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Trip 2010 Travels 2010 Travels   My 2 trips to Europe in 2010. 1. Germany, Netherlands, Belgium - March... Walter Ch (US)
Austria Belgium Germany Hungary Netherlands ... and 2 more

2010 Travels

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My 2 trips to Europe in 2010.

1. Germany, Netherlands, Belgium - March (Waypoint 1-20)
2. Hungary, Austria, Slovakia - October (Waypoint 21-37)

  • 04Mar 2010

    1 Leaving the US - Europe I 03/04/2010

     

    Description

    I decided to finally take a trip outside the country. Last year, I planned a trip to Germany, and was ready to go. Unfortunately, I found out, the day before I was suppose to leave, that I lost my passport. No idea where I placed it. I panicked and had to cancel my trip. For the rest of that year, I took domestic trips, because of that.

    Now, I decided to try again. And to take a break from my baseball quest. I was nervous of the same thing happening again, but so far, so good! I will be going to Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium.

    I would leave Philadelphia, and have to fly to Atlanta to make a connection. Then, I flew to the first city on my European trip... Munich, Germany.

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  • 05Mar 2010

    2 Arrived in Munich! 03/05/2010 Germany —

    Old Town, Munich, Germany

    Description

    I was hoping I had enough sleep, as the plane was approaching Munich. Never easy to sleep on the plane. I had to contain my excitement until I was actually in the city center. Once the plane landed, I exited the plane, and felt the cold air. I figure it would be as cold as back home, if not colder. Once I had my passport stamped, I was in Germany, and overcame that obstacle. The trip was officially on.

    I went to the S-Bahn, and had difficulty figuring out the ticket machine. At first, I thought it was for regular rail, so I went down to the platform, thinking a ticket machine for the S-Bahn was there. But it wasn't, so I went back up and got a ticket to Central Station. I hopped on it, and rode it to Central Station, which took 40 minutes. I had to get the ticket validated, or else get fined 40 euros.

    When I reached the stop, I had to figure out where I was, and tried to find it on the map, as I was looking for the hostel. A local came and offered help, even though he was on his cell phone. He showed me where to go, and I found where I needed to go. I got to the 4 Munchen Youth Hostel, and checked in, but with the room not ready, I put my backpack in storage, and went out to see the city.

    I walked and went through an arch gate, which was the entrance to the pedestrian zone. I reached the square of Munich, called Marienplatz, with buildings that give that historic feel. Most of them were buildings of the Old Town, that were rebuilt after the city was flattened during World War II.

    The New Town Hall was the main building, with its glockenspiel, the little show that happens during certain hours. In this case, I am waiting for noon, so until then, I passed by the Old Town Hall and Viktualienmarkt, the open-air market.

    Noon rolled around, and I had to wait a little longer for the show to start. And then, the show started. The show starts with the 1st part, which has some dancers going around, during the 1568 wedding of Duke William V and Renata of Lorraine. Followed by 2nd part, a knight joust. Really nice to see, even if very touristy.

    After it ended, I went to the top of the tower, for views of Munich. Seeing the Old Town, it almost seems too good to be true, like a theme park. But it was freezing cold, and sometimes I had to go inside to warm up a little, before going back out. Also known as Neues Rathaus, it was built as the new city hall, as Munich grew in size. Construction started in 1864, and finished in 1874, when the city’s offices moved to the new place from the Old Town Hall. Built in the Gothic Revival style, the architecture is not the only reason to visit this place.

    Afterwards, I would stop by the Residenz Museum, which was the palace of the Wittelsbachs, the royal family of Bavaria. It dates back to 1385, and did suffer heavy damage during World War II. It has been rebuilt, and now currently the Residenz Museum. One of the first places to see in the palace is the Shell Grotto courtyard, which dates back to the 1580’s, trying to replicate the courtyards of ancient Rome. Unfortunately, it looked like it was under restoration work when I was there. Then to the Antiquarium, which is a long hallway with paintings and statues. Just seeing the size and the art around the area, is really impressive to see, and one of the highlights of this attraction. But wait, there is more, which includes a tour of the various rooms in the palace. Then went to the Treasury, which has the royal family jewels and crowns.

    I also visit St. Peter's Church, the oldest in town. I sat down for a bit, as my feet were hurting from a lot of standing and walking around. Also looked around, at the organ and chapels throughout the place, along the ceiling frescos of Peter being crucified upside-down.

    I made a stop by St. Michael's Church, but by then, I was really starting to feel the effects of jet lag. I'm surprised it took this long to catch up to me, but I guess the cold weather may have something to do with it. I went back to the hostel, and rested for a while.

    Afterwards, I went to a beer hall called Hofbrauhaus. Somehow, I was able to find it without a map. I don't know how. When entering the place, I'm not sure how it was suppose to work. Do I just pick any table? I went up to the 2nd floor, and saw that there was a buffet, along with a performance by a German band. A lot of tourists there, and again, not sure if I just seat myself and start eating. I was looking for someone to pay, but could not find them.

    I went to eat at a Chinese restaurant, and assumed water was free. As it turned out, it was not free, and I was charged almost 2 euros. The chicken curry was great, but I hated the idea of paying for water. I returned to the hostel, and just very happy that this trip was actually happening. And it was only the beginning.

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  • 06Mar 2010

    3 Visiting a World War II Site 03/06/2010 Germany —

    Udlding, Dachau, Germany

    Description

    I would get ready, and looking outside, it was snowing. I had enough of snow, after having to shovel a lot of it, back home, and getting sore as a result. I left later than planned, hoping it would stop. But with checkout time approaching, I could not wait any longer. Plus that was valuable sightseeing time wasting away. I could not and should not snow let stop me.

    After taking care of that, and leaving my backpack in storage, I would go to the train station, and try using the machine to buy a ticket. But it was not accepting my credit card, so I had to use cash, to buy an all-day ticket, for a train that would take me to Dachau, a town just outside of Munich. The ride would take about 40 minutes. Then I had to transfer to a bus, taking me to the World War II site, that the town is well-known for.

    I walked to the gate entrance of Dachau Concentration Camp. On the gate, it would say "arbeit macht frei", translating into "work makes you free", giving false hope to people being held there. I entered through it, and I was in an actual concentration camp. Sometimes, I could not believe it myself!

    I went inside to see the museum, which used to be the camp administration building. The museum told the history of the camp, as it was the very concentration camp, opened in 1933. It starts with the rise of the Nazis, the camp system, how it was run, the type of prisoners, and daily life there, among other things. Plus a little information about the various prisoners who were in Dachau. And a short film as well, which is definitely worth a watch.

    After seeing the museum, I went back out, and it had stopped snowing. And a little later, the sun would come out. The camp was blanketed with snow. I walked around the square, where roll call was taken. The prisoners had to remain standing, until every single one was accounted for. And it would have been done in all kinds of weather, including snow. I can't imagine how long they would stand, even with my feet hurting.

    Behind the museum, I would visit the bunker, where special prisoners were being held captive. They would include failed assassins and political opponents of Adolf Hitler. Then went to the square, where roll call was taken each day.

    In the middle of the camp, was the International Monument, consisting of different parts. One of them was the sculpture that looked like a barb wire of bodies, representing the prisoners who died from starvation and disease. And another being the different colors of triangles. The triangles represented the cloth patches that each prisoner had to wear, with each color indicating what type of prisoner. Like yellow for Jews, purple for Jehovah's Witnesses, and red for political prisoners. Most often, Jews had to wear yellow and another color.

    There was the crematorium, where the bodies were burned, and the gas chamber, where dead bodies are stored before being cremated. Only 1 set of barracks remain, and the rest of the camp has the foundations of the barracks. Inside the barracks, a bunch of wooden bunk beds along with a set of toilets. At one end of the camp, are the various religious memorials.

    Now, I have been to Holocaust memorials in the US, and the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC, but neither compare to visiting a site where it actually happened. Just scary and sad, to stand where it really happened.

    I would take the bus, then the train back to Munich.

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  • 06Mar 2010

    4 Having Dinner in Munich 03/06/2010 Germany —

    Altstadt, Munich, Germany

    Description

    I returned to Munch, going straight to Marienplatz. Then I headed to the beer hall, and again, undecided about the buffet. I was not sure it was worth 20 euros, which translates to about 28 dollars. I figure, I'll come back the next day.

    I tried to look for another place to eat, looking into the guidebook. It was not easy walking around, with the ground being icy. I did have a near slip and fall, and no idea how I regained my balance. Definitely did not want another injury. Few months back, I twisted my ankle when I slipped and fell when running on frozen ground. Only I did not know it was frozen, since I was not aware it was freezing rain, and not just rain.

    Anyway, I went to Frauenkirche, the 2 clock towers, and go to the restaurant, Nurnberger Bratwurst Glockl am Dom. I went to the 2nd floor and sat at a table. I would have sausages with sauerkraut for dinner. Good, but I overpaid. I would have been better off at the buffet. The restaurant itself, looked like an old historic place, with the staff dressed in period costumes. An okay place, but not sure if I would return.

    There was not much time left, so I hurried to the hostel to pick up my backpack. Then to the train station, bought my ticket, and quickly hopped on the train with no time left. As soon as I got on, the doors closed, and I went down looking for a seat, but could not find any. So I had to stand for some time, until a bunch of people got off. Then I sat down, and would sleep the rest of the way, as I left Munich.

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  • 06Mar 2010

    5 Arrived in the Snow 03/06/2010 Germany —

    Eschach, Füssen, Germany

    Description

    I arrived in Fussen, and when getting out, it was snowing. And I did see some women with ski equipment. I must be near the Alps. I tried to follow directions from a printout, but ended up lost. The street names are not easy to make sense of, and not every intersection has a sign. One guy offered his help, but still got lost. So I stopped by a movie theater, and asked a woman, who led me to the right direction. I was able to find the hostel, LA House.

    Once there, I had to call the owner on a cell phone, which was hanging on a nail near the door. Then waited until he came. When he did, I was able to check in, and getting settled there. I would be given an old-fashioned key, kind of what you see in cartoons. It can be difficult to unlock the door sometimes.

    After dropping my things in the room, I went to look for a grocery store, hoping to get a bottle of water. But none were open. I found a Chinese restaurant that was open, and wanted a cold drink. There was a lady trying to serve me, but a language barrier that made things difficult, and to a point, where I just gave up, because I was so close to losing my cool.

    I went back to the hostel and tried to relax. I did have the room all to myself, and it seemed like the entire place to myself. I did not see another person in the hostel. I went to sleep.

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  • 07Mar 2010

    6 2 Castles 03/07/2010 Germany —

    Horn, Schwangau, Germany

    Description

    When I woke up, and looked out the window, I saw the Alps. Just amazing to see, on what looked like a nicer day.

    After packing up and eating breakfast, I left my backpack in the hostel. Then went to the bus stop, where a bus would take me to the stop to get off. Then I had to walk uphill to the ticket office. I waited in line, which was moving slow. I thought it was a bit busy, but I can't imagine what summer would have been like. I was able to get 2 tickets for the 2 castles, each with a tour time, 2 hours apart. So enough time to linger and not have to hurry.

    A little interesting thing about using a public WC. When having to pay for one and going through the turnstile, one side was going in, and the other side was going out. But I and other tourists thought one side was for men and the other side for women. Talk about looking (and acting) like a tourist. :D

    I would go to the 1st castle, Hohenschwangau Castle. And with all the slush on the ground, it was not easy getting there, but this one was not far at all. I got there really early, and just lingered around the castle, until my time came.

    Hohenschwangau Castle was built in the 12th century, and later fell into disrepair. It would be restored in the 1800's, into a fairy tale castle that we see today. This was where King Ludwig lived during his childhood. Ludwig was the ruler of Bavaria in the 1800's, and wanted a castle of his own, which I would visit later on. The rooms were pretty much left as they were during Ludwig's time.

    Next was the 2nd castle, Neuschwanstein Castle. And getting there was a challenge, going uphill and on snow, with some parts probably mixed with manure, with horses passing by. Needless to say, it would take a while. I did make a few stops along the way, then had to hurry to make it to the tour on time. Running up on a snowy hill, is not fun at all. But I made it, and received an audioguide, going through this one like the other one.

    Neuschwanstein Castle was built during Ludwig's time, who wanted a fairy tale castle of his own. He was obsessed with the Middle Ages, and wanted to live like a king did during that time. The castle was not finished in his lifetime, as Ludwig was declared insane and taken away. Shortly after, he was found dead at the bottom of the lake. No one knows if it was suicide or murder. Not long after, Neuschwanstein Castle became a tourist attraction.

    And it was the inspiration for Cinderella's Castle (or is it Sleeping Beauty?) in the Disney theme parks, as it was actually visited by Walt Disney himself. So now, I have seen the real thing.

    After the tour, I took a break in the cafe, and getting a view of the surroundings from the windows. Then exiting the castle, I looked around the exterior. Then went to a platform, where I would get a much better view of Neuschwanstein Castle, and see the Alps and Mary's Bridge, which was closed. I was hoping to cross that one. Then I headed downhill, which was easier than going up hill. So I got down there, and then took the bus back to town.

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  • 07Mar 2010

    7 Walk Around Town 03/07/2010 Germany —

    Eschach, Füssen, Germany

    Description

    The bus took me back to the train station, and looking at the schedule, I had 2 hours to see the town of Fussen.

    I walked around town, which was a ghost town, since it was Sunday and after 5 PM. I walked to the medieval wall, which does give the town that historic feel. Just looking at it, it almost feels like a theme park, because it does look too good to be true. And it probably is a theme park, during the summer.

    I walked along the Lech River and pass by a few churches. One of them had a museum. But all of them were closed, since it was after hours. It was very cold and icy, but the snow does add to the charm, seeing it on the rooftops of homes that look historic. Plus it was nice to see the sun set on the town. And with the quietness, it does feel like I stepped back in time. Seeing the buildings and clock towers, and remembering this is actually Europe, all remind me why I love travel in the first place.

    It took me over an hour, and I headed back to the hostel, to pick up my backpack. Then to the train station, where I waited until the train arrived. I hopped on it, and headed back to Munich. I did sleep part of the way.

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  • 07Mar 2010

    8 Back in Munich 03/07/2010 Germany —

    Altstadt, Munich, Germany

    Description

    I arrived and went to the Euro Youth Hostel, which was very close to the station. I checked in and dropped my things off. This was a very nice hostel.

    Afterwards, I left, and went out to the beer hall, hoping to catch the buffet. I did not have much time left. Why I chose to walk there, I don't know. I just wanted to get there, but could not run, since the ground was still icy. There was salt on the ground, but it did not seem effective. I still had to tread carefully, and did make it there. But I was too late, and missed the buffet. Maybe in my next visit to Munich. I just ate dinner somewhere else, which was not exactly good, and a waste.

    Then returned to the hostel, and just relaxed and took care of some things. When using the internet, I had to get used to a keyboard, with letters arranged a little different, with some buttons having German letters. Then went to sleep.

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  • 08Mar 2010

    9 Last Day In Germany 03/08/2010 Germany —

    Köln-Altstadt-Nord, Cologne, Germany

    Description

    It was time to move again. After getting ready and packing out, I headed to the train station, where I would have a little difficulty with the ticket machine. It was not accepting my credit card, so I had to pay cash. I hopped on the S-Bahn, and headed to the Munich airport.

    I got there, and checked in at the airport, with Air Berlin. But this was not the end of the trip. Just unusual to head back to the airport that I arrived in, and not return home. At least to me anyway. Instead, I will be flying to Cologne. I chose this option since this and taking the train would cost about the same, so it came down to saving time. I waited at the gate, until it was time to board.

    I got on the plane, which then, took me to Cologne. A short flight, which was not full, and getting there in an hour. Then I had to take a train to the main train station, where I would store my backpack in some kind of automatic locker. I received a card, which I'll need to retrieve it later on. Never saw anything like it.

    I stepped out of the train station, and there it was, Koln Cathedral. By the way, Koln is the German name for Cologne, and I may use the 2 interchangeably. Anyway, the cathedral was the main reason for my visit. Depending how long it took, I would either spend the night there, or just move on to Amsterdam. Just have to see how things turn out.

    Looking at the Cathedral, it was so big. I looked around the exterior, then went inside of it. It was cold outside, and it was cold inside as well. It did surprise me that the cathedral was not heated. I sat down, and looked at the stained glass windows, and see how huge this place was. Then toured around the cathedral, starting with the crucifix at one of the chapels. Then went to see the other various features along the way.

    Constructed started in 1248 during the Middle Ages, and was completed by 1880. Yes, it took over 6 centuries to build this thing. The cathedral suffered damage during World War II, but surprisingly, it was still standing, and one of the few that remained standing. That is remarkable, when considering the fact that almost all of Germany was flattened by bombs. Since then, it has been restored to its original appearance over the years.

    After walking around the inside, I went outside. Looked around for a bit, looking at the doors. Then decided to climb the Church Spire. I don't know why, but I felt like I had to do it. Never easy, and the winding, twisting stairs made it tougher, with one side being more narrow than the other, which is an issue when the 2 ways of traffic have to pass each other. Hard for me to describe. Along the way, I stopped to see the huge church bell, along with small bells. I can't imagine how loud it be, if it rung while in the room. There was a point where I thought I was done, with the stairway ending. But there was a separate stairway, so more climbing. So a bit of a tease there.

    I reached the top, for views of the city and the Rhine. But it was not as good as it should be. Why is that? More about that in the same review, which I put a link to, earlier. After looking around, I went back down, which was not as tiring. Then I went to have some lunch at a McDonald's. After eating, then toured the city.

    I would pass by a museum, and walk along the Rhine River. There was the market square, and Fishmarkt with the picturesque houses, giving the area that historic feel. I passed by City Hall, which was under construction. An okay walking tour, which I was following from a guidebook, but not really memorable. I would have wanted to visit the Chocolate Museum, but being that it was Monday, it was closed. Cologne was an enjoyable city to see, but I was satisfied with my visit.

    I headed back to the train station, and picked up my things. I bought the ticket, and caught the next train out, as I chose not to spend the night in Cologne. So I left Germany, getting a chance to visit this year in 2010, after not getting to in 2009, when I planned to go to 5 different places. This trip, I would get to visit 3 of them, so I kind of made up for that.

    Next part of the trip was the Netherlands, which is in the Netherlands blog!

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  • 08Mar 2010

    10 Not Knowing 03/08/2010 Netherlands —

    De Wallen, Amsterdam, Netherlands

    Description

    I caught the train out of Cologne, and would have to make 3 connections. But it was the cheaper option, so I took it. Along the way, the train was stopped, and I saw police cars there. No idea what was going on, and when asking one of the ticket guys, he just told me that they stopped because of police. And would not give any further explanation. I was not happy because that caused me to miss my connection at one of the stops.

    I did not realize that I crossed the border into the Netherlands, until I heard some people speak a language that did not sound German, plus a rail map telling me that the town I was in, told me that I was no longer in Germany. No passport check at all. I guess that is how it is in the European Union.

    I would miss 2 connections, causing me to arrive into Amsterdam an hour later than planned. Once there, I went to the hostel, which I had booked for 2 nights, but neither was this night. So I hoped that there was still a bed available. I left the train station, and walked down Damrak.

    I got to the Heart of Amsterdam hostel. I hoped there was still space. And it turned out they did. So I was able to check in that night. Just glad that I have a bed to sleep on, and not have to break my budget. I did not realize that I would stay at a hostel in the Red Light District.

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  • 09Mar 2010

    11 City Tour 03/09/2010 Netherlands —

    De Wallen, Amsterdam, Netherlands

    Description

    I started the day, with touring the City, following along the guidebook. It began at Central Station, and I headed there. Along the way, I heard knocking on windows, which were prostitutes trying to get my attention. Yes, even in the morning daylight.

    Once at Central Station, I walked down Damrak, passing by the Sex Museum (which I did not go to), and stopping by a place to try French fries with mayonnaise, which is a Flemish thing. It was good, but I did not like the paper cone. I continued on, til I reached Dam Square. There was the Royal Palace, which was going through renovations, so with the scaffolding, I did not get a good view of the building. I went inside the New Church, which was a museum that I had to pay for. I just wanted to look at the church interior, but could barely get a peek.

    I went down the pedestrian street, Kalverstraat, which had shops and fast-food chains. I stopped by the hidden Catholic Church, which was that way, back when Catholicism was illegal in the late 1500's. It was not open, so I moved on, to the Amsterdam History Museum. I just went around the courtyard, planning to see the museum later.

    I continued on to the Begijnhof, which was a place where the women lived, the ones who dedicated their lives to God, but not exactly nuns, going back to the 14th century. Hard for me to explain. Photos were not allowed of the homes and its residents, but I did take pictures of the 2 churches that I visited. One of them was a Catholic church, while the other an English church, and I could see the difference between the 2.

    I went back to the hostel, and on the way, is when I noticed the canals, which are throughout the city. Just something unique, as if they are rivers along the streets. I did get lost, but found my way, by following signs leading me to Central Station. Once at the hostel, I just rested, as I was really feeling tired, and had to take care of some business on the computer.

    Afterwards, I am back out, and to the Amsterdam History Museum. I bought a museum pass called the Museumkaart, costing about 40 euros. It included most of the ones that I planned to visit, saving money in the long run. I toured this museum, focusing on some parts, and skimmed through others, as it is very extensive. A history museum on the city, with a bunch of paintings from the Dutch Golden Age. And a separate gallery, the Civil Guards Gallery, which has paintings of city's heroes. The fun part was playing with the bells.

    After the museum, I continued to tour the city, passing by the Mint Tower, and the Flower Market, as the Netherlands is known for its tulips. At this point, I decided to visit the Anne Frank House. It would be quite a walk, but I figure visit it and get it out of the way. I did get there, and would have enough time to tour the house.

    This building was the hiding place for Anne Frank and her family, to hide from the Nazis, who were rounding up the Jews during World War II. The Frank family with friends hid there for a few years, which during that time, Anne wrote her diary. They were discovered and arrested. Then they were sent to their deaths at Auschwitz in Poland. Of the 8 people that stayed, Anne’s father, Otto, was the only survivor. When he returned to Amsterdam, he had his daughter’s diaries published. Now a museum, but iunfortunate that it is going under renovation, which meant that Anne's original diary was not on display.

    I walked back to the hostel, and met a few people who were in the same room as me. There was one guy from Spain, who just moved to Amsterdam. And 2 guys from Finland, visiting a friend in the Netherlands. We all decided to grab dinner and find a bar to hang out at. We walked around the Red Light District, until we came across an Asian restaurant called Wok. We chose the components and they cook them together. I got rice, chicken, and pepper Beijing sauce. I ate and was very satisfied, as this actually filled me up.

    We walked around, until we went to a bar to hang out. In this bar, there was a black cat who lives there, and jumped on the bar table. Too bad that I did not bring a camera with me. After that, I went back to the hostel, and took care of some things, before going to bed.

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  • 10Mar 2010

    12 Museums and Red Light 03/10/2010 Netherlands —

    De Wallen, Amsterdam, Netherlands

    Description

    I got up later than planned, and headed to Dam Square. Along the way, I did notice a lot of people on bikes, and a separate traffic light for bikes. I did think about renting a bike, but after struggling to ride one in my last trip, I decided to pass on it. Maybe next time.

    I went to see more of the city, passing along Kalverstraat and then on Liedsestraat. No idea how to pronounce these street names. I did find a cheap supermarket, which looked like only locals shopped there. I don't recall the name, but a huge bottle of water there, costs less than buying half that size at a shop near the hostel. I wished I found this place before, which would have saved me some money.

    I went along Liedsestraat, passing by expensive shops on fashion and cafes. I did stop by one clothing store, Metz & Co. Not to shop but to the cafe at the top, where I could see the top of the city. I felt like I had to buy something to justify my visit there. So I overpaid for a Coke, costing 3 euros. I got nice views though.

    I continued along, to a square called Leidseplein, with one street called Restaurant Row. If I had more money to burn, I would definitely try some of those places. And a cafe, from what I read, that actually serves marijuana. I didn't bother to check out that place. Instead, I moved on, until I reached the Rijksmuseum.

    This museum focused on Dutch art from the Golden Age. I toured around the place, looking at the paintings from the Dutch Golden Age, the 1600's. The collection from artists like Rembrant, Johannes Vermeer, Frans Hals, and Jan Steen. With these paintings, they served as photographs of the time, capturing everyday life, as well as group portraits. I would learn about Rembrandt van Rijn, considered one of the greatest Dutch painter of all time. I often hear his name referenced in TV shows and movies. The place was currently going under renovations.

    After the museum, I went to Museumplein, a park that is between the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum (which I'll visit next). There, I would see the "I Amsterdam" sign, and see people climbing on it.

    Then to the Van Gogh Museum, which houses the artwork of Vincent Van Gogh. He was the Dutch artist who started painting at a very young age, and has moved around. His artwork tells the story of his life, who has had his emotional highs and lows throughout his life. Van Gogh has definitely had issues, that I think some people can relate to, like myself. His life ended when he committed suicide. I have to say, it is disappointing that some paintings were not there. When following a museum tour in the guidebook, I can definitely understand Vincent Van Gogh as a human.

    After the museum, I was going to walk back, but my feet were hurting really badly, so I decided to take a tram back to Dam Square. Well, when getting on board, there was a booth, where I paid the fare. I fell asleep and ended up at Central Station. Then I walked on my way, feeling really tired.

    Along the way, I was approached by 2 French guys, asking me where a bank is, but I thought they said "bunk", so I led them towards the hostel. When they told me bank, that was when I had to lead them to Damrak, where we parted ways. I was not exactly sure, and was tired, cold, and sore, to deal with this further. And I wasted everyone's time. I should have said "I don't know".

    I was back at the hostel, and took a nap. When waking up, I walked around the Red Light District, which is what Amsterdam is known for. It got the name because of the prostitutes who had red lights outside of their windows. Not really sure how the origin and how it got stuck with it. I'd pass by unusual places like a condom shop, and see men coming out of the booths. ;) The area is basically in-your-face, kinky stuff, out in the open. Not really judging, just observing. There was one particular narrow alleyway, which has room for only one-way traffic, making it very close to the prostitute booths. Perhaps the most unusual sight in the area, is the Old Church, which does seem out of the place, when you really think about it.

    I was about to head back to the hostel, until I ran into the guys, who were about to head out to look for a place to eat. I joined them, and suggested the Thai takeout place. So we went there, and got our food, then returned to the hostel to eat there. It was fun hanging out with them, and they headed back out, while I went to the room, to sleep.

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  • 11Mar 2010

    13 Churches and Stadium 03/11/2010 Netherlands —

    De Wallen, Amsterdam, Netherlands

    Description

    I was awaken by a girl, who spoke loud on her cell phone. So annoying, as it has not occurred to this girl that there are people sleeping. It's amazing how stupid people can be.

    I ate breakfast and would hang out with the same guys for the last time, as 2 of them will be leaving town shortly. It was a great meeting and hanging out with them.

    I would continue walking around the Red Light District, starting at Belle, a monument to sex workers. And a peeing sign, pointing to a urinal. I walked around the Old Church, then along one of the canals, until I reached the Amstelkring Museum, also called Our Lord in the Attic - A Hidden Catholic Church.

    The top 3 floors of the house served as the church, hence the name. It was an innovative way to gather together for Catholics to worship. They had to do it in secret, since Amsterdam was mainly Protestant at the time. It has also served as a home, and you can see the various rooms that the families stayed at, like the bedroom and the kitchen. Seeing the rooms as they were back in the day, along with the altar, makes a visit well worth it.

    Afterwards, I went to the Old Church. This place did not seem to have much. A pipe organ and a winding staircase, but that's it. The place has been stripped away of the Catholic images, when the Protestants took over Holland. So not much left, and not much to see. Luckily, I had the museum pass, otherwise not worth the admission price.

    I continued to walk around, seeing the canals around the city. Kind of like Venice, but kind of different in other ways, as vehicles are allowed in Amsterdam, even along the canals. I would head to Chinatown, and took a peek inside the Buddhist temple. After that, I continued on and saw another "I Amsterdam" sign. I pass by more crazy places, like the Erotic Museum. And no, I did not visit them, since they were not covered by the museum pass. Maybe some other time. :)

    Next place I would head to, is the Olympic Experience. Getting there, I would ride a tram all the way, which was pretty far. And not pay at all. Yes, I would get a free ride all the way, but would get off a little early. So I had to walk to the stadium, the rest of the way.

    I got there, and would enter the stadium. There was a museum inside, which was about mainly about the Olympics. After the museum, I walked around the track, seeing the cauldron, which was way up high. Amsterdam hosted the Summer Games in 1928, and this was the first time the Olympic flame had been lit, which has been a tradition in every Olympics since then. There is a museum that highlights the Dutch and their sports, plus different aspects of the Olympic Games. The exhibitions are in Dutch only, so that just made it impossible for me to enjoy this place.Not worth making the trip there, which is really out-of-way from other attractions.

    Afterwards, I headed back, and yes, I did pay this time. I got off near the Mint Tower, and walked around for a bit, until I got some fast food. Then went back to the hostel, as I got tired of walking around. So I went back to the hostel, to nap for a while, only to be awakened by the same girl talking on her cell phone.

    I went back out and walked on the pedestrian street, where I would stop by a shopping mall. I went to the top, where I could get a panoramic view of the city. But it was too dark to see, and not worth overpaying for something to justify staying there. So I passed, and went back to the hostel. I went to the supermarket to buy some things, then back to the hostel.

    I just hung out there for the rest of the night, and took care some of business. This would be my last full day in Amsterdam.

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  • 12Mar 2010

    14 Day in Haarlem 03/12/2010 Netherlands —

    Stationsbuurt, Haarlem, Netherlands

    Description

    It was time to leave Amsterdam, so I had to pack everything, and say goodbye to the people that I have met in this hostel. After checking out, I walked to Central Station, and had to buy a ticket from the desk, since the machine was not accepting my credit card or cash, which I thought was unusual. And buying from a desk, a fee is charged, which is retarded.

    I got on the train, and it left Amsterdam, and headed to Haarlem. Along the way during the ride, I got to see a windmill and farmland, which used to be part of the North Sea. The ride was short, and once I arrived, I hopped on a bus to my next hostel.

    I was not sure where to get off, as the guidebook was not clear about that. I kept looking for street signs, hoping I did not miss my stop. When I passed the street that I think I was suppose to get off at, I quickly got off, and went back to that street. Only that it was not the right one. So I looked at the list of stops, and saw that the name of the hostel was also the name of the stop. As it turned out, I actually did get off at the right stop, but not realize it. So I walked back, and there it was, Stayokay Haarlem.

    The only hostel in town, and the cheapest one. I checked in and dropped my things off. Since it was off-season, there was plenty of room. The place did have more of a hotel feel. Afterwards, it was a bus ride back to town. Then walked to the main square.

    I walked around Market Square, mainly looking at the buildings in the area, like the Town Hall and Meat Hall. Not nearly crowded, as the place does seem to have more locals. Then I went to Grote Kerk, which is the large church building that stands out the most in the square.

    This church was built over a 150-year period (1390-1540). It was called St. Bavo, as it was originally Catholic. By the late 1500’s, it became Protestant, along with the rest of the Netherlands, and the name was changed to its current name, Grote Kerk, which means Great Church. Entering the church, it was freezing cold, as it was not heated at all. Some things to see include model ships, a pendulum (hanging on the wall), the model of the church, and of course, the huge pipe organ, among other things. And the lantern in the choir area, making the burial site of Frans Hals.

    When exiting the church, I followed the signs to the Frans Hals Museum. As it turned out, it was a mistake, because I was led around a block, when going down a narrow street would have been faster. The museum was located on what appeared to be a quiet, residential street. This was an art museum that contains the works of the Dutch artist, and native to Haarlem. But it also has works of other artists from the Golden Age, mainly of scenes in Haarlem. There is also an exhibition “Haarlem in the 17th century”, showing how life was at that time.

    After the museum, I went to the De Adriaan Windmill. With Holland being known for windmills, I figure that I visit one of them. I did not have too much trouble finding it, and I did make it for the last tour. This windmill was a functional one at one time, built in 1779 and burned down in 1932. It would not be rebuilt and opened until 2002. Located along the river, it was used mainly for grinding grain rather than draining the land of water.

    Now, this windmill mainly operates as a museum, and opened to tourists. But it can only be seen on a guided tour, as one would learn about the different types of blades and how a windmill worked. And its main function to use wind as a way to provide energy, as well as draining the land of water, to provide more land to farm on.

    Afterwards, I walked around the windmill, getting a better view of it. Then around the block, and headed back to Market Square. Mainly to people-watch, as it seemed like a lot of Dutch teens were hanging out there. Haarlem does feel like a small town. I did try some fish called a herring, with onion. I have to say, it was not exactly good. But I figure try something new for change.

    I would head back to the hostel, and just take care of some business. I had to do some laundry, and the tough part was the dial, which was in Dutch only. I had to ask one of the staff to help out with that.

    I spent the rest of the day, trying to plan out my next day, as I considered doing 4 towns in 1 day. And get to meet the only other person sharing the same room as me.

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  • 13Mar 2010

    15 Leaving the Netherlands 03/13/2010 Netherlands —

    Stationsbuurt, Haarlem, Netherlands

    Description

    It was time to go. I would eat breakfast at the hostel, then wrap up some food to save for later. And save me money in the process.

    I considered visiting 4 cities in 1 day. I thought about stopping by Amsterdam to visit 1 more museum, then head to Brussels, and finally Bruges. But I decided to cut Amsterdam out, and just head straight to Brussels. This would be the only day I had a chance to visit the museums, so I would need all the time that I can get.

    I had to pack up, and check out. I rode the bus to the train station. Then I had to buy a ticket from the desk. As it turned out, I had to pay a fee of 3.50. When asking about that, the lady gave me no answer. I was so annoyed by that. And they did not accept credit card, so I had to go to a ATM to withdraw more cash.

    I hurried to the train, but it would not leave for 15 minutes. I would go to Hague, where I had to change trains. Then I was on my way to Belgium.

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  • 13Mar 2010

    16 Smurfing Through Museums 03/13/2010 Belgium —

    Brussels, Belgium

    Description

    I slept during half of the train journey, and no idea when I crossed the border into Belgium. Once again, no passport check.

    I arrived, and looked for the lockers, to store my backpack. When I found them, they would cost 3 euros, but I did not have exact change. Rather than scrambling to break a big bill, I just decided to carry it around. It would definitely make things more difficult.

    I tried to figure my way around, as I looked for the museums. I stopped by a hotel for directions and a map. They showed me how to get there, and I followed them, leading me uphill through a park. I went to a cobblestone street, to Place Royale, which I thought was the museum. But it wasn't, and it took a little while for me to find it.

    When I did find it, I would stand in a slow line. I got a combo ticket in the Royal Museums of Fine Arts, which had a museum for ancient and modern art. I went to the ancient part first, which has an extensive collection of Flemish paintings, going back to the late 15th century, to the 18th century, including some from Peter Paul Ruben. The modern part picks up where the ancient part left off, containing art from the 18th century to the present. I'd say, worth a look if time permits.

    After the museum, I walked down the hill, passing the garden square, or whatever it is called, and stopped by a visitor center, as I was going to the Belgian Comic Strip Center. I got the directions, and went through the mall hallway, which looked like some passageway to some palace. As I went through it, there was a marching band that passed by. I stopped to see. After they passed, I went through the mall, and on my way to the museum.

    Getting there was challenging, as not every intersection has street signs, and street names can change without notice. I did get there, and went in. One of the things I would see, is a baby Smurf statue. Then paid admission and toured the museum.

    The museum is mainly about the history of comics in Belgium, and the popular characters from them. I was given an English tour book, to tour the museum, as most of it is in French or Dutch. Now, I am not sure if I would recommend this place to the average tourist.

    For me, I just had to see the Smurfs exhibit. The Smurfs made their debut in the 1950's, created by Peyo. They became well-known when it became a cartoon series by Hanna-Barbera in the 80's. Having grown up on the Smurfs in the 1980's, as I would get up early Saturday mornings, and quickly turn on the TV, and the Smurfs were on. There is the mushroom home and some drawings of the Smurfs, along with the cage that Gargamel used to imprison them and the flute from the movie "The Smurfs and the Magic Flute". (Now, I know none of them are actually real, but still, just reliving my childhood).

    After seeing the Comic Strip Center, I was heading back and got lost along the way. I ended up being near a supermarket and a place to call home, which I did. Plus at the market, I was able to get some items at cheap prices. Then I headed to Central Station. This was the day focused mainly on the museums, since they are all closed on Monday, which would be the only other day I would be in Brussels.

    I bought a ticket to Bruges, and had to wait a little while. When the time came, I hopped on, and on my way. The ride would take about an hour, and I arrived in Bruges. I arrived in a small town at night, which can be tricky, but good thing there were city maps throughout the city. If not for them, I probably would not found the hostel that I was staying at.

    I arrived at the hostel, and went to my room. This place had no keys, and I was not too happy about the co-ed bathroom and shower room with no locks. After dropping my things off, I went out to a stand, to get some fries. This time, I got it with ketchup and mayo, which would be my dinner. Then headed back to the hostel, and that would be it.

    I looked forward to seeing this town the next day.

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  • 14Mar 2010

    17 A Nice Small Town 03/14/2010 Belgium —

    Bruges, Belgium

    Description

    I started out the day, with a walk to Market Square. I could hear the church bells ringing, giving that old town feel. Once at the square, I looked for a place to grab something to eat. I stopped by a cafe, to try the Dream Waffle, which was 2 scoops of ice cream and syrup on the waffle. While I did enjoy eating it, but did not like the fact that it cost 11 euros. I did not feel so good, spending that much money, just like that.

    I started the tour at Market Square, and looked around. The architecture of the buildings does feel like I am stepping back in time. Afterwards, I went to the bell tower, where I learned that 2 sides of the view are closed off. I passed on it at first, since I did not think it was worth the price of admission for partial views.

    So I went to Burg Square, with more impressive architecture. I visited the Basilica of the Holy Blood, which has 2 chapels, located at the corner of the square. One of them is the lower chapel, with its Romanesque style, looks very simple, as there is hardly any church art in it. There was some music playing in the background, which does enhance the feel of the place. And the other being the upper chapel, with its Gothic architecture. This one has a lot more church art, which in itself, is nice to look at. There is also a Treasury, but that requires separate admission, costing some euros, and not covered by any museum pass.

    I went to the City Hall, and learned about the museum pass. It sounded like a good deal, but the place did not accept credit card. But the bell tower did. I exited and went to some place to use a computer quickly. Then to the Belfry of Bruges, where I did buy the museum pass. And changed my mind, deciding to go to the top of the bell tower.

    The Belfry of Bruges is a bell tower, and the tallest building in town. Also called the Belfort, it dates back to around 1240. The tower has been burned down and rebuilt over the centuries. And it is nice to look at, and hear the bells through the town.

    I climbed the stairs, which needless to say, was very tiring, and never seem to end. I did make some stops along the way, in spots where there were displays of clock at work, and a treasure chest. I did make it to the top, and saw that 2 sides were indeed, closed off. And there was not much space for the sides that were open, as half of the area was closed. But I was treated with views of Bruges.

    I went back down, which was not as hard. Then to Burg Square, and inside the Renaissance Hall. I picked up the audioguide and listened as I looked at the woodcarving statue above the fireplace, and the paintings of relatives around the room, among a few other things on the mantel. Photography was not allowed, but an interesting place to see.

    Next, I went to the Crowne Plaza Hotel, and went downstairs, which had archaeological ruins of what used to be a fort. Then walked around town, crossing over a canal, then following it, as I was admiring the medieval appearance of the area. Like being in a theme park, except that this is the real thing. I did reach a spot, dubbed as the "postcard view" by a guidebook. Couldn't argue with that, as the spot is really nice to see.

    I went to the Groeninge Museum, which has Flemish art from the 1400's. This museum also houses art from other eras as well, going up to the 20th century, mainly focusing on works by Belgian artists. Worth a look! Then I went to the Memling Museum, which was once known as St. John’s Hospital during the Middle Ages. It contains the Flemish Primitives artwork of Hans Memling. Also, some old medical tools and equipment, plus learn the history of the building, and how it operated as a medical facility. Also on display, are some gruesome paintings of medical procedure being done. Other highlights include the Shrine of St. Ursula and the huge altarpiece in the main altar of the hospital, featuring St. John the Baptist.

    After that, it was to the Church of Our Lady, a huge church and very cold inside. The highlight in this place, is the Madonna and Child by Michelangelo, located in the chapel, which is the first thing seen when entering. It was the only work of his, that has left Italy during his lifetime. Completed in 1504, this was carved when he took a break from carving his most famous work, David.

    There is more church art and tombs in the apse, but that is separate admission. Some of the tombs include that of Mary of Burgundy and other rulers of Bruges. There are other church art and an altarpiece on display as well.

    I went to the Begijnhof next. Getting there was a bit of a challenge, as not all streets have signs, and some change along the way without warning. I did find it, which was like the one in Amsterdam, where women lived, who devoted their lives to God without taking vows that nuns would. This one was more open space, as I walked around it. I left and walked around a pond, as the area nearby reeked very badly, that I had to hold my nose.

    I went back to the hostel, and saw that it was empty. I was the only person there at the time, and had one of the rooms to myself. I guess this time of year, it is only busy during the weekend. It did feel a little weird, but I'm not complaining. Located above a bar, the rooms are very basic, with bathrooms down the hall. And the bathrooms are shared by both the hostel and the bar. Overall, a good place to stay, as it was cheap and in a good location.

    I went back out, as it got dark. I passed by some chocolate shops as they were closing up for the day. I browsed but did not buy anything. And I stopped by a cafe to try a Belgian waffle with chocolate syrup on it. Very good! After that, I did part of the walking tour backwards, at night. I walked along the canal, seeing the town in a different way. It did have its own charm, as the place was very quiet. So I did have the place to myself at some point, walking to Burg Square and Market Square.

    I returned to the hostel, and relaxed the rest of the night.

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  • 15Mar 2010

    18 Last Quick Look at Bruges 03/15/2010 Belgium —

    Bruges, Belgium

    Description

    The start of my last full day in Europe. Getting up, I started packing, and decided to hit one more sight before leaving Bruges. First, I went to pick up a few snacks as my breakfast. Then to Burg Square, where I would visit City Hall, one of the few attractions that was open on Mondays. Plus it accepted the museum pass, which was still good.

    So I went inside, and looked around the Gothic Room. Photographs were not allowed, but I did like seeing the wall murals around the room. Then to the museum part, where I looked at the artifacts on display.

    After this quick visit, I went to the Basilica of the Holy Blood again. After seeing the 2 chapels again, I planned to see the Treasury. But it was not covered by the museum pass, so I did not go.

    So I went back to the hostel, to get my backpack. Then walked to the train station. I would wait in a slow ticket line, which caused me to just miss my train. So I had to wait for the next one.

    When the time came, I hopped on it right away. The train left Bruges, and I was heading back to Brussels.

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  • 15Mar 2010

    19 Walking Around Brussels 03/15/2010 Belgium —

    Brussels, Belgium

    Description

    Arriving in Brussels, I switched to the Metro. And ended up riding it without paying. I could not find any machine to get a ticket, and I wanted to get to the hostel quickly, hoping to save some time for sightseeing. Once I got off the Metro, I tried to follow directions on my printout, which were very confusing. Street names are hard to figure out, and I had to ask a total stranger for directions, who pointed the way for me.

    I got to the 2GO4 Hostel. I had to wait for check-in. Once that was taken care of, I dropped my things off, and went towards to Grand Place. I followed the walking tour, starting from the square, and taking me around the city. Grand Place is the historical square with Town Hall, and a bunch of smaller buildings that used to be guild halls. Nearby are a bunch of chocolate shops, which I did check out, but not sure what to get. I did try a few pieces of chocolate, which were really good.

    I left Grand Place, and went to the Galeries Royales St. Hubert, the oldest mall in Europe. I went halfway, in what looked like a secret passageway, then to a street that is full of restaurants, onto the Stock Exchange building. Nearby is the Church of St. Nicolas, where I went in to sit down and rest my feet. After a while, I went back out, and walked to the Place Royale, having to go up a hill, choosing to walk instead of taking a bus, since I did not have exact change.

    At this area, there was the Royal Palace, where the king of Belgium may be. I walked around the Upper Town area, passing by the art museums that I have to the other day, as well as a few sculpture gardens. And went inside the Notre-Dame du Sablon, where I would sit, look around, and rest my sore feet.

    To the Palace of Justice, where on the side, I could get a great view of Brussels. Looking like an old European town, with its clock towers and churches, always great to look at. And the Atomium can be seen in the distance, which would have been nice to visit, but just not enough time. I would head towards back to Grand Place, passing by cafes and galleries. And to Corner Tower, which used to be part of the city wall, and the only remaining thing left from the Middle Ages.

    I got back to Grand Place, as I saved the "grand finale" for last. And that finale would be Manneken-Pis, a small statue of a boy peeing into a fountain. I have read about it before, and saw the chocolate displays of it (can't imagine eating that), and now, seeing the real thing. That boy just keep taking a neverending "No. 1". A huge gathering of tourists, marveling at some statue taking a major piss. :)

    Afterwards, I stopped by a supermarket, buying some food and drinks, which are cheaper than going to a restaurant. Then back to the hostel, and got settled in the room. For the rest of the day, I would use the computer in the hostel, and talk to some people there, while waiting for a computer. I would meet a woman from Michigan, and we would actually talk some baseball. She was just starting her European adventure, as mine was about to end.

    When I could not access my e-mail, I would go across a street to a computer lab. And to my luck, there was a session that someone left behind without logging off. So I just sat there, and used up the remaining time, without paying. So it all worked out for me.

    I returned to the room, and talk with the people in the room, who are also traveling around Europe. I had to go to bed really early, or at least, not too late, since I have an early morning flight back home.

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  • 16Mar 2010

    20 Early Morning Return to Home 03/16/2010 USA —

    Philadelphia, USA

    Description

    I had to get up really early, as it was still dark outside. I had to pack up, and head out. I walked to the nearest train station, and take the train back to the airport.

    I arrived at the Brussels airport, and checked in. I would overhear that only 1 carry-on is allowed. And security for any US-bound flight is very strict, as some of the airline employees had to pat me up and down. I tried not to get upset about it, as I'm sure it is not pleasant for them either, to say the least. Once through all that, I boarded the plane, and headed back to the US. Good thing the flight was not full, so I could stretch my legs.

    I arrived in Atlanta, where I would make my connection. I had to wait 5 hours, as attempts to get an earlier flight were unsuccessful. Then I boarded the plane, taking me back to Philly. Then home.

    Thus, the end of my trip to Europe. And it actually happened this time.

    I'm not sure where my next trip will be. Maybe finally visit another continent, like South America? I've never been there before. Just have to wait and see.

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  • 08Oct 2010

    21 Europe II - Visitng Europe Again This Year 10/08/2010 USA —

    Philadelphia, USA

    Description

    After my last trip to Europe in March, I decided to take another one this year, as there are still many more places for me to see. And I ended up not traveling to go to baseball stadiums, because I was saving up for this trip. I held off til October, because I did not want to deal with the summer heat, and the prices are cheaper in the fall.

    This time, I will be visiting Hungary and Austria, with a possible side-trip to Slovakia. And finish the trip in Germany. Originally, I was going to start in Munich, and finish in Budapest. But I found out that the reverse route was actually cheaper, so I did that way. So it will be from Budapest, then through Austria, and finish in Munich.

    I flew out of Philly, and had to change planes twice. First, in Toronto, Canada, where the plane would get delayed, and worried about making my 2nd connection in Frankfurt, Germany. This was the first time I made 2 connections ever, and first making one in a different country that I'm not traveling in.

    I got to Frankfurt, and had to go through customs, and check-in and go through security again! I got to the gate, and barely made my flight to Budapest, Hungary.

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  • 09Oct 2010

    22 First Time in Eastern Europe 10/09/2010 Hungary —

    District XI., Budapest, Hungary

    Description

    I arrived into Hungary, landing in its capital, Budapest. This was my first ever visit to Eastern Europe, as I'm going behind what used to be the Iron Curtain. Yes, I still associate Eastern Europe with its Communist past.

    After getting into town by bus and the Metro, I followed directions to check into the first hostel of the trip, the Barocco Hostel. After checking in, I did not feel tired, so no nap. When trying to use the computer, the annoying thing is trying to type "@", which is done in some unusual way.

    Next, was taking the Metro, and figuring out the system. The train cars looked very old, as I rode it to the Hungarian Parliament. Once there, I was hoping to tour it, but was too late, as all the day's tours were sold out. So I would have to try again another day.

    Near the Parliament building, were some tents set up, with the promotion of the video game, EA Sports FIFA '11. I'm guessing this is as big deal in this part of the world, as Madden games are in the US. Also there are small soccer fields, where there were boys playing.

    I walked around the area, seeing the various monuments, like the one for the 1956 Uprising against Communist rule, and for Lajos Kossuth of the 1848 Revolution against Habsburg rule. Nearby, are a bunch of kids playing around, chasing each other around. Just shows how free they are, with no memory of Communism. And hearing them speak the local language to each other, just sounds cute.

    I walked towards the Danube River, seeing it for the first time. And had a hard time seeing the other side of town, because of the bright sun, which made it difficult to enjoy the views. I continued walking around, seeing statues, like the one for Imre Nagy, who lead the '56 Uprising.

    I stopped by a Subway to get some lunch, which was not too good. After that, I walked to Szabadsag Ter, and saw the Soviet War Memorial, in memory of the Soviets "liberating" Hungary from the Nazis. I'm surprised it was still there, as I thought anything Soviet-related, would be removed. As I looked at it, there were kids riding around it, and people walking their dogs, with one of them coming up to me, and sniffing me.

    I continued to see the park, and saw the US Embassy. I was going to take a picture of it, but a guard waved at me, telling me not to. I walked around, and went to the St. Istvan's Basilica. I went to the other side of the square, to look at it, and that was when the jet lag hit me. I had to sit down, to rest for a bit.

    St. Istvan's is a large Catholic church, and it turned that a wedding was taking place. I went up the stairs, and inside through the side entrance. I would see the chapel and the altar from far away, as parts of the church was closed off. It looked like another event was happening at the church, as I saw people entering, all dressed up.

    After that, I decided to head back to the hostel, as I was really feeling tired. I stopped by an Internet place to call home, then back to the hostel. I just relaxed for the rest of the day, and end up falling asleep for a couple hours, in a t-shirt. Not a good move, because the room got cold, and my throat got sore. I worried that this would make me sick.

    I dressed more warmly, then fell asleep again. When I woke up, it was already dark. I got to talk to people staying there, who were from different parts of the world. Then went out to get some dinner. When I got back, there was a movie night organized by one of the guys, and we all watched "Fun With Dick and Jane". It was a fun movie, and when it ended, they wanted to watch another. But I had some things to take care of, and it got late.

    Pretty good day, and it's only the beginning.

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  • 10Oct 2010

    23 Side Trip to Small Town 10/10/2010 Hungary —

    Eger, Hungary

    Description

    I decided to take a day trip to the town of Eger. Originally, I was going to do this trip on the next day, but because of a few places that I wanted to see, being closed on Mondays, I had to switch my plan around.

    I got up later than planned, and had help from one of the hostel staff, showing me train schedules. Then I went to the train station, and had to get my railpass validated. I end up running around, as I was not sure where exactly I had to get this done. Turned out it had to be done at the international ticket office. As I wrote the date on the railpass, I noticed it was 10-10-10. Well, I did do something special. I went to a small town in Hungary.

    I hopped on the train, catching it just in time before it took off. I would have to change trains in Fuzesabony, then I was headed to Eger. Once there, I tried to buy a bus ticket at the station, but was told that I had to buy on the bus, which is what I did. I rode it to town, and missed the stop. I would end up walking towards where the Eger Cathedral and Lyceum were.

    I entered inside the Lyceum, which is a university. I got in right before they stopped admitting any more people. I paid for the Astronomical Museum, and had to pass on the Library, since there was not much time left to see both. But I have to say, I had an interesting experience when given a tour of the camera obsura, with not it being done in Hungarian, but also being with a bunch of teens. Plus I had someone feeling me on my face. Since it was dark, I had no idea who touched me.

    Afterwards, I would enjoy the surrounding views of Eger at the top. And seeing how the camera obsura worked. Then to the Astronomical Museum, which has old instruments that astronomers used in past centuries. Across the hall, is the magic room, with the interactive exhibits to play around, like something you would see in a typical science museum.

    After leaving the Lyceum, I went to the Eger Basilica (or Cathedral). It was still open, and I went inside, to sit down to rest my sore feet. Being in a place like this, reminds me one of the reasons why I like traveling in Europe. It just feels special. I looked around, at the various church art. The cathedral was built in the 1830’s, back when Hungary was under Habsburg rule. Some features to check out, include the ceiling frescoes on the domes, as well as the art on the stained glass windows, which are all nice to see.

    After looking around, I left the cathedral. Then I would get some lunch, then sit on a bench on the main street, Szechenyi Utca. After that, I stopped by a pharmacy, as I starting to feel sick. I hoped to get something, but no sure how to proceed, and no one spoke English there. So I just left, and headed to Dobo Square.

    Dobo Square is the heart of Eger, with the Minorite Church dominating the square. I went inside the pink church, and looked around for a bit. Then back outside, to see the square and the statue of Istvan Dobo, who defended Eger against the Ottomans in 1552. Definitely a nice place to stroll or just sit and watch people going on with their lives. Definitely does not seem touristy at all.

    I went through the square, and crossed the bridge over the stream, to Little Dobo Square, which has hotels, restaurants, and shops. Then decide to proceed all the way to Eger Castle, going on the street Dobo utca. The cobblestone streets are certainly nice to look at, and give that historical feel, but they were absolutely murder on my already sore feet. Plus to get to the castle's entrance, I had to walk uphill.

    I got to Eger Castle, and decide to just pay to see the grounds, since I did not have much time left to see all the museums and other extra sights. There have been different castles built on the spot over the centuries. The current structure was used to repel the Turks in 1552, during the Siege of Eger.

    I walked around the premise, and would get great views of the town. There were ruins on the castle grounds, and it's fun to climb up and down the castle walls. On the other side, was a residential neighborhood, where I could see people going on with their lives.

    I left, and stopped by Dobo Square to rest for a bit. Then walked back to the train station. I got lost along the way, but did find my way back to the train station. By the time I got there, the next train back to Budapest, would be leaving any minute. I quickly got on, and just in time, because it would leave seconds later.

    The train ride would normally take 2 hours, but this one took 3 hours due to technical difficulties. That was the only part I could make out in the announcement, which was only done in Hungarian. Once back in Budapest, I stopped by a grocery store, to get a microwave dinner. I should have realized in my earlier travels, that buying food from the grocery store is cheaper than eating at restaurants. After that, I was back at the hostel, and eating a dinner that was really good, for half the price.

    It had been a nice day to see a small European town. Only wish I had gotten up early enough to see more.

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  • 11Oct 2010

    24 Buda Monuments 10/11/2010 Hungary —

    District XI., Budapest, Hungary

    Description

    I would have to switch hostels this day, mainly because of one of the hostels that I booked with, had no room for the 3rd night. So I had to reserve with a different one. Which meant, I had to pack up, check-out, and then go to the other hostel. I did not like doing this, since it ate away valuable time, mainly for finding it and getting there.

    I arrived at the Caterina Hostel, which was also hard to find, with no obvious sign. Once inside, I had to go up a few flight of stairs. I was able to check in, but it was currently lockout period. With this taken care of, I was deciding what to do next.

    I made up my mind to visit Castle Hill, which is on the other side of the city. The city is divided by the Danube, into Buda and Pest, hence Budapest. I had to take a bus to the other side of the Danube, then up a hill. Once in the area, I walked towards the funicular stop, which was the start of a walking tour, that I was following in the guidebook that I carried around. The funicular was closed, so no rides on that.

    I started walking around the Royal Palace, to a spot where I would get nice panoramic view of the Pest side, with its landmarks and the river itself. Enjoyed the views, and headed to the Hungarian National Gallery, but that was closed due to renovations. I continued around the palace premise, and considered the Budapest History Museum, but had to pass on it, since it would have taken a lot of time.

    I passed by some foundations that were recently uncovered, which was across from a mansion and theater. Then came upon the former War of Ministry building, which really stood out, because it still had the bullet holes from World War II and the Soviet response to the 1956 Uprising.

    I walked along Tarnok utca, until I reached the Matthias Church, named after the popular Renaissance king, who got married there twice. I looked at the exterior, then had to pay to see the interior. Part of the church was closed off due to renovations. I walked around, looking at the St. Imre chapel and the tomb nearby. Then sat down, and looked at the altar. Exiting out of the church, my eyes had to adjust from the dim-litted place to the bright sun. And I could see other people, who exited the same time, having the same issue. Kind of funny, if you really think about it.

    I continued to the Fisherman's Bastion, a rampart giving views of the Danube and Pest. My guidebook said it was not really worth paying to climb it, so I passed on it. Instead, there was a terrace below the rampart, that had the same view for free. So I did it that way.

    After that, I went down Szentharomsag Utca, where along the way, I had some guy making racist references as I passed by, as they assumed I could not speak English well. I did not say anything, but felt like I should have. It never ceases to amaze that people can still be like that, in this day in age. So I walked to the end of the street at a terrace, overseeing the residential neighborhood in Buda.

    Back to the main street, I passed by the Hilton Hotel, built in 1976. Unusual because that was when Hungary was still under communism. Attached to it, was part of a wall dating back from the 13th century. And inside, was a foundation for a cloister. A little hard to find.

    I continued down a quiet street, passing the Vienna Gate and to the remains of St. Mary Magdalene Church. It was destroyed by World War II bombs, and never rebuilt. Instead, a steeple with bells that still ring. Nearby was a Turkish grave of a ruler from when Hungary was under Ottoman rule. That marked the end of the walking tour, and I rode the bus back, towards the river, and transferred to the tram, as I was on my way to Memento Park.

    I worried that I may miss seeing this place, as it would close at sunset, and I missed my connection to get there. When that bus came, I hopped on, and it would take about 25 minutes. I slept part of the way, and worried I missed it. But then, I heard the stop "Memento Park" announced, and got off quickly. I went one way, and had to ask a local where the park was. She pointed the other way, so I turned around, and saw the entrance.

    I got to the entrance of Memento Park, which is a collection of communist statues that used to be all over Budapest. As I tend to still associate Eastern Europe with their communist past, I just had to see this place. And now, I was at a place that experienced it first-hand.

    Hungary became communist after World War II. During that time, there were statues and monuments littered throughout the city, instilling the values of Communism and what it represents. After the fall of Communism in 1989, all the statues were removed and collected and put into a statue park, and becoming a museum. Visitors are greeted by the statues of Vladimir Lenin on one side, and Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels on other side.

    Along the way, I had to see a black cat, and saw it lost one eye. Just horrifying to see, as I have 2 cats of my own. And I still can't stop thinking about it. After seeing the park, I went to the barracks, where there were Stalin's boots. Looked around it as well, in a museum about the 1956 Uprising and fall of communism in 1989. It got very dark, and it was time to go.

    As I waited for the bus, I did notice that I was way out of the city. It seemed like the middle of nowhere. On the way and back, I would pass by the suburbs. Heading back to the hostel, I accidently entered the wrong building, which had to be buzzed in. It turned out to be an apartment building, and I had no idea how to open the gate. Luckily, someone was heading out, and helped me out. Turned out, there was a button to open the gate, nearby.

    I got out, and back to the hostel. Just chilled the rest of the night.

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  • 12Oct 2010

    25 Last Day to Be Hungary 10/12/2010 Hungary —

    District I., Budapest, Hungary

    Description

    My last day in Hungary, and I would focus on seeing the attractions that "I have to see". Then would leave Budapest.

    As I have struggled with a cold, I had to buy some medicine. I stopped by a store, and tried to ask for some cough medicine by making a cough sound, but they did not understand. I was surprised, because I thought a coughing sound was understood in any language. Next, I stopped by a pharmacy, and had to deal with a language barrier. We had to communicate by sounds or hand signals. I end up buying some pills, and would stop by a hotel gift shop, for the person to help me with the directions as I worried it may make me sleepy. That person told me that it did not say it would make me sleepy, so I felt a bit better about that. Definitely an interesting experience.

    I would start off by walking along Andrassy Ut, starting from the Deak ter Metro stop. As I was following the tour from a guidebook, it was not easy finding these streets, as the street signs can be hard to find. I passed through a park, and did find the street.

    This street was Budapest's main boulevard, similar to the Champs-Elysees in Paris. It ran from the Metro station, and ended at Heroes' Square. Seemed like a place where people with deep pockets would shop and eat. Definitely out of my price range, that's for sure! And I would see statue monuments along the way.

    I reached the main attraction on the street, and that was the House of Terror. A true haunted house, this place tells the story of Hungary under occupation of both the Nazis and Soviets. From World War II to the fall of Communism, getting into different aspects. Going through this museum, it is a lot more sobering to learn and realize that you are in the very place where all it happened, first-hand. More so than learning in a history class.

    After that, I continued on Andrassy, taking the Metro at times, to save time and pain, as I did have a weekly pass. I reached the end of the street, at a park called Heroes' Square. I had to cross a very busy street, and tried to one side without a crosswalk. But it was way too risky, so I had to do it on the other side. There were 2 art museums on each side, but I would not have any time to visit them. I entered Heroes' Square, and looked around.

    This park was built in 1896, commemorating the 1,000 years of the Magyars settling in the region. They were a group of people from Central Asia, that swept into Europe, and conquered part of it. Eventually, they settled down in the year 896, and built what would become the nation of Hungary. Hence, the Millennium Monument, one of the first things you see when entering the park. There is a cenotaph, which is the Hungarian War Memorial, in front of the monument, in honor of those who fought for Hungary.

    Behind it all, are a bunch of statues, divided into the left and right colonnades. The left side are ones from the earliest years of Hungary's history. And the right side has those from the "later" centuries, when Hungary was under the rule of someone else (first the Ottomans, then the Habsburgs). While looking around, I started burning up, as it was a clear day and pretty hot. So I went to the shade, and looked at the statues from there.

    After Heroes' Square, I went to eat some lunch, as I am trying to use my remaining forint. Then rode the bus across the Chain Bridge, and got off at the Buda side. Then walked across the bridge, looking at all sides. There are 2 lions on each side, as they watch those who cross the bridge. The walk was not as long as I thought it was.

    I got to the other side, and walked along the river embankment. I reached the Holocaust Monument, which was a bunch of shoes. These shoes represented the victims killed by the Nazis at that spot. They were tied together, as one of them is shot and dumped into the river, dragging the others with that person.

    I walked to the Parliament area, and hopped on the Metro, to the Great Market Hall. This would be my last sight in Budapest. I went inside, and a huge place. Basically like a farmer's market, of produce and meat, and has been around for over 100 years. I did not spend much time there.

    Also, I stopped by an information booth, and asked for the next few trains to my next destination (Vienna, Austria). The lady there, had a laptop connected to the internet, and gave me the times.

    After that, I left, and headed back to the hostel, to retrieve my backpack. I also used the computer, to check on some things, like my credit card statement. I was in shock, being charged $77 by the Subway from 3 days ago. I could not believe it. When trying to pay by credit card, the lady there swiped twice, and told me that the machine was not working, and showed me. But I had no way of knowing, because it was not in English. They lied to me, and hard to believe that it came from a well-known place like a Subway.

    I could not wait until the end of the trip to deal with this, as it would eat me up inside. So I went to a phone center, and called the credit card company about this. They would reverse the charge, and look into it more. The call took longer than expected, so when it came time to pay, I did not have enough forint. So I had to leave my backpack behind, and go to the nearest exchange bureau, to get more forint, to pay the guy. Which I did, and got my backpack. I tell this story, letting everyone know that it can even happen at well-known establishments.

    Then went to a market, trying to use up the remaining Hungarian money. No luck there, as I had only 20 Ft left. So I left it on some table, for anyone to take it. I went to the train station, and hopped on the next train to Austria.

    I left Hungary, on a bit of a down note. But overall, I enjoyed my time there, and hope to make a return trip there someday.

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  • 12Oct 2010

    26 Arrived Into Austria 10/12/2010 Austria —

    Innere Stadt, Vienna, Austria

    Description

    I took an evening train out of Budapest, and had no idea that I crossed the border into Austria. It was a 3-hour, direct train. I had a hard time dealing with the fact that I got ripped off with the credit card, but had to get over it, as I could not let it ruin the rest of my trip. At least, I dealt with the matter quickly.

    I arrived into Vienna, Austria. I went to the nearest U-Bahn station, across the street from the train station, and bought a weekly pass, which turned out to be best value for me. Only a euro more than a 3-day pass.

    I hopped on the U-Bahn, and got to the stop that I needed to get to. Following directions to my next hostel, it was actually pretty easy to follow this time around. I arrived at the reception office, and was able to check in. After paying for a night, I had to go around the block, to the 16-bed dorm room.

    Once there, I got settled. I did get to talk with other travelers, and just relaxed for the rest of the night. I stayed at the Labyrinth Hostel, which was an interesting hostel, as there are separate buildings for the dorms and reception. The room also has a kitchen and lounge rolled into one, and a bathroom and shower being in separate rooms. This was a 12-bed room. A good place to stay, as I had the top bunk.

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  • 13Oct 2010

    27 Hofburg Tram 10/13/2010 Austria —

    Innere Stadt, Vienna, Austria

    Description

    I would have to change dorm rooms at the Labyrinth Hostel, since I neglected to book a room for this night. I went from the 16-bed to a 4-bed room, since the 16-bed was fully booked. After taking care of all that, it was time to see the city.

    Riding the U-Bahn, to what I thought was the Opera building. Turned out to be the Parliament building, as I was trying to figure out how the tram system worked. I was following a tram tour in the guidebook, and tried to find tram #2, which went the opposite of traffic. The tram went faster than I could read what was being said in the book, but I did not feel like hopping on and off so many times. When there was distance between the sights, I caught up on the reading. I passed by some buildings and museums, which I would visit later on.

    When it was going along the Danube, I switched the Tram #1, and rode it the rest of the way, until I returned to the Opera building. The entire tour took about 30 minutes, and not really impressive, to be honest. I was really hungry, and got some lunch.

    Then back at the Opera building, where I started the walking tour. I walked around the building, and did not spend much time lingering, since I was not really an opera fan. I got to the Albertinaplatz, a square with the tip of the Hofburg Palace, and the Monument Against War & Fascism, which was a reminder of Austria's days under Nazi rule.

    I continued on, to the pedestrian street, Karntner Strasse. Then walked along it, passing by the various shops and restaurants. I got to the huge church building, known as St. Stephen's Cathedral. This area was the center of Vienna. I looked around the exterior, and to the right of it, was a display of photographs of the church damaged, caused by World War II bombs.

    I was about to enter inside, until a guy dressed as Mozart, tried to sell me a concert ticket. I declined, as I was not sure what I would do that night, or if I still had the energy by then.

    I went inside the huge cathedral, and would see the immediate area that is free. If I wanted to get into the nave area (where all the main seats are), I would have to pay admission. I decided to save that for another day, to fully tour the place. The nave was fenced off, so I just stayed behind and looked at the altar from there.

    Back out, I went down Graben, seeing the Holy Trinity plague column, which was a way of saying thanks to God for Vienna to survive the 1679 plague. Nearby was St. Peter's Church, which had an organ concert each day. I missed this day's, so I would have to come back another day. And saw some Pinocchio structure. No idea what that is about.

    I continued on, until I reached the Hofburg, staring at the facade in the Michaelerplatz. The facade was the gate to the palace, which has a bunch of attractions. I went through it, and got to the courtyard, the In der Burg. The place of European royalty. I turned back, to go to the Hofburg Imperial Apartments. Comprising of 3 different parts rolled into one attraction, the Hofburg Imperial Apartments is a look at the palace where Emperor Franz Josef and his wife Elizabeth resided during their reign, and where the Habsburgs ruled their empire.

    The first part is the Silver and Porcelain collection, containing the silverware and tableware used in the palace during the Habsburg rule in the palace. Nice to look at, but not really a must-see. The second part is the Sisi Museum, which tells the story of Empress Elizabeth, also known as Sisi. She was only 16 when she was married to Franz Josef, and spent a lot of time trying to look young. And her life ended tragically. Definitely the best part of the Hofburg attractions. And final part is the Imperial Apartments, which is the tour of the palace, visiting the various rooms along the way.

    When exiting the palace, I found my way to the Heldenplatz, next to the courtyard. This was Heroes' Square, as I looked around on the premise. There was a building that was suppose to be Habsburg's new palace, but their rule ended before it was completed.

    I continued through a Greek-columned passageway, and found myself at the Ring. Across that street, was the square, with the statue of Empress Maria Theresa and a few museums. I reached the MuseumsQuartier, and just decided to call it a day, since my feet were sore and I felt a little sick. I needed to get some extra rest, hoping to recover soon, or at least not get worse.

    The rest of the night, was spent in the hostel, either sleeping or catching up on some business. I did find myself waiting a while, to use the lone computer in the hostel. And I did get to meet and talk to different people there. Hopefully, I will get better.

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  • 14Oct 2010

    28 Sightseeing While Sick 10/14/2010 Austria —

    Innere Stadt, Vienna, Austria

    Description

    It was time to change hostels again. This time, it was due to lazy planning on my part. I had to pack up, and leave my backpack at storage, then checked out at reception.

    I went to St. Stephen's Cathedral, and inside, the gate was wide open. I thought it would be free admission that day. But it turned out, a special event was being held, and the main area was closed off. And I was told it would not reopen until Saturday. By then, I would be long gone. So I could do, was to see behind the fence, but I did that, the day before.

    I had to move on, and headed to the Hofburg Palace, and to the Treasury. I bought a combo-ticket, to the Treasury and the Kunsthistorisches Museum (shortened to Kunst, for now on in this blog). And that extra rest did not help at all, as I started to cough like crazy.

    I started to tour around the Treasury. It contains the royal jewels of the Habsburgs and the Holy Roman Empire, showing off the wealth and glory of their empire. Some highlights include coronations, the crown of Rudolf (from the Holy Roman Empire) and a “unicorn horn”, which is actually a tusk of some animal. Unfortunately, it was hard for me to enjoy, because of the cold. And not having any tissues certainly made it worse, along with the tiredness. I found myself sitting down a lot, and listening to the audioguide that way.

    Afterwards, I went to a McDonald's for lunch. The interesting part, was ordering through a machine. After that, I headed to St. Peter's Church, mainly for the organ concert.

    Once inside, while waiting for the concert, I looked around to admire the place. The art work was really nice to look at. Then the organ concert started, which was great. Hearing this music on an organ, in a place like this, is just one of those things, that I felt I had to do while in Europe. The sound fits the environment perfectly.

    I did feel tired, as it was probably because of this little cold that I caught. And it definitely messed with my head, as I was not thinking straight. After the organ concert, I went to Wombat's, the next hostel that I'm staying at, to check-in. After doing that, I went back to my previous hostel, to retrieve my backpack from storage. Then, back at Wombat's, to bring my backpack there. I realized at that point, that I could have saved time by retrieving my backpack first, then checking in at Wombat's.

    After going into the room, I rested for a while. Then around 7 PM, I went back out, to the Kunst Museum. This day, the place was open until 9 PM. It was interesting to tour a museum this late in the day.

    This museum was built to show off to the world, how great the Habsburgs were, with their art. It contains artwork from places that were under Habsburg rule. I looked at the various paintings from the Renaissance. And the building itself, looked really nice. Unfortunately, I ran out of time, and would not see the Egyptian or Greek collection.

    I went back to the hostel, and just relaxed for the rest of the day. I was not feeling good at all, and hoped this illness will go away soon. Plus trying to decide what to do the next day, as I wondered to visit a few more attractions in Vienna, or take a side trip to Slovakia.

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  • 15Oct 2010

    29 Day Trip to Bratislava 10/15/2010 Slovakia —

    Old Town, Bratislava, Slovakia

    Description

    I decided to take a day trip to Slovakia, visiting its capital, Bratislava. I figure, spend a few hours there, and then come back to Vienna to see a few more things, then head to Salzburg. Originally, I considered visiting from Budapest, but decided not to, since I wanted to spend more time in Budapest. And since it was closer to Vienna, so I figure, day trip from there instead, to save some time.

    I ate breakfast at the hostel, then checked out, and left my backpack in storage. I went to the main train station, to ask for schedules to Bratislava, which I had a difficult time pronouncing. As it turned out, I had to go to the south station, and catch the train there. That meant taking a tram to a different part of town, until I got off near the station. And that station did look a bit abandoned. I was able to catch the train in time, and headed to Slovakia.

    I fell asleep during the ride. When I woke up in the train, I was in Slovakia, which used to be part of Czechoslovakia, before separating into 2 countries in 1993. And back behind the former Iron Curtain. I arrived into Bratislava, and saw that the train station was old and rundown. Probably from the old Communist days.

    I decided to walk to the Old Town, rather than take a bus. Along the way, not really much to see, and the place did not look too nice and felt different. Probably how Eastern Europe was during communism. But that started to change, as I got closer to Old Town.

    I got to the St. Michael's Gate, the start of the walking tour, that I followed from a guidebook that I had. This gate used to be part of the city wall. Below it, is the "kilometer zero" plaque, which is the point where all distances in Slovakia is measured. Going through it, to Michalska Street, which was full of cafes and restaurants. One of them had a cannonball embedded in them.

    I walked to the Main Square, which included the Old Town Hall and a playful statue, the first of 4 in the Old Town. The other 3 are about a block away from the Main Square. The one in the square, is that of an officer, with a hat covering his eyes.

    The second one, is that of Schoner Naci, the one holding his hat in the air. I liked this one, and could not resist the urge of a photo moment, pretending that he took a hat off my head. And across the street from it, is the third statue in the ground, known as the Peeper, as if he is taking a peek from a man hole. I saw a truck drive past it, and wondered if the driver knew about that statue, as it would be hard for drivers to see. A block away, is a fourth statue, Paparazzo. As the name indicates, this is the guy hiding and trying to take pictures from a corner.

    I went to a McDonald's to eat some lunch, where a lot of school kids were. I guess they are on their way home from school, and decided to hang out there. I just find it cute whenever I hear kids speak the local language, and to each other rather than one of them speaking to an adult. I know many people don't like going to McDonald's (or any fast food chains) on their travels, but I find it as an interesting place to people-watch, as they tend to be filled with locals, especially the young ones living a carefree life, with no memories of Communism.

    After lunch, I went to Hviezdoslav Square. While looking around, there were a couple Gypsy kids coming up to me to sign something. I quickly turned away, and they tried to follow me. But I just kept looking away, and they left. Didn't realize at the moment, that it was a pickpocket attempt. Somehow, my instinct was to turn away quickly, as I tend to be slow in figuring out what was going on.

    I continued on, to the bank of the Danube, seeing the river in a third different city, with the UFO Bridge in the distance. Then back to the square, and to the other end of it, until I reached St. Martin's Cathedral. I did not go inside it, as it looked like it was being renovated. This marked the end of the walking tour.

    But there was one more thing to do in Bratislava, and that was the UFO Bridge, built by the Communists. As the name indicated, it looks like a spaceship on top, which was the observation deck. I rode to it, for nice views of Bratislava, the suburban town of Petrzalka, the Danube, and the surrounding mountains. Also, a nice twist, is a view from the bathroom, when you are using a toilet. Hard to explain. But overall, well worth the time to visit the UFO Bridge.

    After coming down, and back into town, I retraced my steps, and walked all the way back to the train station. Once there, I was disappointed to learn that the next train to Vienna was not for another 40 minutes. That meant it will be dark by the time I get back, and I won't see anything then.

    What was surprising, is the amount of trains to Vienna, considering it's only an hour away. So I had to sit in a lounge, until it was time to board. Once I got on the train, it took off, and I was leaving Slovakia, heading back to Austria.

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  • 15Oct 2010

    30 Returning to Austria, and Onward! 10/15/2010 Austria —

    Salzburg, Austria

    Description

    After the day trip, I came back to Austria, around sunset. But by then, it was too late to see any attractions in Vienna. I felt like I could have seen more, but being sick just made that difficult. I went to the hostel, to get my backpack, then back to the train station. I barely caught the train to Salzburg.

    The train ride would take about 3 hours. Once I got to Salzburg, I walked to the YoHo International Youth Hostel, which was not too far. Plus it really helped that I got very good directions. A very good hostel. I posted a few photos of the hostel here, even if from another day.

    I was able to check in for 2 nights, and went up to the room to unload. Then downstairs to the lounge, looking up some things and planning for the next day, while hearing The Sound Of Music playing in the background. Makes sense, with the musical associated with the city of Salzburg.

    It got late, so it was back to the room, which was heated very well. I went to 3 cities in 1 day, which is fun to do sometimes. At least for me, it was.

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  • 16Oct 2010

    31 The Sound of Salzburg 10/16/2010 Austria —

    Salzburg, Austria

    Description

    This time, I was able to get up early, or at least not oversleep. I was debating whether to do the Sound of Music tour, throughout the whole day, which would mean giving up 4 hours of free time.

    I walked to Old Town, which took me about 15 minutes. I got to the Salzach River, and crossed to the other side, which was where Old Town was. I would follow a walking tour from a guidebook, starting at the Mozartplatz. This square had a statue of a Salzburg native, which the square was named after, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

    Next was the Residenplatz, looking at the buildings around. Definitely a feel of a medieval time, like being in a time warp, if not for the cars. And church bells would enhance that feel. I headed to the Salzburg Cathedral. I started by looking at the exterior, then went inside it. There are some church art, which were nice to look at. And the baptismal font, where Mozart was baptized. There are 3 different numbers on the iron gates. They represent a different year, significant in the cathedral’s history.

    774 – when the previous church was built, long gone
    1628 – when the current church was built
    1959 – got rebuilt after being hit by a World War II bomb

    After looking around inside, I went back out. Then saw the giant golden ball with a man standing on it, next to the cathedral. And next to that, was a chessboard on a ground, with the pieces chained together. I would have liked to play, but probably not allowed to. Plus the pieces did look a bit heavy to move around.

    On the other side, was a fountain. And I went through a gate, seeing a water wheel in motion. Then through the entrance to St. Peter's Cemetery. This graveyard had crosses instead of gravestones. And supposedly, this was where the Von Trapp family hid from the Nazis in The Sound of Music. Nearby within the premise, is St. Peter's Church. I went inside, and this one felt different, as it was smaller and more real.

    I came into the Universitatsplatz, which hosted an open-air produce market. I walked by the various stalls, thinking about picking something to eat, but I didn't. Also, in The Sound of Music, this was where the tomato-throwing scene happened, with Gretel's sad face.

    Then to the Getreidegasse, a pedestrian street, full of shops with old-fashioned signs from Mozart's days. Even the McDonald's one is in that style. Probably a requirement to do business on that street. I continued on, to Alter Markt, Salzburg's old marketplace. I stopped by a candy store, and bought some Mozart balls, to try out. And they tasted great. no idea what they were made of. The end of the walking tour.

    I walked around town, looking for an internet cafe. But had to pass on it, since it would waste valuable time. Stopped by a few places, just to browse. I would find a grocery store, to buy some lunch. Then went to the Mozartplatz, to eat it there.

    After lunch, I decided to walk up the hill to the castle. There was the option to ride the funicular, but it was not free. I walked up to the entrance, and still had to pay. So I just looked at the views of Salzburg, which were very nice. Definitely did not feel like a big city.

    I went back down, and decided to head to the train station, to get a schedule for my next destination, Hallstatt. That would be the next day. Afterwards, I stopped by the hostel for a little bit, then headed to the Mozart Residence.

    Finding it was tricky, as I entered the Mirabell Gardens. I would walk around the premise, and around the park itself, getting lost, trying to find it. I worried that I would miss my chance, as time was wasting away. I did find the place, and was able to get inside. This was a museum that tells the story of the life of Mozart, as well as his family. There are artifacts and displays that tell the story, from his childhood to his days as the music composer. Plus there is a short film.

    The place is seen on a self-guided tour, with an audioguide. I thought it was interesting and informative. Even if I felt a bit rushed as closing time was approaching.

    After leaving the residence, I went back to the Mirabell Gardens, looking at the fountain, and walked through one of the tunnels. I went to the building, which used to be a palace, and only open for concerts. I did manage to sneak in, but there was nothing of note to see. Afterwards, I left and headed to Old Town, to stroll around for a bit, as it gotten dark.

    I got back to the hostel, and relaxed for a few hours. Then took care of some business for the rest of the night, until I went to bed.

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  • 17Oct 2010

    32 Miserable Day 10/17/2010 Austria —

    Hallstatt, Austria

    Description

    Getting up early, so I can catch the early train and get a head start on the day, as I would be heading to Hallstatt. It had to pack everything and check out of the hostel. Going outside and seeing that it was raining, it did not take long for my socks to get wet, as I wore a cheap pair of shoes. And I hate walking in wet socks, which is the main reason why I don't like rain.

    I walked to the train station, and caught the one to Attnang-Puchheim, just in time. This took about 90 minutes. Once there, I had very little time to change trains, and got confused which platform I had to go to. I had to look in my guidebook, to see that Hallstatt was not on the schedule, but had to catch the one to Bad Ischl or Ebensee. Once I knew that, I was able to catch that train on time.

    This ride took about 3 hours. I slept part of the way, and had to be attentive the rest of the way. It was very scenic, seeing the countryside. Having seen this place on TV, I looked forward to my time there. When the stop came, I got out, and headed to the boat, which I had to pay for, to get across the lake. I did meet a couple travelers from the previous hostel that I stayed at, and they were daytripping from Salzburg.

    I had arrived at Hallstatt, and went to look for the hostel. The town looked nice, but I had to look at it later. The guidebook map did not really help much. I went up to a hill, along a waterfall, and did find the hostel. But it was not open at all. I was not sure what to do next, as I did not have a reservation.

    I went to the nearby Hallstatt Museum, and asked the person on duty, if there were any lockers in town, so I don't have to carry my backpack around. But there weren't any, so I would carry it around. And I was too stubborn to check out any other hotels, as I did not want to pay more. I decided to wait it out until 4 PM, when the hostel opened.

    So I went to a restaurant called the Cafe Zum Muhlbach for lunch. It does have a nice interior, which adds some charm to it. The food was nothing special though. But the staff were nice enough, to serve pizza to me, even if it was still breakfast time.

    After the meal, I walked around town, as it continued to rain. Despite this, I still was able to admire the view of the town, the lake, and the surrounding mountains. That was until I got too soaked to tolerate, and ran for cover.

    I went to the Protestant Church to check out. Not much to see, as there tends to be little, if any, artwork. No one in there either. After that, I went to Market Square. I'm sure it would look nice, but the rain just made everything miserable and hard to enjoy.

    I continued on, to a sports shop, which had an old Roman settlement below it. It can be seen through a glass window on the porch, and visited by going in the shop and down the stairs, which is what I did.

    After that, I went up the hill, to the Catholic Church. Not easy to do, with a heavy backpack and wet socks. I went inside, and just rested and dried off for a bit. Looked at the twin altars, then outside to the graveyard, as I headed to the Chapel of St. Michael. This place was unique, with its collection of bones with skulls on display. Each skull is named and dated of their death, as well as gender, with some having their birth year. Interesting and scary, since these were human beings at one time, living life like me, doing whatever.

    I went down, to the Hallstatt Museum, and decide to check it out. A history museum on the small town, dating back to the days when it started out as a salt-mining village. Also on display, are some prehistoric artifacts, along with the plants and animals that live in the area and tools used to mine the salt in the area. Plus there is an exhibition on when tourism took off in this small town. Really nice place to visit, to learn some history on this town.

    After the museum, I went to the salt mine, but I was too late to tour it. So I went back to the square, and waited inside the Protestant Church, trying to decide what to do next. When 4:00 rolled around, I left and went to the hostel, which was open. When asking if there was room, I was surprised to learn there was none. So much for it being offseason. At that point, I decided to leave Hallstatt altogether, as I had enough. Not sure where to go next, though.

    I had to wait for the next boat across the lake. When it came, I rode across it, and then waited inside the deserted station. A train came and went. When I looked at the schedule, I realized that was the train I was suppose to catch, meaning I missed it. So I had to wait another hour.

    I rode the boat across the lake to town, hoping to a computer in an internet cafe, listed in the guidebook. Only to find out that it closed down a year ago. So I waited inside the Protestant Church, until the time came. Then rode the boat back across, to the station. While waiting there, I met 3 Korean guys, who also waited. We just started talking. They were studying abroad in England, and just traveling around Europe.

    When the train came, I hopped on and sat with them, as we headed to Attnang-Puchheim. From there, I decided to tag along, and we headed to Vienna. I guess that I let them make up my mind for me. :) During the train ride, we were approached by some guys, asking for our passports. And it was only us, as they did not ask anyone else on the train. I asked a local across from me, who then asked the guys. The local got a rude response, as none of this was making any sense. They scanned the passports onto a laptop.

    Arriving into Vienna, I would part ways with the Korean guys, and headed to Wombat's, hoping there was still room left. And there was, as I checked in. Just glad the day was over, as it was just miserable, for the most part.

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  • 18Oct 2010

    33 Finishing Up in Vienna 10/18/2010 Austria —

    Innere Stadt, Vienna, Austria

    Description

    The unexpected return to Vienna, gave me a chance to do a couple more things there. It was weird making an unplanned return, but glad that I did. First thing was Schonbrunn Palace, which was a little farther out.

    I got to the palace grounds, which was huge and more spread out. I went inside, and bought the ticket to the Grand Tour. Built as the summer residence for the Habsburg emperors centuries ago, but I thought the tour of this palace was more interesting than that of the Hofburg. The audioguide was more interesting to listen to, in this one. The only downside, was dealing with the numerous tour groups, clogging up the corridors, making it hard to navigate around the place.

    After seeing the palace itself, I headed out to the gardens. Called the Great Parterre, it was huge and elaborate, with the fountain and monument at the other end. I can just imagine royalty looking out, and walking around the gardens. I did go up to the fountain, and stopped there. I did not spend much time there, as I looked around. And saw one of the smaller ones, Privy Garden. It was a nice place to walk around, and I'm sure even more so if it was sunny.

    After the palace, I headed to St. Stephen's Cathedral, as I had one more thing to do in Vienna. And it was climbing to the top of the south tower, in the winding, narrow stairs. Even though I've done this type of thing before, it never gets any easier, especially when running into people heading in the opposite direction. I did make it to the top, getting some nice views of the city.

    Going back down, my visit to Vienna has been completed. Or at least, I was satisfied with it. I would go pick up my backpack at the hostel, and to the train station, as I headed to Salzburg.

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  • 18Oct 2010

    34 Last Part of Sightseeing 10/18/2010 Austria —

    Salzburg, Austria

    Description

    Arriving in Salzburg later than I hoped, since the train was running behind schedule. I put my backpack in one of the lockers, and tried to figure out which bus went to the city center. Once I got on the right one, I rode it close to Old Town. Then got off once it crossed the river, and then ran to the Salzburg Panorama 1829 museum, hoping to visit it before it closed.

    I got there, and I was too late, as the museum was not admitting any more people. I was not sure what to do, and considered just leaving town. But then, I remember the funicular ride to Hohensalzburg Fortress. The museum there, was closed, but the castle grounds were still open. And the price of the funicular ride was a lot cheaper. So I decided to do that, and rode it to the top of the hill.

    I walked around the castle grounds, seeing the courtyard, where it looked like a small community. I try to picture the place during the time. Plus took a peek inside a church. Also got nice views of Salzburg, and the surrounding area. Much better views than ones when walking up the trail, near the entrance. With fewer crowds, a nice way to end my visit to Salzburg (and Austria, for that matter).

    I rode the funicular back down, and headed back to the train station. I ran into a little trouble with the lockers, but that did not matter much, as I was not really in any hurry. I bought a train ticket, to my last destination, Munich, Germany. I hopped on the train, and would leave Austria, and into Germany.

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  • 18Oct 2010

    35 Final Night In Europe 10/18/2010 Germany —

    Altstadt, Munich, Germany

    Description

    The train ride took about 3 hours, as I left Austria, and heading to my final destination, which was Munich, Germany. It was interesting to return to the city that I visited before, within the same year, outside the US. But this visit was only because my flight left from here, and no time for sightseeing.

    I arrived at the train station there, and headed to the U-Bahn. Such a huge difference between the last time and this time, mainly due to the time of year. A lot more warmer this time around, I can tell you that. I headed to the U-Bahn, which I had to take, to get to my next hostel. As usual, it got confusing, trying to find it. But I was able to find the Easy Palace City Hostel. An okay hostel.

    Once there, I had to wait a while after they went through a staff change. Then I checked in, and then, got some food to eat at a nearby McDonald's, which was the only food place still open late at night.

    Back at the room, it was completely quiet, and all the roommates seemed to keep to their themselves. Not a problem for me, as I was not much of a talking mood either. I did not do much else, just relaxing at the hostel, and getting ready to go home. Seeing any sites in Munich was unlikely, but not a total loss, as I got to visit earlier in the year. Then I went to sleep.

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  • 19Oct 2010

    36 Return Home 10/19/2010

     

    Description

    It was time to return home. I had to pack up and check out of the Easy Palace Hostel in Munich, Germany. Then I headed to the train station. I tried to find the U-Bahn (I believe), the one that took me to the airport. First, I had to buy a ticket, and tried to buy by credit card. But it would not accept, so I had to pay cash.

    After that, I just hopped on the train on time. Missing it could have meant serious trouble, as I was cutting it close. I had to get to the airport right away. Once there, I checked in, went through security, and just waited at the gate. Then came time to board the plane, on the way to Toronto.

    From Toronto, I would have a layover, with enough time to go through customs, and waited until it was time to board the flight back to Philly.

    When the time came, I flew back to Philly. And even options to watch a movie, despite the short flight. I chose to watch "Labyrinth", which I have not seen in more than 20 years. Obviously, I did not finish watching, as I arrived in Philly a short time later. Then took the train to take me back home.

    It was nice to visit Europe again for the 2nd time within the same year. As I was heading back, I was already thinking about the next place to visit. Never an easy thing to do, as there are so many to choose from. But one thing was for sure, it would not be until sometime next year, in 2011.

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