Monday, February 22, 2010

Helsinki, Finland

My flight back home to Nagoya was quite cheap at the cost of having to spend one night in Helsinki.

But looking it from the positive side, I had a whole morning to visit Helsinki. So after spending the night on a bench at Helsinki-Vantaa airport I took a bus to the city center (cheap urban bus number 615). The last stop of the bus is in the central train station, a good place to start walking around.

My first impressions about Helsinki were quite good. Houses were beautiful, everything seemed to be ordered and clean.

Also despite it has a very good economy, the city didn't look very big. Maybe a good place to life if you don't mind the cold.

As we see, somebody didn't mind about that :D

On the other hand the level of life is quite high. Fortunately, there is always a cheap McDonalds to survive.

In Helsinki, like in many other European cities, there are trams on the streets. In Spain there are few places with trams I think, notably Bilbao (probably the best tram in the universe of course hehe)

I read that one of the main buildings in Helsinki was the Cathedral so I went to have a look. Honestly, it was not so impressive.

Although I didn't have too much time I decided to take a boat to check Suomenlinna, a famous fortress in some islands near Helsinki that are included in the Unesco world heritage.

It was a good decision. The trip by boat across the frozen sea was awesome. It looked like those documentaries about the Antarctica or something hehe.

The fortress in the islands was huge and worth visiting it. Also there were very nice views both of the city and the partially frozen Baltic sea.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Mazury - New year's eve 2009-2010

I spent New Year's eve with Maria and part of her family in Mazury, a region with many lakes in the north east of Poland.

The small and hidden village where Maria's uncle has a house was called Racibor. It is so hidden that it doesn't appear in google maps. The closest place is Spychowo.

Poland in general was cold, but north of Poland was even colder so smoke was coming out of many chimneys. This region reminded me about a comic I drew last year, titled Mayak.

Yeah, it was cold hehe probably the coldest place I had been until then, with temperatures around -16C.

But I was born in the Basque country, so it was not long before I got used to the cold :P

Maria's uncle's house was in a beautiful location near a lake whose surface was completely frozen. Although at the beginning I hesitated whether it was really safe to walk on the lake, finally I decided to cross it. Next day, we found out that it was a bit reckless from my part (^^).

One night we all rode sleds pulled by a tractor. We went to the forest in the middle of the night and had a barbecue there, surrounded by wolfs (a few weeks before they found a huge wolf nearby).

Inside the house it was very warm, thanks to a firewood. They had two dogs who were quite calmed until you would put a balloon nearby!

I played billiard long long hours!!I kind of started getting the hang of it. When something like this happens i can't help it and it's hard to stop myself!

I did not mention anything about the delicious and abundant food that we had. In the picture just a few dishes that we ate. It was very tasty and I learned many polish words for food :D

More pictures at Maria's website here and here.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Kraków, Wieliczka and Auschwitz 2009

Maria and I took a train from Warsaw to Krakow, in the south of Poland. This was the second time I was in the south of Poland.

The first time was during my trip to Bieszczady, where I enjoyed hiking in the company of new good friends thanks to an AEGEE Summer University event. During that trip, Simon and I loved a delicious Polish dish called "placek po wegiersku" (we called it Shabo) so Maria took me to a very nice hidden restaurant where they prepared it. It was awesome!

Of course Polish food has more dishes and they are really tasty in my opinion. Maria had the already famous around the world Pierogi.

Krakow is a nice city with many interesting places to see. When we were there everything was covered by snow which made it even more beautiful.

There were many stands selling a bread called obwazanki. And many pigeons!. We also noticed the presence of many kebabs hehe

Not far from Krakow, in a town called Wieliczka, there is a very famous and old salt mine. So famous that it is included in the Unesco world heritage list. And I can confirm that it deserves to be visited. The most beautiful part of the salt mine, in my opinion, was a huge cavity that was converted into a cathedral with numerous figures sculpted on the salt. Actually, Maria's ancestors participated in creating such a piece of art!

Another famous place that we visited, near Krakow, is the Auschwitz former concentration camp. Although a few weeks before going, the sign at the entrance saying "Arbeit macht frei" (work makes you free) had been stolen, by the time we arrived the police had recovered it already.

Watching Auschwitz concentration camp in person was impressing. Although we all have seen it in the movies, when you are there somehow you realize that it is something real, that happened and could happen again. You can enter to the houses where people were kept, see their clothes, luggage, photos, information about the war..

And of course you can also see in person places where people were hanged, a wall where they used to shoot them down, or a room where they used to kill people with gas. Human beings are capable of the best and of the worst.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Warsaw, Christmas 2009

I spent last year's Christmas with Maria and her family in Poland!! The trip was longer than expected. Due to snow conditions I missed a plane and had to spend one night in Helsinki.

Some friends had told me that their luggage got lost so I decided to carry hand luggage only. It was a good decision in fact as I could give my Christmas presents without trouble. I wonder if Maria liked her mother's new camera more than her new headphones though! :)

A few days after my arrival, Maria's cousins (Ela and Ula) and their parents came to spend Christmas together. Actually they didn't know I would be there, so maybe they got surprised hehe.

They brought even more cakes and cookies and we spent long hours playing board games. Maria's house was nicely decorated and it looked like real Christmas! We had a good time and my favorite game was Shogun, because I could build castles and protect Nagoya from the neighbor prefectures! :D I also enjoyed another game called Fasolki (Bonanza in Spanish) asI could learn important words in Polish as 'pijak' (drunk).

In Christmas day, we did a Polish tradition that consists of giving a piece of 'sacred' bread to each other and say some good words.

Warsaw's streets had beautiful illumination on the trees. We went together for a walk in the old town and visited a Polish church. During the day I walked the streets of Warsaw with Maria and she took many good pics.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Joukouji (定光寺)

Another spot not far from Nagoya to watch momiji (紅葉), the colors of the fall, is Joukouji (定光寺). I went there with my hiking club a few months ago.

Joukouji station is quite easy to reach, just take the JR Chuo line from Nagoya. It takes around 35 minutes.

We realized how popular this place is when we saw that everybody was getting off at the same station. Joukouji has natural trails suited for easy walks and also a quite important temple. In fact the third kanji of Joukouji (寺: ji) means "temple"!

This time, the hike was led by Chiho-san and a new leader in the club, as you can see in the picture, who was hiking with us for a long time!! :D

The trail we followed was very beautiful and the ground was covered by fallen leaves which made it comfortable for walking. There were many different colors on the trees.

Also around the park there are many traditional Japanese houses with very well conserved gardens. I like Japanese gardens very much and they really put a lot of effort.

Finally, after crossing a nice pond through a typical Japanese bridge and climbing many steps, we arrived at Joukouji temple.

There were many families and I took some pictures of cute children playing with the leaves or enjoying the natural environment.

Near the temple, there is a viewpoint frome where we could see, in the distance, the beautiful shape of Nagoya station towers.

It was not only me who was amazed by the view! :)

We went back using the same train. We were all tired but happy for the nice excursion.