Travel Journal Entry #21: From Ostrava to Krakow

Europe Travel Journal TWENTYONE

There are always plenty of surprises when you travel. Most of the surprises are usually bad apples but when our feet touched the ground at Ostrava we were up for a treat. Truthfully I did not have high expectations for Ostrava as the main reason we decided to visit the city was our lousy butt muscles. The train travel time would have been roughly seven hours if we had taken direct connection from Prague to Krakow, Poland. The fine city of Ostrava met us in the middle.

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Ostrava watch tower has a quite a fountain. Willy on the loose!

The hotel we picked was the best we’ve had so far – the owners wanted to pick us up from the train station so we had zero hassle with luggage. Hence we were able to get our classic people holding a sign with our names on it – moment on our trip. Ten minute car trip and we received keys to our hotel room. For our surprise the room was actually a whole apartment with separate bedroom, living room and a open kitchen space.  Would have been awesome to spend a longer time with this kind of apartment setup but we only stayed two nights here. So we decided to make the most of it!

Ostrava did not have many wonderful sights to visit so we ended up visiting the local watch tower and stroll around the city. The entrance fee was minimal and the height was reached via elevator. The views were pretty sweet but unfortunately the safety fence ruined the Kodak moment. Other option was to steer your camera lens through the safety net and risk dropping your phone. Mission accomplished!

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Down below the majestic circle of casual traffic.

Our host dropped us back to railway station and we were off to our final destination of the Europe trip, Krakow. It felt sort of sentimental to hop off from the last train and understand that your not boarding a train anymore. The only thing left is to experience this city and all that it offers – then fly back to homeland. I was kind of scared of how long it would take to adjust back to the normal day-to-day life. I wanted to hide that thought to the back of my head for now.

I can only say that Krakow was a delight and there were so many things to see and explore. As we knew that our flight out of Krakow to Helsinki would be a really early one (7 AM or something), we decided to visit the concentration camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau on first day in town and explore the city on the last one.

I am sure most of you have watched the documentaries and read about the concentration camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau but you only get a glimpse to the torture, destruction and slaughter of innocents. When you actually land your feet on the ground and walk through that gate with the innocent looking railroad tracks..

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Your steps get a bit more heavier with every step.

You read the informative boards, stories of survivors, events that occurred and the actions that were lashed upon innocent souls. Just the first one you read after walking through the gate gives you a solid punch in the gut:

Immediately after getting off the train, the Jews were ordered to line up into two columns, one of women and children and the other of men. Each column was subjected to “selections” by SS doctors and medical orderlies, there and then on the ramp: the strong and the healthy were separated from the old, the sick, and children. People selected as fit for work were sent to the camp. The others, usually 70 to 75 percent of a transport, were sent to be murdered in the gas chambers.

Of course nowadays the place is only a shadow of the horror it used to be.

I believe it’s best just to look at the pictures and let them do the talking.

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The memorial plate in front of Auschwitz-Birkenau

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Road to the “living” quarters.

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Imagine having one minute to do your business next to hundred others. Sit a bit too long on the toilet and you will be beaten, possibly to death.

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Endless rows of uncomfortable bunk beds. When the mornings came, there were literally dead among the woken.

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Lone chimneys standing inside a two meter high razor spike fence. Every single chimney was once lit in order to survive.

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The road you only walked once. The prisoners were lied to be taken for a refreshing shower but it was Zyklon B, cyanide gas. One minute in the chamber was enough to kill an adult.

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Some of the prisoners fought back and were able to burn the original gas chamber factory.

“On October 7, 1944, members of the Sonderkommando – the special detachment of Jewish prisoners who were forced to empty the gas chambers after a mass gassing and undertake the burning of the corpses – organized the only armed revolt that ever took place at Auschwitz. They succeeded in destroying Gas Chambers and Crematorium IV. More than 450 heroic prisoners who took part in the revolt were murdered by the SS, either during the revolt itself or subsequently for the purpose of retaliation.”

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The only thing we can do now is to remember the victims and make sure it never happens again.

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The (rail) road ends here.

It was a long, hard day and made me really grateful for the things we take for granted. Freedom of speech, freedom of own choices and actions. Freedom to live life as we see fit. The next morning was the last day of our long trip and we spent it wondering around the city center of Krakow.  Last few remaining sightseeing moments flew by and the remaining time was spent hunting down some souvenirs for the folks at home.

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Our hotel was next to the Grunwald Monument. The battle of Grunwald between Poland and Lithuania is considered to be one of the greatest battles ever to take place in medieval Europe.

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The market plaza had a lot to offer for tourists and various museums, shops and churches were only few steps away.

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The river Veiksel flows gently through Krakow. Picture taken from the Wawel Castle wall.

There we have it.

The journey through Europe was finished the next day with a flight via Amsterdam to Helsinki.  So many thoughts, stories and memories. Great laughs. Truthfully there is plenty to tell about and perhaps I will share some of these memories later in my website.

As all of you might now, I am finishing this travel diary almost three months late as I have been extremely with life in general –  going back to work and actually passing a entrance exam for another study program. In 2018 I am going to expand into a whole new territory in the work department.

All I can say for now is the fact that my traveling days are not finished.

Catch you on the flipside!

– George

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Travel Journal Entry #20: Devil Drinks In Praha

For everyone thinking about taking a short vacation to forget the workload waiting at home, Prague is a well deserved choice. The price level is quite low compared to Finland, the Public transportation works almost flawlessly and the city has plenty to offer for a long or short time visitor. 

Views from the Vltava river.

Once again a river (this time it’s Vltava) flows through the city and the views are way spectacular as a result. Large flocks of swans swim in the river and taddle into the beach to eat breadcrumbs from tourists. Large open deck boats pass through each others and the tourists keep waving to strangers at bay. 

Swan party yay!

For someone who appreciates quality drinks from beer to wine, there are plenty of options to choose from. Praha and it’s outskirts are home to many Chezch breweries. Buying drinks from the local market won’t hurt your wallet as one beer usually costs about 20 koruna (less than one euro)

Church of our Lady before Týn.

We spent four nights in Prague and our daytrips consisted of visiting the famous Bone church in Kutna Hora, spending one day walking in the Prague city center and last day we took a journey to the Prague Castle. As our wifi was the worst we ever experienced, we spent plenty of time adventuring.

Bone church in Sedlec. Aka Sedlec Ossuary.

The bone church of Sedlenc resides in the town of Kutna Hora, most easily reached by local train. Travel time to Kutna Hora is roughly 50 minutes so I advice you to bring your headphones for a good ol’ jolly time. As we were traveling in the low season we got a whole traveling cabin for ourselves. Easy living. From the train station you can either walk 1.3 kilometer to the church or pay roughly 50 cent to hop on a bus.

Family crest build from actual human bones.

The bone church is not a large attraction but rather a shocking one. The inside of the church is decorated with the bones of 4000 people. The church dates back to the middle ages and there is also open display for skulls of men who fought in the wars. Medieval weaponry made horrific damage to one’s skull and the survival rate from a strike was almost always zero. I recommend a visit there! 

Stairs to Praha Castle.

The Prague Castle is also worth mentioning for. You take this large steep rise of stairs to the top and you can see the whole skyline of Prague from the top. There are metal detection gates and a lot of police/army guarding the castle so it’s wise to leave large bags at the hotel. Less hassle and makes the entry and exit way easier.

Golden gates at Praha castle. Damn statues like to stab.

I will probably write a more extensive entry on Prague when I have arrived back to Finland. The thought of returning back to home still feels like a odd dejavu dream in back of my head. But all adventures must end. That doesn’t stop planning for a new one! Next stop will be city of Ostrava, can’t wait!

Enjoy your day!

– George

Travel Journal Entry #19: The Shadows of Nürnberg

As the World War II slowed down after the Germany’s surrender in 1945, the infamous war crimes were uncovered from the shadows and the troubling news were read from all over the world. Justice had to be served. Court of justice was established in the German city of Nürnberg and sentences were given in what the world would later call the Nürnberg trials.

Nürnberg railway station under repair.

Before the World War II  the city of Nürnberg had been the epicenter of the Nazi party and the largest and most important Nazi rallies had been held there. As a conclusion it was a fitting end to sentence the Nazi war criminals in the same city where it all had started.

Entrance to the old town/city centre.

I was particularly curious how Nürnberg and its citizens had progressed from the heavy shadows of it’s past. Maybe it was the fact that I knowingly tried to compare Nürnberg to my earlier visits in Germany, the ambiance was different. A bit colder, a bit rougher, a bit darker. Nevertheless strangers felt friendly as always. 

As we only spent day and a half in Nürnberg, we had to make choices what to see. So we picked the city center and the Nurenberg castle near it for a day trip. Truthfully the city is not a tourist sensation, at least in the end of September. But that didn’t bother us at all as the local population kept the city busy. 

The past is water under the bridge?

The city centre was not a large one and you were able to walk from end to end in fifteen minutes. The river Pegnitz split the city center in two sides which enabled us to take a couple of bridge shots. The color of water has been fascinating to watch through Europe as it changes a lot. In Switzerland the water was light blue as in Nürnberg the water was deep green. 

Castle entrance out there somewhere!

The Nurenberg castle was located at the edge of the city center and the road leading to the castle was a steep one! Well, not horrible for a normal sized person but for me it was literally a small uphill battle. However every climb so far on my journey through Europe has been rewarded with great views of the city. This one was pretty neat if you don’t count how many cranes there are in the horizon!

View from the castle wall.

Anyhow the city of Nürnberg gave us a fresh experience of a smaller town in Germany. Perhaps there is more going on during the high season? Please do leave comments if you have first hand knowledge. Next journal will be from the city of Prague, Chezch Republic.

– George

Travel Journal Entry #18: Viel spaß in Munich

The first thing that comes to my mind when Munich is mentioned – Oktoberfest. We met friendly folks dressed in traditional Bauern clothing the very second we stepped into metro. Beer was shared, women were dressed to perfection and everyone was having fun. Except us as we were struggling to move our luggage to our hotel. Fun had to wait a bit longer. 

Oktoberfest maddness.                                                             

I have to rant a bit about showers in german hotels – do they plan them for goblins or humans? Once again the struggle was real as I did not fit to squeeze into the shower and even my friend lost his mind trying to turn in the damn thing. Small showers seem to be a thing in Germany.  Please do correct me if I’m wrong. 

Everybody having fun. Lederhosen shorts are cool.

Change of clothes and we were off to Oktoberfest. Security was tough as anyone would expect these days. Bags were not allowed and everyone had to open their jackets before entering. Then we were met with amusement park rides and small shops offering all kinds of snacks, drinks, grill food and of course beer. The biggest breweries had their own houses where you could reserve tables. As we came late the most places where packed full.

Luckily we found a empty table from outside and sat down. Drink maidens came to take orders and we were set. At first we were surprised that the beer cost 10,90 per pint but then we realized it was a 1 litre (0.26 gallons) pint. I can safely say you don’t have to order many times to get drunk. For us two per person was enough!

This is what 1 litre of beer looks like.

To counter the fun we had, we went to the Dachau concentration camp memorial next day to respect the dead and those who had to endure horrific acts under Nazi rule. We spent a lenghty three hours there and afterwards I felt really sad. So many souls lost for one bitter mans idealogy.

Many entered through this gate and never returned.

The Dachau concentration camp held estimately 206 000 “persons of interest” that were sent to concentration camp as “precaution”. One thing that separates Dachau from other concentration camps was the fact that the gas room was built but not used for total extermination. Victims lost their lifes due to fatigue from work, hunger and diseases. 

Map showing prisoner numbers by country.

After Hitlers power started to fade by the invading allied countries, the US army arrived to Dachau and liberated the camp from the german eliye SS soldiers. Thus ending the torture of thousands of innocent lifes. After the surrender of Germany in 1945 many high profile SS-commanders and soldiers were put on trial in Nürnberg for their war crimes. 

Original gate door. Work makes you free. Not. At. All.

Hence the next destination for us will be the city of Nürnberg. The main location for the Nazi party and the Nazi Nurenberg rally parties held annually before the dawn of World War II. I wonder how the city is nowadays, living with the shadows of the dark past? Report coming soon! Good night!

– George

Travel Journal Entry #16: Drinking Wine in Wien

Wien is one of those cities which one must visit once during their lifetime. In Finland we have this one popular finnish pop song (often sang in karaoke bars) that starts it’s chorus as below:

“I’ve drinked wine in Wien, plenty of pints in Lübeck..”

So of course we had to drink wine in Wien and cross that one off our to-do list. Nevertheless Wien is much more than just a place to drink as there is much to explore and see first-hand. If you’re a foodie then you better take a seat – traditional dishes are very popular in Wien and literally melt in your mouth *Warm memories of Sachertorte enter*. Ever had Apfelstrudel, traditional applepie with whipped cream?

Apfelstrudeln, Apple Pie Wien style.

After stocking your belly full of delights you better burn those calories by walking the city streets. Architecture of Wien will not let you down and there are many fascinating buildings with rich history. Let’s take Schönbrunn castle for example. The 1441-room Baroque palace was once imperial summer residence for the noble monarch family of Habsburg. Even Napoleon spent nights in Schönbrunn after he won wars.

Schönbrunn Castle from the main entrance.

For fashionistas the city centre is filled with luxurious fashion shops and other high valued status merchandise where the knee-deep rich can spend portion of their their bank accounts. The views from the shopping streets are beautiful as the old architecture blends very well to the new buildings. One thing you cannot miss in Wien are the horse carriages which take the tourists for a stroll in the city. 

Horse carriages next to St. Peters Church.

Now we have just arrived to the city of Salzburg and let me tell you folks, this place will be a glorious adventure. Austrian city which is next to the snowy Alps..did we hop into the cable car already? All aboard! Enjoy your thursday!

– George

Travel Journal Entry #15: A Moment in Budapest

The journey to Budapest started with a logistical mess. When we first arrived to Budapest the customer service assured us that we don’t have to reserve seats from Zagreb to Budapest. However when we got to train station the train planning had changed. 
Luckily we were top on out game and went to check. Turned out that due to construction we had to reserve seats and use train-bus-train connection to Budapest. The traveling was bothersome as we had to jump from transport to other while carrying our luggage. Only relief was the fact that the last train was almost empty so we got an entire cabin of six seats for ourselves.

The Buda Castle.

Budapest seems to share similarities with Finland and with a quick look from window it would be hard to differentiate which country is in question. Only difference is in the landscape – you will probably see mountains/high terrain in the distance.

Budabest life on street level.

Spending two days in Budapest gives you good understanding why people in Finland book quick and cheap flights for a weekend here. Eating is quite cheap and the price level in supermarkets are about 40% lower than in Finland. The weather in September is still relativily warm (during our stay about 26′ Celsius) compared to northern countries.

Most of the attractions are among the Tonava-river and the various restaurants are close by to enjoy the view. During our stay we didn’t focus so tightly on sightseeing than experiencing the daily life in Budapest. Perhaps the fatigue of travelling is starting show in us as we have been on the road for over a solid month now. Metro was definately the wisest choice to travel in the city and the busses were also the same quality as in Finland. 

Coffee time at The Donut Library. YUUM.

I will probably return here for a weekend trip to enjoy the hungarian ambience and enjoy lower price rates. Definitely recommend visiting Budapest with a group of friends!

Now we have arrived to Wien and the climate is turning colder by the destination. Nevertheless I am glad to speak german again for a week or so (next destinations Salzburg, München, Nürnberg). Ach Jawohl! Oktoberfest is around the corner as well..can’t wait. Enjoy your monday night!

– George

Travel Journal Entry #14: Quick Split to Zagreb


Who would have known that it will take some time for your body to adjust to a colder climate. Lesson learned as now I have suffered two days the symptoms of a cold. Runny nose and sore throat is a bitch when you’re trying to explore new places. Hence I will squeeze the city of Split and Zagreb into one journal entry. 

Near the Split Old Town gates. I dubbed the statue Nostradamus.

We took a bus connection from Dubronivk to Split and it was kind of awesome change to our traveling habits. As you rail for over two months you start to get sick of the procedure of jumping trains all the time. The bus was super comfy to spend 4 hours in and the views from the windows were amazing as most of the roads were mountain/coastal roads. 

Split pier at night.

At first Split felt less tourist-y than Dubronivk and we were thrilled. However during our stay we were actually amazed how many Finns had booked their holiday in Croatia. It got a bit bothersome as we were used to being the only Finns around and speak freely about anything. In a way listening to others speak finnish made me realize that normal 8-4 life is just couple of months away. I hated the familiar feeling in my gut.

Clouds forming while traveling in train.

That’s when the symptoms of cold kicked in. In Italy we got used to 35′ Celsius weather every single day of the week and Split was the first city we started to feel almost ten degrees less on our skin. The A/C machine in our hotel was cranked too low and my bed was just under the flow of air. Rest is history. I wiped my runny nose and we headed to Zagreb. Weather turned rainy and colder than ever before.
22 degrees and raining. Oh dear, this is what autumn looks like. Pumpkin spice latte and ugg-boots here we come. It was time to pull the jacket out of my luggage and change shorts for something warmer. Nevertheless Zagreb is cozy town with a entertaining venues and restaurants. We wanted to try local traditional food so our hostel keeper adviced to try strukli. What is strukli you ask? 

Strukli looks something like this.

Basically strukli consists of dough, cottage cheese, eggs, sourcream. Additional fillings are put in by personal choice. It’s hard to describe to someone who has not tasted it but it was kinda like lasagna with other ingredients. Took away our hunger and would love to eat it again. 

St. Mark’s Church. Beautiful roof, huh?

We did not find any superior must-see sights in Zagreb so we went for our personal ones. There is a museoum of torture and we found it fascinating. You got a free multimedia device with the tour which gave further explanation on the torture devices. Only one conclusion was made after the tour, we humans are painfully creative at inventing ways to hurt each other. 

Tools of torture at Zagreb Museum of torture.

As we only spent two nights at Zagreb, I feel like there would be way more to see here. But perhaps that is a tale for another time. Tomorrow we will continue the journey to Hungary’s well known capital, Budapest. See you there and goodnight!

– George