Sunday, July 31, 2016

Sunday, July 31, 2016

in the dead of the night at Nezvizh

Posted by Hippobean at 11:59 PM 0 comments
never did 2 separate tours back to back before. when the poland trip was over, i already felt tired. but it was just a little over a week, so why did i feel so exhausted. when i moved in with my luggage, Witalij came running to my room. 'good I see you. tomorrow is changed to 8:30 departure'. had i known i'd have a little more time in the morning, i would have stayed at the sheraton for bigger better room with amenities (ibis has no tea making facilities and only 1 bottle of water) and much grander bathroom and much much better breakfast. but no matter, i better start getting used to the lousy hotels, smaller rooms and poor breakfasts. it would have been ideal to begin with dismal soviet style belarus and end with luxury poland. but the timing was that poland had to happen first, so live like a queen first, then back to being a peasant.

after about 3 hours in the minivan, we crossed the border to belarus. the belarus female custom officer asked each of us a different question. mine was 'what's in there?' and pointed at my duffel. 'clothes' i said. what else would be in my luggage? 'alcohol?' did i look like i like to drink? then the currency nightmare began. belarus had just changed their currency by knocking out 4 zeros. so new and old notes were in circulation. for the exchange I got all 10 belarus rubble notes, new denomination. when i used one for a bottle of water, i got old notes back, 10,000 and 20,000, and 1000 and 500 which were not worth anything and that no one wanted. oh, and a bunch of coins which no one wanted either. thus began the never ending quest of getting rid of worthless notes and coins.

towards the end of the afternoon, we stopped to visit the Brest fortress, first off the list. The main entrance was under a 5 pointed star carved on a block. The fortress walls and barracks were in red brick. Then the monuments: an interesting sculpture, the Brest hero, signifying an angry Soviet combatant in front of a banner, the 100 meter Bayonet Obelisk in the shape of a cruciform bayonet, the St Nicholas Garrison church with an golden dome. the place was tranquil and I quite enjoyed the fortress.

then we drove and drove and drove and finally made it to nezvizh palace in the dark. had dinner in a dining hall inside the palace itself, with frescoes on the walls (but i think they were new). my choice was sausages with potato pancakes (thus started the never ending pancakes for dinner choices). the hotel was in a separate building inside the palace compound across a small courtyard from the palace itself. the front gates were shut at night. The room tho was big with a double bed and 1 single. we were on the 2nd floor, the ceiling and windows on it were slanted but through them one could still see the top of the palace walls, just across from the courtyard. unlike what was shown online, the palace itself was not illuminated at night. by 11PM when we finally finished our late dinner, the palace was quiet and dark. we had to walk back to the hotel in the dark using our cell phones light for guidance. i was out in the courtyard with my tea and wow, another memorable travel moment. quiet, peaceful and feeling glorious with the palace as backdrop.

Brest Fortress photos:

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Saturday, July 30, 2016

everything chopin - warszawa

Posted by Hippobean at 10:12 PM 0 comments
was worried there wouldnt be enough time to visit Wilanów palace since today was the start of my belarus tour. but luck held and in the morning we visited the palace, my 2nd highlight of the polish trip. again it didnt disappoint me. not being extravagantly big nor over decorated, the palace felt intimate. the exterior was richly decorated but not overwhelming. the interior was also lavishly adorned but not exaggeratedly so, unlike the ones in St Petes. really loved this palace. and of course, complete with an english and a french garden.

then of course we didnt fail to see the chopin statue in Łazienki park. like everything was mozart in viena, here in warsaw, it's everything chopin. although not a fan of piano pieces, it would have been nice to sit at a chopin concert but there was no time.

the old town was small but it had some nice souvenir shops and i finally found the polish china and bought 2 small pieces. had a delicious perogi lunch at zapiecek,a tiny but packed restaurant specializing in dumplings, that had mouth watering apple mint juice. after lunch, i wandered past the square and came upon the old town city walls, ramparts in red brick. it started to rain finally after an entire week of heat and blue skies. of course my raingear was back at the hotel.

checked in to the ibis warszawa stare miastro and knocked on Witalij's door to introduce myself. all set for the belarus tour for the following day, I walked back to the Sheraton, a 45 mins walk through the nowy swiat, nice street with upperscale shops and restaurants.

the 5 star sheraton was a luxurious hotel. big room with double beds and a wonderful bathroom but the room offered no views. so should I stay another night at the Sheraton, my favorite hotel chain, or sleep in the 2 star basic ibis?

last night we dinned at the buffi theater restaurant literally next door to the sheraton. the food was mushroom soup was exquisite. tonight, our last dinner was in a big tent, at a restaurant on nowyswiat. i had duck in cherry sauce. we walked back to the sheraton in the evening twilight. memorable last night in poland.

since the belarus tour was leaving at 8AM, i've finally decided to stay the night at the ibis so i didnt have to rush in the morning. grabbed a taxi and it deposited me at the ibis. no more luxury hotel from now on. but at least my room at the ibis has the view of the Monument to the Fallen and Murdered in the East.

Wilanów photos:

Warsaw photos:

Friday, July 29, 2016

Friday, July 29, 2016

Malbork, finalmente

Posted by Hippobean at 10:13 PM 0 comments
finally the moment came. so long was longing to visit this castle. and wasnt disappointed. on the banks of the Nogat river, the teutonic knights castle was a stunning structure of red bricks, with an outer fortress, a middle castle, complete with latrine towers, and an upper castle on a hill through a drawbridge. The outer courtyard in the Middle castle was big and the inner courtyard in the Upper Castle was intimate with the Teutonic Pelican atop the central well, surrendered on 4 sides with 2 stories cloisters of the castle. the entire complex was huge, the biggest brick castle in the world, impressive and absolutely gorgeous. Couldnt take my eyes off it. absolute highlight of the trip.

And now some photos and videos:

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Thursday, July 28, 2016

not a square but a long market - Gdańsk

Posted by Hippobean at 10:12 PM 0 comments

second radison blu and another excellent location, right in the old town. however, the room was the smallest of all the hotels on this trip but it did had a nice view of the top of the buildings and i could even see the old town tower from my room window. Wrocław old town was impressive. Poznań even more so but the Gdańsk Stare Miasto beats them all. it did not really have a square. the old town was a long and wide pedestrian cobbled street, the Dlugi Targ, the royal road that began at the golden gate and ended in the green gate, lined with ancient but renovated buildings with the now familiar dutch facades, restaurants, banks and shops. The Radisson Blu was at the green gate corner and as you stepped on the royal road, you could immediately gaze upon the red brick town hall with a high clock tower. Behind it the massive Mariacki Church, the St Mary's, the biggest brick cathedral in the world. one could not fathom how big this church was until you climbed the town hall clock tower and saw it from above. it's ginormous! butthis town was also the most touristy. it's never empty of visitors even in the middle of the night.

had wanted a perogi dinner but checked 3 different restaurants and none had any. finally asked one and was told they had dumplings. but when the waiter came, he said they didnt have any perogi. chose a seafood pasta and they didnt have any seafood either. finally settled for an over priced pasta bolognese and the waiter was so rude and slow that I didnt even leave a tip. later I walked to the end of the street and found a nice italian restaurant and made a mental note to eat there the following evening.

We drove to the old shipyard to pay homage at the monument to the Fallen Shipyard Workers of 1970 the anti-soviet solidarnosc, a 3 crosses monumnet in solidarity square. But it was the european solidarity center building that got my interest. it was built with rust-coloured sheet metal that resembled the hulls of the ships. very interesting and fantastically beautiful structure. Next we came to the port where the Vistula ended at mouth of the Baltic sea and the Westerplatte peninsula where a monument was erected to commemorate the polish defenders. it was here at the battle of the Westerplatte that the first fight against the germans occurred, thus the first battle of WWII. Was told after the battle, which the polish lost, the german commanders actually saluted the polish almiral because the polish soldiers fought so valiantly. the Gdańsk marina, the lower town, on the left past the green gate, the channel area, was a bigger version of the new haven in Copenhagen. very picturesque, actually my preferred area because it had less crowds and had a slower pace.

In the afternoon, i walked to the train station to get a photo of its decorated facade. waited for a tram to pass by so I could get the red and white locomotive on rails in front of the red brick railroad station. Back in the old town, I had wanted to climb the town hall tower for views of the town below but the ticket line was long and the old dumb looking woman at the cash register just ignored us completely, and kept typing on the keyboard. many just gave up and so did it. climbed the Mariacki spire instead. It was gruesome and tiring but interesting 480 steps up, as they were on 4 sides of the enormous bell on the inside of the spire. however, once up there, one could not really see much as the railing was high and a brick slanted roof was right below the spire. so i went back to the town hall tower. this time the ugly woman was actually selling tickets, so I bought mine and visited the museum building which had breathtakingly decorated ceilings and walls filled every inch with paintings, and then all the steps up to the top of the clock tower. the reward was spectacular views of the miasto and the enormous brick cathedral. I've kicked myself for not bringing my samsung phone for a selfie. it would have been the perfect place for a selfie with the cathedral as backdrop. ah well. knees crumbling with pain in total agony, went for a massage at the hotel spa. didnt expect much since the one in riga was mostly rubbing oil on the body, but this one turned out to be one of the best ones I've had. in the evening I was refresh and re-energized due to the massage and had a wonderful meal of minestrone (which turned out to be simply a veggie soup) and a lightly battered sole which tasted very fresh. had a nice time in Gdańsk, even with the hordes of tourists.

Gdańsk photos:

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

copernicus town - Toruń

Posted by Hippobean at 10:14 PM 0 comments
first stop today was to see the famous winged bronze doors of the 14th-century Gothic cathedral in Gniezno. Gniezno was the original capital of poland. dunno why the bronze doors were so famous. not very impressive but the church which contained the tomb of Saint Adalbert, the first bishop of Prague, had a double tower and paintings of the first 5 polish kings, a very pretty cathedral with an impressive organ and gorgeous stainglass.

next we drove through the very good looking Jozef Pilsudski steel bridge over the Vistula river and arrived at copernicus town, Toruń. Founded by the Teutonic knights, toruń exploded of glorious medieval architecture. the red brick city walls were most impressive and well maintained including a leaning tower. the Church of St John the Baptist and St John the Evangelist was entirely in red brick with a a monumental west tower that was so massive, it took my breath away.

the town had nice shops and cafes and of course a statue of its famous son, nicolaus copernicus. Went to see Copernicus house because it was wednesday and it was free. his family must have had money since the house had many stories and nice rooms, situated in the most expensive part of town.

I've really enjoyed this town which offered a gorgeous panoramic view from the river. The day was very hot but I've enjoyed walking around this town and the beautiful steel bridge.

had some time before departing and so on impulse I climbed the town hall tower, an never ending circular staircase. but on top, the view was spectacular. back down on the pedestrian street, very exhausted but happy traveler.

Toruń photos:

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

old town big square - poznań

Posted by Hippobean at 10:15 PM 0 comments
morning visit to the beautiful red brick church of st peter and paul in cathedral island then to poznań old town. If I was stunned by Wrocław old town, poznań Stare Miasto looked even better. The square was bigger, centered on the Stary Rynek, the old Main Market Square, the buildings decorated with market motifs like fish and meat, surrounded the white town hall Ratusz, which featured 2 goats fighting at exactly midday every day. on the west end of the square on the hill the Góra Przemyla, the poznań castle, neglected by most tourists. there's even an elevator to take you up the castle tower so one didnt need to climb the stairs, so how could anyone miss the chance to see the city from above? the view from atop the tower was magnificent. The day was hot and the sun brilliant which made the view perfect.

the afternoon was beer time at the Lech brewery where we walked through rooms over 40 degrees C from fermentation to bottling. The bottling room was ginormous and they cranked out 100,000 bottles a day. 3 kinds of beer ranging from light to very dark and an alcohol free fruit flavor beer were free for sampling. I bought a tshirt that says 'i make the beer' in front and 'still 100% czech' on the back. perfect for D. also bought a Lech beer glass for only $4USD.

the much anticipated sheraton hotel turned out to be next to the train station. the bathroom was huge with a rain shower but the room was small mostly taken by a king size bed. the hotel included dinner was an OK creamy vegetable soup followed by a very dry chicken breast. didnt even stay for dessert. bit disappointed. expected better for a sheraton.

Poznań photos:

Monday, July 25, 2016

Monday, July 25, 2016

emotional morning and blown away in the afternoon - Wrocław

Posted by Hippobean at 10:16 PM 0 comments
After dachau, i didnt think i'd want to visit another concentration camp. but auschwitz was the most famous one and couldnt be missed. it was actually closed to tourists this week due to the world youth day but we had special pilgrimage license so we got to visit the camp and without hordes of tourists. Walking through the front gates that read Arbeit Macht Frei was an emotional experience. Although the rows of red brick barracks looked clean and neat, we knew the atrocities, the cruelties that occurred there. the death wall was fenced off and i saw people knelt in front of it, crying. standing in front of the tiny gas chamber, we could only see images of the inside. The doors were shut. across the street from the crematorium, stood the Commandant's house. Ralph Fiennes image came to mind, and I wondered how many ghosts Rudolf Hoess saw every night living there. There's nothing there now on the spot where he was hung. It's simply another quiet street. Then we moved on to birkenau, an immense place with rows and rows of wooden and brick buildings. in some of the wooden buildings, only the brick fireplaces remained. the 2 gas chambers that were destroyed by the nazi before they left were now only rubbles. And i wondered how many ghosts haunt this place at night? an emotional morning. everything in poland was about the war and the hollocaust. it filled me with tears. We were 1 day ahead of the Pope's visit.

leaving the sad war behind, we arrived at Wrocław, the miasto spotkan, on the banks of the Oder river. our hotel the sofitel was just around the corner from the old town. our rooms faced the atrium. unhappy about this, I've tried my luck again, to get a room with a window that faced the outside for fresh air. was told our 'rate' only had rooms that faced the inside of the atrium. so much for an luxury tour! however, the room was OK size and the hotel location superb. right after you step out of the sofitel, the magnificent st elizabeth church was just right there. on the right of it, the Wrocław rynek, the old town blew me away. the buildings, the noble mansions, sported brightly colored facades, the baroque red brick town hall was enormous and imposing. the most impressive old town on this trip. bought a starbuck mug there and sent postcards in the 24 hrs post office. even bought a tshirt picturing a cartoon polska girl wearing a polish dress. walked to the Oder river to have a look and the river was teeny tiny. there were street performers, the square was lively. really enjoyed my time there. loved this town.

Auschwitz photos:

Wrocław photos:

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Sunday, July 24, 2016

tatras mountains - Zakopane

Posted by Hippobean at 10:16 PM 0 comments
Didnt know the Tatras in Poland were the highest of the Carpathian mountains. We first made a stop in the pedestrian street in town, lined with souvenir shops and cafes. We took the cable car up the hill but the view was hazy and there wasnt anything much to do up there. Disappointed. Zakopane's weather was rainy as opposed to the heat of Krakow. They said Zakopane was located between 2 mountains and in the rain. We checked in to the Grand Nosalowy Dwor Resort hotel in midday, after a few hours ride from krakow. This hotel was one of the highlights of the trip as it looked very picturesque from the hotel website. however, there was a lot of construction in the area and we were put in the new modern wing which turned out to be the Residency Nosalowy. My room on the 4th floor was big with an awesome view of mountains and a modern bathroom. But I had hoped for a more rustic room in the original hotel. With nothing much to do, I signed up for the tour experience 'treasures of zakopane', which took us to see wooden churches (they call these the ABC tours - another bloody church), the Jaszczurówka Chapel had special stainglass that was painted in the back first. there was a gallery in the basement that contained beautiful intricate stainglass created by students. next we stopped at one of the traditional smoked sheep cheese wooden shepherd's hut. had wanted to buy some but they only came in huge chunks. This cheese was indeed delicious but it's soft and since it's the beginning of the journey, i didnt want to carry that much cheese around for 2 weeks! Lunch was the local perogi, meat, potato and mushroom dumplings, very tasty and a borscht style beats/onion stew, super tasty, with wine and local apple pie in a mountain ranger restaurant. the weather threatened rain, the sky was dark with clouds when we got on horse carriages for a short ride along the trees lined Chocholowska valley. it was cold and they put us 4 in 1 carriage and i was stuck with 2 australian women who did nothing but complained about the rain and cold and an autistic brit. it wasnt a pleasant ride to say the least. normally i enjoy carriage rides but the area was just too touristy and the weather didnt cooperate. another bloody church , and then an interesting cemetery with a sorrowful jesus and wooden statues. famous local skiers were buried here and a famous local writer and his grave was filled with stuffed animals. All and all this optional tour wasnt worth 50 euros.

tonight's dinner was at the restaurant of the Nosalowy Dwór, the third of this hotel chain, just steps away from our resort hotel in a very rustic beautiful wooden building. it was buffet with local cuisine (their local soup was horrible, very fatty) accompanied by local goral highlander folklore music and dance. The food wasnt anything spectacular and the songs and show was boring and terribly long. couldnt wait to get out there and return to the hotel to enjoy the room, the view and the amenities. Got horribly sick and threw up half way back to the hotel. so much for zakopane.

the tatras werent very high and the mountains not very impressive. filled with trees, not my kind of mountains. really had high hopes for the Tatras. quite disappointed.

But in the dead of the night, i woke up and went downstairs and sat in front of the hotel to drink my tea. It was quiet, the air fresh and I felt better. Another memorable travel moment!

Zakopane photos:

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Saturday, July 23, 2016

First day in Poland - Salt Mines n Kraków

Posted by Hippobean at 8:19 PM 0 comments
The hotel room most comfortable and view soothing. First stop was the famous Wieliczka Salt Mines. We entered the very baroque building that looked like a castle (the entrance had a sign that says 'groupy'), descended in a miner elevator and suddenly the world was made of rock salt but didnt smell like salty. I touched the walls and leaked my fingers. Very good salt. The Polish had this tour well organized with a very funny guide. the corridors were clean, well lighted, expansive and easy to walk. All around were carved salt statues built by the miners themselves, complete with a couple of chapels and 1 huge church with glass chandeliers. Impressive indeed.

In the afternoon we visited the Renaissance castle, with the cathedral where the Polish Kings were buried and the former seat of Archbishop Karol Wojtyla, now known as the late Pope John Paul II. The castle location was on a hill, fantastic location for views of the city. then we drove to see the old Jewish square, mainly boring. Then to Oskar Schindler's factory. this wasnt actually Schindler's factory as nothing remained from the actual building, but we did see where the scene of the girl, all dolled up, waiting on the bottom of the stairs while Schindler came out of the office to check her out, was filmed. It was now mostly a museum about German occupation and the war and it was very depressing.

Later in the day, I ventured out to cross the bridge to get shots of the castle from the vistula river. Returning to the hotel, I got lost and stumbled on the old square, just a few blocks from the hotel. A huge stage was set in the square for the world youth day. The buildings surrounding the square were colorful and the St Mary's church with a very colorful interior. I had wanted the pappardelle again and found a restaurant that had it but with beef instead of bacon. so I sat down and ate my evening meal accompanied by catholic music playing in the square, and watched the teenagers enjoy the world youth day. the pasta was delicious but not as much as the one from the Radisson. Satified, i returned to the hotel for another good read of Preston and Child, lying on the comfy lounge chair with a cup of hot tea, and with music blasting from the park across from the hotel. Very nice first day in Poland.

Kraków photos:

Friday, July 22, 2016

Friday, July 22, 2016

poland finalmente

Posted by Hippobean at 10:18 PM 0 comments
7-21 A very young blond Pole holding a sign awaited in the arrivals hall. that's my name. His mom pulled up the car and off we went through narrow lanes lined with beautiful cottages. He pointed out the open air music amphitheater and other sites on the way in almost perfect english. gotta tip this teenager. The Radisson Blu was across from a park with very green trees. Was given a room facing the back atrium so I've tried my luck at the front desk. Miraculously I was given a room facing the park with a nice lounge chair next to the big window. No balcony but this would do. I could read beyond the ice limit lying there.

The flight to schilpol was uneventful. middle seat was empty and it was comfortable. 5 hrs to blow at schilpol so I've emailed Borg. he's back on chemo so couldnt come out to keep me company. poor dude! So i've walked, checked out the shops, bought a fridge magnet since i didnt have one from amsterdam. Flight to Krakow was in a small 2x2 plane. short flight with lots of teenagers from the US, wearing bright yellow tshirts with scriptures written on the back. suddenly I remembered it was World youth day in Krakow. Smart Travel had reminded me twice.

so i've finally made it to poland.

7-22 the included dinner started with a nice champagne and a beautiful salad which i didnt eat. followed was a wonderful tasty Pappardelle with bits of bacon in an orange beige color sauce and red wine. loved it. didnt stay for the dessert. retired early to shower and to relax in the nice lounge chair to read preston and child. slept with the curtain open with street lamps illuminating the park and flooding my room, view of very green trees. most excellent beginning of a trip. very happy.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Sunday, July 10, 2016

heróis do mar

Posted by Hippobean at 2:52 PM 0 comments
e agora heróis de futebol. Parabéns Portugal!

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Modern Carmen

Posted by Hippobean at 11:59 PM 0 comments
This year's ballpark opera ... heart tugging classic melodies of Bizet's Carmen ... in a raw take modern day Carmen.

See the gang at the ballpark opera

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