ZOO- Veszprem, Hungary

As you walk to the entrance of Veszprem zoo you get a vague, though small scale, feeling of Jurassic Park.  A gated wall protects the entrance as tree covered hills flank both sides.  Behind that gate you expect a T-Rex to be lurking, and you would be correct.IMG_1621.JPG

Your first stop upon entering the zoo is a simple concrete building to your left.  Inside you are greeted with the joy and pride of the zoo. Guinea Pigs! In a small hay enclosure with a very low wall are dozens of these scared and squeaky animals.  A few minutes of enjoying the cuteness and trying to catch one will be enough to put a smile on your face for the rest of the day.  IMG_1602.JPG

Tearing yourself away you continue through the building into a large playground full of entertaining items like rope walkways, as well alligator turtles and snakes(Not roaming the playground but safely behind glass in the walls).  You may decide to play around which will require you to push little humans out of your way or you may wish to stand in front of the alligator turtle tank wondering if it really could bite your finger cleanly off, though this will most likely also require you to push little humans out of your way.  IMG_1604.JPG

Stepping out of the building into the sun you take note of your surroundings.  There is a large walkway down the ravine with little trails running up the sides of the hills.  All is densely covered with trees and animal enclosures are dotted along everywhere.  You continue down the main path zig-zagging across to look at all the animals.  Birds, Raccoon pandas, raccoons, deer like things, capybara, and much much more.  You wonder what animals lay hidden behind these enclosures on the small trails running up the hills but decide not to check as that means walking up hill.  You continue down the main path but your luck runs out.  The trail spits into two and both run steeply up hill.  So much for trying to avoid it you mutter under your breath as you start huffing and puffing. IMG_1611.JPG

From here the zoo becomes a maze.  Hopefully you have kept the map you received upon entering or you may end up lost and a permanent exhibit.  One path leads you through the forest on what can only be described as a hiking trail.  No animals are around but you do come across a large sign explaining the flora of the area.  Remembering that this is a zoo and that you came to see animals you take a break to drink some wine(This is Hungary so it is federal law to have wine, beer, or palinka on any outing), then quickly move on and try to find your way back to where the animals roam.  IMG_1612.JPG

After roaming for a few hours and seeing the tigers and other wonderful animals in large and pretty enclosures you climb another hill to find the much needed restaurant and toilets.  Here you give your barking dogs a break(Your feet and not your pet as he had to be left at home).  After relaxing for a while and finishing the break off with an ice cream you continue your tour by entering the new part of the zoo.  This section of the zoo is an animal resort.  First is the meerkat exhibit which is a large open area that you are actually able to walk inside and get close to the animals.  Things continue like this for a while, though you can not get into the pens of most of the animals, which I am sure is a disappointment to the carnivores.  You will be impressed with the zebra and rhino enclosure.  This massive area seems straight out of Africa.  The animals roam a large area.  It is impressive.  IMG_1616.JPG

A short walk from this area you will discover what Hungarian scientists have been hard at work on.  They have found a way to make a park of plaster dinosaurs.  This is an excellent area of life size dinosaur exhibits.  The dinosaurs are placed chronologically with information plaques in English and Hungarian.  An excellent use of an hour of your time.  Feeding them is allowed though trying to ride them is frowned upon.  IMG_1624.JPG

A full day at a zoo that is well worth it.  Just be sure to visit a spa after completing your trek and have a nice comfortable bed to pass out in at the end of the day.

Poznan, Poland

Poznan is a Polish city located midway between Warsaw and Berlin.  For most of the year 2009 I called this place home.  Not for work or school but just because I wanted to try a different Polish area after living in Warsaw.  L1040212.JPG

Usually I hate flat areas but I fell in love with Poznan straight away, and it is perfectly flat.  The highest point is a man made ski hill by lake Malta which is about 15 meters high.  Speaking of artificial places, Lake Malta is a man made rowing lake.  So two of Poznan’s “natural” attractions are man made.  L1040182.JPG

Most of my days were spent walking around the city.  Back streets, front streets, side streets.  I probably covered every square meter of the city by the time I left.  My favorite area, as is everybody’s, was the rynek.  Rynek is Polish for main square.  Dozens of pubs, discos, cafes and restaurants crowding for space.  I would stop here for a lovely Polish beer every once in a while.  Tyskie I highly recommend.  If you are of the fairer sex or dislike the taste of beer you can order one with raspberry juice which completely changes the taste to uber delicious and sweet.  Uber is a carryover from German since we are close to the border.  Old Town Center 1.JPG

Now I would only stop at the rynek for a drink every few days.  Then I met an Irishman and everything changed.  I suddenly started spending more time in the rynek than at home.  It would always start as let’s just meet for a cheeky pint outside under the sun.  Then one more please(jedno piwo prosze), and one more, and one more.  Then we would say we really had to go and walk away.  After three blocks I would turn around and right as I’m stepping back into the rynek I see the Irishman coming from the opposite corner.  We throw back a few more and then seeing as we had nothing going on for the night continue into the pub and then perhaps the disco.  Polish discos are the only discos I like in the world.  They are the same as anywhere else but I always enjoyed everything in Poland more.  L1040204.JPG

The Irishman being gay took me to an underground gay disco which was also fantastic.  The girls were friendly since all the guys weren’t trying to grope or take them home and all the guys were a hoot, even after I told them I wasn’t gay.  Sadly I found out that night that Poland is not friendly to all people as the disco had a bolted gate that the bouncers would only open for people they knew.  A stain on this otherwise beautiful country.

When not being kept busy with the Irishman I would continue my walks.  Cytadela Park was one of my favorite locations.  A beautiful and large park with a soldiers cemetery(Russian and Polish) and a military museum.  In the summer people come and lay out or have a picnic on the large grass fields.  I spent many a days walking those paths. I also went to an Easter Mass here with friends where tens of thousands of people filled the fields echoing an archbishop as he spoke.  Scariest day of my life. Grass field in the park.JPG

Stary Browar is the old brewery turned into a fantastic mall.  The most beautiful mall I have ever seen.  It was just a five minute walk from my flat so I spent quite some hours just admiring the building.  Inside the mall is split into two separate areas which they decorate beautifully for holidays.  A must see while in the city.  Stary Browar 1.JPG

Out by Lake Malta is the zoo.  This is a fantastic place thanks to the EU.  Whoever was in change spent the money well.  This might be the nicest zoo I have ever been to.  It feels like a park with superb and large enclosures for the animals.  The entry price is also extremely low for the quality of it.  It is a very long walk to the entrance from the nearest tram stop but there is a zoo train.  It is actually a mini train that goes from the tram stop to the zoo entrance.  An extra cost but worth it as it goes along the edge of Lake Malta so the views are nice. You will probably catch some rowers practicing on the lake .PoznanZoo36.jpg

I could talk about Poznan for hours as it is one of my favorite places but I will leave it off with a picture of Willa Wonkas factory.  I loved walking past this place as it felt so creepy and reminded me of the movie.  I never could decide if it was abandoned or not.  WillyWonkaGate2.JPG

Rome- The Overrated City

Rome could be a fascinating city, but it has too many negative aspects that interfere with its rich history.  Let us take the Colosseum as an example.  We have all seen it in its glory in films like Gladiator.  It is a perfect and beautiful piece of architecture.  Yet when you see it in person it is an ugly ruin covered in scaffolding with beggars and thieves bothering your every step.  Perhaps CGI ruined it, or maybe the atmosphere, or just maybe it was always an ugly unimpressive ruin.

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My brother and I cruised through this pit in the middle of Summer which is an awful time to be in the Mediterranean.  The air in the city is suffocating and oppressive.  Not a breeze or hint or air reaches into the ugly, congested streets of this city.  The pollution from the old and ill maintained diesel buses and two stroke scooters add very little ambiance to the situation.  In fact they may be a negative aspect.

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Going out to eat or drink is absurd.  Males are completely ignored by waiters while women are drooled over.  How anybody can find this city romantic is beyond my understanding.  When out in the company of women the waiters hit nonstop on the women with no regard to the men that are with them.  It does not matter if they are siblings or a married couple.  Italian men have no shame and will pursue anything available in any situation.  How the women can walk the streets alone is beyond me.  They are far braver than I or must really desire the attention.

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It took very little time for this city to get on my nerves.  Never have I been so unhappy to be somewhere as I have when in Rome.  My feeling is so negative that I can barely recollect seeing any of the sights.  I know I have been to see the famous fountain, the Colosseum, and other sights because I have pictures, but I do not remember them.  All I remember is wanting to escape from the place.  And do not be fooled into thinking that I have given this city one chance.  Far from it.  I have been here multiple times as it is a gateway for cruises and other journeys of mine.  Each time I know that I must visit this place I get a migraine and wish to the stars that it wasn’t so.

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Why anyone would enjoy a visit to this place is beyond my understanding.  I do know that most people enjoy different experiences than I do, and that Rome is a highly rated tourist destination, but I cannot wrap my head around the why of it.  It is not just Rome that I despise.  The rest of Italy is a waste to me.  From Milan to Tuscany and Venice to Florence.  The whole country and culture is a terrible experience.  Perhaps I should of expected it all though.  The country and city that is the home to one of the most corrupt and evil establishments in the world was never bound to impress me.  I am of course referring to the Holy See.

 

Paris Overview

Paris is the most beautiful city on the planet, plain and simple.  The why is more difficult to nail down.  Budapest is almost identical to Paris but has the added beauty of Fishermans Bastion, Buda Castle, and Parliament.  Yet for some reason it does not surpass Paris.  I will have to leave it for the philosophers to debate.

Billy and Me                         Arc de Triumph

My first, and only, visit to Paris was with my elder brother.  We spent a few days exploring the City in 2005.  All the usual tourist spots were visited and were quite uninteresting, as most tourist traps are.  The most interesting and best stories pertain to the people we met and sights we saw outside the tourist areas.  We stayed in a hostel and as usual met some interesting fellow tourists.  There was a hot American girl, an adventurous Kiwi and Aussie, a racist Jew, a solo Brazilian female, and a Chinese brother and sister.

Staircase to Sacre Cour

The first day we spent sightseeing with the Kiwi, Aussie, and Jew.  It was fine but my brother and I found that going out alone was more interesting.  So after a night of drinking with the Chinese and Brazilian we headed into the city sans company.  In a park we met a tall beautiful girl sitting on a bench with a tall good looking guy.  We stuck up a conversation and found to our excitement that she was a Romanian Victorias Secret model and he was her brother.  I am quite certain my eyes glowed like the sun and my heart skipped a few hundred beats on this news(The finding out he was her brother, not that she was a model). They invited us to a party at a club that evening and we accepted.  Immediately after we parted ways I ran into another girl and we started talking.  It turned out that she was a dancer in some Paris national theatre or something like that.  We walked together for an hour or so and then she invited us both to a party at her flat with her friends.  Like morons we declined and we parted ways.  I will never forget your perfect legs my mystery Parisian dancer.

Billy, Me, Kiwi, and Israel Sacre Cour

That night we went to the club and to our surprise our names were actually on the VIP list.  Sadly we could not take advantage of this amazing opportunity as it was 150 degrees Centigrade inside with an oxygen content of 1%.  Neither of us could stand it and left before even meeting our host.  To this day I do not understand how people can survive and enjoy such and environment.  A shame really.

Paris Hostel

Notre Dame was as expected, the same goes for the Louvre(though the Mon Lisa was much smaller than I expected).  The Eiffel Tower and its surrounding park is impressive.  We didn’t go up the tower and instead went up to the top of the big ugly black office building, Tour Montparnasse.  The view was fantastic, and this was before I had lasik.  I could only dream of what the view would be like to me now.

Billy and Me Paris Catacombs

The crypts are what fascinated me the most.  Seeing all those bones in piles and trying to imagine that each one once lived a life with a family, going to work each day and having the same problems and thinking the same things that I think.  It was eerie, but the designs they made with the bones somehow took away from the sadness and creepiness of it all.  I highly recommend going down into the crypts when you visit Paris.

Me with Mona Lisa

So that was all.  Nothing I can really put into words beyond that Paris is the most romantic and beautiful city on the planet.

Paris: Meeting of Twins

Paris is one of the greatest cities on the planet.  You could argue that fact, but you would be wrong.   My first visit to the city was with my brother.  Now, my brothers and I look like we come from different factories.  Whether my mom cheated with the milkman is of no concern to me, as I only care about who raised me, but when the two of us travel together we look like a gay couple instead of brothers.  It is not an issue and yet does provide the impetus for some interesting conversations with people we come across.

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Every minute is memorable in Paris, as anyone who has been there will tell you.  I could write a small book of the few days I have spent there, telling about the girl in the hostel with a great body that answered her door just pouring out of the tiniest and tightest of towels.  Or meeting a Romanian model and her brother in a park and then going to a club with them that felt like it was 500 degrees with zero percent oxygen. How about sightseeing with a Kiwi, Aussie, and racist Jew? Drinking wine late into the night with Chinese and Argentinian students? Perhaps you would enjoy when I destroyed a food cart on the side of the street because the cook gave me a crepe filled with lime salt and a pepsi when I asked for a nutella crepe with lime miranda.  I mean seriously, how does someone working with tourists all day not speak a word of English?  Come on France, English has been the language of the world for a while now.  Get on board and stop hanging on to your past glory. And before you get upset, I didn’t really smash up his cart, but I really wanted to.

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No, the story I’ve settled on for today is the meeting of two twins.  It actually takes place while in line for the aforementioned crepe.  My brother and I were discussing with each other how beautiful the French women were, and using the two women in front of us as examples.  After the usual pep talk to get ready for battle we moved in, and lo and behold, they spoke in New York accents. Strange for French girls to have New York accents, but I do not judge.

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We started talking about our respective trips and all the usual first meeting subjects.  We walked for a while and then stopped to sit outside of a Parisian cafe.  These twin sisters from New York City were quite interesting and all was well with the world for those few hours.  We drank espresso and talked as the sky got darker and darker.  The subjects did and do not matter.  The words flowed smoothly and all was happy and perfect.  Pictures were taken, phone numbers were exchanged, and the two groups of siblings parted ways into the dark and quiet streets of the iconic city, never to meet again.

 

Normandy Beach

Hundreds of ships hide in the distance, invisible through the fog.  Whistling and deafening explosions are all around from bombs and shells landing nearby.  I suppress my fear as I watch the allies land on the beach in front of me  from my pillbox.

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The reality is that I am standing in a damp and cool sixty year old concrete bunker on a beautiful and sunny French day.  My imagination, with the help of books and films such as Saving Private Ryan, have taken me back to D-Day as only being on the spot can do.  I feel the fear on both sides of the battle, the wondering of how the hell I got into this mess and what I’m really fighting for.  My family at home quickly flashes through my mind.  Will they miss me?  Have a been a good person?  Why is this happening to us?  Why here?  I look at the guys around me.  Fear in all of their eyes.   Dammit.

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The power of being on the spot is fantastic and overwhelming.  Granted, it is just another piece of land with few signs of having ever being a battleground.  The naked French men strolling on the beach might distract a lesser mind or interrupt their dream sequence, but not me.  I can feel the damp of the day even though it is warm.  I smell and taste the acrid smoke of gunpowder though the sea air today is fresh and clean.  It is 06 June 1944 to me and nothing can break the spell until I am ready to leave it.

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World War II is my favorite part of history.  I love all parts of it.  Why I cannot explain, but it is so.  The only other time I have been transported to the past is when I lived in Warsaw.   I take no sides of the event.  Russia was cruel but also a horrible victim.  Ukraine and Poland were decimated. The Jews were slaughtered, though so were many other groups that get much less recognition.  Germans civilians were carpet bombed and abused.  It wasn’t all their fault either as I can see many countries today falling in the same trap of fear and blaming others for their problems. But I digress.

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Normandy Beach is a beautiful and well kept area of France.  The beach is hallow and beautiful.  Structures non-military are few and far between.  The cemetery is perfectly done.  There is really not much to be said about the area.  If World War II interests you, then spend a day here.  Touch the crosses in the cemetery and imagine where that man came from and what his thoughts were that day.  Go to the pillboxes overlooking the sea and try to put yourself in that soldiers boots, knowing that today was your last on this earth. Think of your wife, children, brothers, sisters, father and mother and know you will never see them again.  Take your shoes off, walk on the beach, and picture boys scared to death as they land where you are walking.  Look towards the hill and take in how much open, soft sand there is between you and any bit of cover.  If none of this strikes a chord with you, skip Normandy Beach.

Torun, Poland

Torun is a beautiful town near the middle of Poland.  I enjoyed the few months I got to spend there, even though most of it was Winter.  Let me begin with why I went there.  The truth is, I have no idea.  I guess I got bored in Poznan and wanted to try somewhere new.  Maybe I threw a dart at a map or perhaps somebody told me about Torun, but no matter.  Somehow I ended up living in this lovely place.

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I rented a very small flat one street from the rynek(mainsquare).  My neighbor was supposedly Copernicus but I walked a lot every day and never saw him, so it is probably a lie to get tourists, similar to every church having a piece of the true cross.  I should let it be known here that Copernicus was from Torun. And there is your fact of the day.

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I did not work while I was living here so spent most of my time walking the streets looking around, investigating the quality of the cafes and pubs once the cold had chilled me to my bones.  The river was a fantastic place for a walk.  The view on one side of the walk was a white sheet of ice while on the other was the brown and red of the old city walls.  It is a majestic sight and I highly recommend trying it once.

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Most of the stories I would tell would be quite boring for a reader.  Trying different restaurants and cafes, walking to Auchen or the mall(Which are a long way from the rynek), hanging out in the rynek and shopping streets, seeing the old buildings, walking in the non-tourist areas, having my Russian girlfriend come visit me.  But there are two stories that I believe will be interesting enough to tell, or at the very least they are interesting enough for me to write and conjur up the memories once again.

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On one of my early days in the town I went to a small cellar pub just a few doors down from my flat.  I have never been a shy or uncomfortable person and therefore have never been ill at ease going out by myself.  I actually prefer it as it is a great way to meet people as this story will demonstate.  I was enjoying a beer and people watching in the pub when a group of five people came and sat down with me.  One girl, Dominika, told me that the bartender said she should sit with me and make me comfortable since I was a foreigner.  I guess the bartender and her were friends.  So we started chatting and became friends(I’m a very likeable person and not just a looker).  We weren’t attracted to each other but that made going out and sightseeing together much easier.  We talked, drank tea and coffee, and just had a jolly good time.  I guess I was a sort of attraction in Torun as she enjoyed showing me off, which was fun.

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Later I also had another wonderful experience resulting from my going out alone.  This time was New Years Eve.  I was walking around trying to find somewhere to have a few drinks before watching the fireworks.  I settled on a pub in the rynek.  Again it was a cellar pub and I was the first guest.  Not another soul apart from the bartender.  I was offered a menu with two choices, which were in Polish so I didn’t understand and the bartender didn’t speak English.  At this point I should have noticed something was not right as pubs do not usually offer menus with only two choices.  But I was oblivious and just smiled and asked for a beer(which I could say in Polish) .

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The hours passed on and the pub got quite busy.  Finally a gentleman came up to me and tried to ask me something.  When I said that I don’t speak Polish he responded in very good English, asking how I could work for(some company that I don’t remember) without speaking Polish.  It turned out that I had crashed a companies New Years party.  In that wonderfully receptive Polish style I was welcomed not as an intruder, but as a guest of honor.  I started to get drinks for free and everybody wanted to talk to me.  I was a god among men.  The night finished off with the watching of a spectacular fireworks show and receiving many invitations out in future.

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My few short months in Torun will be forever imprinted in my mind as some of the best in my life.  I have nothing bad to say about the town.  Even the biting cold is a warm and cherished memory.