Wednesday, June 19, 2013We have arrived in Vlore, Albania where we are staying for 5 nights. We need to do a bit of work, and figure we can explore stuff from here if we get bored of Vlore (which I think is just a beach town).
We went out for a walk in Tirana last night - had dinner at a restaurant adjacent to a park. There were so many people out that we thought maybe it was a holiday - but I think it's just that it cools off very slightly when the sun sets (29 deg instead of 33) so that's when kids can run about? It was all very festive feeling to us, in any case. After dinner we went for a walk around the 'hip' neighbourhood (according to Lonely Planet) where we found an immense number of bars with huge patios... different from the huge patios we saw in Croatia which were in historic parts of town and aimed at tourists - this was just street after street of bar after bar, each with a different style/decor to their patio. And it was hopping, on a Tuesday night. Definitely a different culture here where night is the time to be out without sweating profusely.
The drive to Vlore was an adventure (only saw 2 horse-drawn carts on the highway), but we arrived no problem. We went out to get lunch and had a funny interaction with the owner of a place who ended up putting us on the phone with his son who speaks english. I would write more, but it's too hot to have coherent thoughts right now.
Posted by burrito at 6:14 AM | |
Tuesday, June 18, 2013I'm writing this blog post from a hotel room in Tirana, Albania, which is a small miracle because the roads in Albania are crazy! Drivers do whatever they want - make new lanes spontaneously, stop wherever, pass when there isn't room, zip through construction sites.... it's just chaos. The 'highway' is also the main road and there are no sidewalks, so you have people walking along the edges, the occassional horse-drawn cart, cyclists, and scooters. Peter is my hero for driving in this and mostly finding it amusing rather than the appropriate response which is to cover your eyes and cry. We only saw one major accident and one near-accident, so I guess it isn't that dangerous? There was also one point in the city where there was a little girl carrying a naked baby in the middle of the street begging.... and I mean literally in the street, with cars swerving around her.... it was... I don't have words.
We found our hotel by gps'ing and google mapping to the area and then parking and asking in a butcher shop for directions. Once the butcher knew the hotel we were looking for, he walked us down the street and pointed it out; nice guy. Our guidebook said people are likely to do that when you ask for directions, which is awfully nice.
It's a zillion degrees where we are. By a zillion I mean 33degC. At home when it gets that hot you turn on a fan and try not to move until it stops. Here, people are out walking with PANTS and long sleeves on. We got up early this morning to walk the walls of Dubrovnik (we've been here for a few days) at 8am when they open because it's unrelenting sun up there and we can't handle that when it's 30 deg. Even at 8am I nearly died. So much sweating. I am not acclimatizing to the heat very well!
Croatia was lovely - we really enjoyed ourselves. It had plenty of castles and ruins and old towns, and also nature and scenery. Most people in the tourist biz speak enough English that everything is quite easy. In Dubrovnik (a UNESCO site, and so very touristy), we heard our waiter speaking perfect English, what sounded like good German, and obviously Croatian... and who knows what else he knows? I find that impressive. Everyone we ask says they learned English from watching tv - so let this be a lesson to all countries to subtitle their foreign programs rather than dub them.
Me, sweating on the walls of Dubrovnik, Croatia. Love this town. Didn't love the 30deg heat!
Friday, June 14, 2013I spent yesterday on the beach, it was awesome.
Today we're off to explore Pag Island.... no time for blogging on a slow wifi connection, but will post some photos from Peter's iphone. One of me walking in Plitvice Lakes National Park (incredible place) and one of me enjoying ice cream in Zadar. They have 2 food items in Zadar: pizza and ice cream/gelato; I'm okay with that.
For added excitement, you apparently get upside down versions of the photos. Enjoy!
Sunday, June 09, 2013Peter drove us all through the Czech Republic and Austria yesterday. We camped near Graz Austria. Got up, hiked a super cool place with ladders up a mountain (you'll have to wait for photos), then got back in the car and drove through the rest of Austria and Slovenia and into Croatia. Discovered a festival going on, so we hung out in the plazas of Zagreb last night listening to music, wondering how one place could have so many patio seats and Vancouver so few (I've always wondered why Vancouver doesn't have more large patios). Slept in a bed last night instead of a tent - so much better!
Today we explore Zagreb some more and tomorrow we head to the coast. It's 25 deg and sunny here, which after the past few weeks of 15deg and rainy in Wroclaw is such a relief.
It was weird to drive through so many countries and not stop, but we're trying to concentrate our time in a few places rather than skim everything we go by.
Random observations: I can tell you that highways in this part of Europe are in fantastic shape - like brand new (stimulus $, I'm guessing). Austria is insanely pretty and perfect when you're coming from Eastern Europe. Croatian is sufficiently related to Polish that even I can spot a few words I understand! Despite going through 4 countries, my passport has zero stamps in it (sigh). The only actual border we crossed was into Croatia and he just looked at our passports and handed them back. Given the list of things that can happen at a border, this is good, but I'll be sad to come home with a passport as blank as when I left Canada!
Friday, June 07, 2013
Gum: Either people here do not chew gum much, or they are more careful with disposing of it, because the sidewalks are not covered in old dirty gum the way they are back home. This is a pet peeve of mine in Vancouver - Granville St. got completely redone and was shiny and new and then within a few months, had gum splattered all over the sidewalk... grrr!! Why gum and cigarette butts escaped the campaign to end littering, I don't understand, but many gum chewers and smokers feel it's okay to toss their used products into the streets; so sad.
Wednesday, June 05, 2013
Prison courtyard tree
Michelle left today, but we'll see her again soon! On Friday Peter and I are off for a 4 week road trip, then we fly to London to meet all the sisters (Peter's and mine).
Not sure if I'll get to update the blog while on the road....
As always - photos are posted to flickr.
Sunday, June 02, 2013Interestingly enough, I think my sister and I have spent more time together in Europe in the past 10 years than we have in Canada. It helps that she's been living in London for the past 5 years, but even before that, when I was in Wisconsin - I met up with her to travel around Europe. It's a theme. When I visited Latvia, she stopped by. And, she's come to visit us here in Wroclaw! Sadly, the weather is absolutely pants (I'm told that's British slang appropriate for describing rainy, overcast, and cold weather in June).
We've been hunting down Wroclaw's famed gnomes - little bronze statues scattered across the city; they give you an excuse to wander about. We had some ideas of other things to do and visit but every time we try the thing is closed or isn't happening until literally the day after she leaves. Still, we're having a good time!
Thursday, May 30, 2013Today is Thursday and we thought we were all clever in deciding to go to the Military Museum today because it happens to be free on Thursdays.... except when we walked outside this morning it was eerily empty in the streets. We took a detour through the square because we heard stuff going on. Stumbled onto a Mass in the square (complete with military band). Turns out it's Corpus Christi today.... and everything is closed. And it's pouring rain, so our idea to wander got squashed. So we're back at home. I had to google Corpus Christi to find out what this is about and was disappointed to find that in Poland they do not celebrate by baby jumping, that only happens in a town in Spain. Bummer. The world is a strange place.
Also interesting to me - after hearing so much about Poland being so staunchly Catholic - they seem to have the same problem every other place does - only the older generation goes to Mass, the young people are not participating.
Monday, May 27, 2013We have designated Thursdays as 'tourist' day where we make sure we go do something touristy in Wroclaw.
Last week it was the Wroclaw Contemporary Art Museum which had an exhibit on an art group called Luxus. I really struggle with contemporary art - I find if you don't know details about the context or the artist's drive, you really often can't appreciate wtf the art is about. Here's a great example of what I think museums should be providing guests - here's a dude (vlogbrother John Green) who in a few minutes explains an artist in a way that helps non-arts people get why he's doing interesting stuff. If I could just watch an engaging 3 min video before walking into an exhibit, I feel like I would get so much more from art museums. Unfortunately, the Luxus exhibit doesn't explain anything so you're left staring at very strange bits of art with no understanding of it. This is why modern art frustrates me (and I suspect many other lay people).
Anyway, that said, it was interesting. And, I got this picture, which is pretty priceless really. I'm sure there's a deep message here - if anyone wants to tell me what it is, I'm all ears.
Saturday, May 25, 2013While in Copenhagen, we did a walk through of Christiania. It's a quirky part of Copenhagen that kind of self-governs (consensus-based governance, actually). It started as a squat of abandoned military ground in the 70s and evolved from there. They allow the sale of pot and apparently have relaxed rules on prostitution. I'll be honest, I was hoping for more.
It had a drug area (Pusher St) where dudes were selling pot openly (and taking photos is a very big no no) and it felt pretty unfriendly. We went into a gallery/restaurant but there was a lecture going on so we left. I'm not sure what I was expecting - urban farming maybe? Artists workshops? There were some interesting buildings (DIY modifications, 'architecture without architects'), but it wasn't the urban commune mecca I thought it would be. Maybe you have to be a resident to see and appreciate the dimensions of the place. To an outsider, it seems like a place people go to buy and do pot (which is not terribly exciting for me, perhaps because I come from Vancouver) and not much else.
Interestingly, after bitter negotiations between Christiania and the Danish government that temporarily resulted in the area being sealed off to the public, in June 2011, the residents of Christiania agreed to collectively set up a fund to formally purchase the land at below market prices (but still reportedly an enormous sum). "Uncertainty remains over how the money will be raised."
That said - the building we went into had this amazing staircase where every surface was tagged and it made for fantastic photos!
Thursday, May 23, 2013
That train got us to Szczecin where Peter's uncle lives. Then we went to Swinoujscie where another uncle/aunt/cousins and grandmother lives. It was a lot of family meals. Everyone was very nice, and it was good of them to let us stay with them. Peter's grandmother has MS and is usually in a lot of pain - this was true 10 years ago when I saw her too - but she always has the brightest smile on when we see her, it's really amazing. Makes me feel bad for ever complaining about anything in my life (but I will still probably complain, probably later in this post even).
Swinoujscie, view from our window.
We decided to take the overnight ferry from Swinoujscie and at the last minute we opted to not get a cabin. Because we like to torture ourselves, I guess. We got on board early and found the 'airseats' which are the airline-like seats in a little room where all the cheapskates sleep. The other cheap passengers were all Polish men drinking beer. Lots of Polish dudes go to work in Sweden and Denmark now that Poland is in the EU and these guys were probably just ending a visit home. We got an okay night's sleep, not awesome. At 5am we heard a dude open his morning beer and we decided to go down to the cafeteria for breakfast. One $4 ferry breakfast later (ah Europeans and their runny scrambled eggs) and it was time to disembark.
We found ourselves in Ystad, Sweden and realized neither of us had really looked into the details of how to get to Copenhagen aside from a vague awareness that there was a bus (hey, I'm taking a sabbatical from being a Planner). I think we both assumed that because it was Sweden everything would be clearly organized and labeled and obvious. Uh, no. We did find the nearby train station though (after walking down some unpromising looking industrial roads), and decided to catch a train to Malmo and go from there. We got on a shiny new train with the morning commuters and had the quietest, smoothest train ride ever. Seriously, it was a silent 150km/hr train, very amazing.
We decided to go back to Malmo and explore while we waited for all that to clear up. Which turned out to be awesome because I got to explore a neighbourhood that I'd studied while back in planning when doing some best practices research - Västra Hamnen. It was very cool and I'm glad we had time to wander through it - yay for unexpected stops! I have about 400 photos of that place, including exciting stuff like stormwater management features and vacuum tubes for waste; you're jealous, I know.
We eventually went back to the train station and got on our way to Copenhagen.
Copenhagen was pretty fabulous. We stayed the first night in a hostel because Copenhagen is mad expensive and we've got a budget to stick to. The hostel (Generator) was shiny and new and stylish (I'm a sucker for stylish, modern accommodations). It was a good experience despite the shouting drunk idiots in the hallway in the middle of the night.
Copenhagen cargo bikes, very common.
I was surprised by the shoddy treatment pedestrians often get though - cyclist space often seems to come at the expense of pedestrians rather than cars. Super narrow sidewalks will be blocked by sandwich boards, poles, parked bikes, etc. so that people have to walk single-file. That sucks. But the fully pedestrian streets - so lovely. I found myself often just wanting to get away from the chaos of the streets where cyclists and drivers and pedestrians are all trying to navigate - so Peter and I could stroll slowly and chat without constantly navigating obstacles.
Climbing a church spire = happy Lisa
My favorite part of Copenhagen (besides having delicious Indian for dinner one night) was probably laying on the castle lawn with everyone else on the last day because the sun finally came out and it was warm. We had cinnamon buns and read and watched people play a lawn game where they try to knock over blocks with sticks. Climbing the exterior of a church spire was awesome too. I'm easily pleased this way.
Photos will be posted to flickr over the next few days....
Peter and I in a cafe by the water (at the Architecture Exhibit)
Thursday, May 16, 2013Peter and I are still in Copenhagen (staying at his cousin's place out in the country somewhere)... today we head back to Poland via his uncle's place. Will be in Wroclaw the day after at which point I will begin to upload 400 photos to flickr. :)
ps - we had Indian food here and it was spicy and delicious. We bought some spices to take back to Poland with us (because we cannot find chili powder in Poland, just as an example of the Polish preference for... not spicy).