I had four problems to solve today.
This is the first installment of Vicki B & her 10-year-old son Ben on the road.
While researching it I learned that we could take a four-hour scenic train ride to London. Llooking at the map, I saw that it was just a short ferry ride across the English channel and there’s France! And look – it’s just a short skip over to Italy! Our one-week itinerary slowly morphed into ten weeks.
Can an independent traveler find happiness on an organized tour?
After well over 6 solid years of days traveling on my own, traveling solo, going where I wanted when I wanted, seeing whatever I wanted on my own schedule — I signed up, paid for, committed to, an official 9-day tour.
I have to admit, I have been a bit of a tour snob. I’d watch groups of look-alike people follow a red umbrella or an orange flag, sticking together in a mini-mob, looking at what the guide said to, taking photos even when they seemed not to know why, standing in front of some monument for a photo just to show they’ve been there. That wasn’t my idea of fun or of cultural enlightenment.
Yes, I was going on a group tour. I was committing to travel with a group of people I didn’t know. I was facing the potential to be stuck with people I didn’t know, like, or have anything in common with.
I knew this tour organizer so I knew it would be a worthwhile experience full of great places, people, and experiences…
One of three popular destinations from Bratislava is Prague. It’s a relatively short train or bus ride. As I had not been to Prague or any of what was Czechoslovakia during my first travels, I decided that a couple of days in Prague, Czech Republic (as it is now called) would be a new experience and more worthwhile. So today, having relaxed and enjoyed much of Bratislava at my leisure, and knowing I needed to be back there for my friend Annaline to arrive and travel with me to Israel, it was the perfect time to take my side-trip.
I don’t always know where I’ll stay upon arrival to a new place but in this case, I had already selected and reserved my accommodations for the night. All that was left was to enjoy getting to Prague and making it my next home.
A long day…
Today is the day my friend and I leave fabled Cinque Terre for storybook Venice. From one romantic area of Italy to another. I am still traveling with my friend A, ever since hitting mainland Italy after Sicily. Today we’re traveling on FlixBus. But before we can get to our bus, we need to leave Riomaggiore (our Cinque Terre home base) and get to La Spezia as that’s where FlixBus travels from.
Want to follow along with me for the full day’s adventure? Check-out, walk carrying luggage, short train ride, bus from one coast of Italy to another, walk through some of Venice carrying luggage, check-in, and then… explore a new city!
Starting and ending each of my days at the On the Way hostel in Palermo, I give Palermo a 5 out of 5 for friendliness. Fantastically located on Via Roma, owned by a true traveler and staffed by helpful, enjoyable volunteers such as the great Matt from Wales. This is my recommendation for a hostel to stay at while in Palermo, Sicily.
My first morning in Sicily wasn’t where I had planned it. I’d planned to arrive into Palermo, but due to circumstances had to end my into-Sicily travels in Catania instead. This morning I would continue onto Palermo with just enough time to start my first-ever organized tour — Sicily’s Beating Heart Tour with La RosaWorks.
I woke up at 10 — only because I’d set my alarm for the last possible minute that I could shower quickly and still make check-out. Still groggy and with my coordination not intact, I started my day.
Once released from Miami International Airport by my Hero Customer Service rep I was safely in NYC. From there I had 2 more planes, a train, an automobile in between, and my own blistered feet. That got me to Sicily. After an overnight stay in Catania I was able to take yet another train and finally arrive in Palermo.
In the forest about an hour north of Venice, Italy, is a 100% people-powered amusement (theme) park built by one local restaurant owner named Bruno. The story, images, and video is inspiring and amazing.
I certainly don’t want to visit Italy again without dining at Pioppi and trying some of his 40 electric-free rides amongst the trees. I think it must be one of the most unique restaurant/theme park experiences!
Dorota and I spent our days in Zakopane simply walking around and enjoying the sites, sounds, and foods — despite the rain. (Remember you can click an image to enlarge it.) One of the things you can’t miss is the local cheese. It’s sold in each of the main areas of Zakopane and comes in many sizes, shapes, and nuances. Notice it’s not refrigerated? It’s all quite salty and doesn’t need refrigeration. At least not until cut info or for some time. I brought some back to Warsaw as a gift to my host and hostess there. The Square Food stalls surrounded a local square (well circle). The potato pancake stand was irresistible as our lunch. They serve these hot crisp beauties covered in cream. I got to people-watch as we joined others sitting on a low stone curb to enjoy our casual snack or meal. The entertainment included this […]
I got a Polish SIM card for my iPhone today. I went with Play at the recommendation of a Polish friend. The Starter Kit was 19 zl ($6.50).
The man at the Play store popped it in for me and it worked. It simply worked. Phone, data, done. Not like the configuration needed in Central America.
But is that a result of the Polish system or being on iOS7 instead of iOS6 or having an iPhone 4s instead of 3gs? I guess I have to return to Central America to find out.
My Krakow friend Dorota had a work appointment the afternoon I arrived, so we walked together to the entrance to a park near the main square — a medieval square — and arranged to meet at the same spot later. This gave me the opportunity to wander by myself and get a feel for the area. As this was my first walk in Krakow, every storefront, ever vehicle, every sign, was new to me.
I’ve got some photos of this medieval square for you.
I awoke at 6am to the sound of Joanna cooking. I was in for another truly home cooked meal. Today was the day for me to move on to my second place in Poland. I was Krakow-bound and a friend was meeting me on the other end of the ride. I sat in a red high back seat on the upper level of my first Polish bus, PolskiBus. It was a very clean, new-seeming, beautiful double-decker. For approximately 5 hours I watched the scenery and did some writing. No friendly conversations with locals on this bus ride.
On this rainy Sunday, Michal and Joanna took me to the Warsaw Uprising Museum in the part of Warsaw called Wola. We drove as it was our only stop — and because it was raining, of course.
If you’re curious about some of the roads in Warsaw, here’s a slideshow of photos from our drive from his suburb to the museum. Then I’ve got a slideshow of some of the museum, of course. I can show you the photos, but can’t even begin to tell you about its impact.
As I traveled to Warsaw for the first time, I felt like a VIP knowing my host, Michal, would be waiting for me at the airport — holding a white sign with my name on it. As he drove me home, he told me of his girlfriend Joanna (Yanna) and that she was making me a traditional Polish meal of Pierogi (but with berries)l for my arrival. Wow.
My first outing in a new country is always exciting. Even if it’s just walking to a food market. But in this case, being taken around by a life-long resident of Warsaw was particularly nice.