Jonathan Worthington :: jnthn.net

East Europe

In August 2007 I grabbed my backpack and spent just over a week hanging around in Eastern Europe. Starting in Budapest, capital of Hungary, I headed north up the Danube to Bratislava, the Slovakian capital, East to the High Tatras, around them into Poland and finished up in Krakow. I grabbed about 30 minutes in Warsaw on my way to the airport to fly on to a business meeting immediately following the trip. Joining me for most of the trip was Gary, a friend from my uni days. It was his first backpacking trip.

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Budapest

The hostel in Budapest was set in one of the slightly seedier parts of town, which meant a ten fifteen minute walk around the area rewarded me with no less than three leaflets being handed to me promising attractions such as "Hot Girls! Hot Cars! Hot Coffee!". Wandering towards the river was somewhat more rewarding, and soon I was enjoying the party atmosphere amongst the stalls on the Chain Bridge. Budapest actually used to be two cities, Buda and Pest. The hostel was on the Pest side, as was St Stephen's Bascillica. The castle and hills are on the Buda side, which was my favourite of the two.
































































































Along The Danube

A few photos from the hydrofoil along the Danube from Budapest to Bratislava.






Bratislava

The Slovakian capital was my favourite city of the trip. The old town's streets are too narrow for cars to drive through, making it a joy to walk around. On a tour, it felt like every other building had been a palace at some point in its life. The main square was beautiful and so, so quaint. The castle was also a nice place to spend some time and offerred nice views over the city, both the older part and the new, more modern part that I didn't spend any time in.



































Tatranska Lomnica

After the cities, it was time to head for the mountains! A cheap four hour train later, we were at Poprad-Tatry, the base of the mountains. The crazily cheap mountain trains (TEZ) whisked us up to the mountain village of Tatranska Lomnica. It's a bit of a tourist hot spot, but still managed to be very plesant and, for the most part, uncrowded.









Up Into The Tatras

The morning dawned with almost clear skies, and a long queue later we were on our way up on the gondola into the High Tatras. The sky quickly clouded over, though, and when we reached the top the weather was really closing in. We took another chair-lift to go yet higher - a heck of a good ride - and walked around a bit on the plesso (Slovakian for plateau) at the top of that. Our luck with the weather ran out on the way down the chair lift though. Rain would have been a tad annoying, but the hail stones were just plain painful! The incredible views made it all worthwhile, though. I'd love to go back on a clearer day.









































A Walk Near Strbske Plesso

A train ride away at Strbske Plesso, there was much nicer weather to be enjoyed for the afternoon. We walked up to a lake, and then back down to Strbske Plesso itself. The first walk is on very, very easy terrain and really quite easy to pace out. The second one was on slightly tougher terrain (which was indicated on the map), though I've walked on far worse and it was very enjoyable. The views were, again, beautiful.

























































Zakopane

A bus ride to the Polish border, a quick flash of the passport and a ride in a random minibus landed us in the Polish resort of Zakopane. It was, and certainly felt like, a town rather than a village. It was also a lot more touristy and busy. The hostel was super-quaint from the outside and very comfortable on the inside. There was a funicular railway and a couple of chairlifts very close to the town center, which were enjoyable. The cable car up to the high place in the mountains where you can stand with one foot in Poland and one in Slovakia was, unfortunately, closed for maintainance though.















































On The Way To Krakow

The train from Zakopane to Krakow was, again, super-cheap and, unlike the Slovakian ones, looked like something that had arrived directly from the sixties! It was comfortable enough, though certainly not speedy. On the way I spotted what looked like a railway "gaveyard", with a load of old trains in it, and snapped a couple of shots through the train window.








Krakow

Krakow is often called the cultural capital of Poland. Unlike much of Poland, the buildings survived a lot of damage in World War II since the Germans stationed their troups there. The Jewish community in Krakow, however, was decimated. A trip to the Jewish History Museum, in the Jewish quarter, reveals how total the extermination was. If you've never been deeply shocked at the Halocaust, this place will do it. I left sad and angry. The city is packed with churches, some of which I photographed below, but they are a fraction of what you can find. The main city square is impressive - it reminded me a little of Red Square in Moscow with its many amazing buildings and even more people, though not as spectaculor. The salt mines were also interesting to visit, and our tour guide was amusing and informative. Last but not least, there's the castle, which is a really impressive bit of architecture.









































A Moment In Warsaw

The train to Warsaw from Krakow was faster and more modern than the one from Zakopane. I had to make it to the airport fairly soon after my arrival, but had time to take a wander around the area immediately surrounding the train station.





Reflections

I had no idea what to expect from Eastern Europe, and went with an open mind. It turns out that it is one of the most fascinating places I have been and, in places, amongst the most beautiful too. I certainly hope to visit other countries in the region in the future. And when it comes to Slovakia, I'll surely be back for more - what a wonderful country!


All content Copyright (C) Jonathan Worthington 2003-2006 unless otherwise stated.