can see the high mountains of the Alps as happened in Torino.

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    Neuschweinstein Castle

    Once you get to the train station of Füssen, the public transport to the castle is perfectly calculated. There’s a shuttle bus for 2.80€ that takes you up to the ticket store of the castle. The bus leaves the train station 3 minutes after the train arrives. Time enough if you already know which is the bus. If you invest a little time asking or reading the schedules of the bus you risk to see it leave the station as you try to reach it. Yes, it happened to me but hopefully, also happened to 3 Korean guys as well. The problem is that there is no other shuttle until the next train arrives one hour later.

    The only way to get there not wanting one hour was by walking the 4.5 km between both places or getting a taxi. I ask for a taxi and they had a fix price of 11€ to get to the castle. The solution was to tell the Korean that we can split the ride and pay 3€ each. It would be 20 cents more expensive but we won’t need to wait. They accepted and we pay the driver 12€.

    As I was approaching the ticket case for the castles I read that today everything was sold out for Neuschweinstein Caslte. Dam it! I was not willing to visit the rooms of the castle but the inner courtyard. Looking at the castle and the mountain behind I thought that if I was not about to visit the Castle I had time to hike the mountain behind it.

    I store my backpack at the nearest hotel for 5€ and start walking to the castle. What a surprise, when I found that I could get into the courtyard of the castle without paying.

    Neuschweinstein Castle Courtyard

    Neuschweinstein Castle Courtyard

    As preview, from there I went to hike the nearest mountain to admire the classic view of the castle we see in all the postcards but in life. What you don’t get in the postcards is the amazing feeling of the nature all around you, the feeling of have hiked an easy but steep mountain.

    Neuschweinstein Castle

    Neuschweinstein Castle

    I had my picture from the top, now was time to get the picture from beneath the bridge. This is not so typical, but more challenging and the sound of the river and the waterfall made it more unique.

    When I get back to the ticket store from the castle I still had time to the next train so I went to walk to the lake between the two Castles. As I wasn’t tired enough and still had time, in the way back to the train station I walked the 4.5 km to Füssen with my backpack. It reminded me of when I walked the Way of Saint-Jacques (El Camino de Santiago) last Easter.

    From Füssen I went to Munich where I was about to encounter my first visit from Spain. As she asked me for some privacy and not to reveal her real name for personal reasons I will name her as “Agnes”.

    Munich

    I met Agnes at the train station little after getting there. She did book a room for us in a hostel not far away from the train station neither from the city centre. So kind from her as it takes me a lot of time to fond host and I need of Wi-Fi which I don’t get as often as I wish.

    After installing in the hostel we went for a night walk in town looking for something to eat. As beginners, we end up eating a shitty expensive slice of pizza.

    Night Rathaus von Munster

    City Hall by night

    17/08

    Breakfast was included in the hostel and I must admit it was a full tasty breakfast. We get full eating in order to save one lunch along the day.

    As it was the first day for both of us in the city we went out of the hostel ready to walk up and down all the old city of Munich

    Munich was a city founded by Benedictine Monks. Now a day is a financial city. The third biggest of Germany and the Capital of the Bavarian Region.

    We left the hostel to go to the city hall and find out which was the old one and the new one. The new one looks like old as well and the old one is now the Toy’s Museum. Behind this Museum there’s a statue of Julieta with one breast shinier than the other. Do you figure out why? Probably if you touch it you will be lucky in sex, or probably people just like to touch her tit.

    Just in front of Julieta there is a Market full of life in the mornings. We thought that we might come later to eat here but we were about to find out that in the evening there’s no more activity here.

    From the centre we walked towards the English Garden. In the way we passed the Theatinerkirche and the Hofgarten in front of the Bayerische Staatskanzlei.

    Theatinekirche
    Hofgarten

    At the English garden we saw the surfers on the stream of the river and we went to have a Wurst and a Beer below the Chinese Pagoda. We kept walking along the garden to the lake.

    English Garten Pagoda

    English Garten Pagoda

    We had planned, that here we would take a public transport to get to the Olympic area. However, being at that point, we decided that walk across the city won’t kill us and will allow us to see the non-touristic Munich. We crossed Luitpodpark and get to the BMW Museum. Here we both gave our contact details to get a ride in an old BMW

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    Crossing the street, we get to the area where the Olympic Games took place in 1972. Probably you will remember this Olympic Games because of the terrorist attack. The area of the games was full of activities. Probably because it was summer time, but there was people all around. It was like a Festival. Games and attractions for kids, food and drink trucks and sport activities. We couldn’t avoid talking of how the area of the Expo-92 or certain areas of the Olympic Games of Barcelona 92 were now in comparison.

    Munich Olympic Garden

    Munich Olympic Garden

    Far away from the city centre we walked all the way back to our hostel. In the way we visited the area of the museums. Like in Berlin here the main museums are grouped in one area of the city next to Königsplatz.

    Konigsplatz

    Konigsplatz

    To chill out a little bit we decided that being in Germany we should visit one of the Beer bars, so we went to Hofbräuhaus to have a beer. In Germany this kind of bars are filled with long wood tables and long benches. The perfect place to make friends. You just need to take a place and wait. We meet our full table. Three girls from Asturias, one German and one Paraguayan. Yes, we end up speaking Spanish. And I must say that the German had a really good Paraguayan accent.

    After the beer it was time to finish the day in the perfect German style having one Kebab in the nearest Durum Kebab.

    18/08

    As we planed the previous day while walking we went to Dachau after our full breakfast. We took the train at the main station to the centre of the village of Dachau and there a bus to the Concentration Camp Memorial – What a name, isn’t it?

    Dachau

    In the way to Dachau Agnus told me that the years after the war, the people of Dachau felt really shame of being so close to such terror that they even erased or hided the name of Dachau from the plaques of their cars. No one wanted to show that they were citizens of this town.

    The entrance to the Memorial is free. It would have been funny if someone were getting benefit of the Holocaust. However, the Audioguide was 3€. We took it to get well informed about everything. I expected to spend the full morning there. But our visit took us the full day and at the end we need to hurry up to get to see it all.

    The Concentration Camp Memorial of Dachau is not big compare to other Concentration Camps. At least not what you can visit now a day. Big part of it has been transform into factories and the two barracks that still in place are a reconstruction of the former ones. The entrance, the main building and the crematory are however originals. And it was in the main building, full of information about the Holocaust, the concentration camps network and the second world war where we spent most of our visit.

    Dachau was one of the first Prisoner Camps of the Nazis. The first prisoners here were the enemies of the Nazis, mainly Politics and activists against the ideologies of Hitler. The camp was a former Munition factory converted by Theodore Eicke in the model of all the concentration camps.

    The day was clouded what made the visit a little more spectacular. However, as Agnus said, it’s difficult to real feel what a concentration camp was when the plants are green the weather is warm, everything is clean and there are pretty ladies all around.

    Dachau - Arbait Macht Frei

    Dachau

     

    H

    Dachau

    Dachau

    Anecdote

    As it seemed that a storm was coming we visited first the field and open areas of the camp before the rain. We were next to the religious memorials and the crematory when it started raining. And how ironic that we ended finding refuge from the rain in the crematory as the memorials were all closed.

    In a moment that the rain stopped we walked across the field again back to the main building. It was when we were walking in the middle of the esplanade when it started raining again. Everyone started running looking for a place to hide and in a while I remained in the middle of a deserted concentration camp under the rain. It was an experience! Images of what would have been a cold winter there with such a hostile ambience came to my mind.

    Dachau - Crematorium

    Dachau - Memorial

    We spent the rest of the visit and the day reading all the exhibition in the main building. Not to get to long explaining to you all what we learn there I will suggest you to go visit it. What impress Agnus the must was how big and perfect was the network of concentration camps. The Nazis get to create a perfect deadly system.

    In the other hand, I get lost in the anecdotic facts of the life inside the camp: the hospital where doctors experimented with prisoners; Sex in the camp to keep the prisoners active; The few that get to escape; The liberation that took months; women’s life in the camps; and many more.

    Dachau

    After such a dose of terror in the way back to Munich to contrast we encounter several groups of Germans dressed with the typical Bavarian costume. It looked like a fest was taking place in one of the nearest villages.

    Bavarian GirlBavarian Girl

    Back in Munich we went for a little walk and dinner something next to the hostel we were staying.

    19/08

    In the morning after our great breakfast I separate from Agnus to go to Regensburg and then to Nuremberg. Agnus stayed to meet some friends in Munich and later she will meet me again in Nuremberg.

    Regensburg

    Regensburg is a medieval city situated at the confluence of the Danube, Naab and Regen rivers.

    Considering that the city centre is an UNESCO World Heritage Site I simply let myself get lost in the city centre and visited the main historic buildings.

    Cathedral

    Cathedral or Dome of St. Peter.

    The medieval stone bridge which was under restauration. As a local told me it has been like that for 2 years and it will take 2 more years until they finish the works.

    The abbey of St. Emmerams might be the site that I liked the most together with the murals and paintings in the façades.

    abbey of St. Emmerams


    Abbey of St. Emmerams

    Abbey of St. Emmerams

    After spending the day walking I took a train to Nuremberg. This time I had the chance to talk with a German who was waiting next to me at the platform and we spoke all the way till Nuremberg. After introducing each other, our lives, interest and my journey, he also told me some facts about the Regensburg and Nuremberg.

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