A Travellerspoint blog

November 2009

Week 34, 17.Oct.09 - 23.Oct.09

Budapest, Hungary to Kiev, Ukraine

View Week 34 on rd wrld1yr's travel map.

Sturovo, Slovakia
Well, not exactly where I thought I'd be making my end-of-day journal entry, but here I am in small town Sturovo, southern border town in Slovakia! Started another crappy rainy and cold morning (something like 3 consecutive days?!?) back in Budapest, and I head over to the bus "station" (stand) in the north part of the city next to the 2nd to-last metro stop. After struggling to figure out where the station actually was (come to find out it is just the stand) and how to buy my ticket in the vending machine, got on the local city bus (a bit odd to travel to a different city?) which departed onto Visegrad. Arrived at the stop for the Kiralyi Palota (Royal Palace), with an impressive history spanning different periods of construction from the early 14th c. to late 15th c.

Wandering around and really enjoying the artifacts and grounds practically to myself (there are some advantages for traveling Central Europe this time of year),

then I open the door to a room filled with about 100 people donning these black robes with red crests. Candles and incense burning with some weird music playing, and they all stop talking to look at me (I guess they figured out I wasn't part of their cult since I didn't have my black robe with me??), I felt like Tom Cruise in "Eyes Wide Shut"... all that was missing were masks and the leader asking me, "What is the password?" ("Fidelio!")

After backing my way out of the room, figured I had enough surprises in the palace so went out to the road to catch the next bus continuing on to Esztergom up at the border w/ Slovakia. Well, arriving in Esztergom found no one working in their bus "station" for information on a connecting bus to Bratislava, nor was anyone around who spoke a lick of English! So I'm wandering around the town trying to find maybe the train station, and along the way see a tourist map sign on the street and see there is a bridge crossing the Danube River over to Sturovo in Slovakia, so I figured I may have better luck there, so over I hoofed it!

Well, there were no more people speaking English here either, but I made my way over to the bus "station", and am I reading this correctly... only 2 buses/day to Bratislava at 06:05 and 07:15?? Crap. So I wander around and ask in Slovak, "Vlakova stanica?", for the train station to see if there are more options, but walking along in the direction people are pointing for about 20 minutes (uh, what town is the station in??), finally said "forget it", walked back toward the bus station and found a penzion (room) for the night. Unfortunately it didn't seem there is much going on here in Sturovo for Saturday night!

Trencin, Slovakia
About to call it a night, after a long long day that started at 05:00 back in Sturovo. Got up for that 06:05 bus (not gonna be stuck in Sturovo another day!) and arrived in Bratislava around 09:00. Got online to shoot my friend Rado an email about meeting up this evening, then off to see the sites - Bratislava is definitely a compact and smallish capital city, so it didn't take all that long! Wandered around the pedestrian-friendly Old Town with their popular statues in interesting poses scattered around,

and over to St. Martin's Cathedral with its impressive looks, and even more impressive history - all 11 ruling monarchs being crowned here between the 16th and 19th centuries. Pretty cool!

Paused for views of the curious looking Novy Most, New Bridge, and understand now the appropriately nicknamed "UFO Bridge",

en route to Bratislava Castle to wander around (the parts that weren't under reconstruction, that is).

Back down along the Danube stopped off to tour the National Gallery - really nice paintings and sculptures,

then over to the National Museum. The top floors (where you always start at with European museums) were displaying Natural History, stuffed animals and fossils from all over the world, which isn't what I care to see in the Slovakian National Museum!! Finally working my way to the ground floor, the museum redeemed itself with cool interactive displays of the Slovak National Uprising in 1944.

Quick Skype call with the bro and baby niece then back to the station to catch the bus up to Trencin. Very pretty views along the way with castles atop mountains dotting the landscape - awesome! Arrived in Trencin, quaint university town, and greeted at the station by Rado ("Swiss watch guy"), from the days traveling in Oslo over the summer! Really cool guy that took the train down to meet up in Trencin, and found me a penzion next to the station. We first headed out for some authentic Slovakian food - garlic soup and Slovakian dumplings with some kind of ricotta cheese, onions and bacon - perhaps not the best breath once you've eaten, but pretty damn good nonetheless! Since it was his birthday this past Friday we next headed over to "Steps" pub and put back some Slovakian beers and "Slivovica" (national distilled drink made from plums. Uh, tasted like bourbon to me!),

and reliving stories from the overpriced Norwegian days. Rado got on the train back home, and I was going to turn in but decided to head back to Steps for another beer (and the waitress with the long blonde hair had nothing to do with that decision, of course!). Ok, now that I've had plenty to drink after being up for 20 hours, will call it a night!

Kosice, Slovakia
After roaming around in the drizzle for about the past hour, finally found a relatively cheap hotel here in Kosice, Slovakia's Second City - I wasn't about to part with the 220 Euro price at the Hilton, that's for sure! Earlier today back in Trencin I had a relaxing morning roaming around and visiting the highlight of the town, Trencin Castle -

really interesting history dating from the 14th c. Hopped on the train for the 5 hr ride past the northern Tatra Mountains covered with snow (and plenty of snow on the ground below, for that matter -- eep!), and east to Kosice. The hostel listed in my guidebook doesn't exist according to the local I asked, hence the wild search for a reasonably priced hotel!

I've just boarded the overnight train to Lviv, but it has been a bit confusing so far -- I asked yesterday when I arrived here for the schedule and fare for this train, and was told 20:32 departure, cost 33.58 Euro. So arriving at the station ticket booth a bit ago, was surprised when the person told me cost 19.58 Euro (Blue Light special) - I even asked her to confirm, showing her the price I was quoted yesterday, but she said "no", so OK then! Well, when the time chart for trains arriving/departing showed the track # and I went out to the tracks, something weird was going on with the train cars getting switched or something. An older lady offered to help me by looking at my ticket, and telling me to wait for the other cars, which show up and get connected to the train (sleeper cars, as it turns out). Well, when I tried to board was denied b/c the lady sold me a damn third-class ticket, and was told to go to the car with the seats! Well, I figure I'll make the best of it and get out my beach towel for a blanket, but the ticket-checker man just came in and told me I have to change trains in 2 hours - great, not this crap again! Well, anyway - earlier today had a good time exploring Kosice - visited the fantastic gothic St. Elizabeth Cathedral & adjacent St. Michael's Chapel, both dating from the 14th c.

Passed by the city's (and Europe's) first Coat of Arms from 1369,

then past the 14th c. Urban's Tower (decided to skip the cheesy wax museum inside) to the baroque sculpture Immaculata, built as a thanksgiving for the end of the plague epidemic during 1720-1723.

Stopped by what I thought was the East Slovakian museum (which turned out to be closed for reconstruction), but wound up across the street at the incredibly lame Natural History museum. Rest of the day relaxed in a coffee shop, inside away from the constant drizzle (blah!). Well, in about 1 hour I'll hopefully be told where to transfer!

Lviv, Ukraine
About to turn-in early here in Lviv, and although I'd love to head out and see the nightlife here, I'm in need of making up some sleep. After surviving the connecting train some 4 hours waiting in the freezing cold station at the border in Ukraine, got a couple hours sleep then arrived here in Lviv. Met an English guy Edward at the train station who was visiting Lviv for the day en route to Odessa. He just so happened was on the same train as me last night (originating from Vienna) and let me know that, oh yeah, btw - the train was right there at the station the whole time for those 4 hours last night, they need to change the wheels b/c of different tracks entering Ukraine - so I could have been asleep inside the warm train. Well, that's fantastic to know. Anyway, he's studying Russian & Ukrainian languages and went along with me to help find the tourist office folks, which were really helpful with finding this hostel (giving me about 5 options to choose from, and loading me up with maps - really helpful!). Since Edward had been here to Lviv a few times before he offered to show me around a bit - first stop was to Puzata Khata, a cafeteria-style restaurant serving up some awesome borsch and chicken Kiev! Then roamed around the Old Town center - very "European" feel, not at all the Soviet-style I anticipated from Ukraine.

Stopped by the 14th c. Armenian Cathedral, then over to Lychakiv cemetary - actually really beautiful place with a mix between very elaborate to plain & simple tombstones and crypts.

Returned for dinner to Puzata Khata, bid farewell to Edward now crashing!

Got my bed made up and ready to take off on the overnight train to Kiev. It must be 90 degrees F in this cabin - but I'm not complaining (yet), b/c outside is damn cold! So I'm hoping for no dramatic train changes/connections on this ride - but we'll see. Nice day today, day #2 roaming around Lviv - really like this city! Wandered in and out of some cathedrals,

and by some impressive monuments - but I had no idea what any of them were, all the signs being in cyrillic and no info in my guidebook.

So I went back to the tourist info office and asked the girl working to look through my photos and name the sites for me - really, the most helpful tourist office I've ever visited! Had a coffee and people (women) watched at a cafe, now we're rolling out to Kiev!

Kiev, Ukraine
I'm about to head over and grab my pack left in storage back in Kiev's main train station and go meet Alex, local guy who I met through CouchSurfing website that is letting me stay in his apartment this weekend. This will be my first time CouchSurfing, I feel a little weird being invited into a stranger's home to stay for free, but think the idea overall is great (of course, whenever I settle back down with my own house/apartment, the idea is I would also allow travelers to stay at my place). So after a (pleasantly) undramatic train ride from Lviv overnight, spent some time this morning in a cafe with wifi so I could do some researching on day trips from Kiev. I then headed out to wander around - not too cold, and fortunately no rain! Went to see the Golden Gate from 1037 AD, original entrance to the Old Kiev (and actually open for tours - for once a site under reconstruction listed in my guidebook has been finished!).

Kept walking up the main avenue Vul Volodymyrska with really beautiful buildings and monuments,

then stopped to visit the impressive cathedrals along the way - St. Sophia's from 1017,

St. Michael's Monastery and the 1754 St. Andrew's Church, with its wonderful velvet, Christmas tree ornament-looking crown rooftop.

Finished up strolling down the craft/souvenir-lined winding Andriyivsky Uzviz pedestrian roadway - really cool looking city so far!

Posted by rd wrld1yr 09:07 Comments (0)

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