A Travellerspoint blog

A Palace Fit for a King

Split meets the expectations of emperors and tourists alike.


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Thunder and lightening awakend us as we neared Split on our train ride from Zagreb. It was six in the morning when the car rocked with a clap of thunder. The rain began to pour and we knew our seven o'clock arrival was in jeopardy as the train slowed with wet tracks.We were prepared to stay on a 45 foot wooden yacht that was available via AirBnB and Cedo, the owner was to pick us up at the station.

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We found out we were going to be about an hour late and texted Cedo. As we neared Split the downpour continued to get heavier and heavier. Finally, the train arrived and it was worse than expected, it was pouring so hard, we did our best Carl Lewis and Bruce Jenner impersonations, dashing accross the tracks, hurdling the railroad ties and dividers before a long jump over a puddle onto the platform on the other side. In the distance we see the finish line, Cedo is waiting with an umbrella and his Renault. By the time we reach his car we are drenched and half of the Adriatic is in our shoes, we toss our bags into his vehicle and jump in to the dry confines.

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We have done it we think, until Cedo tells us he doesn't know what to do, as the boat isn't safe in the storm and so, we can go to the University of Split with him until 4 p.m. when the storm pehaps will weaken. He informs us these kinds of storms are very unusual this time of year.

Cedo drives us to the university and shows us his department, he is a mechanical engineer and is proud of the machines in his shop. We proceed to find a coffee shop where the lights flicker continuously as the storm strikes the area with thunder and lightning. It is at this point we decide to forgo the boat and get a hotel for a hot shower and dry clothes to wait out the storm Thanks Hotels.com for making it simple and easy. We then went to find Cedo and break the news, he had offered us a refund, be we insisted he keep the money, the $40 we had paid to stay on the boat was a small price to pay for the taxi services Cedo had provided.
 
Cedo took us to the beautiful Hotel Park, and told us that a bottle of wine would be chilled and a spaghetti dinner would be waitiing for us at 5 p.m., if we wanted. Oh that hot shower felt delightful after the train journey the day before and our track and field event earlier.

After regrouping there was a break in the storm and we headed out for lunch on a terraace, and than into old town and Diocletian's palace to be awed by the incredible palace dating back to 200 AD. After entering through the basement, our jaws dropped as we reached the peristyle. This ancient palace was everything you could imagine and more.

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We toured the palace and make the climp to the top of the bell tower. This narrow climb was slowed by the wait for two-way traffic on a one-way stair set. Often pressing against those going the opposite direction, we got to know people from all different countries quite well. As the steps got narrower, we passed the bells and finally reached a metal set of stairs. The last of the climb was on these and as we reached the top, a strikingly beautiful view of the Adriatic, Old Town, the brownish-white cliffs, and all the surrounding areas awaited us. Another "Wow!' moment.

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After an afternoon in Diocletian's palace filled with fascinating sights and tours, we headed back to our hotel and what is called the best beach in Split, where we decided to swim in the Adriatic Sea. The water, although not warm, was pleasant with pockets of warmth here and there. Many people were swimming, sunning, and playing games at the beach and in the water. We enjoyed the beach until about 7 p.m., it was a wonderful break from the storm, but more was expected that night.

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From here it was back to the old town and dinner at Konobo Korta, where we feasted on fresh fish from the sea, local salads and olives, a wonderful cold carrob soufle, and more. Eating in the town invoked thoughts of dining in Roman times with the sights and sounds around us. During dinner the bells tolled and the drums beat as Diocletian came out to see his subjects, it was vey fitting for the atmosphere.  

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We strolled through the city as another day was finished and all expectations were met, no disappointment could be found.

Tuesday morning arrived and after feasting on a hotel buffet breakfast, a big change from our breakfasts so far, we were ready to head back to town and enjoy the day before leaving on a 10 p.m., night train for Zagreb and then Plitvice Lakes.

Stashing our bags in a train station locker, we went to find the fish market and see the fresh product we had indulged upon the night before. The aroma of fish and seafood met our nostriles and the market was abuzz with chef's choosing their fish for the day and vendors calling out the excellence of their product.

Seeing the fish market gave insight into the commerce of the city and the importance of the tourist trade to the local residents.

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After the market it was down to the Riva where we had strolled the night before, but now had the opportunity to experience it in the daylight. We decided to take a boat ride from one of the locals and he took four of us out on his boat. A grandmother and her teenage grandaughter from Bentonville, Arkansas, joined us for the boat trip. We toured up and down the Split coastline, seeing the homes along the water, the institute of oceanography, a nude beach, and the Celebrity cruise ship that was docked there for the day. We viewed the islands off the coast and the passages that led to Italy to the west and to the south Greece and Portugul. It was beautiful on the water with a breeze blowing and deep blue colors of the water shimmering as the sunlight radiated off the sea.

When we returned to the town, we decided to have an early dinner and try the local beef that is so highly thought of. The cafe in old town we chose provided us with a vantage point for people watching that was second to none. We were treated to a rich selection of Croatian olive oils and salts to enjoy our bread with. The heartiness and flavor of the oils danced on the pallet. The beef was exceptional, however at both meals in Split the grilled vegetables were to die for.

We finished off our time in Split with some shopping and relaxed along the water as we readied for our night train to Zagreb. Good-bye Split, you will be remembered fondly.

Posted by darrenesl 16:03 Archived in Croatia Comments (0)

Cleaning Up

A day of rest, relaxation, and politics, followed by music and travel.


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Our day began with a metro ride to the Parlament. The building is huge with every inch full of detail. There are guards at all the entrences. We walked around the entire building before heading to the Shoes on the Danube. After visiting Aushwitz, it gave us a more moving experience seeing the brass shoes ~ Jews were shot along the banks of the Danube and their bodies were pushed into the river with some of the shoes being left behind.

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After getting in our steps, we moved on to the warm mineral baths at Szechenyi. We indulgd in some wonderful soaks in some beautiful spas, pools, and saunas. We began in an outdoor pool with water temp in the high 80s. Just drifting around the pool letting our bodies relax. This was followed by an hour-long couples massage. The hungarians kneaded and beat us like bread dough. Then we moved on to some mineral spas and of course a dip in the ice cold waters to make sure we got the entire experience. This was a much needed day of rest.

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After 5 hours of bathing, we headed to see the City Park and Hero's Square. People of all ages playing table tennis,, chess, and numerous other games and sports filled the area. It was a great way to finish the evening. We ended our day with dinner on Vaci Utica, a walk around town with plenty of shopping, and then a fish foot massage. We recommend this to everyone. Your feet will be softer than you could ever imagine.

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Waking early on Sunday we were off to the Budapest Opera before heading to the train station for a 15 hour journey to Split, Croatia via Zagreb.

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It should have been a shorter trip, but the train tracks were under repair and we had to be shuttled to a bus for a portion of the journey. What was supposed to be a two hour window became a twenty minute rush to make our next train. We made it and on the first train made friends with several other travellers who were packed in with us. We learned all about Iran and the fellings toward the US and their nuculear capabilities from a kind Iranian who wanted to chat.

Finally we were on our night train and tucked in bed late Sunday night and headed to Split.

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Posted by darrenesl 12:32 Archived in Hungary Tagged trains budapest danube travel hungary croatia travels Comments (0)

The Danube Life

Budapest begins on a river and life is good.

30 °C

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Arrival in Budapest after a night train trip from Krakow was welcomed. The train provided us great accomodations while including travel and breakfast. We were ready for the change and upon arrival found lockers to store our luggage as we could not arrive at our BnB before 2:30 p.m. and arrival was at 8:30 a.m. Friday.

After changing a little US currency to Florints, we found the lockers after being accosted several times by the station lurkers wanting us to buy currency from them at a better rate. From here it was time to head into the city proper and do some exploring.

Once again we purchased the 24 hour pass for all forms of transport throughout Budapest and set out towards Buda and the Royal Castle. As we got close to the Chain Bridge, we were amazed with all the detail and the beauty of the Danube. We could have spent hours at the beginning just taking in the views. The walk across the bridge was lovely, providing sweeping views up and down the river that divides Buda and Pest.

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Once across, we rode the furnicular to the top. From here we were surrounded by the rebuilt castle that overlooks the city. The views up there were a must see. Wondering the grounds we were greeted by many statues, fountains, and gardens. We wandered up the path to a lovely cafe where lunch was served to sweeping views of the castle, the Danube, and Matthias Church.

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After lunch we continued up the street to the church and Fisherman's Landing. After touring the sites, we headed back to town to find our flat. We arrived at the flat, where we were given keys and a quick tour of the place. Unfortuanately we discovered the WiFi was down, and the flat only had a washer, no dryer, but other than that it truly was a mini-flat as advertised. We took showers and headed back out for our evening dinner cruise on the Danube.

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Next up was our evening of dinner and dancing on the Danube. The dinner cruise was well worth the money. We dined on traditional Hungarian cuisine with Goulash, cold fruit soup, assorted cheese, meats, breads, entrees, dumplings, and much more. The sights as we cruised the river became more and more impressive as the sun began to set. Lights illuminating the buildings along the river provided an impressive backdrop for dinner and dancing.

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As the night wound to a close we returned to our flat for much needed rest.

Posted by darrenesl 08:38 Archived in Hungary Tagged danube hungary Comments (0)

Good-bye Krakow

Leaving the keys to our love in Krakow we can never be seperated.

Our final day in Krakow started with a misty and cloudy morning. We had a couple of items on our itenerary still and were bound determined to see what we had planned. Leaving our Iraqi bunkmate who had joined us in our hostel room, he had immigrated to Norway and had a daughter living in Washington State, we headed out for the day.

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Starting at St. Mary's cathedral, we saw the opening of the alter and toured the amazing faciliity. The church was packed for the opening ceremony and we were lucky to have front row seats for the action. A nun unvailed the alter and provided us with some nice pictures.

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From there we went to the Lover's Bridge with our lock. As seen on the Amazing Race, couples come to this bridge with their lock, lock it in place on the bridge, and toss away the key into the water signifying their love to one another. Here we placed our lock, renewed our love, and tossed our key into the river.

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From there we headed to the Milk Bar for lunch where we ate like kings for pennies. Good thing we are doing so much walking. The Polish cuisine has been delicious. We proceeded to do some more shopping in Krakow's Old Town.

After that it was off to the train for our night train to Budapest, we were bth very happy to have a sleeper car for the two of us with beds that were nice and comfortable after the two nights at Atlantis.

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Posted by darrenesl 04:38 Archived in Poland Comments (0)

Auschwitz and Birkenau

Evil so great, it must never be forgotten

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There is an erie silence as you enter the gates of a place that although the sunshine is there, is cold and dark all the same. We have driven an hour and a half to get to this sacreds ground and now there is a dread that almost makes one want to stay away and not enter...

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We had awoken earlier to the usual morning sunshine entering our hostel room window shortly after 4 a.m. local time and found sleep hard to come by after that. With many of the other hostelers still sleeping in their dorms or private roomes, we made use of the nearly empty WiFi that was able to meet our needs for connectivity. After a couple of Skype messages, emails, and social posts, a shower and shave helped get the tired body awake and ready for our day.

We quickly ate a breakfast of pastries, yogurt, cottage cheese, peaches, and coffee. It is becoming a daily breakfast here in Poland , quick, easy, and a good way to stretch the meal budget for the more adventureous lunch and dinner experiences. We planned a full day for Wednesday, booking a tour with Krakow Tours, run by an Englishman named Phil Clark. The trip includes Auschwitz and Birkenau and the Wieliczka Salt Mine, usually a day trip each if you go with one of the big cattle-car tours, however offered together on a private tour with Krakow Tours.

Promptly at 8:10 a.m., Mark, our driver and tour guide, who is a Brit living and working in Poland now, pulled the Renault Van up to the front door and introduced himself. We had the option of riding up front with him as the middle seat was already occupied by the other two tour takers, a couple from the UK. We chose the front for the view and were soon zipping through the countryside to our destination. We learned tha Mark, a traveling magician at the age of 17, had been to Auschwitz while traveling, and being so facinated by it, returned from the UK on weekends, 17 more times before moving to Poland to work.

A great conversationalist, Mark shared his story and thoughts on Poland, as we neared the largest and most deadly of all the Nazi concentration camps, Mark let us know what buildings to go to and which ones to avoid to have the best experience, with the least crowds. Because Auschwitz is so busy, they require tours to come with a tour guide, unless as Mark would do, enter with us and give us the option to wander on our own once he got us on the inside.

And now the moment had arrived, we passed all the queues to get in and were at the gates that are seen in movies and textbooks worldwide. "Arbeit Macht Frei" or work makes you free. The infamous words that hung over the heads of those entering this killing compound of Adolf Hitler's regime.

...Why does it feel this way, as I turn to Terri she reassures me it is not just myslef that feels this wasy as we enter the compound, but an intensity of evil that just lingers over the grounds that lie before us. Words cannot describe what the eyes see next, but there is no denying this artrocity ever happened.

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The former barracks of these prisoners show the horrors that awaited them when they arrived. Many of these people were expecting to come alomost on a holiday type experience, a chance to better their lives and that of theur families. You see the piles of their best dishes that some brought not expecting to be taken prisoner instead. You see the spoils the Nazi SS took from them, piles of reading glasses, mountains of shoes, an assortment of clothing, and even children's toys. All of this stuns you and leaves you wondering, but the knockout blow hits when you see the tons of human hair, shaved from the victims of Auschwitz that was still to be sold by the Nazis to make textiles and cloth from. Yes, they still have tons of human hair from this event on display for you to see.

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From Auschwitz we make our way to Birkenau, a bigger camp designed specifically for the extermination of people. The tools of the trade our similar, just on a much larger scale. At one point, killing 6000 people per day. The clouds that hung over the camps eventually disappated and the sun came out. Much as it did for some of the survivors of this period in history.

The women are to le left and the men to the right as you enter. The majority of the women's barracks are brick as the houses in the area were torn down and used to build them, the men's were of wood as that is what was left. The pits for the bodies and the incinerators are at the back, eventually they built the railway line straight there. Why keep the infirm, the cripple, and children as they will just be a drain on resources was their thinking. The Nazis even tried to capture the sewer to power the incinerators, however the diet of the prisoners did not feed them well enough to allow their waste to produce methane, so that plan was scrrapped.

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The sights and stories are ones we will never forget.

From here we headed to the salt mine. These mines have been worked for hundreds of years and over 130 km of tunnels had been dug in the salt mines. We toured more than 3 km of them and had a great history of the mines described to us. The chpels built underground were oppulant. When we emerged from the earth, 150 meters deep, it was pouring rain.

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Our guide shuttled us back to the hostel and we said our goodbyes to Mark. Sharing a bond that only those who have shared the concentration camp experience together can. It is a day we will always remember, and a time many can never forget.

Posted by darrenesl 14:12 Archived in Poland Tagged poland europe auschwitz krakow birkenau Comments (0)

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