We did a quick whirlwind last couple of hours in Venice, seeing the last of the mandatory sights and doing our own cheap, much more crowded and less glamorous version of a gondola ride (the public boat bus). We then boarded our train to Florence, or Firenze as the Italians would say. When we arrived we followed our host's directions and looked for the bus he told us to take. Problem being, there were multiple different stops with the same number and none of them said they were going in the direction we were told to take. All the bus drivers said no when we told them the piazza closest to where we were staying (I was thinking every piazza would be fairly well-known areas, but it turns out there are piazzas everywhere even odd shaped intersections of back alleys have a special piazza name). Anyways we asked a couple people (we've learned to ask things a couple of times and if we get any particular response twice then we believe it) who pointed us towards this tiny little mini bus that only fit about 10 people crammed in. We couldn't catch the first one because we take up about 5 people worth of space with all our gear. When we caught the next one we realized why it was so small...it goes down narrow little alleys that I would have thought were sidewalks, with just enough room to maybe allow a Vespa through on one side. We thought we found our place and buzzed every buzzer on the door because we weren't given any instructions and after getting yelled at multiple times in Italian and waiting about 20 minutes we figured this couldn't be the place. I realized the address said 54 r and it meant r for red. This 54 was written in blue and I brought up the crazy notion that maybe there is a red 54 and this is blue 54, which Lee appropriately scoffed at. Sure enough, a short walk down the block proved this true and there was 54 written in red! We apologized to our host for being late and explained why, to which he didn't seem very understanding of the mix up. Our place was very quaintly Italian, with the little basement sitting room being an old family wine cellar. We had a delicious Italian dinner and sat for awhile to soak in the Italian-ness of the city. I see why so many people love Florence, it really feels like my conception of Italy. I mentioned to Lee that Florence was like the type of place you try to imagine yourself being when you are sitting in the Olive Garden. And just then, a man in a fancy suit with long black gelled hair vipped by on a Vespa carrying a bottle of wine in one hand, and all I could think was: That was so Italy right there. The next morning we decided to explore our area and just happened upon the famous Duomo (something I absolutely love about Italy and Europe in general is that you can be walking down some dark narrow alleyway and then voila! you just stumble upon some magnificent famous building). We toured the Duomo and even had a free guided tour by a student group that was really interesting and pointed out little hidden things in the church, such as a painting with Dante's hell, purgatory, and paradise, with paradise slyly painted as a city very closely resembling Florence. It felt kind of like a real life Dan Brown book! Then we climbed to the tippy top of the Duomo, which put Lee's height fears to the test and my claustrophobia to the test. It was a long climb up and part of it with two-way traffic, although there is only room for one-way traffic. I think I understand now why there was a warning for those with heart problems not to ascend. And to think we had to pay 8 euros each for that! It was a great view of the dome up close and a great 360 degree view of Florence at the very top. After that, I needed to chill out a bit with some shopping. Every time before I was intrigued by a purse or wallet I came across, Lee would say "wait until Florence, they have a great market", so finally I reminded him we are here so let's go shopping! A wallet for Lee and one for me, a scarf, a belt for Lee and a wristlet for me later, we were shopped out! At that point, unbelievably enough, we opted to take a break from Italian food. Not for lack of desire, but mainly for our digestive tracts. We both felt bloated and fat from the anti-Atkins diet we had been enjoying. We found a great sushi place and enjoyed dinner there. The next day we tackled the necessary sights, including the Uffizi art gallery which has many famous works of art, and later Dell Accademia, which houses Michelangelo's David statue. Whew, I was culture-d out by the end of the day. We crammed that all in though so that we could take a day trip to see real Tuscany the next day. We were exhausted, but felt lame we hadn't experienced really any night life on our trip yet, so we headed out to an Irish pub down the street, but left shortly after because the beers were crazy expensive, tried another place but then also left shortly because I had to pee and their bathrooms were just holes in the ground (I found it very curious they were marked men's and women's if they were all just the same holes in the ground). Well, we tried to go out, but it didn't last long and we were just too tired. The next day, with the plan to go to Siena, we headed to the train station in the morning. There were no trains to Siena for over an hour, so we just hopped on one going to Lucca, another town we remember seeing in the guidebook. We rented bikes and biked around the path the circled the town (which was enclosed by large brick walls for security in past times). Then we headed on to Montecarlo at the suggestion of the tourist office worker when we asked where we could visit wineries. We got off the train and just found rural nothingness, but saw a town high above on the hill. We headed towards it hoping to find a winery to stop at one the way. After about an hour and multiple failed attempts to find wineries including one lovely old Italian gentleman who seemed very excited that we were trespassing his property because we saw grape plants and just assumed it was a winery and somehow without speaking any English we managed to communicate we wanted wine and he pointed up the hill, we reached Montecarlo. We found a wine shop and figured eh close enough we will just buy some local wine. We headed back down and walked a little further down the street we turned on to go up the hill and found an amazing winery! We did a tasting and bought a bottle, but unfortunately had to run off to our train (since it was the last one back to Florence that night). If only we had taken a right on that road instead of a left in the beginning we could have saved ourselves a long walk and could have had a lovely dinner at a beautiful winery. Oh well! We got to explore the wonderful Tuscan countryside either way.
With much sadness we have said our goodbyes to Togo and his Croatian hospitality. However we left eager to begin our nearly 2 week Italian adventure. It began with a boat ride from split to Ancona Italy overnight across the Adriatic. We were a bit concerned when they told us we would be "below the garage" and even more so when we realized that that was not a joke...it began nicely. We met the Mormon hippies (as we now refer to them) from Arizona and it was pretty fun to chat with some fellow American travelers. However the night was not quite as nice...we slept on the floor of the boat freezing cold and woke up constantly to coughing and the fact that Nora kept stealing our blanket/towel. However the neck pillows really saved the day. When we arrived in Ancona we were awoken by the pleasant voice of a Italian yelling "wake up and get out passengers!" What hospitality....
Ancona was an adventure as the train station was nowhere near the port. We caught a bus and eventually boarded our train to Venice. We had one change over and were yelled at for not making a reservation despite being told it wasnot necessary. Thanks a lot Ancona...
Venice was beautiful! We took the bus from our bnb and arrived to a pleasant afternoon. We started our experience the way it should be started...with pizza,pasta and wine! It was excellent! Just a few blocks into our experience and we already had some amazing but simple Italian cuisine. Our adventure continued through the streets. As everyone does we got lost. I highly recommend it. Venice is a city like no other. One part can be packed with tourists and another can be empty and quiet. Over the course of our two days there we had an amazing time. We rode the bus boat around the city and visited all the major sights. The rialto bridge the cathedral and even the bell tower where we got to see the entire lagoon. Gorgeous. However as a word of warning to those with "rucksacks" be sure to check then before entering the basilica. The checking site is free and conveniently located nowhere f*cking close to the actual church with terrible directions on how to get there. Also a very angry man will yell at you...hospitality...anyways another major highlight was how the wine came (and has continued to come), by the liter and cheaper than water/soda/anything else. Nice. We indulged as everyone must and even were able to con ourselves a free liter! Thank you Venice. Continuing our wino ways we bought a bottle and drank it on the bank of the river running through the city. Beautiful. While we had only a short time in Venice I believe it is a place that everyone should go at least once. A very fun time and such an interesting city.
On a side note we also bought a liqueur called creme de pistachio which allowed us later in our trip to make Green Russians...but that's later...
Funny side notes
- Europeans wear waaaay too many Capri pants...the guys that is.
- mullets are still totally in over here
- the best way to make a European be nice to you is show them Nora's credit card with our cats on it.
- nobody has any idea when your train is coming so don't bother asking
- toilet seats (or toilets in general) are apparently optional
- mcdonalds is gourmet food...or at least priced as such
- water is an unnecessary luxury during every meal idiocracy style ( I almost expect them to say "water?...like from the toilet? .
- crossing a street requires looking not both but all ways
Stay tuned for an update on our Tuscan adventure...its a good one I promise.
Well sorry for the delay, we've been having too much fun! Well, it was a long journey to Croatia, but we made it! 7 hour train from Budapest to Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. Short stopover, then what was supposed to be another 7 hour train to Split, on the western side on the coast on the Adriatic Sea. Buuuut, our train started to smell like something burning and then we stopped for a long time in the middle of the tracks and the train (and thus the AC) turned off. Shortly after we started to go backwards. No announcement was made but word spread that the train overheated and we were picked up by another train to go back to the closest station to fix it. Anyways, that was about a 2 and a half hour delay, but we made it to Split by about 11 pm. The man whose apartment we stayed in didn't mind at all though and even drove us for some take-away food for a late dinner. He was so accommodating, which was such a welcome change from Budapest. He gave us a cell phone to use during our stay so that we could call him if we had any questions or got lost. He also insisted upon driving us around town the next day, after buying us some cappuccino. Seeing Split for the first time in the daylight was beautiful! The sea was bright blue and the port was bustling. We checked out Diocletian's Palace, once the old Roman emperor's retirement home. Now home to shops and restaurants and the town center. We climbed up the bell tower for a beautiful panoramic view of the city. Once we made it down the 3 foot high steps with no railings we decided to celebrate making it down alive by heading to the beach. Swimming in the warm Adriatic was exactly what we needed after the hustle and bustle of the big cities before. The food was also a welcome change...we had a delicious meal of fried squid, grilled squid, and whitefish, although not by any choosing of our own. Our waiter lured us in to his restaurant by asking, "You like calamari? You like whitefish?" We agreed and decided to sit down, and only until about ten minutes later when we hadn't received menus and our waited mentioned our food wouldn't take long did we realize that apparently our agreement was actually an order. Oh well, it was delicious! The next day, we took a one hour catamaran to the island Hvar. Apparently, from what many Croatians told us, the country has over 1,000 islands, with Hvar being just one of them, but a very popular one, being the second most popular tourist destination next to Dubrovnik. It was very nice, but the beaches were made of rocks instead of sand and it turns out there are sea urchins everywhere, which Lee learned the hard way. We headed to a city on the other side of the island which was supposedly where the ferry leaves to take us back to Split, called Staring Grad. We were told it is an extremely old town with lots of history. The bus ride there was amazing, with the hillsides dotted with wineries, lavender farms, and little beaches everywhere. We had dinner and then realized there was no ferry in sight and realized not far before the ferry was scheduled to leave that the port was the bus stop before, about 10 minute drive. Luckily we found a cab and were forced to spend the last of our 'kunas' to get there (and this was even after some intense haggling by yours truly.which included walking away from the cab at one point...thankfully it worked because as I admitted to Lee after I had no plan B). We made it though! We had one last third.day of wandering around Split, at that point trying to find any place that accepted credit cards, and soaking in the last of Croatia, as we were off to Italy that night on the 830 overnight ferry to Ancona. We were sad to leave, especially our gracious host, who insisted we keep in contact and make sure to let him know when we arrive home safe.
After our fantastic day on the Pest (pronounced Pesht) side of the city, we decided to visit the sights on the Buda side. We began our day by heading to the market for breakfast. We had traditional fare including goulash, a stuffed paprika and some langos which is basically and open face vanilla/chocolate donut. Disugustingly good almost to the point of making me ill. Next before we did our sight seeing we decided to go to the train station tobsee if we could book our Italian adventures...what a mistake. We got there and the lady at the counter was so thoroughly unhelpful. She became flustered with the first word out of my mouth and it was clear that this was an exercise in futility. This sparked a series of events the rest of the day that showed the rude side of the Budapest people. After that ordeal we decided to get to Buda. We went and saw a very old statue way up on a hill and decided we should get some lunch before proceeding to the castle on the other hill over. We went to a nearby restaurant, sat down ordered drinks and food, got our drinks and waited.....and waited....and waited....finally Nora pointed out that a man seated far after us had gotten food already. I went and asked our waiter if our food would be arriving soon. She said "food?" And grabbed a menu....I walked with her back to our seats knowing the outcome already. When I sat down she confirmed my susupicion. She had never placed the order. Not only that but was defensive and totally unapologetic about it as well. I askedfor the check rather tthan reordering the food. She brought it and I got exact change and walked up to her and handed it to her (which apparently startled her a bit) and left before she could go on yet another cigarette break and forget us. Terrible...
With Nora getting shaky from hunger (she ate much less for breakfast and it was getting late in the afternoon) we needed to find a place to eat. We took an escalator tram up to the top of the hill where the castle was located. A pretty place but we needed food! Luckily we found a restaurant that was self service within the walls where we could tide ourselves over until later. There was really one activity we wanted to do which was tour the wine cellar and taste the wine. After getting directions from several people that it was "500 meter that way" despite our map saying was the opposite direction we walked around frustrated and sweltering (did I mention it was 98 degrees and sunny?) Until we found it....closed. what the hell??? So irritating. Anyways we decided to get out of there and find the restaurant that our landlord had suggested in this area for dinner. We Bahamas walking towards the north end of yhe castle( we were on the south) only to find that the exit was not located nearby...gah! By this time we were dying as we had eaten about 6 tater tots earlier just to tide us over and we were again very hungry sweaty and irritable. We finally found the exit and after a quick stop in a knock knack store for Nora we went to the restaurant (again not where people told us it was...). The restaurant was good and Nora had chicken I had duck. Very delicious. Following dinner we went home, packed up our gear, drank the remainder of a bottle of wine we had bought and went to sleep. In retrospect Budapest is an amazing city, full of vibrant activities amazing sights, and interesting culture. However, service there can be very poor and people seem to get frustrated with English and Hungarian is border line impossible to learn even pronunciation in just a few days. While we enjoyed our time, we were eager for our next stop - Croatia!
Stay tuned for beach tales!
After our first day in Budapest we decided that we deserved to pamper ourselves a bit. We decided that we would go out and visit the baths for a nice soak. However first we needed to get our tickets to the opera. To do that we needed to print them at an Internet cafe. We went to the first one which was closed...permanently. After searching around a bit more we found a second one and we were on our way. We went to the Szecney (sp?) baths and had a fantastic time. There were hot baths cold baths saunas steam rooms of all temps and even in the extreme heat it was amazing. One odd thing was the necessity of swimming caps in the cold pool. In order to go in Nora and I had to buy basically a plastic bag to put over our heads in order to go in. And this was strictly enforced! There was not one but two guards immediately alerting you to your folly if you tried to swim without a cap. Between that and all of the Hagrid look-alikes in speedos it was very interesting. Nora also wanted to get a pedicure. After being sent around the entire building we found the place only for them to tell us it was medicinal only... So basically a toe nail clip.
We returned to our apartment later and then had a nice dinner at the replay cafe where the gave me a whole trout...head included. That way I could look my meal in the face. Then it was off to experience the culture of the Opera!
Wow! What a place! Gorgeous art and architecture. Wow! What a sh*tty show!! Seriously this was awful. It was a chinese opera subtitled in Hungarian. The music was gong after gong and gong! It sounded like a an 8 year old found a cymbal set. That and the scenes were impossible to follow! I had no idea what the plot was. Apparently madly mc red beard and the animal dress up brigade were I'm a quarrel with cao cao the most annoying voiced person ever. Horrible. We left at intermission. I guess I'm just not cultured enough.
After that we went out to a fun outside bar. We had beer burgers and forgot all about our cultured experience.
We took the early train from Prague to Budapest, and this time we actually figured out how to find the first class car! (for people 26+ they make you buy a first class rail pass, but you can use it in first or second). Turns out first class isn't like first class on a plane at all, it's just like a greyhound bus rather than a compartment with seats. Oh well, it was air conditioned and fairly comfortable. All we did was sleep anyways. I woke up a couple times to see the beautiful Czech countryside with lots of greenery, rolling hills, and mist. Then, I woke up again in Bratislava. Wow, EuroTrip was pretty accurate in their portrayal of this city, from what I saw haha. I started to think oh boy what are we doing in the Eastern bloc, maybe we made a mistake. But, alas, Budapest was beautiful! The flat we were staying in wasn't ready yet, so the owner let us drop off our stuff, gave us a map and some suggestions and set us off. We wandered around, found their giant market that we recognized from a Rick Steve's video, admired all the Hungarian fare (but weren't quite adventurous enough yet to try it), and took in all the smells and sounds, which were half interesting and delightful and half nauseating. Anyways, since neither of us really knew what this city was all about and what to see and do, we decided to give in and be tourists and do a "hop on hop off guided bus tour". It ended up being a great way to see the city and figure out the highlights so we could decide what to come back to and look at more in detail. It was also great because Budapest is a much more spread out city, with the Buda part on one side of the Danube and the Pest side on the other. (We stayed on the Pest side, the more happenin side of town, the Buda side is where the castle was and where it was happenin in ancient times). Some of the highlights included their beautiful parliament building which was fashioned after the British parliament, going over the chain bridge to get to Buda (which this alone is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site), and the view of Pest from the Buda castle. Our hop on hop off tour took over 2 hours, since there wasn't much hopping on and off but rather slowly easing on and off of people. We hadn't been in the country for more than 8 hours and Lee already couldn't help himself from the cliched: "Are you 'Hungary'? For some 'Turkey'? I hope I'm not being a 'Pest'!" I entertained him with a laugh the first couple times :-) Anyways, our bus ticket included a river cruise on the Danube, so we did that right after. It was a great way to see both sides of town at once! It included guided audio also, which helped us figure out some of the history of Budapest. One interesting thing was that the Turks ruled there for a period of time in the Ottoman Empire, so there is still some Turkish influence there. After the boat cruise, we spent about an hour finding a restaurant with food that sounded appetizing (we needed a break from Eastern European food even though we hadn't had much) and found a great restaurant that A) took credit cards, B) had normal sounding food even despite the weird English translations such as "fine grass" for black olives, and C) had mojitos! Success! Then we picked up some beer, food, and laundry detergent ad settled in for the night-whew! Long day!
So, it's been awhile since we've updated, because we've been too busy having a blast in eastern Europe! But today we have 14 plus hours of traveling, so what better to do than blog. So, we finished up our time in Prague with a lazy day wandering around the castle area again, making sure we got there bright and early to see the changing of the guard at noon ;-) only to find out that we were watching the wrong guards once it turned 12:15 and we decided to ask (we just thought maybe they were on European time like everyone else). Then we set out down the castle steps to the St. Nicolas church, of the Christmas fame. What a beautiful church! Pure marble everywhere and gold everything, very opulent! (Lee was proud of that big word I used) It got us in to a discussion on how churches get all their money and prompted a quick history lesson from Lee (it's great having a teacher/history buff husband along, he is like my own personal tour guide!) After we got the church out of the way, we figured it was 5'oclock somewhere so why not grab a beer-it was our last day in Pilsner-land after all. We found the coolest cave bar in a basement of a different restaurant (only after sitting down at this restaurant, realizing the beers were expensive and seeing the sign pointing downstairs advertising beer half-price ("beer" is probably one of the only words we have learned in every language thus far. We bailed down there immediately. After a couple beers (it was dark down in that cave so it seemed later and more appropriate to keep drinking) we got lost a little and ran in to a John Lennon wall, where people wrote all over, with different messages of peace. We walked a little further, and were stopped for directions again! I'm not sure why anyone would ask us, I assume we look lost most of the time. They just happened to catch us at a moment when our faces weren't buried in a map. The young man with a strong accent asked us something and we replied "sorry, English", to which he nodded, cleared his throat and in a slightly clearer tone asked again "Do you know where the John Lennon wall is?" Whoops, I guess he was speaking English, just not American english :-) We wandered to this park, which had interesting sculptures including 3 giant babies crawling that had weird pinched faces (Lee and I both decided they looked like something out of a Tool video) and a fountain of two guys peeing at each other, their pelvises moving back and forth...weird. Then we ran in to this restaurant a co-worker had recommended to me, so we sat down for an early dinner. The restaurant was located right on the river with a view of the Charles Bridge, which should have been our first clue. It wasn't until we were already seated that we realized the place was quite upscale, probably not meant for us sweaty tourists in shorts and t-shirts with backpacks. Oh well, too late, we were already sitting, so we decided well heck may as well order steak for Lee and lobster for me. We hadn't spent hardly as much money on the trip thus far than we had planned so oh well! It was delicious. And it was almost worth it just to have good service for once ;-) Afterwards, we walked once more over the beautiful Charles Bridge, I bought another Prague cat souvenir, thinking that the one I sent in the package home has a low likelihood of reaching it home. We walked through the old square one last time and took the metro home. We passed out hard for a "nap" that lasted about 3 hours. When we woke up, we were both kind of hungry and craving one last Czech beer, so we went to the pizza place attached to our hotel (they had Lee's favorite Czech beer that we tried, called "Krusovich" (sp? or something close to that, probably with a couple funny characters over the letters mixed in there). Then we packed, showered, and got back to bed with the alarm set for 4:15 to get on our Budapest train the next morning! See you next in Hungary!
So there was a bit of a mixup and I forgo to blog about the 2nd day in Munich! What a great day it was. We must be blending in pretty well. Almost everyone thinks we are German! Must be that Glauser heritage coming out. They come to a shocking realization when i stumble over "wie gehts" and seem a bit diappointed. Howver this did lead to a highlight of the trip. A german actually asked us for diractions. And we were able to give them! Go us and our knowledge of the Hauptbahnhof (central train station).We began the day walking to the old town square and checking out the Residenz. That is the palace of the rulers of Bavaria for about 600 years or so. They were even electors of the Holy Roman Emperor. It was incredibly impressive with a museum of jewels and treasures with a massive palace of rooms literally fit for kings. After that exhausting education in Bavarian history we decided to do a bit more research at the Bavarian hot spot known as the Hofbrauhaus. It was exactly what you expected from a beer hall. It was loud huge, filled with beer and tubas playing. A cool touristy spot. Our only complaint: Here, as everywhere, water is more expensive than beer! We are grtting hangovers from dehydration! This is a major issue over here and i dont grt how they survive. Anyways...After that we made our way to the glockenspiel (cuckoo clock). It was ....ok. honestly I don't think Nora or I really understood the hubbub.
After that we made our way out to the Englischer Garten. Holy cow! So cool! A 992 acre park right in Munich. We saw river surfers tons of people laying out and lots of locals. While its apparently a big spot for nude sun bathing no we did not see any. We did however get some mass krugs at the Chiemese Garten and our last big pretzel. We capped the day with some German Mexican food and of course some more beer. :-) good times in Munich.
After a bit of confusion and a couple delays, about 6 hours later we are in not just a different city but a different country! Different language, different money, different scenery! All in just a couple of winks on the train, how fun this is! After lugging our now gigant backpacks (because I had the great idea of buying 3 German beer mugs and a boot!) up 6 flights of stairs because the elevator looked more like a torture chamber, we are in our new Czech home! We decided to head right out and explore the town! But first, a good authentic meal of pizza and chicken at our hotel restaurant because we had been starved on the train 6 hours with no food! We headed out on the metro and got off at the train station everyone else seemed to be getting off at and knew we must be in the right place when we saw the sight of the main square we had seen in Rick Steve's video. We wandered around until we wound up in the old main square, which is a adorably quaint area. We both decided we already like Prague even more than Munich and the beer is almost even better to boot! We strolled across the Charles Bridge as the sun was lowering and admired the adorable crafts for sale, which I was particularly drawn to as Prague's symbol is a cat so they have a plethora of cat trinckets! This time, the souvenirs we bought were much more reasonable in size and weight, just some earrings and a small postcard of the bridge with cats on it. We came back to old town for dinner and realized the Spain-Italy European soccer championship was playing soon. They had a concert and a large screen set up in the main square to watch the game, but as we were exhausted we decided to sit down at an overpriced outdoor restaurant close by that had tv screens set up. It turned out to be a great meal, delicious gnocchi and risotto. Still not authentic, but it's our first day we gotta ease in to it. We had authentic Czech beer, does that count?! We are probably going to be sick of Italian food before we reach Italy! We ate slowly, deliberately trying to delay so we could stay and watch the game. It started pouring and we watched as the square frantically cleared of people while we were comfortable under the tent outside. The restaurant staff brought out blankets to keep warm. Our waiter seemed to catch on to our plan and nicely didn't bring us our check until about 40 minutes later, when Spain's slaughtering of Italy was nearly over. We made it back to our hotel only slightly soaked. What a great day for only having half of it left to explore this beautiful city! We watched a little BBC before bed just to get some TV in, haha that is desperation! We slept in and once again almost missed out free breakfast, which went until 1030! Oh well, we are on vacation after all! At least we made it to breakfast! We set out to find a place to ship our German souvenirs/weights home and lighten our load a bit. We successfully found a DHL and were carefully packing up our box when the worker told us it was 8500 Czech koruna. After some quick mental math, Lee says $40 isn't bad. The worker slides us a calculator and I realize we forgot a zero...oh that's more like $450!!! Ummm just kidding. We set out to find a post office, ultimately did, after some confusion and being yelled at a couple times in Czech we shipped it home for $40! It will take 40 days but that's ok it will be like a present after we get back! That is assuming it arrives, we had to sign something saying it might return to Czech republic after 30 days to our "address". Well, hotel central Charles may be getting a gift from us in the future, but at least we ditched 7.5 KILOS!!! For you Americans, that's over 15 pounds! Very quality beer mugs :-) We then grabbed some lunch at an Asian restaurant that felt a little more authentic because the server scoffed and laughed at us when we asked for an English menu :-) Then we set off to take care of more business, booming our Croatia train ticket for the upcoming week. Always thinking a country or two ahead! Then we finally got back to being tourists and headed to the Prague castle. We bought tickets for the long tour, which in our opinion ended up being sort of lame, considering the most beautiful parts of the castle are just walking around the grounds, which is free. Also, one of the "attractions", the Golden Road was a road of souvenir shops..kind of ironic to pay for that. Well I still insisted we go to all 9 attractions since we did pay for them after all. It ended up being pretty cool, we may just already be getting jaded by beautiful European castles and old stuff! It was much less renovated than the Residenz in Munich so thus not as opulent and eye-catching, but probably more authentic. There were also more tourists around, which Lee and I have already hypocritically enough gotten very irritated with. We are like we may be tourists but at least we're not those annoying tourist groups ha. We were exhausted and thirsty so stopped for some beer at the bottom of the hill the castle is on. After we left, we realized beer was 3-4 times cheaper about a half a block away! Next we headed out to Lonely Planet's number one recommendation for restaurants. After taking two trains and a slight walk to get there we found it closed. Lee looked at the book again and realized it said its only open Saturdays and Sunday's...whoops! His excuse was he doesn't even know what day it is here :-) Anyways, we headed out to another recommended restaurant, the restaurant connected with a local brewery. We had some great beer and finally some Czech food! I had goulash, which I was skeptical about but it was actually delicious! It was pork and beef in a rich dark gravy with dumplings, different than what I thought goulash was! Lee had a barbecued half chicken, also delicious! We headed back home, but not before picking up three beers to round out our Czech beer tasting, a bottle of wine, and snacks all for less than $10! Back home to our hotel, which I must mention does have a bright red light outside it which I of course had to tease Lee about taking us to another red-light district after the Frankfurt hotel! :-)
Today we said auf wiedersehn to Munich. While we loved the city Nora and I were both getting a little tired of sausages and schnitzel and weiss beer all day every day. Our last day in Germany was actually spent in Dachau. This was a very sobering experience and one that I would recommend to everyone visiting nearby a concentration camp. A brutal realization of what humans are capable of if left unchecked.
When we returned we decided to find some food, beer, and more so than most things so baby powder as in the heat our legs have started to chafe. However we were both exhausted and in our trek wandered into the worst part of town for all 3. What a disaster of crankiness, smelly "supermarkets" and "sexy land" stores. Finally we stopped at a place that had something other than schnitzel and ate a more or less crappy meal. To end the night we decided to visit our beloved Augustiner Brau Haus one last time. We did and on the way Nora spotted a bottle of baby powder! What luck! Now armed with over a pound of the stuff we will not be stopped. We visited our brewery had a couple liters of beer and made our way back to hotel fidelio once more.
Today our trip has just begun but we have already had quite a day. We arrived early at the train station and I noticed a sign mentioning our train and" 30 min". I decided to play it safe and ask and was promptly told the train was cancelled. I was ten told the bus would take me to Prague at 1030. When I asked if he meant 930 (as read on the schedule) he said yes. While this gentleman was ever so helpful and seemed so reliable I decided to ask for a second opinion. The next man said he could not know but did help me get a train/bus reservation for that morning. On our way out to the train we noticed...our original train was there...on another track. I asked a gentleman who again was very helpful (read: sarcasm) who told me sure yeah its the right train. While i did not believe him we got on anyways and asked a local who confirmed the mans story. Finally we were on our way. The ride has been interesting with some neat people along the way. More to come on the czechs in days to come!
My belly is sooooo full of heffeweissen, pretzels, sausage, and more heffewissen...which can only mean one thing...we are in Munich! We took our first train ride today and earlier I asked Lee how far we were going and he said about the distance from Madison to St. Paul, and surprisingly the scenery was not very unlike that very drive. We arrived in Munich mid-afternoon and obviously immediately headed out for the nearest beer hall/garden after ditching our luggage. Lee just so happened to book our hotel within 1/2 mile walk to Lonely Planet's favorite beer hall, Augustiner something something. Coincidence? I think not... It was everything we expected...lederhosen, those traditional Bavarian dresses, overflowing steins of beer, and the smell of sausages in the air. After a mid-day snack of sausages and heffeweissen, we decided we had no other choice but continue to drink beer...we are in Munich after all. We headed to the nearest beer garden, because we needed some variety in our trip of course, already did the beer hall now on to the outside beer garden! It was wonderful, Lee likened it to a huge awesome union where people actually serve you beer! We saw the most amazing thing yet...a young gent in lederhosen carrying approximately 12 one-liter steins of beer at once! We quickly realized after seeing many black red and yellow painted faces that the Italy-Germany soccer game for the spot in the finals is on tonight! People were already staking out their spots about 3 hours early. We thought about staying in our great seats until gametime, but when I started nodding off at the table from too much beer, too little water and too little sleep, we realized it was time for a siesta even though this is not a siesta country. We headed back, passed out for an hour and a half, had some Bavarian dreams and woke up just in time for the game! We headed back to the first beer hall since we are regulars there now! We watched the game next to some fellow English speakers, Canadians and Australians! Although they both talked pretty funny, we felt right at home! Our server was a lovely old German lady that didn't speak much English but was much more pleasant than our last english speaking server. Maybe without the language and just mimes you lose that German edge. We stumbled through ordering dinner and ended up with slightly different order than we expected but that's ok, we appreciated her rare kindness. We tipped her only the mere 2.5 euros we had left and she was either so excited by that or so endeared by our desperate attempts at German that she gave us a free pretzel...kind of the last thing we wanted at that time considering we had so many and one even the size of both of our heads earlier, but it was a sweet gesture. Unfortunately the Germans lost the game and it was a bit somber, but I say it's their fault, they didn't cheer near as hard as us badgers would have for our home team! Lee wanted me to mention my faux paus of thinking the green running man signs were signs for the bathroom. I thought it looked like a guy that really needed to go to the bathroom, but alas after following a couple and not finding any "water closets" but rather the outside I realized my mistake. Now we are at a tavern across from our hotel planning our next plans, we have some fun plans in store, so stay tuned!!
Well its day two and my turn to post (Lee). It should've easier as we woke up at 1130 after lying in bed for nearly 15 hours. We did awake in the middle of the night for a bit but it wasn't long before we were lulled back to sleep by the sounds of the German ambulances and rap music outside.
When we finally awoke today we decided we would visit Sachsenhausen and get us some traditional apfelwein or ebbelwoi as we later found it to be known. On our way we had our first German sausage from a streetside vendor who was quite nice as I jumbled through asking for our food...and yes I panicked and ordered the first thing I could pronounce for myself which was a mozzarella panini which I maintain is exactly what I wanted anyways. From there we stopped at a shop to replace our deoderant that was destroyed in transit as we were beginning to smell. As we looked lost in a tiny shop the proprietor came and asked in funny talk what we needed. As she did not know "deoderant" I of course mimed the action only for her to send us down the street as they only had "expensive" deoderant. Stupid Americans...Finally (following a short detour of me getting slightly lost) we made it to the tavern we were looking for....and it was closed...but we did find one with a kind older gentleman just across the street who fed us enough ebbelwoi to get us a bit silly and our first and only Frankfurters of Frankfurt.
Our trek next took us to the Cathedral of Frankfurt which was quite impressive. A feat of the 1860s and one of the only buildings left standing after WWII. As we both needed to get back and rest a bit we started home after our visit. This took us through a street which Nora found to be the red light district...a few short blocks from our apartment. While I insisted I did not book a room in the red light district Nora may or may not have believed me...
Our final trip out for the day was to find some dinner. We did so at a Chinese restaurant with a strictly Chinese clientele and a busy dining room. We both agreed it was a Tom Keegan approved place and ordered our meal. The portions were enormous and nearly sickening but very good. As our trip in this city comes to a close I would say the beer I drank is a good analogy. The beer from Frankfurt was ok and mildly flavorful with the best of it coming from Munich which is where I'm more excited to go. I am definitely enjoying our trip but the fun has only barely begun! Next, off to Bavaria where the American vision of Germany comes from! Can't wait for "big beers" and lederhosen!
So we are finally here in Europe! After a red eye to Iceland and then a quick layover and on to Frankfurt, we are here! Had a slight freak out that my bag was lost because it was dead last to come off the plane, but alas we have all our stuff, albeit some of it covered in Tide from a travel packet that burst. Oh well, everything smells mighty clean and fresh now, just a little sticky. I was reading Rick Steves on the plane ride and he recommended planning your itinerary around slowly easing in to other cultures as the trip progresses. Well, Rick would probably approve of our first stop at least. Flying in, you see farmland and greenery and scattered suburbs, heck this could be the Midwest! Maybe that's why all is Germans came to the Midwest to feel right at home again. The city could be Minneapolis, with light rail trains, eclectic foreign restaurants, and skyscrapers. Except that the people talk a little funny, (or maybe less funny depending on your perspective). We stumbled through figuring out how to take the train to downtown and our hotel. When we arrived we found no hotel front so we went in a pub and asked the bartender who angrily (or maybe he wasn't angry at all and just German) pointed to a door next door. It was an apartment and we buzzed with no answer. Apparently our hotel was actually an apartment. We luckily had a number to call thanks to Lee having printed out our receipt from hostel world.com and just happened to have enough euro and a pay phone across the street to call. The woman met us shortly after and we apologized we were late because our flight got in late, embarrassed to admit it was really because us foreigners had a hard time navigating the public transit. You quickly realize how dependent on google maps you are when you don't have Internet. Our apartment room hostel made us feel instantly at home, like a page out of an Ikea magazine, they had our exact same sheets that were on our bed at home before we left and the same wall hangings of European cities, although I must say the decor seemed way cooler in Europe. We immediately set out to explore the city in order to keep us away from what we really wanted to do...sleep. Must...stay...up...to...acclimate to local time! Our goal 9pm bedtime, current local time 3:30pm. A very lofty goal! We wandered around the streets of downtown Frankfurt, listening to the business men talk finance in German, English, and other languages (Frankfurt is one of Europe's big banking capitals), meanwhile making fun of the many signs I saw that ended in the word "-fahrt" By far my fave was "ausfahrt". Ah, we are such Americans. We found a burger joint and grabbed a burger and a beer, the most German thing we could find at the time. Turns out, after dinner, we found the "old city" a couple blocks away that had much more authentic pubs. Oh well, that's for tomorrow. We walked for awhile and somehow without a map eventually found our way back, but not before picking up some beer to bring back to the room to enjoy and to also facilitate our bedtime goal. Lee found the beer to be just OK and was a bit disappointed, but I reminded him that that is what Munich, Prague, and Budapest are for, good beer. Not to fret! Well, we almost made our goal, but around 8:40 we were both lulled to sleep by Rick Steves audio about Bavaria. Close enough :-)