Thursday, June 29, 2006
The train ride from Prague to Wroclaw (pronounced Vrots-wauf) was hot and muggy and we fell asleep in the sticky leather seats but oddly enough we took turns sleeping and managed to photograph each other without the other one knowing.
Poles are among other things proud, particularly of their cherries and strawberries. Fortunately our stay in Wroclaw coincided with the harvest. We managed to finish a kilogram of strawberries and half a kilogram of cherries on a lovely afternoon in the park with our new buddy from Toronto, Alex.
Though not as popular as it's eastern neighbour Krakow, Wroclaw has an kind of an honest character since it has not been gentrified to the same extent.
It still retains plenty of really fucking ugly soviet style buildings, however, a lot is being done to improve things here. It really shone in our eyes though, because the people were super friendly and the milk bar food is GOOD.
NB. Many thanks to Alex for guiding us through Milk Bar protocol with his expert Polish language skills.
Probably one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Already swamped with tourists when we arrived, we were just two adding to the melee. Almost every inch of the main square has been appropriated for posh restaurants and bars. We decided to avoid the centre altogether and visited the outlaying parks in the residential areas between World Cup games and found the lesser known (and therefore less visited) Krizíkova fontána located behind the White Elephant Exhibition Hall. This thing is a feat of engineering with it's spouts choreographed to everything from Mozart to Shania Twain.
Of course the world cup played an important part of our brief Prague visit, where our days were organized around the all important matches. A lot of time was spent finding the most dodgy "sports bars", often utterly deserted, just to watch the game.
Saturday, June 24, 2006
As a birthday girl, I had a choice of what we were going to do on my glorious day. A day trip to Saxony Switzerland sounded nice so we took the afternoon train.
As we got off the train, the road led to an ancient forest and as we got deeper and deeper into the greeness the smell of moss and wet leaves was all around. Millennia have shaped the boulders and rocks into smooth shapes and we could see many trails of water and rain.
An old-fashioned ferry with an actual steam engine and a whistle took us back to Dresden down the Elbe river. The ride took three hours and was entirely filled with castles and mansions of the old times when Dresden was the financial and political capital of Germany. In 2004, UNESCO declared Dresden and the surrounding section of Elbe river valley to be a "World Heritage" site.
We arrived back in Dresden by 8 pm and Nazan (a wonderful woman from Turkey who was attending a conference in Dresden) organized a birthday party for me, full of hot and tasty Indian food, wine and even a chocolate cake with candles!! I was so surprised and flattered and even had the birthday song sung for me.
Monday, June 19, 2006
What can we say? We loved Dresden. After originaly planning to only stop here one night before heading onto Prague, desperate to avoid the world cup mayhem, we totaly got hooked to the place...
A nightview of Dresden.
The Church of our Lady, which was only rebuilt recently after the damages of World War II.
Tom calls this "The Boob Shot" because we can't remember the name of the building. So there it is!
We slept at Hostel Die Boofe, which literally means a natural shelter in Saxony Switzerland's climbing region where one can stay during a storm. Owned by the coolest and most eccentric of characters, Danilo, this hostel and all her staff and residents were heartwarming and welcoming. Seeing Carole was definitely the most anticipating moment of the morning because she's got a spunky attitude and makes the best cup of coffee this side of the Berlin wall.
Carole, Kyle from Northwestern University and Zhenia display their morning churpiness.
During our stay, Dresden had a 3-day music festival in Neustadt (translated as "New Town" but is actually the older side of modern-day Dresden) that began in 1990 as a demonstration against capitalism and luxury reconstruction of the area. Neustadt has been celebrating itself ever since. One street of the festival was set up for children and had a large merry-go-round and puppet theatre. While all the children were completely in awe of the hand-puppets in the box, one girl stood up and walked over to the theatre box. Zhenia captured the moment as she is yanking the poor puppet out.
During this time, we met Storm and Warren from New Orleans who were also staying at the hostel. For the next 4 days it was impossible to separate us.
While relaxing on the bank of the Elbe river, Zhenia started chatting with a German couple, Nina and Jorn, and before we could say "Prost!" or "Cheers!" they invited us to their apartment for dinner and football. The below picture was our first experiment with the timing setting on our camera. From top left: Jorn, Warren and Tom; from bottom left: Storm, Zhenia and Nina.
On the day that Germany was to play Ecuador, there wasn't a single bar in town that wasn't packed with people. We stumbled on "La Rue", a French and Jewish restaurant owned by the curious Moushka who handed us a free bottle of Cider and said "Say Hello to Brooklyn for me!" on our way out. Here, Warren and Tom are victorious with the new gift.
On the night of the 20th, while Tom watched the England vs. Sweden game at a local English pub, Zhenia took a Night Tour with Anna, the guide and Dresden's personality extraordinare, to experience the culture and history of Neustadt. When we arrived back at the hostel, there was a welcoming committee waiting for us to begin the party that was to last until 5 a.m.
Zhenia, Anna, Danilo and Jason begin the early part of Zhenia's birthday celebrations.
Our final thoughts on Dresden: YOU MUST GO AND EXPERIENCE DRESDEN AND STAY AT HOSTEL DIE BOOFE!!!
Friday, June 16, 2006
Barcelona, the fashion Neverland where fashions never die. You name it.......from the girl in Doc Martin's and a tie dye t-shirt to the fellas with MC Hammer pants.....it's all here. Punks, Skaters, Hippies, Rastas and the ubiquitous Goths are all represented and the mullets here would put any trailer park to shame. And lets not leave out the "Rat Tail" which is still going strong in these parts......
We're only sorry we didn't have the means to document the cultural time warp that has a hold on this city. Unfortunately, the below picture is the only one we have in Barcelona (courtesy of the photo shop guy who sold us our camera). Guess it sums it up pretty well...
To better see this wonderful city, we decided to book a scooter. What a ride and worth every penny! We saw all the highlights and lowlights of
La Sangrada Familia
After tracking down my mum and dad in Madrid we crashed their holiday plans and invited ourselves to come with them to Jarandilla de la Vera in western Spain. We stayed in the local Parador (government run hotels in historic buildings around Spain), which was essentially a converted castle originally built for King Carlos V to spend the winter of 1556 before going on to the monastery at Yuste to wait to die.
Needless to say, we ate and drank very well and relaxed despite dad's shirt (and socks).
The highlight of our time here was the walk to Yuste, following the road taken by Carlos V. It was stinking hot but along the way we found several natural pools to swim in and cool down - this one was our favourite...
Many thanks to Mum and Dad for taking us, and for the pics for the log all taken by Mum.
Friday, June 02, 2006
Marrakesh at night
On our last day in
In the center of the square, men sell fresh squeezed orange juice while women sit underneath umbrellas and paint henna in brown and black ink. It’s and the mosque will once again call to her faithful listeners while the camera-snapping begins as the sun starts to set.
The delicious tajines at Chez Chegrouni had Zhenia cleaning her plate spotless.
Djeema al Fna at night
The twelve hour journey from the Sahara Desert to Marrakesh deserves more than this journal entry but books dedicating poetry and prose to its beauty and diversity. As the bus toddles up towards the High Atlas, reaching nearly 4,000 km, the road loops and turns and opens the curtain: The sand-colored mountainside changes to ocre, as if opening a wound created by the sun and the wind of the region. Rain songs and scars carved from the peaks to the skirts of the canyons. Ocre-colored villages and their mosques scatter within the bedrock looking out like many blinking eyes and ears; they breathe and sigh and watch for passerbys like us. Forests of fern and cedar span miles; veiny trees with scorched and exposed roots. Farmers on wheat fields collecting their golden harvest. Flowers of pink and purple blossom. Grass as tall as corn stalks, palm and olive trees and cactus hedges, with swollen fingers and rusty nails, border the road. A donkey, tied to a tree, chews on some lunch.
The Atlas crouches down and its rugged canyons level off to a grassy plane. Marrakesh appears in the blue horizon ahead.
Thursday, June 01, 2006
When arriving at the station there may be as many as 10 different companies covering different lines and areas of Morocco. If your lucky enough to find a destination timetable in english be sure to read it from right to left NOT the other way. However, the best thing to do is to ignore it completely, look for the guys taking money from passengers (never bother going to the counter) and tell him where you want to go. He'll tell you what time the bus comes (in french) and sell you a ticket.
While you wait for your bus to arrive into the main bus station, there are many beggars huddling around. When your bus arrives and you get into your seat (and just as the bus is setting off on its route), at least 3 beggars (as they take their respective turns) come on the bus and ask for change from all the passengers.
Outside of the main bus station, there is no specific etiquette for getting on or off the bus. Simply clap your hands twice for the next desired stop and the bus will ease to a steady speed of 20 km/hour and you will either be told to jump off or jump on.
If one does not have a companion in the next seat or a music headphones, there is always ample noise on the bus to provide entertainment: a jukebox blasting music at an anstounding frequency, a screaming sermon in Arabic observed by passengers in complete silence, men and women shouting to their neighbor friend who they haven’t seen for many years, casual loud conversations on the cell phone or unhappy toddlers kicking and screaming in their seats.
The bus will stop for 15 minutes every 5-50km. This stop will usually be in some obscure town in the middle of nowhere. Once you are spotted by a local you will be greeted and asked a variety of questions and then told that you have entered a beautiful town must stay and enjoy yourself. Just smile humbly (since you have heard this a million times in the most remote areas of Morocco) and say no thanks, you're in a hurry but will come back next year, inshAllah.
The temperature in the bus is mindblowing and an air-conditioned vehicle is unheard of. If the windows aren’t broken then you are lucky to get a cool breeze.
The local bus (our particular favorite) will stop at mere sight of a person waiting on the road, which usually lengthens your journey considerably.
People are very willing to share food with you and it is a custom to give a bit to your neighbor. We have figured out another benefit: in the end you have a friend that will look out for you (possibly in an altercation with a hussler who is trying to get you off the bus so he can rip you off and leave you penniless).
Women and children are always provided a seat when the bus is full and baggage never seems to fit into the overhead compartment and they charge you extra to store it in the trunk so you are usually forced to be squeezed in with everyone’s bags and suitcases.
When a bus passes a village or a small city, people on the streets wave to wish a safe journey for its passengers.
The Moroccan people will talk to anyone and everyone, even if there isn’t a common language between each other.
The bus always respects the 60 km/hour speed limit but the engine will never make it past 45 km/hour.
Picking one’s nose on the bus is necessary (in case there is a sand storm outside and the windows must be open in order to ventilate the incoming dust) and is often expected.
The buses NEVER arrive, leave or get you to your destination on the expected time.
Overtaking a slower car can often takes on the form of a game of chicken with an oncoming truck, which the bus driver always loses because the truck driver is fearless.
The bus will usually break down at least once and if one is lucky the bus driver will bring life back to the vehicle. The passengers in these cases are rarely in a bad mood or in a hurry and will usually laugh at the circumstance.
In conclusion, under no circumstance should you get angry or offended at any of the above. This will only expediate the situation and make you appear uncivil and ungrateful. One MUST, if one is to remain sane, laugh at the above intricacies and enjoy the ride.
The preparation of the brew involves four staples: Chinese green tea, fresh mint, boiling water and plenty of sugar. Traditionally it’s served in elegant metal Moroccan teapots and poured from an impressive height into small crystal glasses. The first glass from a new pot is generally poured back into the pot to assist brewing.
You will need:
1 Tbs. of Chinese green tea
A generous handful of fresh mint, more leaves than stem
25-30 g. of sugar or adjust to taste
Put all the ingredients into a teapot that has been rinsed with boiling water. Cover ingredients with boiling water and allow to brew 3-5 minutes. Stir once or twice only, then pour one glass of liquid into glass. Return this glassful to the pot. Now pour glasses of tea and garnish with fresh mint leaves, if required. Try to pour the tea into the glass from as high a point as possible as this will ‘aerate’ the tea and allow the delicious aroma to permeate the entire room.
Kasbah Erg Chebbi
On our last night in the desert we treated ourselves to a fairly touristic but fantastic camel trek into Erg Chebbi to a small oasis a few kilometres in. The Erg (basically an area covered by sand dunes) is about 20km long and 8km wide, which is tiny compared to some of those in Algeria, and is surrounded by "black desert" which is essentially flat sandy terrain scattered with black volcanic stone.
The desert is covered with camel shit, which is a dry, nugget like veriety. I imagine if ever lost in the desert, one need only find the inevitable trail of shit to find your way back to civilization.
Zhenia's camel had a serious attitude and spat in her face. Like all camels in Morocco, this one was called Jimi Hendrix and was also the leader, presumably because of it's prolific production of brown nuggets making a trail for the others to follow.
Here's me on the highest dune.
Zhenia didn't climb to the top because she'd created a new olympic "sport" she called "turban waving".
After the camel trek we are offered mint tea and tajine for dinner in the Berber tent under the starry sky.