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October 15, 2004

Final wrap up on Europe

I got home late on Monday - and the other night I got to head out with the guys for beers and see one of Soundcheck's longtime favourite bands, Catch 22, playing with Mustard Plug, Chris Murray and the Planet Smashers. A good thing to arrive home to! I have now had a chance to go through my pictures. I've posted a bunch along with this update. Some are repeats that I have touched up.

Final thoughts on the trip? It was definitely one of the best experiences of my life. It felt like three trips within one. I spent the first week by myself in Poland. This was a mix of sterotypical european backpacking (drinking beer until late with Aussies and Brits) and visiting some of the harshest and most brutal locations that I have ever been to. The day I spent at Aushwitz and Aushwitz Birkenau stands out as the most signifigant experience that I had on the whole trip. There is absolutely nothing that can prepare you for, or replace the experience and feeling of visiting such a terrible place. It is somewhere that I will remember for a long time.

One of the nicest cities I visited (Krakow) is only 90mins from Aushwitz. Krakow is one of the nicest cities I have been to in Europe - it was untouched by World War 2. It is an awesome place to spend time drinking coffee and eating handmade perogies. If you want to visit Eastern Europe, you must spend a couple of days in Krakow.

I expected the Ukraine to be much like Poland. In fact, it was very different. The remains of the Soviet culture are very evident, especially in Kiev. The language barrier and the cyrillic alphabet made even ordering food an adventure. I met up with Jeanine in Kiev and we spent just over a week exploring. Travelling with Jeanine was awesome. Without her along, it would have been a much more difficult experience (and I would probably be stuck in Moldova or somewhere)! There are no hostels in the Ukraine, and in some cities, they rarely see travellers. In some ways, Ukrainians are difficult and unfriendly to deal with (Niet Niet Niet!) but we got through it and enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. Looking back, it was not a vacation for us, but I think that we both learnt a ton and were exposed to a different lifestyle in a country that is changing very quickly.

The three days in Budapest are a bit of a blur of walking, churches and beer in the hostel. After the Ukraine, Budapest seemed very western with lots of english and tourists everywhere. We did a lot of walking and the highlight was definitely visiting the largest syanagogue in Europe (also the site of a jewish ghetto from WW2). Our tour guide was very interesting, her father (a christian) saved hundreds of jewish people from certain death during the war. His name was on a memorial outside of the synagogue.

From Budapest, Jeanine and I flew to the dusty tourist pit of Athens. Actually, Athens was quite nice. The Olympics have left the obvious marks on the city, but the history and the ruins were amazing. We stayed with Lisa's parents in a really nice apartment about two blocks from the Canadian embassy. Watching Lisa and Shawn racing in the paralympics and being Olympic athletes was everything I expected it to be - and everything that I didn't. The racing was bike racing, but the people (except maybe some of the pilots) were so different than regular bike racers. Hard to put a finger on but as an outsider it was easy to tell just how valuable of an experience it was for Lisa. In between the races, Jeanine and I did some more walking and saw the big sites of Athens (the Acropolis etc...).

From Athens, the three of us jumped a ferry to the island of Kos where we were met at 4am by a nice old lady with a apartment for rent. After a day on the beaches, we quickly jumped over to Turkey. Turkey definitely felt like the third or fourth trip within my trip. Our group was now three (with Lisa) and we were in Asia! Turkey was one of the coolest places I have ever visited. There is no doubt that I will be back as soon as I can. I was lucky enough to spend almost a full week in Istanbul, where I got the full tourist experience (Aya Sofia, Blue Mosque, Grand bazaar, mosques) but I also got to spend some time exploring the smaller less visited streets.

The three of us have put together a bit of a best of list:

Best meal:Pizza with Chicken and fresh tomatoe (Simferopol, Ukraine) (Jeanine)
Best dish:Kebap? (anywhere in Turkey-especially the "meat" ones) (Jeanine)
Most surprising food: fresh cut sasla with egg bread! mmmmmmmm (Lisa)
Best boyfriend for Jeanine: SULTAN - he was very persistant!
Best sales pitch: LADY! you are very small! You don't like to play basketball?
Runner up sales pitch: LADY! How would you like to buy me? I'm very expensive!
Best techno song: "don't you know pump it up, you've got to pump it up"
Best beverage: Apple tea
Biggest accident: Lisa's laundry accident (bending a chainring with her skull! aw yeah!)
Most frantic moment:lisa in the grand bazaar looking for shoes... so many choices!
Best article of clothing/best buy: pink yellow and blue rain slickers for 1 milyon!
Best hostel/pension:Aussie/Nz Pension (Selcuk). Cheap, friendly, roof top terraces...
Best old thing:Vases from 6000 BC in the museum of Archeology (Athens) (Jeanine)
Best method of transport: Ukranian trains..buying the tickets especially
Scariest border guards: Ukraine
Best metro:Athens with all the ruins in the stations
Craziest Traffic:Athens Scooters
Best religious building:Toss up between Aya Sofia and the Synagogue in Budapest
Best Beer:Don't Remember what it's called, but the dark beer we had it the very first night in Kiev in the Food Fair in the underground Mall (Jeanine)
Worst Beer: Leffe (god awful Belgian Beer) (Alistair)
Most Annoying Travellers:18yr old California girls
Coolest travellers:Scots and Irish, or maybe the Israelis in Turkey
Spot most likely to return to:Turkey, and east from the coast (Alistair)

Ok, enough about Europe. Lisa and I leave on Sunday for Peru! Next update from Lima!!!!!!

Posted by Alistair Howard at October 15, 2004 12:09 PM


Amphoras, not vases!!!!! It's a very important distinction.

Posted by: Lisa at October 16, 2004 07:47 AM

The ones in the museum were labelled as vases, and not amphoras...Great job with the final post Alistair..all the pictures are awesome!

Posted by: Jeanine at October 18, 2004 08:12 AM

Great photos, Al! C'mon and update from Peru already!

Posted by: Sandra at October 20, 2004 01:55 AM