Flight to London was .. interesting to say the least. The popular budget airline Ryanair surprised us by not having assigned seats (just sit anywhere you want) and with constant in-flight advertising, successfully preventing any rest. I guess the saying was right and you get what you paid for.
We were picked up by Derek’s older brother – Sebastian – who found us a place to sleep and spend some time at (for free, which was great – thanks bro! 🙂 ).
First few days were spent visiting London’s most popular attractions: Tower Bridge, London Bridge, Big Ben and Buckingham Palace. Days were a bit cloudy and sometimes cold, but nonetheless very good for sightseeing. Our main way of transportation around the city was London’s metro system (The Tube) – fast, and quite reliable (most of the time as it had a problems once and we were forced to take a detour).
We saw a lot of street performers in the vicinity of the largest Ferris wheel in Europe called The London Eye. But no surprise there as it is located just 5 minutes away from the Big Ben, hoarding thousands of tourists every day.
Just a short metro ride south is the Greenwich Royal Observatory which is the house to the Prime Meridian (0 longitude) and is surrounded by gorgeous parks. We visited it the following day and did the “Where East meets West” scene and both of us stood and kissed across the Prime Meridian 🙂
Few days later we decided to visit Ireland – a one-way train+ferry ticket from London to Dublin was just 29 pounds (~$50 USD). The ride was long, but extremely comfortable. While waiting for the ferry, we managed to get a delicious fish and chips for just 6 pounds.
We spent a few days in Dublin, sightseeing and drinking beer at Guinness brewery, which coincidentally was celebrating its 250th anniversary of their 9999 year long lease. Not surprisingly, all of the pubs were serving free beer 🙂
We left Dublin after a couple of days and took off to Limerick – a beautiful region of Ireland with some magnificent castles (like the Bunratty Castle). We stayed in a 4 star hotel where we got a fantastic view of the river and castle. Sadly in the evenings the city looked more like a ghost town as the stores closed and the streets got empty – just like the “good” old times back in communistic Poland :-).
On our way back we stopped at a small harbour town of Barbigan – we were so tired that we almost missed our morning bus to Dublin. We packed our bags in a record time of 15 minutes, though some of the clothes were still wet after the evening wash 🙂 . The trip back to London was smooth and uneventful.
Before we moved on with our journey we took a train to Sailsbury to visit nearby Stonehenge with the massive awe-inspiring stone circles.
Few days later we left England and took a plane to Paris, France – this time we used easyJet – no more unassigned seats – hurray! Paris – here we come!
After a long and tiresome bus trip from Frankfurt (Germany) to Wroclaw (Poland – Derek’s hometown) we knocked on Derek’s parents door and surprised them. They weren’t expecting us to visit for at least another week or two 🙂 What a tremendous surprise it was.
We started off with a train ride to Zagan, where Derek and his family spent their earlier years. The town was very small and rustic looking.
We then visited Krakow to see Wawel (Royal Castle), Wieliczka (salt mine), and Auschwitz-Birkenau (concentration camp), where millions of people lost their lives during the World War II.
After Krakow, we headed to Warsaw (the current capital of Poland). Warsaw for Kama was more modernized with new buildings and busy work life-style. Compared to the rest of Poland, this city can be considered snobsville. We saw the beautiful Lazienki (Baths) park and walked around the restored Market Square as most of Warsaw was destroyed at the end of the war.
We went to visit babcie (Polish for grandma) on Derek’s mom’s side. We saw Derek’s aunt (Ala) and her husband (Leszek) there as well since they live close to grandma (1 hour drive from Derek’s parent’s home). After visiting grandma we went to see Derek’s cousin who also lived close by. Ula and Andrzej has a daughter, Ania, who spoke a bit of English so Kama finally got to talk to someone without a translator. Yea…
A week later we decided to visit Derek’s father’s side of the family. Tato (Polish for dad) decided to drive us to his old hometown in Ostrow where he also wanted to stop by and visit Derek’s grandfather’s grave. We took a small detour to see a cathederal where Kama and Tato went up to the towers. It was so windy we were afraid to stand outside for too long. Great view though and lots of fun trying to communicated to Tato that I was okay and wasn’t afraid of heights. Where’s my translator? LOL!!!
After a brief visit to the gravesite, we fianlly made it to Ostrow where Derek’s aunts still lives at the farm. The town is very small with only about 500 residents and about 100 houses top. There were cows and sheeps in the fields. Derek’s aunt, Lidzia, and her husband was at a wedding when we arrived and so we were greeted by their sons Krystian and his wife Anita, Tomek, and Dariusz (yes, another Derek). Tato left the next day and we stayed for a few more days visiting. The last night was spent at Derek’s cousin’s house with Lena, Andrzej, and their son Hubert. Both parents are teachers and had their son take English class so they were excited to have us speak with Hubert. We had a great time seeing everyone and hope to see them again soon. Maybe someone would visit us in the US sometime?.
The majority of our time in Poland was spent with family though. We spent a lot of time at home with Derek’s parents while we rested and relaxed. We pretty much got spoiled rotten here, so much food. We also visited Derek’s friend, Marcin who also spoke English (yea!), got to see Market square, Ostrow Tumski (with 1000 year old cathederal), Derek’s old university, lots of malls, antique markets, and outdoor markets.
Now it’s time to head off to England to visit with Derek’s brother, Sebastian.
Flying and landing in India is beyond words – you’d have to experience it yourself to get the idea. Imagine a group of people trying to bring half of Thailand with them, or so it seemed at the airport: huge carry-on bags which didn’t fit any of the requirements, dozens of flat-screen TVs and even more boxes with clothing. That’s Incredible !ndia (that’s the slogan, not spelling mistake).
We started in Kolkata, but after dealing with pushy touts, overpriced taxi & hotel, noise and crowds we decided to leave the city of Mother Theresa and head west.
We took an overnight train to Varanasi – experience we won’t forget for a while. The train was extremely hot and noisy: no AC, windows wide open, vendors selling food, children begging for money, people sitting on your bunk while you’re trying to sleep, train driver howling to the moon with the train horn. I think you get the picture, right? No more overnight train, unless it’s a train hotel with private bedroom, bathroom and dinner as we’ve heard was spotted in Europe 🙂
Varanasi is a holy city for Hindus, and it is believed that dying (or cremation) in Varanasi offers moksha – liberation from the cycle of birth and death. For us, it was a city filled with dirt, stench and poverty. A simple walk by the river can turn into a smelly disaster as animals and humans use the bank of the river as their toilet. In the morning the river fills up with people taking baths while the evening skies are lit by cremations of those who needed to be purified by fire (if you don’t, then your body is simply weighed down and let go into the river).
Like most cities in the region, Varanasi is often plagued by blackouts, thus most of the hotels use power generators – sadly they don’t power the AC system and you are forced to use semi-efficient fans.
While strolling carefully (due to mentioned poo-poo landmines) one can encounter the following:
drug-dealers (hashish, marijuana and some stronger drugs – I didn’t ask for details nor price)
people asking for photo, then asking for money for the photo
men welcoming you with Namaste, then trying to massage your hand (not for free of course).
groups of children swimming and jumping into water
boat owners wanting to give you a ride up and down the river
huge crowds of locals and tourists around the cremation ghats
nightly ganga aarti ceremony with puja, fire and dance
and many more (… poo-poos, red tobacco spits, cows, dogs, goats)
We left Varanasi after a few days, not sure if the city is blessed or cursed (Kama leans towards the latter). This time we flew, but even this simple manner was hampered by persistent auto-rickshaw drivers (but that’s another story) .
It was time to visit the capital – New Delhi. We arrived just in time for the India’s Independence Day. Derek spent few days exploring the Red Fort, Jama Masjid Mosque and haggling with drivers and vendors (as usual you may say).
One day Derek tried to buy a razor (Gillette), but got a ridiculous price of $35 USD and decided to skip it, even though he didn’t shave for the previous few days – he sure looked more like a highwayman 🙂
Then it was time for Taj Mahal – the most famous monument of love built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. The marble monument is located at the river side (it made the construction much easier) and in its vicinity are two red mosques and a garden.
We arrived at Taj Mahal in the early morning and saw it for the next several hours. Fortunately there weren’t many people yet as the place gets quite crowded and it’s hard to get a picture without anyone in it (as Derek likes to do).
The Taj was beautiful with amazing interiors, walls covered with bloodstones, mosaics and carvings. At the center of it lies the tomb of the wife, while the emperor’s tomb is to the left of it.
Later that day we saw the Itmad-Ud-Daulah’s Tomb (also called Baby Taj) and Agra Fort – both swarming with people and scorched by heat. We were both dehydrated and tired at the end of it – but it was worth it. The following day we packed our bags and prepared for the last train ride in India – trip to Delhi to catch the plane to Europe.
After a short 3-hour long ride we left the train station and got swarmed by a group of auto-rickshaw drivers offering their services. Upon asking we were told it would cost us 800 rupees (~16 USD) to get to the airport. As is the usual custom we’ve asked for 400, but the guy offered 600. Instead of agreeing to it we decided to try our luck with the pre-paid auto-rickshaw which was just a few meters away. It was then the hell broke loose and we got hammered with offers getting lower and lower the closer we got to the counter. The lowest price we heard was 200 rupees but the pre-paid company took us to the airport for just 135 rupees (~3 USD). Talk about a rip-off! So, whenever you go to India – use the pre-paid auto-rickshaw 🙂
We are now in Europe and the stay in India is behind us. Are we planning on visiting it again – most likely not. Kama didn’t like it at all – maybe except the Taj Mahal, as men were disrespectful and rude. One of Derek’s credit card got copied during the stay in India and was used for a few transactions in the UK (mind you – we are not in the UK yet). So, if any of you idiots who copied the card it is reading it – hope you get caught soon 🙂
To summarize it all – it was an Incredible !ndia – as it can equally make you hold your breath because of its beauty … or its stench.