Thursday, 15 March 2012

Flowers and Castles

March 8 was one of the first days I was in Budapest. All around town I saw men carrying flowers. At first I didn't really notice it until I saw more and more and more men carrying flowers and then I wondered if it was Hungarian Valentine's day or something. Later I pointed this out to someone else and they told me it's International Women's Day and it is tradition to give a flower to women (or I guess a particular woman) on this day. Wow! Not even people who celebrate Valentine's day give flowers like this on this scale anymore.

So I went on some obscure 2-hour bus trip trying to look for Janos Hill. In the end I didn't find it but I did see another tourist suffer because of the same bus route. So I got on 22, and as the tourist got on the bus he asked a local woman, "This goes to Buda Castle?" "Yes, Buda Castle," she nodded. Already I was wary because this bus went the opposite direction from the castle but I didn't know where I'm going myself so I didn't say anything. In any case, after 30 minutes, far from the castle, the tourist finally figured out that this is NOT the way to the castle and he started freaking out saying, "Please, please, take me to the castle! I want to go to the castle!" I then passed a street sign that said: Buda Keszi and I guess that BudaCastle said with an accent sounds exactly like Buda Keszi. So that local woman wasn't wrong; we were going to some version of Buda Castle...

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Horse Race - Reality

I am travelling very quickly through the rest of my itinerary in Europe. Within the last week I have been to Strasbourg, a small village in France, Geneva, a small suburb of Geneva, Zürich, and Graz. And then I will finish off with Vienna and Budapest.

As a kid I dreamed of travelling to Italy, really only Italy, I didn't care about any other place in Europe. The first time I came to Europe I remember snapping pictures right and left. I only went to Germany and The Netherlands then. Everything was so different from North America! Then I got really interested in Germany. And the second time I visited London and Paris, huge megatroplises I took my time in each. That was good. This time, on the tour, I have visited both small villages and huge cities and I must say out of all of them I prefer the smaller places to places like Rome or even Berlin. Rome was beautiful but it didn't feel very liveable. The places I most enjoyed were like Strasbourg, Graz, Thessaloniki and Ljubljana...they could be metropolitan but they were also human-sized. So even though I am looking forward to Vienna and Budapest, I will be saying goodbye to the new discovery of small cities in Europe for now.

I also am excited because I bought the Lonely Planet Hong Kong and Macau book! Each time I go to Hong Kong I know more and more about the city and its people and this time I am hoping this book will help because although my relatives can tell me things, I need to discover it for myself and also reinforce my knowledge with reading in English.


Zürich is too rich. 95% of the cars on the road are Mercedes-Benz or BMW. People are dressed in such fancy suits, a sandwich in a deli goes for about $10. I've always wanted to visit this city and the day I visited was lovely, but I didn't feel like I should be there at all. It was weird.

The Industry

I've learned a lot about the tourism industry in these last two months. For example, Sweden's Mälmo's cathedral has a beautiful astronomical clock but the city hasn't made it into an attraction, so it doesn't bring in any tourist money. Compare this to France's Strasbourg's less beautiful astronomical clock. There were at least 100 people standing there who paid for the little homemade video the cathedral shows and to watch the 30-second clock action. There was another astronomical clock I saw in Prague, people stayed to watch it but it was in a public square and no one had to pay. Out of all the three clocks, imagine how much money Strasbourg's clock brings in for the cathedral since the clock does that everyday anyway whether there are paying tourists or not. But it's things like Mälmo's beautiful repainted clock - the unadvertised, the stumbled-upon - that make it worthwhile to travel. If you didn't have these things you can walk around and discover, with technology like what we have these days, you can just use a smartphone or Google streetview or image search engines to find anything you need without leaving home.

Speaking of images, I find that the pictures I take aren't sufficient to see and feel the space. The flat image does not lend itself well to the textures, the expansiveness or closeness of the places that I visit, the sounds, the smells, the air, the customs and mistakes made. Travel is sightseeing, yes, but also experience.

Around the Sound: A High Price

After Berlin, everything is sooooo expensive in Denmark and Sweden. Of course it doesn't help that I had to exchange my Euros into Kroner and I got ripped off with a large commission and a crappy exchange rate that the exchange rate charged me. Teaches me to change either at a bank or before I get into the country!

In Denmark in Helsingoer (Elsinore in English) I went to the castle where Shakespeare's Hamlet is supposedly set. It is a really cool castle. Why I love Scandinavia is because it is surrounded by seas. I love sea life even though I may romanticize it too much. I also love its architecture and minimalist designs, its wide spacey rooms, and its lack of people.

The Perfect Pretzel

I love German breads. They are dense and salty and pretzels are the best example of them. I have gone into supposedly German deli shop in Ottawa and asked for pretzels and the guy stared at me as if I was living in another world and said, "We stopped selling those long ago!" So I thought pretzels weren't such a popular thing in Germany anymore.

Fast-forward a few years and I am in Berlin and I am comparing bakeries' pretzels. The Kamps bakery's pretzels, for example, are too fluffy and has no salty crust. They try to make it up with putting more sea salt on top but it's not the same Anyway, I am glad to say that pretzels are alive and popular in Germany.