Julianne’s Blog

this is my blog. this is the only blog there will be.

Blessed by the God of Travel 22 May 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Julianne Dodds @ 7:26 PM
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What a great time I had in Slovenia! Since I assume most Americans have never even heard of the country, it goes without saying that this place is terribly underrated as a vacation destination.

I spent another great afternoon with the Hare Krishnas. Not only did I enjoy talking about their beliefs and karma, but it was a relaxed way to meet the locals. I sat at a picnic table with a few other women and we all watched their kids play. I got to help one lady, Sabrina, with her beautiful 10 month old girl. My nephew Kaden was that age the last time I saw him, so it meant a lot for me for an almost stranger to trust me with her child. The entire place was filled with such trust and generosity. We meditated together, heard a lecture, and then came the feast. Such wonderful food, completely different from anything else I´ve eaten before, and all vegetarian. This is followed by singing and dancing. It was great to see the little kids running back and forth between the adults, some of who were surprisingly energetic even after an hour of sweating under the fans.

The next day I had been planning on going to Berlin after a few hours in a northern lake town, but I decided instead to spend the night at Lake Bled. I´ve been hearing about this place for months from Rick Steves, so how could I pass it up? And Rick Steves never lies. In fact, my mantra of late has been WWRSD– What would Rick Steves do?

Bled is at the foothills of the Julian Alps, called the Sunny Alps by the Slovenes. Blue skies reflect back in the clear water. The 6km path around the lake gives plenty of time to see the snow capped Alps, a castle perched overlooking the town, and swams swimming out to Bled Island. A €12 gondola ride takes you out the island, where 99 stone steps rise out of the water. At the top of the stairs is an old church, and inside there is a bell that gives good luck if you ring it 3 times. I´d met a nice Australian couple on the boat who said that when I rang the bell they heard a distinctive American twang. As I stepped off the boat and headed back towards my incredibly crappy hostel, I was glad I´d followed Rick Steves´advice.

I was thinking this thought and smiling at the puffy clouds, the snowy mountains, and the families of swans when I noticed a few men standing on the side of the lake. One of them had a large video camera, and at first I rolled my eyes at the silliness of Asian tour groups. But then I noticed one of the men, standing with his back to me, was very tall, and blond…

I pulled off my sunglasses and the stupidest grin spread across my face. The man with the camera noticed me and nudged his Nordic friend. My hands were shaking and I didn´t know what to say. Could this be? The travel dream that I thought was too stupid to even mention to anyone–is it actually coming true, and in such a fairy tale setting? Here I was, standing on the shore of Lake Bled, face to face with Rick Steves himself!

Me and Rick Steves by juliannedodds.

A handshake turned into a hug, he asked my name and exchanged some pleasantries. I told him the only reason I was there was because of him. That I watched his show and loved his radio podcasts. That my parents were going to shit themselves when they found out.  I couldn´t thank him enough, to tell him what an amazing, wonderful experience this was for me. Was it a coincidence, or was it destiny?

I just about skipped the 2 km uphill to my hostel, and after dropping my bag ran out to the nearest photo shop. If something were to happen to my camera, I needed a hard copy of this event. I needed 10 copies in fact. Every couple hours I pull out that photo and I still can´t believe my good luck.I hope that you all watch his show and see the episode on Lake Bled that he was filming as I was there, and maybe, boys and girls, if you believe, and you follow every bit of Rick Steves´advise, you too will meet the God of Travel.

Then there was some bullshit with the train system, blah blah blah, but eventually I wound up in Innsbruck. At breakfast I heard a deep voice that reminded me fondly of my Uncle Jerry, and following the sound I met a nice couple from Knoxville, TN, named John & Sue. We spent about an hour talking over pastries, discussing our mutual travel plans. I love Southern folk of a certain age. When I got up to leave John said to me, in that wonderful deep voice that reminded me of Gregory Peck and my Granddad (as well as the afor mentioned uncle), that I have gumption. Music that played in my head all day long.

So a few hours later found me riding a cable car up the Nordpark mountain. From the top of the ride I climbed up to the peak, and as far as I could see were those blue mountains. The ice caps blended in with the clouds. I don´t know how long I stood up there alone, but it was wonderful. I really don´t think I could live in the mountains on account of the winter, but every time I get into a range like that I feel so excited. Driving into the Smokies this past December I felt the same thing, and I remember how once Jason and I had reached those little Alpine towns in February that I was skipping through the snow. And the Alps, with the warm summer air blending with the chill of the snow on the ground, is truly an amazing place to be.

On the way down I stopped at a cafe where I ran into an Arizona couple I´d met on the ascent, Matt & Alex (Alex would want me to say that she is a lady, and it´s true). I ordered the same ham strudel they were eating and we shared our stories. Alex got the bill and we headed further downhill to the zoo. We saw some baby animals, quite cute, talked some more. When we headed off in our separate directions back in the Inn valley I realized just how potent the blessing of the Travel God had been.

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The western part of eastern Europe… with another German. 16 May 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Julianne Dodds @ 7:59 PM
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After checking out a children’s concert at a Polish cultural festival, I hopped on a bus for Budapest. The road took us through Slovakia and was really a beautiful drive. I got to Budapest around midnight and eventually found a hostel with space.

Budapest was really gorgeous. The Duna River (what the Danube goes by in that neck of the woods) divides the Buda and Pest sections of the city, and there are benches lined up all along both banks. The light was always golden and it was wonderfully warm–perfect conditions for kicking back with an old paperback and some pálinka.

Ah, pálinka… A Hungarian specialty. Most people think this fruit brandy is just too sweet, but boy I couldn’t get enough. My favorite flavor was the apricot, which incidentally is called Barack. I picked up a bottle of this, as well as the plum variety, to share with my dad in Paris in 2 weeks. In my hostel was a 51 year old Iranian woman named Banash. She kept me and the Spanish couple in our room fascinated with her travel adventures from around the world. One night she and I went out for pálinka, beers, and some live local music. And then there were the souvenirs… the only time in Europe I bought that much stuff, but all those handmade crafts! I was like a sitting duck, and I can’t say I’m sorry about it. All in all, it was a very laid back time in Budapest.

I got up one morning and decided to split town, so I took a train south to Pécs. This is going to be the European Cultural Capital of 2010, so I figured I had to check it out before it became jaded from fame. I met a German girl on the bus to the hostel, and there we picked up an English guy, and the three of us headed out for some grub. I finally had some gulas, and the restaurant gave us all free shots of pálinka with our beers. Can you see where this is going? Afterwards Anna, Alan, and I went to a bar recommended by our hostel receptionist. When we walked in he was sitting at the bar, happy that we took his advice. Time for more pálinkas, the bartender’s favorite. Then Anna suggested that Alan and I try Unicom. It’s another Hungarian thing, and I can’t really describe it as anything but horrible. Beers immediately followed to wash out the taste. A few hours later the three of us stumbled back to the hostel while the receptionist stayed behind to hold down the bar.

feast

The next day we did some exploring. Pécs is a small town, so there wasn’t much to do besides relax. After Anna headed off in her own direction, Alan and I grabbed 2 bottles of Hungarian wine and a frozen pizza and camped out on the balcony of our room. There was one other guest in another room, and the receptionist had disappeared again, so we blasted the Hungarian jazz and drank the night away. The resulting hang-over of 2 nights’ drinking was whiled away on an ancient Communist train through Hungary, across Croatia, and finally into Ljubljana around 3 AM.

So after a few hours’ sleep I headed out this morning into the bright Slovenian morning. I wandered around the center of this little city (about 240,000 people) and was about to grab a sandwich when I heard some music coming off the street. A group of 7 Hare Krishnas were strolling down the pedestrian streets, singing, playing an accordian, beating on drums, tinkling tinklers, and handing out literature. Now, there are two lessons I’ve learned well in my life. Number 1 comes from traveling, and that is to never pass up an opportunity, because even if the opportunity is still there tomorrow you may not be. Number 2 comes from growing up in New Orleans: When you see a parade of happy musicians coming your way, you join in. So we all made our way dancing and singing through the streets, drawing stares, smiles, and lots of people looking away embarassed. I was the only one not dressed up as a Hare Krishna, but I enjoyed my special walking tour of the city. Eventually we ended up at the temple, where the music continued and the dancing got good.

You can’t be a good dancer on an empty stomach, so next came my favorite part of the Hare Krishna, that delicious vegetarian meal. Today’s lunch was speghetti made by one of the devotees (and I mean he did more than boil the water) and it was all organic. I whiled away a couple hours at a picnic table with my host Petra and some of the other Kirshna ladies. Tomorrow they’ve asked me to return for another program and meal, and afterwards I will go north to Lake Bled, hopefully getting a ride from one of the devotees. Ooh yeah.

So Ljubljana is a nice little city. It’s very green–the huge park with open fields, the trees everywhere, and even the river is emerald. I had a great afternoon walking around enjoying the weather, passing street musicians and a couple weddings. I bought some new pants since my last pair split a few days ago, completely worn out. There was a plate of crispy calamari in there somewhere. And coming up next is a bar with a rock band. And I guess a drink or two.

Ljubljana

 

Another weekend, another spontaneous festival with Germans 9 May 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Julianne Dodds @ 10:47 AM
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They say that Germans are magnets for other Germans, and damn if it’s not true. And it’s great that I show up on that Ger-dar, not as a full-fledged German, but as I say, I like the Germans and they like me. Not like those Spanish…
Yesterday I had to move to a different room in the hostel, to the last free bed, because of course even when I arrive at the hostel without a reservation I don’t know how many days I’m staying, so I usually only pay one day at a time (which sometimes means I don’t have a bed, but also this confusion sometimes results in the receptionist forgetting to charge me). In my new room was a hung-over German who immediately invited me to party with his friends for the day. My plan was to spend the day reading in the park, but this sounded good too. This was 11h00.

So we tumbled out into the main square where there just happened to be a huge festival celebrating Krakow’s students. We grabbed some beer, a brand called Redd that mixes beer with juice for some delicious mixes, and met up with the other Germans. About this time German-Boy-Robin (Herr Robin to distinguish him from all the other Robins I have) and I thought to introduce ourselves. When the other Germans found out that I had visited their hometown Regensburg (remember the mushroom cafe?) they were delighted, and the day began.

We spend a couple hours at the concert in the main square, where the city’s students had decked themselves out in some silly costumes. It was like Mardi Gras on Frenchman Street, but smaller, daylight, more sober (sorry guys, but I believe NOLA can outdrink every other city in the world) and no drugs. Then we grabbed some spicy kebabs, which Herr Robin complained about for the next 12 hours, met up with a giant brick wall of a Dane, and hopped a bus out to Nova Huta, the communist district of Krakow. There, behind the Real Hypermarche, in an abandoned airfield, was a huge concert. We grabbed some more beers, got some new sunglasses, a 18″ hotdog, and settled down.

My new friends

new shoes!

I saw a band called Lady Pank, which seems to be Poland’s answer to the Rolling Stones complete with a creepy Mick Jagger, and then a German punk band called Die Toten Hosen, or the Dead Pants. Boy, did those Krakow students love those bands. I’d never heard of them before, but apparently they are each countries’ most popular group.

At this point it was about 1 am and I was still wearing the sundress I’d set off in at noon. I was cold and exhausted. We grabbed a taxi back into the city center and then did what all hip European kids do on a Friday night: McDonald’s. And boy, were those nuggets tasty. There were 2 police stationed in the McD’s making sure no one laughed too loud or sat on the counter, and it is my opinion that their power made them crazy. Too much authority. About 2h30 I got into my bed. Herr Robin and I had parted ways; he was heading out to a club. Crazy Germans.

So in a couple hours I take a bus south to Budapest. I’ve got my last 15 PLN (about $5) to spend. I already came across 2 shirts in the perfect shade of yellow, and I’ve been looking for a perfect shade of yellow T shirt in my size for months, so now I have 2. It’s a sunny day, the tourists are clogging the streets, and I’m going to eat a mango gelato and watch it all.

Also, I am so pleased that I got my brother the perfect birthday present from Poland…

Other things that make my life possible: travel spacebags, Diva cup, USAA bank which allows me to make unlimited international transactions, including cash withdrawls, for no fees, lightload towels (although now I want the beach towel!), and Rick Steves.

 

Polska Kielbasa is my favorite sausage. 5 May 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Julianne Dodds @ 7:29 PM
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Last night, on somewhat short notice, I got on the night train from Prague to Krakow. Just like when I went to Germany, I was able to have a compartment all to myself. I was really excited about finally heading east, into the unknown, and as the train pulled out of the station I closed th hall curtains, opened my window, and cranked up the iPod. Creedenc, the Allman Brothers, and Neil Young was a perfect combination, perfect for the landscape, and the moon was bright, and I sang out the open window to the passing Czech towns.

My hostel in Krakow is another gem! Also super cheap–40 zloty is less that $13 a night! It is right on the Kosciol Mariacki, which is the largest medieval square in Europe. Also in the square is the Cloth Hall, which is filled with stalls selling tacky Polish suvenirs, and of course I love that. I walked around the Jewish Quarter this afternoon, or what used to be the Jewish Quarter. There aren’t any more Jews in that ghetto, or really anywhere else in Poland. I just read Maus, and in a couple days I’m going to go over to Auschwitz, so it’s going to be pretty heavy. Until then, my knee still hurts and I’m thinking about getting a massage, because I need to walk! Also, I am terribly frustrated by the lack of suitable underwear in this city–I need new drawers!

So I’m just relaxing for a bit, then I will head to the restaurant downstairs for some dumplings and to taste some Polish flavored vodka. Oh yeah, it’s going to be a long night.

 

Czech interlude plus practicalities of the road 4 May 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Julianne Dodds @ 9:26 AM
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One difficulty of traveling is laundry. It’s not really a problem to wash socks and underwear in the sink, but it does get annoying to do it daily. Also, if I am traveling the next day I have to pack my damp clothes into my bag, so I try to put out my clothesline when I’m staying somewhere for a couple nights. With my elastic clothesline I carry a drain plug, detergent, and myrrh oil to scent my clothes. But really, sometimes just rinsing the clothes makes them shrink back to their original size and feel clean.

Traveling can be hard on a hygiene routine too. Hostel showers generally suck, so there’s not much incentive to bathe. There’s hair on the floor, the water automatically turns off every 9 seconds, and there are no shelves or hooks to hang your clothes or toiletries. Also, with a 32 L daypack as my bag, I can only carry a few of my most loved familiar products. My mom sends me travel sized bottles filled with my favorite organic lavender lotion. I have a few bottles of essential oils for hygiene purposes, and they also do double-duty as aromatherapy (rosewood oil is anti-infectious, anti-fungal, a local anesthetic, and it smells good). One thing I don’t carry is shampoo, because I can always find or borrow some and it’s not something I’m particular about. It’s fun buying new toothpaste in a different countries, although I could only find unwaxed dental floss in France. I’ve always heard about how wonderful European pharmacies are, and it’s true, but I don’t have enough space to buy all the intriguing lotions and cremes I see on the shelves! Even more so than with my clothing, I make sure that every beauty product I carry is exactly what I want, so I can pretend to pamper myself.

Coming to Izzy’s is great for a lot of reasons. I can relax, let my backpack hang out, and, perhaps most importantly, take a bath. A real honest to goodness bath. Hot water, some lavender oil, and me with a crossword puzzle. It’s easy to loose an hour in there and I’m always glad to do so. Even Buddy the dog comes out of the tub smelling nice and feeling silky (you may remember him as the astro-dog who ate my Dutch brownies).

So now I am back in Prague, having fun with Izzy’s even though I saw her 4 weeks ago in Marseille. When I arrived at her apartment we immediately set out for a friend’s cottage on top of a mountain overlooking the city. We all had a great time drinking beer and grilling sausages around the fire with some Czechs. The dog had a great time rolling around in some dead animal he found in the woods. We didn’t sing, but there was an iPod playing. The rest of the weekend is spent eating, drinking Coke, and watching TV. Just the break I need before heading east to Poland!

 

Viva Bavaria! 1 May 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Julianne Dodds @ 11:03 PM
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Well, I was planning on going to Prague today, but an irresistible opportunity came up late last night. After going out to a pub (and blogging) I was sitting in the hostel office with Ian, the friendly British employee, and Jemma, the blonde Australian backpacker. They mentioned this beer festival going on in a town about 1 hour outside of Nuremberg, and it seemed like a quintessential Bavarian experience.

So after changing my plans with dear Izzy, the three of us set out today. On the train we rendez-vous-ed with Ian´s giant German friend Chris (the third Chris I´ve met during my 4 days in Germany). We made a pit stop for some ice cream sundaes, and then continued on to our stop. From the train we could see the festivites under way–on top of a very big hill. A burg even. It was an agonizing 45 minutes up that damn hill, with not nearly enough shade or water, but finally we made it. Hundreds of Bavarians had congregated on top of this hill in the middle of nowhere, and there were tents everywhere selling beer, bratwurst and nearly every other meat product you could want, pretzels, and candy–including one man selling 4 different flavors of cotton candy. I have to say, the erderbeer cotton candy was delicious.

I do love cotton candy

So the four of us laid out on the grassy hill, enjoying the sunshine and cold beers while we watched the frolicking Germans and had no end of fun ridiculing the teenagers. There were giant pretzels, 18″ sausages, steak sandwiches, and any number of things to make you sick. Eventually it was time to go, to catch the last train back to Nuremberg, and we decided to walk to the town next to the one we started from. We happily set off down the hill, further down, further down… Still no train station… Just a few minutes left till the last train left… We started running… Faster… Still no station! I was out of breath and my knee, which had been hurting all day from walking, was really throbbing at this point. But we kept running, although I was in dead last. Eventually, around a corner, we saw the train passing, and then eventually stop, but I was still a ways off. I made the train with about 4 seconds to spare and just about collapsed into a seat. But we made it back to Nuremberg and cooked a yummy pasta dinner all together.

This hostel is actually booked full for tonight, with no space for me or Jemma, but Ian´s taken care of us. He set up 2 cots in a spare basement room, so we actually have complete privacy, and since these aren´t official beds we are both staying tonight for free! We´re using the office bathroom, which has the only shower where the water runs continuously without automatically shutting off after 9 seconds. And the bathroom is stocked with toiletries left behind by other travelers, so I finally got to wash my hair. In a bit we are going to fill up some buckets with warm water and rosewood oil and give ourselves pedicures while drinking some vodka&cokes.

It´s really great to meet someone so generous, and this has really been a perfect experience. Ian has traveled extensively himself, and he is happy to help me and Jemma without expecting anything in return. I liked Nuremberg yesterday, but after today it will always be a very special memory for me.