Kraków… I REALLY like this place. 

The good times just kept on rolling in Krakow. Anna went ahead and Jason and I were headed up north to meet up with her. The great thing is that other people from Grampa’s Hostel were going to meet up with us withing a day or two later. Anna was staying at Little Havana Party Hostel and  Jason and I decided to stay there for one night.

Now, when you stay at a party hostel you have to be ready for some things. Especially a hostel that doesn’t hide the fact that it’s a party hostel. See, I have no problems with that as long as they’re upfront with it. I’ve had my share of party hostels when I backpacked Southeast Asia and I have an idea of how it goes. When I booked a bed I actually got an email stating that yes, it’s a party hostel so be prepared to party and also the fact that it’s for people ages 18-35. I’ve got one more year, then I can’t stay there anymore…. Lastly, it says that if you’re not comfortable with that atmosphere it’s better to cancel your reservations. I just find it amusing that in general if you’re 36+ you can’t stay there anymore.

So the three of us met up and just as expected you’re going to party hard if you stay there. Honestly, for me it was good for one night. So, if you want to party in Krakow a good start would be to stay at Little Havana Party Hostel. After that was done it was time for me to move on.

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The Three Amigos.

The three of us stayed at different hostels and I stayed at Submarine Hostel. I booked a week there because I wanted to see how I feel in Krakow. I’d like to give the staff at Submarine Hostel a big shout out. They were extremely friendly and very cool to hang out with.

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I took a lot of pictures this time whilst in Krakow. So here they are:

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Random pictures of my time in Krakow click here.

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For pictures of Krakow’s Mound click here.

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For more picture Schindler’s factory click hereIMG_20170908_160044-COLLAGE.For pictures of Krakow’s Gestopo Prison and In time Of Terror Exhibit click here.

The Gestopo prison was a bleak reminder of how far people will go to hold onto power. This combined with the terror exhibit was a 1-2 punch for me. There were some serious stuff going on in this building.

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It’s not your run of the mill walking tour.

.For more pictures of the Macabre Walking Tour click here.

This is one of the most unique walking tours I’ve ever been in. The tour is about Krakow’s past concerning executioners, murderers, and the way they torture their criminals. It was a lot of fun because this was the first walking tour I’ve been at that’s at night and also as you can see in the pictures there’s a show and tell part towards the end. I highly recommend this walking tour if you’ll be in Krakow.

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For Pictures of the Rynek Underground Exhibit click here.

I’ve done so many walking tours that at this point that I became so tired of it. I’m glad to say that the walking tours that I did were top notch. I did the Macabre Walking tour as seen above and also I did the Jewish Walking tour and the World War II walking tour. Krakow has a vast history. The walking tours I did really helped make sense of it all. All the walking tours that I did were free and it was done through this company.

Now, there are two places in Krakow that most people go to when they go there. I’m talking about the salt mine and Auschwitz. I didn’t go to the salt mines because it was just expensive. I talked to people that went there and while yes, it’s beautiful it can be very crowded and rushed because there are so many people. Also, you have to pay extra to take pictures. This rule is broken all the time but that’s still a big no for me. I went online and looked at pictures and watched videos of the salt mines and decided not to go. I’ve already been to the salt mine and salt lakes in Turda, Romania and had a great time there. I took a pass on the salt mines in Krakow, maybe next time I’ll go.

Auschwitz is a place that most people will go to if they visit Krakow. I went and I must say I implore everyone that’s near the area to visit. I made a conscious decision not to take photos as I feel that it’s just distracting and disrespectful. I struggled in Auschwitz and rightfully so. To see the gas chambers, the cremation building, the murder wall, and all the other horrible places and being told what happened while going through them… it’ll hit you. I posted on FB that I’ll be emotionally unavailable for the rest of the day and I was. I didn’t feel like going out or seeing anyone. I do think that places like Auschwitz must be visited. History isn’t always pretty, there a lot of horrible things that happened. It’s up to us to learn about it so it’ll never be repeated again. Go to Auschwitz, process the place and learn from it. I do hope that when you leave from there you’re a different person.

Krakow like Budapest is another city that I clicked with. I don’t know how to describe it but there’s a definitely a vibe that it had that I connected to. The city and the people are beautiful. Who knows I might end up in Krakow to teach too.

Krakow is a place where I hung out with friends and made new friends. Krakow will always have a fond place in my heart. I had fun yes, but more importantly I learned so much. From what happened to the past and how people moved on, there was just so much and I know there’s so much more. Krakow made me appreciate my travels a lot. I was a bit burned out at this point and Krakow rejuvenated me. I’d like to thank Krakow, it was a great week there and I hope that I get to be there again.

 

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When The Hostel Becomes More Important Than The City. My Time In Wrocław. 

Wrocław was my introduction to Poland and what an introduction!! This city is just plain fun. I had such a great time here whether it was rain or shine. Just look at all these beautiful smiles!

 

First thing first, how would you actually pronounce Wrocław I was pronouncing it as wo-ro-klaw or ru-klaw, and of course I was absolutely wrong. It’s actually pronounced vrot-swav…Polish, it’s an interesting language.

To say I had a great time time in Wrocław is an understatement. The city played a part in it. It’s beautiful there. What really made my time special in Wrocław is the people I met and the hostel that I stayed in.

Before I get into to that I’d like to take this moment and talk about gnomes. Wrocław is famous for having statues of gnomes all over the city. Some people make a game out of it, trying to find to find all of them. Depending on whom you ask the count for how many them differs. But there are definitely more 100 gnomes in Wrocław. So go ahead and try to find them all.

I landed in Wrocław and thankfully Grampa’s Hostel was only a 20 minute tram ride from the bus stop. I arrived and after a quick and painless check-in I went into my room for 10 people and the first thing I noticed was SPACE! Wonderful, beautiful SPACE! I was coming in from a very cramped week in Prague. Being able to freely move in a room was a great feeling to me. I’m finally able to move around without hitting anyone or anything else.

In a hostel being comfortable is one of the things that you want. What’s even more important to me are the people. See, there are two types of hostels. Hostels that just leave you alone and hostels that has a staff that set up events and go out of their way to hang out with the guests. Grampa’s Hostel is the latter type. I’m really gushing about the place because it really is fun. As soon as I got in the commons room people were up for chatting and staff members facilitated socialization through games, Sangria nights, and bar crawls. Even on their off times they were always up for chats and just plain old chilling. So, Carolina and Gonzo you guys were great and made my time awesome there.

Wrocław is a small place and it actually rained some of the days that I was there. This time though I didn’t mind. There were always people to hang out with and a Playstation to keep you occupied. Bottom line. I’ve had a great time here and I met a lot awesome people.

One of the best things that happened here is a lot of people in the hostel decided to meet up in Krakow. Somehow, someway the stars aligned and we were all going to be in Krakow sometime within the next few days. I met some great travel buddies there that I hung out with the rest of my time in Wrocław and my first few days in Krakow. Jason and Anna I’m glad to have met you both and the good times continued all the way to Krakow.

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Anna, Jason, & I in Krakow. For some reason we don’t have a picture together when we were in Wrocław.

For the rest of my pictures in Wrocław click here. There aren’t a lot of pictures because picture taking wasn’t a priority for me. I was hanging out with awesome people and I was in a beautiful place, the stars aligned in Wrocław. I was glad that the good times rolled over all the way to Krakow. So, Wrocław thanks for everything you were awesome.

One last thing a lot of time was spent in a water park when you’re there make sure you visit it.

Let me love you Prague and not just be in deep like with you!!! 

Prague I have arrived! One of the most visited cities in Eastern Europe and I’m finally here. Before I write about my happenings here. Let me just get the pictures out first because there are a lot.

Random pictures while walking around Prague click here.

For more pictures of Prague Castle click here.

For more pictures of Prague Museum of Alchemy click here.

For more pictures of Prague’s largest graveyard the Olšany Cemeteries click here.

For more pictures of Prague Alchemist Museum click here.

For more pictures of Prague Communist Museum click here.

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Click on the link to see the rest. Fair warning the pictures are NSFW. Look through it at your own discretion. 

For more pictures of Prague Sex Machine Museum click here.

For more pictures of Prague Museum of Torture click here.

I spent seven days in Prague and while I didn’t fall in love with the city I definitely fell in like with it. Prague is awesome don’t get me wrong but I didn’t click with it 100%. Do I hate the place, absolutely not. It’s just a feeling that I got. There are certain places that I went to in Europe that I know I’m 100% into. Prague wasn’t one of them it was more a 75% feeling. So Prague while I don’t love you I like you…A LOT.

My hostel was right in the middle of the city. It was definitely convenient but the room was small and crowded. The kitchen (if you can even call it that) was laughable, it didn’t even have a burner. Also, the common room was a bit meh, while people do congregate it doesn’t really have a homely feel. I definitely paid for the location, it’s in the middle of central and every where else was easily accessible.

My experience in Prague was a good one I had a lot of fun with people I met in the hostel. The locals I met were so friendly and helpful. I never had a problem when I was talking to them. I really don’t know why I never fully clicked with the place. Part of it is my fault. I do think that subconsciously I was constantly comparing Prague with Budapest. That’s just a killer. Never do that, always form your own opinion of a place on its own merits. Prague has so much to offer and I had good time there. I do think personally for me another visit to Prague would be great. Next time, I’d like to see how the city is in the winter. I’d like to give Prague a fair shake. Let me fall in love with you Prague, I don’t want to be just in deep like with you.

One of the best places culture wise for me is the Communist Museum. Growing up in the States you only get a shadow of what happened in Eastern Europe. Part of the reason why I wanted to go to Europe was to see how Communism had an impact with the area. Prague’s Communist Museum is one of the best that I went to so far. I learned so much from it. It was awesome seeing things from the other side. I grew up learning about the American side of things, this time I was able to see how things were on the other side.

In terms of nightlife and bars Prague has it all. Don’t worry if you’re looking to party and to hang out there won’t be a shortage of it. If you’re not used to the city life Prague can be a bit overwhelming. Especially the time I was there. It was peak tourist season so people from all over the world were congregating in Prague. What’s awesome is that you’ll meet people from all over. What’s bad is that you’ll also meet a**holes from all over. C’est la vie. I found respite from the city center just 20 minutes outside of it. That’s the thing about Prague in the center it’s jam packed but just go out 20-30 minutes out and you’ll find tranquility.  Take advantage of Prague’s parks that’s where you’ll find your r&r.

One of my favorite places is Náplavka. It’s basically a boardwalk of the Vltava river. Here you’ll find an entire stretch of bars and people just hanging out. Better yet you can always bring your own beer. This write up here can explain the entire place much better than I can. Suffice it to say, I spent a lot of time there. The place is cool.

There’s no shortage of things to do in Prague. In truth a week isn’t really enough. I could’ve easily spent another week in Prague. I know for a fact I barely scratched the surface of the place. Once again, Prague I want to fall in love with you and not just be in deep like with you. So, Prague in 2018? Who’s up for it?

 

 

A Short Stop At České Budějovice The Home Of Budweiser Beer…Huh???

What’s in a name? Apparently enough that there’s been lawsuits and disputes since 1907. It’s the story of Budweiser and being confused yo!!

So, here’s something weird I honestly don’t know why I went to České Budějovice (CB). I had no intention to go there I just kept hearing from so many people that it’s beautiful over there and it’s very peaceful. After Brno I said why not, so my next destination is CB. CB is a small place. I really do think it’s the smallest place that I’ve been to in my trip. I spent a total of three days there and that was fine.

When I go to these small places I go there to recharge, to go somewhere where it’s a little bit quiet. Yes, I’m on a holiday and I’m not working but it does get mentally tiring at times. Those that do long term travel knows that there are moments when you just want peace, quiet, and your own space. Well I stayed at a hostel and I didn’t have my own room but the great thing was that for one night I was the only one in my room. Having a room all to yourself is awesome.

At this point of the trip I had European Old Town fatigue. They were all merging together in my memory as one. Seriously, at this point I’ve seen so many old town squares, cathedrals, cobbled streets, fountains that they all were looking the same to me. What I did learn was that CB is also famous for Budweiser beer.

I’ve drastically cut down my drinking almost to none at all but I’m not a monk and I had to find out what the whole deal with this Budweiser name business. Even back in NYC I don’t drink Budweiser, it’s garbage beer, it has no flavor at all. In CB they have this:

 

Here’s the short story, České Budějovice’s German name is Budvar so a beer from Budvar is called Budweiser. That’s all I’m going to write about it. Wikipedia has a full entry on the history of the brewery and the whole Budweiser name dispute.  I was in the town and the brewery has a tour so why not, I went.

 

For more pictures of the Budweiser Brewery Tour click here.

Aside from the brewery tour I wasn’t really taking a lot of pictures while I was in CB. This was a time for me to just rest and not be “on” all the time. I did take a few pics of the places I went to. So, here they are:

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Saint Nicholas Cathedral

For more pictures of St. Nicholas Cathedral click here.

I also went to a motorcycle museum.

 

For more pictures of the motorcycle museum click here.

My time in CB was drawing to a close. It was time for me to move on. CB is the last small town that I’d go to in The Czech Republic. I had a good time relaxing here and my next stop would be Prague and it’s game on again. So, thanks České Budějovice I learned something new, I relaxed, and I recharged.

Crypts, Mummies, Bones, and an Ossuary. Oh…it’s just Brno being Brno. 

Brno…such a surprisingly weird place. A good kind of weird. On the surface it’s just like any other European old town. It has cobbled streets, a fountain, a cathedral, a square etc. It’s business as usual, just another old town. The surprises of Brno lays underneath the town. I’m glad to say as an introduction to The Czech Republic it was a great one.

When I arrived in Brno I booked a night in an unusual place, a converted nuclear bunker. 10-Z bunker was featured in many websites and why not? I’ve never slept in a nuclear bunker before. It was warm that day but because the bunker is underground it was perpetually cool, around 15.5 C (60 F). After checking in I went straight to my bunker.

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Home sweet nuclear shelter.

I thought that the hostel would be full that day but that wasn’t the case. My bunker was for 10-12 people but that day there were only two of us staying. Unfortunately I forgot the name of my bunkmate (it happens…you meet so many people) the two things I do remember is that he’s French and he’s been travelling for 1.5 years and still going strong (my hero). I only had one night in the hostel and I wanted to make the most out of it.

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1.5 years of backpacking and still going strong…Respect!

The hostel itself houses a museum. It shows its history and how fortunately it was never used for its intended purpose. As guests we had free reign in the museum part of the hostel. I don’t know if we were suppose to roam around the museum area during the night, but hey, we did and none of us got in trouble. So that night we roamed around the halls and we found some…sights.

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That’ll keep you up at night.

That’s just one thing that greeted us. The place was full of these types of things. If you’re ever in Brno and want to have a different sleeping experience stay at 10-Z Bunker. After roaming the museum and shelter halls it was time to sleep. I can honestly say while cold the provided sleeping bag kept me warm. It wasn’t a bad sleep. For me one night in that bunker was enough and it was time to move on to another hostel.

For more pictures of my stay in 10-Z Bunker click here.

Brno is a student town but since I was there during the student holiday season the town was bereft of them. Fortunately there was one student in town; Tomas! So, with great joy Tomas and I had our first of many European reunions. It was a good thing that he was there and I had a local guide around the city. The first night in Brno he took me to one of the local watering holes and just we just hung out and caught up.

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This won’t be the last time I’ll be seeing this guy.

What I find interesting about Brno are the things that they have underground. I missed out my chance to see mummies when I was in Hungary and fortunately enough Brno doesn’t have a shortage on mummies. I went to the Capuchin Crypt and was not disappointed. It was the first time I’ve seen mummies outside of pictures and these mummies were preserved very well.

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Look at all these mummies.

For more pictures of the Capuchin Crypt click here.

Another new experience for me was going to an ossuary. I actually had to look up what an ossuary meant. I learned a new word that day. I headed to The Ossuary Of St. James Church and I had my fill of skeletons. It was just wall to wall human bones. One of the highlights of the place was a room with an arrangement of human skulls. This place is definitely worth a visit and I’m glad to have seen it.

For more pictures of The Ossuary Of St. James Church click here.

The last thing concerning underground Brno was the Brno Labyrinth. Check it out if you have time. It shows life in Brno back in the day. To be honest this one isn’t necessary but it’s cool nonetheless.

For more pictures of Brno Labyrinth click here.

I spent four days in Brno and I had a lot of fun. When I’m not looking at mummies or skeletons I was hanging with Tomas and exploring the rest of the place. Brno was a great introduction to the Czech republic. I had a great time there, it’s definitely a town that’s worth a visit.

Vienna and Bratislava 

Two and two, two cities an hour apart two days each. These next four days are a complete blur to me. Both of these cities were complete maybes to me. I was very apprehensive to visit both because in truth I had a low interest level.

I boarded a bus and headed to Slovakia, Bratislava. I knew absolutely nothing about this country. Honestly, my visit here was a bit of a blur. I walked around, explored, and saw the sites. There was one place though that I really liked and that was Devin’s Castle. It’s fair to say that I’ve had my fill of castles at this point and I wasn’t really keen on seeing another one. What got me interested was that’s it’s the ruins of a castle. So, with that in mind I boarded a bus and headed out. Thirty minutes later I was greeted with this view.

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The Ruins

This type of castle was new to me. Every other castle I’ve seen at this point was preserved to be presented at its best. This is the first time that I’ve seen a run down castle. It was a breath of fresh air. In the city center there’s a castle you can visit but take a bus and just 30 minutes later there’s a whole better castle to visit.

To see more pictures of Devin’s Castle click here.

It was just two days in Bratislava the rest of the time was just used to exploring the city and relaxing for a bit.

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Grassalkovich Palace

This was a short and sweet visit. To see more photos of Bratislava, Slovakia click here.

In truth I wasn’t even planning on visiting Vienna as it was waaay outside my budget. The only reason that came about is that Christine offered her place to me and it was only an hour away from Slovakia. While she’s going around the Balkans I was welcome to her apartment. I gave myself two days for the things that I wanted to do it was enough for Vienna.

Walking around the city the first thing that struck me was that it was very beautiful. In my opinion in terms of architecture it’s the most beautiful city I’ve ever been to in Europe. This city just evokes the classic European feel and aesthetics. Saying all of that the very first thing that caught my eye while walking in the city isn’t the architeture but this:

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Just in case someone drops because of a heart attack…

I just think it’s cool that they have defibrillators dotted around the city. The two days I was there I wanted to make the most of it. So I set out and walked around the city. It was full of tourists (including myself) gawking at all the buildings around me. That’s what I did for two days walked around and just tried to take in the city as much as possible.

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One of the MANY beautiful buildings in Vienna.

It’s beautiful here and it’s well worth a visit. I was glad that I was offered a place and was given the chance to see Vienna. It goes without saying if you have the opportunity, go see Vienna.

To see more pictures of  Vienna click here.

It was a short and sweet visit to these two countries and I was glad that I had the opportunity to do so. Shout out to Christine because without her I would have never been able to visit Vienna.

Sweet, Sweet Budapest and Maybe A New Home!? 

That’s Budapest y’all

I booked for six days and that’s already considered a lot of time. I ended up staying for two weeks. Bottom line, I loved it in Budapest so expect a lot of gushing in this post.

First let’s talk about coffee. Budapest has a thriving coffee scene but there are two that stands out in my eyes, Kontakt and Barako Káveház.

Kontakt

When it comes to artisinal coffee and excellent techniques for coffee making look no further. This place and the baristas working there knows what they’re doing. From espressos to cold brews, they come correct. Their beans are sourced from all over the world. When I was there their roaster of choice for the week was La Cabra, a Scandinavian roasting company. Kontakt will rotate their roasters every few weeks, even if you are a regular you’ll still get something new.

A great espresso
It was in the 30’s (Celsius) that week. This coldbrew was a life saver.

More pictures of Kontakt here.

Barako Káveház

Barako Káveház is special to me for two reasons. First, their coffee is amazing. It was another hot day when I came in and I ordered their Barako iced pour over. It was sweet, earthy, but also bright. Barako is a type of coffee from The Philippines, that’s right from my motherland. We out here in Budapest!

Barako cold pour over

The second reason this place is special is because of the people. Barako Káveház is owned by Ryan and he’s one of the friendliest people you’ll ever met. During my first visit I planned to have some coffee and that’s it. I stayed for the entire afternoon.

That’s Ryan. I have that grin because I was speaking Tagalog again.

It was hot and I mean hot that day I came in and the shop had proper AC (thanks Ryan!) I ordered my coffee and I was able to talk to Ryan. I asked about the history of the place and his history too. He actually came from a coffee family in the PI. When you visit his place ask him all about it.

Another thing that made his place great is his group of regulars that hang out there. They’re all opinionated, talkative, funny, and most importantly friendly. Here I was, a complete stranger and 20 minutes in I’m trading barbs and jokes like I’ve always been part of the group. Barako Káveház is special. I implore everyone if you’re in Budapest go there, have a cup of great coffee, and enjoy the company. If they ask how did you know about the place tell them Aj sent you, that Filipino backpacker from NYC. They’ll know who that is.

More pictures of Barako Káveház here.

These two places are my favorite. But Budapest has a thriving coffee scene. Here are the other shops that I went to.

Kelet. Pictures here.

My little Melbourne Brew Bar. Pictures here.

Espresso Embassy. Pictures here.

A city can be ruined if you stay at a horrible place. I was looking for something more intimate. So I booked at Bubble Hostel. If I can summarize my stay at Bubble in pictures it’d be with these two:

That’s Anna, Bubble’s manager.
A common site in the kitchen/common room.

Bubble is a small hostel there’s no escaping that. The great thing about it though because of it people are so social. The staff also facilitates this greatly. It’s awesome that every night there’s always an activity; from bar hopping, clubbing, to just chilling by the bridge. There’s always something going on. Jason and the others really took care of us while being there. Anna and Jason really made my stay special.

Budapest has variety and that’s something that I always look for in a city. If you want something cultural they got it, if you want to party, they REALLY got it, and if you just want to relax in a spa there are PLENTY of those. Variety, it’s the spice of life.

Two places that really struck out in terms of cultural history is the Terror Museum and Memento Park. The Terror Museum really conveyed how brutal and frightening the Communist regime was to the Hungarian people. It really brought that part of their history to life and I learned a lot. Taking pictures is prohibited but I was able to snap a few shots. 

Memento Park is another place that I found interesting. It’s the graveyard of all communist statues that was once littered all around Hungary. It’s really brought that part of their history to life for me.

A soldier of the Red Army.

There are so many places to visit and so many things to see. The two weeks I spent there barely scratched the surface. With that said here are the pictures I took while being there.

The Parliament Building. 

Bazilica Sfântul Ștefan din.

Hala Comercială Mare. 

Szimila Ruins Bar.

Random photos. 

It’s always great when reunite with people that you’ve met in your travels. I was able to do that plenty in Budapest. Fortunately, I was able to reunite with Jessica, twice! (Jess, we don’t have a Budapest picture together!?!) Next, from the Cluj-Napoca crew I was able to hang out and catch up with Simon and Jessica Ann.

That’s a good looking group of people.

Reunions are always a pleasure and it never gets old.

It’s not a secret that I’d like to work in Europe. Budapest is definitely on the top of my list now. It’s the first place that I’ve been to where I felt comfortable. I just vibed with the place. I do think because it’s a cosmopolitan place and that’s what I like. I do hope that if/when I move to Europe it’ll be in Budapest. So the next time I’m there it’ll be in a semi-permanent basis.

Budapest gave me so many great memories even though during certain days it was hot as hell I still had a great time there. Both the city and the people I’ve met really made it for me. Without hesitation I can say, favorite place in Europe so far.

Last night out in Budapest with a great group of people.

Cluj-Napoca And The Power of Youth!!! 

Cheesy anime reference check, a new place to explore in Romania also check.

To start, if you want coffee Cluj-Napoca has a lot of options. That’s fine but there’s only one place you should go to:

Narcoffee

In Cluj-Napoca Narcoffee is the best spot for a great cup of joe. They have great beans sourced from all over the world but also they’re very creative with what they do with their coffee. Needless to say their espresso and pour over are top notch. Another cool thing they do is coldbrew with coldbrew CO2 foam. The foam adds a richness to drink. It’s a great addition to it. The standout item for me though is their coldbrew elderflower popsicle. I’d go back to Cluj-Napoca just for this. I love the fact that Narcoffee has the foundations down and that allows them to experiment and create their own unique coffee drinks. So, if you’re in Cluj-Napoca and want coffee it’s a no brainer go to Narcoffee.

The goodness of coldbrew elderflower popsicle must spread around the world.

Check out more pictures of Narcoffee here.

Cluj-Napoca is a university town. When I was there though it wasn’t school season so it wasn’t full of students at it normally is. Coming in from Sibiu, Cluj-Napoca was a huge welcome. I felt recharged going in and I was ready to be in a city again. That’s what I loved about Cluj-Napoca it was a proper city. I had options galore and it was all right there in my fingertips. I knew for a while that I was a city guy. This trip just enforced it. While I appreciate going out of the city for a few days, I’ll always yearn to eventually return to it.

My first impression of Cluj-Napoca was that it was Zürich…ish. What I mean by that is there were shadows of Zürich to it. The design of the buildings, the trams going around the street, and the way the city is laid out. Sure it wasn’t as kept up as Zürich, but let’s be honest few places are. Later on I’d learn that most Eastern European cities and towns are laid out like this.

Having plenty of universities in the city is what makes Cluj-Napoca cool. There’s an energy that you feel over there that you only get in universities towns. Creativity and the weird flows freely. I got that feeling and school wasn’t even in session. I’d love to go back when school is back in full effect a.k.a The Power Of Youth!

There were plenty of things to do in Cluj. A few personal highlights for me is their botanical garden and The National Ethnographic Museum. Hands down though a must place visit is the salt mines.

Rebuilding society after a nuclear fallout.

I was able to wrangle up Colton, a hostelmate to go to the Salina Salt Mines. It’s in a smaller town about 40 minutes away from Cluj-Napoca. The next morning he and I headed to the Salina salt mines and had a very good day. When we got there we had a bit of an adventure with the local bus. We took it the wrong way and inadvertently got a tour of the town of Turda. The best part is Joe, he’s the best bus driver in Turda. We were at the bus’ last stop and he knew we were lost. So, with his limited English he helped us out immensely. We were on the right bus and just had to take it to the last stop the other way. When we got going again he went above and beyond to help us. He gave Colton and I the schedule to the bus and heading back he made sure we got to the correct bus to go back to Cluj-Napoca. Bottom line it didn’t matter that his English wasn’t perfect. Joe was such a helpful man and in my opinion the best bus driver in Turda. So, if you’re headed to the Salina Salt mines and you’re in bus 9 say hi to Joe, he’s a cool dude.

The mines were breathtaking. It was like an underground society has formed there while waiting out a nuclear winter. The pictures really can’t do the place justice. It’s well worth a visit. All I know is that the salt mines in Poland has a lot of competition.

There’s even an underground salt lake!!!

After you’re done with the mines go for a swim. Right outside is a salt lake. I spent most of the day here. Because of its high level of salinity its impossible to sink. Needless to say it was one of the weirdest swimming experience I’ve ever had. With an awesome underground mine and with the salt lakes right outside the Salina Salt Mines of Turda is a can’t miss.

Just try to sink!!!

Take a look at pictures of the Salina Salt Mines here.

I was comfortable at this point. While I always enjoying going around, at this time I was 100% back into backpacking mode. The people I met in Cluj-Napoca were wonderful. The hostel I stayed at was great. Hands down Transylvania Hostel delivered. It was spacious, it was clean, it had a backyard, but the best part is that everday they had a different activity. There’s always something to do and people to be with. If you’re a solo traveler, I highly recommend the place.

A month into my trip I found my grove and I was enjoying it immensely. I’m glad I went to Cluj-Napoca. I knew nothing about the place and leaving it I had great experiences and met many friends. Cluj-Napoca was the finish line for me in Romania and it was a great place to end it.

Sibiu, Shepherd’s Pie and That Highway Though….

The next two days I found myself west in the small town of Sibiu. Those days were rainy and honestly at this point I was getting a bit burned out by being always on the go. I just decided at this point to stay in and keep it local. One of the best things in this trip happened during those two lazy days. The primary reason why I stay in a hostel is to meet people and when that happens and everything clicks even a small activity can be a lot of fun. Leon, the resident Englishman of the hostel promised while in drunken haze that he’d make an English lunch for the hostel. The next day he actually kept his promise. The entire hostel pitched in and the result was shepherd’s pie. We all had a great time making and eating that pie. One of my highlights while being in Sibiu. 

Look at all that happiness when making that pie. 

Sibiu itself is a small fort town and the most classic European place I’ve been to when it comes to look and feel. It’s dominated by two squares where most of the activities in the town happens. I’d say if you were to visit Sibiu two days would be enough. It’s definitely a place to go to if you want to slow it down for a bit. 

Sibiu also became a reunion place ’cause this where I met up with Jessica!  We started in Bulgaria and it still went on in Romania. I love it when you meet up with people you’ve met in other countries. 

Here are some photos of Sibiu that I took while walking around. 

That highway though… 

One of the best things to do in this region is not exactly in Sibiu but just outside of it. The Transfăgărășan highway is one of the most scenic drives you can have with its winding roads and breathtaking views. Fortunately Sylvain, Alain, Christine, and I were interested in doing the drive. I have to say it’s one of the most beautiful places that I’ve been in. If you have the chance to do it, don’t even think about it. Just rent a car and go for it. 

Here are my photos of going through the Transfăgărășan highway. 

I have to say doing the drive is just one part of the equation. The people I was with made the entire trip even more fun. Moral of the story is to find cool people and you’ll have an even better time. 

My time in Romania is almost over at this point I had one more place to go. I really appreciated my time in Sibiu. It gave me rest and I savored the downtime immensely. Sometimes it’s not the big destination places that stick with you, but rather it’s when you have good times with good people and you take it easy for a bit. 

A Reunion, Castles, Citadels, and a Monastery. 

Onward I go! My time in Bucharest is finally over and it’s time to move on. There was one thing I really wanted to see while being in Romania and that’s a castle. Fortunately, Romania is not lacking when it comes to castles. So with my bag packed I headed north. My first stop was Brașov and afterwards I headed west to Sibiu. 

Brașov is a small town. This is the gateway for Bran’s castle, other castles, and outdoor activities. I stayed at Kismet Dao hostel. The train ride was excruciatingly hot. It was sunny and hot in the car but at this point you’re used to it. I arrived in Brașov and thankfully it was only a 15 minute walk to the hostel. I stayed a Kismet Dao for a few days and it was a great time. The hostel having a garden really made it social. Everyone was just hanging out and chilling. Socializing was very easy and people were all cool. I stayed for about four days in Brașov and that was plenty of time. 

I arrived close to evening time and the first thing I wanted to do was eat and at this time I just wanted rice. On the way to the hostel I passed by a Chinese restaurant and that’s where I went. I was not as ashamed ordering my fried rice and chicken with cashews. It tasted exactly like American Chinese take out and it was glorious. After filling myself up I wanted coffee. It was great that Cipriani from T Zero recommended Croitoria de Cafea. With this in mind and with directions from Google maps ready I was on my way towards (hopefully) great coffee. 

Croitoria De Cafea

This place was recommended to me by a few people in Bucharest. Arriving there and having their espresso I can see why. They roast their own beans and source it from the same places the shops in Bucharest do. If you’re in Brașov this is the coffee shop to go to. 

Charged with an espresso, I started walking  around town. The place is beautiful it really has an old world charm to it. In truth though I was just killing a bit of time because later I was going to have a mini reunion. The time has finally arrived I got a message with an address and a few minutes later I met up with Tamara, Tara, and Sam!! 

The Hwajeong South Korea crew is here in Brașov, Romania! This was surreal to say the least. I’m so happy that I was able to have another South Korea reunion. First, with Dimitri in Bulgaria and second, with the Hwajeong crew in Romania. We set out and had dinner then went back to their place and caught up with each other’s lives. Unfortunately, we only had that one night together. They’re headed to Bulgaria and I just started my stay in Brașov. While our time together was short it was still awesome. It was just like old times. Reuniting with friends you made during your years abroad is always a privilege. 

The next day I had a mission. One of the main reasons I came to Romania was to see a castle and I was going to see a castle no matter what. The first castle I went to was Bran’s Castle aka Dracula’s castle (maybe, not really, it’s a long story). Yes, this is a tourist trap, and yes it’s overpriced and yes you will be in line most of the time jockeying for position to take pictures and yes you’re still going to do it. As I mentioned in my FB post; lower your expectations, be prepared for long lines, have a big bottle of water, and prepare a classic metal playlist and listen to it while going through the castle so you can pretend you’re invading it. 

For more pictures of Bran’s Castle click here

After being done with Bran’s Castle I wanted to go to a citadel so afterwards I headed to Rasnov’s citadel. The Citadel is great I had a lot of fun looking around taking pictures soaking in the history etc. It’s the bus ride that’s the most interesting. The bus stops in these small towns are not the best marked. With the help of Google maps I got out where it said Rasnov and I walked and walked and walked. It dropped me off in the town and the Citadel is a bit of a distance away. The upside of this is that I was able to explore Rasnov thoroughly. 

For more pictures of the town of Rasnov and The Citadel click here

I was disappointed with Bran’s Castle so I headed to Sinaia for a day trip to see more castles and a monastery. The first place I went to was Sinaia Monastery. The artwork in the monastery is beautiful and I felt a calmness while walking around. 

For more pictures of Sinaia Monastery click here

The two castles that I wanted to see was Pelișor and Peleș castle. Unfortunately Pelișor was closed and I wasnt able to go in. Peleș Castle didn’t disappoint. This is what a castle should look like. You’re suppose to pay extra to take pictures here so all of these pictures were taken either secretly or while being yelled at. Siniai was a great day trip. 

For more photos of Peleș Castle click here

For more photos of Pelișor Castle click here

I saw castles, citadels, and I was reunited for a short while with some old friends. I was done here and it was time to move on. The next stop for me was Sibiu.