Thursday, August 23, 2012

Our Adventure Continues

Krr-azy for Krakow.

In Krakow, we stayed at a wonderful Hilton right outside of the main center over by the once Jewish ghetto of WW II.  This was the first time that we stayed out of the city center on our trip.  What we have come to figure out from this stay is that if possible, always book a hotel inside the center of town.  That way, we can park our car in a garage and not worry about having to find parking.  It also removes the worry of it possibly getting broken into.  We really haven’t worried too much about anyone breaking into it, but better safe than sorry. 
Lily made friends wherever we went.
 When we got to Krakow, Martin and I had already been traveling HARD for a good week.  We decided to take the evening off from being tourists and just get caught up with work (Martin) and getting some much-needed laundry done (me).  Some hotels offer laundry facilities for travelers.  Meaning they have a laundry mat for the hotel patrons to use without the exorbitant cost of the actual hotel doing your laundry.  I picked the Hilton because it boasted such a self-serve laundry service and BONUS, had free parking!  
A lovely little bakery in Krakow.
If you plan on doing a whirlwind trip like Martin and me, know that most hotels charge around $30/day for parking.  I always factor those costs in when deciding on a hotel.  You can book a hotel for $150 but after taxes and parking, it can cost upwards to $230.  Keep those costs in mind. 

One little tidbit, most of the hotels we have stayed in so far have all been less than $200.  I don’t think that will be the case for some of the hotels down the road, but for the most part, we are getting off cheap.  All hotels (with the exception of Krakow) have been in the center of town, close to all the main attractions and sights.  All the hotels have been given a rating of 4-5 stars on  Our hotel in Prague was wonderful and it only cost $100/night.  Our hotel in Krakow was only $125.  So, if you plan correctly, it is quite do-able to stay in a nice hotel in Eastern Europe for pretty cheap.
Now for Krakow.  We loved Krakow and we loved the Polish people.  The Poles have a wonderful sense of humor, they love to talk, give directions and best of all; Krakow is still relatively cheap (meaning food, lodging, clothing, etc.)
Early the next morning, Martin and I took a taxi from our hotel down to the city center because we found it easier than getting over to the metro.  The center is so fun.  We walked through Cloth Hall, which is a big old Renaissance-style building in the center of the square that has different little shops on either side of the walkway.  It is called cloth hall because in the Middle Ages it was used as a cloth market.   
Most of the items that were being sold were knick-knacks and Polish souvenirs, but the building was so old and beautifully decorated that it was fun going from booth to booth.  It also made it fun for us to just people watch.  

After the cloth market, Martin and I walked over to the McDonalds just off the main square.  Not because we wanted a greasy, rubbery hamburger, but because we wanted to see the old vault/tavern that was found in the basement while McDonalds was excavating the site. 

We strolled through Krakow and walked through the Walwel Basiclica, Walwel castle (which was amazing) and then ran into a Polish festival.  We loved the festival so much that we stayed there for quite a while looking (and tasting) all the different foods, candies and especially more people watching!
Don't you love my new best friends?
From the festival we headed toward the Jewish ghetto and walked around.  It was still old and dark, although it is picking up in popularity in the past twenty years as up and coming.  However, for me, after having done Auschwitz the day before, I was kind of done feeling the heaviness of that period and so we didn’t stay for long. 
These flower bouquets were everywhere throughout the city.  I fell in love with them.
When we felt we were good and done with the city center of Krakow, we checked out of our hotel and took off for the salt mines.  I really didn’t want to go on the tour of the salt mines but Martin did, and I felt like we had been doing everything that I wanted to do, so it was time to relent a little.  

When we got to the mine, I asked the ticket agent if it was do-able to take a stroller down into the mine.  I was told, “no problem” and so we started the descent.  Little did we know that we had to carry Lily and her stroller down a winding staircase with 360 stairs!  It was almost 120 meters (390 feet) down and felt like we were in the center of the earth.  

By the time we got to the bottom, I’ll admit, I was sneering a bit at Martin.  Then the guide proceeded to tell us that the tour would be 3 hours long!  The sneering started to turn into loud grumbling on my part.  It was already 3:00 pm and I knew that we had a long drive ahead of us.  So basically, I didn’t start the tour off really on my best foot.  
Down in the underbelly of the mine.
However, through the course of the tour, it started getting really interesting.  We learned that once salt was much more valuable than gold because it helped to preserve food.  The preservation of food meant life was sustainable, and that is was what really mattered.  In fact, the word "salary"is derived from "sal" (salt) because at one period of time, workers were paid in salt, not gold.  Throughout the tour there were sculptures carved from the salt of all sorts of different subjects.  There were also areas that depicted of the miners and how they mined from the 1300-1800's.

After 3 hours, Martin and I were both itching to get out and on the road.  Lily was just itching to get out of her stroller.  So we pulled a "we gotta get outta here card" and were swiftly taken up out of the mine by the fastest running, open air elevator I have ever been in.  It was worth the 3 hours just getting to ride in the elevator.  

Soon we were out of the mine and into our car.  The roads here in Europe are very easy to navigate IF you can read the road signs.  When reading the different street names, it has become very funny for Martin and me in trying to sound out the different names of the streets (especially funny riding the metro in Russia).  By the time I have sounded it out, I can't remember what I have just read.   This is a little frustrating for Martin while he is trying to navigate through the busy streets.   

While the road from Krakow to Budapest (our next destination) is a well-marked freeway, I decided that I wanted to go another route because I wanted to stop in the town of Eger in Hungary.  Not so smart, but Martin was willing to take a different route and we set out to discover new land.  We were fine until around 9:00 pm when the sun went down and we were about to enter into Slovakia.  It got even sketchier when the map that we had just simply stopped.  Luckily Martin’s adventure races came in handy.  He can read a map by just fixing his positions on lakes.  Plus he has an amazing sense of direction.  Without a beat, he’d look at the map and say, “We need to head this way.”  I’d be like, “Okay, because I have no idea where we're going.”  Finally at around 10:30 pm, we found ourselves on a small road with only one lane and trying to make sense of the road signs.  I was more than nervous.  Even more nervous that there would be another car coming in the opposite direction on a darker than dark night.  

Finally after what seemed like hours, we saw a sign that read, “Slovakia.”  I still can’t figure out how Martin did it, but we knew we were at least going in the right direction.  About an hour later we stopped at the first gas station and decided it was time to break down and finally buy actual road maps of Europe.  NO more guessing where we were going!  The only problem was, that it was in Slovakian.  Close enough. 

We reached Eger, the town I wanted to see, at about 1:00 in the morning.  Martin was taking a quick 30-minute nap while I drove through the town looking at it in the dark.  I mean if we were going to come all this way, I was at least going to see it--even if it was in the middle of the night!

From Eger, we arrived in Budapest at about 2:30 in the morning.  We couldn’t find the hotel I had booked and we were both too tired to try and deduce where it would be, so Martin paid a taxi to guide us to the hotel.  Best 10 euros ever spent.

When we drove up to our hotel, I was giddy.  First, because we had FINALLY arrived and second because the hotel was beautiful!  I knew I was going to have a magical time in Budapest. 

I can’t wait to tell you about the city that I fell completely in love with.  It was just magical from the moment we arrived.

To be continued…