Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Trip in Review: Part 1- Eastern Europe

The big voluntouring trip is officially done. We didn't post as much to this blog as we would've liked. From the sights we saw to the volunteer work we did, to the amazing people we met, it's hard to know where to begin. For now, I'll do a little trip overview using just a fraction of our zillions of pictures.

Our first stop was Prague. Prague seemed like it was straight out of a Disney movie. I'm sure Disney bases their movies on places like Prague, rather than the reverse but I saw Disney first so c'est la vie. Prague is an adorable city that is easy to get lost in. We never grew tired of making up stupid Czech puns. Czech me out. Czech mates. What's the Praguenosis.

Miles, a friend of Kristen's from SF, was on his own round the world adventure, and met us on our very first stop. Here's Miles and Kris taking in some of the tasty Czech beer, on a midday stop at a skate park.

After Prague, the three of us headed south to Cesky Krumlov, the cutest town on the planet. Ok, maybe that's extreme, but I recommend that everyone goes to CK if they get the chance. It's even more homey and beautiful and quaint than the name would suggest.

I'm sure that Slovakia is beautiful. Our experience of Slovakia was limited to a couple days in Bratislava. We stayed at an old dorm that is also used as a hostel in the summers. We found a certain sterility in Slovakia. This train, and Kristen's expression, sum it up.

People often ask what types of places we stayed in along the way. Because of our tight budget, some of the locations were less than stellar. This place in Lake Balatan, Hungary was pretty decent aside from the terrifying artwork.

We both loved Budapest despite getting unncessarily fined on the train, ripped off by a cab driver, and assaulted by a gypsy. The energy, architecture, and general vibe of the city made it a place I'd love to go back to. Budapest is where we met up with our fellow Habitat for Humanity volunteers. After a day in the big city, our group headed off to the HFH affiliate in the small town of Hajduboszormeny.

Our volunteer work involved a variety of tasks. Here's some of the crew working on the roof and insulation.

Much of the success of that experience can be attributed to the Habitat leadership. Here's Kris and I with Seth, the leader of our volunteer crew who's a staff member at HFH, and Pisti, who is the construction manager at the Hajdu HFH affiliate. Both of them are patient, hilarious, and generous beyond belief.

Throughout the two weeks, we became close with the other volunteers. One of our fellow volunteers, Danica, celebrated a birthday during our time in Hadju. Here's Danica and the vegan birthday feast that Robin so artistically arranged.

And, updates on the houses! In the few months since our group was in Hajdu, the houses have been finished, dedicated, and the families moved in! Here's the Toth family. The boys all look very intense here, but they're a happy, fun crew. Dani, the oldest son, is a senior in high school, and spent his entire summer working on site. Dani got to the work site at 7am every day and would be the last one working. Dani was a great teacher when it came to all things roofing. I'm so excited that he and his family have a home to call their own. I couldn't think of a more well deserving group of people.

And here's a look at the finished houses from the outside.

I can't talk about HFH Hajdu without a mention of Sandor, the Project Supervisor. Sandor was not only the supervisor of the worksite, he coordinated the volunteers and always made sure we had everything we needed. HFH Hajdu is really lucky to have him.

After we finished our work in Hajdu, we headed back to Budapest for a few days of touristy stuff. Here's the whole group.

The world is jam packed with interesting food, and new and interesting ways to prepare food. Unfortunately, I never got around to trying one of these giant tubes of bread stuffed with something or other, that we kept seeing in Budapest.

After a sad farewell to our new friends from HFH, Kris and I spent a couple more days in Budapest and then headed out to Turkey. It's hard to sum up Turkey. Istanbul is gigantic and overwhelming and fascinating. Us silly Americans think a house that is 100 years old is old. The Aya Sofya was built in 537. That's right, folks. 537.

Here's the world famous Blue Mosque.

Kris at the Spice Bazaar.

Busy streets in Istanbul.

After a few days in Istanbul, we did a bit more touring in Western Turkey. First we headed off to the island of Bozcaada. Beautiful and relaxing. Thanks for the suggestion, Dinah!

We saw very impressive ruins in Bergama. Here's the Acropolis.

Then to Pamukkale, home of these crazy calcium deposits and thermal waters. It was a ridiculously hot day so I attempted to cool off in the waters. It was probably heat stroke at work.

I leave you with this important message from this gentleman we saw at the Ephesus ruins.

Stay tuned for Part 2: Southeast Asia.

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