A Travellerspoint blog

Kiev

sunny 25 °C
View Sun siberia and snow on awowchuk's travel map.

My train to Kiev was smooth and effortless, although I didn't have a great night sleep. When I arrived in Kiev at 6:40 in the morning I was buggered. I made my way to my lovely clean modern hostel and thankfully was able to go straight to my bed. Sleep time.
At 12pm I actually started my sightseeing day, walking up Andriyivesky usziz (Andrew's descent), one of Kiev's oldest streets, steep, cobblestoned and full of market stalls selling souviners, art and other random bits and pieces. At the top is St Andrews cathedral, a cute little gilded and elaborately decorated church overlooking the street and the surrounding area. Afterwards I walked towards Independance Square, the scene of the 2004 Orange Revolution. It's huge but not as monumental as I expected it to be as as its not one big open square but a square with a major road running through it and multiple height changes and smaller monuments all through it. Plus at the present time it is filled with massive stage infrastructure as its Ukrainian independance day on the 24th of august (and i will miss this). After walking through the square I had lunch at an overpriced cafe on the main street. I was starving and drawn into it by the fact it said sandwiches in english on a giant sign. I then continued my walking around Kiev. I stayed on the main roads and they weren't that interesting, just big boring buildings and lots of cars. I did come across a church, St Volodymers, that was elaborately decorated in gold and black and was absolutely filled with people praying. The church didn't have any seats instead people pray with their heads on a frame of jesus or someone and then they kiss the frame, as icon's of religious figures are considered holy. I saw some people doing this on the images on the walls too. I looked very out of place as all the women wear headscarves when inside the church. I continued my walking, passing by the train station to buy my ticket to Poland, and back around to Independance Square to join a free walking tour. Cities all around europe offer these which is great, at the end you tip if you liked it! I went on the modern Kiev tour. We walked around for 2.5 hours seeing monuments and statues to Independance and also ones still left from the communists. We went through the huge park that lines the edge of the city centre and has great views out across the river, and past the Kiev stadium, the scene of the Death matches when the communists killed the Ukrainian team as they beat them 3 times during the 30's. Also past the mariinsky palace, a palace built in the time of the tsars which now stands bordered up supposedly in renovation but according to our guide it has been like that for years and nothing has happened due to the corruption. We passed impressive government buildings including the Chimera building. An elaborate concrete building covered in animals like rhinos, elephants, crocodiles, lizards, fish, mermaids and it goes on. After the end of the tour I made my way back to the hostel, planning on making myself some dinner but around the corner from my hostel is a Ukrainian buffet restaurant, kind of like Sizzlers or something. It is an incredibly popular chain restaurant with a huge variety of pretty decent food, so I stocked up on goulash, vareniky, Ukrainian chicken fillets and dried fruit drink. Back at the hostel I was chilling out in the common room and was chatting to different people and being given gifts by a very strange older russian man. We were really not sure what was going on, just seemed to be a lonely old guy. But I was chatting with Louison, a french guy and Mehmet, a turkish American guy and we decided to head out to a bar just off Independance square. It was like an american country and western bar, complete with a band of older Ukrainian rockers singing country rock songs incredibly loudly and the bar going nuts for them. We had a few pints of beer here over a few hours before moving on to Vodka bar. A terribly trashy venue under the main square. It was filled with gorgeous women incredibly dressed up, and I in my uniform of jeans and t-shirt felt very out of place! There was smoking everywhere and no room to move. I knew it was a very classy establishment when I went to the bathroom and had to walk through the underground shopping mall to the male toilets where the urnials had been covered in plastic bags! We stayed for a while, watching the locals getting into it all before deciding to go for a late night sightseeing walk home through Independance Square and past three of the major churches and down Andrews descent again. It is so peaceful and lovely seeing these sights without the swarm of other tourists around it.
The next day I had a very late start, only getting up around 12. After getting my standard breakfast of bakery items from the supermarket I headed to the Chernobyl museum around the corner from my hostel. I had thought about actually going to Chernobyl on a tour but it is kind of a morbid thing and as I found out you have to organize it in advance. The museum was pretty thorough at explaining what happened, about the people who were involved that night and in the clean up and what they are doing now. Basically the whole area will be contaminated for thousands of years and it is unsafe for people to live there although lots of people work there to monitor, study and maintain the area.
After the Chernobyl museum I dropped back into the hostel quickly and ran into Mehmet. We decided to go to the Larvra. A huge monestary site near the city centre. We didn't really know much about it except it had some sort of cave crypts. When we got there we paid the $6 entry fee and found out it was a huge complex of churches, musuems, religious functions, lookout points etc. We headed straight for the caves and in doing so realised we exited the "paid" part of the complex and entered the free area. damn. We could absolutely not work out where the so-called caves were, and anyone we asked had no idea what we were saying. damn again. Eventually we found someone and she pointed at a closed building. We had come all this way and couldn't see them. damn damn damn. So we left and headed around the corner towards this giant silver statue of a woman with a sword and shield. No idea what it was but it looked impressive and something to go see closer. When we got there we found the Kiev war musem. It was closed but the fields of communists tanks, helicopters, trucks, planes and mobile rocket launchers weren't and so we got to walk around all of it and sit in a fighter jet. So ridiculously cool. Not what I had expected to see and so it was fantastic. After being like children playing with tonka trucks, we then walked around the huge statue and past some other massive fierce war sculptures and then sat out on the grass hill overlooking the other side of the Dnipro River and the newer side of Kiev where huge fields of ugly nameless towers are being built, and where we assume most people actually live.
We made our way slowly back towards the hostel to get dinner, becoming increasingly more hungry with every step. Mehmet was adamant he was not going to eat at the buffet again and so we headed to an Italian restaurant in the area, which turned out to be pretty good. After a nice dinner we went back to the hostel and hung out in the common room with a huge bunch of travellers. French, Belgium, Germans, an american, some aussies and a heap of Turkish. It was a fascinating bunch and as the night proceeded we were told to keep quiet a lot! All these people (except the american and the aussies) can speak multitudes of languages, something I am very envious of, but here in the Ukraine we are all brought back to equal ground. They can't speak Ukrainian and that made me feel childishly good! We eventually decided to head out to get more beers from the 24hr supermarket and go sit in the park around the corner from the hostel so we could make as much noise as possible! I don't think I went to bed till something close to 4am.
On my last day in Kiev I forced myself to wake up early as I had to check out and see as much as I could of Kiev. I firstly (after my bakery breakfast) headed to St Sophia's church a museum complex of a huge church and it's surrounding functional buildings. The churches in Ukraine are unlike other european churches as every square inch of wall space is painted in colour and decorated with icons and images. They are all colourful and St Sophia's is no exception, gold and teal and shades of red. I actually find it quiet sad as the churches in Ukraine have been repaired to such a state that you don't get any sense of it's age, but then again we can't freeze everything and expect time to continue. I looked in on the other church buildings and then went down the boulevard to the bright blue St Michaels at the other end. This is newly built church as the soviet's destroyed the original that had been standing since the 11th century as they believed it had no value!!! A few of the original mosiacs had been saved and are displayed in St Sophia's otherwise it was all gone. This is a practicing church and was once again filled with women and men praying and kissing frames with images of Jesus. I had decided to head back to the Larvra to see these caves but on the way stopped in the park and did a huge flying fox. The zipline went front a lookout point and across the Dnipro river to finish on the beach on the other side. About 600m in overall length. It's not the most thrilling thing I have ever done but it was very fun and I screamed in excitement as I ran off the starting platform! I then had a massive walk back over the river and up the hill to continue walking towards the caves.
Eventually with slightly sore feet and painful knees I made it and was thoroughly disappointed. It was staircase deep underground and then a short passage, filled with people, to look (and most of them kiss and pray) on the glass coffins of lots of preserved religious people lining the passage. It was totally not worth the effort. I found another one of these and in this one there was a church room and a priest who was clearly not impressed I didn't have a head scarf and was a tourist.
And with that I made my way slowly back towards the hostel on the metro. It seems slightly crazy to me that an ex-communist country has a better functioning public transport system than Sydney, and Kiev is around 5 million people too! Back near my hostel and I decided to walk up and then back down Andrew's descent looking at all the stalls and spending the last of my Ukrainian hrvynia on some souviners. Then dinner at the buffet again, sampling Ukrainian dishes of red borsch, chicken sausages rolled up in a spiral and more meat vareniky. After dinner, and getting some food supplies from the supermarket I grabbed my bags from the hostel and made my way to the train station to get my 20hr train to Krakow. I wanted to do this on the train although it would only be farmlands and fields we would pass through the area that the Wowchuk's had originally come from.

Andrews descent

Andrews descent

St volodymers church

St volodymers church

Kiev

Kiev

Chimera building

Chimera building

Chernobyl museum

Chernobyl museum

Sitting in a communist fighter jet

Sitting in a communist fighter jet

mobile rocket launchers

mobile rocket launchers

The giant statue over Kiev

The giant statue over Kiev

St Sophia's cathedral

St Sophia's cathedral

zip line time

zip line time

The zip line

The zip line

train carriage to Krakow

train carriage to Krakow

Posted by awowchuk 08:59 Archived in Ukraine Comments (0)

Lviv

They finally understand my name!!!

sunny 22 °C
View Sun siberia and snow on awowchuk's travel map.

I was very excited to finally be heading to the Ukraine. It has always been a country of fascination to me and somewhere I have been determined (and at times slightly hesitant) to go to at some point in my life. I'm feeling brave with travelling so far, so I booked my ticket and now have a 16 hour train trip to Lviv ahead of me.
Once getting my ticket checked by the hard faced Russian carriage attendant, I finally got on the train. I was sharing a sleeper carriage with a Russian mother and daughter, I couldn't speak a word to them but they seemed nice. I had the tiny top bunk where I couldn't even sit up on it or see out the window but oh well thats what you get when you pay $45 instead of $250 to fly. I was standing out in the corridor watching as we left the station and started travelling through Budapest and made friends with the guy in the cabin next to me, Victor, a young Hungarian going to visit friends in Lviv. He had never taken the train to Ukraine so this was a new experience for both of us.
The landscape of Hungary was flat and even flatter with small run down towns along the way. Victor and I spent a few hours chatting about all sorts, while looking out the window and then eventually sitting on the floor once it went dark until I just couldn't keep my eyes open any more. I headed to bed for maybe 45 minutes before being woken up to get our passports checked by the Hungarians. I finally got to be a Canadian citizen (so I could get into the Ukraine without a visa which is required of Australians) and handed over my passport with no issues. We continued on for maybe an hour before we stopped again, this time for many hours at the Ukraininan border. The Ukrainian immigration officer came on with 2 army guys in camoflague uniforms and collected everyone's passports and then left. Here's hoping there is no issues with being Canadian. Then the train sat at the station for quite a while before moving along again. I was confused, where are our passports? but it was just the start of a long process of changing the train over onto the Ukrainian gauge. This very slow process, done by some very old and hard Ukrainian men, involved the whole train at 12:30 in the morning being slowly lifted up, the wheels taken away and then the carriages lowered onto new wheels. This just seemed absolutely mental. I'm going to have to do this again as I cross over the Poland - Ukraine border. The train then moved around the yards back and forth for the next few hours, with noises and rattling constantly happening. Absolutely no idea where we were going and still no sign of our passports. By 2:30 I just had to go back to sleep, and so of course at 3am the lights in the train turned back on and I was given my passport back. Finally! Im not sure when the train started moving again during the night but during my incredibly broken sleep I saw we passed through the Carpathian mountains and the plains of Ukraine before arriving in Lviv at 10:30am, right on schedule. Victor and I parted ways and I made my way to my hostel on the tram. The old trams are incredibly rickety, going down cobblestone streets that are definitely not perfectly flat, you pay the driver 1.5u about 15cents to get a ticket then sit if there is space (generally not) on plastic seats. definitely not in western europe anymore. At the hostel I was exhausted and so chilled out for an hour or two before venturing out into Lviv. The old town is gorgeous, a wonderful mix of baroque, georgian, art nouveax, modernist all combined together in varying states of repair. The place exudes charm and fascination. I made my way to the beautiful main square where all the buildings have been lovingly restored, to see the tourist information about finding the ATM I needed. This city is filled with banks, every street has a bank (and a pharmacy) but I needed a specific bank so to avoid crappy bank fees. The details are boring, but it became quite a mission, took me well over an hour to get some money. ergh. After finally having some Ukrainian currency (I will never be able to pronounce their currency!) I went wandering around the town, popping into quite a few beautifully decorated churches. There are so many of them here! After going around for a bit I headed into the Lviv handmade chocolate shop, they seem to really like their chocolate here and indulged myself in some delicate handmade chocolates as they were so ridiculously cheap! loving eastern europe! I went to the cafe after to get a hot chocolate (yep, still don't drink coffee) but their understanding of hot chocolate is very different to mine and I got a teacup filled with hot melted milk chocolate! I drank it all though!
Afterwards I walked around a little bit more but my exhaustion had taken over and I was not feeling so well so I went back to the hostel. After chilling for a bit I accepted I was really not well and went to the pharmacy to buy some medication. Lucky this town loves pharmacies! (They even have a museum about it!) Back at the hostel I had to have a cold shower as the didn't have any hot water which didn't make me very happy and then I went to bed, praying a decent sleep and medication will help properly kill the flu or what ever it is I have.
I woke up after everyone else in my dorm had already left. I guess I was that tired. It took my a little while to get ready but I was feeling a bit better so that was good. I first headed to the parkland hill overlooking Lviv to see the view. Quite beautiful, but not the best view as so many trees in the way. I then headed down and started wandering around the old town again past a few more churches to the Royal halls, a small museum on the main square exhibiting 18th century paintings and artefacts in a beautifully baroque room. I had to wear these giant slippers over my shoes so as to protect the elaborate parque flooring. Then I walked up to the armoury museum, exhibiting canons, armour, guns and swords from europe and asia. It was only $1 entry so it seems silly not to see these things.
I had lunch at a freaking cool restaurant, its apparently some what of an institution here. It was a 5 storey building with incredibly differently decorated rooms. I made my way up the uneven and slanted staircase checking out the rooms on each floor up to the roof top balcony where a lada car with oars stuck in the side was suspended of the roof. strange! I decided to eat in the lions room. It had one table inside a "cage" and lion feet suspended from the ceiling and then pictures of all the lions decorations on the buildings of lviv collaged over the walls plus some lions tales thrown in around the place too! Pretty strange, shame the food wasn't quite as impressive as the interior design.
After lunch I got the tram a couple of km's out of the main town to Lychakiv cemetery. It may seem weird to visit a cemetery but it is like the ukrainian version of paris's pere lachaise cemetery. Although I didn't know who the famous people were or not, the cemetery was peaceful and beautifully sitting between landscaped and overgrown. A lovely place to rest for eternity. I had a great time trying to read the names, and was quietly proud when I could work them out. Their was lots of polish names in amongst the Ukrainian too, although I couldn't find any wowchuks. After walking around for quite a while, I headed back to the main square and climbed the town hall tower. There were a crap load of stairs to the top, but the view at the top was fantastic! wow such a beautiful old town, no wonder it's unesco heritage listed. I became really fascinated with the rooftops and how they all fit together in their mis-match of heights, materials, colours, shapes, health. Seriously wonderful.
Eventually I came down and had a huge ice-cream (for less than a dollar) sitting in the main square. Really lovely. I walked around a bit more via a lovely park to my hostel to rest for a little before going to dinner.
I sat down to dinner in this underground stone restaurant that had a boar suspended from the roof and ordered some vareniky (pierogi). I would of felt un-wowchuk to not eat vareniky in the ukraine. But my plans of attempting to enjoy them feel through when before I got the dish I realised my wallet was gone out of my handbag. I have tried to be vigilant with my stuff, but perhaps I had become a little too comfortable. I had everything else just not my cash, of which I realised I had too much together. I had spent all that effort in getting money and now it was gone. I sat there relatively calmly but chaos was going on in my head working out where it had last been, how the hell I was going to pay for the meal, what I should do next. When my meal arrived shortly after I told the waitress what happened. I knew I could get money out with my card which was back locked up in my bag but I would have to go and get it. So I wolfed down my fried potato vareniky, served with dollops of sour cream and pig fat (finally I enjoy vareiky) and left my passport as insurance and ran back to my hostel. There I told the woman what had happened and panicked a little more as she called the police. They turned up and I watched as she translated what happened to the police. I needed a police report for insurance purposes and it seemed to be taking a lot of hassle to get one. (the woman had warned me they wouldn't be very helpful). In the end they wanted me to go down to the station to get a police report but she would have to come with me, but she couldn't leave the hostel and I had a train to get. I decided it's only about $100, the excess on the claim would be more and I should just let it go as a very expensive lesson. I then ran off to get more money out, although of course as soon as I need at ATM I can't find one, and then pay the restaurant and get my passport back. ergh. I then tried to ask the woman in the last shop I had been to if she had seen my wallet. This was yet another tough one as she spoke no english, I spoke no ukrainian. I had only one sentence to start which was "excuse me, can you help me?" off my russian i-phone app, but then couldn't get anywhere from there. so then I ran off to ask a few people if they spoke english before finally getting the tourist information person to come and translate for me. No luck, shop woman hadn't seen my wallet. So I headed back to the hostel, humbled and swearing I would be more careful with my things. I will never know if I was pick-pocketed or if I had lost it on my own accord but whatever it was, it was a incredibly hard lesson learnt, but also a lesson that I handle these things relatively ok, not too panicky. I am not hurt, I am safe, I have my passports, I have my things, I have my photos, it is just money and you can always earn more of that.
With that I collected my bags and headed for the tram to the train station. The tram just didn't seem to turn up, although I still had time I just didn't feel like having an extra pressure of rushing for my train so I jumped in a taxi with 2 other tourists who were anxiously waiting and paid the $1 to get to the train station. I had paid an absolute bomb (Ukrainian standards, standardly pricey for me) for my ticket to Kiev as I had booked it so late but when I got on and saw a comfy couchette with pillows, towels, tissues and soap all laid out I was relieved, plus I had the cabin all to myself and the attendant brings you tea. Right now this what I need.
I have not let my shitty ending to Lviv diminish my time here or my view of the city. I have never been naive to think there wouldn't be crappy times on my trip nor that is is Lviv's fault I don't have as my money so I can't look negatively on it. It is a beautiful city and I am glad I came to visit.

Ukrainian border - gauge change

Ukrainian border - gauge change

Orange lada

Orange lada

Lviv Opera house

Lviv Opera house

Lviv chocolate shop

Lviv chocolate shop

Lychakiv cemetery

Lychakiv cemetery

The rooftops of Lviv

The rooftops of Lviv

At the top of town hall tower overlooking Lviv

At the top of town hall tower overlooking Lviv

Lviv

Lviv

Posted by awowchuk 10:20 Archived in Ukraine Tagged lviv Comments (0)

Budapest

sight see by day, party by night

sunny 30 °C
View Sun siberia and snow on awowchuk's travel map.

I write this as I sit exhausted in the top bunk of a tiny sleeper carriage on the train crossing the border between Hungary and the Ukraine and changing the trains wheels for a few hours late in the night. I was Hungary for 4 days and it was fantastic!
I caught the 9 hour day train from Ljubljana to Budapest. I got comfortable and spent the first 2 hours watching the Slovenian landscape go by before falling asleep. Half an hour later I was awoken as everyone was to get off the train and get on some buses. I had no idea what was happening or why but the buses took everyone about 20 minutes down the road to another station where we all got back on the train. We were on this one for another 2 hours before we all got off again and changed onto another train at the station. This train finally took me the rest of the way, through the large plains of northern slovenia and Hungary to Budapest.
At the train station, I was slightly confused for a while, struggling to work out how to get on the metro to go to my hostel. Eventually after 20 minutes of ambling around I found it and made my way into downtown Budapest. I was gutted though because as soon as I entered the metro I saw I had just missed Budapest's and one of Europe's largest festivals Sziget. oh well.
After checking in to my hostel, Tiger Tim's and getting some food and beers I then joined the drinking games and the pub crawl that the hostel does every night. The bars of Budapest are very cool as lots of them are "ruin pubs" These funky bars set up in old apartment buildings and courtyards, but filled with fantasticly random design and decoration. They are all different sizes and some have a great mix of dance areas and bar areas. (Plus the drinks are really cheap!) I had such a good time with a whole bunch of randoms from all over the world. I was finally, excluding the guy running the hostel, the only aussie.
The next morning I got myself up pretty early and headed out to see Budapest. I walked around the parliament building which was unfortunately half in scaffolding, then over the river and one of the famous bridges to the Buda side, but decided to quickly head back over to the larger and more interesting Pest side. I walked through the downtown shopping areas through to the Jewish synagogue. It was absolutely beautiful inside. I've never been in a synagogue before, and was fascinated with the architecture of it. It feels so much like a church, brick on the outside and a timber structure on the inside and obviously filled with jewish icons and imagery. It also had a very poignant garden remembering the thousands of Hungarian Jews who lost their lives during WW2.
After I continued my walking and headed through the Jewish quarter and then onto one of the main squares in Budapest and St Stephen's basilica. It reminded me very much of a small Vatican, although the colours inside were dominated by burgundy and gold and it had very dim lighting levels which heightened the spiritual atmosphere. I then got to continue my tradition of climbing church domes and towers to see the view of Budapest. It was 302 steps to the top and so cool to see the space between the internal dome and external cladding. The view was pretty amazing. Budapest stretches for miles!
I then headed back to the hostel, via the Budapest Opera house which was swarming so heavily with tourists that I couldn't be bothered to look properly, so I could get my swimmers and head to one of the towns famous natural bath houses, Szchenyi baths. It took ages to walk there and then there were so many people trying to get in, but thankfully because I prebooked my ticket I just walked straight on in. The complex was huge, with 16 pools in total ranging from super cold to 38 degrees, and lots of sauna's of all different temperatures. There were 3 massive outdoor pools, 2 hot and 1 cold filled with people. 1 of them even had a whirlpool in it. There were also lots of people sunbaking in the space around the pool. Inside the pools were much smaller, and I spent quite a while going between them, although typical me, I only went in the hotter ones. Except for the occasional splashing from people, it was incredibly relaxing and my knees and feet greatly appreciated it.
Back in the hostel I cooked myself dinner of pasta (it was my dinner for the next 3 nights) and then had some drinks with people in the hostel before heading out. We only headed to one pub as it was a monday night but it was cool. It was an underground maze of vaulted rooms with bars, dancing, seating areas. The place is ridiculous as you pay 500 forint entry (which is $2.50) and then proceed to get 3 pints of beer. The only downside of Budapest (and frankly all of eastern europe) is that you can smoke inside and in a place like this, with no ventilation you really notice it.
I didn't manage to get up quite as early the next day, but when I did, I then headed to the House of Terrors. A musuem remembering the Nazi and then Soviet occupation of Hungary. The museum had great exhibition design with lots of great graphics and multi-media display but there was no english so you couldn't really understand what was going on, but saying that you did get a pretty good sense that Hungary and its people really got screwed over for a long time. The cells and gallows in the basement were pretty horrifying. Next I walked over the Buda side. It is much hillier and I had to go up and down quite a few hills to see all the sights. I visited St Mathius church which had a multi-coloured tiled roof and also saw the Fisherman's bastion which was this beautiful stone wall and pavilion like structure that hung onto the edge of the hill with great views back over the Pest side. I then walked back down and up the next higher hill. It is a park with Liberty statue looking out over Pest. After taking in the view for quite a while I ambled down and went back over to the Pest side and went to the Central Markets. This 1920's grand hall had a main floor filled with fruit and veg, salami's and stalls selling paprika and other spices and then a lower level selling deer meat and seafood and an upper floor selling tacky souvenirs and food stalls. I was starving after walking around all day so I decided on getting something which I later found out is a very hungarian thing called Langos. It is a deep fried pizza dough topped traditionally with sour cream and cheese and garlic sauce. I had this one, but there are a huge array of toppings both sweet and sour you can have. It was like a heart attack on a plate. 3 bites in and I was kind of regretting this, but I did eat the whole thing, but I had to take most of the cheese off. It was intense. I had wanted to take the metro back over to my hostel but instead decided I needed to burn off the gazillion calories I had just consumed so I walked for an hour slowly back to my hostel.
I was so buggered but I still headed out that night, we started at a tiny uninteresting little bar before moving onto a mexican canteen styled outdoor courtyard bar then finally ending up in a huge ruin bar called Instant. It was a whole building with a maze of different types of rooms and bars and fantastic interior design, slightly oddball but so interesting. This was such a cool bar, I just wish I had been a little less tired.
On wednesday I decided to do a little day trip 1.5hr north of Budapest to a place called Visegrad, famous as it used to be the capital of the area in the medieval times and now it has castle ruins on the hill top over looking the danube and surrounding valley. No one from the hostel had been so I had to work it all out on the go. After heading to the wrong bus station, I eventually got the bus up there but then had no idea when to get off, there was no bus announcement, I had no map, the town when I eventually got off the bus had no signage as to where to go, but with an older Israeli couple who were also just as confused as I was, we just started to walk up as we could see the ruins. It was a long steep dirt path (that once again I conquered in thongs) to get up the top. First I went to a tiny little tower at the highest point on the hill where you had 360 degrees around the area and could see many bends of the Danube and all the little towns along it and then to the castle ruins 800m down the road. The ruins were fairly average, with a terrible wax work exhibition about the medieval time in the castle, but the view, perched on the edge of the hill was stunning and definitely worth the effort. After sitting up there for quite a while I headed back down to the town via a shorter steeper track and finally got karma for wearing thongs while hiking and stacked it, grazing my knee in the process. It's not a very bad one but proved to be really annoying the next day. Once I got into the town I went and had a late lunch of a Hungarian soup (a broth with beef, potatoes and carrots) at a restaurant on the riverside watching the punt go back and forth across the Danube. I was buggered by the time I eventually got back into Budapest and couldn't wait to have a shower and get a bit of rest before heading out again for my last night in Budapest. Tonight we went back to two of the bars I had already been to, which was fun and then headed to a club somewhere in Pest. Not my favourite but still pretty cool.
I had an early start on my last day in Budapest as I decided to go caving. The hostel had posters for it and 3 others from the hostel were going so why not go too. It took an hour to get there and then we got suited up in big tough overalls and helmets and then headed into the cave. The cave network was 30km long and mainly formed of limestone millions of years ago and was about 10 degrees but had ridiculously high humidity. We entered in, headed down a ladder and then spent the next 2.5 hours crawling, wriggling, sliding, climbing and walking through this amazing place. The first point where we had to get down onto our hands and knees and then stomachs and worm our way through was quite nerve racking for me. My heart was going through the roof. Plus I couldn't put any pressure on my grazed knee so it was slightly difficult crawling on one knee. I was second last out of 12 for most of the time and it was nerve racking watching all these people enter these cracks and holes in front of you. It took probably 20 more minutes for me to be properly enjoying this crazy experience. We headed down 50m into the cave before making our way back up through caves and tunnels with names like wedgie and birthing canal and big rooms like the cathedral and the theatre. On our way back towards the entrance 6 people spent 10 minutes going through the cave in pitch darkness. I just couldn't bring myself to do this so instead the other 6 of us went through and then waited in a bigger room in the dark for 15 minutes for the others to come through. Being in absolute darkness is sooo weird and such a strange sensory experience. Your eyes just cannot adjust and so start to imagine they can see things. It was quite a strange relief to see such a simple thing as daylight, and to be able to stand up properly.
It was so nice to finally have a shower after getting back to the hostel. I felt like clay and dirt had seeped into all my skin. I didn't really get any down time as I was booking accommodation, getting food for my long train trip and packing before leaving the hostel and heading to the train station for my 16 hour train to Lviv, Ukraine.

At St Stephans basilica

At St Stephans basilica

House of Terror

House of Terror

Hungarian Parliament House

Hungarian Parliament House

Standing on the Visegrad castle ruins overlooking the danube

Standing on the Visegrad castle ruins overlooking the danube

The danube from Visegrad

The danube from Visegrad

caving in budapest

caving in budapest

Langos at Budapest Grand central market

Langos at Budapest Grand central market

Budapest green bridge

Budapest green bridge

At Buda overlooking Pest

At Buda overlooking Pest

At Szchenyi baths

At Szchenyi baths

Posted by awowchuk 02:10 Archived in Hungary Tagged budapest Comments (0)

Slovenia

sunny 22 °C
View Sun siberia and snow on awowchuk's travel map.

The trip to Ljubljana was very dull and long. It took 4 hours on a bus to get from Oxford to Stansted (not a great decision to book a flight from Stansted by me), then waiting at Stansted for over 2 hours, and it is NOT an interesting airport and then lastly a 2 hour flight to Ljubljana. My reason to go to Ljubljana was based on "why not, sounds pretty!". Flying into Slovenia was gorgeous, I hadn't realised how alpine it was. It's like being in the bavarian or austrian alps without the kitsch. I quickly got out of the airport, (it's tiny!) and got a shuttle bus to my hostel in town. I was very happy to finally have a place to put my bags.
Although absolutely exhausted, I went for a stroll around the town, and instantly came across an amazing design store 2 doors down from my hostel! Fantastic stuff, I wish I could have bought half the store, instead I settled for the coolest make it yourself mountable deer head (I do realise how strange that sounds, but it is fantastic!). I proceeded to stroll around the small old town, it was very quaint and picturesque, with lots of people (tourists?) having ice-cream at the restaurants along the river. Fact about Slovenia: They absolutely love ice-cream and it is a definite sit down menu item to have around 6pm, before dinner. After my stroll, I had a quick but delicious dinner of Venison goulash at a traditional Slovenian in the old town, where the waiters wore traditional outfits. When I got up my feet were on auto-pilot and all I could think about was sleep, so it was back to the hostel.
The next day, Saturday, I decided to go on a day trip to one of the Slovenian alpine lakes, Bohinj. My good intentions of getting an early start feel through, as I just kept sleeping and didn't manage to get the bus until 10am. After an almost 2.5hr bus ride through stunning alpine scenery and villages, past the more famous lake and incredibly picturesque Bled, I arrived at Bohinj. (kind of pronounced Bochin). I really wished I hadn't slept in so much, the lake and its surrounding mountains were absolutely stunning (and undeveloped) and had lots of things to do. There were people swimming, sunbaking, fishing, kayaking, camping, bike riding, paragliding, skydiving and lots and lots of hiking. Hiking is a national obsession, they even have a museum about it. You can climb Slovenia's highest mountain Mt Triglav from here. I went for an 1.5hr walk along one side of the lake, and once again I made a stupid shoe decision and walked the rocky, dirty and often tree root covered path in thongs. whoops. The walk right on the lake edge through the forest was ridiculously stunning. Fact for travelling alone: If you don't charge the camera, the camera won't work! I had to take most of my pictures of this amazing place on my i-phone. At the other end was a tiny town, with only 3 restaurants called Ukanc. I sat outside, with views of the surrounding mountains at a packed pizza restaurant, I know you don't really need to know about my pizza but it was amazing! I ordered a small deer salami with mushrooms, 2 types of cheese and garlic pizza which was ridiculously good and but I swear it was family sized and I ate the whole thing! Never had I imagined I would eat a deer salami pizza! After lunch I continued walking and went to see a famous waterfall, high up in one of the gorges, Slap Savica. It took another hour to walk there, along yet more rocky terrain, and I even had one guy comment and question that I was hiking in thongs. When I got up there, there were lots of tourists, who were mostly driving in to see it. The waterfall was quite pretty, while the view back over the valley and the lake was stunning. After a quick stop, I walked back down, conscious that I had a bus to get, and in the end only had about 5 minutes to sit with my legs in the cool, incredibly fresh and clean water. I wish I had had time to go for a swim and maybe hire a kayak but ce la vie.
I swear the bus back to Ljubljana took longer, but eventually I made it to the city. After stocking up on some food for tomorrow's train journey and going and having a dusk time stroll around the outside of the castle overlooking the city, I headed back to my dorm room to organise where I would be sleeping for the next few days, rest my sore feet and get some sleep.

Ljubljana

Ljubljana

Lake Bochinj

Lake Bochinj

Me at Lake Bohinj

Me at Lake Bohinj

Ljubljana at dusk

Ljubljana at dusk

Posted by awowchuk 23:54 Archived in Slovenia Tagged ljubljana Comments (1)

The UK

Hanging with Suz and Matt

all seasons in one day 19 °C
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I finally arrived at London Gatwick airport at 10 in the morning absolutely exhausted and after walking the maze of the airport, waiting around for a bus, catching the worlds slowest bus to oxford with the most quintessientally english bus driver and then walking through Oxford, I finally arrived at Suz's and Matt's place!
We headed out for late lunch at a local cafe and it was great to catch up with everything that was happening in our lives! Then we quickly had a look at Christ's college. I can't believe when I was here last time I didn't go to any of the colleges. And in typical english style the rain came down. That night Suz and Matt were heading into london so I got a chance to catch up on some rest and sleep which was fantastic.
The next morning I woke up feeling horrid. The lack of sleep the night before, the communal living for 3 weeks now, the change in weather from ridiculously hot to wet and cold has made me very sick. None of us got up very early and so didn't have breakfast (of bacon. woohoo!) until very late. We then went walking around more of the colleges. They have absolutely beautiful gardens and buildings. Such a great place to think and ponder. We had to escape the pouring rain and thunder so had tea in a cool little restaurant. After walking through some more colleges and having great tour guides in matt and Suz who were able to tell me all about the customs and history we then went and had an early typically english dinner at a pub and then came back to their place to chill out for the evening.
The next day was just Matt and I as Suz was curled up in bed incredibly sick. We had a brief wander around. Once you've seen one college, you kind of get the idea for the rest and we didn't have Suz's student pass so we would have had to pay. But it was nice to wander through the town and see a few more things. We lunched at a local pub before heading back home with shopping supplies to cook dinner. I actually cooked (very basically, but to say thank you for having me!) We didn't actually eat until quite late as they have a really small range of cutlery and plates and things as they only moved in 2 weeks ago and we had to wait for the dishwasher to clean everything! Amazingly I did pretty well with the cooking in the end!
On tuesday, after chilling out in the morning, I decided to head into London for a bit of an explore of a few things that I haven't seen in all my travels through London. I started on Oxford St, which was ridiculously packed with shoppers and tourists, but I was forced down it as some tube stations were closed. As soon as I could get on the tube, I headed to King's Cross to check out the new refurbishment to the station, which was kinda cool then headed over to the Brick Lane area for a wander around it's cool little streets and was very tempted by some of the shops, and past all the Indian restaurants, then made my way to London Bridge station to see Renzo Piano's The Shard. It isn't actually finished yet so you can't go up it (until early next year) but it was interesting to see. I think it looks more impressive in massive skyline shots of London than up close, and if you want a view of London, go on the overpriced London Eye. It is bloody tall though! I then foolishly decided to walk along the southbank waterfront to Waterloo station. My feet were in agony with this decision! There were lots of tourists out and about walking along the river, seeing the olympic rings on pontoons in the river. Eventually after I finally got my feet to Waterloo, I caught the train to Paddington to meet up with Guy from uni. He moved here a year ago and is working in a firm near Paddington. It was so great catching up with him and meeting one of his friends that has just moved to the UK and watching the olympics at the pub. Great to see Sally Hanson win the gold! No one else in the pub really even noticed, but we definitely got into the spirit and were cheering for those 12 seconds! After a few more beers and some dinner, I couldn't stop yawning and so it was time to get the bus back to Oxford.
Wednesday was an exciting day as I got to go to the Olympics. Matt had to fly off to Norway for business so I got to go in his place. Sorry Matt! Yay!
We headed in and while Suz had lunch with a college friend, I went off to go see the Buckingham Palace state rooms. 4 visits to London and I've never been in, and this time proved to be no exception! Too many tourists and no more viewing time slots, so no visiting the queen for me. Instead I headed to the National Portrait Gallery for a wander around which was beautiful and interesting. Lots of paintings of ye olde English people and then lots of portraits about the Olympics and the National portrait prize. It was nice as I finally found a tourist attraction in London that wasn't swarming with people. Afterwards I met up with Suz and Ali (her twin studying at Cambridge) at a cafe and slowly, detouring through some shoe shops, some delayed tube stations and a Mark's and Spencer food hall in a Westfield's near the Olympic Park, we made it to the Olympics! I can't believe I've never been to the Olympics before, and I was going to watch the men's waterpolo quater final, a sport I have never seen before! I absolutely loved being there. I got a little excited seeing the Olympic venues and was running off to take pictures of Zaha's aquatic centre and Populus's stadium and the ugly ugly ugly arup sightseeing tower! There were lots of people, police and the volunteers in pink everywhere, but the atmosphere was great. We made our way to our seats in the waterpolo arena just as the teams for the first match were coming out! The first games between Italy and Hungary proved to be very close, with Italy only winning by 2 in the very last second of the match! It was really exciting to watch. It is an incredibly vicious sport, well at least the Hungarians were very vicious! The second match was Croatia vs USA and poor USA didn't stand a chance. They were scoreless by half time! If Croatia don't win a medal I would be very surprised, they were so strong and precise with everything! The crowd in both matches were lots of fun, everyone was very passionate about their teams but the USA supporters certainly had the most force behind their cheering!
After the games had finished we headed back out and I made Suz and Ali go for a walk around the Olypmic Park so I could see a few more of the buildings! The velodrome (by Hopkins), which of course was the furthest away was beautiful, it really is like a wooden clad pringle chip! It was lots of fun being there and enjoying the atmosphere!
We had a good run getting out of the Olympic Park, with the volunteers and police having good crowd control and we managed to slip through and jump a few queues to get back into London within 20 minutes! We left Ali and then Suz and I continued on our way to the bus to get back to Oxford. We were absolutely exhausted and were dragging our feet once we finally got back into her place. For me, It had been a brilliant day!
My last day in the UK was a fairly chilled one. Did some washing, made my next travel arrangements and checked out what was happening in the world. Then after lunch at a cute english cafe I headed to the Ashmolean museum, which is 200 years older than the British museum and has an elaborate collection of antiquities and art across the european and asian world. It was really fascinating. That night Suz and I went for thai at a local pub and Matt caught up later. I didn't manage to get as much sleep as I needed as we stayed up talking and I had an early start the next morning to start the next leg of my trip.
Being in the UK has been awesome. So nice to chill out, be able to understand everyone and read everything, go to the olympics and of course hang out with suz and matt. But now I am itching to get back on the road again, so next stop Ljubliana!

Suz and Matt in Oxford

Suz and Matt in Oxford

At Worcester College, Oxford

At Worcester College, Oxford

The shard

The shard

At the Olympics

At the Olympics

At the waterpolo with Suz and Ali

At the waterpolo with Suz and Ali

The waterpolo

The waterpolo

The worlds ugliest tower

The worlds ugliest tower

With Suz and Ali at the Olympics

With Suz and Ali at the Olympics

At the olympic velodrome

At the olympic velodrome

The Olympic stadium and tower

The Olympic stadium and tower

Posted by awowchuk 08:35 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged london olympics oxford Comments (0)

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