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Posts Tagged ‘Europe’

Gone Caving

In Uncategorized on September 25, 2014 at 1:54 pm

When I first made plans to go to Bulgaria, my friend asked me what I wanted to see while I was there. I wasn’t really sure, so I did some googling and talking to friends and one thing that really became clear was that I needed to go see some caves!

Bulgaria is well known for it’s caves and rock formations. All over the country there are caves to visit, bats to meet and creepy corners to explore. Being an outdoorsy type person I was very excited to explore them all!! So off we went. Bulgaria is an incredible country, sprawling landscapes, from mountains and vineyards to caves and the Black Sea, there is no shortage of beautiful things to see. One of the caves we visited is called the Yagodinska cave and it has an incredible history. Some of the caves you’re allowed to take pictures, this was not one of them however you can see it here on their website:

http://bulgariatravel.org/en/object/370/Yagodinska_peshtera

Bulgaria is somewhere I never really thought to visit until I knew that I had friends who would be there to show me around and I’m so very glad I went. It’s an incredible country full of lovely people and I can’t wait to go back one day!

I have so many more tales from Bulgaria to share, but this one will have to do for now! Check out the Yagodinska cave!! I’ve also included a few pictures from the ‘Wonderful Bridge’ caves. So beautiful!

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The World According to Margit

In Uncategorized on June 30, 2014 at 1:34 am

Called ‘Margaret Island’ by the English speaking word, Margit Island, in Budapest, Hungary, is a magical island of pure awesomeness.

From the ruins of a church and Dominican convent, in use from the 13th to 16th centuries where St. Margaret of Hungary lived, and children now frolic, to a 5.5km running track around the outside, Margit island is spectacular. The island even has its own hotel, zoo, and a recreation area that includes pools, mini golf, workout machines, water slides, trampolines and food service areas. Add to that an athletics complex with diving, soccer and who knows what other facilities.

On a night walk we even discovered a casino! I spent a good chunk of my time in Hungary exploring this amazing island and each time I found something new. On one visit, we marveled at the musical water fountain which features jets of water shooting in the air to the time of the music being played, while various spotlights change color.

My morning runs were ever so much more entertaining here, although they had to be early, as temperatures soared up to the high 30s, even hitting 40 one day (degrees celsius!!) The edges of the island are peppered with sun worshippers working on their tans while small passenger boats and river cruise ships motor slowly alongside.

At night, we stood on Margit Bridge, one of the 9 bridges along the Danube in Budapest. From there you can see the beautiful Chain Bridge and the lights of the Parliament as well as those from the castle district. My dear friend Andi is a wealth of knowledge about Hungarian history and I was eager to learn, asking to hear the stories that went along with each monument, building, or statue.

All in all, I think it’s safe to say that I fell in love with Budapest from my first visit to this wonderful island. I will most certainly be back!!

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Good Morning Italy

In Uncategorized on June 3, 2014 at 6:25 am

I must preface this post by saying that it’s not current even though it says ‘yesterday’ in there as if it’s current. It was current when I wrote it, and I did have every intention of posting it immediately so as to be the kind of blogger who is very up to date with everything. However, as it does, life got in the way and I am now one of those bloggers who is apologizing for the delay and getting around to posting it a week later. In my defense, life is a grand adventure and the first rule of adventures is that they can be very distracting.* That being said, I quite enjoy a cheeky blog post written in first person present so I’m not changing it….I hope you enjoy a small tale of Italy….

As our train gently whirrs through the Italian countryside, I’m overwhelmed with waves of nostalgia as memories from the Legend Europe season come flooding into my brain. Arriving into Milan yesterday was hectic, finding our hostel stressful, and we really just focused on getting ready for today. When we booked the trip, it was hundreds of euros cheaper to fly into Milan, which is why we did, it was really only a stopover point. Arriving to a taxi strike meant lots of wandering, trams, trains, me speaking pieces of broken Italian, and by the time we got to the hostel we didn’t have much interest in exploring the city itself. Sorry Milan, I’m sure you’re lovely, I’ll have to give you another chance next time. We did, however, see a crazy massive cemetery and the beautiful architecture of the train station, so there’s that.

Up this morning at the crack of dawn, still exhausted from the calamity of Amsterdam, we arrived at Milano Centrale and located our train after several delicious Italian coffees (and a tea for Emma, she’s jolly well British that one is). Snuggled in my cosy Trenitalia seat, gazing out the window, I’m feeling particularly thoughtful. I am so excited to experience Venice again and in a whole new way. I can’t wait to see the city anew through the eyes of my friends and to remember old adventures. I think that has been one of my favorite parts of this trip so far, not only seeing new things myself, but watching my friends discover parts of the world that I already love. Their excitement makes me excited all over again, as though I’m seeing things for the first time as well.

That brings us here, to the train, still whirring along. I almost feel as though someone hit the pause button, and I have a small window of time with my thoughts. The girls are sleeping like angels, and the rest of the people in our car are eerily quiet, as if they know I need this time to myself. Looks like I still have time to catch a wee nap before we arrive. Dearest Venice, I can’t wait to see you again!! Ciao!!!!

*The second rule of adventures is to wear layers, because you never know!

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Weekends in Amsterdam

In Uncategorized on June 1, 2014 at 5:50 pm

Amsterdam is a very dynamic city. It has so many different facets and personalities just waiting to be discovered.

Saturday morning I went for a lovely run down by where the cruise ships come in, it definitely made me a touch nostalgic, and it felt strange to be there without the majestic shadow of the Carnival Legend looming in the distance. I love to explore via my morning runs because it feels very unobtrusive. No one suspects early morning runners to be tourists so you really feel like a local. Saturday morning was fairly quiet, people going to work, house boaters enjoying a morning coffee on their open decks. Some dog walkers and other runners exchanged morning greetings with each other.

Saturday night, taking the advice of a bartender close to our hostel, we wandered into a live music bar in the clubbing area of Amsterdam. The band was fabulous and by the time we left the bar, it was packed and so were the streets. Saturday night in Amsterdam is electric. People everywhere all with different agendas but all enjoying themselves. Business people just finishing late dinners, families taking evening walks, club goers just getting started. The later it gets, the more the streets are populated by nightlife enthusiasts eating from boxes of ‘Wok to Walk’, looking for the next party, or just trying to find their hotel rooms. Our hostel, The Flying Pig, was ever entertaining, a haven for free spirits and fellow travelers. There was always someone to share a story and a beverage with, but everyone also did their best to keep the noise to a minimum in the dorms, for those of us who wanted some rest. Our particular dorm slept 32 people, which was definitely entertaining. The girls and I had our own little corner, and in the five nights we spent there we watched dozens of jovial strangers move in and out. We began to feel like old pros, chatting with each new group about their travel plans, or where they had come from. I had a tougher time than some, as I’m a light sleeper at the best of times, and an insomniac at the worst, but it was an adventure and I wouldn’t change it for the world. We met some of the most wonderful people in The Flying Pig, and I highly recommend it.

Sunday morning I went for the same run, but it felt as though I was running in a different city. In the same manner that Saturday night exploded with activity, Sunday morning in Amsterdam was boisterous and lively. Everywhere along the water, families laid out blankets and picnics and little children in bathing suits dipped their toes in the water. Dogs chased frisbees, and moms with strollers chatted to each other. People everywhere loaded up their boats with supplies for the day, preparing for a day on the water. The people of the Netherlands all seemed bound and determined to enjoy their Sunday in the glorious sunshine.

Tourists headed to the Anne Frank haus, or the Van Gogh Museum, took river cruises, and marveled at the beautiful architecture. I think that sometimes in a city with such a revered nightlife, there can be a tendency to forget about the rest of the hours in the day. Amsterdam has so much to offer everyone, no matter what time of day or what your interests are, there is something for you in Amsterdam.

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Paris and the Grevin Wax Museum

In Uncategorized on May 22, 2014 at 9:38 am

The second leg of our epic European adventure took us to glorious Paris!! Having not been to Paris in what feels like eons, I was very excited to return. One thing I’m very very glad we did was purchase the Paris Pass (www.parispass.com). If you haven’t heard of these handy cards, they have them for lots of major cities across the US and Europe and they are very clever. You can purchase them for varying numbers of days and they include your admission to multiple museums and tourist attractions all over the city, as well as metro passes and hop on and off buses. It can even get you discounts at restaurants! We purchased the Paris Pass for two days and really made the most of it. We went through our trusty little books and picked out all the things we really wanted to do. One of those things was the Grevin Wax Museum. I love wax museums but one of the things that always annoys me is that you can never seem to get really good pictures in them and I always want to get right in the action. The Grevin Wax Museum did something I’ve never seen before, it let guests dress up and pose with the wax people!! There were designated spots around the museum where you were provided with props or costumes and allowed to join the show!! My personal favorite was when we donned crowns and capes to join the kings and queens of years gone by. I absolutely loved this chance to ‘interact’ with the wax sculptures and if every wax museum did this, I would be a happy camper for sure!!

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Amazing Moments: Strait of Gibraltar

In Uncategorized on November 23, 2013 at 8:35 pm

The next amazing moment I want to share with you as one of the highlights of the last 7 months is sailing through the Strait of Gibraltar. The first time we did it, it was in the wee hours of the morning and we could only see the headlights of cars and bridge lights. The second time we sailed through it was daylight. It was so amazing to see Europe on one side and Africa on the other. In the daylight we were even able to see the rock of Gibraltar. Magnificent!! This photo makes me remember how far we came and it also reminds me of all the times we gathered together on the open deck to watch for something life-changing.

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Amazing Moments: Trevi Fountain

In Uncategorized on November 21, 2013 at 6:53 pm

As I enjoy my delightful vacation, I’ve been going through all my pictures and remembering all my magnificent adventures. I have been so many amazing places and as I sift through my memories, certain pictures and stories keep coming back again and again as highlights. So I wanted to share some. Today’s photo is from my last day in Rome. The whole day was an amazing experience and the following picture of me tossing a coin into the Trevi fountain just reminds me of it. I can’t not look at this picture without it making me super happy. From the ring I’m wearing that was a gift from my two favorite guests on a Venice sailing to Barcelona, to the smile on my face, to the fountain itself, to the story it reminds me of, everything about this picture will always make my day!

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Firth of Forth and the Forth Bridge

In Uncategorized on September 23, 2013 at 6:00 pm

First of all, yes, that’s quite the mouthful, it took me approximately 4 tries to say ‘Firth of Forth’ in a sentence without sounding completely foolish (I’m still not certain I’ve mastered it). We sailed into the Firth of Forth this morning and it was a very beautiful sight. For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, don’t worry, I didn’t either. The Firth of Forth is a fijord that was formed by the Forth Glacier in the last glacial period. Specifically, it is the estuary (‘firth’) of Scotland’s River Forth, where said river flows into the North Sea. It flows between Fife (north) and West Lothian, Edinburgh, and East Lothian (south). The firth is very important for the conservation of nature. The Isle of May hosts a bird observatory, and the Firth of Forth Islands SPA (Special Protection Area) is a home for over 90,000 breeding seabirds each year!! This is one of the reasons that in 2008, the Firth Ports refused a bid by SPT Marine Services to allow oil transfer between ships. It’s really beautiful here!! Houses and beaches line the shores and the Forth Bridge stands tall and majestic in front of you as you sail in. The bridge itself, of course, has a history all on its own. It is a cantilever railway bridge just to the east of the Forth Road Bridge, about 14 km west from the city of Edinburgh. It was opened in March of 1890 and is 2,528.7 metres long. It connects Scotland’s capital city of Edinburgh with Fife, and took 7 years to complete. It used 10 times as much metal as the Eiffel Tower and 98 men lost their lives during its construction. The bridge was designed by Sir John Fowler and Sir Benjamin Baker. 4 years prior to the beginning of the bridge’s construction, (on Dec 28th 1879) in a violent storm, the first Tay Rail Bridge collapsed as a train passed over it, killing all passengers. It was an unmitigated disaster and because of it, the Forth Bridge was specifically designed to look strong. And strong it does look. What an amazing sight to sail into today, I will never forget it!
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Snapshot from Alesund

In Uncategorized on September 3, 2013 at 7:50 am

I’m on a hop on hop off bus at this very moment in Alesund, Norway!! Alesund is absolutely spectacular. I can’t get enough. I’m told that its possible to start hiking from the tip of Norway all the way to the bottom, stopping to stay in mountain hotels/hostels all the way along. This is something I MUST do!! Put it on the to do list!!

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Berlin and Sachsenhausen

In Uncategorized on August 26, 2013 at 5:50 pm

I know I wrote last week about an impending trip to a concentration camp, however it’s been a bit of a mission. Last cruise I was delighted to be on nights and have the whole day off in Berlin to attend a shore excursion to a concentration camp. The night before Berlin, our safety officer sent out an email that we had a fire safety drill the next morning. Of course I was upset, as I’d been planning this excursion for what felt like eons. It especially annoyed me because in case of a fire on board, my duty is to report to the office and await further instructions. In case of a real fire, at that point we would head to our muster stations or wherever we were needed. In case of a drill, (like this one), all I do is sit in the office until the drill is over, which felt particularly pointless this time when I had the whole day off and now had to stay on board for the drill, hence missing my excursion. However, the safety of our crew and guests is of the utmost importance and at the end of the day, I’m here to work first and foremost so of course, I attended the drill with my best smile on. I was sad to miss my excursion.

Fast forward to this cruise, and due to an inter-office hospitality contest, we have each been rewarded with a 2 hour work day. If course I chose our last Berlin, hoping to go on my excursion this time. The schedule request was granted, the shore excursion was granted and I was over the moon excited. Then, yesterday, and email came through from the safety officer……general emergency drill….Berlin (aka, no one can get off the ship until after the drill, as this one is an all hands on deck type of situation). SERIOUSLY?! It seems as though the universe does not want me to go on this tour. Needless to say, many crew weren’t happy as this is our last Berlin and its a very long day in port, but if you want to make it to Berlin, you need to get the 3 hour train ride started ASAP.
2 hours later, another email came through from the safety officer…..GENERAL EMERGENCY DRILL POSTPONED!!! Pretty sure the whole ship cheered. So my excursion is now back on!! I ran to the shore ex office and did a happy dance.

Which brings us to today. I’m currently on the train to Berlin. The way the shore excursions work in Berlin is that we have a private train just for all our Carnival tours. So each excursion has one car of the train and we all leave together. Needless to say it can be a bit hectic as up to 900 people can be on the train every Berlin. I’m curled up in the corner of my train car, writing this on my iPad and gazing out at the German countryside.

In my train car are two lovely American couples, both of a retirement age, and very lovely people. We’ve been sharing cruising stories and discussing everything from Hurricane Sandy to 9-11. It’s always very interesting to hear other people’s opinions about these kinds of things and its put me in a pensive mood. Our tour today will start with some important German landmarks and then take us to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. This particular camp was not an extermination camp, however thousands of people died there. I’m not entirely certain how I will feel when we get there, but I am certain I will have lots to say on the train ride home.

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We made many stops along the way, I was so fixated on the concentration camp itself that I completely forgot we were seeing anything else. So when we took in multiple German landmarks, such as the Parliament buildings, the Opera house, and the site of the infamous book burning (there is a really cool memorial exhibit in the courtyard there…..four walls of empty bookshelves underneath the sidewalk, visible from a glass hole in the ground) AND got a traditional German lunch, I was extra excited.

After lunch and a visit to Checkpoint Charlie, we headed towards Sachsenhausen. I must say that our tour guide could write a book on German history, she knew EVERYTHING! I learned so much, and she had such an elegant way of speaking. I was very impressed with her.

Sachsenhausen was the second concentration camp that was built, the first two were the ones that all the other camps were modeled after. It was also the location for the training of all the Dead Hat soldiers. The Dead Hats were a faction of the SS that were in charge of guarding the concentration camps. They were also trained in suppression as the Nazis were always afraid that the German public could rise against them. The Dead Hats could be distinguished by the black of their uniforms as well as the skull and crossbones on their hats. Among Sachsenhausen’s prisoners was Stalin’s son, who eventually killed himself by running into the electric fence in the neutral zone.

I have a lot to process right now. This was an incredible experience that I will never forget. The camp itself is quiet, eerily so. As you walk through the gates and see the famous inscription; Arbeit Macht Frei – Work Makes You Free, it takes your breath away. The air is heavy with history. Even the trees seem reluctant to rustle in the breeze, as though it requires extra strength to get them to move.

I’m not even sure that I can fully express how I felt there, but I’m very glad I went. As we were walking through the barracks, we encountered a group of Polish Boy/Girl Scouts. At that moment I very much appreciated the extent to which the German government has gone to in order to preserve these camps, as upsetting or sad as they might be, these are parts of history. They say history is doomed to repeat itself, and the only way we learn from our mistakes is to not forget them. As much as horrible things did happen there, there is a sense of quiet peace around the monuments erected to the fallen and the survivors.

Our guide told us many stories and I saw a great many things, but I don’t necessarily feel the need to repeat them all here. I’m still digesting the experience. There is a film that I’m now eager to see, a foreign film called ‘The Counterfeiters’. Our guide told us about it, it was set in Sachsenhausen. During the war, the prisoners of Sachsenhausen were forced to make many items, such as boots. The boots they were also forced to test, over various rough terrains with 15kg backpacks on. One of their other products was counterfeit bills. One of the prisoners was a master counterfeiter and he along with his team, reproduced many different types of currency in the camp. The film is based on their story.

All in all, I had a day I will never forget, and saw things Ive always wanted to see. My perspective on the world is forever altered.

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