Friday, June 20, 2008

Back to the real world

Coming back to reality after vacation sure is tough when you don't have any days in between for buffer! We got back late Sunday night (the Super Shuttle dropped us off around 10 pm) and then both Michael and I were back at work on Monday morning. Lucky for me, I got to work from home, but still...there were a ton of emails to get through! And to top it off, this is the busiest part of the month for me. Thank goodness it's Friday and we survived the week!

There are some great take aways from our trip that I've been reflecting on:
1. Traveling to Eastern Europe for Michael is exactly like traveling to Hawaii for me. How is that? Well, in Eastern Europe, people would approach Michael speaking Czech or German or basically any Eastern European language, much like the folks in Hawaii come up to me and say "You local girl, yeah?"
2. Happy Cow cheese spread is delicious and we should incorporate it into our breakfast repertoire.
3. I've found that beer really can replace water during meals - especially when it's a fraction of the price!
4. It would be nice to earn my salary in Pounds! That way, I can go shopping without even thinking about it.
5. Walking 4 miles a day and using public transport would make everyone more fit. I've decided to make it a point to try and walk more when I can.

I do have a few more points but these are the main ones I thought I'd share.

I've started to upload our photos, but because we took so many, I'm gonna have to publish them in segments. Can you believe we took 741 photos? Lots of it is scenery, but I like that stuff. Don't worry though - I'll edit enough so you get the basic gist of our trip in a condensed version.

So here's the first part of our trip from London and Prague. Hope you enjoy! (Helpful hint - to see a bigger picture, click on the picture below and it will open in a new window where you can go thru the pics at your own pace!)

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Day 15 - What a fun day in London!

Today was an awesome day. We got to sleep in and woke up to a nice sunny day. We finished up our bottle of Nescafe Instant coffee (from Split) in the room and then headed out to start our day. By now it was about 10:30, so we got a little breakfast snack at the Starbuck's next door and I also decided to get a Vanilla Latte. Guess how much? A Tall was 2.35 - sounds like the regular price if it was in $'s but unfortunately it was in £' that only set us back $4.70 (ridiculous, huh!) oh well. So anyways, moving along...I told Michael we should walk towards Buckingham Palace to check it out, then circle back later to the Tate Museum on our way home. So we had a nice walk from St. Paul's cathedral to Buckingham - it was a little brisk, but sunny for the most part. As we approached the palace, there were policemen and soldiers on horses corralling people towards the sidewalk. It turned out that the Queen was on her way back to the palace! So we stood on the sidewalk and waited to catch a glimpse of her highness. We also found out that today was her birthday (or really, the day that she celebrates as her birthday - it's actually on April 21 but apparently, the weather's nicer in June, so June 14th it is). The sidewalks were packed with people, so I was barely able to see anything from my vantage point except when I was on my tippy toes. Anyways, I saw the horses go by...then we saw the carriage that Camilla was on. I later found out that Prince William was next to her (Michael caught it on the camera!) Then the next carriage was the Queen. I'm not a big follower of the Royal family typically, but I thought that was pretty cool! After the whole procession, we followed the crowd up and walked to the palace. We got a good spot right by the palace gates. At this point we had no idea what else was in store, but the band started to play the Indiana Jones theme song, then the Star Wars theme song, followed by My Country Tis of Thee. Michael and I both thought that it was pretty current of the queen to request the Geoge Lucas and Spielberg musical scores for her birthday bash ensemble. Then, the doors to the balcony of the palace opened up and the queen stepped out and waved at us common folk. We got some cool pictures of her and the Princes and the rest of the balcony entourage. Next, a series of fighter planes flew overhead while the Royal family looked on. It was pretty awesome to see that up close!

So that was our morning. Our next stop was Harrod's. What a cool department store! It only made me realize even more so how weak the dollar is compared to the pound. Everything cost as much as they would in America, but in pounds, so basically double the cost of whatever it is you want to buy and that's what it's like to purchase anything in London. Oh well. We got some sandwiches at Harrod's food court and ate them at Hyde Park, along with the many other people enjoying a sunny day in London. At least we saw the Royal family today - and that was Free! It made it a memorable day for us :)

After many miles of walking, we made it to the Tate. Either I'm getting old, or I just don't have a keen eye for the modern art pieces. Some of the stuff was ok, but I have to say the majority of it was weird and trippy. Maybe I'm just tired and hungry and didn't have the patience to interpret the weirdness I saw before me.

We're gonna go grab some dinner now and look for a pub. It's our last night before our long journey back to the States tomorrow. Cheers!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Day 14 - Greetings from London!

Hi all - it feels really good to be back in a country where you can understand what people are saying! We left Split this morning and arrived in the London Gatwick station. Last night was crazy in Split - the Croatian soccer team won their game against Austria, so the Croats went nuts. Nevermind that it was pouring rain and most of the sports bars are outdoors - they were jam packed full of fans in their red and white checkered shirts (what Michael and I have affectionately named their "Round Table Pizza outfits"). So we had our slice of Pizza and Beer and watched the game (our gourmet dining is winding down, along with our money!) It was a mellow sight seeing day for us since the rain was pretty much coming down in buckets. Lucky for us, our apartment was just a few minute walk from the main promenade - the Riva - which is right in front of the Diocletian palace. We did get some domestic chores out of the way. Our apartment was equiped with a washer, so we did laundry and dried it the old fashioned way - hanging on an indoor drying rack. Kind of a pain, but we can't really complain since it was free (or included in the apartment cost, if you really want to get knit picky on the costs). What we found though was that Split was a total deal compared to Dubrovnik. I know I may have mentioned that before, but we were adding things up and couldn't believe what a big difference there was! We probably paid the most for a little bottle of water in Dubrovnik - $22 Kuna, which translates to almost $5 US dollars!!!! That's our bad for not looking at the drink menu before ordering.

Oh - did I mention that Croatia has a ton of cats in its neighborhoods? We saw the cutest little kitties in Dubrovnik, and some cute, though mangy cats in Split. I thought that was interesting. We also saw that they had a movie about a couple of cats and their adventures in Split and thought about how Oliver would probably enjoy it.

Anyway, let me update you about our hotel room situation. We learned from our first stay in London that we would probably have to chip up a little more to get some floor space, so for £5 more, we managed to find a LUXURIOUS ROOM(for London standards that is) in a nice part of town right next to St. Paul's cathedral! Not only that, but they have free internet access too - what a deal! Its pretty close to some key sights, so we are on our way to a historic pub before we head out to the London Eye, Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey. Toodles for now!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Days 11-13, Dubrovnik and Split, Croatia

Hello all. Well guess's raining again. We're in Split now and we did enjoy a couple of rain free days on Tuesday and Wednesday. Our second day in Dubrovnik was probably Michael's favorite day, where Michael was able to check out some foreign breasts - they seem to be big fans of going topless here. Of course, we have some staged pics of where he "took pictures" of me with some interesting scenery in the background, shall we say. It was entertaining - I'm sure you all will get the full extended version from Michael when we get back. So, back to the day - we did a beach day and walked the perimeter of the city walls. The beach was very pebbly but the water was soo clear and like a teal blue color. The city walls had the most awesome view of the town. The funniest part of the walk was when I went into one of the wall towers after another tourist and I got the most unpleasant wiff of bottled armpit smell. There's even documentation of this moment - Michael readied the camera for just the perfect shot of me exiting the tower with an expression on my face that pretty much says it all. Lucky for you all that the picture will not be a scratch and sniff.

On Wednesday, we took the bus to Split and had to get up super early. It was a long bus ride - just about 5 hrs, so we got in around lunch time. The lady we're renting the apartment from met us at the bus station, so that was helpful. Her place is awesome - it's a really cute seaside apartment that's right next to this restaurant that Rick Steve's recommended, Buffet Fife. It's nice and cheap and super convenient for us. So, Split is known as a big harbor town and it's biggest tourist draw is Diocletian's palace. Since it's over 1700 years old now, it's not as palatial as you'd think. Over the centuries, the palace was abandoned and now taken over by the Split locals. There's only a few spots that have remained intact, like the tower, and a few ruins here and there. It's interesting because it's been carved out into all kinds of modern shops inside, so the architecture is hodgepodge depending on when the locals decided to rebuild and rearrange that portion of the castle. Split is a bargain though compared to Dubrovnik, which is nice because we're going thru our cash like it was monopoly money (sad for us). At least the dollar looked a bit stronger today.

Now we're trying to figure out what to do since it's been pouring rain since this morning. Hopefully, it'll let up soon. Split seems like a fun town, so we're gonna go explore now. Adios for now!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Day 10 - Dubrovnik, Croatia

Hello all! We made it to Dubrovnik! The weather is generally good, except for the occassional shower that's welcomed us every now and again. Dubrovnik is an amazing and spectacular little town. From the airport approach, you could easily identify the walled city from the city walls surrounding a tight group of red tiled buildings. It looks really cool. We took a bus from the airport and arrived at the town gate where this woman came up to us and seemed to be the lady that we were renting an apartment from. When we passed the street that she had emailed me, I started to question who the lady was and so I told her, I think you have the wrong couple. I showed her the address and the name of our person and she said sorry - yes you are on the right street. So we parted ways with the nice tall Croatian woman and headed up our street, which really was a series of stairs - I think 5 sets - to our little apartment. There, we were met by this man, who was very friendly and introduced himself to us as the husband of Ksenija, the lady we were renting from. He was very friendly and then proceeded to chat us up. Let me just say that he was a colorful individual who told us probably way too much. Michael wants to interject his commentary and told me to tell you all that "breast" and "venereal disease" came up in his stories (while I was sitting there too, mind you!) you get the gist that this guy was just a big time story teller. Since he was the owner, he basically had a captive audience. Finally, he must have seen that I was shifting uncomfortably, and so took his leave.

So that was about our first hr in town. After he left, we started our own adventure walking about, looking for a place to eat. We've come to trust Rick Steve's suggestions in his guidebook, so we headed out to one of the recommended restaurants. He didn't steer us wrong - it was delicious! We had a seafood risotto that had mussels, shrimp, and squid as the main ingredients and I loved it completely. I think Michael liked it as well, but he said if it were him, he would add sausage to the meal. While I'm a big sausage fan, I think I had enough in the last week to pass on the added ingredient. After our meal, we checked out the immediate sights. We saw people walking along the top of the city walls, so we were determined to find out how to get there. We walked and walked up and down the cobbled steps only to finally get to the front of the city by the gate and see that they charge 50 Kuna per person to walk the perimeter of the walls. Can you believe it? That translates to $11-12/person. So, we decided we would do that tomorrow.

We're now sitting at this outside bar/outdoor cafe/internet place after dinner, watching more soccer...who knew we would be such avid fans! Not so much, it's a when in Rome thing I guess. I do have to say that their soccer is more exciting than American soccer. Maybe it's just the crowd reaction that's gotten me more into it too. Anyway, it's time to give up the computer or else they'll charge me an arm and a leg, so I'm gonna sign off for now. We're headed to the beach tomorrow, then maybe off to a nearby island, then of course, walking the city wall perimeter. Hope you all are well! Ciao!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Day 8 and 9 in Vienna

Guten tag! We´ve had the quickest whirlwind time in Vienna! We got in yesterday afternoon via a shuttle to Linz from Ceskz Krumlov, then high speed train into Vienna. The rain has seemed to follow us along on this least it´s been intermittent and the weather has been warm for the most part. We´ve pretty much been on the go since we arrived here. Our hotel is in more of a business district area, but it´s close to the Prater (an amusement park) and the Praterstern bus/train/metro stop. We´ve found that all the places we´ve been to on this Eastern European trip have EXCELLENT transportation in place so it makes it super easy to get around from point A to point B. Our hotel is 3 stops from the Stephanplatz (which is the center of town) and it´s an awesome walkstreet that´s got some great shopping and restaurants. When I say great shopping, I mean like they have all the high end fancy stores like Versace, Louis Vitton, Gucci, etc...and they also have some great cafe´s and restaurants. Chocolate and desserts and cakes seem to be really big here. Did I mention that the food in Eastern Europe is heavy on the meat and potatoes? I mean, you all know that I´m a true carnivore, but I have to say that even for me, I think I´m ready for some fish and veggies and salads! I´ve had my share of pork, sausage, and all kinds of meats to last me for a while. Last night, we had some Greek food, which was a welcome changeup to our food repertoire. Luckily, we´ve been doing lots of walking, but I think I need to do some serious running/working out when I get back!

So let me tell you about what we´ve seen so far. Vienna is really a beautiful and metropolitan city. Little did we know that when we booked the dates to come here they would be hosting the Euro2008 Soccer tornament. It´s made for some crazy people watching and seeing how basically everyone in Europe is fanatical about their soccer. There are a lot of Croatians here in there checkered red-and-white outfits, painted faces, and all kinds of fan paraphernalia. They won their game tonight, so they were pretty happy. It´s funny though, because most of the teams are red and white here. You have to watch out for the design to figure out what country they´re from. Poland is also currently playing against Germany...their fans seem a little bit mellower. As I type, Michael is sitting in our hotel room watching the game and rooting for Poland. They´re currently down a goal though...

Let me get back to the sights - so we learned a lot about the Hapsburgs as we toured the Hofsburg Palace in town, saw all their crown treasures, and also got to check out their summer palace, Shoenbrunn, which is about 4 miles away (you have to think back to olden times when 4 miles was FAR AWAY via horse and carriage-lucky for us, it was 5 minutes on the U-bahn.) We also learned about their Empress Elisabeth, who is fondly known here as "Sisi." She´s basically their Princess Di or Princess Grace of the 18th century. We did a lot of walking around the city center and really had a great time in Vienna. It just went by so fast that we didn´t get a chance to catch the Opera or that side of town. Oh well - maybe next time. Tomorrow, we´re off to Croatia and have to leave the hotel early, so I better get going. We´ll probably have a lot of soccer fans on our flight, I´m guessing. I´ll keep you posted. Bye for now!

Friday, June 6, 2008

Day 6 and 7 - Cesky Krumlov

Hi there - we're now in Cesky Krumlov. I am writing this at an internet cafe where we're charged by the minute, so I'll be short and brief. We bussed it to Cesky Krumlov yesterday from Prague and it was about a 3.5 hr ride. We had off and on rain, but overall it wasn't too bad. The town is an adorable small town with cobblestoned streets and that medieval charm. When we got to our Pension, we were amazed by how big the room was! It's pretty modern with the Ikea type furniture flair - all in all very cute. We didn't notice til this morning that our baseboard was somewhat graffitied with an inappropriate picture of a man and a woman. Oh well - part of the charm I guess. Everything else was pretty tasteful. Our room overlooks the river that runs thru the town like an "s". We were able to walk the entire town last night - saw the castle, complete with a bear pit, and walked through some shops, pubs, and cafes. Today, we're doing the guided tour so we know more about what we're looking at. We're also planning to canoe the river - hope it doesn't rain on us! Anyway, gotta cut it short for now. We're off to Vienna tomorrow, but now gonna get our day on here in Krumlov. Ciao!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Day 5 - Day trip to Kutna Hora

Today was a temperamental weather day here in Prague. We had planned to go on a day trip to Kutna Hora - a town that's 1 hr outside of Prague. Before we left for our trip, I had done some scouting and had seen that there was rain forcasted, but I had thought that it had come and gone. Of course, the rain had to pop in and pay us a visit us today in full force. After breakfast, it was just lightly misting, so we figured that it would clear up, and of course, I had dressed up as if it was going to be a warm summer day. We went down to the train station and bought our tickets. It rained on our way biggie - we both had our own umbrellas. By the time we got to Kutna Hora, it had stopped raining and the outside temp was pleasant so we were totally stoked. Our guidebook had said that the town was walkable, so we started on our trek into town. It turns out that the map in the book was deceiving, because what looked like a few minutes walk turned out to be a half hr in muggy high 80 degree weather. Believe it or not though, we were still stoked that it wasn't raining, so we stopped for lunch and decided to eat outside under an umbrella at this Italian Pizza place. The pizzas were delicious! The only thing is, after about 10 minutes, it started to rain...and rain...and RAIN REALLY HARD! There were a bunch of students that looked like they were on a field trip - they were all hanging out in the main square until this crazy storm hit and then they scurried like ants for cover in the neighboring stores and restaurants. It was just nuts. Since we sat under umbrellas, we were ok for a while, until the rain started coming down in all sorts of angles. We were determined tourists though - afterall, this was our last full day in Prague and we were resolved to see the sights that we came out to see! So we started our trek toward the Silver Mining Museum and braved the stupid rain, which lucklily, started to mellow out a bit. Kutna Hora was known for their silver mines back in the day - that's how they established their wealth and reputation in Czechoslavakia. Being the metal trader that he is, Michael was excited to see the silver mine tour. Of course with the crazy rain and all, it turned out that they cancelled all the silver mine tours for the day due to the bad weather and the dangerous conditions for the visitors. So, we settled for the Silver Mine Museum tour. We had an our to kill, so we ended up braving the downpour and walking over to yet another grand cathedral that was down the road. This was St. Barbara's, which turned out to be pretty cool. Since the weather was bad, we basically had the church all to ourselves! This church was built for the patron saint of the Miners in the town, so there were a lot of frescos related to the silver miners of the town. This church really was a tremendous sight. What confuses me is that it seems that every big cathedral I've been to so far seems to tout themselves as the biggest and grandest, so I really don't know who wins that title. Anyway, back to the silver mine tour...we ended up having to go through the tour with a bunch of jr. high school Czech kids. Not only were they loud and sorta obnoxious, but we couldn't understand a word they were saying! I think the docent took pity on us (or maybe he saw that the kids weren't as interested as we were in learning about the silver mines and town history) so he came over to us and gave us a personal explanation of the exhibits in English and he entertained us with some fun lore of the time. After the silver museum church, we headed for the Sedlec Ossuary. Mind you, it's still pouring and we are walking in the rain with our feet sloshing in the 1-2 inch puddles en route to the next sight. Lucklily, a taxi came by and made our journey to the next place more bearable. The Sedlec Ossuary is actually this smaill cathedral that is decorated in HUMAN BONES. I kid you not. It is a scene that could be straight out of Tim Burton's The Night After Christmas (or at least that's what I think it's called). I will show you guys the pictures to prove it. It really was a trip to see skull and crossbones adorning the church. Thousands upon thousands of human skeletons were used (mostly from the great Plauge). I guess it went with the crazy scary weather we were witnessing that day. On our way home, we ended up sharing a train car with some of the jr. high school kids we took the tour with at the silver museum, though I have to say this group of girls redeemed themselves to us. They were just adorable and so eager to practice their English on the both of us. My high point of amusement was when they asked us if we ever saw Wentworth something-or-other from Prison Break. They just thought he was dreamy. Oh, and they also enjoy watching Desparate Housewives. These are comments coming from 12 year old girls. It was cute and endearing.

Tomorrow, we head out for Cesky Krumlov, another city in the Czech Republic. It will be an interesting adventure as we test out another mode of transport in Prague - the Autobus. So far, we have experienced travel via plane, train, and metro in the Czech Republic. We're hoping that the bus system is better than our system back home. From what we've seen at the bus station though, the whole process was not very user friendly. It's definitely tougher trying to communicate in a language you're totally unfamiliar with. It's times like these that I appreciate the the communication we've experienced in Italy and France, where a handful of words and phrases can go a long way. In any case, we're excited about Cesky Krumplov - it looks like one of those charming places off the beaten path (or at least, so we think). I'll keep you guys posted. Ciao for now.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Day 3 and 4 in Prague

Hello all, today was our first full day in Prague after flying in last night from London. So, let me catch you up so far. Yesterday in the day, we went to the London Financial district to check out the London Metal exchange and the sights in that region. It turned out that we couldn't go into the LME becuase you need to turn in a request like 4 weeks in advance, so we took pictures of the outside and the lobby. Then we proceeded to walk around and saw the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge. It turns out that the Tower Bridge is more fancy than the London Bridge. The London Bridge is just a plain old bridge. We walked to the St. Paul's cathedral, but because of our time constraints, didn't go inside. So, in a nutshell, we did lots of walking and then took the tube back to our hotel and got ready for the airport. On our way to Paddington Station, we probably had our cheapest meal so far in London - it was just this little coffee shop place, but for lunch, we probably got out for less than $25. Off we went to Heathrow. At the airport, we discovered that British Airways flew out of 3 different terminals, and unfortunately, our confirmation printout didn't say where to go. So we had the pleasure of stopping at one terminal to find out where to go, then of course found that our terminal was in the new Terminal 5, which required us to take a bus to get to. Luckily, we made it over with plenty of time to peruse the shops by the gate (because they don't issue your boarding gate until 40 minutes prior to the flight!). I think it's a tourist trap since they have a ton of high end fancy stores you can walk into to pass the time. I walked into Prada, Harrods, and the duty free before I went back to meet Michael, who found a comfy chair and was snoozing away. We finally did make it to Prague...and boy was the weather HOT (compared to London).

My first impression of Prague as we landed at the airport was that it was very green. We took the bus into town and got a glimpse of the Prague outskirts, and it's really lush and looks all spread out. The bus was packed with people, so Michael and I sorta got separated as we were jostled into our spots. After a 25 min bus ride and a 40 minute metro ride, we finally made it into town and found our Hotel. To our pleasant surprise, our room was GINORMOUS compared to our London accomodations. This time we got a King size bed, a desk, and the Bathroom was in it's own little room off the entrance room and closet. We are staying at the Hotel Anna, which will be our home for 3 days.

That first night, we walked to Wenceslaus Square, which was like 10 minutes from our hotel. This is the new Prague that was like a promenade of all kinds of shops and where the sidewalks were filled with people walking at 10:00 at night on a Monday night. From what I can tell, there are a lot of international tourists in Prague - so many people speaking different languages as you walked by. We were behind a group of Italian travelers at a gelato place and I though it was kind of cool that I could understand what they were saying. After we got a scoop of gelato, we headed back home.

Today was a day of walking - we probably walked like 8 miles today! We saw all kinds of cool stuff - the Tyn Church, Astronomical Clock, Charles Bridge, and the Prague castle....all on foot! The city really is so picturesque. It even rained on us for a little bit. My first purchase of the day was an umbrella (never mind that I had thought to pack one and left it securely in my suitcase!) Oh well - it was worth the investment. After a full day of sights and walking, we called it a day and took the metro back (thankfully). Oh by the way, did I mention I was in flip flops? I thought it was comfortable at first, but then after trekking up a ton of stairs to the castle, it wasn't quite as comfortable as I thought it would be. It was still a fun day. We ended the night with a traditional Czech dinner at this restaurant near our hotel, and I have to say it was delicious and super filling. Lots of meat on the menu. Anyways, I should head to bed another full day tomorrow. Going on a day trip to Kutna Hora. Bye for now.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Day 1 and 2 of our European Trip!

Hi all! We made it to Europe and are now in the morning of our Day 3. The first couple days were pretty uneventful - mostly traveling. First to Toronto, then over to London. Even though we got into London at 9 am on Sunday morning, I think it was ambitious of us to think we could see some sights that day. What ended up happening was that after we got into the hotel, our "quick nap" ended up being a 5 hr one, so needless to say, not a whole lot of sightseeing. Oh - I have to tell you about our room, it is THE SMALLEST room I've ever stayed in for a hotel room. Basically room for the bed and a teenie bathroom, but not a whole lot of ground space. Once we opened up our luggage, there really was no where to walk! You'll see the pics when we get back. We walked around to Kensington Park after our nap and walked by Kensington Palace, where Diana used to live. Then we proceeded thru Notting Hill which is a cute little area (just like in the movie!) and then went to The Prince Edward Pub, where we met this local guy, Jamie, who provided us with some entertaining conversation. Like some fun facts - now we think gas is expensive in the about $12/gallon!!! That's basically what it converts to here. As Jamie said, "Petrol in the US is cheap!" Unbelievable, eh? Well, I better go for now cuz we are going to the Financial district today so Michael can see the LME. We're off to Prague tonight, so I'll update you guys when I get my next chance.