August 13, 2006

AH...

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Plitvička Jezera (Plitvice Lakes) - Croatia. This is one of many amazing places I visited on my journey, over the past several weeks.

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A sharp contrast to my experience in Croatia, I also spent two days in Dubai. This is the view from my balcony, overlooking the Burj Al Arab. Oh yeah, I went snowboarding in Dubai's indoor ski park!

I also went to Romania, Hungary, and Germany. It will take some time, but I will share as much as I can.

As for me, I'm back in Kuwait, waiting for my flight up to Baghdad. It takes me about a day to get settled, so these two photos will have to do.

Check back soon...

Dan

Posted by Dan at 01:04 AM | Comments (3)

August 17, 2006

BALKANS TRIP - PART ONE: GETTING THERE

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(Click to enlarge)

In the interest of my sanity, I am going to break my vacation into several posts, since I am still trying to catch up with work, and so on, and so forth...

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It is amazing what is actually required to go on a vacation like this. I mean, I had to get on a helicopter in the Green Zone, fly across town to Baghdad Airport, catch a C130 down to Kuwait, then board a commercial airliner and fly out to the rest of the world. In this picture, I am flying in a Blackhawk over downtown Baghdad, looking at one of two Grand Mosques that Saddam never finished building.

The first part of my vacation was Romania, but to get there, I needed to fly through Prague (Praha) - where my luggage was "misplaced" (I don't want to talk about it) - and then to Munich (München), where I had a several hour layover.

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I had been to Munich before, over a year ago, and remember how beautiful the City Center was, so I left the airport (Flughafen) and took the public metro.

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The Train Staion (Bahnhof): easy enough for anyone to figure out.

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I made it to the center (Zentrum) and found that Munich looks much better in the summer. This building is known as the Rathaus, or Town Hall. I spent the day walking around, checking out the different shops and cafes - just trying to fit in again with the real world.

A quick side-note...

It usually takes me a few days out of Iraq to remember how to act normal again. For example, I always look around at people and vehicles to see if anything looks suspicious, and sometimes I get jumpy when I hear loud noises. Something just doesn't feel right.

Anyhow, I had to return to the airport, so I jumped on the metro and headed back. Next stop: Romania.

Stay tuned...

Posted by Dan at 10:24 PM | Comments (1)

August 19, 2006

BALKANS TRIP - PART TWO: ROMANIA

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Piaţa Victoriei (Victory Square)

After a long day of travel, I finally landed in Timişoara, Romania. Hmmm...Looks like Czech Airlines sent my bag to Italy. Wunderbar!

I had three days planned for Romania, and everything would be fine as long as I got my luggage by then. I would just have to wear the same clothes a few days in a row...nothing I haven't done before!

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After settling down, I took a walk around the city. With the extra humidity, it's as if the color comes out in these buildings.

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This is definitely my favorite house out here.

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And this is what it looked like last winter.

I also returned to Romania to review a business opportunity (a small computer company), so I spent a few days taking care of paperwork. Oh, and my luggage decided to show up. Everything lookin' good, I rented a car and left town.

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I like roadtrips. You get a better feel for the land. But driving sure has it's disadvantages, like stopping in traffic. After about an hour at the border, we were on our way. Next stop: Hungary.

Stay tuned...

Posted by Dan at 09:06 PM | Comments (3)

August 24, 2006

BALKANS TRIP - PART THREE: BUDAPEST

I might have rushed this article, but I need to get these pictures out of the way. If you really want to learn about Hungary, this won't be enough. Just GO THERE!!!

Enough of that already...here is the post.

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The Hungarian Parliament Building. Pointy!

From Romania, we drove to Budapest, the capital of Hungary (Magyarország). In retrospect, I am amazed we didn't get full-on lost out here - Budapest is a huge city.

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Actually, Budapest used to be three cities: Buda, Pest, and Obuda (Old Buda). They merged in 1873, and became known as Budapest. Here I am, overlooking the Danube River, with the Parliament Building off in the distance. On my side is the west bank (Buda), and on the other side is the east bank (Pest). Starting to get it?

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This is Matthias Church, founded in 1015 and named after the Hungarian King Matthias Corvinus. In the foreground is a statue of Saint Stephen, the first king of Hungary.

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This castle surrounds the church, along with many other old buildings. I love architecture like this. Because of Hungary's diverse conquerers, the pillars and archways have taken so many different influences over the years.

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Inside Matthias Church is a museum, with several artifacts including the Crown of St. Stephen (mentioned above).

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Outside the church I found this very confusing trash can. So is this where you throw away your helicopters, or what? Sheesh.

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After the church, we walked across the Danube River, to Margaret Island (Margitsziget). This small patch of land sits between Buda and Pest, and has many small parks and recreational spots, like this water fountain.

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Another place worth seeing is Heroes' Square.

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Here's another picture.

That's all I've got for now. If you want more info on Budapest, click here. I wish I had more time to write about Hungary and my experience there, because I had such a good time. And it's worth mentioning that the people were some of the nicest I've met.

After Budapest, we drove west, into Croatia (Hrvatska). Our next stop: Krk Island.

Stay tuned...

Posted by Dan at 12:22 AM | Comments (3)

August 29, 2006

BALKANS TRIP - PART FOUR: KRK

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(Click to Enlarge)

After Budapest, we drove west, down into Croatia. Running out of time, we drove through Zagreb without the chance to stop. It wouldn't have been fun anyhow, because the weather turned to rain almost out of nowhere. In fact, the rain fell so hard, literally everyone had to pull off the highway because the window wipers wouldn't do it. Being the stubborn kid that I am, I did not pull over. Instead, I crept along at less than 10 kph.

As soon as the rain came, it was gone, and we continued west.

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If you like driving, Croatia is an enjoyable place. The land is very mountainous, so the highways wind around tiny cliffs, or end up plowing straight through the hillside. Makes for very enjoyable scenery.

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On one side of a tunnel, the sky may be dark and cloudy, while the other will be sunny and clear.

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Our first stop in Croatia was the Island of Krk (sounds like "kirk"). This is one of the few islands with bridge access (most others require a ferry).

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Our hotel on the island was located in the cozy town of Punat, along the west coast (see the map again). We made it just in time for an evening swim.

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I also bought a waterproof case for my camera, so I could play in the sea as well.

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The water is so clear, you can easily see my goofy expression! Haha.

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We made it back to the hotel and cleaned up, but there was a surprise waiting for us in the room. See if you can spot it. Everything looks normal to me, right?

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OK, so this looks like a giant grasshopper, but what's up with the large stinger?! Someone email me if you know what this thing is...please.

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The next day, my nerves restored, we drove to an even smaller town on the south coast, called Baska.

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The weather was perfect, and the view was amazing too. In the distance are other small islands, making for a very surreal environment. We stayed for a few hours; just long enough for me to catch a wicked sunburn.

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Wouldn't you know it? On the island of Krk there is also a town called Krk. Like most of these cities, there are plenty of small shops and restaurants, usually surrounded by a marina filled with boats and yachts, and cool little castle walls.

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Mmmm. Calzone. Yeah, so it's not Croatian, but I love it.

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Most Croatian beach houses look like this: personal vineyards surrounded by a little stone wall. The whole place feels like something between Italy and California.

Another day down, the next morning we went to Plitvice National Park, after an hour drive inland. I am saving these pictures for the next post, so stay tuned...

Posted by Dan at 10:10 PM | Comments (3)