Thursday, May 28, 2009

Czech Me Out: Prague, Czech Republic.

Hola queridos,

The city of Prague was very highly recommended to me as one of the more beautiful cities in of course I had to make plans to go there! But first...

Travel during the first part of my Spring break was done primarily by plane & the second part (through Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, and Italy) were all done by train with the use of our Eurail passes. The Eurail pass entitled us to 5 days travel in any of the three bordering countries: Czech Republic, Austria, & Switzerland. This pass would eventually prove to be a great thing, but it didn't start off so grand.

To begin, when I finally received my package, it was missing the actual pass! So of course you're left to think that someone just walked off with my $300 + pass and I'm left with nothing. My host mom, who'd signed for the package (that appeared to have been tampered with), felt horrible and took me to the police station. Yes! I was in the police station in Spain to report my package missing. Fortunately, the company somehow managed to find the rest of my package and sent it to me. Phew.

Then, in order to use the pass you have to get it "verified." This proved to be an even greater challenge as we were trying to do this in Poland, where English was very minimal, and they had very little knowledge of what the Eurail pass is. So we boarded the train anyway, without it being verified, which may very well be illegal, but all the documentation was there so we did it. Once in some very random city in the Czech Republic, we waited in line forever and were then told that we had to go to the "Conductor's Office". So we walk around, this women greets me (and by greet I mean grunts and stares). Seriously, she looked at me like I was from another planet! Then she wakes her boss up, because, oh ya! it was 2 am. He speaks very little English but at least had patience to try and understand our situation, although, long story short, we got back on a later train and still didn't have verification.

So first order of business when our train arrived to Prague, was not to sightsee, but to find a place where we could be verified. Customer service wasn't any better in Czech & I was starting to get frustrated because it seemed that no one knew where or what these passes were. We then left the main train station for another (where we "needed" to go) but no surprise when the women (who didn't speak any English) said that we needed to go back to the main train station.


Not ready to just find our way back to the train station, I was using as many hand signals as possible to convey that we were already there, they told us to go here, blah blah blah. Finally, I pulled out the only German word that I knew (because she spoke German) and I said "YAH" and pointed in the other direction...and it worked! So she called the main station, then slid the phone underneath the glass window and I was able to talk to someone in English. Phew.

So after we found our way back to the same station, we got our stamps, and went off sightseeing, but not after a cup of Starbucks Coffee. Prague really is a pretty city, there's some good history here as well. We saw some churches and visited the castle as well. Although I didn't find it as beautiful as was previously described to me, I still had a very pleasant time.

At the end of the day, we boarded the train and headed off to Salzburg, Austria.


Tatra Mountains, Zakopane, Poland.

Hola Queridos,

My time in Zakopane, Poland was time very well spent! Of course, first I had to find a way to communicate with the train-ticket-seller, in POLISH. It was very, very entertaining, me waving my arms around & also not understanding anything that she was saying...Polish is really nothing like Spanish. However, we eventually came to an agreement & I had a ticket in my hand, although I still wasn't that confident that I'd actually arive in Zakopane (2 1/2 hours South of Krakow) more than arriving in Bangledesh. Fortuantely, I found the right train, and some people who were able to tell me that, "No, this isn't your stop." : )

Zakopane is the Winter capital of Poland. It's located around the Tatra Mountains and the Tatra National Park beautiful! It was my first encounter with the beautiful landmarks and the mountains left me wondering around the city until dark. In the hostel I stayed at, I met a fellow traveler from France & we decided to go hiking the next day.

So we got up early and headed was great! I ended up hiking a good 7 hours that day, sometimes on nicely marked trails, other times on steep inclines with snow still covering the ground. We also only got lost one or two times, so nothing major! I was really content with all the running streams and also the waterfall that we found : )

We then walked through a couple more villages to find the cable car up to the top of the mountain...coolest thing ever! Of course there was a rather big line, but after we were in the car, it was totally worth it! The sights of these overwhelming mountains just took my breath away (or perhaps that was my fear of plumenting when the cable car was rocking back 'n forth). We unboarded the car and were on top of mountain! But wait! it gets better! We then boarded another cable car to take us to the very, very top of the next mountains over 2634 meters in the sky!!!

I've never felt that close to the sun before, it was amazing....and really, really bright. I just wondered around in awe, I couldn't believe how brilliant my surroundings were. Then I spotted an area where you could climb farther and farther up, so of course, I did! It was all really fun, until a cloud came and make everything dark and my visibility not at a comfortable level. So I had to turn around and head into the restaurant as we waited for our turn to take the cable down.

I was on such a high, I still am...that was the coolest thing ever!


Krakow, Poland.

Hola queridos,

I loved Krakow, Poland. If you ever plan to travel to Poland, make sure to visit Krakow, & in my experience, I would recommend just staying in Krakow because there are so many interesting things that are only a bus/train ride away.

For example, the Auschwitz & Birkenau Concentration Camps. Physically being in the same place where thousands and thousands of innocent people were killed, heartlessly, for no more than their religious beliefs, sexual orientation, profession (i.e. gypsies), etc. is such a significant feeling that I really can't describe in words. I found myself walking around, trying to keep the knot in my throat from getting any larger and shaking my head in disbelief. Disbelief that I was there, disbelief that such occurrences actually happened, and that according to Hitler, Auschwitz (the first camp we visited) camp wasn't "efficient" enough, so they constructed Birkenau. Truly awful & very, very sick.

I walked away from Auschwitz & Birkenau feeling incredibly sad and frustrated as I fear that our world has (hopefully) learned a lot from this past history, but that hate crimes like this, genocides, etc. are still occurring today in different parts of the world. It's just sad.

After the Concentration Camp experience we headed back to Krakow (about an hour and some odd minutes bus ride). My travel partner took a nap & I headed off to the Wawel Castle. The Castle is beautifully located on the riverfront. Unfortunately I was a little pressed for time (before closing), & was pretty much running through the Castle to see it all. Overall, it was really pretty and appeared to be like the castles I'd seen in movies, elaborate chandeliers, marble, etc, compared to concrete (like those of Spain).

The next day I headed off to Wieliczka Salt Mine. The name may not sound exciting, but this is actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It's actually the only mining site in the world still functioning since the Middle Ages; it reaches depths of 327 meters! Then somewhere along in history, they decided to turn their still functioning mine into a tourist attraction, so they built a restaurant, a church, added sculptures among other spectaculars all made out of salt from the mine. It's really pretty neat & very, very unique.

I loved my time in Krakow...I did a lot of roaming around & saw tons of really cool things. I wish I could have captured it all on film or even in photos but the smells and sounds of the city are just something else. I loved it!