Friday, 18 September 2009

Final chapter

I've been home a couple days now and realised I need to finish my blog so here goes.

Berlin was fab, I did the free tour of East Berlin and it was amazing! We saw loads of Pre WWII sights as well as Nazi related buildings, artefacts from the Cold War and memorials, excellent! I would have tipped the guy more than a fiver but I really couldn't afford too. He was brilliant, told loads of interesting stories, including the most dramatic account of the fall of the Berlin Wall and completely made the city come alive with history, I would definitely recommend it! I also went to the East Side Gallery which is the largest remaining section of the wall, it is covered in art which is currently being repainted to celebrate 20 years since the fall. The art was fantastic! I also went into the Reicstag, to view the city from the famous glass dome which was really beautiful, despite queueing for an age in the cold.

The next day I wondered around the city a bit more to see some other sites and have a stroll through the beautiful Tiergarten. That afternoon I was meant to catch the direct train to Copenhagen. I was half an hour early so patiently waited on the platform for the train. Some how the train came and went without me even realising. How this happened I'm not sure but it was definitely the most retarded thing that happened to me. I managed to find an alternative route where i had to catch 4 train, I arrived in Copenhagen at 2am, fun! Berlin was amazing though, I love the city and really want to go back. There aren't many buildings standing that were built pre WWII but those that are, are covered in bullet and shell holes, graffiti and all sorts, it really make the history come alive and make you realise how recent the war was. Berlin is still a beautiful place despite suffering so much trauma in the last 100 years!

Copenhagen was ace, apart from the terrible bedroom I had! The city was beautiful and serene with plenty to see and do. There were bikes everywhere and I was convinced I would be run over (fortunately not)! I walked around for hours, went to see the Little Mermaid (not great), the harbours, Tivioli (the hugely popular theme park where I went on the rides on my own, sad!) and other sights which I can barely even remember now. I ate the most amazing mussels of my live and really enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere. The next morning I took a trip to Kristiania which is a free community in the heart of the city. Everyone was on drugs, most stoned, and the atmosphere was so chilled out you could have fallen asleep at the various bars. Everyone lives together and work alongside each other to keep this community going and too not become a refuge for the junkies. There are frequent raids from the Danish police but generally the place is really peaceful. You aren't allowed to take photos which is a shame because there is a lot of beautiful graffiti art and nature as its pretty much a park wit a few buildings.

I found some amazing vintage shops in the city, the selection of clothes and accessories was amazing, unlike the prices!! The high cost is a running theme throughout North Europe, Copenhagen wasn't the worse place for rip off prices but it was still bad. Despite that the city was an amazing place.

That afternoon I caught the ferry to Oslo. On board I watched Harry Potter 6 and slept! Not the most exciting part of the trip!

I arrived in Oslo the next day with no clue where to go! Eventually found the hostel, dumped my stuff and proceeded to explore as i was only in the city for 24 hours. Oslo was very pretty but with little to actually see. Everything was expensive and the free museums weren't amazing. I saw some cool Viking artefacts but the museum with the impressive boats was too far away.

My next port of call was Stockholm which was much more interesting. First of all the city is massive therefore there is a lot more to see. I went to the palace and saw the crown jewels, royal apartments and the museum. I went to the view point, the harbour, wondered around the old town for hours, I went to the comic shop which was full of FREAKS! I have nothing against comics, I read them myself but the people here were a new bred of weird!! I was mesmerized by the half marathon that afternoon and ended up watching against the road side for at least an hour, the people were amazing and I found myself a bit emotional by the whole experience. One of my room mates at the hostel had actually ran it so it was fun talking to him that evening about the whole experience! I want to run the London Marathon one day so my first step is going to be to dig out some trainers and start running.

My final journey was to get another overnight ferry to Helsinki, where I proceeded to sleep for 12 hours. Helsinki was amazing! I wandered around the markets, took a boat trip around the islands, went Christmas shopping and more. By the end of my trip I had seen so many churches, cathedrals, parliaments, city halls I couldn't really be arsed with doing that in Finland so I just walked and explored without a tour book. I chatted for ages with the people at the Hostel and generally had a great time in the vibrant city. I went to an Irish bar and had a stupidly priced cider and tried to buy reindeer meet but 50 quid was too much for a tin!!

After 2 nights in this fab city it was time to get my plane home! A guy from the hostel was also travelling to London and was on the same flight as me, excellent, so it was fab to have company on the otherwise boring 3 hour journey. Mummy met me at Gatwick and after seeing her I realised the trip was at an end!

I had a bloody amazing time and so glad I went, even on my own. It did get a bit lonely at times but I still had the best 5 weeks ever and can't get over how many places I've been and how much I've seen, A LOT! It was nice to come home, I was completely exhausted and in desperate need to vitamins plus I missed everyone a bit by this stage but I'm determined to do more travelling now, but with some friends!

Now that this journey has ended the next is about to begin. In a week and a half I start my masters at Surrey Uni and I'm mega excited! I don't think I'll update this blog until my next adventure but who knows you can never be too sure! So until next time, go see Europe everyone cos its great!

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Eastern Europe. Done

It's been a while but I've been so busy I haven't been able to sit down on a computer for more than a few minutes. I'm in Berlin now after an exhausting ride on the over night train and instead of looking around the city today I've slept instead!

Last time I wrote I was nearly finished my time in Zagreb where I would be leaving for Budapest. I am probably the only person to say this but I really didn't like Budapest, the city was vast and full of trashy building and dirty roads. My hostel was pleasant but in the morning, without fail, the builders / protesters / commuters would wake me up with their screaming and drills. The sight seeing didn't go to well either,  after walking for an age I stumbled across Buda (old town) and found the castle, the cathedral and some lovely little cobbled streets lined with candy box coloured houses. OK so far you may think, until I got horrifically lost trying to find the river again to cross back into Pest (new town). Bear in mind the Danube is massive but i still managed to spend 2 hours tracking it down. Eventually made it across, found some more churches and the biggest Synagogue. A couple were getting married at one place which was extremely romantic, except for the horrid tacky car that waited for them outside. I tired to find my way back to the hostel but didn't know where to go so just hopped on the metro instead. I spent the evening hanging out with the hostel folk which was extremely enjoyable.

I would go back to Budapest in the future with some friends in hope for a better experience but i think the big city style put me off as I've been used to smaller locations.

Next stop was Bratislava. I already had some doubts before i even got there and the grey concrete box of a train station and graffiti didn't do much for my opinions: Went out the first evening with my rooms mates (a bunch of friendly English boys and 2 extremely obnoxious welsh girls) to a local club which was pretty awful except for the cheap drink. It was a Sunday night so the place was dead but i was taught to appreciate minimal music so it wasn't all that bad. A friend of the boys (the most obnoxious, ignorant arse of a man I've ever met) was extremely drunk and started to sing racist songs, take his clothes of and be an all around idiot and then wanted to know why he didn't have a girlfriend... shocking!!! Went sight seeing the next day and my impressions of the city quickly changed. The city centre was tiny but extremely pretty with its little colourful streets and eye catching buildings: I walked around the castle, saw the changing of the guard at the government building and wandered about the markets.

The following day I was back on a train but this time to Vienna. The journey was only an hour long and the two cities are the closest capitals to each other in Europe and possibly the world. Vienna was AMAZING!! Big but so much to see, it really is a city of art and music. I went to the butterfly house which was beautiful if not a little scary when these massive insects were flying directly at your head. I walked around the old palace, the opera house and into the museum quarter which is where i spent all afternoon. I went to the Leopold Museum which had a nice collection of art including the biggest collection by Egon Schiele which was really interesting. Then there was KUNSTHALLE which was full of modern art, some of it I liked (the photography portraits) but some of it was really strange (videos or utter randomness). The last gallery was MUMOK which was full of contemporary art, again some was interesting whilst other pieces were completely bewildering! My favourite place was the Haus de Musik which was a museum dedicated to the art and science of music. There were loads of interactive sections where you could create music and then there were the sections about the great composers and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, I could have listened to the music all night!

The hostel I stayed at was super, it had it's own bar and was so much fun. The first night there i had two cocktails and due to a recent lack of alcohol consumption i felt slightly inebriated. The second evening was time for an early night due to catching an early train in the morning to Krakow.

After a long bookless journey (I'd finished Breaking Dawn several days ago) I arrived into Krakow which is beautiful. The people in my cabin on the train started drinking beer at 9am and began shots at midday, I politely declined when they offered me a vodka!! Except for the extremely unfriendly Polish locals this city was a joy to stay in. The hostel was great, we had a BBQ in the beer garden and the basement has been converted into a brilliant bar and pool room.

The following morning I went to Auschwitz which as you can imagine was rather horrific! The place wasn't as bleak as I had imagined as a lot of the building are red brick but despite that it was still ghastly. The day I went also happened to be cold, damp and grey so the atmosphere was even worse. There were literally rooms full of human hair and personal belongings. The tour was great, in terms of depth of information but I can't say I wasn't glad to leave. I don't think it ever properly sunk in that over 1 millions people died there (90% Jewish) and a lot of the really terrible parts i.e. the 'shower' rooms and incinerators had been destroyed when the Nazis tried to burn the evidence of what was going on there but despite that it was still utterly disgusting!

Back in Krakow I walked around the castle (another one I hear you say) which was really pretty and other parts of the old town and down to the river. That evening I caught the night train to Berlin. The night train was a first for me and I was terrified of being robbed as I've heard so many stories. It was fine except I didn't sleep well due to the freezing, noisy carriage and the obvious discomfort of the bed! I shared the cabin with a group of friendly people which is more than I can say about the neighbours who sounded like they were having a riot because so many noises were coming through the walls.

We arrived in Berlin this morning (3 hours late) where I will be based for 2 more says before heading to North Europe. I'm planning on doing one the the famous Berlin free tours tomorrow and going to the Jewish museum. I've only got 10 days left before I return home and I'm glad to be in a more civilized part of Europe