My Christmas Tree Tour of Eastern Europe

Hi All,

A little delayed I apologize, but I’d like to share with you the tale of my journey through Eastern Europe over the holidays. Keeping with my tradition of travelling to cold places in the Winter, my 2016 holiday trip took me on a 9-day journey through Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia.

I had originally planned on making this journey by myself but I was fortunate enough to enlist some company for the Poland phase. A couple days before I set off I met someone who was considering taking a holiday journey themselves but hadn’t yet worked out the details. After explaining my trip, I invited her to come along. Given that she didn’t yet know me that well she decided that is was a good idea! If nothing else, she at least learned how to play Crazy 8s on the trip so she can’t complain!

Poland has been on my destination list for awhile. A country with 38 million, I’ve always found Poland interesting because of its history; particularly in the 20th century. Throughout this period, they were in a constant struggle for survival and independence. They fought off a Soviet invasion in the Polish-Soviet War of 1919-1921. They were occupied by the Nazi’s from 1939-1945, a period in which 6 million Polish citizens died. After the Second World War, they were under Soviet rule until 1989. Trying times. And throughout all these occupations, the Poles always fought tooth and nail to regain their independence. Truly admirable folks.

The first 3 days of the trip were spent in Krakow. It is a nice city for walking around in and Emma and I took in a wide variety of establishments: bars, coffee shops, sushi places, jazz clubs. Much more cultured than if I had been on my own!

One of the cooler things I did here was head down into the Wielicazka Salt Mine. The salt mine opened in the 1200s and only closed in 2007. It was stunning down there. Like a city under the Earth. And everything was made out of salt!

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I guess the mine has 4 churches. As appropriate place as any for praying!

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Pass the salt?

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A Polish treasure. Salt of the Earth that guy was.

While we were in Krakow, Emma and I took a day trip to the Auschwitz and Birkenau death camps where 1.3 million Jews were killed during The Holocaust. One of the reasons I wanted to come to Poland was so that I could visit this place. Honestly, I don’t know how to describe my experience. I didn’t take any pictures. And I don’t really have any words either. It was a tough day.

Our next stop was to the Polish capital of Warsaw. It had a unique feel for a European city as it was more like a modern big city than one with an old rustic charm.

 

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Warsaw’s entry into the Christmas Tree Pageant.

 

After seeing Emma off, I made an 9 hour bus trip to the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius. Lithuania has a population of roughly 3 million and was part of the old Soviet bloc. I’ll admit, this place was a bit of a miss (or should I say mess?). There wasn’t really much to see. Plus after enduring an insanely ruckus New Year’s Party in the hostel I was staying in (it lasted till 4am), I was asked to leave! The plonkers wanted to give my bed to someone else! Good riddance! I was sure to give them an appropriate review.

I did however, enjoy the New Year’s celebrations. I guess the thing to do is to run into the empty square below and set off your own fireworks. The police were heavily discouraging this behaviour. I can report that there were no fatalities (that I know of).

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New Years in Vilnius.

After spending two days in Vilnius, I boarded a 5-hour bus (just a short skip) to Riga, the capital of Latvia. Latvia, another former Soviet bloc country, has a population of roughly 2 million. Riga was a really nice city. Not a lot of major things to do and see but it was a great city to just walk around in.

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Riga Christmas Tree entry #1

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Entry #2

Perhaps the most exciting story occurred on my flight home and I’ll conclude this entry with it. It was a 9am flight or something like that. Not super early but certainly early. It’s a 2 and half hour flight so not super long. The first hour ticked by without incident. Well, some old bitch sat in my aisle seat forcing me to sit in the middle seat. I could have asked her to move I guess, but think about the optics. First World problems anyway. I digress. Anyway, an hour into the flight a man about 7 rows up from me starts making a big fuss. I’ll refer to him from now as IDR (Infinitely Drunk Russian). So IDR starts yelling about something. He’s speaking Russian so who knows. He then gets up and starts punching the guy in front of him. Standard. He calms down a bit and then later on he starts choking the passenger sitting next to him. Typical. After calming down a second time, he tries to smother the passenger next to him with his jacket. He’s getting inventive now. After that he just opted for yelling and screaming until the place landed. Maybe he was tired or something. In any case, he got super arrested. But I mean, who hasn’t had a bad day right. I hope he’s doing okay now.

Till next time!

Matt

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