Ljubljana, Slovenia

You know that you are approaching Ljubljana courtesy of the roadsigns, but you find no other evidence of a capital city approaching.  Most cities announce themselves from afar, with tall buildings, some industry, or at the very minimum a water tower.  Not Ljubljana, which I shall now refer to as the hidden city.  It goes from forest to a city in an instant.  One moment you are looking at trees and the next you are on the off-ramp into the center.

As you leave the motorway and drive through the city you cross nothing special.  There are some clean and modern glass offices and some old grey concrete blocks of flats.  It looks and feels like like most other Eastern Bloc cities.  Hopefully the center will be interesting.  Looking for a parking space you are unable to spy any of the pedestrian area.  Doing a few loops you are amazed to find that there are no spots, which seems old on a weekend.  Giving in you pull into a garage and park right next to the elevators.  Why the spot is painted red you don’t understand.  Another car parks next to you and asks in English why the spots are painted red.  You answer that you have no idea.  They decide to drive higher into the garage but you decide to risk it.  IMG_20170917_124448.jpg

Leaving the garage you enter an empty and dark plaza.  In the corner is a casino, which is the national icon of Slovenia.  Walking towards the center you start to see people wearing hiking packs and other obvious tourists.  On your walk you pass a little fountain decorated with many cute and fat horse statues as well as a very colorful building that would be more at home in Barcelona.  IMG_20170917_124551.jpg

Arriving in the old town surprises you.  The city opens up and a beautiful view presents itself.  A large predestrian area complete with river and bridges fills your view.  To your right is a church but you skip it.  You cross the river and walk along beautiful shops and restaurants.  In front of you rises a castle up on a cliff face.  You would love to go up there but time is not permitting, so instead you roam up and down the little alleys of shops.  All clean and beautiful as you have come to expect from this country.  IMG_20170917_125249.jpg

After ducking into a few of the shops you settle down at a restuarant on the riverside and get a coffee and nachos.  The river is flowing heavily due to the recent downpours.  The water is not the crystal blue you hope for but for some reason the brown water doesn’t bother you.  Your view upriver is fantastic and the one downsteam isn’t too shabby.  After finishing your meal and watching all the well behaved dogs being walked, it is time to explore some more.  Crossing to the other side of the river you stumble across a little market.  Vendors are selling what would best be discribed as junk.  Toys from your childhood, old books, posters, and kitchenware.  You wonder to yourself if anything might be a collectible, but are there really such finds these days? IMG_20170917_130349.jpg

Loving this city you are sad that you have to get to the mountains in the west before nightfall to set-up your camping tent.  A shame that you haven’t gotten to see more of the sights.  A castle on a hill, a huge park, and even dragons on a bridge.  If only you could spend a few days here, but no worries.  You make a mental note to return as soon as possible.

Walking a zig-zag back to the parking garage you stumble across more shops, plazas, government buildings, and restaurants.  All of it looks wonderful.  Lucky Slovenians you mumble to yourself.  IMG_20170917_134519.jpg

Arriving back at your car you are happy to find that the red spot apparantly doesn’t mean anything, as your windshield is free of any papers and the tires are free and clear.  Exiting the structure and driving to the motorway you bid the hidden city farewell.  You will return, given that the road signs stay up and you are able to find it again.

Red Bull Air Races – Budapest 2017

On a hot and stuffy summers day we drive from the largest lake in Europe to the beautiful capital city of Budapest.  During this short hour and a half journey we enjoy the fluffy clouds that are threatening a storm from the comfort of our air conditioned car.  Having just purchased a new kite we also keep a lookout for an open space to give her a test run, but it proves quite difficult picking a spot from the motorway.  Many farm fields open before us and we discuss the possibility of running through these fields destroying crops to get our kite airborne.  Having decided that this is totally worth it we pull over and begin laying out our string only to have a police officer stop and tell us that stopping on the motorway is illegal and so is trespassing on someones property.  Who knew?

Carrying on to Budapest in a sour mood we are surprised at the level of traffic going into the city.  It is a Saturday morning and usually at this time during summer the inbound lanes are clear and the outbound bumper to bumper as the city empties its people to the lake and villages.  Not today.  Both lanes of travel are packed.  Loving suspense I wonder what is going on in the city and look forward to finding some posters or coming across whatever it is but this being the age of smart phones I can only enjoy my suspense for a minute before I am told that the Red Bull Air Races are in town.  Damn you technology.

This is an amazing coincidence.  I have been to the Budapest air races before and loved it.  I know they are run right in front of Parliament over the Duna river and our hotel is on Margaret Island which is right at the end of the race course.  I couldn’t have planned our visit better if I had actually researched it.  After working our way through the traffic and checking into the hotel we grab a bottle of wine and head for the races.

Walking across the beautiful park that is Margaret Island we arrive at Margaret Bridge and are greeted with the awesome sound of pure horsepower.  Now this is an amazing rebuke to the “safety first” culture of today as these air races take place in the middle of a city, in front of an incredibly beautiful building, meters off the water and meters from bridges full of people and traffic.  There is even a flight under one of the bridges and a low speed pass by a WizzAir A321.  It is all very exciting and a breath of fresh air, except for the fumes.

Do not worry about getting your moneys worth, as the city puts this show on for free.  Grab a drink, find some shade, and enjoy your childhood dream zoom right across your face(If tearing through the center of a city at ground level in an agile and powerful plane was not your childhood dream then we have serious issues to discuss, but we will leave that for later).

After watching for a while and polishing off our wine we move on to the other offerings of this incredible city, all the while enjoying the sound of pure adrenaline fading into the distance.

 

RyanAir

No….and no.  It is just that simple.  You get what you pay for has no truer example than RyanAir.  Do the right thing and fly EasyJet or WizzAir, or gasp, a national carrier.  Everything from top to bottom about this airline is rotten.  From the creepy CEO to the poor flight attendants selling scratchcards on board.  It is a quagmire how such a beautiful nation(Ireland for those that don’t know where this airline is based) can cause so much harm to the world.  This airline, the financial crisis, the IRA.  It is incredible.

Don’t do it unless you really enjoy being treated as a piece of meat and really need to save every copper.

The Hungarian People

Hungarians are the strangest people I have come across in my life, which is made all the more weird since they are in the middle of Europe and surrounded by cultures I like.

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Let me begin with their physical appearance.  A german looks German, a Swede looks like a Swede, a Brit looks like a Brit, a Slav looks like a Slav, an Arab looks like an Arab, the Japanese look Japanese, and an Indian looks Indian.  Every country on this planet has a look. Even Americans look American.  It is easy to tell an American black from an Ethiopian.  Hungary is the only country I know of that doesn’t follow this rule.  They have no identity at all.  They look very plain.  I cannot even say that they have mixes of German, Turkish, or Russian, because they don’t look like it.  Go to Hungary and try it.  Sit in a cafe and guess peoples nationalities.  It will be easy with the tourists, but Hungarians you will mistake every single time until you hear them speak.

Then their is their attitude.  I have two complaints about it.  They are the most negative people on the planet and also have an unhealthy, almost religious, obsession with food.  Lets begin with their negativity.  Most of them act like dogs that have been beaten.  They never smile when walking and forget about anyone saying hello or good day.  I was told by some Hungarians that if you do smile to strangers they will think that you have a mental problem.  This all goes out the window once you have befriended them.  Then they become extremely nice and hospitable, showering you with food and drinks and making you feel like an honored guest in their house.  I feel it my duty here to tell you the golden rule of Hungary.  ‘Never refuse a palinka when offered’.  Palinka is the Hungarian drink and forms a bond between you and the host immediately upon sharing one.  Refuse and you will make a lifelong enemy.  So do not visit Hungary if you do not drink.  If you do visit prepare your liver for destruction.  Real palinka made by grandfathers, and not the store bought stuff, is extremely strong.  Drinking it has resulted in my only blacked out night.  So prepare yourself.

Beyond this they always think the worst of every situation.  To illustrate this point I will tell the story of a girl I knew.  She was applying to get a job and had an interview.   I wished her luck, helped her practice the interview questions, and told her she would do great.  He parents, yes her own parents, told her that she probably wouldn’t get the job and not to get her hopes up.  That about sums up their attitude to life.  I guess it is from being such a poor country under the Soviet Unions boot. Being poor might also explain their facination with food.  Where the British greet each other by asking about the weather, Hungarians greet each other by asking how their last meal was or what they are going to eat.  90% of any conversation concerns food.

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Hungarians also seem to have extremely poor decision making skills.  As a country they have been on the wrong side of every war.  Even now they are the most zenophobic country in Europe and the Prime Minister is a complete and utter moron.  But I do give them some credit for the obviously evil Jobbik party not winning, though they did come close.  They seem to refuse to learn English, which is weird and stupid when compared to Poland.  Most poles learn English and take advantage of the EU and go work in the UK.  But as you can guess Hungarians don’t learn English and don’t take advantage of the EU.  Instead they get extremely low paying jobs at home and then complain about it.

So Hungarians are the weirdest people I have ever met.  If food is your enjoyment in this life or you ever feel a need to be surrounded by negativity then I recommend you move to a Hungarian village.  The cost of living is almost nil, so go ahead and do it today.

 

An Overview of Poland

Poland is my second favorite country on the planet.  That might sound strange, especially to a Pole, but it is the truth.  My reason for this is not a sound one based on any tangible facts, it is merely because I always felt comfortable and at home while there.  This opinion is not based on a weekend or summer holiday in the country, but on living there for about two years in multiple areas.

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As this is an overview I will stick to generalities of the country, with individual stories of the cities and villages to come later.

First off, Poland is a very large country but is not a melting pot like Germany.  In my two years there I cannot remember ever seeing a black person outside of Warsaw.  So it is highly Slavic, which is fine by me as I love Slavic women.  And that takes me to my first love of the country, which is the people.  I have already mentioned that the women are beautiful but beyond this they dress well and are good with cosmetics.  I have found that only Russian are better are showing themselves off and are the only people on the planet trained from birth to walk in heels.  But beyond the superficial beauty I found them all intelligent, educated, fun, and interesting.  Some of the best nights of my life were sitting in a pub drinking wine, laughing and having interesting conversations with a Pole.  And I do not mean only the women.  I also had some male friends that were the same.  This is a huge difference from Russia where I found all the men to be worthless drunks.  So the people are a huge attraction.

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My next love was the safety.  I have never felt so safe before.  I would walk anywhere by myself at any time of day or night.  Many times after leaving the pub I zigzagged my way through dark streets and never had an issue.  There was only once that I felt uncomfortable and turned around and that was a street out of the center in Krakow with a few locals hanging outside  their BMWs in a group.  For comparison there were many places I would not walk in Washington D.C., San Francisco, and all other US cities.  I never felt safe or comfortable in Hungary, and I didn’t even like going out alone in the daytime in Russia.  Maybe I was just lucky, but I tell it like it is.

Here is my biggest love of Poland.  The history!  I am a fan of military history and Poland has it is spades.  Yes, Hungary has an interesting history as well but the Turks don’t interest me near as much as the Nazis.  The Polish history is facinating.  I couldn’t get through their history books fast enough.  The only reason I liked Warsaw was that every corner of the city has some mark from the war.  Walking the streets it would take me hours to go a few blocks as I would stop and read all the plaques and touch the walls.  I dreamed of the Warsaw Uprising when I slept.  It was all so magical.  I’ll sure the locals would call the memories by a different name but for me it was incredible.  I also know of no other country that didn’t exist, then re-existed, then didn’t exist again and so on.  I recommend you read some history books about the country before visiting or while riding the trains around.

The ryneks! These are the main squares.  Warsaw doesn’t really have one but all the other cities do.  Full of restaurants, clubs, and pubs, they are beautiful areas that fill with people sitting outside in the summer.  I used to spend hours sitting outside with my friends drinking beers and watching people walk by.  It is darn near my idea of a perfect city center.

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Should I continue?  I think not.  I try to keep these posts short so you don’t get bored, but do not think for a moment it is for lack of material.  But I will discuss some of the problems with Poland.  Oh yes, it has problems just like anywhere else.   It is so religious that it is scary and that holds them back a bit.  They are homophobic, racist, etc.  Gay bars have to lock their doors and only admit people they know(My best friend in Poland is gay). The government is poorly run, though they have improved by leaps and bounds lately.  In the winter the whole country smells of coal, but I actually enjoyed the smell, plus I don’t mind losing a few years of my life.  I think we all live too long anyway.  And I think that is about it.  I’m sure for residents there are more complaints but I don’t really have any.  It is a wonderful country to visit and just icing on the cake if you enjoy military history.  In later posts I will discuss my experiences in the individual cities  where I lived, inlcuding Warsaw, Krakow, Torun, Poznan, and Wrolcaw.