Remember where my last blog left off? I returned from Malin Head on Sunday night, where I proceeded to work hard on an essay which was due the next day at noon. Tuesday, I had two classes, and then went to a friend’s birthday party, which lasted until 1 am. Then, I got a few hours of sleep before heading down to Dublin to see my Aunt Debbie, who was there with my Uncle for his business trip! It was so lovely to reconnect and tour the city with her. I’m so very glad we were able to work it out.
Thursday morning, John kindly drove me and Krystyn to the Derry airport, where we flew off to London and commenced our long Easter holiday. Unfortunately, the way our flight worked, we had to spend the whole day at London’s Stansted Airport before flying to Stockholm at 7:30 pm. So, by the time we actually arrived in Stockholm city centre, it was 1 am. However, our couchsurfing host had kindly agreed to pick us up even at that late hour. We had high hopes for beautiful spring weather over our holiday. Although we did get this toward the end of the trip, we certainly didn’t have it in Stockholm. Shivering, we waved to Hans, our 60 year old host, and got into his car…which it was soon discovered, wouldn’t start! Hans, unfazed, kept telling us stories about his life in between jiggling different car parts and attempting to start up the car. By the time we were finally on the road, we had found out about his recent 27-country road trip, his experience visiting North Korea, and many more anecdotes. When we arrived at Hans’ little flat, we were a bit dismayed at its size. He slept in a curtained off nook on one side of the living room, while Krystyn and I would sleep in the middle of the living room. Although Hans was very kind to us, showing us around Stockholm, he was VERY talkative. We didn’t really have conversations…he just talked at us. Sadly, it also rained for much of our time in Sweden. In fact, the rain followed us for the good first half of our trip abroad. However, we really had a nice time walking around the city, and seeing the City Hall where the Nobel Ceremony takes place, as well as touring the parliament and seeing museums and the Old Town.
From Sweden, we caught a flight south across the Baltic to Gdansk, on the northern coast of Poland. Used to RyanAir’s small luggage allowances, we did not realize that there was an airline even more stingy…and that we were flying with them. So, grudgingly, we forked over $40 to Wizz Air for the privilege of carrying our small hand luggage on board. Humph.
Gdansk was really a beautiful little city. It is known for selling large amounts of amber, “the gold of the north,” which was exported south to the Mediterranean on the amber road. We enjoyed exploring its cobblestone streets, eating in our favorite Retro Cafe, climbing the spiral steps of its cathedral, browsing amber jewelry and walking along the scenic canal. We stayed with two different hosts in Gdansk. The first was a couple who actually lived an hour outside of Gdansk, in a rival city called Gdynia. I was persuaded to try my first vodka there, and was slightly dismayed when Lukasch (our host) declared that the glasses should never be empty. His wife Olga said that he didn’t need to refill the shot glasses, but he insisted. Thankfully, I was able to get away with trying just one glass. It was vodka flavored with mint, and was thus reminiscent of mouthwash.
Our next host was a lady named Iwona Chatty who took me and Krystyn to the nearby summer resort town of Sopot, where many Germans and Scandanavians vacation in the summer. Althought it was dreary, grey and chilly outside, as we walked along the pier, it was easy to imagine the sun shimmering on the Baltic, sailboats waving in the breeze and the beaches covered in multicolored umbrellas and towels.
Our next destination was Warsaw. Our hosts there were a young couple with two small girls. They ran their own child psychology practice out of the home. They were very sweet, but things were a bit hectic at their house. However, we spent most of the time in the city, anyway. Krystyn introduced me to Trip Advisor’s free walking tours. So we had a really enjoyable time in Warsaw doing an Old Town tour and a Jewish History tour. The city is lovely and the history is so thick in the air. It was fascinating and sobering to learn that all of the city, which appeared to be quite old, was actually rebuilt after the war.
On Easter morning, we were invited to join our hosts (Kamil and Paula)’s families as they celebrated Easter breakfast together. I believe it was the first time Krys and I had cake and wine for breakfast! There were so many different intricate dishes, and we had a good time all together.
From there, we went on to Budapest. The bus connections are very convenient between the capitals in Central and Eastern Europe. Our bus was about 10 euro, and there was wifi, coffee, a toilet, movies and charging plugs all included. I enjoyed watching the movie Argo, which was especially neat as it made me feel quite amicable toward Canadians (I am much more attentive to all things Canada since meeting Krystyn – she is from Toronto. In fact, often, when we are asked where we are from, I let Krystyn answer first “Canada” and then I just don’t say anything. Its fun. :))
In Budapest, we stayed in a hostel. It was a good experience, though the heat was nearly unbearable in our room. However, we were so thankful that in our first full day in Hungary, we finally got consistent good weather! It was so lovely to walk around and see gorgeous cathedrals, the palace, the parliament and Easter markets. I also enjoyed running in the morning and seeing the city wake up. I ran up to the communist liberty statue on the highest hill on the Buda side and got a beautiful view. Krys and I were very excited about going on a spelunking trip in the Buda caves, but unfortunately, they were not running the trip on that day…so we got manicures instead!
The next destination was Bratislava, where we couchsurfed with a native Slovakian man and his Portuguese girlfriend. Bratislava was probably our least favorite city, but we still had a wonderful time. My favorite part was going to Devin Castle, on top of a high hill overlooking the Danube. It had such rich history going all the way back to the Romans.
Something interesting you learn when traveling is the precise geography of the regions you visit. One thing I had never realized was how close Bratislava is to Vienna. They are called twin cities! Not knowing this when I booked our bus trip between the capitals, I didn’t know that a trip duration of 5 hours between them was ridiculously long. Apparently, the bus stopped in the Czech Republic on the way. Krystyn and I were willing to lose some money to figure out a faster way to get to Vienna, which we knew had to exist. Well, God was with us. We inquired about the fastest and cheapest way, and were told that students got 50% off on boat cruises on Fridays! What day were we traveling? Friday! Things began to look up. We paid only 10 euro to take a fun boat cruise down the Danube. The weather was beautiful, and we arrived in Vienna five hours ahead of schedule!
In Vienna, we stayed with the brother of a friend of Krystyn’s. The weather was so good that I had to buy sunglasses and role up my jeans! We walked all over the city, toured the parliament and sampled Viennese coffee and gelato. Touring the beautiful Schonbrunn Palace was a definite highlight. Incidentally, we were slightly shocked by the high smoking rate in the city! Most restaurants allow customers to smoke and bring in their pets!
Finally, we ended the trip in Prague. What a lovely city! Krystyn had been before, but it was my first time. So, when we arrived, she went to a coffee shop to do a bit of work on her thesis while I explored. The weather could not have been more perfect. So, I trekked up Lover’s Hill, climbed the “Eiffel Tower,” moseyed around the cobblestone streets and crossed the lovely Charles Bridge.
The next day, we planned to do a walking tour, which we soon discovered was cancelled! So, Krys, I and two others who were planning to do the tour banded together and had our own fun exploration seeing the castle complex and the Old Town Square. By the end of that day, our three week journey was finished.
Surprisingly, it doesn’t feel strange to be back in Derry. In fact, I’m glad to be “home.” 🙂