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Dec 9 11

Eco Yoga Park (week 2), AR

by dan.kronstal

Week Two at the Park proceeded very much like Week One, with much the same routine of early mornings, chores, meals and yoga. Our main chore became varnishing the monks’ house, which we found somewhat less back-breaking than garden work, but a lot messier – both of us left stained garments behind, bequeathed to future painters. Having departed, we know that our stay there will form one of our fondest memories of our time in Argentina – possibly all of South America. I will discourse on that at length, but first will review some of the highlights of our week.

Our varnished house

Our varnished house

Helping in the kitchen

Helping in the kitchen

Us with the boss(es)

Us with the boss(es)

Yoga demonstration

Yoga demonstration

Last weekend we were flooded with guests from General Rodriguez and Buenos Aires. They came from several yoga schools affiliated with the Park, and had joined classes culminating in the certification of some of the students with their yoga instructor credentials.

Music Therapy session

Music Therapy session

It was interesting to have so many guests, and Christina and I offered our morning on Sunday to help prepare and serve breakfast. She was a little chagrined at having to give up our one sleep-in day, but it felt like the right move. Later in the day we got to see some yoga demonstrations from the different schools. This mostly looked like “synchronized yoga” choreographed and set to music, which was pleasing to watch, though I won’t look for it in the Olympics any time soon.

The Gaucho

The Gaucho

Another day we paid a visit to The Gaucho, spoken of privately, in whispered voices and code-words, since this is the bar (or closest local option, anyway) where illicit meats and beverages may be consumed. We walked over with Andy & Jo and guided by Mirko, another volunteer who had been previously, so knew the drill. It’s just a few doors down from Eco Yoga Park, but since we’re in rural country that makes it about a 20 minute walk through pasture and dirt road. The entry looks like that of every other farm, but Mirko assured us that it was the place, so we walked on in, and rang the bell. The “bar” is an informal affair. A concrete table is placed outside the door of the house in a clear patch, surrounded by derelict machinery and equipment of a type very familiar to me, since most of it would look right at home at the folks’ place back in Canada.

Home on the range

Home on the range

Presently a woman appeared, and (thanks to the linguistic abilities of Jo) we were able to place an order for meat, cheese, bread, and a couple of litres of beer. The Guacho himself appeard before our repast, but was too busy to join us. Instead he mounted up on his horse, and spent the duration of our visit rounding up some other animals in the field beyond the house. It felt quite nice to be “cheating” on our vegetarian/semi-vegan diet, and the beer was a welcome refreshment. I’m only sorry that we didn’t get to visit twice.

Lunch in Luján

Lunch in Luján

One more highlight of the week was our visit to Luján, a nearby town somewhat larger than General Rodríguez and with better services.

Basílica de Nuestra Señora

Basílica de Nuestra Señora

There we had a fantastic meal at a small spot recommended by a local, checked out the huge and impressively pretty Basílica de Nuestra Señora, and treated ourselves to some delicious coffee and ice cream.

Coffee and Alfajor

Coffee and Alfajor

On the way back the taxi driver took advantage of our unfamiliarity with the area to jack up the rate a bit, and when it came time to pay Diana took it up with him in a pretty warm exchange of Spanish. We still paid full price, but the dialog was fun to watch.

The gang

The gang

During the week we had a flurry of short-term volunteers rolling through – so many that I can’t even remember their names – and found that as the group we started with (or rather, those who were present at the time of our arrival) began to depart they have been steadily replaced with a new crop of people that changes the dynamic of the team.

Chilling out

Chilling out

While this is not a bad thing, it did incline us to the feeling that we were leaving at an appropriate time. Since we haven’t learned much Spanish during our time here so far, and since most of the new folks are at least trying to speak Spanish it might have been educational to extend our stay, but there’s more out there to see.

Trivia quiz

Trivia quiz

During our last night Ashley put together a trivia quiz game, which was much more fun than our traditional post-dinner movie, and we had a great time mixing with some of the newer people.

As we left today, shaking hands and exchanging emails with our friends, it is easy to get sentimental about the frustration of meeting great people on the road, only to leave them so quickly. On the other hand it is encouraging to experience new friendships where we did not immediately notice much common ground. Before our own departure we were left by Ben from America, Thomas, Vanessa and Jess from Australia, Diana from Brazil, Mirko from Germany, and Jo & Andy from England and New Zealand respectively. Some of them we hope to see again during our brief stay in Buenos Aires where we will plan our next move. We leave behind the American Contingent: Matas, Holly, Anna, PJ, and Tiffany; Emily from Australia; Laurissa from Germany; Anna “2″ from France; Frank and Fergus from South Africa;

A couple of the "mothers"

A couple of the "mothers"

the monks: Abay, Hari, Takor (whose name I could never remember, and have probably misspelled), and the Swami; the mothers, none of whose names I ever got straight, and who twisted us all into so many strange shapes; the wonderful dogs Rocky and Trixi, and the incorrigable Sanka;

Ashley assigning chores

Ashley assigning chores

and of course, Ashley, our fearless leader, who kept us on the path and hard at work (until 10:45 or so each day, anyway). Without Ashley I’m not sure what we would have done, but it certainly wouldn’t have been as organized or as much fun.

We had a wonderful stay, and are sorry to go. Argentina is a big country though, and we’re just taking a quick swipe at it as things are, so it’s time to get back on the road!

Dec 1 11

Eco Yoga Park (week 1), AR

by christina.kronstal
Eco Yoga Park

Eco Yoga Park

We have found ourselves doing some ‘eco-volunteering’ at the Eco Yoga Park, near the town of General Rodriguez, about an hour away from Buenos Aires.

Garden & Temple

Garden & Temple

We weren’t too sure what to expect, since it’s a Hari Krishna community, but we were prepared to be vegetarian for the next two weeks and we were also prepared do get dirty. We’ve mainly been tending to the beautiful garden or pruning/maintaining the grounds. So, our typical schedule looks a little like this:

6am – 8am: Get up and work in the garden
8am – 8:30am: Breakfast
8:30am – 10:30am: Various chores (i.e. garden, sanding, pruning trees, picking fruit)
1:30pm: Lunch
4:30pm: Yoga
6pm: Snack
6:30pm – 8:30pm: Movie (mostly intellectual films that get you thinking)
8:30pm: Dinner

6am start

6am start

We’re off after 10:30am to chill and relax. Since the internet isn’t too reliable here, we’ve mostly been taking naps during the heat of the day, reading our novels or writing in our journals.

Our first authentic mate experience

Our first authentic mate experience

At first I was a little nervous about so much free time, but it was easy to get into the laid back lifestyle.  We’ve also been doing yoga everyday in the temple, which was a bit challenging at first (since it was all in Spanish), and are led by the various mothers of the ashram, but now we’ve gotten the hang of the language – at least enough know when to raise our pie derecho or pie izquierdo.

Yunis & Vanessa

Eunice & Vanessa

We’ve made friends with the other volunteers who’ve come from all parts of the world: USA, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, South Africa and Brazil.  There are about twenty of us at the moment and it’s great to hang out with all kinds of people. One of the volunteers (Fergus) took the time to teach a few of us caporeira one day, while another (Ben) offered alternative medicine/healing for those under the weather.

PJ Juggling

PJ Juggling

We also had Vanessa, a girl from Australia who brought along a ukelele that she had bought from Bolivia and we were entertained around a bonfire during one unseasonaly cold night.  Good thing I didn’t get rid of my warm clothes from Germany! We even have a juggler in the crowd, PJ from New Mexico.  In addition to the volunteers, we’ve made friends with the park’s dogs, Rocky, Sanka and Trixie.  They’re well behaved – except for Sanka, who’s an especially mischievous one first thing in the morning.    There was one day where he started digging up the lettuce patch and also ran off with my gardening glove, in which I had to chase him into a field full of weeds waist high.  The dogs have been great to have around though and are always an added entertainment throughout the day.  We’ve also used the free time to do laundry and work through our bible study (we’ve been reading 1 Corinthians).

Rocky

Rocky

Trixie

Trixie

Bath time!

Bath time!

Picking peaches with Sanka

Picking peaches with Sanka

We also had the opportunity to visit the nearby town of General Rodriguez, which was a special field trip, since it’s about a 15 minute cab ride or 30 minute bus ride. It was especially rewarding, because we were able to take a break from the strict diet back at the ashram and we splurged on some fantastic ice cream and shared a bottle of coke.

Peach tree

Peach tree

The ‘mothers’ and ‘monks’ of the ashram prepare all vegan meals, which means that if we want to partake in any dairy products, we normally jump the fence and buy organic yogurt, chocolate milk and cheese from the neighbouring dairy farm. That’s not to say that the food isn’t great. In fact, the vegan meals here are absolutely fantastic and I’m amazed at all the various dishes one could make. What makes it gratifying even more is when we see the vegetables that we work from the garden on our plates.

One thing that we weren’t sure what to expect was how the lifestyle and moreso, the spritual elements would be presented to us. They have been very open to answer any questions that we had, and not once did we feel pressured to join them or ‘see it their way’. Dan and I had discussed how great the community was and how they were welcoming to anyone and everyone.

Garden

Garden

As we end near the end of our first week, we’ve defintely gotten into a rhythm here and are actually taken aback at how quickly the time has passed. We’ve had opportunities to learn some gardening techniques, to meet a plethora of interesting people, and to have candid conversations with the hari krishnas without worry about offending anyone.

Nov 24 11

Buenos Aires, AR

by christina.kronstal
Our rooftop swimming pool

Our rooftop swimming pool

Once we stepped out off the plane at the international airport in Buenos Aires, I could immediately notice the difference in the air from that of Germany and the impeding winter that was on our tails. With the worries of the European passport controls behind us, Dan was finally able to exhale and take in the city.

Puppies!

Puppies!

We had found an apartment rental in Recoleta, an upscale neighbourhood of Buenos Aires.  Our apartment complex was equipped with a dry and wet sauna, rooftop pool and hot tub, which Dan took advantage of during our afternoon siestas.  Another clue to the area’s wealth were the many dogwalkers around the neighbourhood.

Iglesia Nuestra SeÑora Del Pilar

Iglesia Nuestra SeÑora Del Pilar

This was my favorite part of my day, drinking my cafe con leche, nibbling my medialunas (croissants, or direct translation:  ’half moon’), and watching the pups walk along in groups of as large as 12 leashes wide. Recoleta was close enough to some of the sights in central Buenos Aires, but we were definitely realizing how spoiled we were with the walkable cities in Europe.  While the city was pretty easy to navigate with its grid system, alot of the sites were widely spread amongst the city.  Even the football stadium is commonly off the main map.  But, we managed to see most of what the tour books advised us to see, although it took a lot of walking, a couple of metro rides and a cab ride or two.

Beer sampler at Bullers

Beer sampler at Bullers

Luckily, one of the most beautiful parts of the city (in our opinion), was within blocks of our apartment, which included Plaza Intendente Torcuato de Alvear, where we spent most of our time drinking beer and on one occasion, were lucky enough to catch the Artisan market. It also included the famous Recoleta Cemetery and Eva Peron’s final resting place.

Floralis Genérica

Floralis Genérica

We spent a good hour strolling through the cemetery and admiring mausoleum after mausoleum. On a different day, we ventured out a little further and came upon the Floralis Genérica, who’s dramatic size and shape impressed Dan so much, he reverted to what I call ‘photographic diarrhea’, where he would take snap after snap of the sculpture from every possible angle. :)

Entrance to cemetary

Entrance to cemetery

Recoleta Cemetery

Recoleta Cemetery

Cemetery II

Cemetery II

Ateneo Bookstore

Ateneo Bookstore

We were also close to the shopping street of Santa Fe, and we managed to see the most beautiful bookstore in all of our travels. What once was a theatre, was converted into a large bookstore and cafe.

Purple flowered trees

Purple flowered trees

For the rest of the city, we really worked our legs out, especially one day when we took an approximately 4 hour walking tour from the beautifully petal-littered, Plaza de San Martin, down pedestrian-street Florida Avenue, past the Galeria Pacifico and its muraled ceilings, then down along Diagonal Norte to visit Plaza de Mayo, home to the Metropolitan Cathedral and Casa Rosada.

Plaza San Martin

Plaza San Martin

Plaza de Mayo

Plaza de Mayo

Metropolitan Cathedral

Metropolitan Cathedral

Cafe Tortoni

Cafe Tortoni

After a brief moment we then walked along Avenida de Mayo to stop in Cafe Tortoni, which was mentioned in the Lonely Planet. While the food was OK, we were more interested in the tango shows that they advertised. So, before we left the cafe, we had ourselves on the reservation’s list for the following evening’s show. We then continued on along Avenida de Mayo towards the congress buildings, took a few shots and then started for the long way home.

Tango Night

Tango Night

When we returned to Cafe Tortoni, we decided that we would walk from our apartment to the cafe, but to also take a taxi cab home after the show. We timed it and it was about a 50 minute walk, door to door. Anyways, the show was incredible. The dances were sultry and the band was incredible. The accordian player (of all things) nearly stole the show, he was that good. It was a similar stage to the flamenco dancing we saw in Sevilla, Spain, which was pretty intimate and without a bad seat in the house, but we were lucky enough to be in the front row. After the show we hailed a taxi and successfully directed the driver to our apartment, entirely in Spanish – success!

On another day we decided to take on the metro system, which we used as an excuse to hop on to check out the Palmero area of the city, specifically, Palmero Viejo. Unfortunately, the metro in Buenos Aires isn’t quite as accessible as most of the European cities we’ve been to, but a short walk never hurt anybody. Besides, 4.40 argentian pesos (that’s about $1 CDN) for the both of us, round trip was a price we couldn’t complain about. Palmero Viejo was a great spot to explore, with tons of boutique shops and a plethora of restaurants. It impressed us so much that we’re considering staying in this neighbourhood if we find ourselves back in Buenos Aires (which will likely occur when we depart from South America). While I was drooling over the fashions, Dan was drooling over the contemporary designs of the stores themselves. We had never before been to a spot where the stores were sometimes even more interesting than the product! Another thing that impressed Dan was the authentic mexican restaurant we found, which offered up some pretty cheap tacos and decently priced beer. The small colorful tables and mismatched stools made us feel like we were actually in Mexico.

Tomorrow we’ll be heading over to the Eco Yoga Park, an hour away from Buenos Aires to do some ‘eco-volunteering’, which we’re looking forward to doing. It’ll be a nice to take a break from being a tourist and hopefully learn something new.

Nov 18 11

Heidelberg, DE

by dan.kronstal

Our first stop in town was at the TIC to figure out some place to stay. Heidelberg is home to the longest pedestrian street in Germany, called Hauptstrasse, and along the 1.6km of this street most of the interesting things in town are centered. Unfortunately there do not seem to be any “budget” accomodations near this strip, so our new home was a 20-minute walk from the action. We walked the length of Hauptstrasse nearly each day, and though not all weather was fair (or warm), it was good enough for us to have a few sunny days and a good look around town. Our best views were from the top of the bell tower of the Heiliggeistkirche (“Church of the Holy Ghost”), the Philosophenweg (“Philosopher’s Way”) on the far side of the river, and from the top of Heidelberg Schloss (the castle) which overlooks town and the river.

Top of Heiliggeistkirche Tower

Top of Heiliggeistkirche Tower

View from Philosophenweg

View from Philosophenweg

View of town from Heidelberger Schloss

View of town from Heidelberger Schloss

Das Große Fass

Das Große Fass

Touring the castle we checked out a museum showing the history of pharmaceutical medicine, from apothecary and alchemy to modern pharmacology. It was interesting, and I loved the staged pharmacies set up with authentic desks and many assorted bottles and lab equipment. We also had a look at  Das große Fass, a massive wine keg formerly used to store wine from many farms in the region. Apparently it’s not much used anymore, but they keep it out of a tradition of having a giant keg in the castle.

Aside from looking around town our time was spent preparing for departure from Germany, and concluding our European leg. We posted some things home, and discarded what we could to lighten our baggage.

It was on the train ride from Vienna to Innsbruck during a chat about our travels with a family from Germany when we had begun to be concerned about our exit from Europe. All the travel books had said that we could stay in France for 90 days, or in Italy for 90 days, or in Germany for 90 days, so we thought that we had all kinds of time to lark about the countryside with no need to worry about the length of stay. This family broached the idea, in true German polite-yet-firm style, that perhaps the 90 days was an inclusive count, and not calculated by country.

We did some research and discovered that many of our European stops are part of a group called Schengen – a collection of countries with a collaborative boarder control arrangement. We had wondered why we weren’t racking up all kinds of cool stamps in our passports, and this was the reason. Our 90 days allowed was for the entire region, and we were scheduled to depart after having accrued 137 days in Europe – though only 114 days in the Schengen countries, since the UK doesn’t count. Still, we were over the limit, and my searching online turned up a few hair raising tales of people being detained (sometimes for days), and/or fined hundreds of Euros, and/or banned from returning to any of the Schengen countries for years. In our case most of these aren’t a problem. Paying fines sucks, but we can do it. Not coming back for a few years is ok, since we won’t be able to afford international travel for a few years anyway. Missing the flight is not so cool though, since the fine-print on our itinerary had us thinking (possibly incorrectly) that missing a flight after checking in would invalidate the rest of our itinerary and have us flying home early and at our own expense.

We had gone through a few cycles since discovering the dilemma. Christina would be worried and I would feel that everything would be fine. Then I would worry and she would be more at ease. At the airport I was worried. I don’t want to overstate or exaggerate, but I was fairly anxious.

Having cleaned ourselves up and dressed presentably for the occasion – and having spent no little time in prayer – we approached the Passport Control gate and stepped up to the line. The agent took our passports and flipped through the pages. He said something to his partner and looked at our passports and flipped through the pages again. He looked at the Amsterdam stamp marked on the 27th of July, the date by which we were incriminated (and incidentally, Joe’s birthday), then flipped through the other pages again. He chatted more with the other agent, then asked us how long we’d been in Germany, and where we had come from. This was a huge relief, since we could honestly answer that we’d been here three weeks, and had come from Prague. He wasn’t in a curious mood, so stamped us through and that was that.

I had prayed fervently for a immigration officer who was either feeling gracious or lazy, my preference being lazy. So our guy who was more interested in chatting with his buddy than investigating why the stamps in our passport were so old was a perfect fit. After being delivered so thoroughly (I had been quite ready to pay a fine, so long as we could do it promptly and still make our flight) the rest of the ride seemed rosy. A couple of hours through to Madrid, then we waited for a few more before the 12 hour long haul to Buenos Aires. I’ve never felt so good about a horribly uncomfortable flight.

Nov 13 11

Füssen, DE

by dan.kronstal
Beautiful south-German countryside

Beautiful south-German countryside

We got away from Munich just in time. During our last evening in town a soft fog rolled in, and by morning it had congealed and cooled into a decidedly unwelcoming mess. We made our escape and headed south and west, through Buchloe and on to Füssen. The ride was pleasant, but didn’t become really interesting until the last half-hour. Then we broke through the fog and emerged into blue skies overlooking some pastoral countryside composed of rolling hills, and populated by small villages. Communities were connected by winding roadways that approximately followed the rail, and forked off into the horizon, weaving through stands of trees and bridging narrow streams. It all made me wish for a motorcycle.

We arrived and walked to the address of our hostel, where we were redirected to their second location at the other side of town. After this annoying detour we got ourselves checked in, and went out for a quick look around.

Füssen altstadt

Füssen altstadt

The day was clear, but quite cold, so we were thankful that there wasn’t really much to look at in Füssen. A small altstadt, just several blocks wide, one bridge across the river, and you’re out of town already. We had dinner at an asian restaurant, which wasn’t very “local”, but we’d had a lot of sausage in the last couple of days so needed a break.

Cool bottles

Cool bottles

After dinner we spent a little more time looking around, but didn’t linger, since it was so cold out. The town is cute enough, but the thing I liked the most was one shop selling liquor, liqueur, oil, and vinegar, all from large and interestingly shaped bottles with small spigots in the bottom. You either buy a container from the shop to fill with whatever you’re after, or bring your own from home. The sight of racks and racks of mismatched bottles to tap was very appealing to me somehow.

Back at our room, we cranked the heat, but still felt quite frozen. Not until later in the evening when we headed out for a snack and drink did it feel like our room had started to pick up any warmth. I think that both of us will be quite ready for warmer weather in South America, and neither of us knows quite what to do when we get back home to Calgary, where the weather will be at least this bad, permanently.

The view we wanted

The view we wanted

Our whole reason for coming to Füssen was to check out the castles of Ludwig II, King of Bavaria, Schloss Neuschwanstein (which he commissioned and designed, and built… well, mostly) and Schloss Hohenschwangau (in which he lived). In postcards both of these castles look very impressive, and the Austrian alps and German farmland can clearly be seen under fine blue skies.

The view we got

The view we got

Our first, and only, full day in Füssen was not going to provide such a view. The fog had followed us from Munich, and crept up while we slept. We would not be put off, however, and spent the day touring these castles and the small tourist village below and between them.

Main gate of Hohenschwangau

Main gate of Hohenschwangau

We had a look at Hohenshwangau first, the older of the two, built by his father in an Italian style. The tour was very good, and gave us a pretty solid look at the interior of the castle. We had taken advantage of the time between our arrival in the courtyard and the start of the tour to examine the exterior and grounds, and it was interesting to see how small the chambers and living quarters inside the walls were. It was a neat expression of the idea of “luxury”, which in Canada is expressed more in terms of square footage and yard space, and less in terms of solid-gold picture frames and dinnerware, which is what we saw here. After the tour we returned to the small “village” area below the castles, and had a snack at one of the cafe’s there before our longer walk to Neuschwanstein on the adjoining peak.

The castle is the slightly-less-white part

The castle is the slightly-less-white part

On the way to the top we passed a way-station where some folks had pulled over for a beer or a meal, but we instead had only a portion of delicious “Bavaria Donoughts”, freshly plucked from the oil and dusted with “powdersucker”. We ate as we walked, and arrived at the castle just as we finished the snack.

You can almost see the top...

You can almost see the top...

The fog was so thick We couldn’t even see the top of the towers and spires from the ground at the foot of the castle wall, but it did lend a somewhat mysterious, though not at all photogenic, atmosphere. Construction of Schloss Neuschwanstein was not completed before Ludwig II was declared “mad” and deposed, so our tour was not quite so long, and didn’t have the same “lived in” heritage (though he apparently did live there for something like 170 days).

Dinner at Ludwig's

Dinner at Ludwig's

After our tours we returned to Füssen for dinner, which was at a restaurant appropriately named “Ludwig’s”. Christina had a half-chicken with two potatoes drenched in cream and chives. My meal was an assorted platter of meats, including chicken, duck, ribs, pork meatloaf, dumpling and red saurkraut. We spent the rest of the evening journalling and drinking tea at a cafe.

The next morning was, of course, clear and blue and perfect for picture taking. But we were leaving, so had to enjoy the view from the platform of the train station. Our ride from Füssen to Heildeberg passed back north, through some of the same beautiful country as on our inbound trip. I tried to read on the train, but couldn’t tear my eyes away from those rolling hills and cute little towns.

Nov 11 11

München, DE

by christina.kronstal
Marienplatz

Marienplatz

Our several days in Munich mainly consisted of wandering the streets, window shopping, stepping into a few bookstores and eating!  We also had the privilege of listening to some really talented street musicians. Some of which included a full roster:  flute, violin, bass, cello, grand piano – and we still have no idea how they get the piano there in the first place.

Rathaus & Glockenspiel

Rathaus & Glockenspiel

We were extremely grateful to have found an apartment that was mere steps off the main pedestrian drag and five minutes from the busy Marienplatz, in which the Rathaus stood with its incredible Glockenspiel (clock tower).

Café Glockenspiel

Café Glockenspiel

On the 5th floor in a builiding across the Glockenspiel was ‘Café Glockenspiel‘ – an incredible find for two reasons: 1) They served the best breakfast we’ve had since Scotland and 2) They had the best view of the clock when it turned 12 noon – you can get a pretty good view of the characters dancing underneath the clock. There’s even a point where two knights on horses ‘charge’ at each other with their lances.

Opera Night - "Tosca"

Opera Night - "Tosca"

One evening, we decided to have a night out and first stepped into Munich’s (and I think the world’s) most famous beerhouse, the Hofbräuhaus,  for a quick bite and some beer. We were lamenting the fact such a place in Calgary that just doesn’t exist; where young and old, locals and tourists, would gather together and enjoy themselves.

Opera house

Opera house

After our dinner, we went to the opera, for which we had purchased cheap standing ‘seats’ for 20€. We watched Puccini’s Tosca, a show we both enjoyed and I think Dan had said that this was so far is favorite plot of the three we’ve seen, although our favorite theatre is still Vienna.

Schloss Nymphenburg

Schloss Nymphenburg

On another day, we decided to take the tram out to the Schloss Nymphenburg. The palace grounds were nice, but in comparison to Vienna’s palace, it lacked the cool hill and a focal point like the Glorietta.

Fall shot

Fall shot

It did still have some really pretty park to walk through and we wandered the remnants of what I’m sure would be absolutely gorgeous in the summer time. We couldn’t help but take more shots of the Fall scenery.

Our last evening in Munich, we decided to return to the Hofbräuhaus and found ourselves seated at a table with a German lady, Andrea, who was hosting about 25 or so Indians who were visiting for some management training.

"Prost!"

"Prost!"

Needless to say, this was the highlight of our trip to Munich, drinking our 1 Litre mugs of beer, buying pretzels from the young lady walking up and down the aisles, singing along to the band and clinking our glasses with strangers as if we were lifelong friends. Apparently, there’s also a certain way that one is supposed to clink their glasses.

"Om pa pa" Band

"Om pa pa" Band

Every now and then, the band plays the beer house’s “song”, in which everyone must clink the bottoms of their glasses while looking into the other person’s eyes.  If you don’t look into their eyes, then it is said that you will have 7 years of bad sex.  So, Dan and I made sure we looked into each other’s eyes each time!  It was really nice to mingle and have some fun with locals and visitors alike.  A great way to end our stay in Munich.

Pretzel girl

Pretzel girl

Our new Indian friends

Our new Indian friends

Local patrons

Local patrons

We are now off for a brief stint to the town of Füssen to check out Germany’s most famous castle, Schloss Neuschwanstein, which looks alot like a fairytale castle. In fact, it’s said that Walt Disney had used this castle as a model. We must be crazy, going further into the mountains, where I’m sure it’s colder – but we’re hoping that this castle will be worth seeing. I am definitely looking forward to the warmer temperatures in South America that we’ll soon be seeing in a week.

Nov 6 11

Nürnberg, DE

by dan.kronstal

It’s my first post in Germany, so I’ll ramble for a bit first. Before arriving in Germany I had expected to find the German language very difficult. In some ways it is, but I had failed to appreciate how much English owes to German in terms of basic vocabulary. Of course there are words picked up from nearly every major language on the globe, but German seems to be the entomological foundation in a way that took me by surprise. Particularly the prepositions and conjunctions like “und” & “and”, “mit” & “with”, “die” & “the”, a generous spoonful of other familiar words, and the entire counting system are so phonetically similar as makes nearly no difference when spoken. As we had observed in Austria, the culture and attitude in this part of Europe feels very much like home, and at this point in our travels it is hugely comfortable to be in a place that doesn’t feel foreign.

Back to our story…

Tina's favorite shot

Tina's favorite shot

We made a somewhat earlier than expected getaway from Berlin, and enjoyed the train ride through north and western Bavaria – only slightly less scenic than that from Prague. When we arrived, a quick stop at the TIC provided us with a map of town, decorated by markings for our hotel and relevant transit information. We caught the tram to our new home, somewhat north of Nurnburg’s old town, in the St. Johannis neighborhood. In days gone by this would be where the Really Rich People lived, or so I assume, since the street is lined with elegant old manor-style homes (now converted to office or service space) contained in walled estates.

Castle tower

Castle tower

After checking in we headed back to the center for a look at town. Our route took us right past the Nurnberg castle, across a bridge over the moat, through a tunnel in the castle wall, and emerging into the heart of small-town Bavaria on the other side. The cobbled square of Tiergartnertorplatz splits into several streets, either ascending towards the castle, or descending towards the river and the center of town.

Hooray for sausage!

Hooray for sausage!

Our quick walk through town took us nearly all the way back to the train station. We were surprised to find that we’d bisected town so quickly, having expected it to be a little bigger, and turned around to find a bite to eat. Nurnberg is famous for its small sausages, Nurnberger bratwursts, so we stopped at a place claiming to have “the original”. They were pretty tasty, but I think we’ll always remember our multi-mustard bratwursts from Mauermarkt in Berlin. When we exited the restaurant it was full-dark.

Markets at night

Markets at night

Jakobsplats by night

Jakobsplats by night

Hospital of the Holy Spirit

Hospital of the Holy Spirit

The town was transformed by a huge quantity of streetlights, lit markets, uplight towers and churches, and a surprisingly cosmopolitan pedigree of fashion and luxury shopping. We walked home the long way, swinging east around Cinemagnum, the largest cinema complex in Germany. 12 bars, 4 restaurants, 6 outdoor terraces, 1 IMAX, and 21 screens – none of which showed anything in English (well, there was Tin Tin, which I had enjoyed in Berlin, but not enough for a second round).

Writing at d'Azur

Writing at d'Azur

We slept late, owing to the absolute silence and darkness of our room, and took our time getting ready. Once we were out it was time to track down some “breakfast”, and after rejecting a number of places offering the usual assortment of sausages and potatoes and dumplings we found Cafe d’Azur, a french-style cafe which reminded us of how much we enjoyed our time in that part of Europe. We took our time, journalling and feasting on an assortment of sliced meats, cheese, veggies, fruit, baguette, croissant, heisse shokalad, tea, and orange juice.

Castle grounds

Castle grounds

It was well into the afternoon by the time we left, and the day had cleared up very nicely, providing us with a great opportunity to climb up to the castle and take some photos of the grounds and the view into town.

Castle garden path

Castle garden path

Our beautiful autumn day kept us with camera in hand, vainly trying to capture the color of the leaves and grass and sky.

Sinwell tower

Sinwell tower

We walked down into town and wandered through old town at a relaxed pace. On our previous night’s walk we had noticed a restaurant bridging the river, and sought it out to see if the location was as nice from the inside as it had appeared from across the water. We walked all around the building without seeing an entrance, and finally entered through a gated portal which lead us through an old folks home (being in the middle of an old castle, it’s the nicest one I’ve ever seen) and we finally found the restaurant door on the opposite side of a small courtyard. Unfortunately it didn’t seem open, so we decided to return another day in the evening for a closer inspection.

View to Trödelmarkt

View to Trödelmarkt (we're at Starbucks, on the right)

A large portion of our afternoon was spent at a Starbucks warming up, since the day, although bright and clear, was still cool, and using their free wireless connection to send out some emails. We continued walking and crossed onto the small island containing Trödelmarkt, where more shopping was found, as well as “the Hangmans House”, ominously decorated with a sign showing an axe severing a hand. Christina was hankering after a sushi dinner tonight, so we walked toward Ledergasse, a street containing a sushi restaurant singled out in our guidebook. We found one, but not the same restaurant she had read about, so decided to instead try one we had noticed a sign for during our walk the past evening. After some circling we found Sushi Do, a small bar-style establishment located unexpectedly in the middle of an underground shopping mall, accessible from the subway line. The 8€ all-you-can-eat “running sushi” was not bad, but won’t go down as one of our favorites. Our evening was spent enjoying the city lights again, as last night, but we didn’t stay out late.

River

River

Our next day we headed to the west along the walls of the Old City, to Maxplatz, where a biergarten has its own suspension bridge across the river, and where we lingered to enjoy yet more fantastic scenary involving the tranquil river crossed by old stone bridges, and lined with trees of every color, and quaint Bavarian buildings.

Bavarian street

Bavarian street

Nurnberg is the kind of town that will be well dressed in any season. It has officially replaced Innsbruck as my favorite town in “eastern western Europe”, and places second in my list of “European towns I’d move to”, behind only St. Sebastian, Spain.

On the way to the Staatstheater, to check out if we could get any good deals, we stopped at Öffnungszeiten Handwerkerhof (Craftsmens Courtyard), a kitchy but cute market area set up to offer Christmas ornaments and souveniers and snacks to entrapped tourists. Just beyond the market we found the train station – much more impressive now that we had a chance to actually check it out – and booked our onward tickets to Munich. Next we arrived at the Staatstheater, which was a pretty cool building, but had no deals for us, and in fact the cheap tour of the interior was sold out, so we didn’t even get to see that much. From there we followed the perimeter of the western edge of the wall all the way around to more familiar territory, and set up at our favorite Starbucks for some wifi and coffee.

Hexenhäusle

Hexenhäusle

We returned home for a rest before going for dinner at Hexenhausle, a small restaurant and “historical beer garden” we had noticed at the foot of the castle with a pleasant ambiance. We dined on some local specialties. Christina had Medaillons von der Schweinelende (pork tenderloin), and I had Ofensfisches Schweineschaufele (a Franconian “classical” dish, composed of a massive piece of fall-off-the-bone pork and a bunch of other stuff that I had no room for). Until now we had been drinking beer, but recalled at this establishment that Germany has a thriving wine economy, so had a glass of some local product – one red and one white – and were quite satisfied.

At home in the evening we watched some German television. The most amusing show was Mein Mann Kann, which is exactly what it sounds like, with women pitting their men against each other in various tasks, wagered in a sort of poker game. One man had to carry a certain number of “beach babes”, dripping in oil and wearing skimpy swimsuits, from one side of a beach scene to the other; one man had to get 5 ear piercings; one man had to guess the cup size of a parade of nearly bare bossoms; another had to break down a series of doors, “action hero” style, within a time limit. No gameshows on American television are nearly this entertaining!

Der Schöne Brunnen

Der Schöne Brunnen

We were expecting to check out the Hauptmarkt market on Saturday morning, but apparently were misinformed, since no market was taking place there. We could see all sorts of booths and huts being assembled for the coming Christmas markets, opening around mid-November, but that didn’t do us any good for the moment.

Demonstrators in Hautpmarkt

Demonstrators in Hautpmarkt

We had some pizza and pasta for lunch at one of the second-level restaurants overlooking the platz, watching tour groups shuffling from one sight to the next behind the signature umbrella or foamy finger or decorative staff of the group leader. Also gracing our platz was a troop of “demonstrators” holding signs to spell out a message about buses and trains. We didn’t get it.

We had explored all of the old town but for the north-east, and so today that was our goal. In this area we found the a more residential community, including the university, some small cafes and a very nice path along the river. We walked back on this path and tried to work up an appetite for dinner, though after our daunting lunch this proved to be a vain effort.

We did not stay out late, but returned to our room to get packed up for our departure in the morning. Four days did feel like a nice amount of time to stay here, though both of us are a bit sorry to be pulling out just as they set up their big seasonal markets. Our next stop is Munich, still part of Bavaria, and we’re looking forward to finding out if it can match the high bar set here!

Nov 1 11

Berlin, DE

by christina.kronstal
Dinner at home

Dinner at home

Well, we’ve now entered into our last country in our European leg of the trip. Our journey by train from Prague to Germany was still quite beautiful, despite the overcast weather and threat of rain. For most of the trip, we ran alongside a river and every minute, a charming river town came into view. We had quite a civilized ride, breaking up our ride by having a proper meal in the comfortable dining car. Before we knew it, we had arrive in the large metal and glass cocoon that is Berlin Hauptbahnhof. Like Paris, we decided to spend the week in an apartment rental so that we had the flexibility and comfort of our own place – doing our laundry, cooking our own meals, etc. Our instructions from our landlady were to “…take any S or U-bahn to Warschauer Straße. So, we opted the for the S-bahn, and climbed the the flights of escalators leading to the platform. However we were thoroughly confused (not yet accustomed to their metro system) as to which platform to get on, and which direction the train was going. Somehow, we found ourselves at the correct spot, boarded the S75 in the direction of Wartenberg and we were off. It was nice to choose the S-bahn (above ground train), because we were able to get a preview of the city.

Berlin Cathedral

Berlin Cathedral

At one point, just before coming into the Alexanderplatz station, we saw the large dome of the Cathedral of Berlin, and the red tower of the Rathaus. No more than 10 minutes after boarding, we found ourselves in at our train station and were greeted by a light sprinkling of rain. We walked northward up Warschauer Straße and found our home for the next seven days. Our host, Elin was (I kid you not) a spitting image of Heidi Klume, which was a stark difference from Anabelle, our host in Vienna, who looked like the character in ’50 First Dates’ (Adam Sandler’s assistant at the animal waterpark). Anyways, I digress. Elin gave us the short tour of our awesome space, a top floor unit with large windows, and modern furnishings. Of course, being the top floor, with no lift mind you, we’ve had the opportunity to really work out our thighs and glutes this past week. The moment we dropped off our bags, we headed out to the grocery store to purchase our provisions for the next little while. As mundane as grocery shopping is, I really enjoy strolling down the aisles and seeing the different products or variants unique to a country. Plus, in some ways, the domestic chore somewhat lets me pretend that I’m home, even for a fleeting moment. The first evening (surprise, surprise), we cooked up an Italian meal. It didn’t take us long to get back into our default cuisine. We fried up “lots of onions and lots of garlic” as Dad K would have liked it, tossed in some fresh tomatoes and basil and poured the sauce over a ricotta stuffed ravioli.

Meetup with Dittmar

Meetup with Dittmar

The next day we went over to the Prenzlauer Berg area to check out the iStockphoto Berlin office and have a quick visit with our good friend, Dittmar. He has, on several occasions, joined Dan & I at the shooting range back home. I’d be lying if I didn’t feel even a little nostalgic seeing the familiar iStock logo and open space concept of the Berlin office. It was a nice (if not small) taste of home. We chatted with Dittmar over some coffee at a nearby cafe and traded stories of travels.  With a promise to go for a beer before we left town, Dittmar directed us to take the M2 back to Alexanderplatz, take Bus 100 and go along its route. so, we did – kind of. Once we got off the M2, we started walking the bus route instead. A sure sign that we’ve been accustomed to our legs as our primary mode of transportation.

Drums and dancing in Alexanderplatz

Drums and dancing in Alexanderplatz

We walked by Alexanderplatz, the Fernsehturm, Rathaus, the Berlin Cathedral, the Humbolt University, the Staatsoper, Humboldt Museum, Brandenburger Tor (the last of 18 gates that remained standing) and the Reichstag (Parliament building).

Fernsehturm at night

Fernsehturm at night

We inquired about the free admission into the Reichstag, but were told that we had to make reservations online.

Reichstag (Parliament Building)

Reichstag (Parliament Building)

We were also forewarned that the earliest admission would be 3-5 business days. When we got home, Dan tried making reservations and indeed, the earliest entry would have been November 3rd, long after we have departed Berlin. Oh well, at least we saw it from the outside.

Our Friday was pretty laid back, after sleeping in and having a lazy morning, we walked towards the river to check out the Berlin wall. It was pretty convenient that the longest stretch of wall left standing is only a 10 minute walk from our apartment. The wall has since been covered with murals. Dan had remarked at how much taller the Belfast peace wall seemed to the Berlin wall.

Berlin Wall graffiti I

Berlin Wall graffiti I

Berlin Wall graffiti II

Berlin Wall graffiti II

Checkpoint Charlie

Checkpoint Charlie

Oberbaumbrücke

Oberbaumbrücke

We continued on across the river, past the Oberbaumbrücke and explored the community a bit, before heading back to the apartment for lunch. We then headed out in the late afternoon to check out the Alexa mall, which is like any other mall, and then later we hopped on the U-bahn to Potsdamer Platz.

Sony Center

Sony Center

We followed the crowd off the U-Bahn into the Sony Center, which we’re sure Dad E would have enjoyed. The large plaza was surrounded by modern buildings like Film Museum and the cinema and a huge metallic canopy sheltered the plaza below. There were several restaurant ‘patios’ in the plaza, surrounding the water feature in the center. Out of curiousity, we inquired about the next show for ‘Tin Tin in 3d’ and suddenly we had tickets in hand for the 8pm showing. Like India, this cinema had reserved seating, so there wasn’t much rush to our seats. But, we didn’t have enough time to relax at a nearby restaurant, so we opted for the popcorn and coke – which was HUUUUUGE. I think the coke was nearly 2 litres, which of course we didn’t even finish. Anyways, we both really enjoyed the movie.

Brandenburger Tor

Brandenburger Tor

Saturday kicked off with another lazy morning. By the time we had the motivation to get out of bed, we hopped on the S-bahn to Brandenburger Tor and walked south along Eberstraße to the Holocaust memorial, a one-city block dedication designed by Peter Eisenman, to remember the Jewish victims during the Holocaust.

Holocaust Memorial

Holocaust Memorial

The entire area was covered in tomb-like stones of varying heights, some only inches tall, others twice the height of an average man. We continued down Eberstraße and found ourselves in the Potsdamer Platz area for a second time.

Fall in Berlin

Fall in Berlin

After filling up briefly for lunch at Tony Roma’s (I had a craving for their baked potato soup and ribs), we continued our walking tour through the large Tiergarten. Berlin in the fall is quite beautiful and there were several trees turning magnifiscent shades of red, yellow and orange.

Victory Column

Victory Column

The tiergarten was a nice quiet break form the hustle and bustle of the city streets. We popped out of the garden only for a moment to admire the Berlin Victory column at Großer Stern. It was erected to commemerate the Prussian victory in the Danish-Prussian war and the golden statue was added later to commemorate additional unification wars. Interestingly enough, this monument was moved to Großer Stern, where it now stands, by the Nazis. We then cut back into the tiergarten and walked passed the zoo and found ourselves in a very modern area. My senses were bombarded with bright lights, large crowds, and lots of noise, so different from the park we had just emerged from. In the distance I saw a huge Mercedes Benz logo rotating atop a tall building, one of the many modern buildings that stood. We came to this area mainly to get Tito Greg’s Hard Rock t-shirt. There was an interesting church, right in the middle of Breitscheidplatz, called Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, but it would have been cooler if its damaged spire wasn’t covered up by an aluminum facade – apparently it’s encased for renovations. Aside from the Hard Rock and this cool church, I wouldn’t have any reason to come back. Too loud, too crowded – clearly I’m not a big-city girl.

Hackescher Markt

Hackescher Markt

Our Sunday was really relaxed. We had a late start, again – are you starting to see a pattern? This day was what we dubbed ‘market day’. We started off with the Hackesher Markt, which was close to the Bode museum. We only spent a brief hour there while sipping on Glühwein.

Vermont Joy Parade

Vermont Joy Parade

We then made our way to Mauer Park, which was supposedly the largest market in Berlin. And it sure did deliver! We were first greeted by a busker band, The Vermont Joy Parade, just outside the market area, so we stood and watched them for a bit before pressing on.

Biergarten in Mauer Park

Biergarten in Mauer Park

Once we were inside the market, we were rubbing shoulders with locals, exploring the artisan and antique stalls – it was way more crowded than the first market and it got our appetites going. Which leads me to our highlight of the day. We found a stall that sold wursts and provided about 20 different kinds of mustards. We each bought ourselves a serving and sat down in one of the dozens of wooden benches, sharing the space with other people who were enjoying their food and beer as well. We slopped gobs of garlic mustard, apple mustard, cassis mustard, chili mustard, etc. on our plates and had fun trying them all.

Monday was (or so we thought) our last full day in Berlin. We decided to lay low and basically get a few errands done in afternoon before meeting up with Dittmar one last time for a beer. So, after work (Dittmar’s workhour, not ours, of course), we met up for a pint, a visit and a chance to say our goodbyes. When we got back home, we started packing until we realized that we weren’t checking out tomorrow – it was the day AFTER. We were pretty amused at our mistake.

Which leads me to today. You would think that given another day in Berlin we would take advantage of it. See more. Do more. But instead we’ve hermitted in the apartment all day, given us ample opportunity to read, sleep, stay in our PJs, write in our journals and blog. And so I sign off for now, and tomorrow we should find ourselves in Nürnberg – given that it’s the correct day to check out. :)

Oct 26 11

Prague, CZ

by dan.kronstal

The night before our departure from Vienna could have gone better. I could drag this out, but the short version is that one of our neighbors is a long-term guest of this guesthouse, and has some health issues. I feel for the guy, but it’s really hard to be sympathetic at 4AM when I’m helping a smelly old dude back to his room, after picking him up off the floor then helping him onto and off of the toilet. For the second time that night. Anyway, we woke up early, and hit the train station right about on time. A delayed train allowed us to savour another 45 minutes of brisk Austrian air while huddled around some hot chocolates on the platform. Once aboard the train we were fortunate enough to have a 6-seater cabin to ourselves, so Christina spent most of her time racked out across three seats attempting to sleep, and I alternated between playing video games and watching the (mostly quite grim) countryside pass by.

The Czech Inn

The Czech Inn

Five hours later we were in Prague! A quick jaunt through the metro system and we were at the door of Czech Inn, our hostel for the next few days. Owing to our sleepy state, we had a rest during the afternoon. Christina spent the entire time sleeping, and I went downstairs to the bar to sample some of the legendary Czech beers, all of which were very good, and got mostly caught up on my journalling. In the evening we headed out to U Bulínů, a recommendation for dinner from the front desk, and feasted on some delicious traditional dishes. One nice thing about the Czech Republic is that they use their own currency instead of the Euro, making it much more affordable than our other European countries visited so far. I should also mention that the Czech language is very nearly incomprehensible. All of the “romance” languages have their share in common, and have lent a significant amount of vocabulary to English, as has German. These guys have their own thing going on, and it’s really quite different. It’s a 100% phonetic language, so each letter is always pronounced the same way, but it’s not necessarily the way we’re used to, plus they’ve got all sorts of accenting ticks and things which essentially result in about a dozen new letters that look similar to letters we’re used to. It actually sounds a bit like French, when spoken, with many soft consonants and long, open vowels. I would have liked to have had more time to learn it, but three days is not really enough for more than a “dobrý den”, which means “hello”.

The next day we spent exploring, and covered a broad swath of Staré Město, or “old town”. There is a lot to see in Prague, and it competes warmly with Salzburg for the “Most Towers and Spires and Castles and Churches per Walked Foot” award. There were a few highlights, though the whole of the center, as well as a fair radius beyond, was interesting to see, and rich in character.

Týn Church

Týn Church

Streets

Streets

Astronomical Clock

Astronomical Clock

The main square itself had a few key features, including the terribly imposing gothic architecture of Tyn Church, the Town Hall, and the clock tower. The clock tower holds the Astronomical Clock – the third oldest in the world, built in 1410, and the only one of those oldest three still functioning. The clock is quite a marvel of engineering, with more gears and moving wheels and figures than you can shake a stick at. On the hour the bell will sound, a series of figures will move in the little windows, performing The Apostles March, then a real live trumpeter will appear at the top of the clocktower, and play a short tune. Crowds gather in the square to hear him play, then applaud and cheer. This happens every hour between 9AM and 9PM.

Church of St. Nicholas

Church of St. Nicholas

Beyond the square, we visited the Church of St. Nicholas (Kostel svatého Mikuláše). Not the biggest or fanciest in town, but I found it to be one of the most beautiful of our trip.

St. Nicholas interior

St. Nicholas interior

We crossed Charles Bridge (Karlův Most), the most popular in town, especially with the tourist set. It was lined with buskers and artists, but the most entertaining by far was The Bridge Band. There was always a small crowd gathered around this “Dixieland Jazz”-style group of older gents, who were throwing down the tunes pretty well all day long. They’ve got a website, and you can check them out on YouTube. I recommend it.

Charles Bridge gate

Charles Bridge gate

East Bank

East Bank

The Bridge Band

The Bridge Band

On the topic of music, I have been remiss, for several months now, to not have mentioned Dan Child’s blog. He’s the brother of Anne, one of our friends from home, and has recently concluded a RTW trip of his own. His blog is a really great read, and much more entertaining than our own, each post cleverly themed with a music video. The link above goes to my favorite post which is a bit about travel, but mostly a diatribe about Nicolas Cage (also my least favorite actor). I thought if you were reading this than you might enjoy his writing also.

Prague Castle front gates

Prague Castle front gates

Prague Castle seems more like a palace or chateaux, since we didn’t notice any fortifications or military capacity. We saw a “changing of the guard” at the gates, and took a look around at the grounds and gothic cathedral at the center.

Changing of the guard

Changing of the guard

It was certainly huge and fancy, but I still preferred the simplicity of the St. Nicholas interior.

Gothic St Vitus Cathedral

Gothic St Vitus Cathedral

The view from the castle was panoramic, but the weather was not cooperative, so it was difficult to get a nice photo of town. The weather here seems like some of the most tempermental we’ve encountered. Blue skies in the morning would give way to a grey and overcast sheet by the time we hit the bricks, this would be be pushed out again by fierce winds, changing again a moment later to big fluffy clouds.

Strahov Monastery

Strahov Monastery

Town Panorama

Town Panorama

Lion with arms

Lion with arms

A short way past the castle was the Strahov Monastic Brewery, which was very cool, though it didn’t feel quite as authentic as our stop at Augustiner in Salzburg. Their beers were quite nice, but I would have liked to see more monastery and less brewery.

National Museum

National Museum

Back in town we walked the shopping Boulevard called Wenceslas Square, between town hall and the National Museum, where crowds of people window shopped or snacked at stalls selling sausage or crepes or noodles.

Square at night

Square at night

We worked up an appetite our selves, so wandered back to the main square, where we found a restaurant supporting a population of outdoor diners by use of numerous heaters. There we found a nice spot fronting the street and watched the crowds go by while we had another fantastic meal, this time I had a goulash and dumpling dish, and Christina had roast beef and mashed potatos. As we dined the sun set and we had a front row seat as lights were switched on to illuminate the buildings of the square one at a time.

Our show

Our show

The next day we indulged in a nice long sleep-in, then headed back out to see a few bits we had missed. Along the way we stopped at the Národní divadlo theater, and booked a couple of tickets for Jakobín, the opera being played that evening.

Absintherie

Absintherie

We then did another quick tour along the other side of the river, and crossed back again via Charles Bridge. We stopped in for a break at an Absintherie, since this is one of the things for which Prague is famous, and had ourselves a little sample.

No magic inspirations for us...

No magic inspirations for us...

It was tasty enough, and certainly quite strong, but we didn’t partake enough to see any “little green fairies”, or be transformed into brooding Bohemian artists. I did enjoy the process and paraphanalia of it however, something akin to making a martini, I suppose.

We did a little more shopping, then returned home to “freshen up” for the show. Christina had picked up some new boots, lamenting the lack of classy footware appropriate to these colder climes. I wore my trusty jeans & sweater combo, which has gotten a lot of play these last couple of weeks.

Národní divadlo hallway

Národní divadlo hallway

The theater was very much a match for the one we had attended in Vienna. Old world class oozing from every gilded chandelier and sculpted buttress. We had quite good seats, considering the low cost of our tickets (630Kč, or around 25€, or around $35), on the second-level balcony with a great view of the stage, though I found my eyes straining just a little to read the english subtitles printed above the stage.

Czech Theater

Czech Theater

It’s only my second opera, so I’m no expert, but the story seemed to be told in two completely unrelated parts – one being a pretty standard love story, and the other being something like the parable of the “prodigal son”. The principal characters from the two stories had almost no interaction with each other, so it seemed like watching two separate operas, set in the same town, which happened to be occurring concurrently. Confusing plot aside, we enjoyed the show, and appreciated that we got to see an actual Czech opera instead of a translation of something Italian or German.

After the show we had a late dinner at Cafe Louvre, which has been running for over one hundred years and has hosted Franz Kafka, Einstein, and now us. We had a surprisingly good (though not creative) meal, and pretty well shut the place down. With this ends our time in Prague, as in the morning we will be headed out for Berlin, and Germany, the last country on our European leg of the tour.

Oct 22 11

“Dankeschön” Austria

by christina.kronstal
View from our balcony

View from our balcony

The conclusion for our Austria leg had us enjoying the city of Vienna. While it’s hard to deny the bigger city feel from Salzburg, and even more so from Innsbruck, we found ourselves really having fun and taking in some of the cool local activities.

Angella & Rob

Angella & Rob

On our first evening we had joined another couple from our guesthouse, Angella and Rob, for dinner at Cafe Einstein, next to the Rathaus (Town Hall).

Glühwein

Glühwein

It was a pretty cool pub that served authentic Austrian meals and a variety of beers to drink. After dinner, we then went out for Glühwein (mulled wine), a hot drink that’s traditionally made during Christmas.

Rathaus with circus

Rathaus with circus

We bought a couple of rounds from the street stalls that were set up in front of the Rathaus, along with a large circus tent. Angella had mentioned that the street stalls normally wouldn’t be set up until the Christmas Market in November/December, but it was our lucky day, since the vendors were out specifically for the circus. The setup was pretty neat. We first paid for the drink and a deposit on the mug that you use. So, theoretically, you can take your mug to all the other vendors to see who makes the best Glühwein or Punch. And once we were done with our mugs, we simply returned it to the vendor to get our 2€ deposit back.

Parliament

Parliament

By the time we finished our second round, the night was still young, so we hopped on the tram and underground train and found ourselves at Chelsea’s, a 3-room bar that had a pretty good vibe and eclectic crowd. Dan and I got home passed 1am – a record for us!

The following day we started off at St. Stephen’s Cathedral, which had a really interesting (and colorful) rooftop design, which has set it apart from the various other cathedrals we’ve seen in Europe.

Gold statue

Gold statue

St Stephens Cathedral

St Stephens Cathedral

Votive Church

Votive Church

We strolled down Kärntner Straße and window shopped for a bit, only stopping once at hot dog stand, ordering ourselves some asian noodles and käsekrainer (cheesy sausage).

Sacher Cafe

Sacher Cafe

At the end of the pedestrian shopping street we nipped into the Sacher Cafe to order up some tea and the apparently famous Sacher Torte, a chocolate cake with apricot jam filling and exquisitely delightful choolate icing unlike any other we’ve had before. The cafe was really nice too, with plush red seats, fancy silverware, personalized china, and warm red & gold walls.

Mozart statue

Mozart statue

The rest of the afternoon was spent walking past the Albertina (one of the MANY museums around), the Burggarten, Maria-Thersien Platz and the Museums Quartier (which again, had more museums). Most of the old buildings blended into the others, but it was nice to see nonetheless. The evening had us on a ‘date’ to watch La Traviata, an italian opera that was on at the Staatsoper (or Vienna’s State Opera House). We arrived 30 minutes before the show through the ‘Standing Room’ doors and bought ourselves two tickets for 6€, by which we enjoyed the first half of the opera.

Staatsoper (main entrance)

Staatsoper (main entrance)

Date Night

Date Night

Staatsoper (auditorium)

Staatsoper (auditorium)

At the intermission, we decided to leave and read about the ending later because a) We were a little tired of standing, b) We were hungry and c) We didn’t feel so bad, since we only paid 6€. It was a unique experience and worth the trip, and the entry alone at least allowed us to see the inside of the beautiful opera house and observe the well-dressed folk enjoying their night out. We ended the evening with dinner in a restaurant near St. Stephen’s Cathedral.

Market snack

Market snack

Today, we woke up early-ish to check out the Nachtmarkt, a long 1.5km stretch of antique and second hand clothing stalls, as well as a plethora of food stalls that made our mouths water. We broke up the walk by stepping into one of the larger shops/cafes for wine and a tasting platter, full of meats, cheeses, olives, stuffed peppers, and mushrooms & bell peppers drizzled in olive oil.

Ultimate Frisbee - yay!

Ultimate Frisbee - yay!

We then hopped onto the metro to go visit the Schönbrunn Palace, which we eventually did visit after being distracted by a game of ultimate frisbee that we had to stop and watch for a bit.

Schonburgg Palace

Schonburgg Palace

We’re glad we didn’t miss the palace however, because the palatial grounds were pretty amazing – AND it was free to the public.

Children's Choir

Children's Choir

We caught the very end of a children’s choir performance on the back steps of palace, and did the short walk up to the top of the hill, which held the Glorietta – a pretty cool monument of sorts that held a fancy cafe within it.

Glorietta

Glorietta

Rather than going back home to rest (as we normally would around mid-afternoon), we decided to hop back on the metro to go on the other side of town to Prater to check out their amusement park. It’s like any other amusement park really, so we passed up the rides. We did, however buy ourselves a snack of mini donuts, since we figured we missed out on the Calgary Stampede mini donuts this year. :)

Einstein Capuccino

Einstein Capuccino

By the time we were through walking through the large park, we hopped back on the metro to return to Cafe Einstein, where we had our first dinner a couple nights back. It was a really great ‘last meal in Austria’ and were glad of the decision to return. Hopefully this also marks the end to the Arnold Schwarzenegger impressions that Dan’s taken to doing since arriving here. :)
Next stop, Prague.