The Baltics and Finland

I had no idea what to expect coming up to The Baltics. The sun was shining and it was beginning to get cold. Fortunately I stocked up on winter wear whilst in Gdansk. I was ready as I’d ever be for my 11 hour bus ride. I had four days per country, thinking it was enough. This is the first time I had a definitive date to leave because I was going to meet a friend in Berlin. I can say this much after 12 days in this region I learned that 12 days overall is NOT enough. The Baltics, the best surprise of my Eurotrip.

Lithuania

It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows when I arrived here. In fact it was the complete opposite. My bus pulled in at 6AM and it was pouring. The last few arrivals I’ve had it’s been raining and at this point it’s the same old not fun routine for me. It was a short walk to my hostel and unfortunately they weren’t allowing check in until 2PM. Here I am with almost no sleep, waiting for a bed. Around 10AM I couldn’t take it anymore and decided to go for a walk.

The sun finally came out and it wasn’t so bad. I was a sleep deprived guy walking around in sweats and flip flops in Vilnius, Lithuania. When it was finally time to check in I went back to my hostel and I just crashed that day. First day in Lithuania done.

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My first day at Vilnius. Look at how excited I am.

The next three days was spent exploring Vilnius and some of its surrounding cities. First thing first coffee. Hands down in Vilnius there is only one place to go if you want your coffee done right. Fortunately, it was only a two minute walk away from my hostel and for that I’m eternally grateful.

Crooked Nose & Coffee Stories (CNCF)

I started talking to Maurice the shop’s front liner. They focus on micro coffee producers around the world. Also, they’re the only coffee shop n Vilnius that roasts their own coffee. You have an option for which beans you want and me being me,  I of course requested for a custom blend. I did a 60/40 blend (60 Costa Rica Arabica and 40 Kenya Arabica) The coffee I got was mellow, with a bold back note, and very nutty. Bottom line CNCF got the beans and they have the skills to do it right. When you’re in Vilnius head over there for your coffee fix.

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Best coffee in Vilnius, period!

For more pictures of Crooked Nose & Coffee Stories click here.

One of the most unforgettable places I went to was The Hill Of Crosses. The history of this place is long so read up on it.  Needless to say if you ever go to Lithuania this is a can’t miss place. Even though it was raining hard that day I made it a point to make it there. A three hour train and bus ride later I made it. Sure, it was raining but it didn’t matter. This is a must see place. This is the site I used for directions on getting there.

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It’s a lot of crosses.

For more pictures of The Hill Of Crosses click here.

Within Vilnius itself there are two places that I went to that I really enjoyed and learned a lot. First is the KGB Museum Of Genocide. This is the actual KGB building that’s been transformed into a museum. As you can tell by the name this place isn’t definitely about sunshine and rainbows. If you want to see an unabashed look at what Soviet Russia did to the people of Lithuania go to the museum.

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For more pictures of the KGB Museum Of Genocide click here.

The second place that I enjoyed is the Contemporary Art Museum. Originally I had no intention of going here. It was a good thing that I went with a cool hostel mate and she put me on that it was free on Tuesday. It wasn’t a bad way to spend an afternoon. I really liked the work that they had in the basement. It was a video presentation of love and languages. As far as I know though it’s a temporary exhibit and it may no longer be there. So when in Vilnius head over to the museum to see some interesting art.

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ART!!!!

To see more pictures of the Contemporary Art Museum click here.

I really wish I had more time in Lithuania. I only saw Vilnius and some nearby places. I know that this country has more to offer. I’d love to see Lithuania in the summer. Lithuania you were great but it’s time for me to move on! Goodbye Lithuania, hello Latvia!!

Latvia

Here’s the deal. I was not in a picture taking mood when I was in Riga, Latvia. To see the very, very few pictures I took while in Riga and Jurmala click here. Again, I came into Riga, Latvia with zero knowledge and expectations and I was blown away.

Throughout my entire travels meat has been a constant. Fish was available but it was expensive. This was not an issue in the Baltics. In Riga, I gorged myself on seafood.

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So good….so, so good!!

Due to its proximity to the sea, seafood was plentiful, accessible, and affordable. I mostly ate fish when I was there and I didn’t regret any single fish dish that I ate.

Aside from eating all the fishes in the sea, I did a day trip to Jurmala. Jurmala is a beach side town less than an hour away from Latvia. Let me be honest I didn’t bother taking pictures whilst there. I had fun, the water was cold so I just went in ankle deep. Unfortunately, it was the tail end of beach season so most of the places were closed. I just spent most of my time relaxing in the beach.

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My four days in Riga could be summarized in these few words: I ate a lot of seafood, I went to the beach, and I relaxed. So Riga, thanks for the relaxing few days I spent there. Again, I wish I had more time cause I know that there’s still so much to see and do not just in Riga but Latvia itself.

To see the VERY few pictures I took while in Latvia click here.

Estonia and a day trip to Finland

Another event free bus ride to Tallinn, Estonia and that was fine by me. Out of the three Baltic countries, Estonia by far is my favorite. It’s the northernmost Baltic country hence the coldest. I was there during the end of September and by then you already need to have a good jacket. It was a good kind of cold though. It was great that while it was cold it didn’t snow so it was easy to walk around in the city.

Let’s talk about coffee. Tallinn has options when it comes to good coffee. My favorite hands down is The Living Room. The Living Room is run by Katya. When you’re there say hello to her and her wonderful staff. They source their beans from all over the world and it’s roasted fresh every week. That day I had a pour over and the beans came from Ethiopia. It was fruity, light, flavorful, and very easy to drink. The Living Room is a place to get your coffee and on certain nights they also have shows. It’s definitely a great place to meet locals. Go to The Living Room have a great cup of coffee and meet some very cool people.

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That’s Katya and her coffee. Go over there and have a cup.

For more pictures of The Living Room click here.

There were many things that I enjoyed while I was in Tallinn. I have to say I’ve been through several walking tours but the funniest one that I’ve been was the one in Tallinn. When in Tallinn do the walking tour and I hope that you get Helen as a tour guide. She’ll definitely educate you and make you laugh.

I loved that fact that in Tallinn there’s a budding creative neighborhood. If you want to go where the locals go make sure you hang out in Kalamaja. From cool graffiti art to awesome bars and restaurants Kalamaja definitely has it all. I love the fact that there’s a clear distinction in aesthetics when you go to Kalamaja as it has that DIY feel. You can see the vibrancy of youth and creativity here. This neighborhood was an industrial wasteland just a few years ago. It has been slowly transformed into THE neighborhood to be in when in Tallinn. People wanted to change their surroundings for the better and the people did. They did it with their own ingenuity and hard work. Kalamaja also has awesome vintage shops. Make sure you stop by the the shops and go to town.

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Kalamaja

I stayed in Hostel Euphoria during my four days there. The Hostel was very chill and very into music. Feel free to grab any of the instruments and play away. During my stay there they had band practice almost every night. Fortunately, the musicians were great and they produced awesome music. There weren’t a lot of people during my stay and I got to know the staff well. I was talking about the Philippines and it’s no surprise the locals knew nothing of it. I offered to cook them chicken adobo to introduce them to the closest thing the Philippines has to a national dish. I can gladly say that it was a hit. I fed the hostel that night and each and everyone of them had nothing but positive things to say. I’m glad that I was able to bring a little bit of the Philippines to Estonia. Lastly, I got to say much respect to the Asian grocery for having vinegar from the Philippines.

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Chicken Adobo. Respect to that Asian grocery for having coconut vinegar.

One of the best things about being in Europe is that you can go to a different country for a day trip. Finland is only a 90 minute ferry ride away. Well, I took the three hour ferry ride cause I had time and it was cheaper. When I got to Helsinki I did a walking tour but I didn’t stay for the entirety of it. The guide was informative but just dry. I met Cynthia, another American doing the walking tour. Her and I just decided to walk around Helsinki ourselves and see what we can see in the few hours that we have. Helsinki is beautiful no doubt about it. Coming from The Baltics the prices there just gave me sticker shock. I would love to go back to Helsinki and give the city and country a proper exploration…in the summer. If you are in Tallinn, Estonia make sure you head out to Helsinki it’s an easy trip.

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Helsinki, I wish I had more time…and money.

For more pictures of my half day in Helsinki click here.

I had a great time in Tallinn. The place and the people are beautiful. It’s proximity to Finland is a just a great bonus. Four days was not enough. The next time I head over there it’ll definitely be when the weather is warmer. I’d love to see how Tallinn and the rest of Estonia is during the summer.

For more pictures of Tallinn, Estonia click here.

I knew nothing of The Baltics and I’m glad that I went there and learned so much. These three countries are usually overlooked. Don’t do that, go there and spend some time in each. You’ll be glad that you did.

 

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Time To Renew, Refresh, and Relax Yourself. It’s Four Days In Gdańsk. 

The rain just didn’t let up. It followed me all the way to Gdansk. Honestly, I thought I was going to have a miserable time here. Everyone I’ve met that’s been to Gdansk just kept on raving about it and I had high hopes for the place. I was hoping that there would be a break in the weather and thankfully there was.

The rain finally stopped!! I was elated to exit the bus and I didn’t have to worry about the rain. So, with a spring in my step I was ready to find my hostel and enjoy my time here. This lasted for about 15 minutes. The clouds came in quick and the rain poured, I mean it POURED. At least this time I found my bus quickly and the ride shouldn’t be that long. I was wrong, the normal 15 minute ride took 30 minutes due to the weather conditions and traffic.

Thirty minutes later I finally got of my bus and begrudgingly put on all my rain gear and proceeded to walk to my hostel. It wasn’t a long walk and a few minutes later I was in Mama’s and Papa’s Hostel. Papa saw my misery when I came through the door, it was fair to say at this moment I wasn’t in the best of moods. I got out of my rain gear and sat down to check in. I just wanted to get dry and go to sleep. But y’know what happened? Papa first offered me a hot meal, a hot drink, and just told me to relax and eat first. The check in can happen after all that’s done. The Golabki (cabbage roll) and coffee did that trick. It made me feel better. Yes, I was still wet but the immediate hospitality and the warm food just made me feel good again. I knew at that moment that I was in the right place.

When you meet people that has traveled to Gdansk and stayed in a hostel I’m sure 99.9% of the time you’ll hear them talk about Mama’s and Papa’s Hostel. This place has become legendary amongst travelers for their hospitality. The place is run by a Polish Deadhead couple (Grateful Dead lovers) and all the great things I’ve heard about the place couldn’t be more right. The place actually feels like home. The entire time I was there none of us patrons knew the couple’s name. We just called them Mama and Papa. These two will take care of you and help you out as much as possible. I was there for four days and they made me feel very welcome. Also, Papa has a great music collection in the commons room. If you’re into classic rock feel free to play great music when you’re there. Mama’s and Papa’s definitely lived up to the hype. It’s not in the city center it’s about 15 minutes away by bus (when it’s good traffic), but people will venture out there just to feel at home. If you’re looking for a place to relax while in Gdansk stay at their hostel. I highly recommend it.

The next day I woke up to sweet glorious sun!!! The rain is gone and the sun is shining HA-LLE-LU-JAH!!!!! Seeing the sun definitely put me in great spirits. There were a few things I wanted to do whilst being in Gdansk. Aside from seeing the town I was looking forward to doing some day trips outside of the place. This being the my first day in Gdansk. I started out with exploring the town.

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Sun! Glorious Sun!!!!

Gdansk has a sad history. During WWII the place was nearly wiped out due to bombing. Old Town was rebuilt using the original plans as much as possible. Unfortunately, they didn’t have unlimited resources. The center of Old Town was rebuilt greatly but when you go further out it’s more of the facade the buildings that were rebuilt. If you go the back the building are still bare. I hope that Old Town gets rebuilt to it’s former glory. It really is a beautiful place.

For more pictures of Gdansk click here.

At this point you can see that if I’m enjoying myself a lot, taking pictures is secondary. There isn’t a lot of it. The place follows the structure of a European Old Town so all the standards are there. Just trust me when I say that the place is beautiful so take a walk around and explore.

The second day I was there it rained again. Honestly, at this time I wasn’t mad about it. The hostel filled up with people and it ended up as a rest day. All of us there just decided to chill and relax in the commons room.  That was how the day was spent. I think for me all the bad vibes from Warsaw were released that day. Yeah, I didn’t get to go out and explore but being surrounded by awesome people and just chilling really helped me out. The rain didn’t let up that day and I was still alright.

A place I wanted to see was Malbork Castle. It’s touted as the largest brick castle in Europe. In truth, I wasn’t really super excited to see another castle but I did want to go out of Gdansk for a day trip. Thankfully I met some awesome Dutch girls in the hostel that were planning the same to do the same thing. The three of us headed to Malbork to check out this castle.

The day was great it was warm and it was just awesome to walk around with the sun out. Malbork wasn’t too far away from Gdansk, it’s less than an hour by the regional train. Forty minutes later we finally got to the castle and started exploring. Malbork Castle is…empty.

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Thank goodness I met some cool people.

The Castle is actually an entire compound and it’s just empty. The rooms aren’t filled with anything opulent. In fact that castle was actually rebuilt as it was bombed heavily during the war. While the externals of the castle has been rebuilt faithfully the inside wasn’t filled in. Some of the walls still have their original art but in general the place is empty.

Despite this there were really no complaints on my side. Thank goodness that I had great company with me. In fact it turned into a little game. The three of us were all trying to come out with ways to explain Malbork’s emptiness.  The best B.S. philosophical waxing happened here. This is how the three of us kept ourselves entertained.

For more pictures of Malbork Castle click here.

My last full day at Gdansk the three of us headed out again to Sopot. Sopot is even closer to Gdansk compared to Malbork and it was so easy getting there. Sopot is famous for it’s wooden pier (supposedly the longest wooden pier in EU) and its beach. I actually brought my swimming gear just in case. When we got there the weather was nice, the water was cool but not cold. You can definitely still swim in it. The problem for me was the jellyfish. They were all over the water. That stopped my swimming plans and just went on exploring the town and chill by the beach. Again though, no harm no foul. I was with great people it was an awesome day nonetheless. Later on that night the three of us went back to Gdansk and we met up with the rest of the Dutch girls (the hostel was full of them) and just chilled in Old Town.

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Dutch girls and jellyfish

For more pictures of Sopot click here.

An unexpected thing happened in Gdansk. Tomas was here for the afternoon! This guy just won’t stop following me!!! He was heading home to The Czech Republic and he had a few hours of waiting for a bus in Gdansk. We decided to kill that time by catching up. So, Tomas it was great seeing you again. I’m sure it won’t be the last time we’ll run into each other when I’m in Europe again.

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This guy again. Tomas stop following me!!!

After four days it was time to go. I had a late night bus on my last day. I packed up my bags and I stayed in the hostel until it was time to go. It was raining that day so I really appreciated being indoors during that time. I was able to say goodbye to all the great people I’ve meet during my four days in Gdansk. I’m really thankful for Mama and Papa for their hospitality and their friendliness. Their hostel is really out of this world. All the people I met there were awesome. I had a great time hanging out with all the other guests that I’ve met there.

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Awesome people.

Gdansk was my last place in Poland. I was glad that it was where I got the bad vibes of Warsaw out of me and I was able to refresh myself. I’m thankful of my time in Poland. It’s definitely a country I’d love to visit again. I know for a fact that there is still so much to see and do. So here’s to you Gdansk and Poland thanks for all the great memories and great times!!

 

 

 

Rain,Rain, and More Rain. It’s Warsaw. 

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I went from this to this…

That picture up there really summarizes my time in Warsaw. I’ve had a warning about Warsaw, how it’s not so great and might as well skip it. Well I wanted to form my own opinion of the place so I thought two days there won’t hurt. It didn’t hurt at all, I was just wet, wet the entire time I was in Warsaw. It’s fair to say I don’t have the best opinion of the city.

I arrived at night and the air was moist. You could feel the rain coming. When I got out of the bus I had to take a 15 minute train to the hostel. That part wasn’t a problem. After the train ride the rain just poured. It wasn’t a little bit of rain, it was a lot of rain. So, with a heavy sigh I put on all my rain gear and got ready to get out there and walk to my hostel. The hostel wasn’t far it was supposed to be just a 5 minute walk. It’s true it’s only 5 minutes away…if it was a direct walk. There were so many underpasses in Warsaw it got annoying quick. So, twenty minutes later I finally got to my hostel and checked in. The check in took 30 minutes. It was the hostel worker’s first day and there was a lot of problems with the machine. This was an ordeal to say the least. When the dust settled and I just got ready to go to bed. I wanted to put my first night in Warsaw behind me.

I had one full day in Warsaw and I wanted to make the most of it. When I woke the sky looked like this:

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Such lovely skies…

I was determined to make the most out of the day so I headed out and began exploring. I went to the old city and started from there. It rained for the first few hours and I decided to wait it out a little bit in a coffee shop. When It finally cleared up I started walking around. Warsaw is big, much bigger than the previous Polish cities I was in. In all honestly, the layout and the size reminded me of Montreal. I made the best out of it and just walked around Warsaw and tried to enjoy myself.

To see more of the dark and rainy skies of Warsaw click here.

A bright spot of my time in Warsaw was watching a Chopin concert. It was great seeing something so relaxing and the performer really did Chopin pieces proud. If you’re ever in Warsaw watch a Chopin concert.

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Classed it up a bit.

For pictures and videos of the Chopin concert click here.

It’s fair to say I didn’t have the best time in Warsaw. The constant rain played a large role to it. The two days I spent there was enough. I was glad to move on to hopefully greener pastures. So Warsaw, I wish I could’ve chilled there when you were all sunshine and rainbows, maybe then I would’ve enjoyed it.

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 within 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 type of atmosphere it’s better to cancel your reservations. I just find it amusing that if you’re 36+ you can’t stay there anymore.

So the three of us met up and just as expected you’re willparty 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 afterwards 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 do 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 me 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 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.

 

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.