A Travellerspoint blog

Turkey

Budapest via Berlin to Istanbul!

semi-overcast 10 °C

Hey everybody sorry for this post taking so long to publish again slow internet! Jannelle and I hope that all of our family and friends had a wonderful Christmas and enjoyed your holidays! Only some people celebrate Christmas here. You can buy all the decorations and red Santa suits for yourself and your children but you don't really see them around. All the shops stay open and it feels like any other day. It was 16C degrees outside on the 25th, with no snow and no family around it made us miss you all very much :)

Turkey has so much history that I would need to write a book just to scratch the surface. They have claim to everything from inventing logic and western civilization through the Greeks, to the final resting place of the Virgin Mary. The moniker East meets West in Turkey is true but doesn't do this place justice. The people are a story all in themselves, friendly is a good word to start with but warm might be more accurate. We've been welcomed to Turkey so many times. Anybody who has been to the Middle East can vouch for how friendly the people can be. They want to meet you and get to know your story, and you theirs. If you would buy something in their shop they would greatly welcome that as well. Selling stuff seems more like a game to them then a job. If you buy something they win but if you don't then you win, empty handed mind you. Nothing beats getting ripped of in a Bazaar! Finding out what something actually costs is the best kept secret in Istanbul. You talk them down half the price and you think your doing good till you turn the corner and see the same item and that guys asking price is what you paid the last guy!

I want to describe the prayers that come from the Mosques over the loud speaker four or five times a day. First off this gives you a feeling of being somewhere foreign, which is what your really looking for when your traveling. Secondly it's beautiful and full of life. Most times you are within earshot of at least two Mosques and they seems to compete with each other on who can hold a note or syllable longer. What I really like about it though is how it fills the streets with thoughts of God. I picture them saying something like "All earthly beings please take a moment and give thanks." Maybe its "Hey get your ass in here and be thankful!" Regardless what they say, it reminds you that life is short and that it never hurts to be grateful of all the blessings in your life. Honestly I think the churches at home should do this, bells can't compete with wishing well to your fellow man so loudly that it usually wakes us up.

Well I'm getting ahead of myself, first off we needed a flight from Budapest to Istanbul. This lead us to Berlin, Germany. It cost less to fly North to Berlin and then South to Istanbul then it would have cost just to go straight there. Apparently there are a lot of Turks living in Berlin and thats why you can catch a discounted flight from there South. We also thought we might be able to sneak one more stamp into our passports before leaving Europe. We are keeping a "list" of the countries we've been to and so far Turkey is number 12. We might go to a Greek island before we leave making Greece number 13!

Berlin was almost flattened during WWII, with whole sections of the city being completely destroyed. After the war, Berlin was divided four ways by the allies. Half went to the U.S.S.R. while the other half was divided into thirds. A third to France, another third to the U.K. and the last third to the U.S.A. This leads to some very interesting politics and later the Cold War after those Communists couldn't be trusted. Germany was also split into half as well but most of us pre 1989'ers know that. West Germans began returning to normal life with the U.K. and U.S. leading. While the East Germans were returning to a much harder and poorer life controlled by Mother Russia. People were border jumping to escape East Germany thru Berlin which lead to "The Wall." We heard stories that some families were ripped apart from the Soviets setting up a blockade literally overnight.

We arrived in Berlin and took a train from the airport to the metro and then to the hostel. Berlin has a great rail and metro train system with some huge underground hubs were you can find gift shops and fast food joints. Getting around was a breeze and only London has a more extensive underground system. Well at least from the places we've been. One of the first things we seen that I recognized was the giant T.V. tower or Fernsehturm. Opened on October 3rd 1969.
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We met up that night with a Saskatchewan boy we know through a friend back home at this restaurant called The Bird. We were treated to a giant steak dinner with all the trimming's including drinks for the whole night for free! Thanks DB for all your hospitality and I look for to paying you back this coming summer!

We slept in the next morning seeing as we didn't get to bed till around 5 a.m. When we finally pulled ourselves together we went for a train ride to the last section of The Berlin Wall still standing. There is some amazing graffiti on the wall to see.

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The next day we went to a museum on Museum Island featuring The Pergamon exhibit which turned out to be a warm-up to Turkey. Pergamon is a ancient city in Turkey and some ruins were excavated and brought to Berlin to be put on display.

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It was really impressive how big the exhibit was. They constructed parts of the museum around the ruins specifically.
Our time in Berlin was short, three days in total. We barely got under Berlin's skin but it was snowing so leaving wasn't too hard.

Soooo Istanbul is a city with thirteen million people in its borders, making it one of the largest proper cities in the world. There are much larger cities in the world but they usually count greater metropolitan areas to their totals. Istanbul was once Constantinople and Constantinople was once the capital of the Roman Empire. Christianity has a lot of its history within this city and within Turkey, probably more so then Italy. For instance the Hagia Sophia was a Catholic church in 537 A.D. to 1204 A.D. before becoming an Imperial Mosque till 1931. Constantinople was established in 330 A.D. between the Black Sea and the Aegean Sea. This gave it a strategic point on which commerce flourished and continues so even today. It was conquered in 1453 by the Muslims and became the capital of the Ottoman Empire. They changed the name to Istanbul around this time and Constantinople refers to the city under Christian rule.

We flew in at 7:00 and it was dark out which gave us and excellent view of the size of this ancient place. Hill upon hill of short buildings with yellow dimly lit streets in the front. It a mass of old concrete with no order and from the night sky it looked like sophisticated ant hills poorly lit. We boarded a bus from the airport and were taken into the city center called Taksim. We jumped on a funicular (go ahead google it) and went under the strait which popped us up on the "Old City" side or also know as Sultanahmet. Home of the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia, the infamous Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar. We stayed in a little dive close to the water, it had a great view of the bay from the roof top terrace. The harbor is very busy and giant tankers and ferries run non stop east to west and back again all day.

These are pictures of our dive and of our view.
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We went to the Blue Mosque and its beautiful and big but nowhere near the size of St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. The interior was plain and didn't contain works of arts or anything else really since they pray on there hands and knees. It does have floor to ceiling tile's that are amazingly intricate.
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This is the Hagia Sophia which is just across the street from the Blue Mosque.large_00C7F2362219AC68173C64CEA835336C.jpglarge_00E335212219AC6817CCE0DD4DB01D30.jpglarge_00074C9F2219AC681787FFDAEB9CEA0A.jpg

The Grand Bazaar is the oldest and largest covered market in the world. There are over 3000 shops inside and more than 250,000 people visit it daily. Its confusing and busy with people yelling and guys hauling around trays of tea for rug shops. Its custom that they over-whelm you with tea and hospitality before they wring your pockets dry haha. Some of the rugs or carpets are so beautiful and well-made that they easily fetch thousands of dollars. There is gold, rugs, scarfs and towels, clothes, Turkish delight (which is fantastic! unlike at home -barf) tiles and lamps and so, so, so much more everywhere in the Grand Bazaar.

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The Spice Bazaar....

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Now the covered part of the Grand Bazaar just gives way to more shops in the open air, so where one ends and the other begins isn't noticably. The shops and shopping just countiunes for blocks pretty much connecting the two bazzar's. It's almost a 10 minute walk down some hills from the Grand to the Spice.

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There are Bazaar's everywhere but they are small and usually consist of just one street. This one is behind the Blue Mosque and has a shop that a Canadian named Jennifer, from Edmonton owns.

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Thats a sheesha wand in my hand and one of the servers beside me, he serenaded me for about two minutes before Jannelle and I left his cafe haha.
Sheesha is flavoured molasses that is lit with coal on top and filtered with water on the bottom. Apple is the best flavour gerenally and you can smoke the same bowl for hours as long as they keep bringing you more coals, which they do. I love it and its not harsh at all and basically tastes like your smoking a fruit. Jannelle enjoys it too but not as much as me :) I can't wait to have a night at the Warren's with sheesha piggy Stacey haha. Don't worry I'll grab one more box before we leave Stace!

Jannelle and I go for long walks usually opting to walk somewhere rather then taking the bus. We spend most of the day on our feet and walking 7kms is a slow day for us now. Its a great way to see the city and way cheaper too. We just went for 15km walk two days ago and did it in under 2 1/2 hours. Here are some pictures of a walk along the bay in Istanbul.

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The Basilica Cistern is the largest of hundreds of cisterns buried beneath Istanbul. The Basilica Cistern is a couple hundred feet from the Haiga Sophia.
I can hold 80,000 cubic meters of water and measures 450 feet by 212 feet. The roof is supported by 336 marble coulums, each 30 feet tall and the water comes from aquaducts supplied by a river some 19 kms away. It was pretty amazing to see.

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There are two column bases that have Medusa face carved in them, one is sideways and the other is upside down. There is no record of where exactly they came from, nor why they were placed the way they are. During the last restoration over 50,000 tons of mud were removed in 1986!

Jannelle was poking around the internet one day and came across the Turkuazoo aquarium site. It's the fifth largest aqarium in the world and has the longest under water tunnel of its kind in Europe. The 80 meter long tunnel goes under the shark tank which contains 2.5 million gallons of water.
This was so cool and we spent about an hour under there.

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So this wraps up the first part of a two part post. We made our way south to a small city called Selcuk about 10 kms off the coast of the Aegean Sea, and have been laying low here for the last two weeks. We will be posting the next part very shortly, hopefully before we head to Malaysia next week. Happy New Years to all our famliy and friends!

Posted by apolloandathena 10:44 Archived in Turkey Comments (1)

Budapest

Buda, Obuda and Pest

sunny 10 °C

Leaving off from Zadar, Croatia we were initially planning on heading to Ljubliana, Slovenia but because it was harder to get there by train than we thought we headed to Budapest instead! I think we both agree that our decision was a good one and that this is definitely one of our favorite cities so far! Again we planned on spending only two or three days here but in total it will have been 9 days before we leave on Wednesday to Berlin! One of the many joys of having no plans and no set schedule :) We got in late last Monday and picked a hostel near the train station for convienience and really, that was all it had going for it, our roommate was strange, the place was dodgy and we thought we had bedbug bites the next day, but upon further research and inspection we are pretty sure they were just mosquitoe bites haha. So we bailed out of there in the am and headed towards downtown where we found a great chain hostel called Wombats, that's more like a huge hotel than anything, plus we were close to everything! So we quickly dropped our bags and headed towards the Danube river that runs through the middle of the city separating the Buda and the Pest side.
Before we even got there we ran into the Christmas market, apparently this is a really common thing for a lot of European cities, they have four set up just in our surrounding area and I completely fell in love with it immediately!! The smells coming from this market could draw a crowd from a mile away! The Forralt Bor which is Hungarian mulled red wine, and all the traditional food- think the best thanksgiving dishes you could imagine, cabbage rolls, goulash soup, potatoe casseroles and Hungarian Sausage prepared all right in front of you in little wooden shacks covered in garland and Christmas lights, it made me giddy like a kid on Christmas Eve and considering this was really the first sign of the holiday season we've encountered, it was pretty exciting :) The market is full of booths of stocking stuffers, spices, wines, knick-knacks and crafts but all handcrafted and quality made, unlike a lot of the other markets we've been through. None of the vendors were pushy which makes the shopping experience that much more enjoyable. So we grabbed a mulled wine for breakfast, I tried my first cabbage roll ever and actually liked it and we also got rakkot burgonya which is a traditional Hungarian layered potato dish, it was deadly!!

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After a delicious meal there, we headed to the Danube to see some of the riverside. The view itself is another Unesco World Heritage site.

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The next pictures are of the 'Shoes on the Danube Promenade' which is a memorial that honors the Jews who were killed by fascist Arrow Cross militiamen in Budapest during World War II. They were ordered to take off their shoes, and were shot at the edge of the water so that their bodies fell into the river and were carried away. It represents their shoes left behind on the bank. Sometimes the most simple things can have a very strong effect. The little childrens shoes were really heartbreaking..

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We decided to cross the famous Széchenyi Chain Bridge and head up to Castle Hill where we could see Matthias Church and get some good views of the Pest side of the city. (The Buda and Pest side only joined in becoming Budapest in 1873)

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The Hungarian Parliament Building

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A distant view of St. Stephens Basilica

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St. Matthias Church

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Fishermans Bastion,which gets its name from the guild of fishermen that were responsible for defending that stretch of city walls in the Middle Ages. It is a viewing terrace, with lots of stairs and walking paths.

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The next day we headed to the Central Market Hall a huge indoor market full of meat shops, produce stands and spice stands on the bottom floor and souveneir shops, restaurants and cafes on the top floor, again a really nice shopping experience and so much cool stuff!

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Yup, those were cow tongue, stomach lining and also pigs feet, a small taste of the gross things we'll see in some of the asian markets, I was reading today about a stand in a Malaysian market that sells only pig penises ! barf!
As we were walking home we spotted Ice Bar Budapest and decided to give it a try! Total tourist trap I know , but it was only 3€ for the entry one drink and you got a hot mulled wine (only after you left of course, because it would melt the counter tops made of ice) haha. Everything inside including the cups, the walls, the chairs, were made of ice and there were some pretty amazing sculptures in there as well! It was a quick visit as we were freezing inside but interesting to see none the less :)

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After we left there we got some beautiful views of the city at night, and we headed back through the Christmas market again, we watched some live music for a bit grabbed another mulled wine because its THAT good and headed home.

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The next day we decided to do a walking tour and ended up being the only two that showed up which made for a great one-on-one guided tour with a great local girl, who took us around to some of the most historic areas of downtown, and gave us a really good background of the history of Budapest. She pointed out that the cities history in a nutshell is basically "destroyed, rebuilt, destroyed, rebuilt, destroyed rebuilt". It's hard to believe that so much of the city, including the monuments, bridges, churches, Buda Castle and the Parliament have been completely leveled 3 times in total. The first from the invasion of the Mongols in 1241, the second from the Turks in 1686, and lastly from the Germans in WWII. After spending the day with our guide Timea, she took us to a great little restaurant and we had yet another amazing Hungarian meal (one of my favorite cuisines so far) and on our way home, again caught some beautiful views of the city lit up at night. The first three pictures are of St. Stephens Basilica that I had pointed out earlier from a distance.

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After our first few busy days we took a break, did some planning and found out that we could go to a shooting club only a 20 minute cab ride away. We pre-booked our 'Police Special' and 'Red Army' packages for the next day, which included 6 handguns and 3 rifles for me and 4 pistols, 1 revolver and 3 rifles including the AK-47 for Jordan and about 75 rounds each. It was definetly one of the highlights of our trip and we would recommend it to anyone! By the end of it I had so much adrenaline pumping through me my knees were shaking haha! Which I'm sure was the reason Jordan was a better shot than me haha...

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Our results after the first round of handguns:
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Mine on the left, Jordan's on the right-he couldn't deny I clearly won this one, and have a natural knack for the sport :)

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The results after round two, I think he got me there, I had a few wild ones but in my defense my hands were sweaty and shaking! Haha

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Again mine on the left, Jordan's on the right, then came the big guns!

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Clearly Jordan won this one again his being the first picture and mine the second but out of a group of 7 of us we were top two shots hands down! Yeah Canada!

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There was one girl from Texas that after her second round of handguns only had two marks on her target haha the poor thing was shooting the ceiling half the time, no lie!
The little room we were in was so full of shells and gunpowder in the air I could literally taste it and we both blew it out of our noses for the rest of the day! Badass I know...

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After our crazy afternoon we booked in for the polar opposite of a shooting club and went to Mozarts Requiem, a symphony at St. Stephens Basilica. It was absolutely incredible! I could not believe the sounds that came from that few of people! There was maybe only 25 playing instruments and 75 in the choir and it literally brought me to tears, it was so powerful and the acoustics in that church were amazing! I never wanted it to end, we will definetly be checking out more in the future!

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We have spent the last few days planning where to go next, and catching up on laundry, sleep and getting over colds, and on Wednesday we are backtracking to Berlin, Germany to get to Istanbul, Turkey because flights are cheaper that way. We'll be in Germany only for two days and then back to warmer weather further south. I know, I know it's freezing at home, theres tons of snow and I shouldn't complain, but we came here to escape that and last night it snowed in Budapest, it was gone in the morning but that's as close to winter as we want to get! I'm so glad the first week of our time here was in nice weather because we love this city and will be sad to leave it , I think this might be on the 'Re-Visit in Summer' list :)

Posted by apolloandathena 13:49 Archived in Hungary Comments (4)

Croatia

Republika Hrvatska

sunny 18 °C

Warning this is a long post with nearly a hundred photos. We took a lot pictures but loaded just the best one's.

Croatia was settled in the early 7th Century by Croats. It became a Kingdom around 925 A.D. and Tomislav (which also is the name of a tasty dark lager) became the country's first King. The Kingdom of Croatia retained its sovereignty for almost two hundred years. Croatia entered a personal union with Hungary in 1100's. The next 700 hundred years after this Croatians and their land were in and out of conflicts with Hungary and Austria through Feudalism and the Ottoman wars. In 1918, after World War I, Croatia was included in the short-lived State of Slovenes, Croats, and Serbs which seceded from Austria–Hungary and merged into the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. After World War II Croatia became a founding member of Second Yugoslavia, a socialist state. In June 1991 with the fall of the Soviet Union, Croatia declared independence, which came into effect on 8 October of the same year. The Croatian War of Independence was fought successfully during the four years following the declaration.

That war was a lot more complex than just "fought successfully" but some of you might remember it and for all of those involved I mean no disrespect for not going into greater detail.

Jannelle and I took a ferry all night from Ancona, Italy to Split, Croatia on the 8th of November. We had planned on staying a week maybe two max. Three weeks later we are in Budapest. Saying we enjoyed our time there would be an understatement! I don't know where to start talking about the things we loved about this old, but newly declared country. I'll start with the way we seen it first! Sunrise on the city of Split coming over some decent sized mountains that look similar to Rocky's but half the size. It was a beautiful morning with the temperature around 18 degrees for the day.
The water is so clear that you can see to the bottom (10 to 20 feet) of all the coast line we walked around. People would fish right along the harbor but really you could just watch the schools of fish swimming and I think you would just need a net to catch all you wanted! The water is so blue that again, I have to make a Rocky Mountain reference to give you some idea...think Peyto Lake but clear! Life revolves around the sea, along the coast and I would say most of Croatia in general. Fishing boats and big sail boats with ferries coming and going all day long, servicing some of the over 1000 islands in the Adriatic Sea. Islands like Hvar, which was voted one of the 10 most beautiful in the world!

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We went to a hostel about a 5 minute walk from the Old Town as most locals call it. Also known as Diocletian's Palace which was built around the 4th century. He was a Roman emperor that retired from his busy life in Rome seeking solitude along what was then the province of Dalmatia. The complex is massive and still being used to this day! It's right on the coast and it full of restaurants and hotels and boutique's.
This brings me to another point that I would like to make about some of our parents and uncle's and auntie's maybe coming here for a vacation. I know I would want to retire here. Maybe we can all chip in and buy a yacht together, trust me you would not be disappointed and with all those islands so close which are mostly uninhabited, pardise is never far!

The exchange is kn5.87 Kuna to $1 Dollar Canadian. Picture how big of a house that might buy! Shannon and Brodie your rich, and the same for Roy and Michelle, your loaded lets go in together and buy house there ;)....

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We met the nicest and sweetest 3 girls in the Hostel where we stayed. Ivana, Marta and Suzana in that order, our stay in Split felt more like hanging with friends then actually travelling on our own. They are partly to blame for the extended stay not only in Split but Croatia as a whole. Thanks girls if your reading this!

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After our extended stay with our new friends we decided it was time to go for a drive along the coast so we rented another car (go-kart) and off we went, but this time the steering wheel and the other cars were on the familiar side to me! The highway's are in excellent shape here and along the coast they twist and turn the whole way! I think Leonard and Paul and a pair of Harley's would be in order, and chances are we would never see them again.

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We stopped about every 10 to 20 kilometers just to soak in the view and eventually we came to the Bosnian border. We had heard about this town called Mostar which was only about 30 kilometers into the country and decided we should go for a visit. This place had been under heavy artillery and gunfire during the war and some of the buildings were still pock-marked from bullets. It is famous for this pretty little bridge that runs though the center of town. It was getting late by this time and so our visit was short.

The orange stands were along the highway as we got close to the town Metkovic. A big full bag is around what we would pay for a few at home. (maybe less) and they we're everywhere!

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We drove back and stayed in Split for a couple more days then decided to leave for Dubrovnik. Dubrovnik spreads out along the very southern tip of Croatia and is famous for their Old Town which is surrounded by very high walls. This is another UNESCO world heritage site and is known as one of the best medieval walled cities in the world. It is said that at one point it rivaled Venice with its wealth and skilled diplomacy. There are no cars in this small town just steps and more steps. If you have never been to a city like this (Venice, Dubrovnik, Hvar) where there are no roads really going though town, you should try to experience it. In Europe, most drivers are trying to run you over so its nice to get a break from looking both ways, twice, maybe three times! I wonder what Asia will be like? Plus it is so quiet.

During the war it received heavy damage from significant shelling by the Serb forces which lasted around 7 months. The city has set up a hall of hero's for all the men that gave their life fighting for Dubrovnik.

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If your wondering what all those locks are on the green fence, it's couple's either engraving their names or writing with marker on them then locking it and I'm guessing throwing the key into the water below. Lame...
We first seen this on Charles Bridge in Prague.

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Jannelle's sweet apple pose...

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Those are lemons trees in the middle of town.

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There is so many side alley's and doorways in the old town it's like a giant maze and you feel like your in the movie Labyrinth. Just waiting for David Bowie to pop out and break into song. We walked though a tiny door and on the other side was this great view!

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This next picture is of a brand new stainless steel hole in the floor...who needs a sit down toilet? There a always a brush close by in case you miss.
Don't laugh this was the same in the Vatican City public washrooms....I guess only God sits on the Throne?

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We stayed in Dubrovnik for three days and then made are way north again which bought us back to Split one last time. We climbed a big hill just off to the side of Split and got some great views of the city and surrounding landscape.

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We said good-bye one last time to our friends at the hostel and off too Zadar we went. Zadar is further north and quite a bit smaller than Split.
We heard about this thing called the Sea Organ (from Suzana) that sits right along the coast in Zadar. The Sea Organ is a series of pipes that sit underneath the steps of the promenade that uses the waves to push the air into a resonating cavity, thus making noise. The bigger the waves get, the louder and fuller the organ becomes. This is one of the coolest idea's and to top it off, they have another original site right beside the organ called "Salute to the Sun." What it looks like is a giant circular disco floor powered by solar panels witch are in-laid into the ground. It turns out that it is a very close to scale replica of the Sun with the other eight planets also to scale, following in correct order and relative distance. I loved the sea organ and the disco floor but upon realizing that's it a scale model of the solar system it made it one of the best things I've seen so far. We have video and will try and post it here but if you want try You-Tubeing "Zadar Sea Organ" and watch some of the video's.

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If you look at the girls standing right by side the big circle. Just under there feet you can kinda make out some spots. That's Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars.

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We also happened to be in Zadar during the home-coming of a famous General called Ante Gotovina. There was much celebration upon his release and another General by the name of Mladen Markac. There was a party pretty much country wide in Croatia on November 16th and we could hear the horns all day long, there were also fireworks that night in Split. Gotovina was from a town near Zadar and so they invited him to speak in the old town square as part of his tour home. Our hotel just happened to be right in that square and the day started off with a small Marching Band playing below our window somewhere around 7:00 in the morning. Here is some of that day!

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I asked some local's why this was such a big deal for Croatians? "It feels like the war is finally over" said a girl that we met on our last night there. Croatians seem ready to celebrate any time and will do so with grand style. You get the feeling of just how much pride they have for their country and why shouldn't they. They fought for it and it's certainly beautiful. The wounds are now just scars and people are trying to make the best of their situations. The reminder of what it takes to have a home and homeland are still fresh in their minds and thats why they'll pop a cork to just about anything!
It was awesome to watch the celebration and to be a small part of that day!

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The hotel guest manager noticed us taking picture's and she decided to "upgrade" our accommodations. This was easily the nicest room we stayed in to date, and it was free the first night and it costed the same as our original four bed dorm the second night! This rooms goes for around $154 Canadian a night in the off season. It was one of the nicest hotel rooms with the best view I have ever stayed in.

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Jannelle's feet are the little one's on the right!

I would like to end by saying Croatians really were friendly and engaging. Most of them spoke English and always did there best to help us. I know that's the real reason we stayed as long as we did. They were kind and very giving right up until the last person on the train. I can say with a great deal of certainty that Jannelle and I will be back there some day, hopefully soon!

Posted by apolloandathena 12:15 Archived in Croatia Comments (1)

Florence, Pisa and Rome !

and lots of trains...

semi-overcast 18 °C

Hi everyone! Sorry this post and the following ones came so late but we have spent the last 10 days in Split and our internet wasn't fast enough to upload pictures onto this site until we got to Dubrovnik, so we have some catching up to do! I also just noticed that I had two sets of double photos and a few spelling errors in the Venice post. I was literally writing it as we were walking out the door to catch a train to Rome and didn't have time to check it over at all, so my apologies :)
Anyways back to Italy, so we took a 4 hour train from Venice to Florence and met a great guy named Luiz from Brazil along the way. Its always so nice to run into great company. We chatted with him pretty much the whole way and at one point we got talking about cheesy souvenirs, it seems like every city has their thing, if I haven't mentioned it before, Holland has its wooden shoes, Prague had tons of Marionette puppet shops (we couldn't resist -we bought a classic Pinocchio) and Venice had of course their Venetian masks. Luiz bought one of these masks and brought it out to show us and Jordan grabbed the Halloween masks we bought in Prague-we had a pretty good laugh at ourselves and our souvenirs! lol
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It was dark by the time we got to Florence so we headed to Maria's, where we were staying for the next three nights. We booked a room in Maria's home through a website called 'airbnb' which was our second time booking through this site (the first time was at Robert's in London) and it was a great experience again! We highly recommend using this site, its hassle free, the reviews are accurate, in both our cases we got exactly what we saw online and both of our hosts were helpful and friendly! Anyways, we dropped our bags and headed for the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, more commonly known as the Duomo. We didnt really know where we were going just knew what general direction it was in, hoping to spot it along the way. Well this is something you literally could NOT miss. It was up until that point, the most beautiful cathedral I had ever seen-actually I'd say it still is because even though we have seen St. Peter's Basillica, which could obviously never be topped on the interior-I'd have to say as far as the exterior goes, the Duomo has got the Basillica beat. It literally brought tears to my eyes, the size of it was phenomenal, and the detail-undescribable.
Construction started in 1296 and was completed in 1436. The entire exterior of the Cathedral is faced with green, pink and white marble panels. Sorry let me repeat that, the ENTIRE exterior is made of marble! I find it mind-boggling that something like this could be created in just 140 years! I know thats a very long time but if you could only see the detail on every square inch of that Cathedral-you would understand :)
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Can you spot me in the next photo??
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We walked from there to the Piazza della Signoria (or as we call it, the town square ) where many famous statues are on display.
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The statue of David
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Hercules and Cacus
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The Fountain of Neptune
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Galileo
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Donatello the Artist originally from Florence and a few others..
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These are kind of a mixture of pics from that night and the next day.. This is the Uffizi Gallery, one of the oldest and most famous Museums in the Western world.
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This is the Bargello Palace also in the town square it is a former prison, turned art museum.
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We spent most of our time in Florence just taking in the beautiful city, this is the Ponte Vecchio or "Old Bridge" that is noted for still having shops lining the whole bridge. At one time the shops were occupied mostly by butchers and today, jewellers, art dealers and souvenir sellers.
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Here's a pic of how crowded the square gets during the day, and this is low season! I can't imagine how full the city is during the summer months! We went for a long walk one day to get away from the crowds and to get some better views of the city-found some wild Olive trees... not tasty..
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On our last day there we made a quick day trip to Pisa to see the Famous Leaning Tower, the countryside through Tuscany is stunning but due to dirty train windows I don't have any good pictures of it but it reminded me of what I picture Brazil to look like, huge mountains covered in greenery. Beautiful!
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We headed back to Florence that night and headed out to Rome the next day. We got in after dark but we headed down to the Colosseum anyways. Construction began in 72 AD and was completed in 80 AD so its incredibly impressive how much of the structure still stands today. The Colosseum was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions and re-enactments of famous battles.
Its overwhelming being somewhere that holds so much history, we must have sat there and just looked at it for two hours easy. And then went home and watched Gladiator again lol.
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Here is the Arch of Constantine right next to the Colosseum.
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The next day we checked out some more sights..
The Trevi Fountain, the largest Baroque fountain in Rome and one of the most famous fountains in the world. It is said that if you throw a penny over your shoulder and into the fountain, you will return to Rome again someday, it obviously worked for Jordan the first time so we tried it again :)
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The Pantheon was originally built in 31 BC as a temple to all the Gods of Ancient Rome. It is one of the best-preserved of all Roman buildings. It has been in continuous use throughout its history, and since the 7th century, has been used as a Roman Catholic Church.
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The Oculus in the Pantheon has always been open to the weather, allowing rain to enter and fall to the floor, where it is carried away through drains. Its believed to be there so that peoples prayers could go through the opening and directly up to the Gods.
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These paintings on the walls are not what they appear to be, they are actually tile replicas of these famous works of art. The tiles are so small you have to be standing about 2 feet away to notice, incredible.
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On our way to St.Peters Basilica - some of the "cars" here if you can even call them that are too funny!
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Here is a progression of pictures as we get closer to try to put into perspective how massive this place is .. Look at the little tiny people at the very top! The Cathedral itself covers an area of 5.7 acres!!
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St Peter's is the most renowned work of Renaissance architecture in the world and remains one of the largest churches to date. While it is neither the mother church of the Roman Catholic Church nor the cathedral of the Bishop of Rome, Saint Peter's is known as one of the holiest Catholic sites. It has been described as "the greatest of all churches of Christendom". Because of its location in the Vatican City, the Pope holds a number of services throughout the year, drawing crowds of over 80,000 people, either within the Basillica itself, or outside in St Peter's Square.
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In Roman Catholic tradition, the basilica is the burial site of Saint Peter, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus and, also according to tradition, the first Bishop of Rome. The Basillica also houses several tombs of previous popes and other notable people. You can see one of them here below another tile replica ..
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You could literally spend days in this Cathedral and not see it all. Its size and detail are mind-boggling! Jordan described it best when he said "this is probably the closest thing to heaven on earth". Coming from a religious Catholic family, it meant just that much more to be there, I wish they could have been there with me :) It was an experience I will never forget.

The Swiss Guards-these guys mean buisness!
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St. Peter's Square
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Castle Sant'Angelo and the Aelian Bridge over the Tiber River
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Here is another couple pics of a church we just randomly came across on our way home, again so beautiful!
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Once we were done seeing all the sights we wanted to we spent the rest of our time there relaxing in our hostel.. we found Rome to be so busy and expensive that we were both very ready to head for Croatia -somewhere alot more laid back :)
So after our 3 days in Rome we gladly said goodbye to the hustle and bustle and hopped a train to Ancona on the East coast of Italy, and from there caught the night ferry to Split, Croatia and woke up to palm trees and beaches ! That post to come very soon while we still have good internet!
Bye for now!

Posted by apolloandathena 11:00 Archived in Italy Comments (3)

Venice (Venezia)

50.000 people and not one car ..

rain 15 °C

Venizia or Venice as we know it is a city in North East Italy that was built upon 118 islands separated by canals and linked with bridges. We arrived here after 16 hours on the train from Prague at about 8 in the morning. We were way to excited to see the city to take a break so we found a cafe with internet, got our bearings and headed out for a place to stay. We found that most of the hostels here were the same price as a cheaper hotel so we booked in at the Gerato Calderan Hotel, it was nice and close to the train station and to a ton of cafes, restaurants and a market.
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The city doesn't necessarily have many tourist attractions, but more the city as a whole is the attaction itself. The entire city was named a Unesco World Heritage site in 1987 and it did not take long to see why. There are no cars on the entire island everything is transported by boat or handcarts. So no matter how packed the streets were there were no honking car horns, beeping scooters or dinging bells on bikes and it gave a very peaceful aura to this city, and we quickly fell in love with it. We spent the morning enjoying the warm weather and just walking around getting lost in all the side streets, alleyways along the hundreds of canals. It seemed everytime we crossed a little bridge (which was every couple hundred feet) the view was too good not to take a picture. So to choose the pictures that we would post on here was very difficult as I could have easily put up 100 just of the canals! large_9A8D57EA2219AC681762F9629E040ABF.jpglarge_9B0C16742219AC6817570C3928870059.jpglarge_9B16C2142219AC68176D147FC061031D.jpglarge_9B4584182219AC6817896FCF95B764DB.jpglarge_9B4CC03B2219AC6817FC36E267200EA7.jpglarge_9BE06C882219AC681730B3FE60EA937A.jpglarge_9BF4613D2219AC68171930A59B3BECE9.jpglarge_9C0E1E302219AC6817388352B09AA6C8.jpglarge_9C6CFEBE2219AC6817EB7ECBF733FF94.jpglarge_270_9C7DD8D02219AC681729B3EC1F8D4BC8.jpglarge_9C8E012D2219AC681731B959FB295E14.jpglarge_9C9E8A1A2219AC6817C51DC238C34405.jpglarge_9CB54CDF2219AC68173059AF8763A0EF.jpg
We walked to Piazza San Marco which has served as a social, religious and political centre for hundreds of years. We noticed quicky that it looked like it had rained recently even though it hadn't and there was raised sidewalks everywhere, we thought not too much of it and carried on.
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We spent a few more hours wandering around before we were too tired from no sleep on the train that we retired to our room for a nap and some dinner.
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We went back out that night and toured around a bit more and then crashed for the night excited for our next day. But as we've mentioned the bad weather seems to be following us, we woke up to a full blown rain storm! So we spent the day inside again, regretting napping the day before when the sun was out, and used the time to catch up on the blog and plan our next two weeks in Italy. That night and early the next morning there was an extremely loud annoying alarm that would ring for a few minutes at a time, so we headed down to the front desk to ask what it was. The receptionist explained it meant high waters and that was all. Well when we tried to walk out of our little square to get a coffee we realized just how bad it really was! large_9AFB9D512219AC6817D83C4FEF1435C3.jpglarge_9CE1F2762219AC6817AF7CA3B0218581.jpglarge_9D029BD22219AC68176F1FED053E0BED.jpglarge_ECE5FFE82219AC6817DB5ED6D33B291F.jpglarge_ED03C7EE2219AC68177DC785CA13F285.jpglarge_ED1ADEE32219AC6817C36512F7D3332E.jpglarge_ED2C40B62219AC6817F83FF851F0BD0D.jpglarge_270_ED41326B2219AC6817FAAC676B913970.jpg
The whole city had flooded anywhere from a foot to three feet in places! So yet again we were trapped in our hotel room until the tide went down. it was quite entertaining to watch though, there were men carrying women across the deep waters in their arms or on carts, I even seen one lady wipe right out and go head under that fishy smelling water! Poor thing haha thats a day ruiner for sure!
Apparently this only happens to this extent about twice a year and it didn't happen at all last year so it was kind of neat to be there for it, its just too bad we only ha one nice day there to see the city! The tide comes in and out everyday and certain sidewalks will flood everymorning but not quite to that extent. But as quick as it comes in it goes away too these photos are of the same streets taken just 4 hours later and all the water is gone. We watched store owners squeegee and pump water out of their stores for the rest of the day. And it seemed to be nothing out of the ordinary for them!
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It was a short and sweet visit, but we loved every minute of it rain or shine. When the tide went down and we were able to make it to the train station we headed out towards Florence - the birthplace of the Renaissance!
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Posted by apolloandathena 02:08 Archived in Italy Comments (1)

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