Split, Croatia

Split, Croatia

Split is certainly one of the most beautiful cities I have ever visited. It is the second largest city in Croatia, after Zagreb and is located on the eastern shore of the beautiful Adriatic Sea, where is spread out over a peninsula that was once the palace of the Roman Emperor Diocletian.

Split is considered to be just over 1,700 years old if you count Diocletian’s palace construction in 305 CE, but the Greeks apparently settled the area much earlier. Split has seen its fair share of wars, from the influence of Greece, Rome, then Venice, and eventually became a free city in the middle and high ages into modern-day, where it was largely affected by Italy, then Germany in World War II. In 1991, the country of Croatia seceded from Yugoslavia in the Croatia War of Independence.

The city hosts a humid subtropical and Mediterranean climate with a range of 40F to 85F, making it ideal for summers and months outside of the colder winters, where the city is certainly still pleasant. Visiting at the end of May was impeccably timed, as the weather was incredible and the day-long booze cruise that we attended was accompanied by a cloudless sky and water that was a perfect balance between refreshing and chilly, while the air was a bit windy to ensure that the warmth wasn’t too noticeable. It was a gorgeous few days.

I found Split to be the friendliest city in Croatia, perhaps due to the regularity of tourism in the city. The climate and oceanic breeze were unbeatable, even for a native Californian and the cities windy and labyrinth like streets were as welcoming as the ocean; though it was quite easy to get lost. If I had stayed for longer, I would have gotten lost several times on purpose to ensure that I could find the little nooks and crannies that seem to be so magical in places like Split.

The food was not too expensive, though excellent. Lots of seafood and plenty of bars by the ocean; though I would absolutely recommend eating in the city center, then making your way out to the coastal areas for after-dinner drinks, or to watch the sun set over the horizon.

Today we arrived in Modena, Italy and will be enjoying a couple of days in Italy before moving on to Zurich, then I will be returning to Paris for four days. Looking forward, stay tuned.

Plitvice National Parks

photo by Caitlin Telford

I feel like I’ve visited heaven. Millions of waterfalls, lakes everywhere, water so clear you could drink it, fish the size of your leg and so many trees, bushes so thick that you can barely see the water flowing down and out of them, and a wooden stair path floating above it all like you are in the Wookie jungle of Endor IV from the final episode of Star Wars.

The national park was epic in proportions that I am still just beginning to understand. 1.1 million tourists visit the park each year, but it is pristine; there are people walking around after tour groups to pick up litter, very few amenities in the park, and it is specifically designed to move tourists through the park.

The park was founded in 1949 in the heart of Croatia, near large mountains, endless nature, and is near the border of Bosnia and Herzegovina. All of the lakes are arranged in cascading waterfalls that flow down from the highest mountains into the lower basins and the park surrounds an 80m waterfall which is the biggest I have ever seen. The entire park is completely breathtaking; upon entering you feel that you have been taken into a different alien world, one which is natural and completely untouched, even by you and the hundreds if not thousands of tourists that accompany you.

There were probably close to 10 or 20 thousand waterfalls in the park; they littered the entire area and created somewhat of a fantasy world where after an hour they were completely commonplace. Each tier brought with it new wonder and beauty; as we got lower and lower, the waterfalls became more plentiful, bigger, and more powerful until our final arrival at the monstrous 80m waterfall at the bottom of the national park.

We didn’t see any animals at the park, most likely because of the massive tourist groups moving throughout the area in what must have been a daily occurrence. There were no shortage of tourists at the park, but insects and fish were everywhere; the water seemed clear enough to drink from, though it was all strictly regulated and controlled.

The Park reminded me a lot of Yosemite, though the water was far more prominent in the park. There was a massive underground cave system with some unique biological species and plenty of caves and pathways that I could have gotten lost in for a couple of weeks if I had the time. It was labyrinth of beauty and undefinable beauty; I can only imagine how awe-inspiring the park must be during the winter months. It beckons a return journey, as does the rest of the beautiful country of Croatia.

Tomorrow I will be spending another day in Split, after a very enjoyable two days in Zadar; though there seems to be quite a lot of hostility towards tourists in the town of Zadar, I haven’t experienced any discrimination in Split despite the increase in tourism here. We will be visiting a couple of islands on a booze cruise and I am immensely looking forward to spending the time with my family.

Stay tuned for more of the adventure in Croatia, until we move on to Italy, Switzerland, and I finally return to the gorgeous city of Paris as my final destination on the 5 month+ trip around the world.

 

BudaPest, Hungary

"Panoramic view of Budapest 2014" by Katonams - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Panoramic_view_of_Budapest_2014.jpg#/media/File:Panoramic_view_of_Budapest_2014.jpg

Budapest is one of my new favorite cities! It’s rare to see a historic city with lots of modern touches and a culture that is very friendly and accommodating to match. Hungary has seen a lot of tragedy and the memorials there were fantastic; there is an obvious Jewish heritage and luckily I was able to stay in Mavericks Hostel which is in the Jewish quarter. I will admit that I saw more traditional Hasidic Jews in Boston, but I definitely saw the tall point black hats and sideburn curls on several occasions.

Budapest is the largest city in Hungary and its capital, one of the largest in the EU. The metropolitan area houses 3.3 million people while the city proper has a population near 1.74 million and covers 525 square kilometers, though the older and most beautiful part of the city could be covered by bikes in a day (which we did!). In 1873 Budapest became a single city when Pest and Buda joined from opposite sides of the Danube river.

It was originally a Celtic settlement that became Roman, then Hungarians arrived in the 9th century and it was pillaged by the damn Mongols in 1241 (those jerks really kicked ass). It was re-established in the Renaissance (15th century) and was heavily affected by both WWI and WWII, because of its importance to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which fell after WWI. After WWII, the country struggled with communism until the fall of Soviet Russia in 1989. To put it simply, the city has a ton of history.

It is also home to the largest thermal underground cave system in the world, the second largest synagogue in the world, both of which I was able to visit and can say that they were both incredible experiences.

I also spent a couple of nights out which were just as fun as touring during the day. I met people from all over, including an Australian guy who had traveled through all of South America in the same way that I traveled through Southeast Asia; it was a blast to share the experiences because both were rough and extremely rewarding!

The architecture of the city is breathtaking; spires line the skies and buildings hundreds and hundreds of years old are completely commonplace. Statues line the streets and sit atop rooftops, though the river is definitely the central point of the city. All of the bridges were destroyed by Germany during WWII, so none of them are nearly as old as the Charles Bridge, which I mentioned in my article about Prague.

The weather was spectacular, but very cold during certain parts of the night so I could have used a warm jacket. During the last day we visited one of the 80 thermal springs in the city that was in a cathedral-like building, and enjoyed 100 degree+ water. One of the nights where we ate at a nice restaurant across from the Opera, we were able to catch a classical band performing. It was an amazing city full of experiences I will remember for a long time; I would love to visit Budapest again.

Today I am in the city of Zadar and have a lot to talk about from Croatia, next stop is tomorrow in Split. Yesterday we spent the day in SplitVice, in possible the most beautiful national park I have ever seen. Feeling so grateful and lucky to be where I am, above all with my family to share it all together.

Check back soon for more updates on the trip

Dachau Concentration Camp and Nazi Germany

Today I was lucky enough to visit the Dachau Concentration Camp for Memorial Day. World War II sites are places where I feel proudest to be American; honestly, while I am traveling it doesn’t happen as often as I would like. Dachau is just outside of Munich and took the better part of 5 hours to experience and tour.

This was the second concentration camp I’ve visited. When I was 21 I visited Austwitz, which is really more of a death or extermination camp, rather than a concentrated labor camp. In other words, people were taken to extermination camps after they were deemed unfit to work in concentration camps or if their “offense” was bad enough in the eyes of the Nazi power. 1.1 million people died in Austwitz, whereas 40,000 died in Dachau; one of the explanations why was that Nazi Germany needed the labor in order to continue its production as a war machine.

Dachau was much different than Austwitz, besides the obvious factor that is wasn’t so much of a killing machine; it focused more on labor and training SS guards to be completely brutal and inhumane towards their prisoners. It was a place of torture and desensitization that reminds me of medieval torture machines and all kind of war crimes and inhumane treatment of people. In addition, Dachau was far more known within the German country; facts about Austwitz and the atrocities committed there are still coming to light because of the cover-ups of the Nazi regimes.

Dachau started as a camp for political enemies, most prominently communists and major opposition to Hitler’s Third Reich. That is one of the primary ways he gained control over the country; he would send anyone who opposed his ideals to concentration camps to be “rehabilitated”. Mostly people were tortured and forced to work as slaves. Over time, his attention turned more broadly to the Jewish population and towards the extermination of eastern European populations, most devastatingly Poland.

Propaganda from the time period was hyperbolized and Hitler preyed upon the fear and weakness in the country’s economic infrastructure after WW1. His cabinet was completely ruthless, taking every advantage that they could to control the mindset of the population and terrorizing their enemies so that they either fled the country, or were sent to concentration camps such as Dachau.

Over 30,000 people at a time would be held at standstill in the courtyards of Dachau, oppressed by beatings and random killings by the SS guards that were at first posed as suicides. Over time they began to kill in front of the residents. Nearing the end of the war, they were forced into long marches that could last weeks and would claim thousands of lives at a time. When US soldiers arrived on April 29th 1945, 10,000 people were very sick and over 3,000 dead bodies lying about the camp. During the concentration camps functioning, over 40,000 people died; 40,000 is the number of confirmed deaths and that number is certain to be low. Over 200,000 people moved through the camp during its 12 year operation.

Concentration camps and extermination camps were run in largely the same way, except for one thing; prisoners at extermination camps were usually brought straight to the gas chambers, then cremated while prisoners at concentration camps were forced into slave labor. Both were considered less than human by SS guards and the guards were forced to call them “things or objects” rather than to refer to them as human beings. Their rights were stripped from them and they became the number on their sleeve, though in Austwitz they were infamously tattooed with their number, which was unique.

Humans were separated into categories based on their “crimes” against the Nazi party: Jews, unemployed, mentally unstable, homosexuals, immigrants, and other religious groups were completely discriminated against in the camps, largely as a result of the Nuremburg laws that institutionalized racism. They were given special patches on their arms and uniforms of dark blue and white to wear in the camp, most of which were very cold.

These human prisoners were processed on arrival; their clothes were stripped, all possessions were taken from them and they were shaved completely, disinfected, then showered torturously with boiling hot then extremely cold water in alternation, according to how much the SS guard wanted to torture the prisoner.They often laughed. Signs saying “Work is freedom” lined all of the concentration camps, a kind of false hope, which is something very important to the psychology of a concentration or death camp. They were subjected to morning role-calls where they would stand outside in the freezing cold for hours at a time at complete attention or be subjected to beatings which they had to count along with the guards. If they missed a number or didn’t know German, the SS guards would restart.

SS guards were particularly fanatical, an elitist group of torturers and killers that eventually were outsources from other countries, but that were originally only the craziest of the Germans. Eventually the Germans ran out of fanatics and had to recruit from other countries; these men were the worst of the worst and had no problems with torture or performing the most brutal of acts upon other human beings.

One of the most interesting and vile parts of Dachau were the psychological experiments. They essentially tested the limits of human survival upon unsuspecting victims, by performing high altitude tests on their brains and bodies, putting them into below freezing water to see how long they could survive, and trying experimental drugs on the prisoners. They would inject things like pathogens into their bodies then see how long they would survive with certain types of medications. Some of the most horrific photos came from this portion of the memorial.

Probably the most disturbing were the piles of bodies, frozen, completely malnourished, dead, sick with typhoid fever, you name it and it happened there. By the end of the war, Germany was out of food and the prisoners at the concentration and death camps were the first victims to go without.

That’s when the forced marches occurred, when Heinrich Himmler issued an order on the 14th of April 1945 to ensure that prisoners did not fall into the hands of the enemy; instead they should die. This is probably the biggest reason why the US troops arrived to see what must of been one of the most horrific sights of the war; corpses strewn about and piled together, nothing but skin and bones. Disease was rampant and many who survived until the liberation died afterwards because of their condition. The Americans held trials for the SS in Dachau for the next three years, until they handed the area back over to the Germans.

Why am I writing about such horrific things, or even visiting such terrible places and low points in human history? To learn from them. Desensitization is very real in today’s world, moreso than maybe ever before with the amount of people on our planet. These types of atrocities still exist today, genocide is a very real aspect of the world we live in. I believe that we can transcend such things if we can learn from our past.

“Never again” is what you will see in the memorials at the camps. In French, “plus jamais”, pretty much a direct translation. Every human is a unique individual, so in the same way that there were surely SS guards who doubted their leadership, there are surely ISIS members, Taliban members, and members of other terrorists groups who revolt against their leadership. Stereotypes can be useful, but we have to give people the opportunity to be more than a category or label. We owe it to ourselves to look for the humanity in others even when we have no reason to anymore. I believe that this is one of the fundamental tenets of hope and what will drive our race to higher level of cooperation and flourishing in the state of the modern world.

(The internet where I am staying is really bad, so I will add some pictures to this in the near future. Sorry I can’t offer more visuals on this post.)

 

Paradoxical Prague

Prague, Charles Bridge

Prague is definitely one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen. By all standards, it has to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world, the architecture is incredible, the streets are cobbled and it’s just like you are stepping into a fairy tale when you arrive.

Except for one thing; the amount of tourists that are constantly flowing through the city.

I am no stranger to crowds; god knows India, Bangladesh, China, Thailand, and Vietnam have plenty of them; I lived in Boston for a couple of years which is pretty crowded as well. But there is something about the pure tourist that just drives me kind of insane. Maybe it was the average age of the people in the city, or the way that they crowded together, but it is absolutely something I could do without seeing again.

With that said, the architecture in Prague was absolutely fantastic. It’s like being in Disney world with all of the castles and churches and especially the tourists. The city is the capital of the Czech Republic and the largest city in Czech. The image above is an image of the Charles Bridge which was completed over 600 years ago. Let’s just say the city is fairly historically significant.

There’s about 2 million people in the suburban area of Prague and 1.2 million in the city, though you might not even notice it if you wake up early in the morning. It receives double its population in tourists each year, which will only be increasing each year. It is the 15th largest city in the European Union and the weather is great; just warm enough to wear a light jacket and jeans and not get cold, though at night it’s advisable to wear something a bit heavier.

Historically, Prague or Praha was the capital of the Holy Roman Empire making it a major player the protestant reformation. It’s gothic architecture is epic in proportion and Prague has some of the most beautiful churches, statues, and religious architecture that I have ever seen. It’s amazing how gigantic churches can be and after reading the history of Prague, it’s easy to understand the massive power of the church at the times where the city flourished.

Incredibly, it seems that most of the architecture in the city was preserved during the first two world wars, probably due to its location outside of Germany. There are still over 500 spires in the city and many more beautiful buildings. Definitely worth a few days visiting, though I don’t think I could have stayed for more than a week.

The night life was decent, I was able to partake in a pub crawl that was extremely busy, a few hundred people and ended at a 5 story club featuring 90s hip-hop. It was pretty lame, even though I do like 90s hip-hop, there is far better music for the dance floor and the DJ was pretty much just using his iPod and letting it play.

So if you get a chance, give Prague a visit, just keep in mind the large number of tourists that you will find in every nook and cranny of the city; even in the off-season they far outnumbered the locals, so expect the locals to be a bit less friendly than usual as well.

 

 

Dear Berlin, I love you (but not you Hitler)

Adolph_Hitler_Berlin

Berlin was a breath of fresh air after a long time of journeying in Vietnam, taking night buses and trying not to get scammed every day. It was a bit weird to be completely anonymous again, but nice all the same; I was able to practice Ashtanga in the park all three days that I visited Berlin without any interruption or even people staring at me which is something I have come to expect.

Berlin, Germany is a city of history and pain, which I must say is probably the vast majority of European cities. WWII history dominated the city, but in one of the most touching and personalized war exhibits I have ever seen (Austwitz was more personal, but the site’s history is also much more intense). Hitler and the Nazi regime were in full public view in one of the exhibits in the south of the city and the history of the wall was nothing short of incredible.

Berlin_wall
preserved portion of no-man’s land at the Berlin wall

The wall was up for 28 years; many people thought it would only last a few months. 1,000 people were killed in attempts to cross the wall and 5,000 or so were able to make it; but the fear and mental effects on the people were far more impacting.

It becomes pretty obvious that the Soviet Union was the driving force behind the creation of the wall; their tanks reinforced its creation and it wasn’t until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989 that the wall was brought down. In addition, the people of Berlin were nearly all against its construction and it tore the city apart; government officials deliberately told the people there would be no wall and many thought it would only last a few days, maybe months. 28 years later, a church, cemetery, apartments, and countless lives were victims of the wall. The tributes to the people were personalized and specific; reading the stories brought you to the time period and it was easy to understand the grasp that fear had on the Berlin people.

There was another exhibit in the South of Berlin, near Potzdamer Platz that displayed details of the Nazi’s rise to power, making full view of Hitler and his regime’s eventual control over Germany, especially over Berlin. The feature picture of Hitler is from that exhibit. It is amazing to see the political climate that created the third Reich and the amount of control that it took over the German population. There was no explanations, simply facts and personal stories that allowed me formulate what it could have been like back in the 1930s and 40s in Berlin.

The food was great, but the Germans seem to eat about 90% meat (the other 10% is potatoes) which is just not my favorite style of food. I did end up having some Currywurst and Snitchzel, though I’m glad I don’t eat it on a daily basis. The people in Berlin were very kind and even though I didn’t go out at night, you could tell that there was a raging night club scene. If I go back, which I really hope to, that is something I will be doing my best to experience in full throttle. I needed to rest after two weeks of night buses and non-stop traveling in Vietnam.

I stayed in two hostels, both were good, though we stayed at the Pfefferbett and it wasn’t amazing; toilets flooded at night, their magnetic key system was absolutely horrible and the WiFi was bad, but it was pretty clean and the beds were nice. The East Seven Berlin hostel was stellar, clean, WiFi was great and the people who worked the hostel were very friendly. I definitely see myself heading back to Berlin in not too long, maybe for some music! That would be cool.

I recently put some new google Ads up on the site, I’m definitely going to keep them up because I think that they are completely non-intrusive and honestly, I’ve worked hard on this blog and think that I deserve at least some compensation for putting so much work into my writing and what it has become. Also, nothing is free; this blog takes money to maintain and I have been shouldering the cost completely. Think of it like I’m trying to get to the point where this blog is self-sustaining, because right now it isn’t.

So please don’t be turned off, understand that I have to eat like anyone else and I really want to get to the point where this blog sustains itself. Nothing is free. I am also completely out of space on my server so this might be my last couple of pictures for a while. If you are interested in supporting my writing, you can just send me an email @ [email protected]

Otherwise, have a great day, I’m off to explore Prague, possibly the most touristic city in Europe (seriously, tourists are everywhere here). More travel blogging on the way 😉

 

India 2015 Itinerary

India_1909_map

Planned 2015 Travels in Asia and Europe

I am starting to get excited to leave for India, I bought some great hiking boots and a solid camping backpack for traveling around Asia. I will be trying to post the entire time I am there, but am leaving room for lacking technology in Asia. Things have started to come together in the past few days in ways that make me ecstatic to leave, including time with my girlfriend in Southeast Asia!

I’ve also bought all of the flights that I will be needing, except for the one home. I’m hoping to stop in Paris and London for a week a piece to say hi to friends, so that is what I am still figuring out.

I leave for India on the 22nd of January, to fly into Bangalore where I will immediately head out to Mysore. In Mysore, I have a high luxury hotel waiting, with Wifi, a queen size bed, and satellite TV. A whopping $16 a night haha, this will be my nicest accommodations of the whole trip, at least that’s how I am planning it now. I am hoping to stay in places for about $2 a night for the rest of the time, after I stay for three days in the hotel.

On the 26th of January, I start practice with Saraswathi. This will last until April 1st, when the Shala closes from Summer and Sharath goes on tour.

On the 3rd of April, I leave Bangalore for Kathmandu. I am looking forward to this city more than anything else, the fusion of Buddhism and Hinduism is something I am really looking forward to. Nepal is also somewhere I have been hoping to explore for a while, maybe I can spend some time in a monastery there. In any case, I will have hiking boots and a backpack, so hopefully I can check out the mountains while I’m there.

On the 17th of April, I fly into Yangon, Myanmar. I will be meeting up with Talia there and together we will start to explore southeast Asia, flying to Chiang Mai on the 22nd and then traveling down Thailand through Cambodia to the coast of Vietnam, then up the coast to Hanoi. This is the part of the trip that is a little more disorganized and discovery oriented. We essentially have 26 days starting on April 22nd to get Hanoi by the 17th of May. We’ll be traveling through Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and possibly Laos, hopefully we’ll get to play with some monkeys!

On May 17th, I will arrive in Berlin. This is my first visit to Berlin and am ecstatic about Germany. This is where the second leg of my journey begins, with my sisters and mom! We will be backpacking and traveling though Eastern Europe together, starting in Berlin, Germany.

We arrive in Prague on May 21st. From there, we move onto Munich, Salzburg, Budapest, then spending a full week in Croatia. I am really, really excited to experience Croatia, I’ve heard some incredible things about the country and moving around eastern Europe is going to be so cool after having done the same in Asia.

We fly to Zurich on the 4th of June, afterwards I am thinking about going to Paris for a week, then London for another week. This is still up in the air and depends upon a couple of friends, so I’m not planning on it right now. But this is pretty much the end of the trip, and I will be heading back to the states to work again. Hopefully I won’t be completely broke, but I am sure as fuck going to be close!