“Gradventures” in London: Departure

On the day that I was ticketed to leave for London, I had planned numerous last-minute errands such as closing a bank account, returning a few unused items to Wal-Mart, going to the barber shop, and getting a refund on a Big Mac I had ordered a few weeks before that was missing its meat patties.

Of all these, I was only able to obtain the refund on the burger, which I wish I had done before because the manager gave my two vouchers for free meals. I had totally overestimated the amount of time that existed between 8am (the time I naturally wake up) and 2 pm (the time I had decided I would head to the airport for my 5pm flight).

So, what held me back from completing, better yet, starting, the tasks I had once thought so able to easily completed? Well, around 11:00, in a feverish effort to create more confusion and anxiety than I had already been able to muster, I decided to re-pack my bags. The alleged motive was, of course, to properly classify the items I would be most willing to part with should need to lessen my luggage load at the counter. Instead, I just created so much stress that I was unable to eat breakfast or lunch AND basically left my apartment in a messy whirl of packaging and once-cherished knickknacks.

I had also decided that taking the clothes I had worn to work the day before was essential and that they needed to be clean as well. So, I loaded up my washer and then my dryer, knowing full well their egregious track record on timeliness! I also spent a half an hour participating in a wholly inaccurate alteration of my usually accurate way of obtaining the weight of my luggage. What I usually do is weigh myself with the small body weight scale that lives beneath my bathroom sink and then weigh myself while holding my luggage in my arms and then dividing the difference between the two. I knew this wouldn’t work this time because, in addition to my total exhaustion from stress and lack of food from the evening before, the bags were simply too oddly shaped and cumbersome for me to hold while balanced on the scale. I decided some home that a scale designed precisely to absorb and measure the impact of two human feet on its surface could somehow measure a suitcase that could only balance by laying it long-ways (and subsequently, touching the floor).

Well, it’s good I made preparations contrary to the false hope I created by my dreadful unreliable assessment. If you recall the stress filled rearrangement I mentioned earlier, I’d like to say now that the stress was perhaps worth it. With my vacuum-sealed effects sorted into tier-two essential and I-will-have-a-panic-attack-without-these categories. Why? Well, at the ticket counter, after heaving my larger bag* onto the scale and making it balance long enough not to fall over, I was horrified to see it read 98 pounds! The smaller bag provided no assuagement either, with a reading of 70 pounds!

I had my ride to the airport waiting outside in case of this very possibility and was luckily able to offload some of the items back into the car. I was also able to put some of the items in my Rick Steve’s convertible carry-on backpack that you might remember me describing for my European backpacking trip.

After leaving Orlando, I had one layover in Philadelphia with scheduled arrival in London at 5am EST/ 10am GMT.

Here’s a bunch of airport photos for my readers that love airplanes and airports!

*(when I say larger, I mean large in an absolute sense as in, I could fit in this bag)

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Budapest

It was such an interesting feeling to wake up refreshed from a great night’s sleep miles away from where I had closed my eyes. The Hungarian sun peeked eagerly though the edges of my window shutters, bidding me to explore another of Europe’s most interesting cities. At one point, an Ottoman administrative centre and at another, a royal metropolis, the city plays host to a myriad of syntheses. Turkish and oriental designs amidst imposing baroque provide a vibrant architectural symphony almost as rich as the city’s historical ethnic diversity. Even its name and borders give testament to such prominent combinations. In 1873 the cities of Buda and Pest were united to form the present-day jurisdiction we know as Budapest. Situated on both sides of the Danube, the city has historically been a large centre of culture, trade, industry, and subsequently political influence. Here, we once again view the mark of the Hapsburgs, who reclaimed the territory from the Ottomans in 1686. Under their rule, the city witnessed a general increase in population and development.

Dual-Monarchial City

As you would have read in an earlier post of mine, the Hapsburgs ruled the Austrian Empire. That is, until 1867, when the empire was internally reconstituted as the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the Hapsburgs ruled Hungary as King of Hungary, a crown distinct from their Austrian one. This led to the Hungarian capital achieving more autonomy in its affairs.

Hősök Tere (Heroes’ Square)

Millennium Monument

In Budapest’s Heroes’ Square stands an impressive construction I had only seen in glancing travel photos before. The Millennium Monument stands as a testament to “the memory of the heroes who gave their lives for the freedom of our people and our [Hungary’s] national independence.” It features seven kings from medieval Hungary, the Renaissance King Matthias, and Janos Hunyadi, who fought the 15th-century invading Ottoman armies. The Archangel Gabriel stands atop the column centrepiece and holds the Holy Crown of Hungary in one hand and the other, the Hungarian Apostolic Cross (a Latin cross with an additional bar).

The 1956 Hungarian Revolution and War of Independence Monument

This other interesting resident at the site is dedicated to the Hungarian revolution against Soviet oppression in 1956. Hundreds lost their lives in a failed attempt at declaring independence from the Communists when over 2,000 tanks and numerous divisions of the Russian army were sent to crush the insurrection. This monument is quite different from others I’ve seen and is built where the statue of Josef Stalin was once erected when the Communists bulldozed a catholic church that stood on the site. The rusted steel pillars are arranged to form the triangular blade of a knife. It is an abstract, ultramodern monument.

Video Post: My First Night Train (Prague to Budapest)

Although it would be my last time traveling through the Prague subway, I was so excited that I would be traveling on my first night train! My next stop was Budapest, Hungary, and although there were many earlier trips I could have chosen, I decided to pay the 14 euro reservation fee for a bed in a couchette on the overnight train. I don’t know what the full fare would have been, but I’m happy I had a Eurail pass and didn’t have to worry about that :-). My main reason was to cut lodging costs. I needed to get to Hungary and I needed to sleep: night train solves all. Cheaper than the cost of a hostel stay, I was able to save all around on money and time and I recommend it to anyone who’s interested in backpacking.

The only negative in my plan was the long wait I had in the train station between my last scheduled daylight activity and the train that left almost at midnight. Being closer to the North pole in the summer meant that the “day” was much longer throughout all my European adventure than it would have been in Florida at the time. At least, that sounds like something I remember from high school geography that sounds like it’s right!

Well, after paying to use the restroom and finding that one of them had been closed for the night (I have no idea why, if you have to pay to enter any way), and being offered narcotics while thinking that I had lost my luggage to a closed storage facility, I finally saw my train on the arrivals board!

Given permission to board the train, I searched the door tags for my room and found to my surprise that the other bed would be left unoccupied that night. I made a video of my exploring the amenities offered in the sleeping cabin that I hope will convey the comfort and utter awesomeness I felt that night!

Food Series Post: Amsterdam


Picture this. I’m in Amsterdam and really hungry. I don’t know where I want to eat, but I decide that it must be a nice-looking restaurant. So I found Mario’s. It’s a nice little place with a great view of Centraal Station. I sat down, enjoyed the wonderful scenery, and waited to be served. When the nice waitress came to me I learnt that “closed” in Dutch is “eindigen” and that “open” is, well “open”! When I asked her what was the most Dutch thing I could have, I also learnt that the restaurant I was so comfortably sitting in was in fact Italian, and only served Italian food. I was stuck with a pizza. Well, stuck is a bit insulting, seeing as it was absolutely delicious! I hardly drink alcohol, but decided that in the name of cultural exploration, I would have a sample of Heineken. If my solid food was going to be Italian, I could at least sample the most Dutch of beers while I was Holland!

Cheers to Amsterdam!

 

 

Video Post:The Prague Castle Complex

Parts of this sprawling medieval castle compound, the largest Europe, can be spotted at almost any point in the old city.

 According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the Prague Castle is the largest coherent castle complex in the world, with an area of almost 70,000 m². [1]

Although collectively referred to as “the castle,” the many buildings that make up this mega-fortified mini-town include at least four churches, four palaces, over five gardens, and is home to shops, government offices, and museums. Today, the castle is the seat of the President of the Czech Republic and represents as the historical and political centre of Prague and the Czech state.

One of the churches: Basilica dedicated to St. George

  • Main Architectural Style: Romanesque / Baroque (facade)
  • Extras: Benedictine Convent
    • Abbess possessed the right to crown the Queen consort of Bohemia
  • Royal/Sacred tombs:
    • Prince Vratislav
    • Boleslav II
    • St. Ludmila
St. George’s Basilica, Prague, Czech Republic – See if you can spot it in the video!

The Cathedral of St. Vitus, St. Wenceslaus and St. Adalbert

  • Main architectural style: Gothic
  • Designations:
    • Roman Catholic Cathedral, Seat of Archbishop of Prague
    • Basilica
  • Famous:
    • Biggest Church in Czech Republic
  • Curiosities:
    • The church is owned by the Czech government
    • St. Wenceslas:
      • One of a small group of royals to have been canonised by the Catholic Church
      • He is one of the patron saints of the Czech state
      • He is the “good King Wenceslas” mentioned in the 1853 Christmas carol by John Neale
      • He died a Duke of Bohemia, but was raised to the dignity of a king after his death by Holy Roman Emperor Otto I
St. Vitus – Prague, Czech Republic

I didn’t have enough crowns (Czech money) left to purchase a trip up the bell tower and they wouldn’t take credit cards or Euro. Everywhere else took Euro (with a slight fee), but those volunteer girl guards weren’t budging for poor littles tourists like myself. 😦

Video I made of walk through much of castle complex: