Slovakia and Hungary too- Another Part of the World

It’s been a few years since i’ve been to Eastern Europe and then it was only a weekend in Poland.  And that weekend in Poland wasn’t in any city but instead with friends at their lakeside cabin.  Now I don’t want to discount or downplay that experience.  It was lovely riding in the train and then walking across the boarder.  Since I was the only American, I remember it taking longer for the crossing official to look through my passport before letting me cross but nothing else unusual.  After we crossed the boarder, I think we took a bus out to where the cabin was and just enjoyed the beautiful nature and everyone’s company.  It was a great weekend getaway but not a super comprehensive view of what Eastern Europe has to offer.  So now I find myself back in this part of Europe experiencing it really for the first time.  Hungary and Slovakia are countries 29 and 30, respectively, on my travel list and together they open up a whole new world for me.

My travel from Budapest to Kosice went without a hitch.  I got about 4 hours of sleep once I flew into Budapest so it was a short night but I had plenty of time in the morning to buy my ticket, figure out where the train platform was and sit on the train wondering if it was the right one before it departed at 6:30 am.  Hopefully, I will get to see a little more of Budapest before I leave next week because as of right now my experiences have been limited to a talkative taxi driver, buying water from a vendor and quite a few people who told me they didn’t speak English as I was trying to figure things out at the station.

Kosice is the second largest city in Slovakia boasting about 240,000 people.  It has a beautiful downtown walking area and good ice cream so it’s been a good first couple of days.  Here are a few pictures of the city.  Enjoy!

Treats in Germany and off to Budapest

Yesterday was another lovely day in Europe.  The sun was warm and most people had a day off because of Pfingsten (Pentecost).  We started the day with a breakfast that included apricots, peaches and pears.  These are fruits that are definitely not available in Papua New Guinea so I was very excited.  They were absolutely scrumptious.  I can’t wait to enjoy more pit fruits this season.  I guess I will miss the abundant tropical fruits but this is a happy change for now.

I have been seeing lots of Berlin so after breakfast we decided to head outside of the city.  Our adventures took us to Potsdam which is not that far but already in Brandenburg.  We walked around the SchlossPark (Castle Park) which lived up to it’s name because of all the great buildings that were residences and summer homes for Kings.  The gardens are beautiful too and if you get off the main paths, there are even some places to sit and just enjoy the day without hordes of other people.  It would have also been interesting to see the inside of some of the Castles but maybe that should be a cold or rainy day activity when being outside isn’t really an option.

It’s amazing how ornate all the buildings are.  The time and craftsmanship that went into constructing these palaces is kind of astounding.  Artwork has obviously changed but the stone carving and metal work is still really impressive.  It was also fun to see that fruits were considered a treat then too.  There were places for figs to be grown and a giant green house to take care of exotic plants in the winter and other fruits like oranges.  For you German readers, here is some more information on Potsdam Park Sanssouci.  And for those of you who don’t speak German here is some less detailed information in English but even you can still enjoy the pictures on the main site.

After visiting the park we walked into downtown Potsdam which has lots of interesting gates and a comfortable main walkway that’s car free and enjoyable.  Since it was warm and we had already eaten a small park picnic, we decided that ice cream would be a good afternoon treat.  I ordered Spaghetti Eis which is literally Spaghetti Ice Cream.  But only in looks not in taste.  It’s vanilla ice cream, strawberry (or in this case mixed berry) sauce and white chocolate shavings.  Delicious.  I appreciate the over-the-top ice cream treats in Germany.

And now today I am repacking for my evening flight to Budapest.  This next week is going to be an adventure getting to Slovakia by train and seeing another very different part of Europe.  But i’m excited to see what will happen.  No doubt there will be some good stories in the making.  I don’t know about my internet connection so we’ll see when I can post next.  Until then I hope you, no matter where you are, get to enjoy some summer treats.

The Green Side of Berlin

The city of Berlin has lots of trees.  Trees in the city and trees surrounding the city.  And since the weather has been lovely we decided to visit some parks and green places.  This took us all over the city.  We road buses and the s-bahn and did a bit of walking but with Berlin’s great public transportation it was totally doable and we never waited more then 15 minutes for the next bus or train.

First stop was Tempelhof.  This airport was the site of the Berlin Airlift but now is closed so the runways and grass areas are open to the public for picnics and recreation.  It was fun to see people out enjoying the day.

By the way these lovely people who I am with are my college housemate and her husband.  They are now living in Berlin so I jumped at the opportunity to spend time with them.  Hooray for international friendships.

Then we made our way to the Olympic Stadium that was used for the 1936 Summer Olympics.  They still use the park and surrounding areas for events and training so it’s nicely kept up.  There were lots of runners and other clubs meeting and practicing so it was fun to see all the modern happenings in front of such a historical backdrop.

After the Stadium we made our way to the Tower in the Grunewald.  This was beautiful and we climbed to the top for a great view of the surrounding area.  The first picture of the Berlin skyline was taken from the tower.  It was a bit hazy but still very beautiful with all the green!  We rewarded ourselves with icecream after the climb.

And the rest of the day was spent walking around the lakes and enjoying the greeness in Berlin.  The weather was perfect for our adventure.  In the picture below you can see the Tower that we climbed in the distance where we ended up later on the lake.  A great day seeing yet another side of Berlin.

Berlin, A City Once Divided

I first visited Berlin about 10 years ago.  It was a great trip but I left feeling like I hadn’t really gotten to know the heart of Berlin.  To me the city felt divided, scattered, separated.  After being in cities like Paris and Rome where you have no doubt where you are, Berlin felt different.  Yes, you could stand in front of the Brandenburg Gate or touch what was left of the Berlin Wall or see other famous parts of the city but something was missing.

Looking back i’m not 100% sure why I felt this way.  I think some of it may have been the way we toured the city as a group, going to museums and seeing only the tourist attractions instead of the parts of the city where people actually live.  It could also be that we rarely ever walked anywhere but instead took the U-bahn and the S-bahn (public transportation).  This meant that we would just arrive in front of places without actually having any idea how it was connected to the rest of the city.  And of course, 10 years ago I was younger and less likely to just look up and notice the world around me, less likely to see anything but the obvious.

I think another reason the city felt divided was because, it was.  For about 30 years the city was literally divided by the Berlin Wall.  This time definitely left it’s mark both physically and emotionally on the city landscape and the people too.  The Wall is something some people want to forget entirely, others want to preserve it for historical reasons, others for remembrance, still others for tourism.  The Wall remains in parts but it is mostly just a two brick wide line that marks where the wall use to stand.  Now this line is almost invisible to the cars driving over it or the people walking by it.  Berlin’s history is still shaping its future but in a less obvious way.

Today as I walk though the streets of Berlin the city no longer feels divided.  Maybe it’s because the city has had another 10 years to grow together, maybe I’ve changed and am just seeing it differently, maybe it’s something else or a mix of all of these.  Each part of the city definitely has a different feel depending on it’s own demographics.  But the entire city together has a pulse, a rhythm that is Berlin.

Inside and Outside

It’s been quite an adventure here in South Asia.  I’ve seen many parts of the city and yesterday I hopped on the back of  bullet motorcycle and road about an hour out of the city to see a more rural area.  It’s very interesting to see how the travel experience is changed simply by the mode of transportation.  I’m happy we chose the motorcycle ride because it allowed me to take in more of my surroundings as we zipped down the highway.  I wish I could have had a camera attached to my helmet (which by the way brought many stares because I was the ONLY passenger wearing a helmet in the entire city).  Here are some picture highlights from inside and outside of the city.

The Auto Rickshaw

The auto rickshaw is an amazing way to get around the city.  At first they all look the same but then you notice that most of them have been personalized.  This can be a very minor change like something hanging from the mirrors, religious iconography, painting on the inside of the roof, fur, sparkly tinsel or other hanging decoration to a more elaborate adaptation like our auto last night that had full on neon blue lighting and a mini neon chandelier.  You never know what kind of bling you’ll step into.

It is nice that autos generally have working meters so although price is almost always negotiated there is a base to start.  The price goes up based on the color of your skin, the weather, the time of day, the area of town and other factors as well.  This is especially evident in the evening, in pouring rain trying to get an auto all the way across the city.  But the soaking rain doesn’t really leave you much leveraging space so sometimes you just take what you can get.  You would imagine that South Asia would have roads designed to accommodate a sudden rain deluge but instead the roads turn into rivers.  And when you are driving through an area where the water is so high it is lapping over the sidewalk, the extra 100rupees may still seem extravagant but totally worth it.

Sunday morning is not the easiest time to catch an auto rickshaw.  And once again it is generally more challenging to find an auto that is willing to drive a further distance.  So this morning it took awhile but we, three adults and two children, were finally piled into the back of an auto.  The driver was young and we noticed a nice large speaker in the back behind us.  A few minutes later the hiphop turned on and there we were zipping through traffic in style, one child asleep and oblivious to the pounding music, the other bobbing his head to the beat.   A little while later and the music turned Bollywood style and we had our own movie soundtrack.  Somehow the city just looks different from the back of an auto rickshaw.