Monday, July 25, 2016

Europe Trip 2016 ~ Ukraine

Ukraine was brilliant!

I spent two weeks between a small town named Malyn about two hours outside Kyiv, a few days actually in Kyiv, and a few more days in Lviv in the south western region.

Malyn was nice for a respite from the bustling cities I've been touring. It was a very small city with a lake and a town square basically. Families would go to the dam to play in the water or fish or ride bikes. The town square was a meeting for all the buses. Malyn is an old city that hasn't been rebuilt. The buildings destroyed or rundown are still in states of decay. Lots are overgrown and sidewalks are uncobbled. But there is an old charm to be had. The people were helpful, friendly, and smiling! None of them spoke English so I was fortunate to have a translator with me :)

One of my favorite encounters was with a shoe repairman. My heels were coming badly apart and I didn't want to fix them in Hungary or Austria, so I had waited till Ukraine. One morning, my friend and I went to the town bazaar and the shoe repair guy. What a trip he was! A row of gold teeth on the top, skull belt buckle and rings, tattoos everywhere and wild unkempt hair. But he was grinning and happy and helpful and when he found out I was American, he wanted to repair my shoes for free since I was the first American he'd encountered. He wanted me to bring him back so he could repair shoes in America!

My new friend, the shoe repair man in Malyn.
I don't have many pictures from my time in Malyn. Mostly I went to doctors to get check ups that I could now afford and had the first experience ever of a dentist telling me my teeth were perfect. They didn't need cleaned!! (I haven't had a teeth cleaning in over a year so I'm going to get a second opinion on that). At the end of my time in Malyn I recorded a couple of videos with my new friend, pianist and sister. You can watch them here and if you know anyone interested in hiring us, please send them our way!

After Malyn I took a small vacation to Kyiv to see the sights. Kyiv is a great city and very large. I hadn't been in a city so big since leaving the US. I'd been learning Ukrainian while I was in Malyn so I got to put it to good practice as I took buses and trains around the city (it was far too large to walk).

Independence Square

My new favorite costume!!

Panorama of a very small part of Kyiv

Dreaming of the ocean.

Panorama looking over the Dnieper.

Statue of the Motherland
A life size scale of a mammoth bone hut at the Natural History Museum.

After Kyiv, three of us trekked to Lviv for a mini holiday; my friend, pianist and sister, Nataliia and a dancer friend, Richard.

It rained or was cloudy and cold the whole time we were there. Didn't enjoy that but the city was lovely. Walked around and around and around as Lviv is much much smaller than Kyiv. It's similar in size to what I am used to for European cities.

I wasn't hungry or I would have totally tried the black bun burger.
The third one is green, although it's hard to see in the picture.

This elderly lady stopped by the statue for a moment to cross herself and pay homage. It was a touching photo.

Nataliia's new "baby"...a 5 month old puppy at the string instrument shop.
The opera house in Lviv. No opera was playing while we were there so
we didn't get to see a performance, but the hall was beautiful.

We went to a cat cafe. Unlike Japan, the cats and human food are in the same place.
Nataliia had a very interested party in her food choices lol!!

Reaching for her share of Nataliia's plate.

I have so many more cat pictures but I'll refrain from posting them 
all in the blog and make an album separately. 
Some fabulous shots, funny, beautiful, and downright laughable.
I finally got to see an organ concert. Was disappointed when it was electric,
but it was a nice program. No, I did not use flash to take the picture.
Found a statue platform with no statue so naturally....

What a grand time was had in Lviv!!!
Despite the weather in Lviv, I had a grand time and I look forward to my next trip to Ukraine. Besides, I had just started getting the language down so I can't stay away too long or I'll forget everything!

I'll write soon of my following adventures in Krakow Poland. 

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Europe Trip 2016 ~ Vienna and Budapest

It was sad leaving Prague. The last time I was in Vienna a decade ago, the place left no positive impression on me. That impression hasn't changed. I spent 5 days in Vienna and it was 5 days longer than I liked. It's a city of grandeur and beauty it's true. But I find no inspiration, no love, no life there. It's so uninspiring to me I never even had the urge to take out my camera as I walked the city streets past large courtyards and awe inspiring castles/palaces and towering monuments. None of them called to me. It was like seeing everything in a 2 dimensional way. I can't explain it really. All that to say, I spent a day walking with no pictures to take and found some Korean food to comfort me :)  I hunted for a place to busk but found nothing.

Korean food under the Strauss statue. 

The second day I again tried but fell short and as I was wandering the streets, for the very first time this entire trip, my bed and Netflix sounded more enticing than walking the city. So I did just that. (Now I'm all caught up on Game of Thrones!)  The next two days were spent rehearsing and recording with a pianist so I was busy and happily occupied doing something I enjoy.

Found a "walk of fame" star worth noting!! lol

I didn't like the Viennese food so I found a creperie that also made green smoothies and enjoyed eating there one meal everyday . I also found a "pay as you wish" Pakistani restaurant about a half hour walk away that was tasty so I was happy to have a cheap meal since I didn't eat very much so I didn't pay very much and in Vienna, that was a blessing!!!

One evening while I was sitting in a park with my violin on my back, a rarely encountered nice Viennese person, rode up on a bicycle and asked in German, where I was performing. I said, I don't speak German so he pulled out a tiny English/German translator book and sat down on the bench next to me. We chatted for almost half an hour through the translator book before he said he must go. I learned he was born in Vienna and has lived there his whole life. He's not happy so many immigrants are moving to his country and he loves music very much! Unfortunately, my usual occurrences with the Viennese were them cutting in line and being unhelpful or just plain rude. The people that were really nice and helpful to me in Vienna lived there, but were not from Vienna. They were from South America, Egypt, Japan, Spain, and other countries.

I did have fun the second to last day I was in Vienna. I walked an hour and half to the Danube and was starving by the time I got there so I bought the only food I could find nearby, an overpriced hot dog with mustard, and it was so terrible I ate about 3 bites and threw the rest away. But I saw some kids jumping on trampolines on the Danube so I went to inquire of the cost and for 3 Euros, I jumped for 10 minutes on the Danube River. Not everyone can say they've done that on the Danube!! :)

It's clear I was having no fun at all!!

I was so exhausted after walking and jumping and barely eating I decided to ride a bicycle back. There is a bike service in Vienna where you pay 1 Euro to register and then the first hour is free. So I rode about 40 minutes back to the hostel for 1 Euro, showered, and went to the Opera House for Don Pasquale.

The Citi Bikes in Vienna.

Purchased a box seat for 13 Euros thinking I had got a steal of a last minute deal, but soon realized when I got there, they were cheap because you can't see. Ah well. I stood up and peered out for about half of the opera and sat down reading the English subscripts in the box and listening for the other half. Now I can say I've been to the opera in Vienna.

I took this pictures leaning over the railing. My seat was a row back in the box though so I couldn't actually see half the pit if I sat down.

Got there early so the theater was mostly empty and I could take pictures from the front of the box.
A view from the entrance door, through the coat room/vanity area into the box seats.

Posing outside the opera hall after the concert. Yes, I wore my Vibrams to the opera because I walked there and didn't have a purse large enough to carry heels in it with me.

Then I had one last day before traveling to Budapest. I spent that day half walking the Schönbrunn Palace grounds and I was finally inspired by the little creatures running about, to take out my camera, as opposed to my phone, for the first time in Vienna and take a picture. I enjoyed the few hours I spent wandering the castle grounds mostly because there were so many small trails leading off into the woods I was able to get away from the tourists and just be in nature. 

Panorama of the front of the Palace grounds.

Had to get the real camera out to take pictures of these cuties!!
The roses were in full bloom. I came at the right time!

There were gorgeous flower displays all over the castle main courtyard.

To give a perspective on the vastness of the castle and grounds. Took the picture at the top of the hill toward the edge of the grounds looking back toward the main house and the rest of Vienna.

One of the empty trails in the palace woods.

Then it was time to leave for Budapest. I got my tickets and accidentally ended up in the wrong station. After all my travels, you'd think I wouldn't make silly mistakes like that, but I do every now and then. Luckily, it was not an expensive bus ticket and it wasn't the last for the day because even though I was arriving a half hour early, when I realized I was at the wrong place, I didn't have time to go to the right one and was able to purchase a second ticket for a couple of hours later. Spent the time waiting at the correct place talking with a friendly lady from Belgrade Serbia. And it worked out upon arrival in Budapest because I got there late enough, my host picked me up instead of me taking public transportation. It was a win in the end!

However, I learned not to take Flixbus. Their ticket online says I can change my reservation, but I couldn't. I had to cancel it and pay again. Their website says the bus has outlets, free beverages, and free wifi. It didn't have any of those. The bus also wouldn't let me bring my book bag on with my violin and refused me service when I made it clear I would not put my violin under the bus. Luckily, it didn't have a weight limit on a suitcase so I stuffed and then sat on my suitcase to close it with my book bag inside. Lesson learned: Flixbus is not worth the direct route. Take RegioJet instead. And you can reserve your seat! And you get free drinks! And you get free movies and games in front of you! And they don't hassle you about a book bag and violin going on board! And they're cheaper!! I've taken RegioJet twice and so far they win both times to the Flixbus ordeal. I will say the driver of the Flixbus did help me zip up my suitcase when I had to try to force my book bag into it. That was very kind.

I did get to Budapest, oh Budapest. I had no real expectation but was still disappointed. The only way I can describe the feeling of the 5 days I spent there was like being in a cleaner and less populated India. I was stared at up and down by the men and when I would look directly at them and smile to try to be friendly they just scowled back. I can only remember two men half grinning back at me. The women weren't much better. A few more smiled and the older ones actually did smile at me, but most just stared and gawked with no shame whatsoever. Seriously, I don't look that out of place in Budapest. I also found that the locals in Budapest were even less helpful than the ones in Vienna. And it wasn't just me noticing. I had other aliens confess this observation with no prompting from me and even go one step further telling me not to trust them or do business with them. It wasn't just one alien living in Budapest that told me. It was three separate people and three separate occasions at which times I never brought up nor indicated any displeasure in the city. It was an odd thing.

Budapest is a lovely city though. The first day I spent on a couch on the computer working. But the second day I walked all around Buda; up and down the Palace, up and down the Citadel, back and forth along the river and then returned to my host's flat near Margaret Island on the Pest side. The river was gorgeous and I enjoyed climbing up and down the varying stairways. Watching the sun set from the Citadel was relaxing and enjoyable. The second day I walked around Pest, visiting the Opera House, the Liszt Academy, Hero's Square, the Fisherman's Bastion, the oldest subway system in Europe, and searching all day desperately for a green smoothie but finding none :(  I did meet a kind gentleman from London while eating lunch at a Mediterranean restaurant (the only veggies I could find). We talked for quite some time and he shared a lot of interesting information about Budapest with me, including the history of the subway system.

On my way home, I stopped by the train station and did some research for luggage storing and ticket purchasing the next day. Then the next morning I left very early from the flat, dropped my luggage at the train station and walked to Parliament where I was a very close witness to the flag raising for the day.

Then I stopped by the Ronald Reagan monument before heading to breakfast with the London gentleman. We enjoyed another hour of conversation and he helped me get the right ticket for the metro and bus to the hostel that night before going off for the day. Afterwards, I parked myself on a bench and reflected for about an hour until I decided to try once again to get a green smoothie. This time I was finally successful!

The place mat pretty much sums up my happiness right there :-)

It wasn't very tasty, but my body was happy nonetheless with all the goodness I was finally providing. It was late enough in the day I was able to retrieve my luggage and make my way to the hostel for the night. I was moving from the city center which had been convenient for sight seeing, near the airport since I had an early flight the next morning.

The hostel was splendid and if it wasn't so far away (about a 45-50 minute bus ride) from the city, I'd highly recommend it. But unless you have a car it's inconvenient. However, it was exactly what I needed that night. I asked for a recommendation for a Hungarian restaurant and enjoyed delicious bean goulash, fresh bread and Hungarian beer that night. It was really tasty!

Homemade goulash with fresh bread and local beer makes the work disappear!!

The view from my dinner spot at the hostel. Hadn't seen one of these tv's for a while haha!
The next morning I was out the door by 5:45 a.m., yes, really. Waited a half hour in line to check my bags because unfortunately, priority boarding doesn't skip that line apparently. I had already checked in online, but the check in line and baggage drop lines are the same :(  When I purchased my tickets I paid a bit extra for a fast pass through security screening because I had no idea how busy the airport would be and I'm not a morning person so I wasn't sure how early I'd be. My money went to insure there were only three people ahead of me in the security line! So I breezed right through, shoes on, and toiletries in the bag (completely forgot to take them out) and sat down for a superfood blueberry smoothie for breakfast. When it was time to check the gate again (it wasn't posted for another 20 minutes when I went through security), it said the plane was boarding!!!

Walking through a cage to the old school boarding system.

Yikes!!!  So I quickly walked toward the gates. Passport screening again but no line there so I swept through to more gates. Scanned my boarding pass to be let through to still more gates and then showed my ticket to yet another officer to get to my gate. Checked in at the gate and realized they weren't actually boarding, just lining up to board. They took a tape measure out and measured my violin case and said it was just exactly the measurement they would allow (I had double checked on their website that violins were accepted as a large cabin bag already) so I escaped that scene, waited about 5 minutes in line and then boarded the plane priority! I was so tired that I remember hearing part of the stewardess speech while rolling up my jacket to make a pillow, leaning over to the window, and then waking up an hour and a half later. Oops, I had totally planned on getting some air shots of Budapest. Can't say I have any special inkling to go back to Budapest. If I do, they have a water park I'm interested in, and a labyrinth under the castle that is curious, but I'd rather go with friends next time.

Now for at least two if not more weeks in the Ukraine! Can't wait!!!!

Pre flight sleepy smile heading toward Kyiv!