Hi all. We have to apologise for the long pause between chapters in our story, but man have we been busy!! There has been so much to see squeezed into so little time. Today however, we have made a concerted effort to put aside our busy schedule and make time to keep you, the fans, in the loop. Oh, it may also help that we have down time because the mini decided to break down two days before getting home L bummer.We are in Germany waiting for it to be fixed as we speak.Now on to the stories. Here goes…
We left off after arriving in Tallinn and before heading off to the Ollesummer beer (and music) festival. Let's start there anyway. After spending the day wandering around the Tallinn old town, checking out the sights and soaking in the sunny atmosphere, we made our way back to the hotel for a little bit of a rest (and a few pre-game beers) before heading out of town to the Tallinn Music Bowl.
We arrived about 30 minutes after the gates had opened, so it wasn't that busy and was quite easy to get our first beer. Now, you have to realise that even at festival prices, beers were still only around ₤1.50! Bargain!! We wandered around all the food stalls, festival-esque amusements and music stages. As the rain clouds rolled in and the rain started to pour, Liz and I took cover in one of the main tents with an undercover stage. It just so happened the bar we sat in had a poker table near by, so we decided to play (free with play money only of course!!). Let's just say we had fun, and poker was the winner (it certainly wasn't me!!)
Once the rain cleared and poker was lost, we made our way to the main stage to get a decent spot to see the headline act, Moby. To keep ourselves entertained as we waited, we decided to do a little dancing, well, not really little or dancing, more thrashing around to keep would-be onlookers out of our personal space. This worked well right up to the time Moby started, but of course the crowd closed in as soon as we stopped. A pointless exercise in the end, but fun and we got on TV!!! All in all, Ollesummer was an awesome night topping some great days in Tallinn. Definitely a place I will visit again.
From Tallinn we drove south to Riga, capital of Latvia. We eventually found our hotel at the end of a maze of lumpy cobbled streets, checked in and parked the mini in a 'secure' car park down the street. Now, I use the word 'secure' extremely loosely, it was more of a yard beside the street with a little shack at the gate in which a little, extremely old wrinkly lady lived. I can only assume that she was a ninja or something, because the car made it through the night safe and sound. Gotta respect the old school.
Now, my tale of Riga may come across a little negative, and for this I apologise. The old city was beautiful and the people really friendly, but we just got off on the wrong foot. On the way there we read up on town and culture. It seemed that everything we read was laced with warnings about muggings, car theft and general not nice things. The hotel, lovely but in a really sketchy area. People, super friendly but we walked around suspicious of everyone. The food, awesome.
We started our tour by walking into town through the famous Riga marketplace, one of the oldest in the Baltic and biggest in the universe. It got so big in the early 1900s that they bought 5 zeppelin hangars to house the stalls, then of course there is the outdoor area. It's massive. The only pity was that we got there just before it closed, so we didn't get the full market experience.
From the market we continued into town and looked around. As before, many fantastic buildings, soaring church spires and plenty of café terraces. We wandered around for a while until we found a specialty pancake house, at which we had to stop. The pancakes were awesome. Sweet, savoury, you name it… you could even make your own!! This would have to be the highlight of the day as we went back there for more later that night!!
Riga definitely needs another chance. Maybe not the best place to drive to, but worth a look nonetheless.
From Riga we ventured further south to Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. Tainted by Riga, but with memories of Tallinn still fresh, Vilnius had big shoes to fill if it was going to impress. It didn't let us down.
We wandered into the old town from our hotel (again spoiling ourselves to a roof in a more cost effective country), taking a few snaps on the way. The afternoon sun was warm and we passed many people on many terraces enjoying beer and ice cream (usually not at the same time).
The town was great. We wandered from one end to the other, taking in the architecture and sights. Unfortunately on our first pass of the main street, we were followed by a team of Hare Krishna's singing and being happy, too loud to be ignored (they had a PA system). I normally wouldn't mind the musical distraction, but they really don't have much variety in their musical repertoire.
After shaking the Hare's in the park, we climbed up the castle hill to check out the view over the city. Beautiful. Next, back down the hill and in to the back streets to find a traditional restaurant that served a particular traditional dish - zeppelin!! These potato dumplings stuffed with meat drowned in cheesy, sour cream sauce with chunks of bacon. Heart attack on a plate but soooo tasty!! The perfect culinary end to a great day of wandering.
Next we carefully weaved our way through beautiful countryside hills and national parks into Poland and to another capital city, Warsaw. We rolled into our campsite late in the afternoon and set up shop for another 2 day whirlwind tour.
The first night we took the tram into town and wandered around the city centre. We checked out the Zlote Tarsay (an ARUP designed and built shopping centre in the heart of town, Liz really liked this one). From here we wandered past impressive buildings, through the city gardens and into the old city. During the war, practically the whole city was flattened, but thankfully it was rebuilt to replicate what it once looked like (they even used paintings as a guide to what it looked like).
The night in town gave us a taste of what was to come. We made it back to the commercial centre to catch the last tram of the evening, unfortunately the wrong one. We ended up at the tram depot and had to walk back to the campsite. Lucky for us we had our tomtom to guide us back 3km along some pretty sketchy streets. Good work Tommy!!
The next day was packed with monuments, memorials, tram timetables and more of the old and 'new' towns. One of the highlights was touring the royal palace (again rebuilt after the war, but filled with appropriate period pieces from various sources). Warsaw is a beautiful city filled with a vibrant culture. Hopefully we will get time in the future to visit here again.
The rest of the cities were more flying visits, but ones we really enjoyed.Poland is a beautiful place and very lively (which came as a big surprise to me, I just thought snow and vodka).Krakow is much smaller than Warsaw, so a bit easier to fit in a small space of time.It was once the capital of Poland, so when it this honour was eventually given to Warsaw, Krakow became the 'heart' or spiritual capital of Poland (geez guide books teach you lots!)
This was another place with lots of beautiful building, winding cobbled side streets, lots of ice cream vendors, beautiful plazas and a cool marketplace.On a Monday night, the squares were packed with people eating out and having a few cheeky pints.It really made it feel like summer, and what a fantastic vibe!
We also got the chance to visit Wiezsclika Salt Mine and Auschwitz, both outside of Krakow. The salt mine was a 1 ½ tour of a 2km section of one of the oldest working salt mines in the world.Apparently the 2 km we saw is less than 2% of the tunnels that exist! They used horses in the working of the salt mine and the last one only came out in 2007, isn't that nuts? (It took them a long time to find them all. Seriously!) Our other visit was Auschwitz which I am not going to comment extensively on.It was moving and depressing but something I think you need to see.The suffering that was endured is palpable.You just don't want to believe that people are capable of doing that to others.
Wroclaw (and on to Jelenia Gora)
How could we not visit the city where the lovely Peter was born.It even smelled like him (haha not really but it was fun joking about it).A big highlight for us was the historic castle.Even though we couldn't go in it (missed it by 20 minutes), the grounds were gorgeous. There was also an 'island' with tons of churches on it that was pretty amazing. Because Wroclaw escaped virtually unscathed (building-wise) from the war, a lot of places were still preserved instead of rebuilt.
We didn't end of staying here for the night however, but instead drove another two hours to Jelenia Gora for the night to get ourselves closer the Czech border.
WOW! I love Prague.The 'Czech' jokes could go forever: 'Czech' out at the supermarket, 'Czech' me out (I have that sticker now too), 'Czech' the time, blah blah blah. Bad jokes that never get old, much like Aras, France (that one's for you Stoney, Nat and Dom).We only spent a night in Prague, and it definitely wasn't enough; but we vowed to return.It is definitely a city that gets under your skin.
Again, like many other cities, it was sprint to see all the big things - cathedrals, castles, squares, famous monuments - of which this city has many.But we tried to split our time there between seeing the big things and sucking in the other side of the city, cafes on cobbled streets, local beers (of which there are lots too), and dinner in an off the beaten path sort of place. Though we wanted to stay longer Cesky Krumlov, the 'mini Prague' was calling our name.
Cesky Krumlov (via cesky B)
Prague on a smaller scale.Lovely village feel and all the beautiful cobbled streets, massive cathedrals and big castles.Gabe and I wandered around for the day, sampling different cafes and terraces and then ate at a riverside restaurant.It was such a good day! We went to Cesky Krumlov via Ceske Budjevoski, the home of Budvar (Budweiser).We missed the factory tour by an hour or so (bummer), but still managed to get an authentic bottle opener!
First off, Marty, your itinerary was second to none.Without it our time there would not have been as organised and informed. We owe you one buddy.And yes, I hope someday we all do get to travel together - no Lonely Planet necessary!
This city gets another big WOW.Talk about crisp beautiful buildings and atmosphere.Café culture like Goldilocks, sample a little of each one until you find something that is just right. We hit the city at the right time as well, there was a film festival and an international food festival happening concurrently (seriously, these people think of everything!) With all the lovely smelling food looming, I felt torn but just wanted a bratwurst and a beer. Gabe didn't argue too much. We walked past all the major sights and attractions, using the tram on the Ring.I think it was a good overview trip, but we'll have to go back! This is a city that deserves a lot more time, attention and picking through with a fine comb!
Alright, that's enough for now, more on the rest of the trip soon…