Monday, 18 April 2016

The Sleeper train from Krakow to Budapest ….

One thing I could say is that unless I am ever desperate again I will never use a sleeper train ever again in Europe. While trains are an amazing and efficient thing in the European zone, the assumption that the sleeper train would get you a good night rest while saving money on accommodation for one night and magically transporting you to the next destination it is more a misconception usually enforce with the idea that a Europe backpacking trip is not complete without a sleeper experience ….
Sleeper Train from Krakow to Budapest


I would concur that one would need to experience it to understand the subtle cruelty of the European train system. If you are fortunate that the overnight sleeper trains does not cover any tricky border crossing with immigration or customs checking than that is at least one problem relieved. I had one of those fortunately.

Travelling in summer means ….. the sleeper train is superbly hot …. I remember laying on that small compartment room with six narrow beds or bunks or a pad depending on one’s standards or ideal of a bed and recalling back my childhood days in Malaysia when we all had tried to sleep in the heatwave without air-conditioning nor a fan. The trick was to human fan yourself to sleep with a piece of cardboard and when you are tired enough even with sweat soaking the t-shirts and everything else one will finally find the bliss of sleeping in water. A feet not easily accomplish …. Unless one has a bad fewer.

I also suspected that the bed was probably infested with bed bugs …. Hence I was sleeping in jeans and long sleeve shirts despite how hot it was …. One could say it’s impossible, since they will change and clean the train … but when you are in the compartment, judge for yourself if you are willing to take the risk. Even without the chance of bedbugs the material used for the bed and blankets somehow seemed to be coated with itching powder …..

Good night sleep is a daydream fantasy on a sleeper train ….

Now if you can sleep on a moving train that clanks and shakes and vibrates, good for you …. And even better for the thief that will be watching out for that moment and carry your bag away at night. I was really most worried about the thieving bastards …. Hence all my luggage was place in a way it was not easily taken without shaking someone up …. The compartment was drastically small after all … one piece of advice … do not leave any luggage next to the door ….

I did made it to Budapest in one piece but for an 80 euro ticket it was really not worth the journey …. The couple in the same compartment even had a interail pass and still had to pay 35 euro for the reservation fee ….

In short … sleeper train = Expensive + No Sleep + Danger

Happy travelling

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Krakow is charming ….

Krakow …. The problem of visiting too many beautiful cities is that it numbs the experience. I think I had mention that even on my first RTW travels so this issue was becoming more of a norm for me the more I travel. Without company to keep things interesting boredom creeps in faster than usual and in Krakow I quickly become adjusted and it was just another city to me.
Krakow River
 
Krakow Suburbs Canal
Now if I ignore how I felt in Krakow which was bored and look at it as a tourist perspective it was quite clear that it was a charming tourist place. Lush River that flows with beautiful banks and scenery that people made full use of cycling, jogging, picnic and even sun bathing on the grass along the banks. This was not a seaside town but it does feels like one the way they treat the beautiful river.
Long boats, canoe and even a floating hostel with a restaurant on top of it was the spectacular way of how they fully enjoy their one big river running though the city. The old town was charming of course with a few iconic buildings and towers and they even have a Castle in Krakow. From a tourist point of view Krakow was a place full with entertainment.
Krakow

Krakow City Gate

Food was unique for Polish had their own cuisine and to further entice tourism they had all the horse pulled carriage with full traditional costume dresses running all around the old town.

Open Market Food in Krakow

Lamb Rack dish in Krakow

Great for a lazy tourist ….. a pain for a genuine traveller.
My Casino Addict continues …

I thought I had escaped from the Casino streak when after walking a whole day I had not seen any in sight. I even used google to find it and for some reason the one pointed near the old town was missing ….. maybe closed down I guess but when I was so happy that all forms of temptation was not possible, on the way back to the hostel I saw an unmarked Casino. Unmarked as in not marked on any of the online google search.
How could this be in this day and age was beyond me. It was not even a dodgy one but just a small one, professionally fun and had just one roulette table, one black jack table, one poker table and one hold-em table. For such a small Casino that they would have live table games was already amazing. Crystal Casino was the name of the place.

Worst of worst scenario is that I was escaping from the Krakow heat which was very hot and spend most of my time in that place. Who could really resist really when they were 5 PLN a bet for black jack … about 1 euro … lowest fair odds I had ever played. …. I made profit both days gambling for 4 to 5 hours straight …. Frist day took out 200 PLN and the second day as well another 200 PLN …. Needless to say I had subsidise my trip in Poland and was leaving with surplase which I change in the money changer for a less than optimized rate …. Then again it was gambling money …. Who cares … walk away ….

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Warsaw - Poland

Surprisingly the bus journey from Lithuania to Warsaw only cost me 16 euro and on an overnight bus at that. We did get stopped somewhere along the road for police inspection and while checking all the passport mine was withheld for further checking. The police went off the bus with my passport and a few other as a well and kept us by the side road at 2 am in the morning for nearly an hour before deciding everything was ok.

Modern Warsaw
First taste of Polish hospitality was at the train station(this was where the bus dropped us off in the early morning). Information desk said to go to the ticketing desk for future train purchases or information and at the ticketing desk they directed me to the information desk …. Too lack of sleep to bother I left the train station to find the hostel …. Good thing too for 3 days later I just turn up and buy a ticket on the spot to Krakow which cost as little as PLN 49 … ~ 10 euro.

Warsaw …. Was modern beyond words and base on the history of Warsaw and Poland for that matter everything was destroyed in WWII. It’s amazing how they could rebuilt everything regardless. Proof to show that humans are as resilient as hell. As big as Warsaw is I was constrained to where my feet could take me. The summer heat was finally getting to me if not the laziness that I brought with me from the Baltics countries. It was blazing hot walking around Warsaw in July and one would melt if not in the shade.
New Organized Warsaw

Warsaw

War Memorial of Warsaw

Somehow when in this crazy heatwave I miss the cold weather of Patagonia …. But I know I would curse when I am too cold as well … It’s so hard to find that fine balance. I tried the walking tour and after that was too exhausted to explore much on my own. I did manage to walk pretty much a lot without knowing but every day I seek 2 hours of shelter in the Cinema watching whatever was on at that time.

Pierogi
Food wise I was stuck with the polish chain version of fast food …. Pierogi outlets where they served traditional polish cuisine and the waiters were all girls in fluffy flowery dresses with short mini skirts …. The food were good amazingly plus it was reasonable considering how loaded I was and the eye candy did help too … I ate there 3 times in two days …..
Polish Stew
I could not escape the casino of course although I was finally out of the Baltics …. There is always one and this one was Casino Poland located inside the Marriot Hotel …. The first day for some reason I could not find the entry and never did thought it would be inside the hotel for I saw the big sign outside in the building walls. …. Second day I walked in the hotel regardless thinking I dun give a dam what people think anyway if I dun have money since no one knows me here …. True indeed Casino Poland was there and I was gambling for hours … only to chalk up PLN 200 …. Well a win is always better than a lost …
Next day I ran as fast as I could … Krakow …. But Krakow had one too …

Friday, 8 April 2016

Little Lithuania

Journey from Riga to Lithuania was pleasant on the Lux Express bus if not uneventful. Luxury bus with a good large reclining seat and list of movies to choose from the display in front of your seats. If one was not too observant you could almost believe you were in an aeroplane.

Town Hall of Vilnus

I reach Vilnius easy enough but a long walk with backpack to the hostel which was in the centre of old town. Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn if I would rate them I would say off all the old town, Vilnius is the most modernized version of them for they had tear apart the old walls, built so much new building due to the destruction during the wars that they had no choice anyway. Tallinn the most preserved as they always surrender and Vilnius the most modern for the war was fought there.
Cobbled Streets of Vilnus
Summer was finally here which wat I felt when I reached Lithuania. Denmark. Sweden, Finland, Estonia and even Riga was somewhat cold and borderline annoying but when I reached Lithuania it was sunny and warm and one could only smile.
Somehow with all the stories I remember from back in Chile of Dr. Smiles talking about going to the Russian Market and buying an AK 47 I had not manage to even go there even once. They had Russian Market in all the Baltic capital cities, all with almost similar description saying that you could find odd things there from the soviet era, like a guy or even a kidney. Each time from Tallinn to Riga I said I could do it in Vilnius but laziness got a good grip on my heart.
The White Cathedral & Tower
Apart from the walking tour which seems to be a routine, I did went up the round tower, last remaining tower of the castle ruins and got a good view of old and new Vilnius.
View of New Town Vilnus from the Round Tower
View of Old Town Vilnus from the Round Tower

Entry to UZUPIO Republic
The walking tour did bring us to a new country UZOPIO REPLUBLIC….. a country that was form on Aprils Fools day …. Like it sounds it was a country that exist as it borderlines jokes and carefully chosen words. We have 18 resident …. Anyone can enter …. We are protected by a guardian angel hence we don’t need an army. Laughter is the visa to enter the country …. And it gets more and cleverer as one reads the fine prints. Sounds like Lithuania adopted Smurf Village but with a Gnome devilish mind J

Guardian Angel of UZOPIA .... a backpacker

The Constitution of UZOPIA

My attempt to escape the casino near the bus station on the last day ( I had a whole day for it was a night bus to Warsaw ) was unsuccessful. I started by going to the bus station to exchange polish money the zloty and went straight to the opposite direction of where the casino was … towards the river North. It was the direction of the New Town of Vilnius, and for two hours it was a beautiful and lovely walk in the warm weather. I reach the river, crossed the green bridge marvelling at the up close beauty of the river and went over to the new town.

Construction Workers that Re-built Lithuania after the War Monument
Across the River to New Town Vilnus
The Pink Cathedral of Vilnus
New Town and I even attempted to look for a cinema so I could burn time and keep myself occupied till it was time to leave Lithuania. On the way back …. Early for I could not find the cinema, about 3pm at the new town attempting to cross the white bridge which was even further from the green bridge and the old town that I stumble upon the big casino in Vilnius. The bus station one apparently was the small version and the one I stumble upon is the large version of the same company.

In I went off course and was rewarded with playing chips. 10 euro for 30 euro worth of playing chips. I quickly realized luck was not in my favour that day but I still played on …. Slowly burning time away and also slowly burning money away. It was a good thing I was loaded from the Royal Flush in Tallinn. Soon it was time to go and no matter what I did and tried I was nearly 250 down. Last 25 chip and I placed it on a dozen column in roulette and won. Play it again three more times and I manage to snag back part of my losses now making it a nett loss of 100 euro. I know when it was time to leave and left with just enough time to head back, pick up my backpack and dove into the bus station in time to catch the bus to Warsaw.

I have a feeling that from the Baltics onwards all eastern Europe will be filled with casino …. This is when I wish I had a travel buddy … someone to distract me and keep me focus on the sightseeing instead of the gambling. One could only hope .

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Tour Bus from Tallinn to Riga

Somehow I feel a bit guilty just doing the big cities in the Baltics countries. Tallinn in Estonia, Riga in Latvia and Vilnius in Lithuania ….. but then again if I think about it I will be doing mostly just the big or the main capital cities from here on out till I reach Nepal. In a way I know I am missing out on something by travelling too fast and Eastern Europe is not being fully explored this way but I guess for now this is the way to go with the money running out and time ticking away.

I could fairly say that I did Portugal and Spain justice …. Even Sweden I guess … but the rest of Europe has always been how it was a passing by fleeting. I finally realized what the difference between backpacking South America and Europe is. It’s the scene ….  where the backpacking trail in south America will softly guide you to untouched backwaters and secluded gem spots, Europe backpacking trail softly guides you from one city to another city. If one likes visiting cities and dun get me wrong, cities in Europe is not like in Asia or Americas where it’s a metropolitan and boring but they have culture as well yet somehow an untouched backwater hidden gem and a known beauty is not the same experience. 
So I went to Riga after Tallinn on the sightseeing bus …. 6 stops, very small stops for about half an hour each to see some sights where the locals with a car visits on a short holiday or even just a weekend trip. Nothing I would classify as awe memorable. Still it was a more interesting way of travel instead of just sleeping on the bus all the way.

The sights of plains and scenic stops sure made the time pass quickly and instead of being bog down on a bus rubbing your leg and ass every 20 minutes this local tour bus kept it small and compact making interaction and minor sightseeing enjoyable if one is not rushing anywhere quickly. It was a refreshing after all those journey alone.
Beautiful Lush Plains in the Summer Tour

One of the stops was a big swing ... a town swing they called it and boy it was fun but scary as hell ... when it went up nearly 90 degrees after the six of us putting it some effort we then realized that no individual effort can stop this big swing .... looking across the mischievous grins of fellow strangers told me that if I slip and fall ... this big swing wont stop and would probably crack my skull open ... Accidents happens sometimes the guide said after the swings finally stops ....
The Big Swing

Ruins Sights Stop

Small Lake stop on Latvia side
There was only 3 of us passengers, Me, Isabell from Germany and a pretty Asian Australian Cynthia. Our guide was John and his apprentice Alisa. I kept stealing glance at Cynthia …. Can’t help it of course, I was week in that department I guess but I did not dare to approach too much and mostly just kept to myself. I can’t remember the context of the conversation during lunch but she did reveal that her dad was Malaysian and her mom was Indonesian …… mix marriage …. No wonder she was pretty.
When we reach Riga, I was the first to be dropped off while the girls was going to the same hostel I was in another. No contacts was exchange and we said our farewells there.

Riga was a less medieval version of Tallinn but also larger and prettier version. If I were to advice people on how to do the Baltics I would say go from Lithuania to Riga then Tallinn …. For it gets more interesting that way.
Like in Tallinn I did the walking tour the very next day and that was about it. A short walk around, bought a ticket to Vilnius, did laundry and go gambling. What can I say, I was burning out again and I could feel it. It’s funny how frequent that happens when travelling long term and how the longer you travel the easier it is to burn out. So Riga was uneventful and I guess the loss of money in the casino and the loss of the pretty face Cynthia to cheer me up cause me to treat Riga differently. I admit that I did not do Riga justice …..

Riga
Riga City Walls
 

Monday, 4 April 2016

Tallinn – Estonia, Never thought I would have come all the way here …. & my first Royal Flush !!!

Back in the first RTW trip in 2011 I met Aliy in Florence Italy in a hostel with Scruffy & Puppy Eyes which I have since visited them in their hometown. Estonia was the last off the list and after making all the way up to Helsinki there was no chance in hell I would miss Tallinn.

Tallinn was really surprising. Although Aliy was in Amsterdam when I arrived so I did not get to meet her. The city or old town or rather Medieval Old town was really well preserved and although we were in summer reign now which was well and nice and lovely, I could totally picture the image of this medieval old town during winter which would have been 10 times more charming but miserable in terms of coldness.


Red Tops of Tallinn

City Walls of Medieval Tallinn
I ended up spending an extra day in Tallinn due to various reasons. In short I spent my days in Tallinn walking around, sleeping, joined the walking tour of course, explore every nook and corner but most of all … gambling.

Gambling in Tallinn …..
I was gambling in Tallinn every day for at least 2 hours a day and sometimes till 4 hours as well. What happen was that on the first day that I found the casino or rather I knew there was casino in Tallinn due to the nice pamphlet in the cruise from Helsinki and due to that, I was able to resist gambling on the boat with the lousy odds.

Tallinn Casino - Where I won my Royal Flush
Hands were itchy I guess and once the time was right on the first day about 5pm, I seek out the first casino or rather the only casino I could find in Tallinn in the four days I was there. They had 10 cents roulette on those machine spins. How wonderful I could spend forever in this casino just wasting time. Not too long after an hour of hard work I manage to increase my capital to 70 euro. BY some chance I manage to win back all the capital till I got a nett 20 euro earnings.
Then I went table hopping. It was late enough for it … around 7pm but no one was there. It was a really small casino. I tried the Texas poker table … the one that had two circles on the table and one had to play ante = blind. Second or third hand as when I was about to give up …. I got a miraculously royal flush. 1.:500. The three euro minimum blind gave me 1500. Hence I now had money to gamble throughout the Baltics. 

Exploring Tallinn

With easy money means easy spending. I was eating everything I could find in Tallinn instead of counting my pennies. Good food good beer and then since I had money I booked the sightseeing tour bus from Tallinn to Riga. This
Traditional Baltic Grub
one instead of just bringing you to Riga, they stop by places and show you a little bit of the rural countryside of Estonia and Riga that tourist ignore. It was an alternative tour which was great.
Fancy Restaurant at Centre of the Medieval Tallinn
Selling in Medieval Costume - Bread Vendor

Partially the reason I stayed there an extra day was because the tour only goes on certain days so with it booked and confirmed I was stuck in Tallinn an extra day. Still I love the old medieval feel to Tallinn.
 
I also decided that I must get a glance on Aliy’s painting. A message on facebook to find out where her painting was came back with a barrage of information and also a barrage of recommendation for Tallinn which by some luck I had done most of those list especially the food list by accident.
It's a Boy - It's a Girl !!!
I don’t know what it is with Girls and their Boyfriend.
Quote : I am not around but my boyfriend can bring you around !!

When Linds first quote me that I thought she must be joking and declined it but when a few months later Aliy quoted the same thing I guess it must be a norm. Funnily I have never heard a guy volunteering his GF to bring another person around especially a person they have never met.

After a lot of convincing by Aliy I decided meeting up can’t be that bad …. To be honest … it was awkward …. Her BF was an artist and also a traveller whom had hitchhiked from Estonia all the way to Portugal. Cool …. But somehow the conversation always dies out …. You just don’t meet a second hand friend …. It’s really weird … like a blind date …. You’ll like him she said ….. I could only roll my eyes when I saw that comment with the imaginary big sweat drops from my forehead.
The art district of Tallinn
Still by meeting Aliy BF – Alex …. I was able to explore an unexpected area outside of Tallinn. The artist district. This was also where her artworks was displayed on one of the cafĂ©’s. I was glad for that for it was interesting. Arts and culture has a different vibe in the Baltics like it was an unleashed potential with infinite possibility. It was also rough and ragged like the works of a blue collar. Arts in Malaysia or SEA for that matter was always for the privilege, hence always felt like a collared and cage feeling to the art.