April 28, 2004

More photos...

Bucharest

Brasov

Budapest

Prague

Brussels

Posted by Peter at 10:09 AM | Comments (1)

April 25, 2004

Istanbul Photos...


Writing this from Paris, but more about that later. For now, here are the rest of my Istanbul pictures, with other places to follow. The file names are sort of a description of each one, and if you want more info about what something (or someone) is, email me or leave a comment.


Posted by Peter at 06:59 AM | Comments (3)

April 21, 2004

Budapest, Prague...

The great thing about Budapest is that it has the feel of a real city. There's plenty to do and see, but tourists are relatively uncommon and it's easy to spot the many normal Hungarians going about their daily business. I spent my first few days in Budapest with Adam, Damian and two British girls on their gap year, then after they all left, with a group of six American students on break from their studies in Berlin. A good time was had by all and many a delicious meal was cooked at the hostel (minus one pasta dish that was covered with liquid hot magma that looked a lot like plain tomato sauce). On our last afternoon in town we ventured out to a mineral bath for a nice relaxing soak. We were a bit intimidated by the lack of English speaking staff, tourists and any indication of where to go, but before long we found the hot indoor baths. It seemed like it was all locals and although we got some odd looks for probably not observing some important customs, we managed to figure things out enough to have a good time.

After almost a whole week in Budapest, I took a train Sunday to my last Eastern Europe destination - Prague. I quickly decided to move my flight back to give myself four days instead of two and I think it was the right choice. At breakfast Monday morning I chatted for a bit with Ali who's from Texas and then joined him on a walking tour of Prague where we met two American girls who are studying in Paris. The tour was a great three hour introduction to the city and made me wish I had done more tours like that in previous cities. Oh well, hind sight and all that. Tuesday was museum day, including the Museum of Communism and a nice gallery of 20th century Czech art. The Museum of Communism especially was really informative and almost made me want to take a class on recent European history or something. Almost. I've got one last day in Prague and the sun is out, so I think I might find a park and sit and read for a while.

Posted by Peter at 05:10 AM | Comments (2)

April 14, 2004

Brasov, Budapest...

I had a small world experience in Brasov the other day that will be hard to top. While sitting in the hostel consuming a large can of Ursus (the local beer), I met Justin who had an obviously American accent so I asked where he was from... Wisconsin... where? Madison. It gets better. He graduated last May with degrees in Economics and Russian, but his freshman year (mine too) he lived in Chadbourne Hall where I often visited friends. It turns out that he knows Susan, Rachel and Jodi and the whole Chad crew. In fact we realized that we had both been drunk on the roof of Chadbourne on the same night at the end of freshman year because of a mutual friend (Jerry). So I probably met this guy at least once and here he is in a hostel in Transylvania. He's just finishing up an internship at the US Embassy in Chisinau, Moldova and was spending his Easter break in Romania.

Despite discovering a story as great as that, Romania was otherwise a letdown. Though Brasov is nicer than Bucharest, the entire country seems quite dirty and the people, though they had their nice moments, were not nice enough to make up for the problems.

On the overnight train from Brasov to Budapest I was put in the same compartment as two English guys (Adam and Damian? Damien? Daymeeon?) who taught me to play Trumps with the deck of cards they had brought. We also shared a few beers and they had a bottle of cheap Romanian gin that we mixed with the juice I had bought. We discussed lodging options in Budapest and after surfing guidebooks and brochures we decided to try the Museum Guest House when we arrived at 5:22AM.

I could tell immediately that Budapest was nicer than Bucharest by the high ratio of pigeons to stray dogs (about 200:1 for Budapest, about 1:2 for Bucharest). The city just has a nicer feel to it. The buildings are attractive and there are no piles of garbage. In fact, they hire people to sweep up cigarette butts off the street. The hostel has a nicer atmosphere than others I've stayed in (despite the lack of a large common area) and the people in general seem quite nice. Unfortunately the language here is a larger problem than in Romania or in other past countries. Magyar (Hungarian) is not at all related to English or Romance languages and there are many oddities. One funny example: the informal way to say hi is pronounced "seeya" and the informal way to say goodbye is pronounced "halo".

Off to see some sites in Budapest and try to figure out how long I want to stay here. Halo!

Posted by Peter at 08:46 AM | Comments (5)

April 11, 2004

Istanbul, Bucharest, Brasov...

After five days in Istanbul, I felt sad to say goodbye. There's just so much atmosphere in that city. Despite the overrated and overpriced tourist attractions, the people and the environment were incredible. The most memorable moment occurred on my last full night at the Orient Hostel. When the local mosques call people to prayer, it is customary to turn off whatever music might be playing so people can hear the call. On this night I took my beer from the top floor cafe of the hostel to the rooftop terrace overlooking Aya Sofia, the Blue Mosque and the Bosphorus and sat in the sun listening to Muslim songs from every direction. It's difficult to see how people might become annoyed by that tradition. I found it beautiful. I met many wonderful people at the hostel including Tyson from Atlanta who is now teaching English outside of London and Chris, a former football player (Aussie Rules) from Melbourne who is travelling around the world and had recently visited North and South America. It was also fun to see Istanbul as a sort of bridge between East and West by meeting people who were on their ways to places like Syria, Iran, and India and people who were returning from those places. I also received a lesson in Anzac day from the Aussies and Kiwis.

From Istanbul it is a slow, painful, 23-hour train journey to Bucharest. It seemed like we never moved faster than a walking pace and stopped at even the smallest out-of-the-way stations, not to let passengers on or off, but just to let another train pass on the one track that runs that route. As expected, the Turkey-Bulgaria border crossing at 3AM is intimidating and scary, like something out of a movie. To make matters worse, there was no dining car and I had forgotten to pack any food. Luckily I only had to share a comparment with one person for most of the time and had the compartment to myself for the rest. The one compartment-mate was a German named Samuel (pronounced Zam-wil) who spoke English quite well. In the first International Yahtzee Olympics, Germany bested the USA but it was close.

Arriving in Bucharest after dark (nearly four hours late) is not the best way to get a good first impression of the city. An American and a Finn happened to be arriving at the same time and we discovered we were all staying in the same hostel. Putting our three brains together we managed to figure out the Metro system enough to get within walking distance of the hostel, then wandered around for a while and asked directions before finding it. Although I had low expectations of the city due to hearing negative things from everyone I had met that had been there, Bucharest managed to not even meet those expectations. There are growling stray dogs and piles of garbage everywhere, the drivers and streets are worse than any other city I've seen (including New York, Rome, Athens and Istanbul!), and almost all of the buildings are just plain ugly.

After checking in to the hostel, the three of us decided to go to a Romainian restaurant recommended by the owner of the hostel. He showed us the menus and explained that although it was relatively upscale, the entrees cost about the equivalent of 3-4 US dollars. We made our mistake when we allowed the waitress to choose appetizers for us. There were a few that interested us (including breaded fried ewe's milk cheese i.e. cheese curds) and when she pointed to six or seven items on the menu and told us "a little of this and a little of this", we agreed. The appetizers were delicious even though we had no clue what we were eating. Then the bill came. Three million Romainian Lei or about US$100. For three of us. When we had ordered three dollar entrees. We looked it over and found that "a little of this and a little of this" had ended up costing us sixty bucks. We tried to persuade her to lighten the total, but we had let her choose and we did eat the food, so our case had a few holes. I left the restaurant with a bad taste of Bucharest in my mouth, but with the knowledge that we could have been scammed for much worse.

The rest of Bucharest was equally unimpressive save the one big attraction - The Palace of Parliament. Everything about the building is incredible. The staggering facts just kept pouring out of the tour guide's mouth: One million cubic meters of marble, a pair of one ton curtains, a 2200 square meter conference room. Unfortunately, it's not enough to save Bucharest for me.

Yesterday I moved on to Brasov in Transylvania. Though it's many times nicer than Bucharest, Istanbul may have set the standard by which all future cities I visit are compared and Brasov isn't even in the same league. There are several nice castles in the area though, but even those were underwhelming. I've met some great people here (including several Peace Corps volunteers from Bulgaria), but I'm looking forward to taking the train to Hungary tomorrow and finally seeing Budapest which I keep hearing great things about.

Posted by Peter at 12:19 PM | Comments (6)

April 05, 2004

Photos...

Just pictures now, but explanations to follow. Or you can look back at the archives and figure it out on your own.
Italy

Greece

Turkey

Posted by Peter at 11:17 AM | Comments (3)

April 03, 2004

Kusadasi, Ephesus, Istanbul...

Hey... I'm in Asia. No wait, I was in Asia, but now I'm back in Europe. I think. In my last day on Samos I had an interesting experience while sitting in a cafe. The woman who was working came up to my table and pulled up a chair and started asking me questions about English grammar. I believe she said she was Polish, but I'm not certain. She first wanted to know what different question words would produce what parts of speech in English. Like what would you ask so the answer would be a noun... or a verb. I did my best to explain to her that that wasn't a good way to think about parts of speech and gave her a basic lesson in person/place/thing vs. action. Comparing adverbs and adjectives was a little tougher and we ended by discussing when you use "the" before a plural noun e.g. "the people" vs. "people". I think I actually helped her out and it was kind of fun too.

I caught a ferry on Thursday from Samos to Kusadasi, Turkey. I was expecting a radical change in everything, but after the various culture shocks I've gone through recently, Turkey has been about what I expected. The people that own the hostel I stayed at in Kusadasi also own a carpet shop and a hotel in Selcuk. After only paying 8 euro for a single room, they drove me around the area and dropped me off for a while at Ephesus on Friday. While some of the ruins are interesting, I'm just not enough of a history buff to get that much of a kick out of it. At least I felt like I was doing something touristy. I also visited the ruins of the Church of St. John, where he is said to have written his gospel and been buried. The guys from the hostel then let me hang out in their hotel and drink tea and learn how to play some domino game too before I got on an overnight bus to Istanbul. I was unfortunate enough to sit near the front of the bus and so all night I got to watch the headlights come straight at our bus on roads that seem to have no lines or lanes. Also I would like to have a word with the person that scheduled a 10 hour overnight bus ride and decided to serve as much coffee and water as the passengers wanted... with no bathroom on the bus!!! Luckily I realized there was no bathroom before hydrating myself too much, so I made it. I don't know how the other passengers fared. Time to go explore Istanbul.

Posted by Peter at 05:10 AM | Comments (0)