Korcula to Dubrovnik

We got up early, packed, checked out of our Sobe and left our stuff in the car. We headed down to get the 7:20AM Ferry over to Korkula. After finding the ‘people’ ferry (after going to the ‘car’ ferry instead), we got on board. The ferry was full of kids who head to the island everyday for highschool. They must have elementary in the Orebic, but a central high school for several islands.

After about a 30 minute boat ride from Orebic Harbor, we arrived at Korcula. It was a walled, fort city on a small island. The island was lovely. It was supposedly the birthplace of Marco Polo (although there are questions about that, the island of course advertises the link). After we disembarked, there was a small open air market in a square selling fruits and vegetables. This vendor tried to force Sheri to try the grapes she was selling, but Sheri would have no part of it :).

We walked around the city. We climbed the Great Land Gate, which is an impresive staircase leading into Old Town. We strolled along the cobblestone streets. We visited a lovely church, St. Mark’s Cathedral with statues of Adam and Eve out front. We roamed through the walled town, and soaked in the early morning life of a little town.

We had coffee and cocoa and cherry struedal at a small coffee shop. We sat and read and people watched. It was nice and relaxing after traveling so much in the last few days. We strolled around the small community and visited its different shops.

We had lunch at Konoba Gajeto. Sheri had the pancakes (crepes) with cheese and scampi, and I had the AnglerFish in white wine sauce with handmade pasta (another recommendation from Frommers).

After lunch, we took the ferry back to Orebic and jumped in the car to head to Dubrovnik. We stopped in Ston to buy a bottle of Grk, which was their LAST bottle (a supposedly special white wine grape only found in the area) after they had had almost a case the day before.

After about an hour, we drove into Dubrovnik, a harbor port (where a lot of cruise ships go). After some circuitous travel through the city, we finally found a spot and parked. We walked down a LOT of stairs to get into the Old Town of the city. We found the tourist office, and asked the guy behind the counter if he could find us a room. He said he thought a room in a GREAT Sobe might be available. He called the owner who came down and met us. It was the owner of Villa Ragusa, actually we found out later it is one of the Sobes that had been suggested in the Rick Steve’s Travel Guide. He walked us through the cobblestone streets and up the stairs through the narrow sidestreets to the place. The stone building was over 600 years old; however, the owner had spent a lot of timing renovating it after the war. It was definitely a high-class Sobe with an attached bathroom, TV (with multiple English speaking channels), and air conditioning.

He told us where to park (for free for the night); we did the long walk back to the car just before the parking receipt expired. We moved the car farther from the city (but in a free parking spot), walked back to the Sobe with our bags, dropped them off, and decided to tour the town. The city walls surrounding the city were closing (everyone supposedly needs to leave the wall by 6:30PM), so we would have to hold off until tomorrow morning to walk the famous walls of the city. We decided to tour the city itself, look for souvenirs, and a place to eat dinner. The cobblestone marble pathways were somewhat shiny, not reflective of the age of city (founded in the 7th century). As the sun set, the sky was full of swallows looking for a place to roost in the rooftop churches of the city. After looking at the menus of several restaurants, we ended up at Arka. Sheri had baked lasagne in meat sauce while I had Fried Calamari (which was tender and lightly breaded). Both were very good.

We spent a little time catching up on our blogging at an internet cafe, and then went back through the town. We went to the “Troubadour” where there is live jazz every night, but it was too crowded and no place to sit. Thus, we went around the corner to the Hemingway Bar, which had two rows of wicker chairs which faced the passing crowd. Sheri had wine, and I had a Havana Libre with Cuban Rum–the rum was SOOOOOOO good.

We sat and people-watched and drank our drinks as the music played on. After relaxing, we finally picked up our backpack and headed back to our room.

Pelješac Peninsula

From Markaska, we made our way south, towards the Pelješac Peninsula – home of Croatian wines – namely, Plavac Mali, cousin of Zinfandel. We left the soba very early in the morning. Just past the exit for Sarajevo… I saw a cop on the side of the road. A bunch of cars had just taken the exit, so I had accelerated a bit… apparently too much. They got me on radar. Dammit! They don’t pull people over by coming up behind them, lights flashing. They just stand on the side of the road, one cop with a radar gun on the other side of the road, and one with a little wand with a red reflector on it. He waved it out to me.

The speed limit was 70kph (43 mph), their radar said I was going 84kph (52mph). On an expressway. Hmph. It was a 50-dollar fine, paid in cash right there, after I showed my passport. I even got a souveneir receipt. Who knows how legit it was, they just came up with the fine amount right there.
We went on our way again and finally got to the Pelješac Peninsula. Mali Ston and Ston are the first two teeny towns on the Peninsula and are really interesting, at least for a quick peek and stroll around.

In Ston, we found a wine shop (Wine Shop Tir) that gave us a map and pointers on which wineries to go to. We had lunch there in Ston at a little cafe – spaghetti Milanese for me, black risotto for Larry. It was good – there’s a huge Italian influence in the area, and it seems to get stronger the further South you go.

The first winery we came to was Milos. It didn’t look like a winery, it looked like someone’s house. But there was a sign outside, and when we poked our head in to what looked like a tasting room and said hello, someone from the house heard us and came down. The winemaker makes a Plavac Mali as well as some dessert wines, but he only had the Plavac to taste. It wasn’t that great, so we thanked him and were on our way. We decided to skip some of the other wineries and go straight to Grgic and the Dingač region.

We found Grgic with relative ease – it’s the Croation branch of the popular Grgich Hills winery in Napa – Mike Grgic is Croatian and was involved in the seach for Zinfandel’s heritage. We only tried the Plavac. It was excellent, and we bought a bottle.

We continued along the peninsula to the Dingač, where we found the second winery we were looking for. No signs, and it’s located in a small village. It looked like a relatively large operation, and they have a regular tasting room. We tried several reds and ended up buying one. We liked them all.

We finally arrived in Orebic in early afternoon, and drove around a bit. We finally decided to go to a travel agency to find a sobe. They were quite helpful, and found us a place on a small street, fairly close to the water. The owners were nice – older people who didn’t speak much English, and the place had kind of a funny smell. But we had our own bathroom across the hall again. It wasn’t super fancy but it would do.

Orebic is a nice town. It’s right on the water, and there are narrow stone streets that run perpendicular to the shore. We immediately changed into our swim suits and walked up to the main road in search of beach towels. We hung out at the beach for a while. Well, really, we hung out on the rocks next to the water. I wouldn’t call it a beach – very rocky. There are concrete piers that people hang out on, and later in the afternoon we finally found a free one. We put our legs in the water – it felt nice, but we didn’t go in.

After we hung out on the beach for a while, we went to Beach Bar Amphora for drinks. It’s right on the water and there was a nice sunset.

We checked into ferry times for Korcula for the next day – our timing was a bit off, because we could have taken the car ferry to Korcula and then another car ferry to Dubrovnik from there. But the car ferry to Dubrovnik doesn’t run every day.

We showered and spent an hour at a bar that happened to have Internet access. We had dinner at Cafe Coco, which was quite good. It’s an Italian restaurant, so we both had pizzas. There is a huge Italian influence in Croatia, so along the coast it’s either seafood or Italian.

Karlovac, Plivitce, and Markarska

We got up and decided to do our track workout for the week. After a warmup, we finally found the river, and a great path along the river (thanks again to Sheri’s good research). The weather was great, and it was a refreshing work-out.

We got back to the Hotel Carlstadt just before breakfast ended (again). It was good to be starving after the tempo running. We had the normal meat (ham/turkey), rolls, tea and juice. Then we went back to the room, got ready, and headed to Plivitce National Park.

On the way to the park, we stopped at Splunj. We wanted to stop, just because the name was so amusing. Rick Steves mentioned it as a picturesque town to visit if you had a car. It was similar to Chesky Krumlov; an old town, but with small falls and a river flowing through it. It was really charming, and worth the stop (we wish we could stay for the afternoon).

Hours later, we finally arrived after weaving through the hills of Croatia. We grabbed lunch at the main restaurant in the park. We split the peasant platter: a good mixture steak, hamburger, chicken, pork sausage, potatoes. We then readied ourself for the hike.

We headed for the trails in Plivitce National Park. There were beautiful waterfalls that rival Yosemite’s beauty, mainly from a number standpoint. They were everywhere. The blue water of the lakes was amazing to see. There were a lot of tourists there visiting the best park in Croatia.

We did a long hike through the lakes/waterfalls/hills–a little tiresome after our run in the morning. In the upper part of the park, we took an electric boat across a crystal clear lake. It quietly pulsed through the water. We finally got to one of the shuttle stops, and took a shuttle bus back to the shuttle stop closest to the park entrance. We walked back to our car and headed farther south through Croatia.

We headed for Split. The road became a toll road, and I was doing 140Km+ speeds. We got to Split in a few hours. We had decided to go further down the peninsula (since we were behind in what we wanted to see). Decided to go to Markaska, a town about an hour south of Split.

After another hour of driving through tiny towns on the Adriatic, with homes attached to the cliffs, we finally made it to Markarska. We had decided on a hotel, but when we got there it was overbooked (and full of tourists that had just got off of tourist buses). We then decided to try a Sobe, a “room for rent”. We slipped past the sleazy looking guys asking if we needed a room, and walked back to a Sobe that we had seen a women and man sitting outside of. We walked back, and found out that they had a room for the night.

It was first experience with “renting-a-room”; Sobes are common in this part of Croatia. The owner showed us the room, and it was perfect. We had our own bathroom and a nice balcony. All for $35 a night!

We parked our car, brought in our bags and headed out for dinner. We ended up deciding to share another “Platter Meal”. This time at Jez (which Frommer’s and the Sobe owner had both suggested). It was a mix of several kinds of fishes: 2 Prawns, 2 whole Sea Bass, 2 Grilled Squid, and bunch of mussels. It was WAY more than we could eat, but it was FRESH FISH, a good change from the many meats meals of the last week.

We headed back to the Sobe and hit the sack for the night.

Budapest to Croatia

We decided to go to the market again for our last morning in Budapest. That meant getting up at the crack of dawn so we could be there around when it opened at 6am. I wasn’t happy to get up so early, but I liked seeing the market without a bunch of tourists around. We walked around a bit, and went to the grocery in the basement to buy a bunch of paprika to take home with us (better prices than on the main floor).

We had breakfast at the hotel again, then got on the metro to go to the train station. We had noticed train personnel checking people’s passes at entry and exit points previously. They’re serious about catching cheaters. The tickets need to be self-validated at the entry. Turns out we were validating the wrong end, so we got held up a bit getting that sorted out. After we changed trains, we were leaving to go up to the train station, and we had our tickets checked again – whoops, we should have had another ticket for the transfer, but they didn’t seem too worried about it and let us pass. Coincidentally, we left a book with our extra tickets at the hotel, so we had the tickets, we just didn’t think we’d need them.

We got to the train station with plenty of time to spare for our 8:25am train. No convenient night train available to Ljubljana. No matter, we had a big first-class compartment to ourselves so we could spread our stuff out, nap, and plan a bit for the rest of the trip. We knew we had one floater night in the trip, but we used it in Prague, and knowing we were going to be driving the length of Croatia twice, we needed to have a plan.

Around noon, we realized there was no food on the train. There was a snack cart that went by in the morning, but it was no longer anywhere to be found. We had to go through passport check twice, because we passed through Croatia on our way to Slovenia.

Another snack cart finally came through at 3:30pm and we got the attendant to change some US dollars to Euros for us – we had no Croatian money, no Slovenian money. Just Hungarian Forints. We got a semi-soggy sandwich and chips, at least enough to hold us over.

We saw some beautiful scenery on the way to Ljubljana, especially through Slovenia. Train travel is really the way to go. Once we arrived in Ljubljana, we wandered around a bit trying to find the Hertz office – made more difficult because we had no map, and there was a bunch of road construction going on. We finally found it, a couple of blocks from the train station, and we were soon on our way south, into Croatia.

Our first planned destination was Plitvice National Park. We didn’t think we could make it there before dark (our train arrived a half hour late), so we decided to go south until it got dark, then find a place to stay. Getting out of Ljubljana and on to the highway was simple. The toll roads are big and wide and we were able to use our credit card to pay the tolls.

We eventually ended up off of the expressway, and on a two-lane road that wound its way through villages in Slovenia and Croatia. Again, the Slovenian scenery is just really gorgeous. Everything is extremely green. We enjoyed seeing the villages. No problems getting through border control (our third border crossing of the day).

Once it started getting dark, we found ourselves in Karlovac. We found a hotel right away (with an available room and a parking spot for us), so we were happy. Not the best place, but a place to fall asleep. We got settled and went looking for a hotel on the river that supposedly has excellent food, but it was dark and we didn’t know where we were going, so we just popped into a place that looked busy (Restoran Pod Starimi Kovovi at Radiceva 8 i 10).

The restaurant was odd. Lots of locals gathered around big tables, and the room we were in was brightly lit. There was a conference room next door and there were a bunch of people sitting around a table watching someone give a presentation. We finally figured it out once we looked at Larry’s menu – it was a High School of Commerce and Catering.

We ordered, and the food was good (and cheap). Larry’s salmon steak, potatoes, chard and tomato soup were better than my sole with a creamy shrimp sauce, but the tomato salad was really good. Larry had a Karlovacko beer, make locally.

We walked around a bit and tried to scout out a place to run the next morning. The town has an interesting star-shaped greenbelt at the center, with a path, so we figured that would be a good place. Our Frommer’s book also said the path by the river is popular – if only we could find the river.

Budapest, Day Two

We got up early since this was our “long” run of the week. We headed for Margit Island which Sheri had heard a lot of good things about. We headed along the river to get to the island. It wasn’t that convenient, but we finally made it to the correct bridge.

The weather was great, and Sheri had picked a GREAT place to run. There was a padded asphalt around the island (which was about a 5K loop). I ended up doing my scheduled workout, and then ran an extra loop with Sheri. She was doing better (a little tired, but better). I ended up running more than 13 miles… I am definitely ready for the San Jose Rock-n-Roll Half Marathon.

We headed back to the hotel. It seemed a LOT longer walking back. We wished we had known the trolleys better (since I was ESPECIALLY tired). We got back just as breakfast was ending. We gobbled a roll and a hard boiled egg, and headed back to the room.

We then headed to the Castle. It was an ornate building overlooking the river. We had talked to the front desk and they had given us the correct trolley to get to the castle (we wish we had known earlier). We crossed the ornate Chain Bridge leading to the castle, with it’s great lions gaurding each corner of the bridge. We then took the “furnicular” up to the castle. It was only a few hundred feet, but it saved us a long walk up several pathways, and we had already run several hours in the morning.

We then went into the Budapest Wine Festival which was being held at the castle. It was their 15th anniversary of the event. When Sheri had found out it was happening when we were going to be in Budapest, it became a MUST see. We paid to get in, got a glass, and some tickets and started tasting. Sheri had bought a book the previous day which was immensely helpful. We narrowed down the wineries we would go to. We found that we loved Tokaij Wines (which we had had before at Limerick Lane in Sonoma Valley, the only producer of the wine in the US). We talked a long time to the Winemakers/Owners (who mainly spoke English). We ended up buying several bottles (hoping to be able to drag them with us through Europe and back to the US). It was a great afternoon, with the amazing surroundings of the castle.

We finally headed back to the hotel exhausted. We collapsed. I woke up (Sheri was still asleep) and headed out to pick up the Amex Card (that I had left at Soul Restaurant the night before), and to do some internet work (Sunnyvale City Charter questions). I finally headed back to the hotel and went to bed.

Budapest, Day One

After leaving Budapest, we settled in for a night on the train. The trains stop quite a bit and last time I woke up every time we stopped. Not this time – we both slept really, really well. We had to wake up twice for border control, since we passed through Slovakia. Our passports are filling up with those choo-choo train stamps.

We arrived in Budapest at 9:30 in the morning, and easily found the metro station. We bought tickets for the day so we didn´t have to deal with it anymore. Actually, we meant to buy two Budapest Cards, which give discounts at museums, etc., but it turns out it´s fine that we didn´t.

We took the metro to the stop near the hotel (Kalvin-Haz), and found it very easily. Great location – right near the big Market Hall! It´s also the largest hotel so far – several floors, an elevator and a big room with a bathtub and hairdryer. We booked ahead of time, while we were in Krakow, so we didn’t have to worry about finding a place to stay.

We showered and went straight off to the Market Hall. It´s one of the cleanest markets we´ve seen anywhere. There´s a basement with a supermarket and most of the fish and pickled vegetable vendors. Street level is meats and chicken and baked goods (and spices, lots of paprika). Upstairs is linens and other consumer goods along with the food. I had a langos, which is a disk of fried dough, topped with cheese and something creamy. Yum. Larry had a cherry strudel.

We made our way to the Jewish Quarter, in search of more healing chicken soup for lunch. Larry had a place picked out (Kádár Étkezde, at VII. Klauzál tér 9) and we found it packed with locals. We had matzo ball soup, and málna szörp, a delicious raspbery soda. Larry had stewed beans with thick, salty ham on top (called solet). After lunch we strolled around a bit, checked out the Jewish Cemetery, then jumped on the metro again to go to the baths.

We decided to go to Széchnyi Baths, which is more popular with locals. It’s a big, yellow domed buiding in the middle of one of the parks. All types of people were there – big, small, old, young, tourists and locals. We had studied the process beforehand so we wouldn’t be totally confused. We bought our tickets – for three hours, the standard time to buy. We rented a changing cabin and changed into our swimsuits – the attendant locked the cabin (actually more like a closet) for us so we could leave our things there.

The facility is a big buiding with an inner courtyard. Outside, in the courtyard, we found three pools – one larger pool just for swimming, and two smaller pools that are warmer. One was warmer than the other. The temperatures are posted. There are also fountains and jets, and everyone just sits around in the pool. People were playing chess and backgammon.

We hung out in the hotter pool for a while, then went to the cooler one. Then we went inside, where we found a series of pools at different temperatures. Most of the inside of the building surrounding the courtyard is pools. We moved from pool to pool, sampling the temperatures. It was very relaxing. Afterwards, we laid out on the concrete and relaxed for a while, and let our swimsuits dry out.

After the baths we were really sleepy. Once we got back to the hotel, I settled in for my daily three-hour nap. Larry slept less, but he still napped.

After the nap, we went out in search of food. We ended up at Soul Cafe, on Ráday Utca – kind of a restaurant row. Fewer tourists than the big pedestrian mall. I had a salad with arugula and parmesan and tomatoes (yum) and Larry had chicken paprika with noodles, which was also very good.

After dinner, it was bedtime. A long, full day. It’s so easy to get to sleep here.

Krakow, Day Three

I woke up several times, but finally got up around 8. Sheri was already awake, and it was pouring rain outside–amazing after the beautiful and hot weather of yesterday. She was feeling better and had wanted to go on her run, but the weather wasn’t allowing her–Poland was working against her plan.

We got ready and packed up (since we were leaving in the evening for Budapest). We went out to breakfast at Cafe Camelot which the Frommer’s message boards had suggested. It had always seemed busy whenever we had passed for the last few days. Sheri had the creamed cottage cheese, radishes and cucumbers (which several Polish women were also having). I had a soft boiled egg and bread. It was a nice European breakfast.

We then went shopping. We found the cookie shop, Ciasteczka z Krakowa, near our hotel, but some of the cookies seemed a day old (we decided to get more at the other shop later). Sheri bought some Polish Pottery at a small store.

We went back to the hotel and checked out (leaving our bags until we could pick them up in the evening before the trainride out). We then took a trip through the Old Town again; the rain was holding off, so the tourists were coming out. We bought some honey (we always seem to pick up honey when we go to different countries). We visit Pope John Paul’s Church again, and then went shopping for jewelry and more cookies (from the better store this time)–the did seem better.

We finally had a chance to visit St. Mary’s Church. It was amazing to see the inside. There was gold everywhere. We entered just after noon, after listening to bugler who plays every hour or so, and fills the square with the mornful sound.

We had a quick lunch at the Polskie Smaki Milk Bar [see Sheri’s Krakow, Day One entry]. I had the turkey and fried red beet roots again–just as good as last time. Sheri tried the pork cutlet, which a LOT of people were having the first day, and the vegetable perogis. The cutlet was very good, but I didn’t like the cheese in the perogis.

After lunch we dropped our purchased goods off at our bags at the hotel. We then headed to the bus stop which would take us to Wieliczka Salt Mines (about 10K from the Old Town; we should have ran there instead). The weather was clearing up, although the wind still added a chill to the afternoon. We found the bus stop and waited for the bus to arrive. The bus, pretty much a van with seats, arrived, and we headed off to Wieliczka. After about 30 minutes in the “bus” we got to the Salt Mines (just in time for the 3PM English Tour). We sat down and waited for the tour to begin. A rude Hungarian man sat down next to Sheri and pushed her over; she was not happy–ANGRY SHERI! :)

Our time for the tour finally began, and after several misstarts of where our group should stand, we finally were off. There were about 60 of us, and the tour guide said privately later that they normally don’t do more than 30 people at a time, so it was a little slow at times (and hard to hear the explanation). We headed down a set of wooden stairs that just kept going down and down and down. It took a good amount of time to get to mine itself whose first level was 80 meters). While waiting, the most amusing exchange was between an American girl and two British guys talking about queueing. Girl: “Why do you call it a ‘queue’, and not just a ‘line’?” Guy: “That’s just what it’s called.” Girl: “But what does it have to do with the ‘Cue’ Ball on a Pool Table?” Guy: “That’s C-U-E, not Q-U-E-U-E.” Dumb Americans :)

We got to the first “stop of interest” and the guide started talking. I don’t know where he had learned his English, maybe it was in Canada, but every few words out of his mouth were “eh”. “Watch eh your eh head eh and eh your eh step eh”. There were multiple people in the crowd trying to keep a straight face, and several giggled. One girl was counting the number of “eh”s, but she lost count there were so many, just at the first stop’s description.

The tour led through the several levels of mines, and the walls were made from salt (although there was a lot of wood to support the ceiling). It was our only Guided Tour so far on the trip, and it was definitely touristy (that why we normally don’t do guided tours, unless we really have to). Some of the sites were interesting: like chandeliers and statues carved out of salt. However, a lot of it was just hoaky: dummies dressed up as miners pretending to be mining or hauling the salt out of the mine. The tour lasted over 2 hours, but it wasn’t our best spent time, by far! The most amazing thing is that we saw only a small percentage of the salt mines and that they had been dug out before the advent of our current machinery. The muscle of man and animal (horse) had created this amazing series of tunnels leading deep within the earth.

When the tour was over, we rushed to the exit, and then waited our turn to get on the elevators back to the surface (going bakc up the 120meters we had walked down). We got to the top, and headed to the bus stop and began our trip back to Krakow. After an uneventful ride, we walked back to the main Old Town square in Old Town and there was an antique market set up. We went in and looked at some amazing antiques, too bad we have to carry everything back… otherwise our home would be full of antiques.

We went to the internet cafe and caught up on the world events (and what is happening back in California). Then we headed to dinner at Restauracja Pod Aniolami (Restaraunt under the Angels). It was a little more upscale than the MilkBars that we had been frequenting. There was a constant influx of people trying to get a table; luckily we had reservations. We had a table right near the big oven where there were cooking all of the many meats. Sheri had the Polish Pork, bacon and baked apples, with potatoes with dill and horseradish. I had the Wild Boar Steak with bacon, potatoes and red cabbage–it was WONDERFUL!. I had two Polish Beers, Zywiec; light, but good. And then we split their `famous` apple pie for dessert.

After dinner we rushed back to the hotel, picked up our bags, and headed along the Plantz to the train station. It was nice and quiet with people lounging on park benches and strolling, while we bustled along with our roll-awaz bags. We found our train and our sleeper car (not as new as the train into Krakow). We settled in, just as the train took off. We were finally on our way to Budapest!

Krakow, Day Two

Sheri had a bad night coughing; she continues to fight her cold, but it seems to be winning. I decided to go out for my run alone. I didn’t feel that good either (she gave me her cold!), but I knew I had to get some running in. I left Sheri sleeping in the room, and headed out to the Planty (the green park surrounding the Old Town of Prague, once a mote). The city was bustling with people heading off to daily jobs.

I passed by Wawel Castle and headed out along the Vistula River. Along the river, they have a nice green zone with a wide paved path, with a separate area for bikers and pedestrians. I was jogging with a good number of others, and there were numerous bikers. It was just an okay run, I was definitely not in my finest form. My energy sapped late in the run, and I was happy it was only an hour run (with additional warmup and cooldown); hopefully this weekend’s run will be better.

I got back to the hotel and Sheri had just gotten up. She was feeling a little better after sleeping in. I showered, and decided to go work on our cash problem was Sheri was getting ready. I went to check with Deutche Bank if they could give me a Visa cash advance without a Visa Pin number. They only referred me to the Bankomat (ATM), but I’ve never withdrawn cash with this card, so I don’t remember if I ever had a pin number.

I went back to the hotel room and called Visa. After a little runaround they transferred me to Visa Traveller Services. I was in Customer Service Outsource HELL. With my Indian-sounding “Juan” trying to collect every bit of my personal information (since Visa won’t give it to them directly; however, if I give it all to them, how does it help prevent my identity theft?). After having to spell each item several times, I asked to speak to his manager. His manager “Maria” was no help; she spoke better english, but it was still painstakingly slow. While I was on the phone, Sheri called American express and got a similar traveller service. However, AMEX conferenced in the validation person, so no long, tortuous transfer of information. I finally cancelled the money request with Visa and said FORGET IT! American Express Traveller Assistance said we could go immediately to Western Union and pick up our money.

Sheri got directions to the Tourist Office where we could get our money. On our way we grabbed some pastries at a baked goods store that we had passed several times and the aroma had always tried to draw us in. This morning, we no longer resisted. We got three marmalade filled pastries and had them at a coffee shop where I had a smoothie (to hopefully help fight the cold).

We found the Tourist Office that American Express had said go to and pick up our Western Union money, but they forwarded us to another office. That office then forwarded us to another tourist office which DID have a Western Union sticker. After Sheri waited to get to the front of the line, they said that the man who handled Western Union transfers wasn’t there, and that she should go the BPH Bank. So… we went to BPH Bank which had a Western Union Office. After trampsing through the Old Town, we finally got to a bank that handled Western Union. We got our cash advance and headed for lunch. We had wasted most of the morning getting money (at least we could now pay our hotel bill).

We then headed back through the main square and southeast to Kazimierz, the Jewish Quarter (about a twenty minute walk out of Old Town). We headed straight to lunch since we hadn’t eaten anything substantial yet that day. We found Restauracja Arka Noego (Noah’s Arc, Ul. Szeroka 2). We decided some good Jewish food to help our colds. We ordered tea (and I also had Orange Juice) and some WONDERFUL Matza Soup (Maca’s Soup) to start. After a bowl of that our sinuses had cleared up, and we were feeling a lot better. We should have just had two bowls each, and our cold might have been gone for good. Sheri also had a vegetable pierogi, which was not exactly what we expected; instead of vegetable pasta balls, this was a thin fried pasta with cheese inside. It was good (especially in the sauce provided), but not exactly what Sheri wanted. I had Smoked Chicken with some fried potatoes, both were wonderful. Sheri finished her meal with some Hot Honey Wine–mulled wine that had been heated up.

We finished and took a tour through the Jewish Quarter. We visited the Jewish Synagogue and cemetary with its gravestones close together. We visited the main market, and there were people selling vegetables and handicrafts. There were multiple Eastern Europeans selling antiques of all sorts (too bad we have to get all of this back home).

We then decided to back to the Old Town. I suggested we walk along the Vistula River since Sheri had missed her morning run. We strolled along the river while people bathed in the sun (Poles enjoying the last of their warm weather), biked and walked along with us. Everyone was enjoying the wonderful afternoon in Krakow.

We made it back to Wawel Castle and decided to take a tour. We viewed the outside of the cathedral which is a mishmash of different architectures built during different eras. We toured the grounds, and I relaxed at one of the 7 chakra points in the world (Hindu belief of 7 chakra points in the body, this was one of Earth’s main energy centers). I relaxed with several others and thought peaceful thoughts.

We then headed inside for a tour of the cathedral itself. It was a baroque, but beautiful interior. There were multiple coffins of saints and heroes, each with some carving on the top and usually some animal carved at their feet (dog, snake, etc.). We climbed the wooden stairs up into the bell tower and had a lovely view over the city.

We exited the cathedral, crossed the grounds and then started down a circular stone stairway to the “Dragon’s Den”. As we decended the air cooled, until we could actually see our breath in the air. We traveled through the caverns under the castle and came out where a iron work of dragon which actually belches out flames (every 15 minutes or so) on the banks of the Vistula River. We headed back into the Old Town and visited some shops. After a quick check on the internet (for blogging and to make sure our Budapest reservations were final) we headed back to the hotel.

We relaxed for a bit, but when it was time to go out for dinner, Sheri wasn’t feeling great. I went out to grab some food and look around town. I had a Kebab at one of the numerous stands that we had passed during the day, and it was great. I found a market, to buy some snacks for the train (but couldnt’ find any cold medicine for Sheri). I walked around the main square people-watching. It was 11PM and the square was full of people still ordering dinner and drinks. The activity seemed even more than it had in the afternoon The full moon lit up the indigo sky, and the flower market open and selling flowers.

I got back to the hotel and Sheri was sound asleep. Another end to a wonderful day in Krakow.

Krakow, Day One

We slept most of the night on the train, except for the main stop at around 2:30 am for customs. Actually, I woke up for every stop. Overall, it was comfortable and we both liked sleeping on the train. During the customs check, we waited at the stop and had the conductor bring us some tea. I was starting to get sick – sore throat, congestion, cough. I almost always get sick when I travel, but usually it’s not until I get back. I was so worn down in the week leading to the trip, though, that the germs won out this time. The tea helped.

The trip was uneventful. The train was very prompt and arrived in Krakow at 5:44am. Early! We didn’t have a hotel reservation and had to wait for the tourist office to open. First, we bought our reservation for the train going from Krakow to Budapest. The train system is really easy, especially with a rail pass.

We decided not to store our luggage, since we packed pretty light and have wheeled suitcases. We wandered through town for quite a while. The streets are narrow and the town is easy to navigate. Lots of cobblestone, very clean, and it was great to see the city early in the morning with no one around. We didn’t find anywhere open for breakfast, but we started looking for a place to stay. No one had availability! We checked five or six places. There was a little place that was really interesting, but they only had one night available. Finally, the tourist office opened at 9, and we were first in line. The tourist office wasn’t super helpful, but at least they found one place that had a room for us the first night. We figured we could book the other place for the second night.

I noticed one other place in our guidebook we hadn’t checked, so we didn’t have the TI office hold a room for us – we headed in that direction, with plans to stop in at Globetroter to see if they had a room. Success! Only a suite, but it was still cheap. And a pretty good location, within the Old Town walls. They held on to our luggage and told us to come back at 2.

I was getting sicker and sicker as the day went on. We found an excellent Internet Cafe (23/3 Rynek Glowny) (and spent some time there catching up on e-mail. Then we decided to use our guidebook to do a self-guided tour of the Royal Way – we did all of it except for Wawel Castle.

We saw the beautiful planty, which is a former moat surrounding the old city. It’s now a park. Most of the old wall around the city is gone. We walked down Florianska Street, the historic and tourist street of the city. St. Mary’s Church is right on the main market square, and it absolutely beautiful. Very ornate. We only stepped in, because they were in the middle of giving communion. A bugler plays from the tower every hour, and there a huge, three-part Gothic altarpiece that opens up every day at 11:45. People line up to see it.

The main market square is really neat. It’s huge, and bustling with people – tourists and locals alike. There are about 20 cafes along the perimeter. There are flower vendors that are there practically 24 hours a day. At the end of thesquare we saw a tiny church, St. Adalbert, the oldest church in Krakow. It was built in the 10th century. This square is one of the places the Poles gathered during Pope John Paul II’ sillness and death.

In the middle of the square is the Cloth Hall, a building housing shops – mostly souvenier shops. We moved on to see St. Francis’ Basilica, where Pope John Paul II was archbishop. A silver plate marks where he used to pray. The stained glass is really pretty in this church – one was modeled after Michaelangelo’s depiction of God in the Sistine Chapel.

Moving along the Royal Way, we passed a gazillion more churches. There are a LOT of churches here. We also walked along the street where many of the clergy live (the Pope also lived here at one time, before he was Pope).

We noticed a lot of kids out on the street – teenagers, mostly. The boys were all carrying fancy canes. Really weird.

We left the last part of the Royal Way, Wawel Castle, for a later time. It was getting close to check-in time, and we were dying for a hot shower and a nap. We chose one of the many Milk Bars in the city, Polskie Smaki (ul. Sw. Tomasza 5), which also happened to be right down the street from our hotel. It’s cafeteria style – go to the counter and order, and they give you some of your food there, and you get a number for the rest. We got tomato soup, turkey stuffed with mushrooms in a gravy, meat pierogis, fried red beetroot and potatoes for $6. The Polish government subsidizes the Milk Bars – a leftover from Communist days. And the food is really terrific. The turkey and the soup were our favorites. Oh, and the beets. Really good beets.

After lunch we went to the hotel and showered and napped until dinner. I was really hurting, in the full throes of my cold, and Larry was still fighting it off but was getting worn down a bit from it. We turned on the TV and found about 3 stations, including the Vatican channel. Everything in Polish, even the American programming. The dubbing is done by one guy (male AND female voices) in a Polish monotone.

Before dinner, we went out in search of a cookie shop we had read about on one of the travel message boards, Ciasteczek z Krakow (at ul. Stradomska 19). First, there are a LOT of bakeries and ice cream shops and cookie stores in this town. Seriously, about every few doors there’s another bakery. And they always seem to have customers. We found the cookie shop and ordered a whole bunch of cookies. By the pound, all small (two bites). It was less than a dollar, and they were super tasty.

We tried going to Pod Aniolami for dinner, which is supposed to be really good, but they were booked for the night. Instead, we had dinner just outside the Planty at Restauracja Jarema (plac Matejki 5). The food was pretty good. Larry had a Lithuanian Pork Chop – breaded with with cheese and mushrooms on top and potato dumplings, and I had turkey breast with a creamy sauce (of course) and apples, and a traditional Polish salad of cucumbers and sour cream. The food here is heavy and rich, to say the least. Larry had a beer he liked – Okacim.

We really enjoyed our first day in Krakow.

Cesky Krumlov

We got up early for our daytrip to Cesky Krumlov. We showered and finished packing (since we were leaving for Krakow tonight). We went down for breakfast and to drop off our bags, but Jiri (George) wasn’t there yet. We gave his phone a call, and he was on his way. He arrived, but no time for breakfast, we gave him our bags and rushed off to the bus station.

We took the subway, and quickly arrived at the station. We grabbed some tea and a pastry and headed for the bus. We had reserved seats. The bus wasn’t comfortable, but at least it was cheap.

The 3 hour journey was relatively uneventful. It was good to see the true suburbs of Prague and then the farmlands as we headed to Cesky Krumlov. We finally arrived at the bus station. It’s at the top of a large hill and after a short walk, we had a lovely panorama view of the town and the castle. There is a lovely river running through the town.

We descended the hill from the train station and it was like walking back in time (with a lot of touristy information around). The cobblestone streets and old buildings were amazing to see. The Baroque homes and the main square were a view into the past of this little town on the river.

We trekked up to the castle and looked around. There is a mote where they now house three bears. Of course, they were all hidden away in their dens. We then payed the fee to climb the Round Tower. These were wide staircases (nothing like Prague’s Powder Tower), and we made it to the top. The beautiful blue sky above the antique city looked like something from a fairy tale. We fought off the hordes of German tourists and went back down the stairs to the castles main square. We purchased tickets to a tour, and then headed back into town for lunch.

We had lunch at Na Louzi Restaurant (suggest by Rick Steve’s). Sheri had pork, cabbage and dumplings, and I had pork, ham, sausage, cabbage and 2 kinds of dumplings. Of course, we had beer again; ounce for ounce beer much cheaper than water (and better too, since there is so much Mineral Water and seltzer water in Europe–you never know what you’re getting). We relaxed at our table in front of the restaurant watching the horse drawn carriages go by, and we decided to skip our tour [so we were out $9].

We then toured the small town–visiting their many antique, handcraft and jewelry shops. Sheri ended up finding a garnet butterfly pin, and I bought a 180 year old garnet necklace for her–it was very delicate and lovely. We saw this kitschy bear cutout that you put your face and hands through–a German tourist was cackling continously, thinking how amusing it was (yeah… REALLY amusing). We also had hot chocolate–well… it was more like melted chocolate in a cup–very tasty.

We then headed back to the castle. The bears were out now. There was a male that paced a lot (a little disturbing to see). There were also two females sleeping and eating–the tourists ate it up. We went farther into the castle and watched the tours go by as we relaxed on the ramparts watching the city life below.

We went back down to the city, and soaked our feet in the Vlatva River (we didn’t have time for the raft ride from one part of town to another). It was very refreshing to our tired feet (still aching from the previous day’s run and touring). We strolled back to the terminal for our bus ride back to Prague. We stopped in a little park along the way and relaxed on the benches. A German Tour came through and invaded our corner of the park. A lady almost sat on Sheri, as she was listening to the guide and not really paying attention to Sheri’s “perosnal space” :)

The bus ride back to Prague was uneventful. We napped and read and watched the countryside. The bus headed back a different way, and we saw the same river that we ran along the day before. All of a sudden tthe tourbus stopped and some people got off. The driver then has to say “Fini” to get the tourists off the bus. The trip back ended up in a different train station. We figured out where we were, and then took the underground back to Guesthouse Lida.

George had waited late for our return, but still he offered us tea and cookies. We graciously accepted the offer for warm tea as the weather had definitely cooled. We finally took our leave, and thanked him and his brother for being such good hosts (we would definitely suggest the place to our friends).

We took the subway back to the bus station. Sheri remembered we needed some special stamp for our passport. But after waiting through the line, the person merely stamped our ticket and said proceed to the platform.

We hadn’t eaten, so Sheri grabbed a sausage and an Orange Fanta (which I had), and I bought a cheese sandwich for the train. We found our platform and the attendant ushered us to our private first class sleeping car. It was nice: bunk beds, and all wood. There was a sink, cabinet, folding seat… definitely the way to travel. We got settled in, and the train rumbled off to Poland.