Recap Part 2
I have posted more pictures. I believe that will be all I will post. Thanks for following along. Here is the recap.
I decided that I would only spend a night in Warsaw. I got there in the morning from the overnight train from Kyiv. It was nice to be back in a familiar country. I felt with Ukraine that I could appreciate my experience but as far as enjoyment, that was one place where I wish I would have had a contact or a companion. In Warsaw, I just walked around and tried to picture what this place looked like before (easly because they rebuilt the old town to replicate what it looked like before WW2) and how it looked like when it was bombed. The day I was to leave, I explored on of the city's outer parks. When I left, it was to Vilnius, capital of Lithuania. The Baltic countries were places I was going to visit later but when I realized that I had the time and opportunity, I decided to spring for them and see as much as I can. Also, you just never know when you will return. Who knows where I could be next year? So I decided that I could get to Lithuania and Latvia before going to Czech. I took an overnight bus and arrrived in Vilnius at 4 in the morning. I got to the hostel and slept a little more as I understandably didn't sleep properly on the bus. I went out and saw the city. I went to their occupation museum and saw how they were poorly treated by the Nazis and by the Soviet Union. Latvia had a museum of their own. Seeing those museums really put their experiences of Siberian exile in perspective. While I knew a bit about the subject, the museums were able to elaborate and show how evil Stalin and his regime was and how their lives and country were destroyed by communism. And this was a reoccuring lesson that I was exposed to throughout my trip. I visited the unofficial independent republic of artists and drunks, which is just across a small river in Vilnius. It wasn't really that different but I could tell that there were some different folks and it was part of what makes Vilnius a quirky city. I visited Trakai, a small town with a castle and a bunch of lakes and it was nice enough but a lot of the castle was closed. I went back to Vilnius and felt sick. In the morning, I had a fever and a headache but I decided that I must get to Riga and I did by bus. The next day, I woke up in Riga, eager to get out but I had stomach pains and still felt drained despite losing the fever and headache. But that eventually subsided and I met some cool people. The hostel I stayed at set up places where we could go night-clubbing and get in without paying the cover charge and I was game as I had friends to hang out with and the women were the best I saw of all Eastern Europe (Czech being a close second). I had a good time in Riga and in hindsight, I was glad that I had to delay going to Czech as I got to go to the beach and hang out in Riga and its clubs for two more days. I bought my ticket for Czech and prepared myself for the 20-some hour trip. The Baltic countries ended up being a good part of the trip. While Ukraine sort of missed the mark, I believed that Latvia and Lithuania would be different and they were. The Baltic countries are definitely more nationalistic and more modern than Ukraine which made for a more enjoyable time. It was interesting to see the difference between Ukraine and the Baltics, both of which declared independence from the Soviet Union over 15 years ago. What I can say about Ukraine is that I saw it in it's tourism infancy and if I ever go back (smart money says I will go back to the Baltics over Ukraine) to Ukraine, I will be able to view the differences.
The bus trip ended up being 22 hours an I met Honza, my Aunt Lori's former English student, shortly after. I was given a tour and put up in his parent's apartment for as long as I needed. Prague was a bit overhyped because I knew many people who had been there and got a lot of recommendations and information about Prague and little recommendations and info about the other places I went to but Prague didn't disappoint. I could have used a couple of extra days there but I was able to see much of the city. I spent a couple days in Prague, checking out the castles and many of the sights that it had to offer among all the tourists before going to Kutna Hora exploring the UNESCO town with its massive Gothic cathedral and its ossuary (bone church). I also met a historical Czech citizen, Milan Paumer. He was part of the anti-communist resistance and spent many years in the U.S. before recently returning to Czech. It was an inspiring meeting and his experiences and opinions gave me a new outlook on things. One thing that I gathered in my EE travels is that we as Americans were really spared from a lot of the strife and terrible results that came from occupations and bombings that took place before, during and after WW2. It was a great experience to have met a historical figure such as Milan, who nearly gave his life defending what he believed in.
The Czech Republic was an area that drew me to EE because I saw how many cities and attractions that it offered and when I looked around at the other countries via my guidebooks, I decided I could build an inexpensive trip around it and have a rather unique expe rience visiting countries that aren't as familiar to Europe-goers. I visited many towns in Czech such as Ceske Budejovice (of Good Soldier Svejk and Budvar, the real Budweiser, fame), Cesky Krumlov (a UNESCO site and a very picturesque town), Plzen (where I visited the Pilsner Urquell factory) and Karlovy Vary (where the fourth-most popular film festival takes place and incidentally took place while I was there). I spent two nights in C. Krumlov, taking pictures and making good use of my kayak lessons I took three years ago at NIU. I visited C Budejovice and stayed long enough to sample many of the Budvar beers. I went to Trebon, which was a small town off of the tourist map and spent a little time on the hiking trails and catching some fresh air. I went back to Prague and got up the next day to go to Plzen I spent the day there going to the brewery and also seeing the town. I missed the last bus to K.Vary and had planned on meeting Honza there. So, I walked out of town, made a sign and hitchhiked there. A trucker picked me up and I got there in good time. I spent the next couple days viewing films at the festival. The K.Vary experience was unique because I wouldn't have been able to do it without Honza. In my itinerary I had drawn up before I left, I had cut K. Vary out but I am glad I went there because K.Vary was the most naturally beautiful area I visited in Czech. I left there and went back to Prague one more night before going to Vienna the next day. Overall, I spent ten days in Czech (not to be confused with spending ten days in check) and it felt like less because it went fast and I was doing so much. That was a good part of the trip.
I took the bus and got to Vienna around noon. I bought a three-day transit pass and went here and there. Vienna was the most expensive place I visited by far but it was worth spending the time there and since I had a transit pass I could just go around and visit as I pleased. From there I thought about going to a small town in Hungary or to Bratislava but I felt like going to Budapest was the best thing to do. And, you know, I had a lot of pictures to retake. So I got there and visited my favorite sights. After all I had done, it was neat to come back to Budapest and see something familiar again. Also, it was good to see how Budapest really compared to all the places I had been. I returned and really dug the language, the crazy Hungarian language and all Budapest had to offer. I met some dudes from England and hung out with them, going back to Buda and climbing the citadel hill and taking more pictures. It was a good ending. Before I got there, I felt like I was ready to return to America. When I got to Budapest, I was ready but if someone would tell me that I had a couple of extra weeks, I would have found ways to spend those days. I left the hostel and went to the airport at 10 at night. I spent the night at the airport because my plane left at 7 and I wanted to make sure I would make my flight and this was the cheap and most assured way that I would do so. So, staying up at the airport, leaving in the morning in Europe and getting into America in the afternoon is a good way to go because I had no jet lag. My flight path was from BP to Milano, IT and from there to Chicago. I went back to America and found it strange to hear all the passing conversations and transit announcements IN ENGLISH! That is pretty much the summary of my trip. I urge you to visit [url]www.radio.cz/en/article/52502[/url] to read more about Milan Paumer and his story.
I have been asked what my favorite part of my trip was. I can't tell you that I liked one place more than the other but if I had to choose I would say Riga. It was great to go and see what I did but with Riga, I was able to relax and enjoy where I was at. I also enjoyed Czech because I got to meet many locals and see a lot of towns. I found that visiting smaller towns and the countryside in addition to visiting the large cities is a good way to see a country.
I learned some things on the trip. It wasn't easy just going around Eastern Europe but travelling is worth doing because, although not everyone is friendly, there is a lot to experience in the places that I visit. You go over there to travel and you get experiences. You don't go looking for experiences because they will come to you. You learn things about your own country by visiting these places. In my travels. I heard about many other countries that people were going to. A lot of tourists were headed to the Balkans. There is so much to Europe to see. My goal isn't and wasn't to see as much as possible. It was to go where I wanted to go roughly within my plans and my planned budget. In the future, I will go to more high-profile and more expensive places but I may never have an opportunity to do what I did this summer- to travel for seven weeks through EE and see a lot of these places before they become touristed. It was a good start.