A Travellerspoint blog


in summary

A month on another continent will inevitably make you compare what's better than, and not as good as, what you're used to. Here's some of our thoughts...

Things Europe has a lock on:
- history and tradition
- buildings and architecture
- gorgeous and plentiful statues
- speed and efficiency of the metro and public transportation
- toilet flushing uniqueness, and usually effectiveness
- food quality overall, especially cheese, breads and bakery goods... oh, and cappuccinos, and beer!

Areas they should improve upon:
- recycling(!!!)
- kleenex
- pillows in hotels
- smoking... anywhere, anytime.
- pushy people- it's not a personal space violation, it's just being rude
- hold the door open for each other, and maybe make an interpersonal interaction, it won't kill you
- being aware that they should improve in certain areas, and not just stating that it's done that way because that's the way it's always been done

Posted by Bleaklinson 07:17 Comments (0)


St Petersburg, Helsinki & the trip to Aus

St Petersburg, Con't

Nov 3
We walked up Nevsky Prospect (the busy street where our hotel is located, as is most of the tourist attractions), down to the Hermitage. Overall, the city is more beautiful than Moscow- not as many rundown buildings, and just more interesting architecture throughout. We stopped into a McDonalds after our walk/ photo expedition, to poach some wifi. Even at 3pm it was so packed we were unable to find a seat. We found the directions to Zoom Cafe- a restaurant we’d noted in the area on trip advisor, and headed that way. We got a table and ended up staying for a couple hours – the atmosphere was very mellow- each patron gets a white piece of paper as their placemat, and there are pencil crayons on each table as well. We ordered soup, salad, a beer and a tea, and then didn’t see a waitress for probably at least an hour (other than to clear our dishes), until I nodded to one and she came over to take another order of more soups, and two beers. We headed back to our hotel around rush-hour, and watched some terrible Russian tv while I prepared the Moscow blog... is all dubbing just loudly talking over top of English?

Nov 4
We again walked the city, rather than try to navigate on the metro. We took a couple photos outside the Armenian Church and the Russian Museum (previously the Mikhaylovskiy Palace) and then at the Church on Spilled Blood. Outside the church was some beautiful music, which we soon discovered to be a middle aged man playing the flute; a gorgeous touch. Jeremy wasn’t interested in heading inside, so I made a quick tour, taking lots of photos and video. It was a gorgeous, albeit gawdy, gold and mosaic interior. Then I spotted a tourist market, my only regretted non-purchase to that time had been a “Santa Claus”. I spotted some, and the seller spoke excellent English- and told us that he’s actually Father Frost, and he traditionally has a spear to cast spells on the evil people, and rewards those who are good with gifts. She showed us a few; I explained we didn’t have much space, so she showed a few more. There was one that caught my eye- the summer price was 1700p (around $55), but she could offer it at 1350. I said we had to do some other shopping, and she told me to make an offer; 1200? We settled on 1250. Bartering in Rubles is tough- it seems like a big discount, but 100p is only around $3.40... Still, happy with the purchase, we ventured toward the Hermitage Art Museum. We got there around 1:30 and the line-up was fairly big, but it was a cool, windy day, and we weren’t sure what else to do, so we hopped in the line. A few people ahead of us was a young Russian couple, very much in “love” (even moreso than the typical European couple), they stood facing each other, with only a few inches between their faces. This lasted for about an hour. Finally we got in, and tried to navigate into the museum; the map was fairly useless, but we managed to get started. We enjoyed the Roman statues, which we saw near the beginning of our tour. We were awed and a bit disgusted with the overwhelming palace which housed the collection, as well as the Russian school groups that overran much of the exhibit. We persevered, and finished in just over 2 hours. We walked past Zoom Cafe, but there was no hope of getting in, so we stopped at Bogart’s Grand Cafe, which also had good ratings on TA. Being that we didn’t have lunch, we were dining far earlier than the typical crowd (6pm, done by 7); so the restaurant was essentially empty- we had a nice supper with excellent service, and then headed back to the hotel.

Nov 5
After breakfast in the hotel, we headed to Zoom Cafe for lunch. Then we made our way toward St. Isaacs church/ museum. We enjoyed a view of the city from the outside of the dome, then were awed by the size and gold detail inside. We took some other pictures of statues in the area, and headed back to the hotel. We headed back and, well Jeremy suggested that he upload Russian tv for those nights when having trouble sleeping... he was fast asleep by 8:30 (which may also have something to do with walking >10km each day). I went down to Tepemok, a local fast food company. I had another bowl of borscht, and gave the blini another try, I was happy I did, as it was much better than the previous one (thinner pastry, not so chewy).

Nov 6
We checked out and stored our bags. We had some printing to do to prepare for our arrival to Aus., so we headed to CafeMax- a very large (and cheap) web cafe with printing. We took a photos of the Burger King and KFC sign, before stopping into KFC for a bite to eat. We stopped again at Tepemok for another little snack before taking our bags on the metro to the airport. We successfully found the city bus that travels to the airport, and with no one with good enough English to help us, we got off at the first sign of the airport. We arrived at the terminal to find only 1 door open for everyone to go through initial airport security (bags going through the scanner, and people going through metal detectors), just to get into the airport. Once we got through, we were confronted with the sounds of masking tape... a lot of masking tape. All the travellers were securing their bags. These travellers were 95% male, and a couple tones darker- most of the flights were going to areas in the Eastern former USSR- Turkmenistan was leaving around the same time as us. Finally our ticket window was open. We were the first in line. The Russian at the ticket window spoke no English, other than “too many bags”- our cabin baggage was apparently over her limit (even though WestJet, Air Transat & Aeroflot hadn’t even blinked at it). We explained to another Rossiya worker who was standing beside the window that we had a 21 hr layover coming up in Helsinki, and needed the bags, which would be going through to BKK (although not to Sydney, which she could not provide a reason for either). We argued for a few minutes, and although the woman who spoke some English was helpful and sympathetic, the one behind the counter was not. We quickly reconfigured some bags, and carried on. (I’ll quickly back up the story and explain that we did not book with Rossiya, but with Finn Air... all the flight numbers had an AY code for Finn Air, even though they were resold to affiliated airlines, which we realized later). We went through the passport line-up for the longest look over of a passport/ person comparison I’ve seen, and then through another round of security (for the most intimate pat down either one of us have ever experienced). At least we didn’t have to go through the additional passport review before going through the gate (the officers just waved us through, they were dealing with the Turmenistites). A bit exhausted by the process, we hit the duty free for some cologne for Jer, an amber bracelet for me, and a beer to split before hitting the air. We boarded the plane, which was maybe 1/5 full (making the limited carry-on even less explainable). We had to find humour in the raggedy seats, duct-taped armrests and very thorough safety review... it was that or run off the plane screaming! 40 minutes later we were safely touching down in Helsinki, without incident. We took the Finn Air bus into town, bought a 24 hour metro pass, and ventured to our hostel, transferring trams just outside of the Cathedral, so I ran back to take a few night photos. Not wanting to venture out after that, we shared a pizza in the hostel. We decided to split “one more beer”, before finally making conversation with a girl at a neighbouring table who kept looking at us like she wanted to chat. She was from Switzerland, but living in Helsinki, trying to learn Finnish so she could work as a nurse. Very well travelled, we ordered another round of beers, and 2 shots of a traditional Finnish liqueur, Salmari, which was made in-house. It was just as I’d read, hard to describe, but kind of a salty liquorice taste. Unfortunately, the bar tender had to open for breakfast, so at 12:55pm we ended up having to chug our beers and then head to bed. We made our way up to our room, and laughed at the Japanese neighbours stereotypically giggling next door... not so laughable was the ones vomiting in the bathroom as we got ready for bed.


Nov 7
We woke up early and left the hotel by 9, and decided to head to Market Square right away, after stopping again at Senate Cathedral for some photos. We found a place for breakfast down at the market, and shared fabulous potatoes and sausage, and even better “pancakes” (more like crepes) with strawberry jam and whipped cream... so good we had another order of the pancakes (only 4Euros). We did a bit of browsing there, and then venturing on. We saw as many of the local sights as possible; the soccer and Olympic stadiums, Passio Musicae (a unique “statue” to commemorate composer Jean Sibellus), the National Museum and Parliament. Then we stopped at the post office to mail our collectables from Russia back home (it was a bit of a shit-show and we ended up spending about a half an hour in line behind people who were trying to decide on the spot how many and what type of commemorative stamps they wanted, Christmas ornaments etc.) We’d planned to stop at Restaurant Zetor- a unique Finnish experience, according to the Helsinki tour information, but we had difficulty finding it, and decided to head back to grab our bags. Zetor was supposed to be right be main station (which is where we were to get back on the Finn Air bus), we found it, but time would be tight, so we just headed back to the aiport. We ate their and uploaded photos etc. before heading to our gate. We were really happy with our plane, it seemed brand new, and there were pillows, blankets and water waiting for us at our seats. Unfortunately, just prior to take-off they found a problem with one of the engines, so we sat for an hour while they got it sorted. The flight was comfortable, with the exception of me spilling a tea all over both of us (mostly me) after supper. We enjoyed watching Hangover 2, which we’d been meaning to see. We only slept 2-3 hours each, and headed soon landed in Bangkok. We got in just after daylight, and were able to see the devastation from the air- they’ve been flooded for over a month now, and it was very evident- with more water than land being seen in some parts.

Bangkok (Airport)

Nov 8
We collected our bags and tried to find the Qantas airlines to check them again- unfortunately, our flight was the first one, so they wouldn’t open for a few hours. We wandered around like zombies, trying to get wifi (I was able to get it easily in the baggage terminal, but that was about it), trying to find a comfortable place to sit (we finally realized they were all located in the terminal after going through security) and finally finding some decent Thai food and much needed beer. After having our faces burned off from spicy green curry, we wandered back to the airline check-ins and we happy to see Qantas/ British Airlines open. They told us that if we checked more than 1 bag each we would be charged 4000 baht (110Euros), but they allowed me to take my backpack as a check-on (after unstrapping the extra bags from the handles). That made for 5 carry-ons (again, making the Rossiya situation seem like a complete joke) and a huge savings. We went through security, and managed to find a comfortable place to sleep for a while, until the Emirates flight-goers overtook the area. We finally boarded the plane and, although it was an older 747, it had all the amenities of the Finn Air flight. We were alone in our row of 3 (thanks to me doing some shifty on-line check-in where I put us in the aisle and window seats, leaving the middle seat open). Again, with the time-change we got into Sydney around 7am. We got through security (multiple drug dogs later- unsure if that’s the standard treatment, or just those coming from BKK), and were extremely happy to be at our "new home".

Posted by Bleaklinson 07:01 Comments (0)



View Euro adventure on Bleaklinson's travel map.


Oct 26
We were a bit nervous to fly on Aeroflot with all of our gear, we were unable to do an online check-in, and our instructions said to check-in no later than 120 min before the flight, so we got to the airport more than 3 hours ahead of our scheduled departure. Right away we met a young Croatian guy who worked at a luggage wrapping company – his English was very good, and he told us that Aeroflot’s ticket counter wouldn’t open until 2 hours before the flight (technically making it impossible to check in "no later" than 120 min before the flight, but we aren’t going to get into that). We spent our extra hour people watching and making sure our baggage wouldn’t be overweight by taking things out of Jer’s bag and strapping it to my pack, and then getting the Croat to “cocoon” it all together. Fifteen minutes before the ticket window was to open we decided to head down to the Aeroflot counter, there were only 2 groups of Russians ahead of us- standing right beside (and in one case, leaning on) the counter. The lady in the group had on a skirt, high heeled boots, and a leather jacket with a fur lined collar, a typical travel outfit. Apparently we weren’t standing close enough to those in front of us (silly Canadians, allowing for personal space) and other Russians came up behind us and asked if we were in line for the Russian flight... and so it all begins. After successfully making it through security we shared a beer, and picked up some duty-free Milka. The 3 hour flight was mostly empty, we lucked out with an emergency exit row. In the row beside us was a very tall Croatian guy, and his girlfriend. We weren’t certain, but based on his excitement (face pressed up against the window, taking photos even before departure) it seemed like his first flight. We landed and were one of the first ones through the passport line-ups, we got through without problem, and within a minute or two had our baggage as well, we (and Charene) could hardly believe it. Once Charene (one of my closest friends, dating back to physio school) found us, she located a “taxi”- more likely just a guy with a car who drives people from the airport (apparently this is common practise), she negotiated a price and we were off. Within an hour and a half we were close enough to their apartment that we could just walk with our stuff, with the assistance of Ryan (her hubby), who came down to help us. It was nearly 8pm, so we had some pizza and salad, drank some of Ryan’s beer (toasting their pregnancy- Charene starting to show, just reaching her 5th month) and then headed to bed.

Oct 27
Charene worked until noon, came home and we had lunch before heading out for our first taste of Moscow living. She took the time to explain some of the signs we should watch out for (exit, entrance etc- bare in mind nothing is in English, and the Cyrillic script makes no sense to us), and oriented us to the metro. The metros would end up being some of the most interesting things to see; the high-speed escalators travel you deep into the earth, the stations have a variety of marble columns, or mosaic-style pictures, or paintings, or statues... all unique and very beautiful. We were impressed with Charene's knowledge of the metro (and the way she was able to breeze in and out of the crowds, though I'm sure we held her up from her usual pace), as well as her grasp on the Russian language (though she'll try to tell you she's barely a beginner). On our way out of the metro, on the long escalator, I had a man say to me (in only a moderate Russian accent), "I notice you speak English, I was just wondering if you need any help", I thanked him and told him we were with a friend who lives here and is showing us around. He then asked where we were from, I told him Canada, to which he replied "oh, that's your home and native land!" - too funny! Charene was shocked at the exchange, saying that no one ever knows any English... we thanked him a few times and carried on. She took us to see some of Stalin’s influences- a large, wide road; probably 8-10 lanes across, huge apartment buildings and one of the “seven sisters”; a series of seven unique buildings are very huge, with a large central point. She took us into a grocery store that had been converted from a statesman’s home, gorgeous architecture- huge chandeliers, lots of expensive souvenirs etc. Then she took us through the first McDonald’s to come after the fall of communism. The ordering counter had probably 20+ tills, all of which had a small line-up, even at 2:30 in the afternoon. Then we made our way to one of their friends homes, first grabbing sandwiches for a group that would be congregating there before heading out to a KHL game for the evening. Charene and Maxim (a Moscow native who works with Ryan at Halliburton) took on the task of getting us to the game, and we arrived just in time for the national anthem. There wasn’t much of a crowd for the game between home team Dinamo and “visiting” Moscow team CSKA, which I attributed to the fact that they can’t sell alcohol at the game (apparently it gets too violent... but nevermind the rows of empty beer bottles we saw on the street outside the arena, and the obviously drunk fans screaming their team's chant). Actually, at each end of the ice sat each team's core fan base, each with a huge drum, and a loud cheering section; they even chanted to eachother, battling back and forth... it was more interesting than the game at times. Right away we noticed Alexi Yashin on the CSKA team, who was on the starting line, but didn’t end up doing much at all until the last 2 minutes of the game (they were down, and I suppose he thought he should earn some of his pay-check). The first period was very slow, but the speed and intensity picked up throughout the match. I can’t recall if any checks we actually finished, but there was a decent fight – he even listened when I said “punch him in the face!”

Oct 28
Charene doesn’t work Fridays, so we headed off in the mid-morning toward the Kremlin and Red Square. We toured the Kremlin and its churches (Assumption and Annunciation), then had lunch at the cafeteria style Soviet Cafe at the “Gum” (gyme – looks like rym in Russian), a historical building transferred into a large mall. After eating too much for lunch we crossed through Red Square and into Saint Basil’s Cathedral, which is even more impressive and candy-like in person. Somewhere along the way we spotted a sign for a fur exhibition, and decided to take a peak- what an eye opener... I’ve never seen so much fur in my life. Charene says these sales happen every weekend through the fall as the Russians prepare for a long winter of much fur wearing. Jeremy wasn’t feeling well when we got back, and Ryan was at a work dinner, so Charene and I went out for a small-ish supper at a Mexican restaurant where the “shooter girl” (who looked more like a street worker) kept offering us tequila shots- finally Charene told her she was pregnant, and she laid off, though first saying something to me, which I could only assume was "what's her problem?".
Unfortunately, overnight that night most of us became ill; making us lose the 29th, but at least we were in a comfortable home to recoup.

Oct 30
We all felt brave enough to leave the house, and embarked upon the Moscow market for souvenirs and some culture. There was much to buy, and bartering is tolerated, so we had fun for a couple hours. After a tasty Russian kabob lunch, where our stomachs ached as we watched the neighbouring table down nearly a litre of vodka, we headed for home... still not feeling super energetic, we watched a couple movies they had picked up at the market in the past.

Oct 31
Ryan headed back to work, and Jeremy had his turn with the flu bug, so again Charene and I were on our own. We did just a short tour, visiting Church of Christ the Saviour – the biggest church in Moscow, with impressive frescos in the huge dome-style cathedral. We stopped for a tasty cream puff, and battled the metro home, seeing only 1 group of teens slightly dressed up for Halloween (cat ears, faces painted). We stayed in for supper and had a quiet evening.

Nov 1
Our last full day in Moscow, we headed out for lunch to Charene and Ryan’s favourite Georgian restaurants... apparently Charene always over-orders, and we did it again, unable to finish all the meat filled doughy treats after soup and a cheesy bread treat. After lunch, she took us to one of Moscow’s most famous but unsuspecting tourist attractions- the Novodevichy Cemetery, where we saw many unique and beautiful tombs, including cosmonauts, sports and war heros, actors and Boris Yeltsin’s controversially placed, huge flag-like memorial, and the statue of Stalin’s second wife, now protected as it had been defaced (well, de-nose-tipped, as it were) years ago. She wanted to take us to a neighbouring monastery, but it is unfortunately closed on Tuesdays. We met Ryan back at their apartment before supper, and headed out to another of their favourites, a Ukranian restaurant. We were seated in a small area which had only one other occupied table, a group of 6 or 7 men who were loudly chatting, and toasting with many shots of vodka, and kissing eachother- on the mouth... We finished our tasty meal, and the waiter brought us our bill, then he brought over 4 chilled glasses and a bottle of vodka from the other table. One of the table members came over to pour it for us; Charene tried to explain that she was pregnant and couldn’t have any, but he told her just to raise the glass to her lips, then pass it over to Ryan. Soon we were invited to their table, and found out that loudest, and largest of the group had just received a promotion – they were all members of the police, and he had been awarded his third star; they kept calling him the “big chief”. They insisted that way stay, and a few ounces, and many kisses later, we were given souvenir t-shirts from the restaurant and taking photos with the group. They wanted to know about Charene and Ryan’s child, would (s)he have a Russian passport (no), and why not (the polite response was that one parent had to be Russian), well – they would help with that- the big chief took their passports, and made a couple calls (oh geeze!) At the other end of the table, they insisted that we try some of the plates of food they had out – I felt safe with some vegetables (pickles, cabbage, zucchini- all somehow preserved or pickled), then Jeremy had a hardboiled egg- again, playing it safe. They insisted we try something else, “here’s some frozen pork, eat it with bread” (there was only one guy who knew English well enough to act as a translator, so he kept bouncing back and forth, otherwise we tried to get by on a few English words, and lots of gestures). Well, the frozen pork ended up being pork fat, which was very chewy, and pretty nasty overall... we each took a bite, and washed it down with compote (which is also the vodka chaser- the only way we could have survived the evening!). Then they offered us another type of pork fat wrapped around a hot-pickled bean or something, they said you should pop it down and chase it with vodka, it will warm your belly... we shared it, and survived. Finally, around 11, we thanked them very much for the evening, but said we had to be going, we tried to pay for some vodka, but they refused; not wanting to be rude we thanked them again, exchanged some phone numbers (in case of any problem down the road), and gave the translator (Sasha) our Facebook names. On our way out, the big chief insisted that we have another shot of ... something, which Sasha warned us would be harsh- we all managed to swallow it down, and left, rather excited about the events of the evening... this had apparently never happened to Charene & Ryan before, to which Jeremy replied, "oh, you just experienced the Lisa effect!"- we have had a string of good luck meeting good hearted people on this trip. We made it home safe, and said good-bye to Ryan, who would be at work long before we got up, and we would leave the next afternoon.

Nov 2
Somewhat hurting, we woke up and craved McDonald’s breakfast. Unsure if I could handle it on my own, I waited for Charene, but we arrived after 10, and breakfast was finished... we settled on some burgers (?McTasty I think was the conversion of the huge burger I had, and some kind of a chicken burger for Jeremy) which seemed to hit the spot, for a while. We made it to the train station in just over a half an hour – which ended up being nearly 2 hours before our train was to leave. We unloaded from the Mercedes cab, and a local made a comment in Russian... I told him we didn't speak Russian, but that I assumed he was commenting about our number of bags, he agreed and wished us a "good trip". We passed the time people watching, and boarded the high-tech “Sapsan” train half an hour before it was to depart. We unfortunately were booked to sit at a table of four, which normally would have been ideal, but on the busy train we ended up having to stare at a couple in their mid-fifties the entire time. The >800km trip took 4:15 on the train which cruised around 200km/hr the entire time. It did have wifi, though the quality wasn’t great. I slept as much as possible. We arrived in St. Petersburg at 6pm, and quickly found our hotel which was just a couple blocks from the train station. After we unloaded our bags and got acquainted with the city we headed out for a bite to eat- settling on a blini shop (traditional Russian food- kind of like crepes that are filled with a variety of things) which did have an English menu, available on request... it was, alright- kinda... chewy. We walked a couple blocks but came back and headed to bed around 9, very worn out from the previous nights antics.

Posted by Bleaklinson 09:50 Archived in Russia Comments (0)



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Hvar, Croatia

Oct 22
We got up and headed to the train station to catch the early (7:50) train from Zagreb to Split. It was a nice enough train, but fairly tight, and they reserved us 2nd class seats (watch for this if you have a Eurail pass- be specific). It winds its way through Croatia, and is a bit rough compared to the other trains we’ve been on, despite the modern style of the train. Nearly 6 hours later, we got into Split with 20 minutes before the Jadrolinija catamaran was to leave for Hvar. Luckily, we found tickets quickly and got onto the boat. Unfortunately, it was Saturday, and the boat was fairly full. With no one to manage the seating on the boat it was chaotic- people with bags on seats, multiple spaces between people, teenagers sitting backwards to flirt with the girl behind him, her seat reclined all the way (sitting in my lap), she then started to push her feet onto his chair, banging her seatback into my knees... there was no standardized spacing between seat rows, and ours was very tight to their row. I was feeling a bit seasick, and couldn’t handle the annoyance. I soon moved to an open space on the floor for the hour trip to Hvar. We arrived in Hvar town just after 3. I called the apartment host’s daughter (who lives in Zagreb, but speaks English), and she got her father to pick us up. He showed us to our small apartment, brought fresh grapes from their trees, as well as a couple of drinks; which we enjoyed on the terrace, with a view of the sea. I took a short walk into town, and stopped at a grocery store on the way back for some snacks and drinks. We watched the sun set over the ocean, and being tired from the long day of travel, ate a light supper in our room.

Oct 23
After following the AllBlacks victory in the Rugby World Cup (online), we headed into town for lunch and a bit of touring. Unfortunately, although there were trip advisor restaurants listed, none had prices, and there was no definitively “great” place to eat. We settled on a pizzeria on the main square – Pizzeria Kogo. It was a bit overpriced, so we got small beers, pizza to share and a salad. The pizza (“Kogo Special”) had canned mushrooms... a lot of canned mushrooms. The salad was made with half cabbage. The complimentary bread was white, and dry. Needless to say we wouldn’t be back. We grabbed groceries for that night’s supper, and headed back to our flat. After a short siesta, I walked down to the water, around the bank where the sunset view is best—and it was amazing. It had become overcast in the afternoon, but there was a low break in the clouds, resulting in an indescribably gorgeous sunset that lasted for what felt like a half an hour.

Oct 24
We woke around 8 to sounds of construction happening above us... pounding/ chipping right above us. Finally, around 9 I gave up, got up, and started making noise. Annoyingly, the construction noises subsided- did they forget we were there, or was it just coincidence? No one mentioned anything. After a light breakfast in our flat I toured into town to buy some lavender oil (grown and made in Hvar) and post cards. By the time I came back up the hill I had broken a bit more than a sweat, and decided a swim was in order. Jeremy and I walked down the steps to our nearest swimming area, and ventured in. It was pretty cold, but very clear. We swam around and floated for a little while, but the water was a bit too cool to spend much time in there. In the late afternoon we headed into town to pick up our catamaran passes back to Split for the next day (7:30, with Krilo this time), and had a (mediocre, overpriced) cappuccino at one of the seaside/ sunny cafes. Then we ventured up to the fortress to get some beautiful views of the city and surrounding islands, and sunset. Unfortunately, the cloud was lower lying that evening, and most of the sunset colors came through the higher clouds, but it was still beautiful... we had to laugh at a group on an art tour (mostly Aussies) who just kept saying “it looks like the mountains are on fire”. After that we stopped for supper. We were trying to decide where to go, looking at the menus, and the hostess at Paladini told us what they offered (mostly fresh fish, some other meat dishes), and proceeded to stand there as we looked through the menu- feeling a bit pressured, we decided to stay. It was a decent meal; complimentary fish pate and toast to start, I had a salmon pasta dish (ok, drunk salmon, but the cognac was just enough to ensure no fishy taste), and Jer had chicken with rice, and we shared a salad. At the end they gave us each an aperitif, a nice gesture, but a bit strong for our taste (don’t breathe in while you sip it, or you’ll never get it down!)

Oct 25
The apartment owner offered to take us to the ferry dock, which was very nice of him. Unfortunately, it was raining quite hard, and passenger cars aren’t allowed through the main square and on towards the ferry docs. He has a friend who is a cab driver, and he tried, unsuccessfully, to get ahold of him as we got to the taxi/ delivery truck only area. He was, however, able to get us a lift with a local who had access. He wasn’t going to take our money, until Jeremy said “it’s my Kuna- help me get rid of my Kuna change!” – he laughed and took the coins. The sea was rough, but luckily the catamaran was fairly smooth, and far less busy than the one we’d taken Saturday. We rushed off the boat to the train station to reserve seats for the train to Zagreb. We’ve decided this is a scam as the train is maybe 20% full, and they still couldn’t reserve us first class seats (even though we have Eurail passes which are first class). The train at this time of year doesn’t go the whole way, so at one point we had to get off, transfer to a bus for 30minutes (though they’ll try to tell you it’s only 10), and then onto another train to go the rest of the way. On the bus we sat near a family from Regina- the first North American’s we’d come across on our travels. We got onto the second train, which had a first class section, so we sat there despite some initial questioning from the workers. The detour added an hour to the trip, and we arrived in Zagreb around 4pm. We checked into our hotel (Hotel Central, right across from the train station) and vegged in the hotel for a while. We embarked out for supper, and headed towards Agave- a relatively inexpensive restaurant with decent reviews. After looking at the outdoor menu, we decided to head back to Pingvin instead- as we could get 2 sandwiches and 2 drinks for the price of 1 entree at Agave. We headed back to our hotel and prepared for our next day Aeroflot flight to Moscow.

Posted by Bleaklinson 01:19 Archived in Croatia Comments (0)


Prague to Bled to Zagreb

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== Con't==

Oct 16
I finally, officially, got the blog up and running. A few hours of completing the recollections and posting pictures on facebook and I was starving! After stopping at the market for some souvenirs to mail home, we decided to check out “Clear Head”, a trip advisor recommendation. It was alright, a small restaurant with tight tables, but very tasty vegetarian dishes, and mediocre service- no smiles from that girl. We decided to go back to Adam’s bar to see if he was working, or if Hanza or his wife were around. On the walk we noticed a couple who’d obviously had a bit too much to drink, it’s difficult to say who was holding the other up, or which one drug them down, but they soon landed on his face on the pavement, right in front of us. The writhed a bit (she more than him) and she finally mustered a “not... okay” response to our concerns. We asked if they wanted help, or us to call a taxi, but they said they were alright... or at least that’s what we assumed their Czech groans meant. The bar was much busier, and Adam wasn’t working- we found out he went to Austria for a few days; so we had a beer, passed along contact information, thanked the new bar tender and carried on. We dropped in to Wakata, a small basement bar with low lights, a central dj booth with decent music at a volume that still allowed for conversation. We stayed for a few beers, 3 dj’s and then stopped for a bite from one of the many “Euro food” carts and headed back to the flat.

Oct 17
We had to get up to pack and move our gear. We had been contemplating taking the night train to Vienna (11:30pm-6am) to tour around there before heading to Bled, Slovenia; but decided against it. We found a cheap room at a hotel near the train station, and headed that way. We got checked in at noon, then headed to the train station to figure out our schedule the next day. After sitting in Starbucks for free wifi, we found a post office and were impressed with its efficiency- everyone takes a number (different categories, but we weren’t sure what they meant, so we just picked the first one), then they rattle through the numbers while you’re busy getting the packages ready. We decided to head over to the Petrin hill and observation tower. We took the tram as far as possible, then headed up the hill. After that, we went up the tower and got the best views of Prague... Then we headed towards the castle, we got there at 5:50, and it looked like the inside was closed to the public (though now when I check the web it doesn’t appear that way, but regardless, we didn’t go in). The views from outside were amazing, traditional gothic style with lots of detail. We met Tomina for dinner at Lokal, one of his favourite restaurants (“special Czech”). He helped us order and suggested a beer cheese appetizer (the first couple bites were very strong, but then it was really tasty). I had a trout (the whole fish, bones, eyeballs and all- Tomina filleted it for me, or I’d still be picking out bones), but it was very good and super tender. Jeremy had an amazing chicken dish, and we both had the exquisite mashed potatoes. He walked us toward where we were staying, and we said goodbye at the statue at Wencelas Square; which, he told us, is the most historic site in all of the Czech Republic- the site where all revolutions began. He said the meeting point for Czech people is behind the horses tail, as all the tourists stand in front of the statue.

Bled, Slovenia

Oct 18
We got up, ate a very good free breakfast from the hotel, and headed toward the train station for 9am. Our first train laws to leave at 9:39, and it wasn’t until 9:30 that we knew what platform it was, but we weren’t alone, so the herd headed to the train. We were able to get our own 6 person cabin on the train, and slept most of the first leg. We had to transfer trains at Breclav, and got onto a Polish train that arrived 20 minutes late. We again had our own cabin, locked our bags and went to the dining car for some Polish beer, pyrogies, and a nice pork and noodles meal with a side salad. A cappuccino for me and a piece of cheesecake to share, and we’d unloaded 500kn. We enjoyed the scenery in southern Austria, lush green treed mountains, looked a lot like the kootenays. We arrived at Lesce Bled train station at 8:20, and waited for a cab. I had emailed the manager of our hotel a few times throughout the day to confirm our arrival plans, but he didn’t reply, and didn’t for some reason the phone call would disconnect as soon as I rang it (not an uncommon problem we were having with these European sim’s). Nor could I get taxi driver (the one I spoke with was just off for the night, and had admittedly already started drinking), then my phone didn’t want to work at all. I sent Jeremy to the pub in the rail station to ask them to call a cab, and she refused, saying there was a phone across the street. Cold, and a bit irritated by the situation, we took our bags across the street to an empty pub. We ordered 2 beers, and asked for some help. The bar tender spoke good English, but didn’t have a phone. The other patron of the bar, a friend of hers, was a thick guy with a heavy accent (who we later found out do be Senad), had a mobile so they dialled the number to the hotel and gave it to me... it went through, but no answer. I was about to ask to make another call when he offered us a ride, after a few more beers, so he bought a round. We talked about hockey, and football (soccer was on tv), and soon he was offering to give us tours, and hoped we could stay for a hockey game on Friday. We saw Canadian Club on the shelf, and Senad said that’s his favourite drink – she poured 3 shots, as per his request... here we go. A little while later the bar tender’s husband and child (Nava) came by to pick her up. A couple more beer and we were on the road around 10:30 with the young family. They insisted that they drive us, and help us into our place. Along the way, we noticed a truck parked at a neighbouring hotel with Ontario license plates... those Ontarians are everywhere! We finally found the Pension Berc, and got into our room. The room was nice, but no wifi throughout. The affiliated Hotel Berc did have wifi, which we can get from certain parts of our room, but best from the balcony- so I spent some time huddled out there.

Oct 19
We enjoyed the free breakfast with our room, and tried to get wifi in the lobby, but it was better from the neighbouring hotel off the balcony, so I wrapped up in a blanket and sat out there for a while. I also took an hour or so walk down to Bled Lake, and got some mystical photos of the castle, lake and island in the mist of the afternoon. Jeremy wasn’t feeling well, so he rested most of the day. We headed out for supper around 6, and visited the Ostaija Peglez’n. It was alright, large portions, good bread. It was quite cold out, so after a short walk we headed back to the hotel for a mellow evening.

Oct 20
We woke up to a dreary, rainy (nearly snowing) day. After breakfast we called Senad, who was unable to work that day (he’s a roofer). We made plans to meet with him around 4. After watching non-stop videos on VH1 for an hour or so I had to get out and see something. We layered up, each packed an umbrella, and ventured out to see the town, and the lake. It was pretty much pouring, so after an hour or so we gave up and stopped into Pub Bled, which has a nice view of the lake, the castle and the church tower... it also had free wifi. I finally got to have some European hot wine- I’d seen it throughout Prague, but the timing was poor (we were either walking somewhere in a hurry, getting onto transit, or it was late in the night and I wasn’t feeling like wine), so we ended up staying for a couple hours. Senad picked us up around 4:30, and apologized for the weather. He drove us to his hometown, Jesenice, and showed us the hockey arena, and took us to his favourite pub, for a beer and a CC (Canadian Club). It was very cold, and we saw evidence of snow in Jesenice, and knew there was a lot falling at upper elevations. We met young Nava, and her parents at Euro bar. Senad roasted some chestnuts for us (delish!), and we hung out there for quite a while, before our tour guides took us back to our hotel.

Oct 21
It was a beautiful, sun-shiny day, so we spent some time walking around the lake, in awe of the fall colours, gorgeous background, and freshly snow-capped mountains. The family picked us up around 2:30, and we met Senad at Euro bar before catching our train after 4. We enjoyed the train ride to Zagreb (just over 3 hours) and had nice views until the sun went away. We played a bit of crib, until Jeremy got fed up with my epic crib luck, once again. We arrived in Zagreb around 8. We have quite a bit of baggage in tow, and there was no visible elevator at the Zagreb train station. I was the first one confronted by a gentleman in his (I’m guessing here) early 60’s with a placard around his neck saying “luggage carrier”, my spidey senses were tingling, so I said no thanks. He seemed a bit more adamant when he approached Jeremy, and said “I’m here to help with the bags”, pointing to his name tag. Thinking this was some service provided by the Zagreb train station, we allowed him to help. He took us to the information centre, and Jeremy offered him a €2 coin... he denied it and said €5... pardon?! We paid the man, and made him help us to the luggage lockers, he also helped us get change for the lockers, and pointed us in the direction of our hotel. We walked the couple blocks to the luxurious Arcotell Allegra (thank-you Priceline!), but couldn’t help but notice how much garbage was piled up (we honestly thought there may have been a garbage strike). We hopped on Trip Advisor (anyone seeing a theme) and headed out to find Pingvin, a sandwich stand that sat at #6 of all Zagreb eats... we were not disappointed! I enjoyed a long bath (hadn’t seen a tub in weeks) then headed to bed.

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