Saturday, September 02, 2006

Go east young man

(I know that) There are many ways
(To live there) In the sun or shade
(Together) We will find a place
(To settle) Where there's so much space

(Without rush) And the pace back west
(The hustling) Rustling just to feed
(I know I'm) Ready to leave too
(So that's what) We are gonna do

(What we're gonna do is
Go East) Life is peaceful there
(Go East) There in the open air
(Go East) Where the skies are blue
(Go East) This is what we're gonna do

(Life is peaceful there)
Go East (In the open air)
Go East (Baby, you and me)
Go East (This is our destiny)

Greetings from the east. Or once what was, I am now not so sure. I don't think the east actually exist. Not what we used to think of anyway. After trying to get back to the "east", I have discovered another new "west". In fact this whole trip has been seeing the new west. The people look the same. Dress the same. Clutch mobile phones the same. The only difference I can hear and see is that the language is alien to my ears (like it has been for the last 2 and a half months) and everything is written in Cryillic.

Horse and column

So I am in Kiev, capital of Ukraine and scene of the Orange revolution two years ago. No dioxide poisoning for me though and I am still well and truly alive and kicking and still discovering. But it can be a burden this travel gig. The only saviour is that when you get sick of it, you can pack it up and head to the next destination, unlike other experiences I have had in the last couple of years in other locations.

I made it after my first marathon train trip of the journey, an 18 hour overnight train from Warsaw; the night train to Kiev (great title for a film). But all went smoothly, even the border crossing, although the border guard with humongous Soviet style hat stared long and hard at my passport for 15 minutes at 3 in the morning. He studied my entry visa and then every other visa and stamp, twice. He certainly couldn't speak English and I am sure if he could he would have asked me all sorts of questions. "What is your purpose in Ukraine?", "What is your mothers maiden name?", "How many pets do you have?", "Why is the sky blue?". Fairly sure he was a bit stupid, guess it goes with the job.

So I came from Poland. Great country, pity I didn't spend more time there. Though this trip can always count for the teaser value. Briefly check it out and then if I like come on back, ala what I would like to do with Slovenia and Bosnia.

And in Poland I had one of the highlights of my trip so far, if you can call it a highlight, it was certainly a sombering experience. I took a trip out to Auschwitz and Birkenau. Oh the horrors that man can produce. It is there and it is real. A place you cannot forget in a hurry. I have stood in the exact spot where hundreds and thousands were selected to go off to the "showers".

Electric fence

But Poland had so much more. Krakow certainly deserves its spot as one of the must see cities of Europe. It has a vibe to go along with its beauty which is hard to miss. What other place do they have actual buglers on employment from the city council to play a bugle every hour of the day from the top of the tall bell tower in the main town square.

Warsaw alas does not have Krakow's beauty. Mostly because of course the Germans blew everything up in 1944. But it is still a cool place to go. You just have to search around for the cool spots. But they exist and I and a few other backpackers in town had a great time going to places like the Ice Bar (yes one of those bars where everything is made of ice) and the Absurd Smell bar, a very wacky place. Ranks up there with the Gothic dance night I experienced in Belgrade.

I said before that I had met up with the old man in Vienna. We had a great 9 days together, to catch up, and for him to foot most of bills (cheers again dad. oh and email me to let me know you made it to London OK!). We (or I should say, after 5 days, I) escaped Vienna eventually, even though the rivercat boat we had planned on taking down the Danube to Bratislava was cancelled. Had to settle for the regular train instead.

Bratislava it was sad to say got the raw end of our deal. And after seeing it from the train station we kept on going into the centre of Slovakia. I had heard that the place was a tad boring anyway and the only thing going for it was the cheap beer. We instead wanted to test out the famed Tatra mountains to see if they were everything they were cracked up to be. And the answer, well yes and no. Nice views and pretty alpine terrain, but they are tad small and way too crowded and not that difficult and doesn't have that I am in the middle nowhere feel. After all, there were old nuns walking along the tracks, I kid you not.

So after a couple of days there we decided to skip off to the nearby Slovensky Raj National Park, or Slovakian Paradise. Now this was different and I am glad we took the effort to get out to smallsville Slovakia for it. We hike along numerous trails over numerous terrain. Up hills, down valleys and along gorges where you had to walk on steel steps drilled into the cliff walls above the burbling water below. It was cool, no grand vista, but it is not everyday you test out your weight on shaking looking steel gangway things, 5 or so metres above freezing water.

Stepping along a gorge

And so from there it was a back track and a massive long day travelling, including the slowest train I have ever caught, to get to Krakow and 3 nights there before saying goodbye to dad and heading off to Warsaw and now Kiev. What's next you might well ask. Haven't you seen enough, could be another question. Well more of Ukraine and almost are the respective answers. I have a few more days in the Ukrainian capital, testing out my non existant language skills (oh why can't they invent a language chip to insert into our heads?), before I plan to make my way south to the Crimea and back to the Black Sea, where hopefully the weather will be better (for the last couple of weeks it has been shite! It is still supposed to be summer here and the weather is worse than in Sydney right now, where it is winter). From there, well we shall see, but perhaps hopefully I can at last find some "east".

Apologies to the Pet Shop Boys.

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