A Travellerspoint blog

MADrid

by Izzy

sunny
View Izzy's Travel Itinerary on triptime's travel map.

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The countdown was on. I only had 10 days left.

Throughout my travels, every time I have mentioned that I was finishing up my trip in the land of tapas, folks were quick to push the Barcelona button. It was a must. A can't be missed. The architectural mecca. The promised land of art and Spanish culture. But that was too much pressure. It had been built up, placed on a pedestal and veered as the golden city. I decided to let it simmer out there on the Mediterranean Coast. Maybe next time. Maybe next trip.

When I finally dropped from the sky, I was in Madrid, the heart of Spain. But again, I hadn't done my homework. The only thing I did know was that it was going to be hot.

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I navigated the crisscrossing metro into the city center (Puerta del Sol). I had to make three transfers from the airport to get there, so by the time I had surfaced during the mid-day heat, backpack sweat-marks were distinctly formed. The hostel gave little refuge even though they claimed 'AC' as a selling point. Back to the streets I went.

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I loved it. There were no rhyme or reasons to the winding narrow streets. They flowed from one direction to the next, bending around cathedrals and monuments and dead-ending into an assortment of plazas. Getting turned around and lost was part of the fun. It's the only way to see a city.

Madrid felt good.

Me and my flip-flops hiked it all, from the Royal Palace and gardens to the iconic Don Quixote and Sancho Panza statues to the picturesque Parque del Retiro. Minus some central construction, as Madrid gets a face-lift in anticipation for the 2016 Olympic Games bid, the city was spotless, pulsing and crammed with culture.

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But no one was in a hurry. What a concept. Lazy mornings, 2-3 hour lunches and nights that disappeared into the next day. The reason? It has to be the food. A new friend and I discussed life's mysteries under an umbrella at a plaza butting cafe, sipping on rich cortados and picking at deep fried churos. I pulled out a book and made myself comfortable at a cliff-side terrace scattered with tables and chairs for an extended lunch. I ordered a hand-squeezed glass of orange juice and a tortilla espanola. I took my time and enjoyed every bite. And to top it off, like the locals would do, a few of us hostelers sampled some tapas, got down on some gazpacho and piled in the paella, washing it all down with glasses of sangria in the midst of Plaza Mayor. The nights were cool and comfortable and long.

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As an artist, I had a mission. Picasso's infamous Guernica painting makes its home in Madrid (at the Reina Sofia Museum). This enormous painting interprets the destruction and pain left after German and Italian planes bombed the Basque town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War of the late 1930s. It was intense. A huge gallery room dedicated to this one painting. Security on each side and a fifteen foot no-step zone keeping the scene at a safe distance. The chaos, the devastation and the agony of dying civilians honestly conveys this larger than life part of history. Truly impressive.

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I had just the right mix of social interaction and me time, an equation that worked well to maximize my Madrid experience.

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Train station decoration.

Posted by triptime 09:54 Archived in Spain Comments (3)

Old Friends, New Land and Organized Hitch-hiking

by Izzy


View Izzy's Travel Itinerary on triptime's travel map.

When I looked it up, I found that it would cost 127 Euros to take the train from Berlin to Ramstein. Are you kidding me!? That's bordering 200 USD and it was only about 6 hours away. So the train was not an option. The bus situation was a bit complicated and not much better on price, so I went with plan C. Organized hitch-hiking. Germany has a pretty extensive ride-share program via the internet (http://www.mitfahrgelegenheit.de/). It took a little finagling, some compromise and some trust, but for 25 Euros to get from Berlin to Frankfurt, I was sold on the idea.

A quick email to my buddy Tom letting him know that I would be in front of the Frankfurt train station, as our rendezvous point, and I was set. I knew without a doubt, that he would be there at 10:00pm to pick me up. Then it was off to meet some guy named Stephen Lippert in a black Volvo outside of one of Berlin's S-Bahn stops. I was meeting him at 4:00pm.

The black Volvo ended up being more of a wind and sun beaten gray, of the station wagon design, and from the early 80's. It was the kind of car that had the interior roof lining ripped off, exposing the old, crusty, orange foam that crumbled down into my mop. It was packed to the gills with boxes and trunks, leaving just enough room in the back seat for an adjustable guy like myself. Oh, and Stephen didn't speak English.

But it all works out. I caught some zzz's and then watched BMWs and Mercedes wizz by while we putted down the autobahn. And like clock work, Tom and Laura (and even baby Ella) swooped by at 9:58pm in front of the Frankfurt train station, to complete the final leg of the Berlin-Ramstein route.

These are true friends. They had just moved from Okinawa, Japan to Ramstein, Germany a week before. They have a six month old baby girl. They are living in a one bedroom, temporary housing unit on base. They were house hunting, paper filing, job prepping and area scoping. And they still invited me in.

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Tom and Laura introduced me to their new lives, including one beautifully happy baby girl. We usually meet up each summer on the beaches of Southern California, so this was quite a different scenario. But again, it worked. They spoiled me with deliciously heavy meals out on the town and on the back bbq. We sampled local brews, drove through the rolling countryside and explored the base gymnasium (where I proudly beat Tom in a free-throw competition). Though, the best part was simply catching up. Life was changing and it felt good to just sit and talk.

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My first proper schnitzel.
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Old friends were in a new land and I was able to meet them up. They went above and beyond to make it happen and I appreciate that commitment to our friendship. And then like all good things, the time came to move on. It was time, again, to meet the next ride-share host, another unseen driver, another questionable vehicle, another random pick-up location and another story along the way.

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Posted by triptime 08:48 Archived in Germany Tagged hitchhiking Comments (0)

Berliner

by Izzy


View Izzy's Travel Itinerary on triptime's travel map.

Germany was not on the original agenda, but after meeting a half million Germans throughout my travels, I had to give it a go.

I was heading to Berlin to stay with Gerald. We had met up in New Zealand back in April, and had done a few hikes together. We bonded like men do. We told old war stories, slept in a tent together, bared each others' gastural explosions, shared a few beers and then laughed about it all. Very mature and very masculine.

And during that time we spent on the trails, and in keeping in touch since, Gerald has never stopped raving about his home town - Berlin. It wasn't so much the history and culture, the museums and architecture, the urban arts or even the bratwursts or Octoberfest that made this place so special in Gerald's mind, it was the night life. And that was what I was scared of.

Gerald is a bit younger than I. He is still testing the late-night waters. He has energy without caffeine. He can bounce back and be at work in a moments notice. So when I arrived in Berlin, it was no surprise to find that Gerald was planning an all-nighter in my honor. Gee, thanks.

Mom and dad were away on a two week holiday in Italy and the three brothers had the run of the place. Gerald and his older brother Nils had a second floor flat, while the homestead and younger brother Moritz occupied the ground floor. It was what you would imagine it to be. Friends coming in and out, frozen dinners, empty bottles and piles of cigarettes on the stoop. I had the couch among the madness.

Gerald got home from his late shift just before midnight. There were plenty of people already about. There was no hurry, this was Berlin - and I thought Vegas was the city that didn't sleep. We rolled out at half past one.

At half past two, we zig-zagged from the station, followed a desolate parallel road, hooked a left down a small side street and arrived at the massive warehouse-looking building called Bergheim, deemed the best club in the world by my hosting locals. There was a line, there was always a line. No matter what the time of day or night.

I survived to tell the story. And not to brag, but I feel I out danced most of the techno-thumping Berliners. When the sun came up, we called it a night and began the hunt for breakfast.

Gerald, next time we meet, it'll be on my turf.

Here is the rest of my stay, during day-light hours...
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BLU spotting.
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Posted by triptime 12:14 Archived in Germany Comments (1)

Turning 30

by Izzy

rain
View Izzy's Travel Itinerary on triptime's travel map.

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People have been asking me for a year now, ¨Where will you be for your birthday?¨ I never had a solid answer. At first, I said Italy. Then, I thought maybe I would cut the trip short and be home with family. That soon changed and Mexico was the spot. But again, it changed. This trip has been an open ended story from the start and there has always been a necessity for change. This I've learned to accept and thrive on. So a month ago, Germany became the next destination for the signature day, but after my time at the OFF Festival, I was convinced that I had to spend more time in Poland, and my new friends confirmed it. Warsaw it was.

Poland has been beaten up over the last century. Germany on one side and Russia on the other. Bad luck is an understatement. But the Poles are survivors and they make the best out of bad situations. Warsaw, again, has risen from the ashes to exemplify the Polish spirit.

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I was impressed with the city even though the weather did not cooperate. It was alive and well. In my mind, I had images of a smoke-stained, blue-collar town grinding through each day. People grimacing about. Maybe this image comes from the lingering photos and clips that haunt the history books. Maybe I just assumed it to be a city that had struggled to bounce back again and again and again. Maybe I just didn't know what to expect.

Emi picked me up at the train station just after 10pm. We had met at OFF and hung out for a grand total of a few hours and she had already invited me into her Warsaw world. I stayed with her and her roommate Pao in a flat across the river. They made me feel welcomed.

I wandered the streets by day by myself, taking in the richly rebuilt Old Town, the most impressive Warsaw Uprising Museum (best museum of the trip), local parks, the University area, famed plazas and a few cafes that caught my senses on the stroll by. And each night, I was entertained by Emi and the gang.

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I am not a big birthday guy. But turning 30 was something I wanted to do on the road. It was my gift to me in a way. And I didn't even let on that my birthday was coming up until an hour or so before midnight on the 11th. We were taking in yet another rock and roll concert (The Mad Caddies) at the Hard Rock Cafe - Warsaw, courtesy of Christopher from our OFF antics. And as midnight struck, and as I was dreading a celebratory mad dog shot that might put me over the edge, the big bear-of-a-man brought me a Hard Rock bag full of gifts. What a guy! Instead of sending me in for a liver transplant, Chris added a well needed Rock-N-Roll T to my grungy and minimal stash.

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It kept getting better. The next day, the birthday day, Iga treated me to a delicious cafe lunch and she also waited in line with me to assist in my train ticket purchase to Berlin. What better gift than that? Later on, the whole gang gathered again. Emi was departing for a well deserved two-week Swedish vacation and I was entering the realm of Old. Two birds, one stone. The drinks flowed and stories were told. My new buddy Lucasz made it by and presented me with his book on Warsaw (long awaited) and Emi and Iga surprised me with a CD of Maria Peszek - a crowd-pleaser and stunning performer from the Festival that left me intrigued. The mad, mad dogs did come out, along with spontaneous dance sessions, photo ops and plenty of laughs.

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It was an amazing end to an amazing week of new friends. The rock and roll theme rolled on, right to the end. Thank you all for making my 30th on the road as randomly awesome as any traveler could ever hope for. It truly means a lot and I am forever grateful for your friendship and kindness. Until next time...

Posted by triptime 07:06 Archived in Poland Comments (0)

OFF to Polska

by Izzy

sunny
View Izzy's Travel Itinerary on triptime's travel map.

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Funk over.

I got another one of those emails from my buddy Pat, the good kind. It had an urgent red exclamation point next to the subject heading that read: IZZY: Change of Plans re: meeting place!!! Inside, it was simple. Like it was just another day in our lives in Poland, but neither of us were there yet. ¨We are going to the U2 concert on Thursday night now. So, meet us there sometime around 5pm? We will meet you at the Will Call area/window/etc. of the stadium. SLASKI STADIUM ... I suspect everyone in town will know where the U2 concert is going to be held.¨

I was still in Finland and Pat was on the big bird flying over the big pond, but we both knew that we would eventually meet up amongst 60,000 U2 Polish enthusiasts and make it happen. Rock and roll.

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That was the theme of the weekend. Pat and Miller (one of the two Godfathers of Filter Magazine) were working, scouting out Poland's three-day OFF (Music) Festival. They were making sure 'good music was prevailing' elsewhere in the world. And somehow I was afforded the opportunity to join in on the exploits as the 'world famous travel writing' friend. Rock and roll.

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We rocked out to tons of indy rock and punk bands from both North America and Europe (including Poland's finest) and then rolled out of bed mid-day to do it all over again. But we weren't alone. We had local help. Poland's Ministry of Tourism hooked us up. They were the 'us' of Poland. They made sure we had a good time. And they succeeded.

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Iga and Christopher did their jobs and did it well. They got us from points A and B and even a few Cs. They pointed us in the direction of perogies, young cabbage, kielbasa and goulash. They enforced the importance of of good Polish vodka and introduced us to the local favorite slammers: mad dog (a vodka shot containing raspberry syrup and a splash of Tobasco sauce!) and Żubrówka (chilled vodka mixed with apple juice). And then there were the beers and the pickles at the VIP bar, the late night hotel lobby sessions, taking in the sunrise while having a game of catch, the story of a naked man riding the elevator, a trip to Krakow and an attempt to find Bono and the U2 after party. When you mix all of this together over the span of three and a half days, you get a fantastic concert(s) experience, a ton of new friends, plenty of random photos, a few scrapes and bruises and one hell-of-a case of heartburn mixed with dehydration.

Traveling was fun again.

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Posted by triptime 13:17 Archived in Poland Tagged events Comments (0)

The Traveler Funk

by Izzy


View Izzy's Travel Itinerary on triptime's travel map.

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I'll admit it. I was bored. I was kind of tired too. It all looked the same by now. Don't get me wrong, the history and beauty of the renovated city centers and the revitalization of the old towns were stunningly perfect. Too perfect. Too filled with tourists. Too done. I pushed on.

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Tallinn, Estonia. I knew nothing about it. I guess that was part of my so-called strategy for this trip. Pop up in places where I had no preconceptions. I arrived by boat from Helsinki to a rain-on, rain-off stretch of five quiet days.

I went through the motions. I walked the cobbled streets. I took photos where photos should be taken. I went for urban hikes, strolled parks and sampled foods. The weather was perfect for the underground basement coffee house I found myself in every afternoon, sipping on a hot drink and nibbling a sweet treat. I would snag the seat where I could look up through the high window and see the people plodding by from their shoes up. It was cave-like and dark, but a warmth kept me lingering for hours; picking up and putting down a book between observations and eavesdropping conversations. Unadulterated entertainment.

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It's been a long trip. I was hitting the wall. It's been hard to be self-motivated every day. To make it (or something) happen on a daily basis. Sometimes, I just slept in, using the pinging rain against the metal roof as my excuse. That's ok, right?

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I still don't know much about Tallinn or Estonia. It seemed nice. The people seemed friendly enough. There seemed to be plenty to do (even Madonna found her way there on my last night). And I enjoyed my day at Parnu Beach (2 hours south of Tallinn). But I was in a traveler funk. I guess it happens, but it didn't last long...

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Posted by triptime 15:17 Archived in Estonia Comments (0)

am-pm

by Izzy

sunny 23 °F
View Izzy's Travel Itinerary on triptime's travel map.

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Most days are just this simple.

AM
6:57 Sleep disturbed from noisy hosteler
8:15 Check watch and roll back over - no rush today
9:34 Awake
9:45 Wait in line for bathroom
10:11 Out the door
10:26 Explore Finn Air Stadium
11:02 Board tram into city center
11:17 Strike up conversation with family from Orange County
11:26 Hop off at Market Square
11:35 Eat a reindeer & lingonberry crepe
11:54 Walk along the water

PM
12:16 People watch
1:30 Walk to a park
1:49 Get comfy under a tree
1:51 Realize I'm still on 'vacation'
2:08 Doze off
2:52 Come to
3:10 Find public restroom
3:43 Visit 1st church
4:27 Visit 2nd church
4:55 Look for internet cafe
5:16 Enter book store
5:41 Buy another Bill Bryson book
5:45 Buy a 3 euro coffee and use the internet
6:50 Start the walk back
7:07 Buy calzone and pasta salad from a corner deli
7:10 Eat on the curb- listening to live music from across the street
7:32 Resume walking
7:49 Sit on park bench and sketch
8:11 Resume walking
8:28 Stomach rumbles and pace quickens
8:34 More rumbling
8:37 Slide into Subway - close call
8:45 Sneak out the door a new man
8:56 Walk around another park
9:30 Perch on top of rock for sunset
9:31 Pull out new Bryson book
9:38 Laugh
9:43 Laugh again
11:11 Enjoy longest sunset of all time
11:32 Walk back to hostel - still somewhat light
11:44 Bathroom duties
11:59 Crawl into bed

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Posted by triptime 14:08 Archived in Finland Comments (0)

Bled

by Me

sunny 25 °F
View Izzy's Travel Itinerary on triptime's travel map.

Bled.

Bled lake bus hill pub home fed.
Bled walk crisp hot trees bikes led.
Bled water green skin pale not red.

Bled noise church boats float bugs sped.
Bled buzz breeze toe lunch swan head.
Bled cliff slide house light dark dead.

Bled street talk shade horns sound said.
Bled folk fried park pork food spread.
Bled bunk fire crack pop train read.

Bled.

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Posted by triptime 11:42 Archived in Slovenia Comments (0)

Me and the Expats down by the Danube

by Izzy


View Izzy's Travel Itinerary on triptime's travel map.

Before I even asked, Heather had written me. She is from my dearly missed LA crew. Heather had lived in Vienna a while back. She was putting the word out. She was drumming up the old gang. She was trying to find me some new friends... and it worked.

Chris and his wife Tatiana are expats from their respected countries (USA and Russia). They accepted Heather's plea and oferred me a place to crash. Good old hospitality. I was pumped.

My train arrived late in the afternoon on a Saturday and the BBQ was well underway. I gave Chris a call from a pay phone and he explained their location. So out the doors, down the street, into the underground and onto the metro I went. Like I had done it before. He had given perfect directions and as I popped out of the subway stop lingering over the Danube, I could smell the grub-a-grillin'. I followed my nose to the bankside pit where 20 or so had gathered for cold drinks and delicious eats. Quite the motley crew. A bit of all flavors. I loved it.

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Everyone was from somehwere else, so I fit in easily. Chris flopped down a half rack of ribs and a few dogs. That did me right. The man likes to cook, bake and grill and I was happy to be a part. We puffed on stogies, sipped wine, enjoyed beers and enjoyed each other's company. Music played, some showers fell and laughs could be heard coming from the smokey pit. I had been welcomed by new friends down by the Danube. Thank you.

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I spent four days there. Anoek (my personal tour guide from the Netherlands) gave me the inside scoop and along the way, we also enjoyed a few scoops of ice cream from a popular river-front location near the center of town. I am slowly catching up to Marisa's total from South America.

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Chris told me to meet him for lunch one day. I did. But instead of ordering a sandwich, he built his own. We bought fresh roast beef and swiss cheese from the deli and then a baguette that reminded me of what Shaggy and Scooby put down when they are hungry. We grabbed a seat outside the deli and the man swiftly went to work. Chris pulled out the secret stash from his backpack. Lettuce, tomatos, sliced pickles, mayo and dijon mustard. This was not his first rodeo. Delicious.

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At night we watched Seinfeld and HBO shows. Except for the night we met four happy hour... still working out the details from that one. The weather was perfect from the BBQ on and the good times rolled all the way through my departure. Me and the Expats did it right. Yes, yes we did.

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Posted by triptime 10:56 Archived in Austria Comments (0)

When you don't know, Go!

by Izzy

sunny
View Izzy's Travel Itinerary on triptime's travel map.

"Prolonged solitary travel, you see, affects people in different ways. It is unnatural business to find yourself in a strange place with an underutilized brain and no particular reason for being there, and eventually it makes you go a little crazy. I've seen it happen in others often. Some solitary travellers start talking to themselves: little silently murmurred conversations that they think no-one else notices. Some desperately seek the company of strangers, striking up small talk at shop counters and hotel reception desks and then lingering for an uncomfortable long period before finally departing. Some become ravenous, obsessive sightseers, tramping from sight to sight with a guidebook in a lonely quest to see everything. Me, I get a sort of interrogative diarrhoea. I ask private, internal questions - scores and scores of them - for which I cannot supply answers." - Bill Bryson Notes from a Small Island

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In my case, I was all four. I have been talking to myself for about five months now. I know when I am doing it. And then when I am finished with the thought that I wanted to share with myself, I chuckle. I tell myself that I am not going crazy and move on. I move on to talking to anyone that will listen. I look for little ice-breakers; opening the door for someone, helping an old lady cross the street, picking up the bar tab for four blond Scandanavian sisters. These have been great ways to strike up a random conversation, that and hanging around the hostel until finally someone breaks down and says, "So... where you from?" And once those distant and scripted talks bleed dry, the internal questions pop up like a burnt bag of Orville Redenbacher. There is way too much time to think. I have re-analyzed my life, from the time of first thought (when I was around three and my parents thought it would be funny to have me ride our enormous sheep dog - Zachary Charles - like I was going for the precedented 8 seconds of future bull riding fame) until the present, where I now find myself in a far-off foreign land not understanding a single word from the lips of everyone around me and fighting off the urge to tell myself another random fact from the guidebook I read that was left on the Hostel coffee table. And then I decide it's time to GO!

When I'm on the move, I am focussed. I have daily challenges and routines. I have goals and destinations. So with Budapest already in the bag and hanging a few hours north of Romania's capital of Bucharest, I made the game time decision to complete a six country, six capital tour of the region. An in-one-day and out the next approach. A renegade guerilla slaying of city centers, cathedrals, parks and squares. It was train time.

I love road trips, but traveling by train is where it's at. The tiny town stops, the deteriorating brick depots, the wild flowers growing between the tracks, the endless hill-topped castles, the small villages at their base, the colors of the rolling landscape - just a sit-back and relax style of transportation. No driving necessary.

In 21 days, I...

1) spent 48 hours on either bus or train.
2) slept in 8 different hostels and 1 apartment.
3) exchanged currency 5 times.
4) battled 6 totally different languages.
5) napped at 5 parks, 1 castle and on 2 city benches.
6) traveled 2137 kilometers.
7) enjoyed 20 days of sunshine.
8) went swimming once.
9) tasted 15 different kinds of beers.
10) was tired.

On my last day from Vienna to Budapest to catch my flight to Helsinki, I took: 2 buses, 2 trains and 2 metros to reach the airport as my flight was boarding. Stress? Nope. All in a day when you are on the GO!

BUDAPEST hungary
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BUCHAREST romania
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BELGRADE serbia
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ZAGREB croatia
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LJUBLJANA slovenia
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VIENNA austria
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Posted by triptime 03:31 Tagged train_travel Comments (1)

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