Here There Be A Dragon

Once done with Hungary, we moved north to Krakow, Poland. We’d heard that Krakow was one of the best budget destinations for Europe, and we’re happy to report that our information was correct. Krakow was a charming place that combined big city convenience with small town atmosphere and compactness. Best of all, it was cheap!

006047The old town, which is found in the middle of Krakow and is bounded by the city’s original imprint, is where we spent most of our time. Both of the pictures above were taken inside the old city— in fact, the guard tower at the end of the street in the second picture is one of many which used to mark the city’s perimeter. At the center of the old town is the main square, one of the largest public squares in Europe, and at the center of that is Cloth Hall, one of Krakow’s iconic buildings.

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Originally a trading post for— and I’m going out on a limb here— cloth, Cloth Hall remains a trading post to this day, but of a somewhat different nature: it is now a one-stop shop for any and all souvenirs you could possibly want to buy, and many that you wouldn’t.

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So, if you’re in Krakow and are looking for souvenirs, make sure not to go to Cloth Hall. The convenience and central location come at a price— usually about 50% more than you’d pay in Krakow’s many other souvenir shops.

Just across the way from Cloth Hall, we found St. Mary’s Basilica, another one of Krakow’s famous buildings:

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The Basilica is famous not just for its architecture, but for the bugler that plays out of its windows throughout the day. Yes, there is a person whose job it is to play a trumpet atop St. Mary’s Basilica every fifteen minutes of each day— once an hour in each different compass direction. The melody the trumpeter plays is cut short halfway through; according to legend, this is in honor of one of Krakow’s previous trumpeters, who was shot in the neck while trying to warn the city of an imminent Mongol invasion. It’s not true, of course, but still fun.

At the edge of the old town is another of Krakow’s well-known sights, the Wawel dragon.

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This awesome statue was inspired by an old Polish legend about a dragon that terrorized Krakow. The statue breathes fire every couple of minutes, which is always good for a laugh as you can watch all of the kids climbing on it scatter in fear.

Just down the way from the Wawel dragon is Wawel cathedral, a church which is rather… eclectic in its appearance.

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If it looks as though it was designed by ten different people, well, that’s because it was.

Krakow, of course, has its fair share of heavy history. Much of the country was destroyed by the German invasion in World War II, and Soviet occupation following the war left its mark, as well. Just outside the city proper can be found Nowa Huta, a city constructed by the Soviets as a ‘gift’ to the Polish. Designed by the Soviets to be the ideal communist city, it has a rather distinctive atmosphere.

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We also visited Krakow’s Jewish quarter— an area which clearly has seen its share of strife, but is now a thriving tourist destination known for its food and drink.

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You might recognize the archway and staircase in the third picture, as they were used as a locale in Schindler’s List. Oh, and those baguette things in the second picture are called zapiekanki, and they’re the most delicious food known to man.

The next day was the most sombre day trip we’ve taken on our travels; we went to Auschwitz.

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This is a place that bears no introduction, so we’ll get to a gallery of pictures with just a brief introduction. Auschwitz, more properly known as Auschwitz concentration camp, is actually three separate camps situated in the town of Oświęcim. The picture above is from the first camp, which during WWII mostly consisted of housing and today is home to the Auschwitz museum. The second camp, Birkenau, is accessible via a free shuttle, and has been left almost exactly as the Nazis left it at the end of the war. The pictures below are all of Birkenau.

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While the museum was somewhat poorly managed and mostly in Polish, the sheer scale of Birkenau and its untouched nature created an atmosphere with a heavy impact. The first picture shows the railway with which prisoners were brought into the camp during the war; the last is the path that prisoners walked en route to execution.

Auschwitz serves as a reminder that while World War 2 ended seventy years ago, much of Europe is still reeling from its after-effects, and its legacy will take some time to fade completely. But now that Krakow is done, we’re on to our last country, Denmark, and our second-last destination: Copenhagen.

Until then!

The Eh Team

Burning up in Budapest

Once we were finished planning the rest of our trip, we packed our effects and headed south to Budapest, Hungary, land of 1,000 degrees. Well, not quite, but close. Europe has been going through a heat wave as of late, and it was consistently above 35 degrees Celsius all throughout our stay in Budapest. It took us a while to see the city in these conditions, since we had to drag ourselves from fountain to fountain to keep ourselves from dying of thirst. Fortunately, fountains with free, drinkable water is something Budapest is known for!

But enough about that; here are some pictures.

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Budapest is a twin city, formed through the joining of two separate cities called (three guesses) Buda and Pest, on each side of the river Danube. That’s the river you can see in the pictures above, with Buda on the left and Pest on the right. Pest is where most of the fun is, and is where we spent our first couple days.

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A long street lined with restaurants on both sides. As with the Czech Republic before it, Hungary is known for its hearty food— in this case, goulash, meat stew, cabbage rolls, and anything to which paprika can be added.

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The Central Market hall, a huge food and souvenir market found in Pest, featuring stores selling everything from paprika to purses. As we were boiling at the time of our visit (surprise), we bought a quarter of a watermelon and ate the entire thing before resuming our tour.

Once we were finished with downtown Pest, we turned our attention to the Buda side of the river, and the number of interesting buildings found on the riverbank. Among them was the STONE CHURCH, unrelated to the BONE CHURCHES of previous posts.

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Unfortunately, the stone church was much more interesting on the outside than it was on the inside. The concept of a church placed inside a mountainside cave is a great one, and it probably would have been very engaging had the cave looked even one percent natural. As it was, the church was a little on the tacky side— or should we say stucco-y. Oh well.

We didn’t accomplish much the next day, due to an overindulgence in palinka the previous night— palinka being a local Hungarian fruit brandy that, by law, must be at least 100 proof and taste like vodka’s bad-tempered cousin. We moped around feeling sorry for ourselves, then got some cheap Vietnamese food from the restaurant below our lodgings and planned our trip to Buda’s crowning glory, Buda Castle.

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Buda Castle is a large, rambling structure that sits atop a hill on the bank of the Danube. The area around the castle is known as (oh my gosh) the castle district, and is known for its ritzy nature. However, neither Buda Castle nor the castle district are known for an abundance of shade, which is why we decided to visit at night-time.

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That last one is Matthias Church, situated in the castle district. From the castle, we also had a great view of Budapest’s parliament building, which faces the castle from across the water:

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While it may have taken us a painfully long time to crawl our way around Budapest in the blazing heat, it was still a highly enjoyable visit. Next on our list is Krakow, Poland!

Until then!

The Eh Team

Chilling in Czech

Hello everyone! It’s been some time since our last post; this is mostly because we spent the last little while planning the last couple stages of our trip. Here they are, in all their glory:

  • Cesky Budjovice, Czech Republic
  • Brno, Czech Republic
  • Budapest, Hungary
  • Krakow, Poland
  • Copenhagen, Denmark
  • Aarhus, Denmark
  • Toronto, Canada!

Most of our planning, which involved much desperate searching for reasonable flights back to Canada, was done here, in this square:

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This is the main square of Cesky Budjovice (or Cesky B as its friends call it), a small but very pleasant town in the Czech Republic. We spent most of our time there sitting outside the various cafes lining the square, taking advantage of their free WiFi and reasonably priced coffee. We did also climb Black Tower, the one other famous architectural feature of Cesky B— the picture above was taken from atop it.

Since Cesky B was a coffee and research sort of place, we only have one other picture of the city, a close-up of the fountain at the centre of the square.

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Focus your attention on the figure at the top of the fountain. Yes, that is a man prying open a lion’s mouth, who is in return perpetually vomiting water into his face. Certainly one of the more memorable fountain designs we’ve come across.

Brno, the Czech Republic’s second-biggest city, was next on our list. Among other things, it featured ANOTHER BONE CHURCH.

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The Brno Ossuary, with over 50,000 ‘inhabitants’, actually features more remains than the more famous Sedlec Ossuary in Kutna Hora. Sedlec Ossuary, however, still wins for creativity: you will see no chandeliers or coats of arms made of bones in Brno Ossuary. There were, however, some creepy tunes and a few darkened passages, which created a spooky atmosphere— something that was definitely lacking in Sedlec.

When we weren’t exploring the BONE CHURCH, we were wandering around the city’s old quarter, which, in typical European style, failed to betray Brno as a city where things actually happen.

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We also did a tour of Brno’s underground, a vast network of cellars and man-made tunnels which once served as larders, markets, studies, torture chambers, and a bunch of other interesting stuff.

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Our tour guide, unfortunately, only spoke in Czech, so we were forced to hang back from the group and listen to a deadpan audio guide instead. The underground had also undergone vast renovations, so it was kind of difficult to imagine or appreciate what it was really like back in the day. All in all, it was disappointing.

What wasn’t disappointing was this fountain:

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This might sound a little silly, but this fountain was possibly our favourite part of Brno. We sat and watched for half an hour as the sheet of water changed colour and formed pictures, abstract patterns, and words.

We may have ended the Czech Republic with a bit of a whimper, but it was all for a good cause: now our course for the rest of the trip is clear. Our next stop is Budapest, Hungary, land of one thousand goulash-serving restaurants.

Until then!

The Eh Team

The Blague From Prague

Having finished with Dresden, we resumed our trip southwards to Prague, Czech Republic. The first thing we did upon our arrival there was not go through customs, since apparently they don’t care who visits their country or how long they stay. Weird.

Anyway, Prague was great!

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Almost stereotypically Europey, Prague is a city of churches, canals, bridges, statues, roadside restaurants and absinthe parlours.

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Pro tip: while Prague might be world-famous for its abundance of absinthe, apparently the vast majority of the products for sale here are, as some would put it, crap. Happily, we didn’t have to worry too much about getting scammed, since the green fairy is out of our price range anyway. Hooray?

We spent our first day here as we spend most of our first days, walking around the city to get a feel for the place and to bump into some of the big sights. These included:

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A ginormous crowd of people waiting for a clock to strike. The clock in question is apparently the oldest surviving astrological clock or something like that. All I know is that when the clock struck, a model skeleton near its face rang the little bell it was holding, and it was neato.

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A giant metronome that overlooks the city, ticking away at an incredibly slow but somehow calming 5 beats per minute. It sits where a giant statue of Stalin used to stand, and is undoubtedly a marked improvement on the previous installation.

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A peacock standing on a bench. We ran into this guy (and about half a dozen others) while taking a shortcut through a park. We still have no idea why this courtyard was full of peacocks, which were incredibly tame but otherwise didn’t seem tied to it by anything in particular.

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Of course, our walk wasn’t all strange timepieces and peacock sightings. Overall, Prague was peaceful and pleasant, well-preserved and charming. As mentioned above, it was almost too perfect: cobbled streets, accordion-playing buskers, statues, fountains, and cafes. We got turned around and ended up back in the main square more times than we dare admit, but we enjoyed every second of it.

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The next day, we decided to take a train to the nearby town of Kutna Hora, which probably wouldn’t even be on the map if it weren’t for the totally awesome church made out of bones that you can find there. We’ll get to the BONE CHURCH in a second, but we have to let the excitement build a little before we do.

Kutna Hora itself is a pleasant, small town which suffers from the affliction of being about 45 minutes’ walking distance from its main train station. Seriously, who does that? Anyway, here’s what it looked like:

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The view in the picture above is offered from a walkway leading to one of the town’s many churches, which, like pretty much everything in all of the Czech Republic, has an entrance fee.

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Being the conniving rogues that we are, we snuck in at the tail end of a passing tour group. It was all right.

Now, on to the real reason anyone visits Kutna Hora: the BONE CHURCH.

Officially known as Sedlec Ossuary, the BONE CHURCH is a CHURCH made of BONES. Okay, so it’s not actually made of bones, there’s just a huge amount of them— 40,000 skeletons’ worth— in the crypt downstairs. The story runs that a jar of holy soil was sprinkled on the church grounds several hundred years ago, which resulted in many people wishing to be buried there. Having collected more bones than they knew what to do with, the church decided to do something useful with them and make a bunch of furniture and decorations out of them. The end result was this:

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To put it simply, it was pretty metal. Note that in the lower-right corner of the family crest in the last picture, there is a human skeleton having his eye pecked out by a bird skeleton— except that both skeletons are made of human bones. Crazy. The giant pile o’ bones in the second picture was about eight feet across, and was just one of four. Like we said, they have a lot of bones.

The next day we opted for something a little less macabre, and visited Prague Castle.

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Touted as the largest extant ancient castle in the world or somesuch, Prague Castle is a large walled complex of buildings, and as you might have guessed, a huge tourist attraction. Tickets were rather expensive, and there were about 500 different variations for sale, each of which granted you entrance to some subset of the Castle’s features (but never all of them— that was guaranteed to take at least two tickets). We went for the cheapest option, which turned out to be more than enough. It included entry to a church, basilica, part of the palace, and an alleyway with a grab-bag of features. Even with a ticket, you weren’t allowed to take pictures inside certain areas without purchasing an additional permit, so needless to say we don’t have footage of some of these places.

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The inside of the church. One of the grander examples we’ve been in, though to be honest they’re all starting to blend together in our memories.

The other area of note inside the castle was found in the aforementioned alleyway. It was a showcase of medieval weapons and armour, some of which we had a hard time believing were for realsies.

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If the bird armour wasn’t enough, check out this collection of totally practical weapons:

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Yes, you are looking at a gun, a gun-sword, a gun-axe, and off to the left, a gun-spear. Apparently people went through this phase where they thought that pretty much everything would be better with a gun attached to it. There was even a gun shield on display.

With the castle under our belts, we had one sight left to see: Charles Bridge, one of Prague’s most well-known landmarks. Though it’s only one of many bridges that span the Vltava river, it is the oldest and most ornate. Naturally, it is often obscenely crowded and covered with street vendors, caricature painters, and buskers.

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You may have noticed the ominous clouds in the second picture above. Our fellow tourists noticed them, too, which is partially why the bridge was relatively empty at the time of our visit. But we had planned to see the city at night, and weren’t about to be scared away by the threat of a storm.

Long story short, we got rained on. It was totally worth it, though.

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Prague was a great experience that was only somewhat marred by its high degree of tourism. Next, we’ll be visiting the town of Ceske Budejovice, where we’ll likely have the opposite problem.

Until then!

The Eh Team

Dresden Detour

We have one quick post left to make in Germany before we move on. This one is coming from Dresden, a town we hadn’t initially thought of visiting; we ended up making a stop here because it’s located halfway between the cities of Berlin and Prague. We’re very glad we decided to take the time to stay here!

Dresden, with its cobbled streets and Baroque architecture, is a very aesthetically beautiful city. As such, we didn’t do much here apart from wander around and soak in the sights. In this (fairly) short post, we’ll walk you through the main attractions we saw!

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Above you’ll see a handful of views of Dresden’s historical district, situated on the banks of the river Elbe. Try to identify which buildings carry over from picture to picture! After three days of touring around these buildings, I’d like to say that we’re now experts on which ones are which, but that honestly isn’t the case. It gets a little confusing keeping them all straight.

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The outside of Zwinger Palace, a grand old place with a funky name. There’s a paid museum built into one of the wings, but wandering the grounds is free.

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More Zwinger Palace. Fun Fact: the palace’s name comes from ‘zwinger’, a word designating the empty space between two walls in a fortification. This area is colloquially known as the ‘killing ground’, since that’s where enemy soldiers would generally die upon attacking the fort. The more you know!

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The view from atop one of Dresden’s many church towers, which, much like the one in Cologne, could be climbed for a modest fee. The view from this tower wasn’t as spectacular, but it was blessedly free of chain-link fences. The dome-shaped building in the centre of the picture is the Church of Our Lady; there’s a picture of the inside down below.

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A cool wall. We’d have read up on the history of the wall and why it looks the way it does, but, you know, everything was in German.

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The view from the inside of the Church of Our Lady. Entry was free (yay!) which is probably why it was packed, but it was still well worth it for the amazing architecture. We got a couple of seats and then spent some time soaking in the atmosphere.

Then we left to go eat currywurst and schnitzel.

From its grand architecture to its prominent counterculture to its cheap alcohol, Germany has been a wild ride. But now we’re off to Prague, Czech Republic, and we’ve heard the alcohol is even cheaper there!

Until then!

The Eh Team

First, We Take Cologne…

…Then we take Berlin.

No, actually. That’s what we did.

Cologne is a largish city in the west of Germany, one of a cluster of four (the others being Dusseldorf, Essen, and Dortmund) that for reasons best known to themselves are huddled together near the western border of the country. While Cologne may not seem like a big deal, it is apparently one of the more popular destinations in Germany, likely owing to two reasons. The first is that Cologne, being in the west, is easily accessible from the rest of western Europe; the second is because it is the home of the Cologne Cathedral.

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Note the teeny tiny people near the church doors; that should give you a sense of scale. Cologne Cathedral is Germany’s most visited landmark, and it’s easy to understand why. It’s not only huge, but intricately decorated inside and out.

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Entry to the church is free, but for a small fee you can climb its left bell-tower, which provides some insight into the church’s construction as well as some cool views of the city below. Unfortunately, due to some silly safety restrictions, the view is somewhat marred by, well:

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Cologne was a nice city, but honestly, nothing in it comes close to matching the awesomeness of Cologne Cathedral. We sauntered around, went to a chocolate museum, left because it was too expensive, and then ate some mustard before heading on our way.

Berlin was a very different experience. Our overall impression of the city was that while much of the world may consider WWII to be ancient history, Berlin is still very much feeling its aftershock. The city is riddled with reminders— some intentional, some not— of what transpired during the war and what happened afterwards, with the division and eventual re-unification of the city. It was fascinating, if a little draining to see all of the memorials and museums, and made us realize jut how little we knew about the war.

On our first day there, we joined a free walking tour of the city, which hit up most of the sights in Berlin’s downtown core. In order:

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Brandenburg Gate, one of Germany’s most well-known landmarks, and the starting point of our tour.

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The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, whose name more or less explains its purpose. A forest of concrete slabs that are sunk into the ground at various depths, which get progressively taller towards the center of the installation. This is horribly inappropriate, but I was extremely tempted to jump along the tops of the slabs like Mario. I didn’t, though some of the monument’s other visitors did not display the same restraint.

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Checkpoint Charlie, what used to be the location of one of the Berlin Wall’s many checkpoints, and what is now unfortunately a highly artificial tourist trap. Still, the checkpoint is notable in that it was almost the location where WWIII broke out (apparently, some American soldier was turned away from the checkpoint due to a lack of paperwork, and instead of fetching it decided to fetch a tank— you can imagine how the situation went downhill rapidly from there).

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This picture shows three sights in one. In the back is an old building once used as Nazi headquarters, seized for use by the Russians after the war. In front of it is one of the remaining sections of the Berlin wall, crumbling and covered in graffiti. In the very foreground is part of the Topography of Terror, an indoor/outdoor museum dedicated to the Gestapo and SS. Scary stuff.

Finally, the parking lot where Hitler spent the last of his days:

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…Okay, so it was actually a bunker under the ground of what is now a parking lot. Our guide pointed out how notable it was that there was no acknowledgment that this was the location of Hitler’s death, and claimed it was the best possible tribute to Hitler’s legacy. We can’t say we have an opinion one way or the other, but it was certainly interesting.

Of course, there was more to Berlin than WWII memorials. The city is also known for the aptly named Museum Island, an island in the center of the city with lots of museums on it. Though Berlin’s museums are all very expensive, we visited the island anyway, wandering around and soaking in the impressive architecture. This included the Berlin Cathedral below:

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No Cologne Cathedral, but impressive nonetheless.

Berlin also had lots of cheap beer.

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That’s 69 cents a bottle for the posh beer on the right, and 31 cents a bottle for the cheapie beer in the middle. No wonder the Germans drink so much: the beer is cheaper than the water!

While most of Berlin resembles the pictures above, there is another side to the city— a prominent counterculture is present here, which comes out more in some parts of the city than others. The area just south of our lodgings, for example, was rife with graffiti, outdoor clubs, and abandoned buildings and public spaces re-purposed as chillout zones by Berlin’s youth.

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This area, which is apparently a fairly well-known sight, took us completely by surprise, and was the cause of one of the bigger culture shocks we’ve experienced on this trip. People lounged around drinking beer (legal in Germany), slept on mattresses strewn at the side of the road, and played badminton by the riverside.

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That’s it for Berlin. We have one last stop in Germany— Dresden in the southeast— before moving on to the Czech Republic.

Until then!

The Eh Team

Earth and Sea

Our base of operations on the west coast of Ireland was Galway, a charming town squeezed between two national parks— Connemara to the north and the Burren to the south. A city of cobbled streets and canals, with plenty of old-school architecture and a thriving traditional music scene, Galway was a perfect place to experience some genuine Irish culture.

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As nice as Galway was, it was also very small, and it didn’t take us long to see everything in the city there was to see. Fortunately, there were the aforementioned national parks to check out.

The Burren, to the south of Galway, is best known for its karst landscape. You may remember the term ‘karst’ from our stay in Yangshuo, China, where it meant ‘cool mountains’. In Ireland, the end result is giant, rolling hills and plains made almost completely of rocks. Unfortunately, we don’t have any good pictures of the karst hills, since we mostly saw them out of the window of our bus. We didn’t stop at the cool hills because our ultimate destination was even cooler: the Cliffs of Moher.

Situated on the west coast of Ireland, overlooking the Atlantic ocean, the Cliffs of Moher are one of Ireland’s most iconic sights. Caused by erosion of the wishy-washy earth that forms the Burren, they’re essentially what you’d get if you sliced a giant hill in half to see its cross-section.

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Starting at the main viewing area of the cliffs, we went on a three-hour hike to the nearby town of Doolin, which was an absolutely amazing experience. Since the path skirted the edge of the cliffs, and a large portion of it wasn’t fenced off, it was also a bit of a nail-biting experience. As with the great wall of China, pictures do the cliffs justice in a way that words simply can’t, so here’s a bunch of them:

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That last picture is of Doolin, our final destination. We were cold and starving upon our arrival there, and so we immediately made a beeline for the local pub.

The next day, we decided we hadn’t had enough of the whole hiking thing, and travelled north to Connemara national park. While the Burren’s landscape is mostly rocky karst, Connemara is a giant peat bog, waterlogged and covered in lush greenery.

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Diamond Hill is the crux of the hiking trails here; the hardest route has you climb the hill to its peak, which on sunny days provides you a wonderful view of the surrounding area.

It was not sunny the day we visited.

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Of course, that didn’t stop us. In a way, the fog made everything better; it grew thicker and thicker the higher we climbed, muffling sound as well as sight. We think there were a couple other crazy people climbing the trail with us, but we couldn’t be sure. All we knew was the rocky trail ahead of us, and the wind constantly blowing fog in our faces.

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It was eerie, wet and in many ways miserable, but we’d do it again in a heartbeat. We felt very accomplished when we finally reached the peak, and we hunkered down on the leeward side of the mountain to eat lunch.

On our way back down, we took an alternate path that took us through the boggier part of the park. Once we were below the cloud level, we were actually able to see where we were going.

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Connemara and the Cliffs of Moher were both awesome, but for very different reasons. Having seen them both, we were ready to leave Galway for our nest destination, Germany. But first, we had one last box to check: listen to some traditional Irish music in a pub. So that’s exactly what we did!

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As people who have spent four years in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Nicole and I are actually quite familiar with Irish folk tunes. All the same, there was something special about standing in the bar (it was completely packed) with our hookers (uh… Galway hooker, that is, the local brew), listening to the music in the country of its origin. It was, in fact, a perfect send-off for Ireland.

Next, we go to Cologne, Germany! Until then!

The Eh Team

This Post Sponsored By Guinness™

As we mentioned at the end of our last blog, our next destination after England was Ireland, the land of one thousand Guinness memorabilia outlets. In order to get to Dublin, we had to take a late-night bus to Wales on the west coast of the island, followed by a 4-hour ferry ride in the middle of the night. It would have sucked, if the ferry hadn’t been the best thing ever.

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The main floor (deck?) of the ferry, pictured above, included features such as a restaurant, movie theatre, and casino. Upstairs (updecks?) there was another restaurant, a lounge, and a miniature arcade.

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After blowing two Euro on a session of Aliens, we headed back downstairs to the theatre, where they were airing Penguins of Madagascar. Needless to say, it was the perfect movie to watch at 3:00AM on a ferry with nothing else to do.

Our ferry arrived in Dublin just as the sun was coming up, and we stepped off it onto the soil of the Emerald Isle. Handy tip: if the Emeraldness of Ireland is what you’re after, don’t make Dublin your first stop.

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The view in the picture above can be found from atop the Guinness Storehouse, a museum dedicated to Guinness beer, the brewing and drinking of Guinness beer, advertisements promoting Guinness beer and, of course, the sale of Guinness beer-related merchandise. For a fairly hefty fee, you can wander upwards through the museum (which is shaped like a giant pint of Guinness) and then enjoy a regular-sized pint of Guinness once you reach the Gravity Bar at the top.

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Since there isn’t much to do in Dublin apart from visit the Guinness Storehouse and/or drink, we decided to head out of the city and spend a day at the nearby Wicklow National Park.

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There are several trails at the park, ranging from short, 30-minute strolls to 4-hour hikes. Unfortunately, the first and last buses to and from the park arrive less than 4 hours apart, which makes it kind of difficult to walk the longer trails. We settled for one of the medium-length trails, which terminated at a beautiful valley and a bizarrely geometrical lake. The park was also home to a few ruined buildings and a graveyard dating back to the 19th century, which were pretty neat.

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Our last major stop in Dublin was Temple Bar, which despite its name is not a temple-shaped bar. It is, in fact, Dublin’s downtown (read: touristy) core, home to many an Irish pub and street performer. A popular gathering place for Dublin’s youth and alcohol enthusiasts— and there is a high degree of overlap between the two groups— Temple Bar was absolutely packed the Friday night upon which we visited.

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The street performers of Temple Bar were an interesting lot, ranging from buskers to people holding what we can only refer to as street challenges. The usual deal was that you had to pay to attempt some kind of challenge, which would net you a hefty cash prize if successfully completed. Needless to say, we didn’t witness too many prizes being handed out. The challenges did, however, make for a good spectacle.

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For those confused, the challenge in this case was to ride a dodgy bicycle (with reversed steering) across the finish line. The man currently attempting it was naked by his own choice.

We had a bus to catch the following day, but as Dublin’s Pride Parade was scheduled to pass near the station before we were due to leave, we decided to attend.

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The turnout was very impressive— and that’s coming from a couple of Canadians. We’re fairly certain that the reason there were so few people watching the parade with us is that they were all walking in it. Legions of Dubliners bedecked in rainbow-coloured overalls and sequined high heels marched past us for well over an hour. Worried we were going to miss our bus, we finally had to leave while the parade was still well underway.

Now that we’ve seen Ireland’s capital on the eastern coast, we’ll be headed out west to catch some of the island’s natural beauty!

Until then!

The Eh Team

Bananas and Black Pudding

Having tackled London, we turned our adventurous eyes towards England’s less… Londonny areas, specifically Liverpool and Manchester. We only had a day in Liverpool— it was more of an extended layover than a proper visit— but we’re nonetheless pleased with all we managed to see there.

For instance, the Mona Lisa!

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Little known fact: this is actually the real Mona Lisa, as the one on display at the Louvre is a cunning fake designed to confound thieves and protect the real article. Just kidding. But that would be a good idea, no?

In keeping with the theme of seeing lame, plagiarized versions of famous paintings, here’s the Second Last Supper, which was apparently painted by someone with a significantly shorter attention span than Leonardo Da Vinci:

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Once we had mused our way through Liverpool’s Art Gallery, and cleverly left our bags stashed in one of their lockers for the day, we headed out on foot to stroll around the city.

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We were headed for Liverpool’s waterfront, which is home to a few museums (which we unfortunately didn’t have time to visit), as well as some semi-famous wharfs. On our way, we came across this church, which is officially known as St. Luke’s Church and unofficially known as the bombed-out church, for reasons that will soon become apparent:

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As you might have guessed, this church was damaged in a WWII bombing, and remains roofless and windowless to this day. The outside of the church was rather beautiful, but unfortunately the inside courtyard was ruined by some tacky decorations and junk lying around.

We reached the wharfs, and walked around them a bit. Honestly, they were just wharfs. Here’s a picture of them being wharfs.

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Slightly disappointed with our wharf adventure, we set a new goal for ourselves: to find the Superlambanana, one of Liverpool’s iconic art installations. We found a map of the city and then headed off in its direction, determined to catch sight of it before we had to leave for Manchester.

If you’re wondering if the Superlambanana is a lamb/banana that is super, then you would be correct.

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If you find the existence of this structure (in England, no less) to be amusing, then you’ll probably be tickled to know that it was designed by a Japanese man. Of course.

Our stay in Manchester was a bit of a departure for us, since for the first time in our trip we’d be lodging with friends— albeit, friends we’d never met. The very first thing we did upon our arrival (apart from sleep) was head out and get ourselves some authentic all-English breakfast.

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Yes, it was as delicious as it looked. The only thing I found slightly odd about it was the black pudding, which when you think about it, is one of the stranger things we’ve eaten on this entire trip. Quite remarkable, considering we’d been through a decent chunk of Asia before now.

We were also taken out to the Trafford Centre, one of England’s more egregious shopping malls. In terms of gaudiness, it held its own against the malls of South Korea and Malaysia, and that is saying something. The builders must have gotten one heck of a bulk rate on gilt and marble statues.

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The above picture shows the Trafford Centre’s food court, which is done up to look like the deck of a cruise ship. Gaudy, indeed.

We visited a museum which outlined Manchester’s contributions to the world (i.e. lots of steam engines and textiles) which also featured a neato exhibition on 3-D printing (invest in it, kids, it’s the future). We then attended Cheap Night at the local comedy club, which we don’t have any pictures of because the comics were already getting heckled enough (it was a good show, though).

Finally, we visited the John Rylands Library, land of one thousand dusty tomes.

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As someone who loves cavernous spaces, interesting architecture, old books and places that look like they should be in Harry Potter/ Dark Souls, I enjoyed myself immensely. There wasn’t much to do in the library apart from drift around and soak in the atmosphere, but we were more than happy to do just that.

Once we were ready to leave Manchester, we hopped on a ferry headed to the Emerald Isle. That’s right; our next destination is Ireland!

Until then,

The Eh Team