Wednesday, August 26, 2009


We arrived in Munich on the 2nd without any problem after saying our goodbyes to and leaving Robyn to check-out of our Viennese hotel. We hauled our backpacks about a mile or so down the road to the hostel we had booked with. It was not the prettiest day outside, but at least it wasn't outright raining. The hostel was busy - as hostels usually seem to be - so we patiently waited our turn until we could check-in. By the time we got into our room at 4:00 PM we found it still hadn't been cleaned yet! I suppose there are just too many rooms for the cleaning staff to get to in a timely manner because by the time we got back from dinner a few hours later it was all taken care of. As for dinner, we had first planned on simply going tot he grocery store, but being Sunday no grocery store in a 50 mile radius was open it seemed. Do people not need to eat on Sunday? I guess I'm just set in my American, capitalist, consumer ways is all. So we ended up walking all the way back to the station (luckily without the backpacks this time) in what was now a steady drizzle to find some warm food. I think perhaps that if your hungry with nowhere to go, try the train station. After packing down a few sausages and fries we contentedly head back to the hotel to warm up and relax for the rest of the night.

The 3rd was a day of sight-seeing despite the still-cloudy skies and morning rain. We headed north to see the Glyptothek in the museum district first. It's a big columned archway/building that just looks pretty. The museums next to it are also built with that Roman-column look, so they were kind of pretty too. Next stop was an area (or perhaps just the building) called Residenz. The area around there was more impressive thant he Glyptothek with a huge monument, a big yellow church, a lovely garden area, and the Residenz building itself. It was also much more crowded over here - back at the museum district we saw barely five people. In one of the arcades we were lucky enough to come across a string trio playing some lovely classical classics. The first violinist of the group was really very good and would look around at the crowd with these ice blue eyes and a subtle smile. When she looked right at you it gave you a little shiver and made you want to look away. But she was really good! Difficult and quick passages seemed to effortlessly roll out of her fingers. I thought they deserved a donation so we gave them a bit of money. Yay for us! We did a good deed. Next stop was a market called Viktualienmarkt, but to get there we had to go through the center of the city. It's crowded through there! It reminded me of what I imagine New York is like (I have to just imagine, because I sadly have not actually been to New York). We saw a tall spire down one ally so checked outt he church it belonged to. It wasn't as old-world impressive as any of the other churches we've seen, but the height of the ceilings was immense and the bleeding, wounded Christs positioned around the place was interesting. Somewhat macabre, no? Viktualienmarkt, once we got there, was very cool. It's a great combination of fresh food and cooked food; fish and meat, veggies and fruits, dried fruits, big iced cookies, small and large decorations for the house or garden, plants, olives, vinegars, etc. I have to say, the marketplaces in Europe are pretty awesome, but always a bit pricey of course. We discovered here the one liter beer. It is a massive monster of a beer and so much fun to drink! It just feels so quintessentially German to hold that giant mug to your lips and dip your nose in the frothy head as you take that first swig. That was what we had been looking for in Germany! We only split the beer, which was a good idea because I'm pretty sure I would have been asleep had I drunk a whole liter on my own. Along with beer we tried a local favorite called Leberkase which is this sort of... spam-like slice of pork eaten on a bread roll. It's pretty good, with a texture to the meat that's just a tad odd to me. We also got a freshly baked pretzel, still hot fromt he ovent hat was very good. Oh, in this market area is a whole bunch of tables that you're free tos it at with your own food or market-bought food. And the place is so crowded that you're pretty much guaranteed to end up sitting at a table with perfect stangers. If you're lucky they'll talk to you, or you just sit next to eat other minding your own conversations. Either way it's pretty neat! It's not too common to fidn that sort of arrangement in the States, but in Europe we've run across it at a number of places. It's a good way to meet people as we discovered on our last day in the city. But after we had spent too much money on market food we walk to the park where Oktoberfest is held each year to see the Statue of Bavaria. The park was already being prepared for Oktoberfest and had a bunch of construction going on. A bunch of big buildings were being made and it looked like it would be home to a lot of beer drinking! The Statue of Bavaria, despite being surrounded by the unattractive scenes of construction work, was impressive. The best comparison would be to the Statue of Liberty, but not quite as big. You could even go inside the statue and climb to the top - for a fee of course. Always for a fee. We, of course, chose not to do this, finding the statue a cool enough sight. But we were very tired by now with sore feet and aching backs. Time to head back to the hotel and be lazy for the rest of the night.

Next day we woke up bright and early at 7:00 AM - we've been bad with staying up late and waking up between 9:00 and 10:00, so 7:00 was early for us! We headed tot he train station to try and get on the tour to Dachau. Dachau is a nearby concentration camp and one of the important ones from what the guide told us. Apparently Auschwitz was built with the same exact layout as Dachau and pretty much all of the brutal camp leaders spent some time training in Dachau. Dachau wasn't used as a death camp, though. I mean, 32,000 people died there, and they did have gas chambers, but they weren't used en-mass like at some other camps. I think it was actually the first camp to be built and became their prototype. And of course, terrible things happened there. So much brutality and inhumanity... But it was good? Or interesting? I can't think of quite the right word to describe it. It was something worth seeing though. On our tour was a family with two young children, one maybe 3 or 4, the other perhaps 6 years old. The younger one, a little girl, was firstly fascinated by all the pebbles that are used as ground cover for the place and I saw her picking up and pocketing pebbles she had decided were particularly nice a few times. It was cute. And there was a silent film showing scenes from the camp, mainly extrememly starved dead bodies staring blankly into space. She was on her fathers shoulders and not long into the video began asking "Are those people-" But was cut of by a "shhh" from her father before she could finish. I think she was going to ask if they were dead which is an odd thing to hear from a 4 years old's mouth. I hope Dad later talked to her about it a bit because I can only imagine the confusion that would be going on in her mind, especially since my 27 year old mind was shocked by what I was seeing. Later I heard another conversation between her and her mother as we were heading to see the gas chambers. The girl had figured out that people had gone into the chambers and breathed a bad gas that made them die, but she told her Mom in a matter of fact tone that "Well, they shouldn't have breathed." Mom told her that they had to breathe, they couldn't help but to breathe. So the little girl decided "Well, they should have breathed through their noses." It was very sweet and a bit disturbing and sad to hear this little girl's thoughts on how these people might have saved themselves, if only they had breathed through their noses. I thought it was good they brough their kids to see the camp, I just hope they made sure to have some conversations about it later. Here in Germany it's actually a school requirement that school kids see a concentration camp at some point. And the guide told us about the political situation at the time that the camp came about and I couldn't help but draw some scary parallels between their situation and our current one in America. It was definitely an enlightening visit. After we got back from the tour we took a break in teh hotel fro a few hours then headed back out again. This time we headed to the West side of the city to the Hirschgarten. It's an authentic beer garden and was really cool! It's set up like how I described that market area from the previous day, so there are a bunch of long tables set up in a big open area, some trees covering overhead here and there. We went to order a liter beer (we like the liter) and wee motioned around the side of the shack to pick out our beer mug. They had about three, six foot tall sets of shelves packed with clean beer mugs, and next to that was a big outdoor sink where you could rinse out your mugs to prepare for the next round. You get to clean your own beer mugs! So we managed to get our beer, and for some reason we also got a big of an evil from the keg-master... I hate it when we get the evil eye - but evil eyes are a fact of life I suppose. It didn't stop us from enjoying our crisp, tasty, cold beer. And as we were finishing up we noticed there was a fenced in area with about 10 deer just grazing peacefully not 3 feet from people sitting nearest the fence. Some had full heads of antlers as well as a few small babies. We left the Hirschgarten and headed north to Schloss Nymphenburg. It's a big castle comples similar to the Shonbrunn Park in Vienna. In fact, the layout and look of the building was almost exact. They had a very, very long garden out back with a long pond. We didn't want to walk anymore though, so didn't make it to the end. Instead we sat by a smaller pond, under a big trees whose drooping boughs completely enclosed us and fed crumbs to some cute ducks. There were two kinds of ducks and one was constantly giving dirty looks to and chasing after the other. There was a little baby too who just swam back and forth peeping over and over. He was cute.

The 5th was the day we checked out of our hotel. But since we were taking a night train to Paris we had a whole day to kill with no hotel to hang out in. We rented a big locker at the train station for €5 and went back to Viktualienmarkt. We got our favorite one liter beer, a huge pretzel, and searched for an empty seat in the very crowded sea of tables. We were very lucky in our seat choice because we ended up next to two very friendly older men who could only really speak to us in German. Manuel was the more outspoken of the two and just started a conversation that we could hardly understand, embellishing with hand signals. Chuck's German is actually pretty good and he understood more than double what I could, so he was the one to do most of the talking, then would turn to me and give me a quick overview. After a bit we figured out where everyone was from and turns out Manuel is actually Spanish and Emilio is Italian! And Manuel told us that Emilio plays the piano very, very well and sings like Frank Sinatra while Emilio sat back shaking his head "No, no" with an embarassed smile. Emilio even had a CD of him performing he showed us! I wish I could remember the full name on the CD, although I don't think I'd be able to find it anywhere - it was just a step above home-made. And they offered us some of their cheese to taste and when we liked it they insisted we take the last little chunk with us. I tried to object but Emilio literally forced it into my hand. And once Manuel realized Chuck also speaks a bit of Spanish as well he would talk to him in German and Spanish all mixed together. Chuck says it completely threw his mind for a loop. After a couple of hours we said our goodbyes and headed our separate ways, except that our separate ways ended up running into each other at the edge of the market. I think I may have inadvertantly been rude to them because they said something with the words "coffee" and "expensive" while pointing off down a street and I took it to mean that they were suggesting a nearby coffee shop to us. I made a face at the "expensive" part and shook my head no and we went our separate ways again after another quick goodbye. Chuck syas he thinks they were atually inviting us along with them for coffee! And I went and made a face at their invitation!! I hope they realize that I really wasn't trying to be rude - I just misunderstood what they were saying. Stupid language barrier. As we headed off this time we did not run into them again, but I did run into a fruit stand selling lychees. I didn't literally run into it... But I did buy a few lychees. We eventually ended up back at that Residenz park where we took a seat on the grass and watched people for a few hours. A quintet set up in the arcade near us and started playing: flute, piano (yes, they dragged a large piano into the arcade), violin, cello, and bass. We stayed there listening until the sun had moved far enough behind the building that we were getting chilly, then headed back to the train station. On the way we saw two more string groups, one of which was the same one we had seen on our first day out. That violinist with the piercing eyes. At the station we putzed around with nothing to do but wait. We still had about 10 hours until our train left so we were rather bored... I noticed that a lot of people would go from garbage can to garbage can collecting any bottles that had been thrown away. They didn't look homeless either. They then take the bottles to the bottle-return machine where they get a few cents per bottle. I don't know how much exactly per bottle, but no more than €0.10 I woudl think. That's not such a bad return I suppose. We ended up at Starbucks (located in the station) after a while, then moved on to Burger King where the internet was free. I overheard the conversation of a group of three people our age sitting behind us that was interesting. They were discussing love and relationships and marriage. The one girl seemed to basically have the fairy tale idea of love: it should last forever; if you love her you should marry her; you should always be happy in your relationship if you're in love; you can't control falling in love; etc. Only one of the two guys was really involved in the conversation and his views were more like: marriage doesn't equal love; sometimes you can be unhappy with your relationship but if you stick through it you may end up happy once again; you can control whether or not you fall in love by choosing to associate with, or not to associate with someone you're beginning to have feelings for. Anyways, I found their conversation an interesting one! After we left Burger King to wait on the train platform I realized I didn't have my sweater. After some thought and discussion we figured out that we left it in Starbucks on the window sill. They were, of course, closed by this point, so there was no way I was going to be getting my sweater back. I was actually a bit upset! I remember buying that thing at H&M in San Francisco when my Mom and sister came to visit. Robyn didn't really like it at the time but she wore it a few years later and liked it! It was a bit of a memory sweater is all. Ah well, au revoir my sweet little sweater! To Paris we go.

Some things I noticed in Munich are that people stare at you. Chuck has noticed this since we got to Europe, but I only really started to notice it in Munich. On a few occasions people would ride by on their bike and as they passed their head would turn full around to continue looking at us behind them. What the heck?? Why are they staring?? Do I have food on my face? Did I sit in wet paint? I don't get it. But they like to stare... And the grocery stores are closed on Sundays which makes things difficult if you didn't plan ahead. And you have to be careful about the type of bottled water you get! While our Dachau tur group was waiting to get on the train after the tour a woman pulled out a big bottle of water and opened it up to have it fizz out all over her and even a few people close to her. "Sorry, sorry," she yelled. "I thought it was still!" We've made that mistake a few times already - not the fizzing all over us part, but the getting the wrong water part. So we have to make sure we remember to look for the word "still" on the bottle. If the company wasn't kind enough to translate then shake the bottle up and if bubbles collect at the top for more than two seconds it's soda water. Soda water just isn't nearly as refreshing as still. And it's difficult to find cold drinks. You may get excited at finding a refrigerated section of drinks only to find that someone has neglected to plug the thing in. But over all, Munich was a pretty decent place.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


Warning: There are a lot of pictures and writings about Vienna! You might want to get yourself a coffee (or tea as I prefer) and settle in for a bit.

Ah, Vienna. Vienna was lovely, although we were a little concerned when we arrived at the train station because of all the construction going on. But we've learned not to judge a place by it's train station - it's usually not a very good indicator. For example, Torquay had a very run-down station but a beautiful little city. So we arrived at the station, waited 1.5 hours for Robyn, and all headed off via the U-Bahn to our hotel. The U-Bahn is basically German for "subway," in case you were curious. So we took the U-Bahn, got a tad lost on the way to the hotel but made it in one piece. Our hotel was pretty darn nice! As it should have been, it was friggin expensive (by our standards). It was either €60 for a crappy hostel or €74 for a very nice hotel. I decided we should splurge a bit... We had a bathtub (which Robyn made good use of), AC, internet, and even free tea and coffee in the lounge. Tea and coffee is super-common in the UK, even inside the hotel rooms, but it's hard to come by in Europe. After settling in we decided we needed to see some sights that very evening as we were only staying two nights. Our hotel was right next to a big palace complex called Schönbrunn Park. It's one of a few palaces that the Habsburg family (the dynastic rulers of Austria) used. It's also where Mozart and Salieri had a famous musical competition. We snuck into a "no public access" area and saw the very hall where they would ahve performed! Ok, so when I say "snuck" I mean that we wandered in and didn't realize it was actually a "restricted are" until we saw the sign on the way out. But they did leave the door wide open to the place, so it can't have been a big deal. The whole palace complex is really impressive. There's a giant, open courtyard with a couple of fountains where you first enter. Then you make your way up to the large, long building in front of you and head to the gardens out back. The gardens are all manicured into groups of different colored flowers making up large designs on the ground. Surrounding the gardens on all sides are wooded parks that have fountains, gazeebos, more gardens, and even a labyrinth. And straight down the path leading from the main building is a large pond with a grand fountain at it's head. Unfortunately the fountain wasn't on while we were there, but I can imagine it's lovely. And if you head up the hill past the fountain you come to the Gloriette. The Gloriette is another building that is covered in columns and pillars and carvings and big glass windows. It sits at the top of the hill just looking beautiful. You can pay to go up to the roof where there's a balcony with what I imagine are great views, but just standing on the hill gives you great views already so we chose to stay on solid ground. You can see the whole city, with rooftops spread out all the way to the hills. You can also see the designs made with the flowers from the garden below which is fun since you can't see them while you're standing right next to the garden. It's worth the climb up that hill to see the views! We walked through some of the parkland and made our way to the Orangerie for a look. It seemed to be in the process of renovation so there wasn't much to see there. After all the walking we were ready for food so we decided on an Italian/Austrian place nearby. We spent too much money (beers in Austria are no longer $0.50 like in the Czech Republic, boo) and headed back to the hotel for the night.

Day two (or day one depending on how you look at it I suppose) was crammed with things to do. First was a tour of the Vienna State Opera House. The building is fairly impressive from the outside and inside, although perhaps not as grand as one might expect. We learned why on the tour we took. Back in WWII, 80% of the place was destroyed by some American bombardment - eeps. When they rebuilt everything it was during the 50's and they didn't have money like back in the days of the Emperors reign, so they couldn't afford to make it as grand as it was before. We saw a few intermission halls (where people hang out during intermission, duh) that showed the difference between the original and the rebuilt sections of the building really well. One was oozing with detail - every surface was ridged with gold trim, the ceilings and walls were painted with different scenes or patterns, two opulent fireplaces topped with mirrors, busts of 20 or so composers built into the top of the walls, etc. Compare that with one of the rebuilt halls that was lined in marble with a simple ceiling and 50's style wall murals and furnishings. Still elegant, but certainly on a different level than the previous hall. When we saw the theatre itself it was actually some what anticlimactic. It's quite small compared to other theatres we've been to such as the Royal Albert Hall, or even the Kravtiz Center back in Palm Beach. Actually, I want to call it a very small auditorium. And it too was rebuilt after the war, so it's not as extravagant as it one was. I saw a "before" picture at their museum and it looked as though it was pretty incredible back in it's day. Stupid wars! They ruin beautiful, important, historical things. So unfortunate. We also saw the backstage area. Well, maybe I should say "we saw the stage from the side wings." It sounds like they have a pretty good hydrolic system of lifts and platforms for moving sets around. There are a bunch of big platforms on the stage that lower 12 meters underground so they can quickly get sets off stage. And there's a system set up for lifting backdrops up into the ceiling 12 meters so they're hidden from view too. It was a good tour I thought. After the tour we saw their museum which houses a few costumes, props, and manscripts from various performances. Nothing noteworthy though, although Robyn did find a picture of the singer whose master class she'll be taking on the "wall of fame." Kinda cool. Next we tried to check out another theatre called the Musikverein, but it was closed for the day! I think they have some original manuscripts from a few composers and have had a number of famous "first showings" there. Too bad it was closed... So we moved on and passed by a big, beautiful church called the Karlskirche. The highlight there was a little dog swimming in the pond out front. Everytime his paw made a big splash he would start barking as he tried to bite the flying water. So cute! We also saw that make-out couple from the train I mentioned in the previous blog. They walked on through the square there, hand in hand. How weird!

We tried to find another theatre next: the Freihuas. A very kind resident stopped to ask us if we needed help (because we had our noses buried in a map) and pointed us in the right direction, yet we still didn't manage to actually find it. It would have been neat to see where Mozart's Magic Flute was supposed to have premiered, but instead we found a busy street market filled with fruit and vegetable stands, oil and vinegar stands, dried fruits and nuts, butchers, fishmongers, drinks, food, etc. It was a great market! I wish we had more places like that in the US. At the end of the market was an interesting building called Secession Building. It's just fun because of the big "fluffy" gold sphere on it's roof. So we snapped a few pictures as we passed by on our way to the Hofburg Palace complex. Like Schönbrunn Park, it's made up of a bunch of buildings used by the Habsburg family and is massive. I don't know what all the different buildings were but I know that the National Library and the Crown Jewels are in the area. We even saw a horse drawn carriage with what I think was a freshly married bride and groom, still in their wedding get-up. Over the tops of the buildings we could see the tall, intricate spires of what we assumed was a huge church in the distance. We decided to follow the spires and see what it was. Walking through a few small parks we eventually found ourselves in front of the spired building, surrounded by lively music and a host of temporary little restaurant stands. Wondering what on earth the big event was, we discovered a giant projection screen set up right in front of the building (which we discovered was City Hall) with hundreds of chairs and bleachers for watching. Turns out it was for the Music Film Festival where they show different operas and ballets outside in the evening during the summer. I assume you just come early, claim a chair, and eat dinner and have drinks while watching an opera on the screen. How friggin cool is that!!! We vowed to come back at 9:00 to see the ballet that was playing that night, but we never did make it. We were so beat by the time we got to the hotel... But there's still lots to tell you about before I get to the end of the day!

So next was Beethoven Pasqualatihaus. It's supposed to be where Beethoven lived a few years of his life and where he composed his 4th, 5th, 7th, and 8th symphonies, as well as Fidelio and Fur Elise. In actuality, the museum is not in the same apartment he would have lived in and pretty much all the items on display were not originals. Oh well, it's the idea that counts I guess? It was still neat to see what sort of place he would have lived in. I have to feel sorry for him if he was there in the summer because it was ridiculously hot! It would have been miserable sitting around in the heat of the summer composing at your piano in a stuffy little apartment. But maybe to escape the heat he might have attended the nearby church that we went to next: Votivkirche. Nothing special, just looked pretty. After that we took the U-Bahn to yet another church called Stephansdom. We got to go inside this one, although we couldn't go any further than the last row of seats unless we paid for a tour. This church is home to the catacombs that house the innards of the Habsburg deceased. Apparently when they died they had their hearts entombed at one church, their innards at another, and their bodies at yet another church. So Stephansdom was home to their innards. I would have so liked to see them too, but the catacombs were closed that day. Mozart House was the next stop and after much debate we decided to buy tickets and check it out. To be honest it was fairly boring. Like at Beethoven's house, pretty much everything was a reproduction - there were a lot of photocopies housed in glass cases. The audio tour was pretty dry, so that didn't add much to the experience either. The only actually interesting part was the house it was in. It was actually where Mozart had lived and walked and eaten and composed. The views outside were the views he would have looked at. We walked in his very footsteps! By the time we were done walking in his footsteps, our feets were very tired, but we pushed on and saw one last church: Dominikanerkirche. From the outside it looks pretty boring, but inside it's incredible with all it's sculpted walls and ceilings covered with paintings. We were there during some sort of service I think because they were just chanting over and over together. There were only about seven people, but they were dedicated. One would say a phrase (the woman who was the "leader" had a very croaky voice, like a witch as Robyn put it) and then they would all repeat it. Over and over. I know hardly anything about my own upbringing in the Methodist church, so I certainly don't know anything about Catholicism, which is what I assume their religion was. We were so tired, but still managed to go to the train station to buy advance tickets to our next stop, Munich, and kebaps (aka gyros). We made it back to the hotel by 7:00PM or so. That would mean that we were out and about from 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM. Maybe it's just me, but that's a long day! And we never made it to the Zentralfriedhof which is the cemetary where Beethoven, Brahms, Gluck, Salieri, Schmidt, Schoenburg, Schubert, and the whole Strauss family are buried or commemorated. We said we would go early the next morning before we checked out, but that didn't happen!

I have to say that shops closing at 6:00 PM is getting on my nerves. I get hungry after 6:00! I want food! But they're not open, gah. And there's still this thing where you don't cross the street unless the green walk signal is lit. There can be no cars in sight and yet people will stand there and wait for the walk signal. Robyn made me laugh by saying that crossing without a signal is like "walking around topless" in the states. I guess it's just a taboo thing to do! As for Vienna, it's certainly a bustling town with a lot of old buildings still standing. It's like the whole city is a historic district. It's a really beautiful city though, and it deserved more than one day to see it all. But I say we did a whole lot in our 1.5 days...

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


The train to Brno (in the East of the Czech Republic) was a very nice one, so it figured that we had to pay extra for a "reservation" on top of our ticket. So I was bummed about having to fork over more money for that. But it got us to Brno safe, sound, and comfortable. Once we arrived we discovered that they don't seem too keen on using street signs so found it a bit difficult to find our hotel. Somehow we made it without too much trouble and went to check in. After a bit of searching for our reservation we realized we had accidentaly booked the hotel for the two nights prior. I felt silly about that but she was very nice and said she would just switch it to the days we wanted and it was no biggie. In fact - you know when you make a reservation and don't show up they typically charge you for at least one night? Well, they applied that one-night charge to our current stay so that we didn't over pay. It was very nice of them! And the staff was all very nice too. Just to give them a little plug for their generosity: Hotel Europa in Brno, CZ. Nice, modern, clean rooms, with AC, internet, TV (no English channels though), and bathtub. I recommend it if you're ever in Brno! Oh, and good breakfast. So yeah, we checked in, took a brief rest and Chuck was ready to go back out. He charted a little course through the city that took us by notable sights on the way to the supermarket. First stop was St. Thomas' Church, which wasn't really too special, followed by some Czech hot dogs. They're like a corndog without the stick, and instead of cornbread it's made with just an uncut hotdog bun. They have a spike the size of a hotdog that they jam the bread onto so it makes a hotdog-shaped hole down the middle. Then they dip the hotdog in mustard and slide it into the bun. It's a clever way to have a non-messy hotdog! As we ate we wandered by another church - the Red Church. We were even fortunate enough to see some interesting parenting styles. A mother ripped down the pants of her 1 or 2 year old daughter and held her in the air in a sitting position and yelled at her to pee right there on the sidewalk as the girl cried. We just shared a glance and passed on by that situation. We had to haul ourselves up a big hill to see the Spilberk Castle. It's in the middle of a lovely green park at the top of a rather steep hill and has some incredible views of the surrounding city. The castle itself isn't anything ancient - well, it was originally built in the 13th century but was redone in the 18th century. It's pretty though. And after that we saw the New Town Hall, the Old Town Hall, the Vegetable Market, and finally Freedom Square. Brno seems to be a nice city with nice people. It's not very exciting in terms of immpressive things to see, but it makes for a nice little visit.

We didn't do much during the day on the 30th. It was really hot in Brno which meant that doing anything at all made you feel very icky. But we did manage to get out for more of those Czech hotdogs. In the evening we went to a restaurant called Středověká krčma. It had a medieval theme and the staff were all dressed up in themed outfits. The place was in the basement and was made of all brick with a charred ceiling. For the second time ever I got to drink some mead. It was tasty, if not quite sweet. But I like sweet drinks so it was perfect. And Chuck's beer was half mead, half beer which makes for a kind of sweet beer. My onion soup was very good, but rather salty. And Chuck's duck was delicious but a bit dry. We ended up with a ton of food - more than we could eat! Duck, dumplings, saurkraut, red cabbage, apples, oranges. And the waitress - gah, I can't take it! Ok, I'm on the train writing this and there is a couple sitting right across from us that's making me want to vomit! They're sitting across from each other and are scooted to the edges of their seats so their legs are all entwined and he's running his hand all over her legs and they're constantly kissing and making smoochy noises! I mean, at first it's all "Awww," but after 15 minutes it's more like "Oh my God, stop it!" And to top it all off she's wearing this really flimsy, revealing top and keeps very nearly exposing herself. Ok, sorry, just had to rant about that. Where was I? Oh, the waitress. She didn't speak a lick of English, but with a slightly embarrassed smile she tried her best to communicate with us. She just seemed like a really sweet lady to me for some reason. And our bill came to a total of 666 Kč (Czech crowns)! An evil number. But nothing terrible happened to us that night, so no harm. Unless you consider it evil that the bar Chuck wanted to take us to was closed. The restaurant made for a good enough night, though.

By the way, they're still making out.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


Our train ride from Berlin to Prague was an ordeal. The train was late to begin with, and then we discovered that it was extrememly overbooked. We and about four other people in our car were left without seats and had to stand - or sit on the floor as we ended up doing. Some of the other cars were even worse. We were on that train for two hours before they had everyone switch at one stop to another train. We managed to grab a seat fro the last two hours of the trip, thank goodness! Once we got to the Prague station we looked for Robyn because she had decided to meet us in Prague for a few days. Did I mention that she's in Austria at the moment for a music program? So that's why she was able to meet us in Prague, although her trip was about twice as long as ours. We all walked the two miles or so the the hotel along busy roads, narrowly missing being hit by a tram and a few cars along the way. We stayed at a cute little place called Casa Italia that had a cooker - er, stove top I mean - which was nice because we got to cook some hot food! And that's exactly what we did our first night there. We cooked up soem sausages, onions, and peppers and drank some Czech beer.

On the 26th we headed out to see the city. Well, first we had to figure out the subway system, mainly how to get tickets. After wandering aroudn trying to find the corner shop that sells 24 hour tickets we realized we had already found it, except they don't actually sell 24 hour tickets. But that ended up being a good thing as we realized we could buy single use tickets for less than 1/5 the price. So unless you're going to hop on the subway more than five times a day you're better off with single trips. So we made it to Musek station after all that and headed towards Old Town Square. The streets we walked along wer lined with shops and people and big food stands with sausages hanging from the ceiling. We saw what's known as Powder Tower on the way - a dark tower covered in nice sculpted details with an arch for cars to pass through at ground level. We also saw a kino, or movie theater that was showing Harry Potter and had a huge Harry Potter themed cardboard enterance set up in front of the door. I had to get a picture with it... And Robyn had to check what times it was playing because she still hadn't seen the movie yet. Eventually, after passing through some cute back-street allies we ended up in Old Town Square. It was absolutely packed with people! They were all there, like us, to see Tyn Church and the Astronomical Clock. Along with those two incredible buildings were shops and cafes and a big copper-turned-green statue. The buildings surrounding the square weren't quite as immpressive as those we saw in Brussels, but I thought they were still very pretty. I liked the pastel colors they were painted. After checking out the square and looking into a pretty church Robyn got a sweet treat that we all shared. I don't even know what it's called, but it was the size and shape of a tube bracelet, made of a pretzel-like dough covered in sugar. They had a rack of them over a fire, spinning on... rolling pins for lack of a better word. It was tasty. We headed towards Prague Castle next, which was across the river from where we were. We got a nice view of the Charles Bridge along the way. We didn't plan on going into the castle, just to see it from a distance. Once our castle-seeing was fulfilled we stopped in a pub for a beer. It was different because we didn't get to pick what beer we got We just said "Three beers" and he got us the house special. No choosing! But it was a nice break form all the walking. We headed back across the river via the Charles Bridge, seeing an interesting fountain of two men peeing along the way. The Charles Bridge was packed with tourists, vendors, and performers trying to earn a buck. We decided it was lunch time and found our way back to a good looking restaurant we had passed earlier in the day. Boy was it good! We all split three meals: roast duck with dumplings, beef in cream sauce with dumplings, and roast pork knee. The pork knee was immpressive! Chuck had told me before about a restaraunt he went to whne he went tot he Czech Republic a year ago and how he was served a pork platter on a wooden cutting board. Well this was the same thing. It was served on a wooden cutting board with some vegetables, mustard, and grated raw horseradish. And the dumplings that came with the beef and duck were good too. I looked it up to see how the Czech dumpling is made. Basically it's bread that is cooked in boiling water or heavy steam, then sliced and resteamed to moisten the inside of the bread. It's especially good when paired with whatever meat your eating. So that was a very good lunch for us. After that we did even more walking over to Wenceslas Square which wasn't as cool as the name makes it sound. The only thing there is a nice big statue and their Natural history Museum. I mean, they're nice and all, but it's not like Old Town Square. We were honestly beat by this point and deciding to go home. Robyn decided she would go sit and watch Harry Potter and meet us back at the hotel. I was a tad nervous about her wandering around Prague all on her own, even though I knew she'd be fine! And of course, she was fine. She showed up at the hotel a few hours later with not a scratch on her and we all had a home cooked meal again - this time some pasta concoction. It was a long day!

The next day Robyn left by noon and Chuck and I twiddled our thumbs for most of the day. Chuck knows someone from online that lives in Prague and had been chatting with her about possibly meeting up. So we ended up going out with her that night to a hookah bar called Karma Lounge. It was a really cool place in my opinion. It was in the basement of one of the many old buildings in the city and had these wide brick arches along the ceiling that added to it's character. The mood was nice and relaxed and they played good music. Music you could dance to. And people were dancing which was fun to watch. Some of them danced... well, let's say it was amusing to watch them. And others were good dancers. One couple danced for about two hours straight. Besides watching people dane, we got a hookah and some sodas and just sat and chatted for a couple of hours. The hookah was a nice big one too, probably two feet tall. And one of the friends of the girl who took us out was an American guy who had apparently gone to Prague and liked it so much he just stayed. How crazy is that?? That must be a nice state of mind to be able to live in. It was a greta night! Very cool to see what the "people of Prague" do when they go out. It's actually petty much like what people do back at home really. Just go out and enjoy each others company. People are basically the same wherever you go I think.

The 28th was supposed to be a zoo day, but I just was not feeling it. I wasn't feeling anythig really. We tried to go to the zoo anyways but the map was all weird and we couldn't figure out how the heck we were supposed to get there. After walking around for 30 minutes nd getting nowhere we looked into go to see the Prague Metronome. But we didn't have enough money in coins and I didn't feel like buying an over-priced, warm soda to get change just to get the 75 minute subway ticket. So I gave up on it all and we decided to go back to the hotel. Sad, I know. But on the upside, we made goulash (the Czech version) and dumplings for dinner. And dessert was vanilla ice cream with cut up apples, nectarines, and oranges. We also managed to get our train tickets to our next stop while we were out, so it wasn't a completely useless day.

I have to say, I liked Prague. Maybe it helped that Robyn spent a day there with us and that we went out with a local, but Prague seemed pretty alright. And the beer is super cheap there! I don't know how it can be so cheap... A bottle of beer that costs US $0.75 is on the pricey side. A lot of beers are about US $0.50. And it's not like it's all bad beer, most of it's pretty decent. You just have to watch out for the sneaky, cheap non-alcoholic beer. We ended up buying a few of those on accident. Another sneaky beverage is the soda water. You really have to pay attention to what you're getting or you'll end up with a bottle of soda water instead of regular still water. We made that mistake a couple times too. Actually, we'll probably continue that make that mistake. Another interesting thing about the Czech Republic is that they mostly use their origianl currency, the krown. Some places will accept Euros, but most only seem to use Krowns. And since 1 krown is about 5-6 US cents, you frequently are paying 200-300 krowns for whaqtever you're buying. I even had a 2000 krown note at one point! It was like I was rich! It's a bit difficult to get used to working in currency that large. It feels like you're spending a ton of money.

Saturday, August 1, 2009


First, I wanted to make sure people know basically how to use the image webpage I have all the pictures on. I know it's a bit busy, but I like it because of the mapping feature mainly. I like being able to store where I took a picture exactly! But for some reason they like to make their system complicated. So you're looking at my blog and you click on the big collection of pictures from the day you want to view *Click* This takes you to my other webpage where the pictures are stored. If you just want to look through all the pictures from that day then click on the very first picture *Click* To flip through the pictures use the BACK button - the one that points to the left. And not the big round ones on the right side of the page above the map, but the smaller square ones above the photo. For some reason the BACK button takes you forward through the photos. The round buttons above the map are used for looking at other peoples photos from the same area. And if you want a larger version of my picture, click on the image again and you can see the full size. Hope that helps people if they were getting confused or annoyed!

We spent three days in Berlin. The main train station is a pretty big place so it was a bit confusing just trying to find our way out of there, and then the walk to our hotel was really long. But we passed by the huge Berlin Victory Column and the green fields and trees of Tiergarten Park. And bathing in the gentle caress of the afternoon sun, on the green grass not far from the sidewalk was a naked man. A naked man, in the park, on the side of a busy road, in the middle of Berlin, buck naked. Crazy! We looked it up once we arrived at the hotel and discovered that parts of the park are designated as places you're allowed to lay around nude. Kinda cool actually. We were also harrassed on the way to the hotel by people who would just cme up to you and ask "Speak English?" We managed to avoid whatever schtick they were running by staring blankly at them as we passed by, but they were all over the city. One even had a baby breastfeeding and her shirt pulled allt he way up as she walked around asking "Speak English?" Once we finally made it to the hotel and got our roo I headed straight to the bathroom. I must have eaten something bad or gotten some sort of bug because I was in there frequently for the rest of the night! It was bound to happen some time! So we just went to the store to get some food for the evening and stayed in. Our room was on the 5th or 6th floor and looked out across the roofs and sides of other buildings. One of the places nearby was a tall Mercedes building. On the top was a gigantic Mercedes symbol that slowly spins round and round all day and all night. It also lights up at night and it's quite bright. The light shone perfectly into our room and as it spun the light would dim and then get bright again, dim, bright, dim, bright. I found the whole thing to be too amusing to actually be annoying. It didn't really bother us all that much.

The next day - the 22nd - we started the morning with food from one of the food stands that are set up outside the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church each day. We tried a curry worst, which seems to be a popular Berlin food. As far as I could tell it was a sausage sprinkled with curry powder. Sounds simple, but it's surprisingly tasty. We looked at the church as well, which is beautiful in its halfway fallen apart state. The inside is covered in gorgeous frescos (I think they're called frescos - maybe I should call them mosaics, I dunno) depicting religious scenes and seemingly important people. And what historicl site would be complete without a gift shop? So yes, there was a gift shop as well. Oh, and outside we saw a kid that looked just like Ron Weasly! Poor guy. Although I always thoght Ron was cute. But after the church we walked back to see the Victory Column we had passed by the day before. It's a huge thing - 66 meters tall - with a big gold angel at the top. Apparently it was made to commemorate the Prussian victory in the Danish-Prussian War back around the 1870's. Then Hitler had it moved from it's original location to where it is today which is probably a good thing because it's old home was destroyed during WWII. And then the French wanted to demolish the thing after the war was over because of Hitler moving it to some Nazi-significant spot, but the British and Americans talked them out of it. Wow, see all the info you can find on wikipedia? What a great site! Back to Berlin though - we also walked around the big park known as Tiergarten. We saw some more naked people, and wouldn't you know it they were all men. I'm not surprised as I saw a girl laying out in a bikini have her picture sureptitiously taken by some giggling city gardener. Ick. We rested in the hotel for a bit then headed out for dinner. We found a sort of "fast food" pasta place that was alright. Oh, we did some people watching that night out our hotel window. We saw everything from people having sex to people going to the bathroom for 20 minutes, all behind frosted glass and thin curtains. It certainly made me think twice about how much people can see when you think they can't...

We went to another food stand by the church for breakfast. I got what's called a boulette (basically a more flavorful hamburger patty) and Chuck got some rostbratwurst. I still haven't figured out what all these sausage names mean. We wandered down the street a bit and saw an interesting "wiggly" sculpture. Otherwise the morning was pretty boring. But at about 4:00 PM we headed out again this time to east Berlin. First stop was Checkpoint Charlie. Checkpoint Charlie is the most well known checkpoint that existed between East and West Germany. The little checkpoint building that's standing there today isn't the original one - I think that's in a museum now - but the replica is still pretty neat. I have to say though, that the plain Berlin wall is more profound than Checkpoint Charlie. Parts of the wall are still standing here and there, just plain, flat walls of concrete. We went to a section known as Berliner Mauer which, along with a simple monument still has a section of wall where both walls are standing. I guess some sectios of the Berlin Wall had a sort of "dead zone" as I like to call it - the area between two walls that you would have to survive running through to make it to the other side. Even today you can only see this "dead zone" through a crack in the wall. So the Berlin Wall was interesting. After that we went to Museum Island where a number of government museums are housed. It was Thursday night which is when government museums are free to the public - coincidence or Sarah's meticulous planning? Hmmm. So we saw a bit of the Altes Museum, but mainly spent our time in the Altes National Gallerie. We even saw a few Monets! Nothing I recognized though. As you might guess, it was an art museum, full of paintings by people I'd never heard of (besides Monet). I was never schooled in the art of art so I didn't have a great capacity for appreciation, but I did like looking at each piece as I went by. As we walked back to the tram station we got to take a look at the various museums. They're all beautiful buildings, one of the most beautiful and impressive being the Berliner Dom. It isn't actually a museum, but a church and a big one. Just a big beautiful church!

Our last day we had planned on going to the zoo, but it rained all morning unfortunately. By the time the rain had finished there wasn't much time left to the day. We decided to go out to one of the nearby restaurants for dinner instead. When we left the hotel it was looking a bit dark outside and after a bit of walking we realized the sky was a smoky red color. We joked about how Armegeddon was coming as it started to rain. It seemed people in the streets were walking with a bit more panick in their step. It would have been a great backdrop to some religious horror movie. After some frustrated searching and price-checking we ended up at a busy Italian place. The service wasn't as bad as usual, and the beers were big and cold. We commented to each other on the fact that it seems to only cold drink you can get in Europe is a beer. So it ended up being a nice evening despite all the rain!

We've noticed that people in Europe and even the UK tend to roll their own cigarettes a lot more than in the States. Actually, it's almost unheard of to see people rolling cigarettes in teh States I think. But I've seen quite a few people rolling up their tabbacco over here. On one of our train rides through Berlin we saw three teenaged kids splitting up some tabacco and rolling it up, then sitting around with unlit cigarttes hanging out of their mouths. I personally thought they looked pretty stupid, but they seemed to think it was cool. I think smoking in general is more prevalent over here, and in Germany and the Czech Republic smoking laws seem to be more lax than in the UK or the USA. Just an interesting difference we've noticed. And in Berlin there are all these two meter tall bears painted in bright colors with different pictures and designs. Apparently they're called Buddy Bears and were all painted by local artists back in 2002 or so. After being on display together they were auctioned off to businesses or whoever wanted them and the money went to help children in need and now these bears are set all about the city in front of whatever business bought it. They're kinda cool. I took a picture with them each time I found a new one.