Friday, November 14, 2014

East of Eastern Europe. Poland

Arriving to Poland I had no idea what to expect. I have been all over Europe many times, but now that I know what I know,  I wonder why Poland was never included as part of the popular Eastern European cities like Prague and Budapest. So much
Art Deco with a dash of Gustav Klimt
culture that as Barbara from  the POLIN museum said " Warsaw is the new Berlin." Now I'm not sure I would go that far yet but it definitely has potential. The check in the the Bristol hotel was the first shocker. A beautiful hotel from 1901 that served as a palace a home a military housing and with such beauty that Michael Jackson even toured the hotel to add to his repertoire. So much history that it has its own book written about it. Mix of Art Deco and renaissance with now all modern touches and a crowd  of models and bourgeois posting away pics on Instagram of them partying on the roof top.
To think of all the mega deals that have been signed in this historical cafe
Pillar Bar @ Bristol
Now the city of Warsaw was a bit of a shock.  Pretty much the whole historical part of the city was bombed by the Nazis. If no one told you, you would never think that they pretty much reconstructed the whole city universal studios style and did an amazing job.. We unfortunatly got  a rainy cold day but that didn't stop us from breathing in the history.
Singing in the Rain!
First stop was the Royal Castle with its great rooms and magnificent art collection. Don't ask me why. But I'm obsessed with floors and there was not 1 room in the palace where the rooms had the same parquet. So much detail and with paintings of  Rembrandt  and Canaletto, you get the point.
Floor Obsessed
How's that for a Rembrandt
Thanks to paintings from the past the city was rebuilt
Afterwards  we went for the work part to see the boutique hotel Le Regina As with the whole city it was also bombed down except for the first floor so all with the past and the future ( I see Berlin theme here) the hotel was reconstructed and I loved it. With all small boutique hotels you get their quirkiness but truly a lovely hotel and with an underground pool you now have two great options in Warsaw
Later that evening we had the honor of having the museum director Barbara give us a guided tour of the newly opened Polin museum. This masterpiece of a museum designed by world famous architect xx of Finland is a site on its own made of glass and steel.  Super interactive where you see adults playing with the displays intended for children. The museum starts from the beginning of the history of Jewish people in Poland.  Not being Jewish myself it wasn't so much about the religion. It's more  about the first settlements of people. It takes you in detail of how this great city came to be with all its hardships and catastrophe, through the holocaust to the present vibrant city. Unfortunately they wiped out most of the Jewish population and those who survived left. It went through many dark years. But the people of Warsaw, known as Jars, reconstructed their own city. They are referred to as jars because they would be sent to work with their lunch in jars as to it spend money and use it for the reconstruction paid brick by brick. But happy to say that with all the new possibilities the population is slowly growing back full of All faiths.
POLIN Musuem
Helsinki-based Lahdelma & Mahlamäki Architects collaborated with Polish firm Kuryłowicz & Associates to build The Museum of the History of Polish Jews.

The next day we were off to Kraków by train, comfortable and efficient way of travel, as always. On arrival we went of to take the royal route of the city with our guide Barbara. I have to say one thing about Exeter that puts them in a whole different ball game as operators. It's their guides! Knowing that they are all personally interviewed and tested by Exeter makes you understand the value of these walking encyclopedias. Barbara is one to never forget and to see the city with out her is like watching a documentary on mute. That being said we started off to Wawel castle. The story begins when the people find a great hill surrounded by water filled with fish and fertile soil. The king starts building his castle in the 8thcentury. They later discover a dragon was living in the cave below and every night would pillage the city and eat it's beautiful woman. So the king declared whom ever killed this dragon would take his crown and his daughter. The strong willed shoe maker named Krak fed the evil dragon a sheep filled with sulfur. The dragon feeling the heat inside drank as much water as he could till he finally exploded and voila the town became "of krak" - Kraków.
Arriving to the church built in 4 different spires representing the eras, Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and baroque in which time has passed. Large palace filled with tapestries of gold and silk from Belgium. Inside is one of the 5 Da Vinci painting left-The lady with the Ermine. Story goes that she was the Jewish mistress of Ludovico Sforza whose nickname was Ermin, so to paint her with an ermine in her arms was the tribute to include his patron.  Must also mention that the courtyard of the palace was built for the Italian princess as a wedding gift and covered in beautiful frescoes. The Nazis loved this palace so much they took it up as their home and luckily enough did not destroy it. 
Continuing the route we ended up in Ryak which is the largest medieval square eastern  Europe. Beautifully filled with more churches history restaurants people. Very vibrant city mixing 8th century food markets and antique horse drawn carriages. We came back the next 2 nights to this square as it is so beautiful.
Largest Medieval Square of Europa
Vintage Carriage Rides n the city
Baked smoked Cheese. I call it RND
Last stop before heading back to the Sheraton was the church of st Francis with an amazing Art Deco window lit up beautifully I the church right in front of Saint pope john Paul II s home. Very Gothic inside with a touch of Renaissance. Hidden behind some secret doors we saw the Most beautiful nativity made of paper mâché. The town of Kraków is famous for these beauties that encapsulates the cities history of Mongols dragons and take overs and the focus of celebrating Jesus' birth. Truly a beautiful stop not to miss.
Gem of Krakow!
Outside the fort wall of Kraków lies the Jewish town of Kazimierz. Going back to the history of WWII we again see the impact of hatred on others. Luckily not all destroyed but the old synagogue of the 16th century now serves as a museum for the Jewish faith  explaining what each ritual is for and what each instrument is used for. Sort of Jewish for dummies, like me. Directly across was the other Remuh Synagogue where they discovered after detailed restoration the zodiac on the ceiling. This is quite shocking as this part of their kaballah faith was no longer really recognized. Behind this active synagogue is one of the oldest Jewish cemeteries of Europe left intact after the war.
Oldest Cemetary luckily still intact after WWII
Zodiac discovered under grey plastered walls
Jewish Marriage
Nearby is the famous Schindler Factory. Arriving you see the pictures of all those he saved from the raids by their employment there. You can see how Spielberg's film was a big deal here as the pictures of the set are everywhere and in it built a great museum showing the life as was before and after the war. Now it's the hip part of the city. 
After the load of history was time for a private lesson in Poland's national dish- Pierogi, This local restaurant was decorated like a typical mountain cabin, so cute! Aprons on we started to work kneading the flour and eggs and then stuffing them with cheeses, meats and onions.
After being stuffed ourselves we set off for some work passing my favorite church of St Peter& Paul to the Copernicus hotel.
St Peter & Pauls Cathedral
A Relais & Chateaux from the 14th century. Boutique and modern touches with a beautiful roof top bar. President George Bush stayed here although this whole 200 secret service entourage didn't fit into their 29 rooms. Nearby we saw the Stary hotel which wasn't so much to my liking except for their public areas. Great restaurant, pool and rooftop though
Rooftop view from Copernicus Hotel
Rooftop View from Stary Hotel
Very cool pool @ Copernicus
The day to experiencing Auschwitz Birkenau arrived. It's a touchy place where I've always toiled with the idea of going. Clients would ask me for my opinion and not having been personally I couldn't give an honest opinion. Again, not being Jewish but an avid history buff I felt I should see this horrid part of history because it is from our past that we can build a better future. All I can say is don't  go. It's such a horrible place that it sucks the life out of you. Seeing the crematoriums and stock piles of hair and children's clothing is not anything anyone could bear seeing with out it affecting your faith in humanity. It's a savage place that I could never suggest some one to experience. That being said, my heart goes to all those who dealt with this inferno and seeing it with my own eyes I just hope that something like this ever happens again. To think this had been going on for 4 years before the USA finally stepped in. This can not happen again....EVER! All in all I'm glad I went just to know that I never want to go back. 

I was so thankful that our next stop was full of love and family- Christmas Ornaments! This company has been around for decades and who knew that in this small polish town some of the best hand made ornaments are being made year round. After trying to do one myself, even after the grass vodka, I have the utmost respect for these artisans. Here they are only 40 zotkies ($12) but back home these babies retail for $50.
Exeter's Extraordinary Experience Exeter
So proud of my little torero
I have a great magination #FridaKahlo
4:30pm and the city is dark. The gang went out to one of the great italian restaurants of the city but my heart was too heavy from all the atrocities even after the Christmas ornaments to be merry. Glass of red and delightful conversation with Armanda and June, was ready for bed at 8! :)
Today en route to Vienna!!

Monday, June 23, 2014

AFRICA Zambia y Botswana

Experiences of Travel Center of La Jolla.

Delicious and Healthy Biltong

Our first day in Joburg we pulled off the Chilangazo. I met the guys at breakfast and after a round of mimosas we went off to see the city. We went to Melrose Arche which was completely different from when I had gone back in 2007. Much more civilized but more boring. We were unimpressed except for the First Light beer and Biltong. 

Bagatelle a la Soweto
Video: Fabayian inParty Mode
We hired a taxi and slowly it became a tour of the real africa in Soweto. He took us to his local bars that were packed In the middle of the day. Think Bagatelle except all black people with buckets of beers or boxed wine on the tables. We had a great time and laughed  ourselves silly till we got to the hotel. The Fairlawns by the way is a beautiful hotel. This one and The Saxon are the top notch ones of the city. Shower. Dinner. Tan tan. 
...and of course the World Cup

First 2 days in Zambia at the Chichele Presidential lodge were full of more laughter jokes and good times. 
I LOVE Zambia

We arrived pretty exhausted as after all those connections, we still had about a 2 hr drive to the Lodge. In this area all lodges have to go through the same ordeal as infrastructure still hasn't built up with the new demand.  I'm sure more landing strips will come soon.

hi ho hi ho its off to Chichile Lodge We Go!
 Yoli the boys and I were making up our own fun as the sightings were not very eventful. After meeting up with the 2nd car for the sundowner by the happy hippos it turned dark and cold quite quickly.

Look how happy he is :)

African Sunsets

We went "lampareando" back to the lodge where're we continued the party till the sunrise. After an hr sleep we were off to our walking safari which wasn't the best idea after a long day/night out and the beating sun.

what are you looking for?
We survived and headed back to the lodge for some beautyrest. The boys quickly became friends with all the staff and soon we were all catching up with all the World Cup matches. After lunch John, our guide came in to tell us the news of a LEOPARD sighting.

Sunsets, drinks and Leopards
 Mosu's for the road and what a site. We could have stayed for hours hearing the leopard chew through the bones of her freshly killed Kudu. Below her, a hyena kept circling for any leftovers. Amazing amazing wow wow.
The Video is way better! Leopard Lunch
Probably Best Picture Award
Waiting for Left Overs

What better way to finish this long day by watching the big African sunset met with Champagne in another exciting sundowner. Oh but there was at the managers room to watch Mexico vs Brazil. Some of the guides met with us and joined our mini Mexican support group which ended in an amazing match 0-0.

                        Following day was a 2 plane ride and short drive to arrive at Sussi&Chuma.

I travel well

Handsome Fellow

My Boys :)

Beautiful lodge, also part of Sanctuary right in the Zambezi River. In all honesty I never liked recommending this destination because I thought it would be boring and overly touristic as most properties are lodge vs tent. I was completely wrong. I checked into bungalow 11 and I just wanted to stay and stare for hours. Breathtaking scenery. The next morning the boys decided to take matters into their own hands. After breakfast in their luxurious Chuma II 2 bedroom villa we were off to one of the most memorable days I've had yet. It started with a take off into the Zambian Sky and after experiencing an Angels Kiss, the adventure became more of a spiritual encounter.
The Three Amigos

Flying over the immense falls, the beauty was so captivating it felt **illuminating **
Heart pounding quickly feeling full of love we were all just as excited to continue to our next adventure of Bungee jumping.

Crazy Fabian Flying like an Eagle
My body automatically goes into a state of shock when I recall that moment of utter fear and weakness. The thought of free falling 111 meters on a bridge divided by Zambia and Zimbabwe was excitement nervousness fear doubt will power and so many more adjectives to explain the amount of emotions you feel when tied  up with towels and a cord.
Zimbabwe/Zambian Vic Falls Bungee
Although I chickened out, the boys maintained their manhood and jumped like eagles into the wind. If you have the guts to do it, then do it!
No way in hell I could do this...but I tried
After our adrenaline push we went to walk the falls where we took tons of pictures and got soaking wet in 5 seconds on the bridge.

Amazing Experience

Later that afternoon after lunch and a siesta we went canoeing down river each with our own guide. It was our version of working out for a whopping 30 minutes. Elijah had the fishing boats and bar ready to go and about 5 minutes into fishing Fabian reeled In a yellow bream beauty.
Proud Fisherman
Aint she a Beauty
I bet you don't see that every day
2 minutes after that Eddie brought in a tiger fish. Me, not so lucky but I enjoyed basking In their glow.

Caught Him right in the Eye of the Tiger
An amazing sunset and a candle lit dinner by the fireplace. I was happy. Verry happy
This is how I fish
Next morning we asked out trusted Elijah to take us to the Rhinos. They were spotted and after the shpeal of walk in a single file line and what ever you do don't run. No problem. We trekked off into the hills with an armed guard and there we saw 3 rhinos chomping away. Took some pics and after our happy encounter the rhinos started fighting. These animals are massive and could trample any of us in a second. Hearts start pounding again and these rhino start running all ways. Once the guard crouched down and got his gun ready we knew we had to book it ASAP. They always tell you this crap of do t run and walk in a line...that's crap. You run. 
We're alive. So we made it.
White Rhino
Video : Rhino Fight before we Ran

Next stop: Botswana
This trek was a short ride to the river. A quick stamp in the passport and some hoove and mouth sceptic cleanse through the border and we arrived to Chobe Chilwero.
Our Cleanse into Botswana
Beautiful lodge with very friendly staff on the border the of the Chobe National Park. Unfortunatly for this reason I didn't enjoy it as much. National parks have too many rules, no off roads, tons of cars packed with ppl like sardines. It was a horrible site to see. Only good thing is the abundance of animals and we were lucky to see 2 lioness with their cubs.
Sun was setting though and with the rules we had to leave the park. We were safari'd out.

Showered up, had some tequila and enjoyed the night with more World Cup and partying. Next morning was painful but thanks to our massages and facials we were feeling better later on. We had to meet out group for a sundowner cruise on the river.
Beautiful Scenery of Botwana Botswana
Smile Boys
Not as exciting as a game drive but beautiful. Ellies, hippos and crocs harmoniously together. Bring your big camera here as the pictures were by far the best!!

How's that for a shot?
Later that evening was the famous Zebra Dance performed by the staff. It was great to see them jumping and dancing and be proud of their heritage.

Ghana vs Germany 2-2
Bed time.

Today was a slow day of transit and resting. 7 days in the bush can be exhausting. Arrived to One & Only Cape Town . I see white people. Our trio was slowly falling apart but we managed to rally and watch USA beat Portugal at a local bar. Fun. Bed. 
One and Only Cape Town

Today we did what I love. Wine & Food. First we stopped at Spier and had some fantastic whites but ended up getting their blend.

Should hold another 10 years  but I doubt I will wait that long. We then proceeded to the beautiful Graff Estates that doubled as a Relais Chateux hotel. Great views from every angle, modern but classical. The food was exceptional as well. We harassed the chef for the smoked hake recipe which I will stalk him till the end of time.  Delaire Graff Estate
Delaire Graff

Yummy Meals
For dessert we went to Tokara. Brand new very modern winery just acoss the road. Fabian and I bought a case of this as well. 
Tokara Wines

The rest of the day we relaxed and had dinner at Nobu at the hotel. Nothing great Unfortunatly but we did see Mexico beat Croatia 3-1. Woohoo!!

Oh yes - He smelled afterward

The epic culmination of our trip had arrived-  Great White Shark Diving!! It's crazy to see these 3-5 meter beasts in their environment separated  only by the best of Chinese plastics. Wet suits on and courage all bottled up in to the cage we went.
Crazy Crazy
Video to Prove It: Shark Dive Video

We started with one shark and in the end I believe there were 6. Crazy fun but smelling like fish chum for hours afterwards was painful! I managed to rinse off but even with that it was a quite perfumed ride back. Note to self: pack towels with you and good music as the drive is 2 1/2hrs each way.

That night was our last night and it was go big to go home. Dinner was in Camps Bay at The Godfather. Best seafood in town and only the freshest fish available grilled to perfection. No menus or fancy sauces. You pick what you see and voila. We had delicious langoustines followed by king lip and sea bream?

Boys deciding on the meal

Serious Deliciousness

Cape Town by Night

Egal was nice enough to take us to Caprice for a drink then Our taxi guide Andrew picked us up and took us to what looked like make out point with incredible view of the city.
The night raged on at Asoka on Long Street. I can't believe this place was so awesome for a Tuesday night. Beautiful people everywhere and the champagne and drinks started flowing.

Since we wanted to keep the party going we went back to the hotel till departure time at 11am. Till death do us part.