Thursday, August 31, 2006

Stuck in Brasov

Continuing with what Savannah was saying, yes, we've been in Brasov for almost a week now. I am a bit confused as to what I should say about Romania. My first impression upon crossing the border was "Oh no! It's another Georgia." because things here are much grayer and run down than everywhere we've been recently. Lots of garbage lying around and just big ugly communist block architecture. Even the old towns, while still nice, just aren't to the same scale or at the same level of repair as Poland or Hungary and places like that. You have a tendency to become uninterested in them faster and want to move on.
Having said all that, the people have been nice so far and amazingly enough, all the train ticket sellers in the stations have actually spoken English. They can't say that in the rest of eastern Europe. That has made it a lot easier. The language is also pretty cool too. I've heard it said (somewhere) that Romanian is the closest living language to Latin, so if you can understand Italian, Spanish or French, it's actually pretty easy to get an idea of what all the signs are saying. Unfortunately it's still too expensive here (by my ultra-cheap standards), more so than Slovakia, even though it's not the EU yet. Dorm beds are 10-15 euros/night.
Brasov is right in Transylvania and close to all the Dracula folklore but as most people know, Vlad Tepes/Dracula was a real guy (nicknamed the impaler) who had considerable success fighting (very cruelly) against the Ottomans but the whole vampire thing has come out of nowhere. I am shocked that even though this is the most touristy area of the country, it's not stacked with tacky vampire souvenirs yet. There is a mountain range running right through the middle of Transylvania with great skiing and hiking but we haven't been able to enjoy the outdoors on account of the horrible weather. It turned to crap just after we arrived and has been cold (8-20C) during the day, with frequent thunderstorms and heavy rains. I've officially started my winter beard it's so cold.
Maybe it's the vampire effect in the area but lots of people here are getting stuck and staying longer than they'd planned. We'd only planned a few days but have been here much longer. I have no energy and motivation right now and just want to sit around all day. It must be vampires.....
We did get out to Sighisoara (birthplace of Vlad) and also to Sinaia on separate day trips. Both are small towns and popular tourist spots. Sighisoara was a shock as it was so run down, with buildings literally falling apart right in the main square and Roma beggars in front of the train station. Sinaia is more in the mountains and home to Peles castle. It is actually very impressive inside and the coolest interior of a building we've seen yet on this trip. Very nice and well worth the trip. Unfortunately it rained all day so we never got the view of the mountains. It felt like going to Whistler on a rainy late October day. Nearby is also the Bran castle, billed as the home of Dracula but a lie and a tourist trap. We haven't heard much good about it so will probably skip it.
I thought the best part out here was riding in the slow train looking at all the little villages going by. The countryside is pretty but we are on the edge of the mountains so it isn't as harsh as I expected. Villages are simple and traditional looking as many still use horse-carts to get around. The train actually had roll down windows like in a car. Awesome.
What it feels like we've mostly been doing is sitting around chatting with all the people here in the hostel (it is still very full) and watching movies. People are very impressed and supportive of our trip which is also great. Better than half you wierdos that think we should come home and WORK of all things. Why would anyone in their right mind want to do that? You work so you can have vacation so why would I want to stop my vacation, come back and start working so I can go on my next one?
The currency here is messed up. They currently have 2 currencies, just like in Azerbaijan where they are revaluing it and have both in circulation at the same time for a while. It's not as confusing though because they differ by a factor of 10,000.
Tomorrow we finally get ourselves back on the road and are heading over to Moldova for a few days to check it out. We'll let you know when we get there.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


Wow, does it ever feel good to be taking a break! We have been in Brasov for the past few days, enjoying our stay in the hostel. We went on a hike up to the Hollywood "Brasov" sign and saw the view of town. Really nice. 2 days ago, I must admit, was one of our laziest days! We watched almost 10 movies. Hhaah, our excuse was that we've been "movie and t.v. deprived" for over a year. Well it's TRUE!!
Yesterday we went with a bunch of people from our hostel to Sighisoara which is a 2 1/2 hour train ride away. It is the town where Dracula was born! OooOoH, scary!
Today we went to Sinaia and saw Peles palace. WOW! I have never seen anything like it. It was absolutely stunning. Every square inch done with as much detail as the first!!! I think if I lived there I'd find something new everyday to look at on the furniture, walls, ceiling, carpets.......The armory was cool. I love the whole horse and rider in complete shining armor. Pretty spiffy! So ya, sorry to say we have no pictures of the inside because you weren't allowed... though I'm quite surprised we didn't get any considering mom ALWAYS tends to sneak pictures, hahahah. It was raining all day and we all thought we were going to freeze to death in8C. That is, everyone except TERRI of course. Crazy Canadian! I hate the rain.
We've been in this hostel for almost a week, ahhaha and they think we're crazy I'm sure.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Rough travel days

Ok, first of all, I don't know if any one mentioned this but my back has been KILLING me lately and that's why we had to stay an extra day in Levoca. I was trying to crack my back when our homestay lady noticed and immediately ran over to me and lifted up my shirt to check it out...
"Nyet, nyet!! Problem, problem!!" I couldn't help but laugh at her expression. She was trying to explain to me that my back was totally crooked, which I already knew from my awkward and completely lop sided figure (SKY! You cursed me by always saying "You're crooked!").... The next day she MADE me let her husband doctor me. What I gather from all the sign language and broken english, he was a chiropractor for 20 years.....he has me convinced!! You should have HEARD the cracks and crunches coming from my back. Holy Crow! I am STILL amazed. I didn't know a body could make so much noise. Hhahah! It was fun!
So anyway, the next day we got up extra early to catch our bus and head to Hungary. Ha...ha....ha! Let's just say fortunes were against us that day.... The first TWO buses never showed and we sat in the cold of the morning for two hours before one finally came. That ride took two more hours then we arrived and just missed the next connecting train by 10 minutes and had to sit for four hours for the next one. Turns out that was the only train on the list with some wierd thing going on with it....basically it never came so we sat in the train station for a grand total of seven hours before FINALLY catching the train. Oh my gosh! We were so glad to be heading out of there and getting on our way. We crossed the border and that's when our ticket ran out and our plan was to buy a domestic ticket from the train conductor. No, things didn't go so smoothly. He tried giving us a $50.00 penalty for not having a ticket (which we KNOW is a bunch of crap). The funny thing is, we didn't even have enough cash to pay for the ticket even without the fine attached. Uh oh! I was thinking "Oh great! We finally get here after all that waiting and now they're going to kick us off after 15 minutes!! You gotta be kidding me!!" Eventually after scraping our money belts for every last coin we paid him for the ticket, no fine attached. I guess our innocent, little, lady eyes looked pretty convincing, muahah!! It was still a little nerve racking travelling at night, not knowing if there was a connecting train to our last stop and having no local currency.....But yes, we finally made it after one more short train ride, to Eger, where we had to walk around town a little bit before finding a place to stay.
We stayed in Eger a couple days then left for yet another travel day...
Yesterday morning we walked pretty far to the bus station, waited around for 45 minutes or so, got on a two hour bus ride, walked to the train station 10 minutes away because there was no connecting bus which we had planned to take, waited two hours for the train, got on the train for half an hour, got to the next town and waited for one hour then caught our last train for two hours to what we thought was our final destination. After almost 6 km of walking around Oradea with our backpacks looking for a cheap place to stay, we gave up and as a group decided to skip town and catch another train overnight to Brasov. The VERY LAST train I might add which we almost missed. I guess the train gods had some sympathy for us. Talk about a LONG and tiring day!!! After no sleep and basically no food for what seemed like a life time we finally made it. It is 7:00 pm now and I still haven't slept. Hahha, what a life, eh?? It's all about the roughness that makes it that much more exciting!! You guys probably think I'm complaining but I'm FAR from it. I'm actually BRAGGING!! Muahaha.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


After all the traveling I've done over the past few years I am happy to announce that Slovakia is my 50th country. There still are, however, 140 something left to go so stop asking when we're going to be finished. We won't get to them all on this one but I still want to knock off a lot more before I take any extended break from travel and come home. It's been amazing, all that I've been able to do on this and previous trips and while I know I've already been to more places than most of you will ever get to in your lives, everyday I feel more and more that I have seen just the tiniest fraction of what is really out there in the world. I swear the most interesting places and peoples are the ones you didn't know even existed until you see them. Originally Slovakia was supposed to be a quick run of little interest to us that we had to cross to get to somewhere more exciting. We opted to skip the capital as right now the mood of the group favours the smaller, quieter towns. The weather the last few weeks has been sketchy and unpredictable so we are also skipping the outdoorsy long hiking thing that we see crowds and crowds of locals doing. There are so many campers, bikers and rollerbladers running around trying to get their summer fix before it ends soon. We haven't done much here but we've been doing it slower... Trencin was to be 2 days (actually 4) and Levoca 2 days (now on our 4th) before moving on. But I like them. These 2 towns were chosen as they are not on the heaviest tourist route and have the 3rd and 1st largest castles in the country respectively. They are mostly intact ruins now, with most of everything still standing but the living quarters mostly gone except for rebuilt sections converted into museum displays. There are guided tours but getting one in English is a bit of a problem as it really feels like we are the only English speaking tourists out here (almost but not quite true). Most tourists are domestic or from the immediately neighbouring countries. It does make for some interesting conversations though. When trying to check in in Trencin the conversation with the reception lady started with Slovak greetings, a failed attempt at English, then her talking to me in German (I really know nothing and can't even count to 10 in German) and me replying in Russian or hand-waving. I think I even threw a few words of Spanish in there to really mix it up. Who says you need the local language? The wierdest thing is their insistence and continual usage of German when it is obvious it is not working on us. Russian is closer to the local language (both are Slavic in origin) and they must know and understand it but they won't use it directly. I guess it's all that Soviet trauma because german seems to be the linking language between the eastern countries these days. But then they do get mostly german tourists now too. Anyway, the weather got better, it's relaxing out here and accommodation is comparatively quite cheap so we slowed things down, started reading, wandering aimlessly and playing cards again. Speaking of cards, we've been playing the continuous rummy lately and are now using 6 decks and are up to 45 cards each! Now that is serious hand cramp! traveling through the country (by train of course) is great, I love the scenery. It's beautiful. Little towns separated by fields and rolling hills but with a little more of an edge to it all. It's a little bit hillier and less densely populated, with a few more baby forests. If central Poland's countryside is elevator music then this is moving toward soft rock..... Sometimes I imagine it almost as how Mongolia would look if people lived there. We passed by the Tatras mountains and I wanted to laugh. The "mountain range" fit nicely into one camera frame and looked like it composed of 10 mountains in a little clump. We've come a long way from Nepal...... Now that we are in the east of the country we are also seeing a lot of Roma (gypsies). Everyone hears about them but if you just capital hop out here you wouldn't really even see more than 1 or 2. They are immediately obvious as pretty much the only dark-skinned minority group here. They are distantly related to Indians (and have that look) as they apparently migrated out of the subcontinent a long time ago. There are still similarities in the languages though. They were also slaughtered by the Nazis and to this day continue to suffer the brunt of racial abuse in the region. There are tons out here and it's easy to see that they definitely have a lower standard of living as their clothes, general appearance and behaviour suggest poverty. A lot of them look like Indian beggars actually but they aren't openly begging, to us anyway. We talked to a Japanese girl at our place and she said she was getting a lot of begging harassment, but then maybe the Roma are afraid of Slovaks and think we're local. I don't know. It's interesting though so I'll keep my eyes open as we pass through the area.
We were supposed to leave for Hungary today but were feeling lazy so we'll head out tomorrow instead.
PS. Shean, how could you even think of suggesting I shave my head? It's falling out fast enough as it is. No need to help it along. The ribs are getting better. I could probably do a pushup or handstand again now without too much pain. The jaw was never an issue. Thanks for the concern and keeping up with the blog. Love your comments.

Sunday, August 20, 2006


Hi Crowd!
You guys are running out of summer time fast, hahah! Well, we made it to Slovakia, A-OK. The heart breaking part about entering was how we didn't even get a stamp in our passports!! Can you believe that crap!?!? Aaaaaah, oh no, my liiiiife is over! Hahha, just kidding. It takes more than just that to break my spirits. Still, that's the first country out of 21 on this trip that we didn't get a stamp. It sucks, no proof that we were even here! Although we do have cameras and trust me, we ARE here! Trencin, the first town we visited, was cute. We actually stayed at a camp site which was a first on this trip, with cabins along the river. The bunk bed thing was fun. The weather has been wonderful with lots of sun. Just relaxing, working on our suntans the best we can and reading our books. It's been pretty windy though, it's amazing how fast the clouds pass by! Every night during summer there is an outdoor concert of some sort that anyone is free to enjoy. There were lots of different themes, including country, tap dance, bands etc. Lots of costumes, dancing and singing. A fun song was "Take me out to the ball game...." Now who can resist singing along with that one?! We always had front and center seats. Ya, ya, we're such dorks but it was great. We visited the third largest castle in Slovakia, the Trencin Castle. How original, haha. This is where we saw many portraits of the families who owned the castle at the time. Whoa man, sorry to say this but all of them were BUNK ugly, especially the kids. Wanna know why? The artists back then weren't able to paint the kids because no kid can sit for hours at a time! The artist would simply look at the kid, paint the body, the sons would get the face of their mothers and the daughters would get the face of their fathers. So if you can imagine a little kid with an ugly adult face, you'll know what I'm talking about. Around 100 paintings were lost to target practice by German or Austrian soldiers stationed there during WWI. The view from the top of the tower was really impressive. We got some good pictures that you'll see in our next folder in the photo album when we get them up. I hope every one has been enjoying them. I'm jealous watching all of the people going by with bicycles and roller blades. I want to spend a day doing it too but we haven't found any cheap rental places...yet!! We are now in Levoca. The train ride here was fun. We (Terri, Savannah and I) met a really nice Slovak guy who spoke a little english and shared gobs of chocolate with us. The special treatments we get being girls, muahaha. The people are really nice and helpful. Today we went on a walk up the hill to a church. Our sunday mass. And a stroll around town. I really like the cute squares with all the little cafes and pretty buildings. Great atmosphere! I still can't believe I'm in Europe and I never thought I'd get here, let alone be in Slovakia. It's extra fun having Terri, our adopted sister, here!! Good times and lots of fun with all the laughing. Poor Ammon, all our followers have mostly been girls.
Enjoy summer while you still can.....

Monday, August 14, 2006

Medical update

I thought some of you would be interested in an update on our physical and mental status. We have been on the road for over 15 months (5 times longer then most of you gave us) and I must say that we are better than ever. Ammon has managed (with a lot of help from us) to maintain his weight, maybe even gainning now. On his past 3 month trips, he always arrived home missing several (between 5-10) pounds. So, at his past rate, he would be dead by now, if he were doing this trip alone. I must say we are doing an awesome job keeping our leader alive. I tell you it is not an easy job, the boy doesn't like to eat or spend money.... he does have less hair though.
Bre is curently missing her right big toenail. She had to have it taken off..... ouch !!!! She will survive, and enjoy the sympathy in the meantime. Other than that, she has a slight change in her muscle arrangement. She no longer has her gymnasts muscles definition, which she is sad about. She looks great and still attracts the boys just fine. Bre is weighing in at about the same as before as well.
Savannah has changed the most. She is 4-5 inches taller than when she left, and therefore 15 or so pounds heavier. She still wants to eat like a horse, so I am thinking that she might still be growing...... She better be at least, or she will be a beluga whale when we return. heehee
Me, well I'm perfect....................haha. I'm the size I was as a teenager. A slightly saggier, stiffer version though.
We are all strong and ready for more, physically and mentally. We have just spent a week relaxing in Podebrady, Czech at our new friend Michael's big flat while having Bre's toe attended to. The doctor (a specialist) was great and didn't charge us for the 3 visits. Social medicine is a great thing. So is Michael for taking her to his doctor...... Tomorrow we leave the Czech Republic and train it to Slovakia.
Life is GREAT !!!!!!!!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Kutna Hora and Prague

I didn´t want Terri to feel like she wasn´t getting the proper experience of travelling with us so after one day of rest in Warsaw, we took off on an overnight train (sitting all night with no sleep of course) to get to the Czech republic. My body has definately become super confused with weather now as it is August, apparently the coldest wettest month so far of the year. How can August be the worst month? At low 20C in the day and damp, all of us (with the exception of Terri of course) are freezing. Itś too cold for a T-shirt and too hot for the sweater all day, grrr.
We are now staying in Poděbrady. It is a small town off the map about 1 hour due east of Prague. We are staying with Michael, an American guy that has been living there for 4 years teaching english. We met him 2 weeks ago in Gdansk and (poor sucker) he invited us to come visit. He has a nice sized flat that he shares with another teacher (who is currently away) so we are crashing on the living room floor and in the guest room. It's been awesome. Movies at night. Cooking good food (I want to steal his kitchen knife as I haven't seen anything so sharp and nice to work with since Chefi's) and all those other domestic comforts, including Scruffy the dog. No, this does not mean we are wanting to settle down.
Our first day we did a little day trip to the small town of Kutna Hora. It's south west of Prague and a popular day trip as it is yet another UNESCO world heritage town. It has the 2nd largest cathedral in Czech (I personally love the Gothic style) and was once a very important trade centre some 3-700 years ago. If you ever have heard of "Groschen" it's here that they were produced. Groschen are the silver coins that were the main currency of central europe during that time and were minted here right beside the mines where the silver was extracted. Only in the early 18th century when the mines dried up did Kutna Hora lose it's importance.
There is also a very strange monastery just outside of town too. The sedlec ossuary has been around for a very long time but in 1870 a local woodcarver was brought in to do something with all the bones lying around. What he did was amazing.... Chandeliers, pyramids and other decorations and designs are on display in the underground rooms. There were about 40,000 people's worth of bones to play with and it's just a crazy (beautiful rather than creepy) thing to see.
The following day (yesterday) we went to Prague for a day trip. Michael accompanied and guided us on this one and we spent the whole day walking all over town to see the whole thing. I was in Prague 6 years ago on my first trip abroad so it was a little wierd to be doing it all over again. A few things have changed, like the number of tourists (it is so so busy now) and the prices. Czechs are having a rough time of it as the prices in the country continue to rise in response to EU demands to fall in line "western" rules and economic conditions. I'm having a hard time seeing how this is supposed to be entirely beneficial for the population. We were so used to paying 10-15 cents for a metro (subway) ride in the ex-Soviet republics that paying over a dollar now seems like cruel and unnecessary punishment. The fact that this is the result of a recent doubling in price makes it even harsher. But such is the way in all of eastern europe as we've heard the same thing in Poland and Ukraine. I just hope the wages are also doubling, but I fear that in most cases, it is not.
Prague is a beautiful city. Yeah, it looks like the old towns of other European capitals but honestly, it just has that little bit more that makes it special. The sheer number of pretty buildings and the setting are just amazing and if anyone is planning a european trip and is within 2 countries of Prague, put it on your itinerary. Everyone else is......
Actually, it's too busy in Prague so go in the offseason. For us it is probably the most touristy place we will get to on the entire trip (as the Vatican, Paris and Disneyland are out) so hopefully we won't have those kinds of crowds again. So like India and yet totally the opposite. I don't know how to explain when a crowd is a crowd and when it's not, you just have to experience it. Crowd dynamics and characteristics is a whole new science..... I'm just glad we didn't have to try to find a room.
The highlights of Prague are it's old town square with it's famous astronomical clock (Don't ask me why as I've seen more exciting clocks but the square is really nice), the Prague castle (on a hill across the river and the largest castle complex in Europe), and Charles bridge. The most interesting part of Prague castle is the Cathedral (largest in Czech and another Gothic monster wall) and the views over the city. Charles bridge is the old historical bridge and was the only crossing over the river until some time in the 1800's. It's a pedestrian bridge now with lots of statues, souvenir hawkers, bands playing and sightseeing boats underneath. Very touristy. It was hard to imagine the floods of 2002 when the river came up nearly to the top of the bridge. The whole old town must have been a total mess.
It is interesting to note that although the countries are getting smaller, we are still noticing differences in the people and look of the country upon crossing the borders. Czech is different from Poland. You see it very quickly in the houses and fields (yep, a field is not just a field like all others either) and even the people too (if you can figure out which are Czech and not tourists.
Today we are just hanging out seeing the local area (Nymburk and Podebrady) and will probably get some more movies. These girls are seriously deprived....

Saturday, August 05, 2006

New Addition

Today we have successfully picked up Terri, Savannah's best friend. She's only a year late, but well, better late than never right? As you can imagine they are bouncing off the walls and generally making too much merry.......
We have also picked up Savannah's new passport and can finally move again. We head next to the Czech republic and should arrive on the 7th.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Krakow and surrounds

Well, seeing as Krakow has the largest old town square in Europe, was probably the only major city in Poland not to get completely demolished in WW2 and has lots of "touristic sites" nearby, it's no surprise that it is by far the most touristy place in Poland. I suppose that is supposed to add to the atmosphere and make it more fun but it never turned out to be anything more than an average place for us. Yeah, the square is big and the castle are nice but too busy and way overpriced. That's the problem with joining the EU recently though, they feel the need to double or triple the price of all the tourist sites to catch up to the "west". Maybe the buildings are just too old and rebuilt old towns are better but I prefer the brighter colours and squishier buildings in the squares of Wroclaw and Gdansk.
Just outside of Krakow is the huge Wieliczka salt mine. 300 km of tunnels and 2000 chambers have been carved out over 700 years of mining. Today you can take tours down to see about 1% of it, going down to about 130m below the surface. The coolest part were the salt carvings made by various miners and the huge underground cathedral, complete with some awesome carved out decor. It wasn't all white like you imagine a salt cave would be. Rock salt is dark with lots of impurities. But if you lick the walls of the mine (I didn't, but certain strange members of my group might have...) they are definately salty dark rocks.
60 km west of Krakow is also the site of the infamous Auschwitz concentration camps. It was set up as a huge area and collection of camps in addition to the original Auschwitz one. Birkenau (aka Auschwitz II) was the largest of all the concentration camps and it is estimated that up to 1.5 million people were murdered in the whole Auschwitz area. I could give you tons and tons of statistics and examples of what went on out there, but then, you've probably heard it all before. When you just look at statistics and hear stories it's easy to dissociate yourself or not really understand. It's when you go to the site itself with so many origianal buildings, etc. still there and see all the photos of people and families that suffered, live video from the liberation, or the piles of belongings that were left behind. It was the stacks of suitcases with individual names and addresses that got mom and me. But seeing 40000 pairs of shoes left by the victims or over 1000 kg of hair shaved off their heads, that kind of stuff really drives it home and makes it real. It's so sad. Even with the place full of bus load after bus load of tourists, you can't help but be affected. Everyone should see it once. The sooner the better.
We are off to Warsaw again tomorrow to go pick up Terri at the airport and get Savannah's new passport. We'll finally be able to move on.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

What do you say?

Today we went to the Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps. What can you say that hasn't been said before? It's disgusting. It's so disgusting what happened there and I feel sick.