A Travellerspoint blog

Krakow, Poland

The train ladies are mean as hell in Warsaw

sunny
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We had to take a bus from Riiga to Warsaw becuase there are no direct trains from Riiga. Apparently the rail system is limited in Latvia. While waiting at the bus station, we met Francesco and Monica. They were with us during the tour in Tibet. Small world, huh. They were heading to Warsaw as well!
The ride to Warsaw was uncomfortable but what 8 hour bus ride is...... I am not a fan of busses but planes are getting to be as uncomfortable, never mind the cost and they have an even bigger carbon footprint.
Once we got to Warsaw we had to figure out how to get to the train station by city bus. We got that worked out fairly easily. The guys in the quickmart (my name for the shop) helped us out and sold us the bus ticket. This was all on the up and up but to be perfectly (dis)honest we could have ridden the bus without the ticket 'cuz nobody checks or asks for the ticket. We actually did this in Estonia but not intentionally, at least at first.
Back in Poland, we made it to the train station and headed to the ticket window. This is where it got ugly. We got up to the window and ask for a ticket to Krakow. The ticket lady said something in Polish and I politely said, " Sorry but I do not speak Polish". At this point she spoke more polish, wrote a time on a peice of paper and shoved it towards me. I smiled and asked if she could find someone who spoke English. At this point she became obviously irritated and left her booth walked into the back offices. Both Anthony and I thought she was getting someone to help but that was not the case. After a few minutes, she peeked around the corner and saw that we were still standing there. A few minutes pass and then she and another woman come to the back of the booth and begin to shout at us to leave. Needless to say, we walked away shocked and dismayed.
We then tried the information booth. These people do not speak English either. Fortunately, the Saint of Warsaw was channeling herself through this lovely Polish woman who spoke English. She took us to the ticket booth and helped us get the tickets.
Lesson learned, go to tourist friendly cities when traveling in Poland or speak Polish or arrange everything through a tourist agency. Not really because the Saint of Warsaw will show-up when needed....maybe.
Krakow was great and the city is very tourist friendly. There are lots to do and prices are reasonable. We stayed in the Gardenhouse Hostel for $18/night/person. It was very clean and had a quiet, laidback atmosphere. The other big plus was that it was right off the old town square.
On the square there were lots of arty-farty things going on, such as, mock statues, muscians, puppeteers (sp?) and dancing. Let us not forget, lots-o-really old buildings.
Hope all are well.
Diane

Posted by TB_Ddizzle 09:04 Archived in Poland Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

Auschwitz and Birkenau

Evil and goodness rest within us all and this is a reminder of what the human soul is capable of in its worst manifestation.

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I cannot for a second convey the exact emotions I went through during this experience. It is a personal experience that all should go through to really comprehend the evil that humans are all capable of. It would be easy to say this is only a German or rather Nazis thing but it is and has been a reality in all cultures around the world. The only difference is that the Nazis were very efficient.
Walking into Auschwitz, it has the appearance of a dated military compound with barracks made of red brick set in rows along tree lined streets. What gives it away is the double, barbed-wired fencing that surrounds the compound and yes, the entrance with the overhead sign of, "Arbeit Macht Frei" (work will make one free) is there to see. The irony is that those that did not die in the gas chambers immeadiately were worked to death in the surrounding factories or in the expansion of the camp. Thus, death was the only means to freedom. So, yes, work did set one free in this camp.
The exhibits are stark and disturbing. One of the barracks contains exhibits of rooms filled with suitcases or shoes or prosthetics or piles of human hair. All of these things and other items were taken and recycled by the Nazis for use by the military or German citizenry. The hair was the most disturbing for me.
The exhibit of this was a windowed room about 15 ft square and it was filled with the hair of prisoners found in the warehouses when the Russian army liberated the camp. Apparently, all new arrivals had there head shaved. If the hair was long enough then it was taken to be used in the making of cloth and felt. Needless to say most of the hair that was long enough was from women. Further, it was confirmed through chemical forensics that much of the hair contained Zyklon B, which was the type of cyanide gas used in the gas chambers. This means that the corpses had their heads shaved after being killed in the chambers, as well.
Birkenau was even more disturbing just by virtue of the size. It was built to house 100,000 prisoners. Most of the buildings are gone but much of the perimeter fencing, rail entrance and main guardhouse are there. There are restoration of some of the sanitation buildings and bunkhouses present for visitors to comprehend the conditions of this camp. Entering the bunkhouse there is a series of three-tiered bunks lining the length of the building with a brick coal-burning stove at each end. It was at this point that I lost it. I began to cry and had to turn my back away from the group. I could only imagine the cold, horrid conditions all of those people had to endure and which in most cases was the last memory in their lives. Such misery.....
Sorry to be so graphic and depressing but this was my experience.

Posted by TB_Ddizzle 12:18 Archived in Poland Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Riiga, Latvia

They have a cow coin. How cool is that!

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Yes, it is true. The two lat coin has a lovely cow stamped on one side. It is really quite nice. I know, I know....you are thinking that I have lost my mind but it really is a nice cow.
Riiga is a great city. It has a mix of old and modern standing side by side. It is not uncommon to see some 18th century building next to a building with an art nouveau facade and just across the street a modern office building.
We stayed in the Old Town Hostel for $18/night/person. The rooms are directly off of this very tight, spiral staircase. We were on the 5th floor in a six room dorm. Very nice and clean but a major haul with a 45 lb backpack.
We took a free tour with an English expat named James. He has been living in Riiga for 5-6 years and started these free city walking tours. He is totally dependent on donations from the group at the end of the tour.
He did a great job of it and showed us parts of Riiga most would not get from a tour company.
Latvia is interesting in that there is this internal conflict regarding the different occupations during its late history by the Russians then the Nazis and once again the Russians. Some Lat's view the Nazis occupation as the lesser of the two evils. However, the Latvian Jews might not agree, if there were any around...... Anyway you slice it, the history is not pretty regarding this period.
I really enjoyed my stay and would reccomend a visit if ever you are so inclined to cruise the Baltic states.

Posted by TB_Ddizzle 10:24 Archived in Latvia Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Tallinn and surrounding area in 3 days

"Anthony, I have a feeling we are in civilization or these people look and act a lot like us. Thus, familiarity breeds the belief that we are in civilization"

sunny

So we got to Tallinn around 8:00 am. Once we got oriented, we realized that the old town district was just across the road from the train station. After wondering around the old town district with mouths agape, we located a hostel in the old town District for about $19/night/person. The Vana Tom hostel is slightly off of one of the main streets through old town district. It is clean and well managed. The staff were extremely helpful and not once did they try to pressure us into some tour. It was extremely refreshing.
The old town district is exactly that. It was like stepping back into some medieval time. The architecture was amazing and the Estonians have taken great care to preserve this amazing heritage. I highly reccommend going to Tallinn. It is a bit pricey but not overly expensive but you have a poorly paid professor stating this and it may well be inexpensive by someone else's standard.
Outside of old town are other places to see as well. We went to the ruins of the St. Bernadette convent. That was very cool and I got several pic's of the place. This place is in Pritta (sp?) which is easily gotten to by public transport and is a suburb of Tallinn. The beach is directly across the main road from the convent ruins and is a must just so you can say that you swam in the Baltic.
The following day we took a ferry to the island of Aegna. It is a 1 hour trip and costs about $9.50US/person. Finding the ferry line was a huge ordeal but eventually we located it (Lindaline). The island was a military installment during the Russian occupation but has since been turned into a nature preserve. The hiking is great and there are tons of beatiful wildflowers, birds and a few moose. Yes, moose! We were walking this trial and Anthony was ahead of me when he turned to me with a very strange look. He then quietly told me to stay near the treeline because there were 4 moose in a feild in front of him. Sure enough......and I have pictures to prove it. We arrived at 10 am and caught the ferry back at 6 pm. You can camp on the island, as well. There are some really nice campsites and firewood is provided.
In a nutshell, Tallinn was brillant and the Estonian people are extremely freindly and helpful. Most everyone younger than 40 has a working knowledge of English thus getting around is very easy.
Hope all is well and we are currently in Riga, Latvia.
Later taters,
Diane

Posted by TB_Ddizzle 12:46 Archived in Estonia Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

6 days ain't for sissys

Mongol-mart where we sell it cheap because it is....

As a preface, I am admitting upfront that I have a lot of typos, misspellings and grammatical errors in my blog entries. I am not going to get balled-up about it because it cost money and time to sit at an internet café. I enjoy writing this blog but worrying about other people’s criticisms is not high on my list of things to be concerned about. If my writing errors drive you up the wall then do not bother to read the blog. Further, who made you the writing Nazi……?
Whew, I feel better….
So, we got on the No. 5 train on the 26 of June at around 1:30 pm. Little did we know that this particular train is also referred to as the, “Smuggler’s Train”. Apparently, Mongolian’s buy a bunch of cheap Chinese merchandise, pack it onto this train and proceed to sell this cheap crap (knockoff designer handbags, clothing, blankets etc.) at every stop through Russia.
Here is where it gets very interesting. Russian customs only allows an individual so many items of the same type and also limits the overall amount an individual brings into the country. The way they get around this is by unpacking their wares and dispersing the items among the various riders. This all works fairly well because the majority of people on the train are smugglers. As the only westerners in our car, we had several individuals trying to get us to allow them to leave merchandise in our kupe. It took some insistence but it got around that the white folks in kupe #2 were not participating in the scam.
It was the most well organized scam I have ever had the opportunity to witness. Everyone, including the ladies that oversee each car were involved in this enterprise. Even some of the Russian workers were either participating in Mongol-mart or were buying/being bribed by the Mongolians.
After the initial shock of what was going on we settled into the routine of the smugglers and the ride through Russia. The saving grace of a long train ride through Russia is the hot water boiler located in every car. This was the only form of heating and cooking food brought on to the train unless you wanted to eat in the dining car, which was very expensive. We brought tea, instant coffee and Ramien (sp?) noodles to eat on the train. On occasion we bought something to eat from vendors at different stops. One stop, I bought some homemade potato dumplings, yum.
Keeping clean was another issue. After so many days, a spit bath ain’t going to cut it. By the time we got on the train to Tallinn, I was not too terribly fresh. I felt sorry for the woman sitting next to me for 14 hours.
The moment we got a place in Tallinn, I took a long, hot shower.
Well, more later.

Posted by TB_Ddizzle 11:09 Archived in Russia Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

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