Florence, Italy- Birthplace of the Renaissance

JC and I decided we’d spend a full week in Florence to experience more of the culture and have time for a couple of day-trips.

One of our day-trips was to the romantic and mesmerizing city of Venice, which you can read about here.

Our other day-trip was out to Pisa to see the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa!  The cathedral’s freestanding bell tower reaches a height of 186 feet and is known for its unintended tilt.  This “lean” was caused by the ground on one side being too soft and unable to support the tower.  The lean was finally stabilized in the early 21st century.  Visitors can climb up almost 300 steps to the top if they wish.  It was truly remarkable finally seeing it in person!

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We then walked through the town to get to the central train station, which gave us a better appreciation for the city and local life.  One big canal runs through the city offering some great photo opps!

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Back in Florence, we visited Uffizi, a prominent art museum showcasing statues and artwork from famous artists such as: Leo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli, Monaco, etc. Standing before these masterpieces was certainly remarkable and quite memorable.  It was incredible to gaze and analyze the original workmanship of such talented artists.

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Just outside Uffizi is the Loggia dei Lanzi, an open aired gallery facing the Piazza della Signoria featuring many renaissance statues including: Perseus holding Medusa’s severed head, Hercules and Nessus, and the Rape of the Sabine Women.

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Back on the other side of Uffizi is a highly visited pedestrian bridge spanning over the Arno River called Ponte Vecchio.  This picturesque medieval bridge is lined with jewelry stores, souvenir shops and other vendors.

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Crossing the bridge to the other side of the Arno River is Piazzele Michelangelo, a 19th century piazza on a hilltop providing panoramic views of the city below.  Here you’ll also find a bronze replica of Michelangelo’s David statue.

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On the way down we stumbled upon the campsite that JC had stayed 10 years prior.  This brought back some great memories for JC and it was neat to see where he “roughed it” during his own European adventure a decade ago.  Unfortunately the campsite was in the process of relocating to a new location so it wasn’t open but we were able to peek in a bit.

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One of the most iconic landmarks in the city of Florence is its pink, green and white striped marble cathedral, the Duomo, honored after Santa Maria del Fiore.  The cathedral took two centuries to be deemed complete and is quite unique and magnificent to gaze at!

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Just behind the Duomo, we had an incredible lunch at Panini Toscani.  The owner made our experience memorable by treating us as VIPS, taking the time to cut fresh slices of meat and cheese for us to sample and informing us of each piece so we could select exactly what we liked for our sandwich.  He devoted his time and provided such precision, knowledge and passion making for a wonderful experience!

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We finally had a chance to go see the Statue of David.  It was much bigger than I expected and such an incredible masterpiece to witness in person.  The museum exhibited other uncompleted statues by Michelangelo as well.  A must while in Florence!

Florence

It was here in Florence that we discovered the way Italians drink their coffee.  They will typically order an espresso shot at a coffee bar (normally machiatto), sip on it for about 1-2 minutes then head off to their destination.  Ordering coffee with milk is very rare and more of an “American” thing to do, supposedly.

Florence was rich, captivating and beautiful! Very glad we decided to spend a full week so we could see it all and not be rushed!

Dates Visited: 10/14-10/21, 2016

Venice, Italy – Serenissima (Most Serene)

Venice gives the true Italian vibe and is one of the most romantic cities we’ve been to.  It is stunning, majestic and charming.  Every turn is different as you venture through narrow alleys and passageways.  Canals weave through the city with (pricey) gondolas to boat you around, if you wish.

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There is no need for a map as the best way to experience the city is to get lost in the maze of buildings, exploring the life of locals and absorb the magnificent architecture.

Venice

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Venice floods every day during high-tide, such a foreign sight to see! To locals it’s just another day as they prepare their first floor businesses with blockades to keep as much water out as possible.  We bought water booties to keep our shoes and pants dry as we swished through the 12 inch deep water to view the sites.

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We stumbled upon a market offering an array of fresh seafood including octopus and crabs, which were still slightly moving.  As usual for most cities, this Saturday market was packed with locals making their weekly food run.

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We finally took a break from all the walking and enjoyed a drink called Spritz while people-watching and gazing out into the lagoon of the Adriatic Sea with the high-tide over the walkways.  Spritz is made with orange liquor (Aperol), soda water and prosecco and tastes very bitter.  More of a one-time drink for us.

Venice

You can take a boat over to the other islands (Torcello, Murano and Burano) for more attractions other than the central sights of Venice. But we opted out for an afternoon of wine drinking by the canal since we only came for a day-trip and had a train to catch back to Florence.

Our little (3 bottles of wine) happy hour led to us taking the wrong train and ending up in Bologna with no other train getting us back to Florence until the morning.  We had to find a hotel (third time was the charm) to post up for the night, our phones died and we had to buy another train ticket home.  Talk about an expensive mistake! A story nonetheless!

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I feel a day in Venice was plenty but of course spending 2-3 nights would be wonderful too.  It’s just so nice to wander aimlessly, take in the incredible surroundings and be an incredible culture.

Date Visited: 10/15/16

Kick-Off to Our Italy Tour in Milan

Milan is one of those cities you only need a day to explore.  There is not too much to see compared to everywhere else in Italy but the most impressive sight was the spectacular Milan Cathedral.  It is the largest church in Italy and the 5th largest in the world!

Milan

The massive Gothic church took nearly 6 centuries to complete and is made of gorgeous white marble.  Guests can access the roof to explore the terraces and enjoy panoramic views of the city.  The cathedral contained the highest ceilings I’ve ever seen inside a church and the flooring too was just absolutely immaculate!

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We also visited Sforza Castle, a large quadrangular-plan acropolis built in the 14th century containing 4 towers and 23ft thick walls.  It now houses several of the city’s museums and art exhibitions.

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Unfortunately, just outside the walls are numerous peddlers, trying to trick you into buying their handmade bracelets by grabbing your hand and putting them on you.  They won’t leave you alone until you literally yell in their face to stop. But it doesn’t end there, they are all over the city, constantly annoying you, getting in the way of your pictures and trying to take advantage of innocent tourists. So be aware and don’t make eye contact.

We tried to see Leonardo’s famous painting “The Last Supper” but tickets had to be purchased weeks in advance! Poor planning on my part on that one.  We’ve usually been able to get away with purchasing tickets to popular attractions a week out at most.  That was a big bummer.

Milan was the only city in Italy where we actually found delicious pizza.  Most of the pizza in all of Italy is very thin, barely covered in toppings and fairly bland.  We stumbled upon a shop that displayed their giant freshly made pizzas in the street windows.  The crust was thicker and softer than others.  Toppings were not skimped and one slice fills you up! I tried the traditional Italian type which is topped with cheese and thinly sliced potatoes.  My taste buds were thoroughly impressed!

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Milan

Although there wasn’t too much to do or see, we enjoyed walking around the city, people-watching and taking in the life of the locals.  Milan was the start to our Italian tour and we were eager to see what the rest of Italy had in store!

Dates Visited: 10/10-10/14, 2016

Switzerland & the Swiss Alps!

Switzerland is one of those countries you just have to go to once in your lifetime.  It encompasses so much beauty, nature, culture and history.

After researching the country deciding where would be the best places to visit, we concluded that a week would be all we could afford.  It’s true what they say, Switzerland really is pricey! Transportation, lodging, food, drinks, etc., are all twice as much as in the states.  Just to put things into perspective, a coffee (basic, bottom-of-the-line drip coffee) was $5, normally around 2 bucks in the U.S.

Also, a “cheap” motel was around $100 a night.  This led us to choosing an Airbnb in the country, a 30 minute train ride outside of Bern.  We ended up loving being out of the city for a change and enjoyed wonderful views from our balcony with lots of relaxation!

Switzerland

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The village was so small there wasn’t even a stop sign, or a supermarket.  We had to walk an hour to the next village to buy our groceries.  Don’t worry, there was a train that we took back but the walk was a great way to see more of the countryside.

We walked by cows and sheep grazing in the meadow, bright green rolling hills and a cute church on top of a small hill. The smell of cow dung was pretty strong almost daily and even after a week we still hadn’t gotten used to it.

Switzerland

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Our host was kind enough to make us cheese fondue one night and show us some of the Swiss traditions.  We started off with cold cuts, jarred onions and baby pickles.  He melted the cheese over the stove then transferred it over to a pot above a burner on the table.

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We used our long skinny fondue forks to dip pieces of bread in the melted cheese. If you lost your bread in the pot, the host would create a rule for you to do like clean the dishes or twirl around 10 times.

We were also introduced to sheep’s cheese, Piña Colada tea (UH-mazing!), and this oh so incredibly delicious ginger spread that tasted like a ginger bread cracker! Hooked!

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Sheep’s Cheese

Inside the city of Bern, we walked around appreciating the old historical buildings, the clock tower and a fraction of the 100+ fountains across town. Some of these fountains date back to the Middle Ages and tell stories of Bern’s events, heroes and wealth.

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Switzerland

The town was of course filled with local cheese and chocolate shops that we just couldn’t resist!

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One of our day-trips was to Lucerne, known for its well-preserved medieval architecture with a mountainous panorama.

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One of the most unique attractions is Chapel Bridge, a wooden footbridge spanning diagonally across the Reuss River containing interior paintings dating back to the 17th century.img_1564jpg

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Across this river is the old city wall, Museggmauer, featuring 9 towers, some of which you can climb to the top and revel in the city’s skyline below.

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Switzerland

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More fondue was on the itinerary for the day so we popped into a nearby restaurant and filled up quickly on bread and the oh-so-deliciousness of that ooey-gooey cheese!

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We lost ourselves amidst the city, wandering through alleyways, climbing up hills and crossing bridges every which way.  A charming town indeed!

Switzerland

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Our final day trip was spent exploring the stunning Swiss Alps.  We began in Interlaken, a village at the bottom of the mountains and rode a train up heading in a clockwise direction.

First stop was Grindewald where we took a 30 minute gondola ride up to First (a village) that offered spectacular views of the snow-capped alps! We even dared the edge walk along a cliff to get even better views!

Switzerland

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The best part was sitting on the only restaurant’s patio with a hot chocolate in our hands taking in the blue and white scenery. Breathtaking!

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Afterward, we hopped back on the train up to the highest point it would go, Kleine Scheidegg.  From here you can take another train to the highest station in all of Europe, Jungfraujoch, which is right next to the Jungfrau mountain.

The cost to go up is $204 per person! We purchased a half-price transportation card for our travels in Switzerland so it dropped the price to $102pp but was still way too expensive.  We enjoyed the views from below and that was enough for us.  I’m sure the experience of being so high is quite the thrill but maybe next time.

Jungfrau right in the middle

^Jungfrau right in the middle

^See the train station??

^See the train station??

We made our way back down the Alps descending through Lauterbrunnen and Wengen, staring out the train window tranquilized by the charm of each village and their impressive backgrounds.  We opted out of a couple of hikes due to timing but the train ride was a good experience in itself!

Our last excursion was a boat cruise on Lake Thun.  The impressive aqua and emerald colors of the lake shined bright under the sun.  We cruised from one cozy village to the next, picking and dropping off passengers, admiring the scenery of charismatic homes and enchanting churches.

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Switzerland ranks in our Top 5 of most beautiful places in Europe! We can’t wait to come back some day to explore even more!

Dates Visited: 10/3-10/10, 2016

Oktoberfest in Munich!

Huge check on our bucket list! Oktoberfest in Munich is one of those things you just have to do, at least once in your life!

Oktoberfest

I was a little nervous at how overwhelming it would be with the crowds and anxious from the uncertainty of getting into a tent.  But, we entered early and headed straight to the popular Schottenhamel tent.  This is where the Mayor of Munich taps the first keg of the festival calling out “O’zapft is!” to confirm the tapping was successful.  At this point, all other tents may begin to serve beer.

Schottenhamel is more of a locals tent and to many, the most liked.  The beer hall was recommended to us by our host, Germans and other Europeans we’ve met along the way.  We arrived early at 10am to ensure admission into the tent since we didn’t have a reservation.  There were plenty of tables when we entered but they filled up within 2 hours.

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Two guys noticed we had seats available at our table and asked if they could join.  One was from Australia, James, and the other was from Turkey, Yigo. They met on their own separate travel adventures in Slovakia. James was heading to Germany where Yigo lived so they stayed in touch and came to Oktoberfest together.  They were great to hang out with and it was a relief they spoke English!

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After a couple hours, a young man with 5 young girls showed up.  He was either gay or a pimp, we couldn’t figure it out.  But regardless, he had beautiful ladies who were the absolute sweetest! This made the Aussie and Turk’s day without a doubt!

At one point, the girls popped out this small clear bottle with white powder.  We had seen it being sold in the tent and asked what it was.  Instead of telling us, they showed us.  White powder was gently poured on the back of their hands between the thumb and index finger then quickly snorted up their nose.  What the heck?! Did these young girls just do coke right in front of us?! Nope…it was sugar!

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This completely legal, sugar rush powder is called Wiesn koks (Oktoberfest cocaine).  It is made of glucose and menthol.  We tried it and although I did not feel any sort of sugar rush, I certainly felt the cooling sensation clearing out my sinuses! It was as if I had inhaled a whole container of Vicks Vapor Rub! Other than chugging lots of beer, this was quite the trend at Oktoberfest!

We stayed put the remainder of the day so as not to lose our precious seats.  We, along with all the men in their lederhosen and all the women in their dirndls, spent most of the day jumping up on the table benches, swaying back and forth, clanking our 3 liter beer glasses and cheering “prost!” along with other German cheers.  Everyone was so happy, lively, energetic and…drunk.  A great first day at Oktoberfest!

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That night, Elizabeth, JC’s friend from his fellowship in Peru (2014), finally arrived! She had just moved to Berlin and we convinced her to join us in the Oktoberfest activities. After her long day of travel and our full day of beer, we went to bed early so we’d be refreshed for the next day.

Our 2nd day was spent in the Marstall tent, which had very colorful carousel theme.  This tent was almost the opposite of Schottenhamel.  You couldn’t stand on the benches, the crowd was a lot more tame and the music was softer.  We were lucky again to get into a tent without reservations so we stayed put.

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After a couple hours, the tent livened up a bit and it was finally a party.  We were making friends with nearby neighbors and sure enough, an older lady giddily popped out the German crack and shared it with everyone. We ended up staying much longer than anticipated! A great second day!

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Oktoberfest

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Our last day in Munich was spent exploring the city with Elizabeth. We walked around Old and New Town, visited Asams Church and enjoyed some coffee and tea at a very large eclectic/vintage style cafe.

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For dinner we dined at Ulter Simpl where I had a typical German dish called Käsespätzle, basically a German version of Mac & Cheese.  It is made with egg noodles and topped with fried onions.  So delicious! 

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Munich was an absolute blast and we are so glad we had the opportunity to attend Oktoberfest! Lots of beer, bratwurst, loud cheering and singing!

Dates Visited: 9/30-10/3, 2016

 

 

Vienna Austria – City of Music

Vienna may be a large city but most of the attractions can be seen on foot.  We embarked on a self-guided walking tour the first day and ended up reaching 16,000 steps each!

One of the most visited attractions is the Mozart Memorial situated inside the Burggarten (Imperial Palace Gardens).  Although Mozart was originally from Salzburg, he gained his fame in Vienna after he moved there at age 17. His most well-known compositions were written during his final years of life.

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My favorite sight was the Gothic St. Stephen’s Cathedral towering high at 446 feet!  Its unique multi-colored tile roof is covered in over 230,000 glazed tiles.  The interior is even more impressive with 18 altars, numerous chapels, ornate carvings and immaculate organs.

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Another church we set out to see was the Church of Minorities (Minoritenkirche), which houses a massive mosaic tile recreation of Leo’s Last Supper painting.  Truly Incredible!

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We weaved through alleys, parks and main roads to experience all that Vienna has to offer. The city is full of architectural highlights blending traditional and baroque styles. The buildings are massive, the streets are unbelievably clean and the energy is lively and fresh.

A beautiful rose garden is located within the public park of Volksgarten, which is part of the Hofburg Palace.  It’s not the biggest park but certainly worth a visit.

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There are palaces all around Vienna but three main ones to explore are: Schönbrunn Palace (former imperial summer residence), Hofburg Palace (former imperial residence, now partly the official residence of the President of Austria) and the Belvedere Palace (former summer residence of the Prince).  All are truly stunning along with their gorgeous acres of gardens!

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Schönbrunn (old pic from 2008)

Hofburg

Hofburg

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Belvedere

We trailed off our tour route to visit Hundertwasserhaus, an apartment house harmonizing nature and man with a grass covered roof, uneven floors and a colorful exterior.  It certainly stands out among its boring, plain neighbors!

Vienna

Vienna is best explored by walking, very pleased we went that route.  Most attractions are museums, palaces and historic buildings that can be seen all on a stroll through the city.

But most importantly, we made time for some Austrian beer!

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Dates Visited: 9/25-9/29, 2016

Prague – City of 100 Spires

The beautiful city of Prague boasts history, intricate architecture and world-class museums.  Its medieval skyline is packed with white buildings beneath orange and green roof tops among hundreds of spires, aka “city of 100 spires”.

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We began our visit walking the grounds of the Prague Castle overlooking the compact city.  Within the castle’s walls we toured the Old Royal Palace, St. George’s Basilica, St. Vitus Cathedral and Golden Lane.

Old Royal Palace dates back to the 12th century with one of its halls now being used for inaugurations.

St. George’s Basilica was the second church at the castle and houses the tomb of prince Vratislav, father of St. Wenceslas.

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My favorite, the Gothic style St. Vitus Cathedral, is the largest and most important temple in Prague. It is the seat of Prague’s Archbishop and contains tombs of many Holy Roman Emperors and Bohemian Kings.

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Golden lane is a strip of tiny homes once occupied by servants, defenders and goldsmiths (hence the name “Golden Lane”, formerly “Goldsmith Lane”). The houses line a narrow cobblestone alleyway with short entry doors leading to their quaint quarters.  Famous persons such as: writer Franz Kafka, fortune-teller Madame de Thebes and member of the guard called “Red Musket”, resided in these dwellings.

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At the end of Golden Lane is a torture chamber at the bottom of the White Tower filled with instruments that would make most cringe! It’s agonizing to think of the pain the victims endured and hard to fathom how people could be so cruel!

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Outside the castle walls we headed towards the city center, stopping along the way at the Lennon Wall.  The wall is decorated in graffiti dedicated to John Lennon.  It’s gaining more and more attention every year but is unfortunately being tagged with signatures of tourists.

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We then crossed over the Vltava River on the iconic St. Charles Bridge.  It was the most important connection from Prague Castle to Old Town as it was the only means of transit across the water up until 1841.

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The stone bridge is lined with 30 statues and protected by 3 towers.  You may also have seen the bridge make its debut in the movie Mission Impossible!

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8 years ago, I was given a generous college graduation gift from my sister and brother to travel Europe.  One of my favorite pictures is the 3 of us on this bridge.  I made it a point to recreate this photo with me and JC!

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After weaving in and out of the streets of Prague, we found ourselves below the medieval Astronomical Clock, located in Old Town.  Every hour the clock chimes and figurines make an appearance in two of the bordering windows.  It’s a huge tourist attraction but the “show” is short-lived and nothing spectacular.  The clock itself, though, is very impressive. It was installed in 1410 making it the third-oldest astronomical clock in the world!

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Nearby is the second oldest preserved synagogue in Prague, the Pinkas Synagogue, built in 1535. It now serves as a memorial to the nearly 80,000 Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Every inch of wall space is scripted with their names.

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Around the corner is the Old Jewish Cemetery, the largest in all of Europe.  It is cramped with disorderly layers of tombstones falling every which way but for the most part still in tact. The Jewish Community was limited on when they were allowed to purchase burial grounds so they created layers of soil to bury the deceased.  Most of the tombstones were carried up with each layer, hence the forest of memorial markers.

Prague

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With all the sight-seeing it was nice to finish our trip at a Fall festival taking place between Old and New Town.  The main street was bustling with vendors, beer stands and food booths consisting of grilled meats, potato chips and pastries/sweets.

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The ever popular sweet pastry called trdelnik can be found all over Prague.  Although it originated in Hungary, it is quite the trendy treat here.  It is dough rolled around a spindle, glazed with sugar, grilled over open coals then coated in sugar, cinnamon and nuts.  They can also be filled with ice cream and chocolate! A very tasty dessert!

Prague

Our visit to Prague was a first for JC, a second for me and a for-sure city to return to again some day!

 

Dates Visited: 9/20-9/26, 2016

Big Fun in Little Ol’ Lingen, Germany!

Lingen is a small town in the Northwestern part of  Germany close to the Netherlands.  We have a family friend, Mike, who welcomed us to stay w/ him and his family.

My brother, Matt, first met Mike in the early 90’s when he lived with Mike’s family for 6 weeks in Lingen for a study abroad program.  They instantly clicked and were like brothers.  Mike and his sister, Bianca, then came to visit our family in Texas, I was only 6 or 7 at the time but still remember their vibrant personalities and how fun they were to be around.

My brother and sister took me to Europe in 2008 for a college graduation gift and that was the last time I had seen Mike.  8 years later, here I am again (now with my husband) visiting Mike and his wife Merche along with their 3 wonderful and adorable children.

Mike and Merche introduced us to a typical German breakfast: lots and lots of bread, spreads of all sorts (jam, hummus, cheese, etc.) and the unfamiliar but traditional minced mett (pork) spread atop fresh bread, sprinkled with onions and pepper.  I tried a bite, not much my style as I’m not a big meat eater but JC enjoyed it!

Germany

The Soblys’s packed us all into their family car for a day trip to a small village in the Netherlands, Geithoorn.  The village consisted of various narrow canals, miniature bridges, stone and jewelry shops and adorable homes with colorful gardens.

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That evening we partook in Lingen’s Old Town Festival, an annual celebration over the weekend with 5 stages of live music each night and lots of beer! Apparently the concoction of beer and sprite, called Alster, is a common drink of choice.  It is very refreshing but I preferred straight beer.  If sprite isn’t your flavor of choice, it is also typical to mix with lemonade or coke.

Lingen

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Lingen

 

We met many of Mike and Merche’s friends since it seemed they knew almost every single person in town! Almost every 10 feet they’d run into a companion; it felt like we were walking around with a celebrity!

The next evening, Mike and Merche invited us to join them at their monthly Kegel night.  Kegel (German for Skittle) is similar to bowling but has 9 pins in the shape of a diamond that are held upright by string, wooden balls and inward curved lanes creating higher difficulty in knocking over all the pins.

Lingen

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There are different games to play each round keeping it fun and interesting! We were horrible at it in the beginning but finally caught on a bit and had the best time!

The group members were so lively, energetic and loads of fun.  The losing team for each game had to toast to the wining team. Too. Much. Fun!!

It seems Germans will come up with any excuse to get together and have a party. They even throw a “roof installation party”.  Seriously, this is a thing.  Once the roof is complete, party time! Mike joked that Americans come up with crazy excuses too like a party to determine the sex of a baby (aka Gender Reveal)!

Mike was hoping the roof would have been finished the weekend we were there but unfortunately it got pushed back to the following weekend.  He was bummed we weren’t able to see this German tradition/party and so were we!

We spent our last night in Lingen over at Bianca’s house for dinner and drinks with her family.  I didn’t get to see Bianca when I was in Germany last so the only time we ever really met was when I was just a little girl! Facebook has been our only form of connection and contact.

She and her husband, Michael,  introduced us to herb liquor made in Germany.  It was thick, smooth and delicious! We then tried Bison Grass Vodka.  There is literally a piece of straw grass in the bottle which gives it a green tint.  It was good but definitely strong! It was absolutely wonderful catching up and meeting her husband, daughter and son.

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We can’t say enough great things about the Soblys’s and all of their hospitality and generosity.  Despite our minimal visits with each other, they are like family and it’s like picking up right where we left off! An absolutely joyous visit and we keep prying to get them to come to Texas.  One of these days!!

Thank you Mike, Merche, Bianca and Michael!!

Dates Visted: 9/16-9/20, 2016

Amsterdam – Venice of the North

Amsterdam is one of the top bicycle-friendly cities in the world, which we quickly noticed upon our arrival. Bikes crowded every inch of rail space practically sitting on one another while bicyclists zoomed by, dinging their bell for pedestrians to move quickly before getting run over.

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There are over 800,000 bikes in the city, more than there are people! Most will have their inner city bike plus an additional bike locked up in an outer city location they frequent often.  This way they don’t have to transport their bike on the trains or buses and pay 6 euros!

It was a little overwhelming at first having to dodge cars, pedestrians AND bicyclists but you get accustomed to it quickly.

Another major for Amsterdam are the numerous canals and bridges, 160 canals and 1,200 bridges to be exact.  That’s even more than Venice! You can’t go wrong weaving through the city embracing the beauty these canals and iron-fenced bridges bring to the city.

Amsterdam

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While wondering around, careful not to stumble on the stone walkways, you’ll see many Coffee Shops, a.k.a. smoke shops.  You can certainly order coffee and snacks here but that’s secondary to the cannabis offered.  Locals don’t flaunt their paraphernalia but they don’t hide it either; no need to with such a lax government.

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So lax that they legalized prostitution… The Red Light District is the craziest thing I’ve ever seen! Practically naked women standing in windows, trying to catch your eye, luring you in for costly sex! A guy’s (expensive) paradise, I’m sure!  It truly was the most interesting walk I’ve taken, just one of those things I had to see for myself! We stopped in for some beers at a pub along the district canal and it was like a bachelor pad.  Very few women and lots of drunk men cheering and chanting.

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Before we took this amusing walk, we had met for dinner and drinks with Jennie.  We were first introduced to Jennie in Greensboro North Carolina in August when we were visiting Andy, a banjo player we met while staying at an Airbnb in New Mexico.  Jennie was friends with one of Andy’s friends and happened to be at his place when we came over for dinner.  She has such a lively personality and is very easy to talk with.  Turns out she is currently living in Amsterdam so we coordinated to meet up and glad we did! We hope to meet up with her again whenever our paths may cross!

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My favorite “tour” in Amsterdam was of the Anne Frank House.  Being in her home of hiding sent chills up my spine and a sense of sadness from such a tragic and horrific time in history.  The holocaust, as depressing as it was, was a history that I’ve always been interested in learning more about.  I remember reading the Diary of Anne Frank as a young girl in school and instantly becoming intrigued.

We also visited the 4-story high Van Gogh Museum that included an array of paintings from artists who inspired Van Gogh as well as letters he had sent to his family.  This too brought a sense of sadness for such a talented man to die so young.  It was quite remarkable to stand before some of his original paintings.

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Everyone we interacted with in Amsterdam was so friendly, spoke English and had great energies about them! A lovely place to visit!

Amsterdam

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London – ‘Tis Your Cup O’ Tea?

A large melting pot city, London represents over 279 nationalities and 300 tongues! The proper dialect of the English language with a British accent is quite the ‘fancy’ to overhear.

First piece of business, get our buttocks over to the Buckingham Palace to witness the Changing of the Guard! Apparently arriving 15 minutes before this 45 minute ceremony is not enough time.  Thousands of people crowded the palace gates, kids on top of their dad’s shoulders, selfie sticks high in the air and umbrellas threatening to poke you in the eye each step you took.  We ended up not staying the whole time because of limited visibility and anxiety running high but the little peek of all the action we did get was really exhilarating in itself!

London

To calm my anxiety, we took a stroll in nearby colorful St. James Park, away from the masses of people.  One local seemed to be besties with the squirrels.  They loved him for his nuts, seriously.  The little critters knew exactly where he kept these salty snacks and would climb on him respectfully, waiting for their treat.  They’d then go bury it to save for later.  How cute!

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Just across from the park is Westminster Abbey, Palace of Westminster, Big Ben and the Westminster Bridge.  All of which we just took as photo sesh opportunities.

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Another picturesque scene is the iconic Tower Bridge.  The length spans 800 feet while the 2 towers stand tall at 213 feet.

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The pic above is of us on the London Bridge, famous from the nursery rhyme, “London Bridge is Falling Down”.  Not much to see of this standard bridge though…It really only offers great views of the Tower Bridge 🙂

Between the 2 bridges is the Tower of London, a castle founded in 1066 that was from time to time used as a prison throughout history.  Aside from the architectural beauty and famous white tower, tourists can admire the crown jewels on display in the Waterloo Block.

London

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The main reason we added London to our Itinerary was to visit JC’s friend, Qsub.  The two business-minded guys were roommates in Peru during the summer of 2014 participating in a fellowship program. Qsub now works for Ernst & Young and has been living in London on-and-off for 7 years.

We met up for lunch in China Town followed by amazing coffee and super fancy donuts at Crosstown Doughnuts.  We each ordered premium fried dough and split it 3 ways; perfectly sweet and delectable! Such a wonderful time catching up and spending the afternoon with an old friend!

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We continued our “old friend meet ups” the following day with my childhood neighbor Blake.  Blake and her husband, Matthew, moved to London a few years ago for Matthew’s job and are now expecting a baby boy!

It had probably been close to 15 years since I last saw Blake. The 4 of us enjoyed catching up and sharing stories over afternoon coffee followed by drinks (virgin cocktails for Blake) at a nearby “haunted” pub!

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Bartender posting up our #RDTRPNnewlyweds dollar bill!

The neighborhood of Belgravia was quite the ritzy area, with almost every single car passing by being either a Bentley or Porsche.  JC mentioned he had never seen so many Bentley’s in one place! J.K. Rowling’s home was also in the vicinity!

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We finished up our trip with some window shopping down Carnaby Street in SoHo.  Many independent fashion boutiques line this road but the best of them all was Irregular Choice.  This funky shoe store is decked with the most unique and eclectic heels, sneakers and flats.

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London was fascinating, brilliant and just lovely (said in English accent)!

 

Dates Visited: 9/9-9/13, 2016

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