Kobarid, Slovenia

Tucked in the mountains on the extreme western edge of Slovenia is the tiny town of Kobarid.  You may be familiar with the town without knowing it as it featured in Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms.  During World War I it was the front line between Italian and Austro-Hungarian forces. You should read up on it as the history is interesting.  After many battles the Italians retreated but were given the area after the war(Spoils to the victor). In the hills surronding the town you can still find trenches and embattlements, but those days of fighting are long past.  Now this beautiful area is a nature lovers and adverturers paradise.

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The town proper has a small main street with a hotel and restaurants.  There is the Kobarid museum, a school, quite a few guide shops(one selling my favorite outdoor wear, Prana), and of course, houses.  Surrounding the town are a few campgrounds and mountains full of well marked trails, both hiking and biking.  But the main attraction is the Soca River.  This colorful river hosts kayakers, swimmers, and rafters.  There are a few bridges offering fantastic views.  By following little crystal clear streams that enter into the Soca you will come to some impressive slap(Slovenian for waterfall, perhaps named after the sound they make).

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Make Kobarid a stop on your trip through Slovenia.  The campgrounds are fantastic(Detailed in another post), the pizza at the restaurants delicious, the river and waterwalls beautiful.  There is nothing not to like.  Kayak or raft down the river, hike or bike up the mountains, travel back to World World I by standing in the embattlements and visiting the museum.  Then spend a day relaxing , just staring at the mountains and breathing in the fresh air.

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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

The Greatest City on Earth- New York 2005

New York City is the greatest city in the world and the FDNY is the greatest fire department on the planet.  Now that we have these facts established we can get to the story.

Early morning before the sun had showed itself to Washington D.C.,  Joe and I hopped on a Greyhound bus bound for that king of cities, New York.  We were both firemen and paramedics for Washington D.C. but the FDNY was our dream fire department.  We had decided to visit the city and fire houses.  The year was 2005.  DSC00530

After sleeping in fits on the bus we arrived at the Port Authority of the Big Apple.  Walking outside to the first lights of day the city impressed itself upon us.  The streets were empty save a few women hanging around the corner.  One turned away to show her jeans missing quite a bit of material, to the tune of her butt showing brighter than the morning sun.  Welcome to beautiful New York.  The next block we saw our beloved fire department working on a car crash.  No fancy, expensive equipment that other less skillful departments use.  Just basic hand tools, skill, and experience needed here. DSC00515

Finding very little to do so early in the morning we made our way to Central Park where we quickly staked out a piece of grass and slept the sleep of the tired and free.  Once the sun had risen high enough it woke us and we were off to see the city, after covering a good amount of the park.  We only had two days so we walked with a purpose.  We were double busy.  Actually, we walked with a purpose to the subway and let it do most the work.  DSC00520

Our first stop was the Empire State Building.  We walked down the avenues, passing Famous Original Rays pizza on the way and FDNY 14 Engine, also known as Sweet 14.  If you are offended by that you need to take a good hard look at yourself.  We got tired of walking so decided to take the subway to the Empire State building.  Neither of us knew the city so we guessed it was on the tip of Manhatten.  When we stopped and got above ground we realized our mistake.  The building was the same size as when we went down to the subway, just reversed.  Since we were penny pinching we decided to hoof it.  After taking a picture of the Statue of Liberty we walked via the Ghostbusters fire house to the Empire State Building.  Along the way we passed Famous Original Rays pizza, which seemed odd.  DSC00526

This expedition took us all day and come nightfall we ended up in the bunk room of the Engine 7 fire house.  This was after three other houses turned us away because they didn’t have room.  After a steak dinner at a nearby chop house we slept.  Soundly for me but Joe was too excited.  He stayed up and filmed the engine and ladder truck go out on a call. DSC00534

Come morning we took the subway to Coney Island.  Somehow we passed Famous Original Rays on the way to the subway entrance.  I will tell you a secret of the New York Transit Authority.  They love confusing tourists.  They have express trains and local trains, but this wasn’t explained to us.  So luck being what it is we ending up on the local all the way out to Coney Island, the last stop on the line.  So we got to see every subway from start to finish of the two hour trip.  Ah, I can still remember the 52nd street platform with fond memories(Not really).  Coney Island is a fun and entertaining place in Summer.  It brings out all sorts of people.  Contrasted with Winter when it only brings out the mentally ill and is therefore entertaining, but not fun.  DSC00559

Finished touring Coney Island we rode the train back to the city for an Italian lunch in China Town. Don’t be silly, of course it was in Little Italy, but only after passing Famous Original Rays. But believe me when I say that we took the express this time.  Two hours sitting in a rattling tin tube made me focus and decode the map, and by decode the map I mean a local noticed me staring at the wall map for twenty minutes with a blank expression on my face and took the time to explain the system to me.  That man will always be my hero.  DSC00566

After a satisfying meal in Little Italy we returned to the beauty that is the Port Authority for our bus ride back home.  Though it was twelve years ago that trip will always be imprinted in my memory.  I have been back many times to visit my favorite city.  Most recently was just a year ago with my wife.  And we passed Famous Original Rays and had the best slices of pizza ever!