Sunday, October 19, 2014

Magical Weekend in Poland

5 days, 3.5 cities - let's start! Gdansk is a beautiful seaside city filled with an inexplicable charm, and it's a must-see in my books for anyone visiting Northern Poland. The docks and Old Town by night are the MOST romantic sights I've ever seen on my travels! I admit I'm a sucker for pretty canals and rivers... :)

This is the central train station in Gdansk! Every building in the Old Town area is built in medieval brick fashion, giving me the feeling that I've jumped inside a fairytale. Not everything was rosy and pretty, of course, and the toll of the Communist times was still evident in areas outside of Old Town.

I wish I had better nighttime shots of the city, but walking down the dock and Dlugi Targ (long street) to the sound of street violinists was something that made me smile and feel at peace.

On the second day, I took a train to Malbork to see the largest brick castle in the world! This massive structure was once home to the Teutonic Knights (from Germany?), so the audioguide explained how each of the rooms were formerly used. I had to practically run through the maze of rooms so that I could see everything before closing time, but it was a great adventure - I had no idea what room I would stumble upon next!

That evening, I went with my hostel roommates to a hole-in-the-wall pub called Jozef K. Supposedly, if I wrote a wish and put it in the drawers of the table, it would come true. In retrospect, I should've wished that my arms would stop itching because I was viciously bitten by some bug the night before... Anyways, this was a really chill place (reminds me of Budapest's ruin pubs) and I enjoyed hanging out with new friends.

I decided to spend my last morning in Gdansk at the Solidarity Museum, a newly-built center documenting the Solidarity Movement (which ended Communist control in Poland) which began in the Gdansk shipyards. I really loved the multimedia, interactive exhibits that documented the history of this incredible movement, something which I feel is important for all visitors to know. Highly recommended!

All too soon, it was time to say goodbye to Gdansk and move on to the little medieval town of Torun. This is the birthplace of Copernicus (pretty important, I guess) and GINGERBREAD!!!! Maybe the thought of gingerbread-flavored everything might sound like overkill, but it's really that good.

 Home of the famous astronomer

I attempted to visit a Gingerbread workshop, but it was overrun by little Polish schoolkids on a field trip. I was lucky enough to instead meet an American couple, and we ended up bar hopping together the whole night! First, we sipped on aged whiskey inside a Coffee & Whiskey cafe (super comfy and chill).

With a "cooling" rock inside! Classy~

Next, we went to a microbrewery which made some delicious soup and BEER. Who knew the Poles could brew great beer? We each had a flight of samplers, my favorite of which was the gingerbread beer.

At this point, I realized that my phone had gone missing?? We went back to Coffee & Whiskey and scoured the area for my baby, but no avail. Then the waiter came to help me search, stuck his hands in the couch, and VOILA there was my phone! It was like magic (I'm only half-kidding)!! I officially love this place and the staff <3 Time to celebrate my recovered phone at Manekin restaurant, with Polish pancakes and more beer!

The rest of the night was rather unfruitful, as we wandered in and out of a couple more pubs but didn't want to buy more drinks. We ended up just walking by the river and parted ways afterwards. I might never see them again, but I'm so thankful that I had an amazing evening with some spontaneously-made friends!

Before leaving Torun the next day, I visited the Historical Museum (not too interesting...) and climbed the tower for a view of the city - and some random Star Wars parade. Wait...what?

My final stop, Warsaw, went by in a blur. I failed to see the Warsaw Rising museum, but went to a vodka tasting event at my hostel and a tour of the beautifully restored Old Town (with more vodka tasting at the end, haha). And like every trip, it was all too soon that I had to hop on the train and head on home...

Warsaw's own Little Mermaid

Do widzenia, Polska! I'll return soon <3

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Heisann Oslo!

So this weekend, I decided on a whim to go North and see the beautiful capital of Norway, Oslo! Ironically, I still haven't been to Stockholm yet but that's besides the point...

I took an overnight bus to Oslo to save money and arrived at 5:30 am. It was amazing to see the gradual lightening of the sky (just look at that beautiful sky!), but it was so cold!

With about 4 hours to kill before I could meet my couchsurfing host, I headed off for the Akershus Festning, a medieval fortress on the coast. Since the place was almost completely empty, I had so much fun exploring every nook and cranny of this enormous fortress! I also found an amazing view of the ocean from the top of the walls.

The two pictures above are from Oslo's top attraction, Vigelands Park. This unusual sculpture garden features lots of naked people of all ages, genders, and body types - representing daily life in its many forms. Everyone seems to really like the angry baby so I took a picture with it too!

By 10:30 am, it was time to go meet my host! This was my first time using, but I had an amazing experience. He took me around to the best city museums and parks, and it was nice to feel at home while traveling. I really loved Grünerløkka, the area where I was staying. This is apparently the most "hipster" part of Oslo, and I definitely saw an abundance of beanies, boutique shops, and even a rollerblader in the grocery store (lol).

Oslo has some cool (and free!) museums, including a historical museum with some Viking ship recreations and a film museum. My favorite of the weekend was the Folk Museum, a massive open-air museum showing Norwegian folk life through the ages.

On Sunday morning, I thought it would be a great idea to see the view from the Oslo Opera House before I left the city. I got a little too caught up with taking pictures and admiring the building...and missed my coach bus! I freaked out for a while, not knowing where to get wifi or how to purchase a new ticket. FINALLY, I got a wifi signal and paid for another freakin bus ticket. All because I was only one minute late...

So with a few extra hours to kill, I went to explore the lovely botanical gardens, complete with adorable mushroom and apple statues. It was a good way to relax after that insanely stressful period.

On my way home, I had a two hour bus "layover" in Gothenburg, the second-biggest city in Sweden. By then, it was getting dark and chilly and everything was closed. I walked around the port area, took some pictures, and gave up and went to McDonald's. Not sure if the city is better by day, but I probably won't be going back anytime soon.

In any case, I absolutely loved Oslo and the awesome Norwegians I got to meet there! I hope that I can go visit the gorgeous city of Bergen next time - if I can afford it. One should never underestimate how insanely expensive it is in Norway...

The Oslo Rose