воскресенье, 25 сентября 2016 г.

On wandering in the dark and on envy (Split, 9.08.16)

Our bus arrived at Split main bus station at around 9:45 p.m. The sun has already set, leaving us only the next day for city exploration. However, the first hour in the largest city of Dalmatia managed to find a lodgment in my memory.

Autobusni kolodvor of Split is located near the coast, therefore you can start your acquaintance with the second largest city of Croatia by strolling along the shore, looking at the port and passing by numerous souvenir shops and bakeries which still work despite the lateness of the hour. Although Split is 8 times smaller than Zagreb and has 4.5 times smaller population, you will not believe in it from the very first minute there. Even in the evening you will meet lots of people outdoors. Streets seem to be wider than in the capital, and the traffic looks heavier. We had to walk for around 3 kilometers to reach the hotel, "Rooms dr. Franjo Tuđman".

It took us around half an hour to get to the desired place but when we were almost going to check in and to finally have a rest after a long day, we didn't find the hotel at the place where it was supposed to be. There was some university instead. In contrast to the center of the city, this area was dark and deserted. In addition, it was far from flat. Climbing the stairs with luggage is not a great experience especially when you're not sure what exactly you are searching. After trying several doors and making a full circle around the building with the proper address, we decided that it's time to call the hotel hoping that they can explain how to find them. I was dialing the phone number, and suddenly somebody yelled at us: "Hey, do you need help?" How I love such moments! The same happened to me before several times, namely in Jyväskylä and in Helsinki two years ago. I was staring at the map when people passing by offered their help voluntarily. This time luck was on our side: two young frenchmen were staying at the same place and gently accompanied us to the reception. Unexpectedly, "Rooms dr. Franjo Tuđman" turned out to be a dormitory. However, this was a reason not to turn upset but to envy local students.

To begin with, the reception is a vast hall with a bunch of tables, large TV and a perfect view at the student basketball court located immediately to the window... on the roof. If you don't study the building from outside, you'll be surprised: the reception is next to the entrance, so how the roof may be on the same level as the ground floor? The answer is evident once you learn that the dormitory is located on the slope of a hill, you entered the 1st floor, and some other entrances are at the floor number -2! This Google Street View 360° panoram will help you to understand why it was tricky to find the entrance in the dark. And this is how the rooms look inside. Awesome design which combines elegance and convenience. And if the photo didn't convince you, I will just add that we found more than ten electric outlets in the room of a dormitory. Fairly cheap, located not far away from the city center but in a quiet place, this dormitory was the best accomodation of the entire journey.

среда, 7 сентября 2016 г.

In the realm of lakes and waterfalls (Plitvice Lakes National Park, 9.08.16)

That journey itinerary was perfectly balanced. After the day spent strolling along the streets of a calm Zagreb, on Tuesday we visited the true miracle of nature, Plitvice Lakes National Park. Ancient Diocletian Palace of Split was ahead with its antique ruins and various museums, as well as medieval Dubrovnik.    

Our bus to Plitvice Lakes was departing from Zagreb at 8 a.m. As a replacement for a morning warm-up, we went there on foot. Believe me, after 4.5 kilometers of walking with luggage, you will be ready for a new active day. Besides joking, getting there on foot was our last chance to look at Zagreb. In addition, it is less nervous way to get to Autobusni kolodvor (Main bus station) compared to waiting for local buses which may not run on time.

An hour and a half later, we arrived at the entrance of the park. Before entering, you have to get your ticket and to leave luggage. You can buy tickets either on the spot or online. When I was preparing to the journey, I came across opposite opinions on the question which option to choose. In any case, you'll have to stand in the queue: either to buy a ticket or to exchange your electronic ticket for a normal one. Fortunately, I didn't believe those people, who wrote that in both cases you would have to spend a lot of time waiting, and bought electronic tickets. Instead of wasting half an hour for nothing, we got our entrance tickets almost immediately. The second part of the quest was no harder: take the key at the tourist information office, walk for a couple of minutes to a small wooden building staying aside, open the door, notice dozens of bags left unattended, leave your ones next to them, close the door and return the key. I guess, it was a bit risky to leave my laptop in such a place, but I wasn't happy about the alternative, i.e. about carrying it all the way through the park.

No need to rush straight to the lakes: that splendour waited for you for millenia, it will give you a couple of minutes more. It's time to become attentive: don't overlook that amazing advice.
Once entered the park, you will see the map showing suggested routes. We had around 8 hours before the bus to Split, so we chose the second longest option, route C taking 4-6 hours.

This park is a place where you can close your eyes, take a photo and be sure that it is beautiful. Stunning waterfalls and calm cascade lakes, crystal water and gigantic trees reflected in it are everywhere. Crowds of tourists make passing through the bridges and walking along the narrow paths slow but nobody complains: you will never want to hurry here.
Can't avoid sharing a random thought that crossed my mind at some point: if I was a dinosaur, that'd be a perfect place to live. Immense forests to hide from carnivores, relaxing sounds of falling water to sleep to, spectacular landscapes to admire. Well, I should have said "a dinosaur with highly developed sense of beauty"...
If there is something bad about Plitvice Lakes, this is how the transportation between walking parts of the routes is organized. The ferry line has such low bandwidth that it took us around an hour to get on board. Still, we can say we were lucky because while we were waiting, the queue became two times longer. Although most part of the routes in the park are shadowed by the trees, the pier lies in the hot sun. Even a good portion of ice cream from a souvenir shop nearby will not make standing heat easier for you.
Another kind of transport you can take there is so-called "train". Actually, this is a three-car bus. We didn't have to wait that long for the "train" but there was nothing exciting about the ride as it was going along boring places. We even alighted before the last stop in order to make our route several kilometers longer and to enjoy the views for some more time. On the way back to the entrance we barely met a soul.

Finally, we came back to the place where we arrived in the morning. Having a lot of spare time, we visited Veliki Slap (the Giant Waterfall) for the second time. Nothing had changed: streams of water were still running down, crowds of tourists wishing to be pictured in front of the waterfall were still here.

Three hours and a half of another bus ride, or, better to say, three hours and a half of an engaging conversation, and we arrived in Split. The impressions were not over for that evening but this is a story for another time.

P.S. Unfortunately, I'll have to skip the nearest post (planned for 10.09.16), thus lagging four posts behind the goal. Hence, I promise to publish four mid-week stories in the remaining three months.

воскресенье, 28 августа 2016 г.

The city not to visit on Monday (Zagreb, 8.08.2016)

If you are staying in Zagreb for one day, make sure it is not Monday because almost all museums are closed in the capital of Croatia. However, if it is not Monday, make sure you're staying in Zagreb for more than one day because in that case one day will be not enough. Unfortunately, I learned all that only after the tickets were purchased and the hotels were booked.

Besides the museums, there are three locations with intriguing names (Medvedgrad Castle, Zrinski Mine and Veternica Cave) on the slopes of Medvednica mountain situated to the west of the city. All of them were also closed on that day. So what did we do?

First of all, Zagreb is a nice place just to stroll along the streets enjoying the calmness. That is probably not what you expect from the capital of the country and its largest city. A week later, I had an impression that the most part of 800k Zagreb citizens moved to Split. The latter one, despite having four times smaller population, was much more noisy and much more crowded.

Secondly, "almost all museums" didn't mean all of them. Well, our choice was pretty limited. I'm curious, what would you choose to visit first: the Museum of Broken Relationships or the Museum of Torture? ;) Wanna more positive plan? So did we, that's why our choice fell on the Museum of Illusions and the Croatian Museum of Naïve Art. The former one features lots of well-known optical illusions supported with "What to do" guides and "What's going on" explanations. The display, which impressed me the most, was 3D "image" which looks like 2D picture rotating around you while you're moving along it. The rotation effect will take you by surprise, and even after some time you'll not get used to it because the "corridors" seem to rotate faster than they could in real life. As for the second museum, the most appropriate words for it are colorful and funny, and you can see why.  
In the absence of wide choice, the most obvious location to visit was Mirogoj - the large cemetery in the north-eastern part of the city. It is not only a cemetery but a masterpiece of architecture and sculpture at the same time, that's why you will meet both tourists, who came there to take pictures, and locals, who have more sorrowful reasons for a visit. Mirogoj is vast, so you'll soon feel alone. It is hypnotizing, and I believe it'll be even more if you go there in snowy winter (one of my favorite movie scenes tells it can't be otherwise. By the way, that mesmerizing graveyard from the movie, unfortunately, doesn't exist in reality) or just at the sunset.

In conclusion, here are some tips for you (or for me in the future if I will ever visit Zagreb again).

  • If you're searching for currency exchange (by the way, Croatia, which recently joined European Union, is outside not only the Schengen Area but also the euro area, thus having their own currency), just stroll along the main street (called Ilica), you'll find plenty of exchange offices offering reasonable rates there. Not sure if you'll come across them elsewhere.
  • If you've found a nice place to have an evening meal on the web, make sure to have alternatives. When we came to Konoba Didov San, it turned out that all tables were booked in advance. 
  • If you're not tired and you don't have a bus early next morning, check out Park Zrinjevac (located opposite to the Archaeological Museum). As I deduced from the timetable, it hosts dancing open airs every evening. If an evening is devoted not to the dance you're familiar with, no need to worry, just look down, the ground is your best tutor ;)

суббота, 30 июля 2016 г.

A glance from above (Helsinki, 9.07.16)

When I was thinking what to do once I come to Helsinki for the next time, I understood that in my three visits to the capital of Finland I had never looked at the city from above. It was time to fix it!

I heard about two places where you can see Helsinki spread out before you. One of them is the Olympic Stadium Tower. I decided not to go there because the Stadium was kinda out of the way. Luckily, I didn't waste my time for that because as I've just learned the arena is closed from the end of 2015 and until 2019 due to the renovation.

The other opportunity is Finnair SkyWheel, the large observation wheel near the Market square, i.e. in 5-10 minutes walk from the only station of the vintage tram.
I always thought that Ferris wheels perform smooth and slow non-stop rotation at a constant speed. However, here the situation was different. The wheel rotated faster and stopped from time to time for a couple of minutes. During these stops, passengers of four capsules (the lowest ones at the moment) left while new ones boarded the wheel. Your ride lasts four laps, neither more nor fewer. Therefore, don't board the wheel if your train departs soon, you'll spend there longer than you expect ;) The weird thing about the wheel was that the same person checked the tickets (which, by the way, have a lovely design),
opened/closed the capsules manually and started/paused the rotating mechanism. Why aren't doors of the capsules automatic? Why don't they hire more people or make it possible to start/stop the wheel distantly? It is hellish work for one person because there is no chance to have a break, even the shortest one.

The views were diverse. Half of the lap I enjoyed calm water sceneries,
the other half I viewed the dock and various buildings nearby. 

Unfortunately, the altitude was not enough to see the distant parts of the city. As a result, "to see Helsinki from above" is still on my long list of travel goals. If I visit the capital of Finland anytime after 2019, I will definitely climb the Olympic Stadium Tower!

суббота, 23 июля 2016 г.

Vintage tram ride (Helsinki, 9.07.16)

Don't think that since I visited board games store, I ran out of the ideas what to see in Helsinki. After leaving Fantasiapelit (which was a kind of achievement. Believe me, this store won't let you go so easy!), I headed to the next destination on my list.

I went to Helsinki on the week-end only because I wanted to take a vintage tram ride. There is one, departing from Kauppatori every Saturday and Sunday. Riding in the 96-year-old tramway car without window panes was an unusual experience. I could lean out of the window or, at least, stick the camera out and watch the camera display. I had to be careful though because from time to time modern trams drove towards us via the oncoming lane.

The car without window panes follows its "elder brother", 97-year-old car. However, nobody except for the driver usually sits there. You would also prefer open-air options to looking at the sights through glass, wouldn't you?
The tram goes along the circular route without stops. Well, actually, it stops from time to time at traffic lights. Unfortunately, that usually happens near the least interesting spots along the route while the most attractive sights are passed at full speed.

Although I know the part of the city where the route goes pretty well, during these 15-20 minutes I discovered for myself great looking House of the Estates.

By the way, if you're hunting for animal signs and are less successful than me so far, the ride may help you to find some of the address plates that you missed.

The most atmospheric part of that ride is the waiting for departure inside the tramway car. Watch the new passengers coming in and listen to them chatting in various languages. They're all excited about the mere idea of that ride, thus they're all smiling and laughing. The conductor shares the same mood, so will you. Thus, wait until the tram arrives, get on immediately, choose the best sit, purchase your vintage ticket and start observing ;)

воскресенье, 17 июля 2016 г.

The shop you would never drag me out of fifteen years ago (Helsinki, 9.07.16)

Certainly, I wasn't searching for animals on street signs for the entire day in Helsinki. I had several more plans for those ten hours. To be precise, I had specific plans for shiny and rainy weather. Saturday morning was sunny. Around noon the weather became sweltering, so I decided to
to hide from that scorching sun for a while resorting to a "rainy-weather" plan.

Luckily, I went beyond writing down the address of a shop I was heading to. I made some valuable notes, and learned how the entrance looks like thanks to a photo found on the Internet. Fantasiapelit is not only hidden inside a city block, it is located in the same building as a Subway restaurant. In order to find the shop entrance, you have to go through that fast food restaurant. Finally, you open the door and... well, I was stupefied by the scale and the assortment.

Fantasiapelit is mainly about fantasy related board games. What do you imagine when you hear the words "a board game"? There are at least three options:

  • a card game (such as "Magic: The Gathering" in case of fantasy settings),
  • an average board game with a map, counters and dice,
  • and finally, more of a floor game rather than a board one, with models of soldiers, fortresses and sometimes even with artillery shooting with plastic missiles (such as a board game version of Warhammer).
I used to be a huge fan of the last type of games. I still have a huge collection of models for Russian "Бронепехота" and "Битвы Fantasy" game systems. At the time, when they were bought, i.e. in the early '00s, you could come across a set or two in many toy shops in Saint Petersburg but I have never seen such long shelves packed with that kind of goods. In Fantasiapelit you can find models of any possible type for various game systems. Wanna play right now? There are tons of boxes with the models which are ready for fight. Do you enjoy the process of designing the view of your troops? There is plenty of sets where all models are waiting to be colored. Maybe, you like constructing the models by yourself from small details? You can find many of them in Fantasiapelit, too. This astonishing shop has no fewer games of the first two types, as well as books and comicses about fantasy universes of every sort and kind, but who will look at them after all that wealth?

They sell not only sets of models, but also tools for coloring and even... terrain! Should your today's battlefield be covered with snow? Has the skirmish occurred in the desert? Is the theater of war covered with green grass? Now you don't even need to imagine that because you can buy everything, including terrain. Actually, such "terrain" pack is just a bag with colored powder or fluff. Surely, you can prepare it on your own (especially if you are patient enough to construct and to color the models) but nowadays, when supermarkets sell grated cheese (as if you can't rasp it), why not to sell pouches with white fluff calling it "snow"?

I ceased to be interested in board (or floor?) battle games around 2005, giving preference to PC RPGs and strategies which had pretty good graphics by that time. However, certain things remain unchanged. For example, I would still like to learn how to draw. Of course, I talk about sketching simple objects, even they can be a problem for me now. I don't really like most drawing books because I have no desire to make a picture of what they suggest. Immediately after entering that awesome Finnish shop, I noticed a book which explains how to draw exactly what I want! I nearly bought it. At the last minute, I remembered that, as I read before, prices in Fantasiapelit are too high compared with other places. Indeed, the same book is about two times cheaper on Amazon, let alone the Kindle version (around three times less expensive). Therefore, I postponed the purchase. Hope that in a couple of months I'll share some of my drawings with you ;)

I didn't buy anything but that tour around the shop was incredible!

вторник, 12 июля 2016 г.

On animalized addresses and random ideas (Helsinki, 9.07.16)

Wanna learn how animals are called in Finnish or Swedish? Then I have a trip idea and a quest for you! But let me start from the very beginning.

Last August when I was returning from Tampere through Helsinki and took a short stroll around the main railway station of Finnish capital I came across two unusual street signs. On one of them I saw a dromedary and on the other one a unicorn. Pictures were accompanied with animal names in Finnish and Swedish, and that's it. You'll find no addresses, no other useful information on them... Well, it was my first impression last summer. Later I found out that these animals are (or, at least, were) addresses on their own! Each quarter in that part of Helsinki has its own animal, and, as the above link tells, there're at least twelve of them. So here is my quest for you: find them all!

Last Saturday, being in Helsinki for the fourth time in my life, I tried to accomplish it, too. This time I found nine animal signs, and I have no idea where the remaining three (or even more?) are (assuming that they're near the below ones).

Even that was not easy. On the weekend, street musicians and jugglers are here and there in Helsinki, so it's easy to get distracted, to stay at some street for a while enjoying the performance, and to forget where you were heading to and where you have already been. After two unsuccessful attempts, I told myself: stop doing that! Concentrate for just twenty minutes and traverse all the streets in that part of Helsinki like a snake... I'm talking about the snake from the world-famous computer game of late '70s. At that moment my mind was picturing how that snake is crawling through the city map. And this is exactly how all more or less valuable ideas come to my mind - at random. Strangely, it looks that nobody has already created map-based snake game. It would be funny to try it out :)