Thursday, May 31, 2007

Celebration of Saint Petersburg!

As we approached the city, streets were lined with people on every corner. The parade had just begun and it appeared to look like some sort of crazy rave, but with American music. The crowds of people went wild and danced. Jay and I attempted to make our way back to our apartment for lunch, but this was nearly impossible. We fought through the crowd and made it to our flat. After we ate lunch, we headed into the city to see the aftermath of the parade. Crowds of people were walking in the middle of the street (Nevsky). This street is usually busy with zooming cars. Police were lined on each side of the road carefully watching and stepping in when needed. We walked around the entire city and there were mobs of people everywhere! It was crazy! Later that evening, we knocked on our neighbors door to introduce ourselves. The landlord told us that an American-Russian couple lived there. And indeed, this was true! Howard and Irena provided us with wonderful hospitality and interesting conversation. We made plans for dinner the next night!

The next day, we had a fun filled day of site seeing. First, we made our way to the Winter Palace where we went to the Hermitage museum. It was impossible to view all of the beautiful works of art and treasure presented. We roamed around the museum for about two hours discussing the armoury from different countries displayed. Then, we continued the path to St. Isaac's Cathedral. This church dominates the city skyline. It is open as a museum, but we opted to climb the 262 steps of the colonnade around the dome's drum to see the view of the city. This view was not as impressive as we thought it was going to be. We could only see the roof tops of the building nearby. This was somewhat disappointing. However, the cathedral was beautifully architectured. Next, we continued with a stroll through the Summer Garden. This is considered to be Saint Petersburg loveliest park. It was by far beautiful and lavishly full of blooming flowers. Later that evening we had dinner with our new friends, Howard and Irena. They took us to a restaurant called Blinni Domik, which means House of Pancakes in English. Here we had Russian Cuisine that was impeccable! (Jess you would have enjoyed this experience!)

On Sunday, we went to the local market to get fruit for our train ride to Moscow. The market was lined with many fruits, vegetables, cheese, potatoes, and meats. As Jay paided for the cherries and oranges, the lady behind the produce counter tried to rip him off. Jay got loud a couple of times and she eventually gave him some money back. Later we found out from Howard and Irena that we actually got a good deal for our produce. Negotiation....Jay is good at it even with language barriers. Later that afternoon, we headed to the train station to purchase tickets to Moscow. Howard and Irena came along to help us with this process. It took approximately one hour to get our tickets and we even had a Russian native speaker helping us. It was at this point that we decided that we would attempt to get our hostel or travel agency to book our Trans-Siberia tickets. After a couple of hours on the train, we ran into an American couple from Utah, Ashley and Nathaniel. To our surprise, we were staying in the same hostel and decided to walk together once at the station. They were extremely nice and we ran into them quite often at the hostel. On the train we also met two helpful Russian girls, Anna and Sasha. They helped with translation from the "Provodnitsa" (train attendant). Both girls, have the dream of visiting the United States. We arrived in Moscow late that night, made our way through the metro, and got lost. Luckily, the hostel was very hospitable and picked us up at the metro station. The next day our journey began in Moscow...

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Saint Petersburg, Russia!

We took a night bus from Tallinn, Estonia to Saint Petersburg, Russia. On the bus, Jay met a very nice Russian man named, Evgeny. He helped Jay fill out our Immigration Registration cards and gave him tips about the trains. I'm not sure about everything that they discussed, because I was passed out asleep in my seat. Anyways, approximately at 2am we were stopped at border control. It was a breeze with no complications! Finally, we were lucky! Thanks to Evgeny and his hospitality. Once through border control, we attempted to try to get some sleep. This was impossible...the road was extremely bumpy and bus constantly shook. Could things possibly get worse? Oh yes, they could and they did! We arrived in St. Petersburg at 6am in the morning and found our way to the hotel that we reserved. The receptionist did not speak any English and therefore, we had to wait until the English speaking receptionist arrived. Once she arrived we inquired about our reservation. She explained to us that she did not have a reservation for us and did not know the company that provided our reservation. Imagine being sleepy and hungry as you are being told this. She sent us to the Moscow train station service center were another person was to help us find a room. Once again, bad one helped us. This could be due to the language barrier...I don't know. Next, we decided that our best option would be to go to Tourist Information. Here six women worked on finding us a room for over two hours. It comes to find out that there were no rooms available at any hotels, hostels, or guesthouses, because it is the celebration of the city until the 27th of May. However, they were able to find us an apartment to rent. This was our only option so we agreed. We arrived to the apartment and were greeted by a two Russian women, one spoke only Russian and other spoke English and Russian. The Russian lady, who only spoke Russian, explained how to work everything in the apartment in Russian while the other lady mediated in English. This was extremely interesting how renting an apartment with language barriers worked. We signed a rental agreement and were extremely happy with our experience. Finally, some good luck! The next day, we set out to see the sights of Russia. As we walked down the streets, we noticed the beautifully architected buildings. Each building must have taken up over half of a block! Nothing is small in Russia! The first sight that we saw was the Church of the Savior of Spilled Blood. This was by far our favorite sight so far. This church is the spot where Alexander II, the Emperor of Russia, was mortally wounded on March 1, 1881. The memorial temple was erected between 1883 and 1907. This building was designed in old Russian style and modeled on the 17th century churches of Moscow and Yaroslavl. The temple is particularly remarkable for the richness and variety of its decor. The mosaics, which cover a vast area of the outer and inner walls (7,000 square meters) make the church an international monument. Jay and I were breath taken by the amount of time and preparation in this monument. The mosaics were stunning and this was the first time we have seen something of this beauty. After spending about an hour in this temple, we made our way to the Russian Museum. Here, most of the painting were centered around self and family portraits of important figure heads and wealthy families, and Jesus Christ. We were not so impressed with this aspect of Russian culture. Today, we have spent most of the day in front of the computer catching you guys up on our journey. It has been a pleasure! Now, we are heading into the city to begin to celebrate the first day of the St. Petersburg celebration. (By the way the entire time that I have been sitting at the computer typing, I have been taken over by the smell of a Russian who has not bathed in quite some time!)

Capital of Estonia, Tallinn!

It has been a while since we have posted about our journey. So, here goes... We arrived in Tallinn and we were completely awe-strucken by the beauty of the town. The first day we set out for Tourist information to get directions to the Chinese Embassy and the timetable for the bus to St. Petersburg, Russia. We took the long journey across town to find the Chinese Embassy and much to our luck it was closed. It is only open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2pm-5pm. What kind of ours are those? We agreed that we would come back tomorrow between these times. Therefore, the next day was centered around the Chinese Embassy. We arrived to the embassy and talked to the consulate and he said that "it will be better for you to get visa at the Mongolian-Chinese border." Great, once again no luck! Beaten by the day, we decided to go to the African Kitchen to test the African cuisine of this region. Man, it was good! Then, we made our way to Hell Hunt, which claimed to the be the "first pub" in Estonia. There we met two Irish guys named, Brandon and Tommy. We hung out with them for a few hours discussing job opportunities abroad. The next day we were set on seeing the sites before we left on a night bus to St.Petersburg. First, we walked to the center of town called Raekaja Plats. Here we saw the Old Town Hall and the oldest working pharmacy in Tallinn. From there we made our way down the secret passage to the the church of St. Catherine. There are tombs located on the outside of the church that represented the Guild of the Brotherhood. These are men that never married. From there we walked off the beaten path down and across some side streets to the city's defence wall and towers. The wall and towers must have been over 50 stories high! To bad we weren't able to climb up to one of the towers and get a view of the city. Then, we continued with our journey to the cathedral of the Saint Virgin Mary. This was a grand building made out of white stone and took up one block of the street. From the cathedral, we walked to Toopmea's castle, which houses Estonia's Parliament. This castle was pink with a tower to the left side of it called, Tall Hermann. Boy, he was tall! We then, continued the path to St. Olva's church. This building was immaculate in size...some how we could not figure out how to walk around it. It appeared to have many fences surrounding it. We were only able to see the front of the definitely looked huge! At the end of our journey, the last stop was Fat Margaret. This tower's diameter appeared to be about half the size of a football field. We no longer thought we were fat after visiting Fat Margaret!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Hot Chocolate Anyone?

Beginning our journey to the Estonian island, Saaremaa, was quite simple, we hopped on a 4 hour ferry and then an hour bus ride. We have spent four amazing days in the stunning town of Kuressare. First arriving, we made our way to the Tuule Villa, a nice guesthouse overlooking the Baltic Sea. Looking from our balcony, you could see the crests of the crashing waves. Later that afternoon, we walked the streets in amazement of how charming and beautiful the town was. We found ourselves in a chocolate shop, Kalev. It is said that Kalev is the best chocolate in all of Estonia. We decided to order hot chocolate and a piece of Strawberry Shortcake. To our surprise, the hot chocolate came out much like a hot creamed whipped topping and you ate it with a tiny spoon. IT WAS AMAZING! Hot chocolate will never be the same! Needless to say, we went back two times! (Jess, you would have loved this!)
The next day, we went to the majestic Kuressare Castle. The castle stands on an artificial island ringed by a partly filled moat. This is the best preserved castle in the Baltics and is the region's only medieval castle that has remained intact. We roamed through the passageways and rooms. However, we were unable to read much of the information about the castle, because nothing was in English. We walked around the moat of the castle that is the Town Park. The remainder of the day we relaxed on the balcony taking in the view of the Baltic Sea.
For the next two days, we had an luxurious time at the Spa Hotel Meri. Kacee had a MaltiSpa, where she was covered with a Sea Salt peel, wrapped in Chocolate mousse, and given a facial. A massage was also included in this package. Jay had an hour long massage with a lady named, Olga. Just kidding, the massage part is true. We were completely pampered! That's not all. The view from our balcony was completely breathtaking. To the right, you could see the Baltic Sea stretch for miles and miles. And to the left, you could see the stunning Kuressare Castle. This special treatment was, Kacee needed a break!
We were somewhat sad to leave this beautiful island, but we know more great things lie ahead.
Right now, we are on a bus heading to Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. Yes, we are back on budget mode. Oh yeah, we plan on having more hot chocolate!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


We arrived in Sigulda on Monday morning. Relaxing was the objective for the day. Late that afternoon, we found a grocery store and made dinner.
The next morning we awoke to lighting, thunder, and rain. Was the storm raining on our parade? Yes, it was! We eventually got up enough courage to venture out in the rain. First, we walked through the city to the cable cars. The cable car took you over the Gauja Valley to the Krimulda Castle ruins. The view from the cable car was foggy yet stunning, but one of the other passengers had a gun straped to his side. That was a bit sketchy since one of the street vendors sais that was definetly not legal, but we lived through it. We took a wooden path to the ruins. The castle was built between 1255 and 1273 and once used as a guesthouse for visting dignitares. We climbed on top and around the ruins. Then, we headed east down 410 wooden steps and followed a wooden riverside path leading to Gutmanis Cave. On our way, we ran into a Japanese girl named, Miharu, who is studying Lativan culture. Miharu joined us for the remainder of the day to see the sites of Sigulda. The cave was covered in graffiti dating back to the 16th century. Legend says that the water flowing out of the cave is supposed to remove facial wrinkles. Jay immediately dipped in and asked "Did it work?" Back on the wooden path, we made our way to the Turaida Musem Reserve. Here we saw the Turaida Castle. This red-brick archbishop's castle was founded in 1214. It was blown up when lightning hit its gunpowder store in the 18th century. The word Turaida means "Gods Garden" in ancient Lativan. We climbed up the Donjon tower to see a panaromic view of the Gauja Valley. This view was breathtaking as you viewed the greenest trees and the Gauja River winding. We climbed down the tower and back through the wooden path to the Sigulda castle. When you approach the castle is looks newly built with rows of flowers on each side of the walkway. Here we had dinner in the castle's resturant. Then, we walked our new friend to the train station and said our goodbyes.
Today, we took an hour train ride to Riga and hopped on a 3 hour bus ride to Ventspils. We plan on taking a ferry to the Estonia island, Saaremaa. Here we will stay for three days, with last day being at a Spa hotel where we will get two Spa treatments. We're STOKED! Kacee's screaming PEDICURE!
We had no luck in finding an internet cafe to post our blog. Photos will be uploaded at the next place we find. Sorry, Ventspills has no Internet!
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Monday, May 14, 2007


On our way to Riga, we had an intellectual conversation with a guy named, Mic, who we met in Vilnius. He discussed his adventure on the Trans-Siberia Railway, two years ago. Once we arrived in Riga, we meet two new people, Mikko and Jackie. Mikko is from Finland and we ran into him a couple times in Klaipedia, but this is the first time that we actually had a conversation with him. Jackie is from New Jersey and is planning to travel the world for two to three years. We hung out together for the remainder of the night and discussed our future travels.
The next day, we set out to explore Riga. The first site was the Freedom Monument. This is located in the center of the park at the City Canal. The monument represents Latvian Independence. This massive tower has very detail oriented sculptures on both sides explaining the story of their independence. The next site was the Swedish Gate. This was built during the Swedish period and is the only remaining city gate. It looked like any other gate to us. Nothing too spectacular, but the history is great. Next, we made our way to Powder Tower. This is the only survivor of the 18 towers in the old city wall. The tower has served as a gunpowder store, prison, torture chamber, and now the Museum of War. The most exciting part of the museum was the exhibition of weapons. We were intrigued by the old guns, knives, swords, and cannons. Then, we went to the Dome Cathedral. This cathedral is the largest church in the Baltics and boasts the fourth largest organ in the world. We were unable to figure out how to get in side, but the outside looks HUMONGOUS! We stopped at a Cafe to admire the Cathedral and had a drink. The next stop was the House of the Blackheads. This architectural gem was an 800th birthday present to the city. Originally built in 1344 for the Blackheads guild of unmarried merchants. The house was lavishly and elegantly furnished. We then went to the yellow painted Cat House. This house was not impressive, but the history behind the house is quite funny. At the beginning of the 20th century, the Latvian owner of the Cat House had statuettes made of the back ends of his two black cats-backs arched and tails up. He placed them on top of the building facing the Big Guild Hall across the road as a gesture of defiance against the guild that refused him entry. The house is a restaurant that serves tasty food. To complete our site field day, we took a paddle boat on the City Canal that goes through the park. The color of the trees and the smell of the flowers in bloom made the boat ride even more memorable. It made you think to yourself, "I don't want to leave Riga." But, then you realize their are many more beautiful places to experience. To end our day, we went to the movies with Jackie to see 300. We definitely recommend seeing this movie for its great cinematography. But, be warned this is an intense movie.
To Jackie it was very nice meeting you. We wish you safe travels and maybe we will meet again in the near future.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Hill of Crosses

Before our journey to Riga, Latvia, we decided to take a two hour train ride via Siauliai to the Hill of Crosses. The train left at 6:40 am! So, u could imagine that we were not bright eyed and bushy tailed. We arrived to Siauliai and attempted to ask the information counter how to get to the Hill of Crosses. It's amazing how hand signals become so useful. A bus took us 8km and dropped us off at some road. Kacee was feeling uneasy about this situation, because it looked as if there was no way to get back. We walked the 2 km to the Mecca of Crosses. As you walk up to the hillside, you see thousands upon thousands of crosses-large, tiny, expensive and cheap, wood, and metal. This view was unbelievable. You are able to purchase a cross at the bottom of the hill, but we decided to make our own out of tree branches and twine. This cross was dedicated to Kacee's Aunt that died last year of cancer. An alternative view of the crosses is from inside the chapel of the monastery. This is home to 10 Franciscan monks. Behind the altar of the church, the striking backdrop of the ceiling to floor window of the Hill of Crosses. How stunning! We were also able to take part in the Catholic mass. The words spoken by the monks were absolutely beautiful. There singing voices were moving.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Klaipeda and The Spit.

We first arrived to Klaipedia and set out to see the sites. Our journey began with Klaipeda's old moat protected castle. We assumed that finding the castle would be simple, but it was so much more complex. We looked for a high tower with the country's flag flying in the air. We should have looked closer to the description of the castle in our book. It said, "REMAINS of the castle." So, we were somewhat disappointed, but not because of the view. But, because of our stupidity. The castle was built in 1242 with a seaport surrounding it. From the 12th century to the 19th century, the castle was burned down numerous times and the towns people attempted to re-build it. There is only one tower remaining and the remains of a gunpowder room. We laid on the grassy area where a tower use to be centrally located taking in the breeze and the sweet smell of the sea. We continued our journey with heading to Old Town. On the way, we stopped by the market where there were pyramids of eggs, rows of fruits, and vegetables. We thought the display of the eggs were amazing. Heading on with our route, we found our way to the theatre square. Here we saw a fountain that was dedicated to Simon Dach, a famous German poet born in Klaipedia. On a pedestal in the middle of the fountain lies Aennchen Von Tharu, which was sculpted by a Berlin artist after a famous wedding song. The fountain was very simple and not spectacular at all. It was not what we expected compared to other fountains we have seen. We walked along the Dane River and found our way to the Martynas Mazvydas Sculpture Park. This park had over 100 sculptures from the 1980's to 2002. The sculptures were all made of granite. Everything in in this area is made of granite. The sidewalks, the streets, its all gorgeous slabs of granite. We now know why granite is so expensive. Lithuania used it all up!
The next day we took a ferry over to the Curonian Spit. The first town that we arrived in was Smiltyne. Here we saw an amazing dolphin and sea lion show at the Lithuanian Sea Museum. We have to say the sea lions were much more fascinating than the dolphins. The sea lions danced! As we were trying to figure out when the next bus left, a taxi cab driver began to hassle Jay. He attempted to convince Jay to take the taxi instead of the bus. They went back and forth for about 30 minutes. We ended up taking the taxi to our next destination... Nida (southern part). Here we climbed huge dunes about the size of a couple of football fields in length and diameter. At this time, it was rainy, windy, and cold. So, imagine climbing these dunes and feeling like at any moment you were going to be knocked off. Despite the weather, it was a blast. From the dunes, you were also able to see Kalinigrad's border. The view absolutely stunning.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Walking tour of Vilnius.

Yesterday, we decided to explore the city by taking a walking tour recommended by our book, Lonely Planet. We kicked off the tour by making our way to Vilnius Cathedral. This cathedral was the national symbol used to worship the thunder god, Perkunas. There are Lithuanian dukes on the south side, apostles and saints on the north side, and statues of St. Helene, Stanislav, and Casmir at the top. Then, we made a long hike to Gediminas Hill. Vilnius was founded on this hill and is topped by the 13th century a red-brick tower. The tower is now the Upper Castle Museum. It displays armour and weapons used during the 17th century. Also from this hill, you could view the Hill of Three Crosses. The story is that these three crosses are in memory of three monks who were crucified on the spot. The reason why they were crucified are unknown. We climbed our way down the hill and explored many side streets. Here we were able to see the remains of many original buildings, with the bricks and mortar, from during the Russian occupation. Next, we stumbled across Aukso Avis, the best of Lithuanian textiles. This shop had purses, clothes, and funky cool jewelry from local artists. We then ate lunch at Cili Kaimas, real Lithuanian cuisine. This restaurant had hens enclosed in glass and the waitresses were dressed up in farm dresses. We ate traditional mushroom soup that is served inside of a brown bread loaf. We also had cepelinai (thick potato dough stuffed with cheese topped with a sour cream sauce). Kacee couldn't get over the sour cream. We then walked more side streets and found ourselves at Vilnius University. This is eastern Europe's oldest university and is Lithuania's oldest library, 5 million books. We continued on our path to the Museum of Genocide Victims. The building that houses this museum was formerly the KGB (during Nazi occupation) and Gestapo (19th century). Memorial plaques honouring the people who died between 1945 and 1946, tile the outside of the building. Inside of the museum, you are able to visit the inmate cells and the execution building where prisoners were shot or stabbed. Walking down the halls and envisioning the amounts of torture that took place here was simply horrific. After the uneasiness of our stomachs began to disappear, we carried on with our journey. Next, we walked through the baroque archway of the Basilian Gates to the Orthodox Church of the Holy Spirit, which is the chief Russian Orthodox Church. North to this church, stands Catholic St. Teresa's Church, which is lined with early baroque on the outside and late baroque on the inside. Then, we continued the path to the famous 16th century Gates of Dawn. These are the only gates of the original nine in the town. Through most of this journey, we battled the rain and coldness. We needed some R & R (rest and relaxation).

Thanks to everyone who continues to read and make comments to our posts.

Interesting Facts!

While waiting for the overnight bus to Vilnius, we made friends with a Polish guy, Pawel. He worked at the Oki Doki hostel and is studying Pharmacy. We discussed our travels and he was completely intrigued by us. He asked many questions in regards to the preparations for the Trans-Siberia trip. We said our good-byes to Pawel and Warsaw and made our way to the bus station. After a eight hour horrible bus ride, we arrived in Vilnius, Lithuania at 9am. The hostel was uninviting and did not explain anything to us. Therefore, we gave ourselves a tour and decided to take a nap for a couple of hours. We somewhat explored the city and found some interesting facts for all to know.

1. You are not allowed to put USED toilet paper in the toilet. You must use the the small bin located beside toilet due to awful plumbing (YUCK).

2. Information counters at the bus and train stations do not provide any help. You are better off trying to figure it out on your own.

3. Try not to get a bed next to a large, old, snoring, Mexican man. Kacee was up for hours... Man, could he saw some logs.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Rain, rain go away

We awoke to the sound of raining hitting the window. Therefore, we did not want to get out of bed. So, we lounged around until about 2pm and decided to venture out in search for a bookstore. We loaded up in our rain gear and found 4 bookstores with nothing of interest. Cold and miserable, Kacee insisted on returning to the hostel. We stayed inside all day attempting to figure out our next plan of action with our travels. Today, Kacee missed her Aden and Toby very much, because on days like these everyone cuddled on the couch and napped. Well, tried to.
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Saturday, May 5, 2007


If you follow our blog and don't make comments to our posts, shame on you! At the bottom of every post is the word "comments", click the word and leave one. Its not that hard. You don't have to have a username and password. Just choose "other" as your identity. Type your comment in the big box, and your name in the small box. You don't need anything where it says "your web page"
We really look forward to your comments. Even if its just a few words, it reminds us why we spend the time to post.
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Protector of the City

Today, we set out to find the Russian Market. We read the directions from our bible (Let's Go) and followed them on the map. As we were walking, we stumbled upon the Warsaw Mermaid. According to legend, a greedy merchant kidnapped the mermaid from the Wisla River. A local fisherman rescued her and in return she swore to defend the city. She now protects it with a shield and raised sword.
We continued with following the directions of the guide and map. We walked for over an hour. The Russian Market does not exist. We ended up in Old Town Square were we saw skateboarders, a tattoo artist, and break dancers. Then, we decided to go to the movies to see Spider-Man 3. Yes, it was in English.

Celebrating their Constitution

We arrived in Warsaw the night of the 2nd and made our way to the hostel. On the 3rd, we awoke and set out to see the sights. First, we went to New town to see the statue of King Zygmunt III of Waza. This statue honored the king because he moved the capital from Krakow to Warsaw. To the right of this statue was the impressive Royal Castle. Many Varsovians risked their lives hiding priceless works of art, when the Nazi's plundered and burned the castle in 1939.

On this day Poland was celebrating its constitution, which was a link for their independence from the Soviet Union. The streets were lined with people awaiting the parade. The parade consisted off all military services dressed up from each colonial era. This was an amazing experience to be a part of. After the parade, we went to see Warsaw's oldest church, St. John's Cathedral. This church was destroyed in 1944 and was re-built after the war. Then, we walked the streets of Warsaw and made our way to a park and had lunch. That evening while hanging out in the hostel bar, we met three new people. Matt from Australia, Leina from West Virginia, and Mike from Baltimore. We discussed our travels together and got some important information from Matt. Leina and Mike left shortly to go hit the clubs for some dancing while we stayed at the bar hanging out. Matt attempted to teach Jay a song by Ben Harper on the guitar. Around 2:30, we decide to call it a night and go to bed. Kacee immediately started feeling sick and was up all night. The next day we were suppose to head for Vilinus, Lithuania on the night bus. The receptionist informed Jay that there is a 24 hour virus going around in Poland. Kacee was still feeling horrible, we decided to stay in Warsaw. The next bus to Vilinus does not leave until Monday night, so we will stay here in Warsaw and soak up some more of their culture. Kacee is feeling better today and wants to go to the Russian market in Praga.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

City of Kings

We arrived in Krakow, Poland on the 29th of April. It took us approximately one hour to find our hostel...something must have been wrong with our map. We swore we were reading it correctly!
The next day we decided to take a day trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau. An estimated 1.5 million people, mostly Jews, were murdered and thousands more suffered unthinkable horrors in the Nazi concentration camps, Auschwitz and Birkenau. At Auschwitz, smaller of the two camps, are inscribed with an ironic saying " Work will set you free.". Inside Auschwitz you get a taste what life was like for these people. As you walk past the remainders of their lives-suitcases, shoes, glasses, and kilos of women's hair-the enormous cruelty of this society begins to come into focus. After viewing this camp, we walked a 30 minute journey to Birkenau. Birkenau was built during WWII, when the Nazis developed a more brutally efficient means of killing. Little is left of this camp today due to the Nazis retreating and attempting to destroy or demolish all buildings. However, the ruins of the crematoria and gas chambers are still visible. The size of each one of these is the approximate length of a football feed. Also, at this camp there is a monument dedicated to all of the different nationalities that died due to the horrific concentration camps. Near the monument lies a pond with gray ashes-the pond was used for dumping people's ashes from the crematoria-deposited over 60 years ago. This was a very sad day for us, but an experience that we will never forget. We ask that you take a moment of silence for all of those who have been murdered and treated horribly from these Nazi concentration camps.
From the concentration camps, you must take a bus in order to return to Krakow. While waiting for over 45 minutes for the bus, we met three very delightful people, Andrew, Daga, and Mel. Andrew is from California and is studying abroad in Poland. Daga is a native of Poland. Mel is from Scotland and is also studying abroad in Poland. Once the bus finally arrives, about 25 people get onto the bus. The bus only had 16 seats. Therefore, the other 10 had to stand up. Oh yes, all 5 of us were standing. This occurred for about two hours. While on the bus, we made plans to meet the next day for a day trip to the Salt mines in Wieliczka. The tiny town of Wieliczka is home to a 700 year old salt mine. The Pious pokes carved immense underground complex of 12 chambers out of salt. The most spectacular caverns is St. Kinga's Chapel. The chapel had salt chandeliers, an altar, and relief work. This cathedral was absolutely stunning. The remainder of the day we spent hanging out with and getting to know our new friends.
On the 2nd of May, we met our friends to see the Wawel castle and the Dragon den. The Wawel Castle, one of Poland's top attractions, is an architectural masterpiece. First, we ate brunch at a restaurant located in the glorious castle. After, brunch we made our way to explore the castle. We did not actually go into the state rooms or royal chambers. However, we opted to roam the Wawel Cathedral. This cathedral once hosted the coronations and funerals of Polish monarchs. Daga explained every detail of Poland's history as we observed the cathedral. We also were able to see the tombs of all the kings of Poland. Daga also gave us a brief history lesson about each King and the attributes that made him a prosperous or bad king at their time of ruling. Then, we made our way to the underground cavern, Dragons Den. Legend has it that a Shepard left a poisoned sheep outside the cave as bait; the dragon ate it and became so thirsty that it drank it self to death at the Wisla River. After the cave, we went to a Japanese museum that explained the process and numerous techniques of making a kimono. These pieces were very detailed oriented. As a group, we went to the train station to say good-bye to our new friends and go our separate ways. We are now on our way to Warsaw, Poland.
To Andrew, Daga, and Mel- We will never forget the experience of enjoying to get to know you and exploring the city of Krakow. Hopefully, we will get to meet soon in our future journeys. Always remember, the world is your playground. Have some fun!