The Baltics was an adventure and a half- there were old KGB headquarters in Lithuania, spooky abandoned houses and factories in Riga, the superb Fontaine Palace bar at Liepaja and sunlight at all hours in Tallinn.
We find Dave in Sweden this time around lapping up the local culture throughout the day. He continues his adventure in Poland stopping by the infamous Auschwitz and some local castles, before wrapping it all up in Slovenia’s beauty.
There’s a whole bag of European culture in this post, which includes one of the most beautiful cities he’s ever seen. You won’t have to scroll far to see which one it is!
And so without further ado..
Well I was off on my way on the Tallinn Ferry, it’s about a 15 hour boat ride between Tallinn and Stockholm. I must say the boat was quite impressive in size, 6 levels for the passengers; it carried vehicles and holds around 2200 passengers. It also featured 6 bars, restaurants as well as live entertainment; it’s regarded as a party boat. A pity I suppose the party mainly consisted of people over the age of 40 and that the music reflected this, it was a bit like a huge floating RSL club. To add to that, I was bunked up with three other guys in a room that basically had enough space for four bunk beds and no place to stand up.
After some uncomfortable sleep and many hours spent on the deck watching the rather picturesque Swedish coast, I arrived in Stockholm.
I had heard that it’s an amazingly beautiful city and I can confirm that to be the case. It’s one of the most spectacular cities I’ve ever seen.
Stockholm is on a group of islands, which makes it appear like a huge harbour, kind of similar to Sydney Harbour, though not quite as big. With all the speed boats, roads hugging the shoreline and large hotels as well as the Old Town, it all looked very busy.
The only downside I guess was the cost involved, I had been used to South America and Eastern Europe economy and the Swedish Kroner is a lot higher than anything I’d been used to whilst backpacking by myself. There were also not too many people in the city, I suspect a lot of the Swedish were headed out for holidays as it was summer and there weren’t any beaches in Stockholm. I was staying in a hostel that was converted from a school for the holidays which was also a first and last for me, no atmosphere.
On the plus though it was 30+ every day and I could work on the old tan.
Sweden equals Ikea
My days involved taking in the “Ikea, Skandia, Saab, Volvo, Erricson, Electrolyse tour”, essentially everything Sweden is famous for… only kidding. I did however take in some of the 75 museums that are located in Stockholm.
- Nordika Museum – a very impressive building, most of the museum is actually one big hall. Exhibits included Swedish dinner sets (strange) clogs (stranger) traditional dresses (hilarious) rock protest posters (not sure what they were protesting) and some Ikea furniture (very cool)
- Historka Museet – this basically contained Viking history, Vikings killing, Viking weapons, Viking villages, Viking arts and crafts and a Viking dish scrubbing brushes (very strange and didn’t quite understand that exhibit)
- Vasamuseet – very cool, basically they refloated a boat that looks a little like a pirate ship that sank in the 1650’s and have enclosed it in a museum, lots of details about the ship at the website. It was great!
- Skansen – supposedly an open air museum, it contained lots of buildings that were moved there from around Sweden to see more about the traditional way of life. Mostly though it looked like a fun park for little kids with lots of cute and cuddly animals, interesting enough though I did feel a little out-of-place
Got anything outside museums?
Besides getting a real dose of sophisticated museum culture, I also managed a ferry ride across the water to take a better view of the city. I saw the changing of the guard at the Dronttingholm Palace which was pretty excellent, lots of soldiers marching in Blue uniforms with shiny silver helmets.
The palace was huge though I think architecturally not one of the nicest I have seen, and I also walked around the old town, very impressive with lots of cobbled roads and multi level retail shops. The other highlight was the parks as on Djurgarden Island, very impressive with lots of little places to sit and doze away. I should also mention the food, hot Swedish cuisine is also excellent, especially meatballs.
That’s about it for Sweden, didn’t get up to much for the nightlife, the hostel I was at was cheap and dull, being early in the week probably didn’t help and it was probably good anyhow as the one beer I did have out was about 12 dollars.
The people though are some of the most beautiful I’ve seen, everyone rather tall and blonde. The other only other thing that rates a mention I suppose is that no one locks up their push bikes, how this does not lead to crime wave is beyond me. I was relaxed, recharged, tanned and culturally overloaded, next was role on Krakow…
Krakow is the former capital of Poland, it has the distinction of being one of the few cities that was not bombed during World War 2 so it remains intact with little if anything in the way of reconstruction (unlike Warsaw). From what I can tell there is not much in the way of renovation of a lot of the buildings so much more authentic than many of the other cities I have seen whilst I’ve been travelling through Eastern Europe. In saying that, the city is very beautiful, it has a river that runs through the centre of it, is overlooked by a fairy tale appearing castle on top of a mountain and the main town square is an excellent place to spend the day people watching and having a few bevies in the evening.
It also has many street performers as well as horse-drawn carriages, I believe it’s potentially quite a romantic place, again also many churches and quality cheap eating, including a zillion kebab shops which was awesome as I had not seen a decent kebab in 6 months plus.
The infamous Auschwitz
Another thing it’s famous for (or infamous) is the Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps located around 70kms from the city.
I took a tour there and it is a memorial to one of the most terrible times in history, the Nazi Extermination of Jews and various other people during World War 2.
The Auschwitz camp is now a museum which details the horrible torture that the Jewish underwent, approximately 1.1 million people were interned into the camps of which 1 million were executed (90% Jewish) or died of other means such as starvation. Execution involved shooting, hanging, scientific experimentation, most infamously though were the gas chambers. Up to 1500 prisoners could be gassed at one time and it was quite an eerie experience to stand inside the chamber. Other horrid facts include up to 10 kg of gold being extracted from dead people’s teeth fillings each day and 7 kgs of human hair discovered when the Russians took the camp, this was used in making of stockings and socks.
Obviously there are many more facts, but I won’t list them, from the attitude of the tour leader, I could detect there is still much resentment on behalf of the Poles in this part of the world to the Germans. We then went onto Birkenau, this camp was in more of its original state, a train track runs through the middle of it which was used to bring in the prisoners, it was surrounded by a fence with gun posts and many of the buildings still exist where you can see the state that the prisoners were kept in..
There were also a lot of Jewish people doing a type of pilgrimage in both camps, mainly soldiers and Americans from what I could see and hear. The experience of seeing both camps is indescribable, it affects you in many ways none of which are pleasant, and the best thing to do is see it for yourself
Trips around the castle
Other trips I took their included looking around the old town, the Jewish Quarter as well as the castle.
The castle was quite impressive, joint up of four museums; you get a good view of the town as well as the impressive structure itself. There is also a lot of memorabilia about the place dedicated to Pope John Paul the second, indeed there are a lot of nuns about the place, I mistakenly bumped into one and then mumbled “Excuse me love”, I’m sure I won’t go to hell for that.
The other highlight was a tour Wieliczka Salt Mines just north of the town. This was truly wonderous. We went down a few hundred metres, learnt about the history of the mine and included a meeting hall and a rather spectacular chapel, there was a lot of history to take in but I was thinking the chapel would have been great for a dance party by the way. It was probably the most impressive underground structure I have ever toured.
The nightlife in Poland
The famed nightlife is also worth a mention, I was quite happy that the sun was going down and raising at a more reasonable hour so my body clock could adjust a little easier. The nightlife mainly involved heading out with a group from the hostel, a few Aussie backpackers, but mainly Canadians and Americans, lots of Americans.
I went to several nightclubs which were quality, the locals were very friendly as in Warsaw and I spent a lot of time chatting and dancing about. We mainly hung out in the main square and also went to the Jewish Quarter for an evening was pretty interesting. There was a Jewish festival on, it was not the most happening of music but interesting enough, the local bars were very run down, lots of brick arch ways and little alcoves.
I also took in some of the local museum, they were much better than what was in Warsaw, one of them featured an exhibit on American pop culture which was very interesting, paintings included pieces by Andy Warhol, the history of Coca Cola and photos by a guy named Weegee who specialised in mob hits and death scenes from the 30’s to the 50’s. Pretty graphic and not the kind of thing I’d suspect I could see back in Australia.
I enjoyed my time in Krakow, the locals as in Warsaw were friendly enough, the food was excellent and there was so much to see, it’s a very beautiful city. My time was coming to an end and after about a week of museums, history and nightclubs, it was off to another country which I only associated with the Eurovision song contest only.
My destination was Croatia, but before getting there I figured I should take in take in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia for a few days. I took a night train which I thought would be awesome, booze cart, nice restaurant and I was going first class so I had relatively high expectations. Instead the booze cart consisted of the one beer I had left over from the hostel, the restaurant involved eating some crisps I had leftover from lunch and my accommodation was a bed in a rather compact three bed cabin within the train. After about 10 hours, I made a transfer from Vienna (where I had a fantastic schnitzel) and another 6 hours later, I was in Ljubljana
The beauty of the Ljubljana
Ljubljana is yet another very beautiful city, there is a castle on top of the hill overlooks the capital city with a lovely river running through the centre, yet another place that looks like it was taken from “Alice in Wonderland”. The city centre was all cobbled streets, the buildings were all freshly painted and the surround mountainous region is all covered in trees with more flowing rivers, it kind of reminded me of an alpine village area. The housing also looked more Germanic than Eastern European and so was the food; it’s a very clean and friendly city.
Making your own fun
The nightlife was kind of dull, or I was being dull (not really sure which). I was staying at a Hostel which was on a university campus, a 600 bed dorm with an excellent breakfast; though it had no atmosphere was it was too big, so making my own fun was a bit of a challenge.
Upon arrival after checking out the city which didn’t take long as it’s not too big, I settled into a bar to watch the last session of the first day of the Ashes (cricket). This was good fun as the barmaid played for the local cricket team and the beer was excellent. I also had a good time watching the test, England hilariously awful. I ended up in bed at about 930 and slept for 12 hours or so, must have needed it.
These guys know how to serve alcohol
The second night involved heading to a Absinth bar that brewed their own, I downed four as it was two for one happy hour even though there was nobody there, and then stumbling back to the hostel singing “Waltzing Matilda” though the main square.
If you’re not familiar with Absinthe I suggest not to try it. I was a hardened travelling backpacker and four shots were enough to send me into out of space. There was lots of people around but I had the sense it was more of a romantic couples place and my premature proclaiming of an Ashes victory was not going to be an interesting conversation for these people.
I did however have some pretty cool day trips, this involved checking out two cave systems, Slovenia had a lot of them though I believe I did see the two most highly regarded.
The first day I checked out the more famous of the two, Postojna, about an hour bus ride out-of-town. The cost of it was around 20 Euro (bit expensive) though it looked pretty interesting from the brochures, and I was not disappointed. The tourists all jumped on a train at the caves entrance, which took us on a rather speedy journey for a couple of km’s down, it bottoms out at around 160m, it was quite rapid and I though a couple of times I was going to have my head knocked off.
Upon reaching our drop off point we were informed that we could not take pictures in the cavern, totally worth the money. We then walked for about an hour through the amazing cavern system, stalagmites and stalagmites were all over the place, it kind of reminded me of “Fraggle Rock” though I didn’t see any Fraggles.
Due to my experience with the nightlife and my tour of the first cave, I thought I’d go and see what the fuss was about with the second cave. This involved another bus journey out-of-town this time an hour and a half.
Upon arrival I went and viewed the local church, it sat upon top of a ravine with a waterfall coming from underneath it; check the photo, again it looked pretty amazing. After that, my tour started, this time an hour and a half walk. This cave system was much larger, whilst it didn’t have the stalagmites and stalagmites of the first one, it went down 170m and the chambers in there were absolutely massive, the first being I’d guess 100m up and the second 150m. It was like walking through some alien world, bats were flying about at the top, the footpaths were lighten up with globes, we crossed a bridge around 60m up from the cavern floor and there was a waterfall in the second chamber with a river running through it.
Again it was absolutely amazing and very different to the first one I’d seen.
Is that the end?
After a few days in Slovenia, I wish I could have stayed for more. The country isn’t that big and apparently there were some amazing national parks, more caves, the coast and castles to see, but I was running out of time.
It was time to head off to Croatia and the town of Split, Croatia is a party place and it was entering the peak summer party season….
The Travel Bug
The Travel Bug is a collaboration project that goes through Dave’s travel journals around the world. We started this series a while back and finished in the Baltics. We’ll be back soon in the Croatia!
He just completed another world trip and is bound to share his tall travel tales shortly.
PC likes getting the job done by day and writes, designs and codes during his spare time. He also enjoys having a drink with Dave and hearing his tall travel tales.
We hope to entertain you through this collection of stories.