Land of the Hunns

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Having just gotten back from Hungary, I have to say it surprised me. I’ve never been there before and expected Budapest to look somewhat like Vienna or even Prague. Not quite! Budapest is absolutely gorgeous and seems a lot bigger than the cities mentioned. But before visiting Budapest, I was lucky enough to see some of Hungarian not-so-well-known history in Bugac.

Bugac is a village in the region of southern Hungary where the international festival “Kurultaj” takes place every two years. To understand where the idea of the festival comes from, it’s good to find out more about Hungarian history. What I’ve read almost everywhere is that the origin of Hungarian nation is unknown as there are no written relics. What is evident though is that they differ from all the nations that surround them, and their language is like no other. Most Hungarians believe that their ancestor was Atilla the Hun.

Organizers of  “Kurultaj” festival are trying to show that although the “Finno-Ugric” origin of Hungarians was forced over especially in the communist era, people of Hungary are still well aware of their Turkic origin. Nowadays the researches agree that Hungarians show more similarities with Middle – Asian Turk people – linguistically and ethnographically. “We must show to the world that we haven’t forgotten our cultural roots, our ancient legends and traditions.” says the organizer of the festival András Zsolt Bíró.

More on http://www.kurultaj.hu

It was definitely a unique experience like no other. Seeing how people are aware and proud of their origin, how they treasure their ancestors was amazing. I felt like I went back in time – unforgettable.

More on Budapest later…

Hola, Mallorca!

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I’ve finally found some time to update my blog a little! Haven’t been very active since I was having a lot of fun in Mallorca. My friends invited me for a trip some time ago and although I didn’t really know what to expect from the island, I said yes. (because you should always say yes to any invitation to travel :) ) I’d never been to Spain or any islands belonging to Spain so I was very excited to finally see with my own eyes and practice my Spanish a little bit.

Briefly – Mallorca had me fall for it. I don’t know if it is for the amazingly friendly people or for the beautiful language or for a wonderful atmosphere. Anywhere I went in Mallorca, I was constantly falling in love again and again. Here’s where I went:

Palma de Mallorca 

The capital of Mallorca, Palma is a very classy city. It doesn’t happen to me very often, and for instance, although I loved Thailand with all my heart, it didn’t happen to me there – I didn’t feel like I could live in that place. In Palma, however, I could instantly imagine myself living in one of those amazing houses, walking those streets every day and just live the dream. Oh how I didn’t want to leave it! I could spend hours, days, just walking around taking pictures of Palma’s breathtaking architecture. Every piece was a work of art.

What to do when in Palma? Definitely check out La Catedrala and also Mango and Zara stores. As they’re both Spanish brands, the stores are huge and a lot cheaper than elsewhere!

Andratx

Mostly known for its Wednesday weekend market, Andratx is a wonderful small town. There was a special bus going from Magaluf, Santa Ponca etc. that would take you directly to the market on a Wednesday morning. The town has adorable alleyways and it is surrounded by olive trees. Definitely my kind of place.

A must for when in Spain – black paella! Or any paella for that matter… Love it!

Mallorca to me was just an epitome of partying and wild nightlife. That is at least what you hear from everywhere – “Come party to Mallorca/Ibiza”. What is less talked about is its beautiful nature, interesting history and unique culture. All of it you can experience once there if you keep your eyes and hearts opened.

Aside

As I’ve had a lot of time to think what next to do with my summer holidays, I figured why not do something I would have never thought I would do. I mean, so far this is exactly what this summer has been about – doing things I never thought I would have guts to do. So what’s next on the list?

Scuba Diving

I’m planning a trip to Mallorca at the end of this month and can’t wait to do my PADI Open Water Course! Why Scuba? Because I just can’t imagine what it must feel like to be down there – it’s like a completely different world with its own rules.

Freediving

Freediving, unlike scuba, requires more practice and strength. Freedivers don’t use scuba gear and can only rely on themselves, on their own ability to hold their breath while going underwater. What is most important is to be able to keep yourself in control of all the actions while staying relaxed.

I am planning to do a freediving course while in Prague. I have just bought my mask yesterday and tried it out in a pool – while not being able to dive deep and only floating on the surface, I still enjoyed the ability to see what was happening underwater (not that anything was happening much but I still liked seeing people swim by).

Snorkeling

It’s basically what I did in the pool yesterday except there’s also a snorkel involved. And swim fins. There are snorkeling trips available in Mallorca so I think I can’t miss out on those!

Hitch hiking

Back on solid ground, I’m excited for my and my friend’s first hitch hiking trip from Prague to Berlin in August! One could say it’s a bad idea since we’re two girls with zero experience but you only live once, right? ;-)

Bucket List for Summer ’12

Thailand – what shocked me the most

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As soon as I stepped my foot on Thai soil, I knew there were things waiting for me that would leave me completely shocked and speechless. Not only because I had never left Europe before going to Thailand, but also because naturally I like to be comfortable as much as possible wherever I am. I have to confess that I hadn’t done much research before getting on a plane so everything I saw was extremely new and exciting to me.

Thailand left me speechless indeed – with its unique beauty, amazing people and, well, strange things that happen quite randomly. Here’s something from what I can remember:

1. Toilets

When I first arrived in Bangkok’s guesthouse, I was taken to my room and was told there was a toilet and a shower shared with a room next to mine. I went to see and was surprised to only see one door – if it’s toilets then where’s the shower? Later on I found out the shower is actually installed right above the toilet using less space and being (probably) more comfortable. It took me some time to get over my first reaction of “Oh how gross!” To my greater surprise later on I found out they didn’t have toilet paper. I thought maybe they’ve ran out but as I traveled more around Thailand, I realized they just simply don’t use toilet paper. And obviously it became clear to me what that strange hose next to the toilet is for.

2. Smiles…everywhere

Living in the Czech republic, I am quite used to everyone minding their own business, not really looking at each other let alone talking to strangers on the street. It comes around to me as natural to just walk past someone without even noticing, maybe looking at them for a brief moment then looking away without expecting them to look back at you. You live your life here unnoticed and while someone might feel uncomfortable not being exposed to social contact while in Prague, the rest of us consider it quite likable. In Thailand, however, people do look at you. And when you look back, they smile. Whoa! And I don’t mean the “fake smile” I sometimes see here in Prague, the real smile that comes from the heart. I probably had more people in Thailand smiling at me in those 10 days than I had here in Prague the past year. Thais want to look at you, talk to you, get to know you. And while this might sound awesome (and it truly is), sometimes I felt like people were being too social. But maybe it’s just me not being used to it.

3. Nightlife

It’s not only crazy discos and clubs with loud music. Bangkok seems to transform into a completely different place at night. You go out there and it is as if you could feel life pumping all around you. We went out our first night in Bangkok and ordered Red Bull & Vodka. Well, this is it – Thai Style:

Yeah, they have Red Bull in small bottles and Vodka was actually Bacardi…

Sex shows and sex tourism in general would probably deserve their own post. Everywhere you go in Thailand (we did Bangkok, Pattaya, Koh Samet and Phuket) – there are girls waiting for customers. Or girls performing “ping pong shows” which means putting and getting out random stuff in and out of their vaginas. Nights in Thailand can get as crazy as nowhere else in the world. In my opinion, at least.

4. Just random stuff 

Like a friend of mine (male) getting a neck massage from some random guy while washing his hands in Bangkok’s night club’s toilets. Just randomly.

5. Ladyboys

I had never seen a transvestite before going to Thailand, but ladyboys are not transvestites. At first you don’t notice anything but when you look for a bit longer, you can usually tell. Reminds me of how we went to 7Eleven and my friend was like “Look at that guy”, I had no idea who he’s talking about until I noticed there was something strange about a cashier girl. There were ladyboys dancing on poles in night clubs as well. When I was flying back from Bangkok, I saw a book dedicated to ladyboys in an airport bookstore, still regret not buying it.

6. Muay Thai Boxers

There is nothing surprising about Muay Thai in Thailand, but I was shocked to see boxers of 7 years of age competing and beating up each other.

7. Stray Cats and Dogs

Everywhere. Especially on the islands. I talked to an owner of a small restaurant in Koh Samet and he said they were harmless, they just liked to live there. There are dogs on the beach, dogs in cafes, dogs on the streets,… There was one that would lie in front of our bungalow door every evening. They’re used to being around people and are quite friendly.

8. Food that is ABSOLUTELY delicious

I never really tried Thai food at home except maybe for “Thai Style risotto” that they have in a local Italian restaurant. I did expect it to be amazing but not THAT amazing. Food that you can easily get at every street corner blew my mind. Phad Thai, Thai ice coffee, Thai style pancakes, Thai Curry, noodles with shrimps,… Ahhhh!

Oh, Thailand… I miss you.

Thailand

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Bangkok.

Chaotic. Seemingly lawless. Different.

Chaotic yet very lively. Different yet similar to what I’ve seen on TV. A crazy place.

The airport is huge but not too different from what I’ve seen so far. A cute little Thai girl running around smiling at me makes me feel like I’m in the right place at the right time. Getting public taxi is easy but I find out Thais can’t really read English letters. Thankfully I have a map with me. The taxi driver is all smiles but looks doubtful of the place shown on the map. He starts waving at me to follow him in his car and I do. It is hot and humid, as if you could smell the ocean in the air. In the taxi the air conditioner is full on and  I even feel a bit cold after a while.

As soon as we get out of the airport, I see the real thing. First impression is close to thoughts such as “What the hell am I doing here?! Where am I?!”. It is so different it even shocks me. Seems like people here live the way they want to live, nobody controls them. Even the traffic looks like cars just go whatever way they want. Our taxi squeezes in-between two other cars and I almost have a heart attack. The driver keeps smiling and occasionally looking at the map I gave him. “So you know where we’re going, yeah?” – I ask. He smiles. I guess Thailand really is the land of smiles. After a while our taxi is going through little “sois”  and I feel a bit doubtful. The little streets are full of people – walking around, sitting around, selling something. “Are you sure we’re not lost?” – this time I don’t ask out loud.

Trusting the driver turns out to be the right thing when suddenly the car stops. “Here, guesthouse.” He points at a tiny house and I realize we really did find it. “Thank you, you’re so awesome!!”

I guess Bangkok is the city you can either love or hate. You might feel like the latter but if you look at it for one more minute, you realize it could be everyone’s heaven on Earth. You can do anything in Bangkok. Meet anyone.

After having to wake up the receptionist sleeping on the couch, I finally check in at the guesthouse. I find out time difference with home is 5 hours which is not that bad but I sleep the whole day.

All Good Things Come to an End

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How do most people feel after they come home from a trip that’s just finished?

Relieved, happy, sad? Well for me it is definitely a feeling of wanting more. It feels strange to come back to the place where everything is as you know it after seeing so many things you’ve never seen before. When you’re traveling, you feel alive. When you return home, you suddenly feel like life stopped, and the one thing you feel the urge for is to travel again.

Having said that, I must admit I’m no travel expert, no backpacker, pretty much none of these things. What I’ve been doing for the last couple of years is living a life of routine and I’ve felt comfortable doing so, I mean – why not? You do what you do, nothing hurts, nothing scares you, everything is easy and you don’t really need to think. Then suddenly you’re on a plane and you fly over such places as Africa and India, and I remember looking out the window thinking “Wow, down there is a place like Karachi – I’ve heard so much of it but it’s impossible to imagine that it is actually right there, that it exists not only on TV screen or newspaper pages”. It was then that I realized how limited my life has been, how little I knew about the world. I realized I could tell you everything about Second World War or European politics, but when it comes to dealing with real life issues – I think I’d just fail. That is how I felt on my way to Bangkok, Thailand, where I was about to spend 10 days.

More on that soon.