05/15/2011, Prague, Czech Republic
Well we on our second full day in Prague. Yesterday's weather cooperated as the rain which was expected in the afternoon held off until after midnight. Now to bring you up to speed:
After Auschwittz, we detoured to a rock salt mine outside Krakow. After descending almost 400 steps, we walked over 3 km, passing through numerous caverns created by the mining. Of these, several contained two Catholic chapels, one of which was huge. Apparently, the miners would go to mass (with a mine priest) each morning before going off to work since the death rate was around 20% before electricity was used for lighting in the early 20th century. The mine was started in the 13th Century, when salt was as or more valuable than gold (It was used to preserve meats for the various expeditions by invading forces in wartime).
We returned to Krakow where we dined at an Argentinian restaurant where they had steak with chimichurri sauce (good but nothing like Little Havana in Miami).
The next morning we began our longest drive of the trip to Prague. It took over 7 hours, even though most of it was on motorways with 80 MPH speed limits. The few times we went through small towns and a huge traffic backup getting out of Krakow really slowed us down. The motorways in Czech Republic were very bumpy concrete, which made the ride slightly uncomfortable. We arrived at our hotel in the suburbs of Prague and have a beautiful view out our balcony, as we sit atop a hill. We went into town on a tram where we dined at the Savoy Grill which was recommended by Radek of L'Atelier Restaurant. It was a good recommendation. We walked around a bit after dinner, but we were tired from the journey so returned to the hotel via public transport (subway and bus).
Yesterday was walking day-5 hours of walking tours. The first was of the old town and the latter was a trip to the castle across the river. We learned alot about the history of Prague from its founding through the liberation from Communism. This was a country which seemed to be occupied alot, starting with the Austria-Hungary Empire and ending with the Soviet occupation. They were finally liberated only a week after the Berlin Wall fell, even though the Czechs knew nothing about the collapse of the Soviet Empire! They simply had a public uprising consisting of 200,000 people clinking their keys on the plaza-a messageto the Communists that their time was over. We culminated the day with dinner along the river at Kampa Park, another of Radek's recommendations. Extremely fine dining with a table right on the river in warm, sunny weather as we watched the cruise boats going up and down the river.
It was supposed to be raining all morning, but we seem to have lucked out as it stopped during the night. Therefore, we will continue exploring the city on foot. Today is museum day because they are closed on Mondays, and we head back to Germany on Tuesday.
That's all for now.
Debra and Andy
05/11/2011, Krakow, Poland
Well today was the start of the second half of our European trip-Day 9, but there is alot to catch up on.
Our first full day in Budapest started with a trip to the Turkish baths. It was a bit disappointing as the water was not very hot, and the pools were quite crowded. However, it was a nice way to kill the morning because it was raining and cold. During our walk through the Jewish quarter to find a nice "cantina" where the locals like to eat according to our walking tour guide, we came across a nice Hungarian restaurant where Debra had grilled chicken over the most incredible saffron risotto. We then walked over to the Museum of Terror which consisted of a history of the Nazi and Communist occupations. For those of you who do not know the history, Hungary sided with the Germans, but when it started negotiating with the Allies for a surrender in 1944, the Germans moved in and managed to have 600,000 of the 850,000 Jews exterminated mostly at Auschwitz-Birkenau. The Russians took over Budapest only 4 months later and occupied or controled the country until 1989 after the 1956 revolution failed.
The second day started with a trip to the St. Stephens Church where we were allowed to view his mummified hand in a display case in the chapel behind the alter. Lunch was at the Central Market where we were able to try the local delicacy, Langos (pronounced longosh), which is fried bread in the shape of a personal pizza covered with your favorite toppings. We did garlic, salami, tomato, and cucumber-Quite delicious as well as totally unhealthy. Dinner was at a Greek restaurant on the Danube where I had a delicious langosto (lobster) over tagliatelle in a tomato cream sauce. Debra had a wonderful, grilled redfish. We then attended a concert of Vivaldi (Four Seasons) with a Mozart and Liszt (he was Hungarian) piece held in one of the local churches.
Our final day in Budapest started with a trip to Szentendre (an old Hungarian town outside Budapest on the Danube) via ferry and returned by train just in time to go on the walking tour of the Jewish neighborhood where the largest synagogue in Europe is located, second only to Temple Emmanuel in New York City. Did not go inside but did get to check out the memorial park on the grounds. We culminated the evening by first returning to the Hungarian restaurant at which we had earlier dined so that I could experience real Hungarian goulash. The saffron rice dish was so good the first time that Debra repeated her meal. We returned to the hotel where we finished the evening with Tokai (an Hungarian dessert wine) and some more sorbet with raspberry sauce.
This morning I finally was able to get my car out of hock from the parking lot when my ticket failed to register in the machine. Fortunately there were two security persons who eventually took the money from me and opened the gate to get out. We decided to really enjoy the countryside so we drove only on back roads through Slovakia to get to Krakow. It took an extra hour (7 total), but it was well worth it. The scenery was quite impressive including going over a pass which had a ski resort at the top. We crossed a mountain range where the highest peak was 2650 meters (almost 8,000'). We arrived in Krakow in time to walk around the old town and enter the grounds of a midieval castle (the interior was closed). We explored the old Jewish neighborhood, as well, at the recommendation of the receptionist at the hotel. Dinner tonight started with classic Polish perogie (sp?). We are now back at the hotel getting ready for the trip tomorrow to Auschwitz-Birkenau. It may take a few days before we will be able to get over the trauma we are sure to experience. It is off to Prague the following day, which should lift our spirits before returning to Munich to turn in the Audi which has been a pleasure to drive. Today, we managed to average over 40 MPG!
That's all for this blog.
Debra and Andy
05/07/2011, Budapest, Hungary
We are safely in our hotel in Budapest. The last full day in Vienna was packed full of activities. First we climbed all 343 steps of the St. Stephen's Church tower for a view of the city from ahigh. Then it was off to the Winter Palace for a trip to view the imperial silver collection and view of Emporer Franz Joseph's royal apartment. We then had lunch at an Italian restaurant, followed by a trip through one of Mozart's apartments where he was most prolific in his composing. Dinner followed at a sushi restaurant where we were introduced to butterfish-a type with which we were totally unfamiliar-a pleasant and mild white fish. It was then to the Koncerthall where we enjoyed a Mozart concert. We finally returned to the hotel and crashed at about 11PM.
It was up early this AM for our drive to Budapest. Before hitting the motorway, we stopped by the Nachtmarket which was full of all kinds of food stands. We sampled some pastries and bought a baguette, cured ham and an assortment of olives to tide us over on the journey. It was then time for our first fillup in the new car as we were leaving Austria. I don't want to hear anymore complaints by Americans about fuel prices. We paid $69 Euros (about $100) for 10 gallons of diesel which is cheaper here than gasoline. Thanks to 36+ MPH it took a little out of the sting. Otherwise, the trip was uneventful except the difficulty in getting to our hotel due to road construction.
After finally finding a place to temporarily park and a bit of help from a receptionist at a hostel, we were able to find the hotel and check in. The hotel is a boutique one with 15 rooms and a restaurant on the first floor. We were re-directed by the receptionist to a nearby parking structure where the Audi will take its next break over the next 4 days.
We had a delightful lunch while sitting outside at the hotel restaurant now that it has warmed up substantially (high 60s). I had a delicious bowl of Hungarian goulash soup. Debra stayed conservative with a Greek salad. After lunch, we found the local walking tour and learned much about the city and things to do. We returned to the hotel where we were able to take a very short rest before going downstairs for dinner. We thoroughly enjoyed it culminated by what Debra stated was the best sorbet she had ever had (three flavors with raspberry sauce for dipping). We are now back in our room getting ready to crash for the night before more adventures to come.
Debra and Andy
05/05/2011, Vienna, Austria
There is much to bring you up to date since leaving Colorado. Left the house at 5:45 for the bus transfer, arriving at DIA at 7AM. Check in and security were a breeze. Arrived at Dulles and went to the Red Carpet Club for our 3 hour layover. The trip across the Little Pond was uneventful, arriving Munich right on time.
Audi picked us up outside baggage claim for the ride to Ingolstadt. Got to experience the Audi A8L, top of the line, at times over 100MPH on the Autobahn. luxury is overwhelming (individual recling seats in the rear with separate climate controls, radios, etc.). The two accidents and traffic jams ahead of us on the motorways called for detours, so our arrival was delayed. After signing all the papers, we were mated with our A3. We then did the factory tour-not as good as Volvo's but informative nonetheless. The amount of automation is now overwhelming as humans really don't get involved until the final assembly (interior, glass, engine, suspension). The computers necessary to run all the robots must be unbelievable.
After Audi, we found an electronics store to buy a European map GPS which has proven invaluable so far. Debra was feeling her jet lag so found our hotel and we had a short catnap. Returned to Audi to go through their car museum and then off to dinner where we ended up at a Spanish restaurant in the old city center. Back to the hotel to try and fully recover from jet lag.
Arose at 7:30AM to start our first leg to Vienna. After finding a coffee shop for Debra, we were on the road and on our first leg. Much of Germany was the Autobahn but being in a new car, speed was restricted to 130KPH (80MPH). The number of cars blowing our doors off at over 200KPH was unbelievable. Austria capped the speed limit to 130KPH so it was much more controlled. Stopped in Linz for lunch at an old Austrian style restaurant in that city's center and then on to the last leg to Vienna.
Arrived outside Vienna and found our hotel (thanks to the GPS). It is a very old mansion overlooking the city. It was rated 4 stars, but the rooms have not been kept up to that quality. Nevertheless, the location is very good with public transportation directly to the city center (one bus and the subway, called the "U"). Checked out the basic sights and found the concert hall where we will go tomorrow night for a Mozart/Strauss concert. Then explored along the Danube on foot before going to find our restaurant for dinner.
Debra is not fond of Austrian cuisine, so Lonely Planet recommended a Turkish neighborhood restaurant. They screwed up in locating it on their map so after going into a hotel and asking for directions, we were finally able to locate it (an extra subway ride and multi-block walk). It was Mediterranean style food (kabobs, mousaka, etc.) Nothing to write home about but filling. We backtracked on public transportation and are now back safely in the room. Tomorrow will be the real tourist day in Vienna with museums, palaces and churches.
That's all for now. We do have pics, but I am too tired to download and post them. We will get that done hopefully tomorrow.
Debra and Andy