Saturday, August 21, 2010

Last Night In Paris

One final thing:

No one is probably reading this anymore but just in case anyone is, Paris lead us to one more fun little experience before we left. We had more than enough time to just go out to dinner and neither of us were hungry yet so we decided to copy the day before and go back to the Eiffel Tower one last time. This time with, however, we upped the ante and instead of wine brought champagne. We sat on a different side sipping moderately priced champagne for a while and then when the fact that I had to pee was overruling everything else, we took off to find a restaurant.

Our original plan was to walk several blocks away from the tower in order to find a restaurant that wasn’t super kitschy or over priced. This plan changed to - let’s find the first restaurant we see and go there. The pee factor was getting rather over powering. We did just that, but when we came back from our restroom using and actually looked at the menu we were reminded again of our first plan. The unreasonable expensive menu was filled with things like cheeseburgers, pizza and fries. Really not up for having this be our last meal, we covertly grabbed our stuff and snuck out and down the street. The next several places we found were of a similar vein. It was then that I said, “I bet you once the tower is out of view we’ll find a good place.” Quite literally, the first place we found once the tower was out of view was a cute little mom and pop owned restaurant specializing in duck. We stood outside for a moment doing the, “I’m good with it if you are, “ “you’re decision,” “no, yeah I mean I’m fine with it if you are.” When a girl sitting out side leaned back and said, “if you need help deciding, this place is really good. If you like duck, it’s the best. It’s owned by a really sweet couple.” That was enough for us.

The inside was cosy and resembled something you’d expect to see in the countryside rather than the middle of Paris. The doors were made of wine crates and corks and each table had a toaster on it. The two who owned the place were absolutely darling and the food was outstanding. When we were paying the woman at the register, the girl from outside came in. “Oh hey! Did you guys love it?” We told her we did and she proceeded to gush extensively about the place. The woman said, “tell her about what you eat.” “Oh yes,” the girl said, “ I was actually vegetarian when I came here, but then I tried the duck and now I’m not! This place changed me!” The woman who owned the place just giggled. The girl then began to ask question after question and tell us her life story. She was American but had moved to Paris 2 years back with her French husband. The were regulars at this place and she was there with him, her two brothers in law and her mother from Chile, all of whom she introduced us to. She had us tell them about what we were doing there and how much we loved the place. She went on and on for several minutes and even went so far as to say, “That is such a bummer you are leaving tomorrow! We’re having a bbq and I would have definitely invited you! Awe, are you sure you don’t want to stay a day longer?” At that moment in time we kind of did. But there wasn’t much we could do. When we finally said our goodbyes and gave each other hugs- like true Americans, no kiss kiss for us- and made our way back to our hostel. It was quite a charming way to end the day, trip, and summer. And I never had bedbugs! ...Other people did... But not me.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Berlin and Paris- fin

We got to Berlin starving and tired. The street our hostel ended up being on actually had quite a few street vendors but the crowds and lines were ridiculous and we wanted to have a seat. And a drink. The first restaurant we came upon once getting off our block was a Thai place and I have to be honest, we were both dying for Thai food. So yes. Our first night in Berlin we had Thai and it was great. But don’t worry, we quite literally had bratwurst, beer and sauerkraut for every meal for the next two days.

I felt a little bad getting into Berlin because I’d actually done little research on what to do. I wasn’t even sure what the big monuments in the town were but I could guess some so on day 1 we hit up some obvious must sees. The Berlin wall (a little piece of it), a museum called Topography of Terror about HItler/ the Reich and the Jewish Museum during which I saw a grown woman lose a tooth. Or at least run up to her friend in a tizzy and pulled it out of her mouth. I’m not sure how it happens. Not that that was the most memorable thing in the museum, it was actually fascinating and gigantic and thankfully not only about the holocaust, but that is a moment I remember clearly.

Day 2 we hit up Tiergarten, not only because it is a Rufus Wainwright song, but that point wasn’t lost on me. It is right next to a bunch of other must sees like the Brandenburg Gate and that hotel where Michael Jackson hung his baby out the window. Important stuff. Anyway, Tiergarten is a huge, beautiful park which you could ride your bike around for hours in and never see it all. It also has a zoo and an aquarium, the latter of which we actually went to see. I’m pretty sure aquariums just don’t get old. I could go to one a week and still be amazed. This one had a bigger than average insect exhibit which was interesting though unnerving. And I accidently saw a frog take a giant poop. I just happened to look at it at that moment but you would not believe how big it was compared to how he was. What was with me seeing things I would have preferred not to? I’d love to go back to Germany one day a little more prepared and see more. It was an interesting place. And Berlin is rocker central so all you music kids would love it there.

Then it was time to take a 12 hour train ride from Hell over to Paris. It was an overnight train but we hadn’t been able to get a sleeper car so we were stuck in a 6 person room of 3 seats facing each other and the train was full. So please imagine sitting pretty much straight up and down, for 12 hours, with 6 people in a tiny compartment. It was both muggy and cold at the same time and I’ve never gotten so little sleep in my life. Well, when I’m trying to sleep that is. I’m not getting much sleep right now but I’m very clearly trying to be awake.

We arrived in Paris, sleepy and sore. A nice thing about our time in Paris is both Michelle and I were willing to take it easy. We’ve both been here relatively recently so we got to hit up some things we’d been meaning to see before but then also just chill and walk and eat pastries.

Day 1 we went in Notre Dame which both of us had seen but neither had been in. The line to get in was impossibly long but it was free entrance and we just decided to do it anyway. What’s a little standing around uncomfortably when you’ve been sitting uncomfortably for hours? It was worth it. The line moved quick and the inside is beautiful. It was definitely more gothic and darker than most of the cathedrals we saw in Italy. We then went to The Orssay, an art museum with an amazing impressionist section and some other surprisingly famous pieces. Van Gogh, Matisse, Monet, Toulouse Lautrec... Lots of the biggies. It’s perhaps my favorite art museum and Michelle had never been there so we were excited to see it but on a day when we were both barely able to stand without one hand on the wall, a long museum walk can be tough. By the time we were done we decided the only obvious solution was a bottle of wine, baguette, and cheese under the Eiffel Tower. And that was a good way to spend the evening. It was especially fun walking through the area where our hostel is to get home that. We’re situated quite close to the Moulin Rouge, which those of you who have been here know is the sleaziest part of town. We went to a bar Michelle had been to before that was right next to the Moulin Rouge and then pranced home rather quickly past all of the sex shops and bum fights.

Which leads me to today. Our last day in Europe. We only had two things in mind to do. Last time I was in Paris, I had decided too late that I wanted to see the Dali gallery by Sacre Coeur so we hit that up first. Sacre Coeur is an amazing church with of course a beautiful view, however walking up the steps to the church on the hill one must dodge literally something like 25 of those guys who grab your wrist, tie on a friendship bracelet and make you pay for it. I kept my head down and jogged past them as quick as I could with a constant stream of, “No merci, no no no merci no!” coming out of my mouth. Michelle, on the other hand, got nabbed. I saw it happened and kept running. Anyone who watches Flight of the Conchords- I felt like Bret when he left Jermaine behind when he was getting mugged. I guess I’m a pretty horrible friend. Now she’s one euro poorer but the proud owner of a mediocre friendship bracelet. We found the Dali museum quite quickly. It was actually exactly where I kind of guessed it was from seeing it for a second when I was there 2 years ago. That rarely happens so score for me. It was a beautiful exhibit. We saw a Dali exhibit in Prague too and I liked this one better.

And the last thing on the list for our whole European trip. Michelle had made reservations a while back as a surprise at Laduree. Obviously Paris has some of the most most renowned pastry shops in the world and Laduree is one of the most prized in Paris. It specializes, like many Parisian shops, in French macaroons. Pastry students, I know you know this, but everyone else: don’t think of coconut macaroons when I say macaroon. French macaroon are little round sandwich cookies which come in every color and flavor imaginable. They’re chewy, and delicate and creamy and delicious. There spread is awe inspiring. The shop itself is the most adorable little place you can imagine with dark wood, with gold and mint green elaborate decor. The lunch is not cheap, but it is an experience. Ours was simply stunning in display and taste (I had anglerfish with puff pastry filled with vegetables in a lemon verbena sauce). And the dessert, my friends, was to die for. The top and bottom was a giant rose flavored macaroon, so a chewy light cookie, and in the middle was whipped cream and fresh raspberries. It was beautiful. I’ve pretty much been thinking about it all day. Our waiter asked us where we were from when we were paying and we said the states. He told us that 2 days earlier Natalie Portman had sat in exactly the spot we were sitting. I, being quite a huge Natalie fan, was more than impressed by this. He then went on about other people who’d been there lately like Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz and ended with “and now you two!” (He’ll be telling other Americans about us for years). But I was still stuck on Natalie Portman and kept asking questions about her. Was she polite? Apparently she was. When we left I kept one eye open the rest of the day just in case we happened to run into her. If only we’d been at Laduree when she was there. Eating pastries with Natalie Portman in Paris is just about as close as you could get to eating breakfast with Audrey Hepburn in front of Tiffany’s in this day and age. So close.

We slowly made our way home and now is the time to get our final things packed up and squared away.

This trip has been an adventure. It’s had ups and downs, it’s had hots and colds. Mostly hots. Hot and muggies. But come colds too up in the Alps. Anyway I’m so glad I decided to do it even though there was a period of time when I wasn’t sure if it was a good idea, or I wasn’t sure if it would happen even if I thought it was a good idea. Thanks to anyone who read this. It was half for my own purposes as a journal and log of my time here but making it public for other people to read forced me to make it at least a little more interesting too. Then perhaps when I read it again one day in the future it won’t just be like reading a blank itinerary. But it’s nice to know some people were following along and were remembering me while I was gone. But I won’t be for long. Thanks again friends. And see you soon. Ciao!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Pronounced Krako"v" not Kra-"cow"

Before we got to Krakow, I showed MIchelle a picture of my cousin Soren who was meeting us at the train station. Soren moved to Poland about 10 years ago and I haven’t seen him since. Before 10 years ago, when I saw him at our cousin’s wedding, it had been another 10 years or so since I’d seen him- point being, the times had been few and far between and best to have two sets of eyes looking for someone neither or us would recognize.

However, recognition was relatively instant. We stepped off the train and I said, “He said he’d meet us but I don’t know if that meant on the platform or...” but at that moment we both saw each other and knew quite obviously that we were related. He walked up and said, “Hey Cuz!” and we were off to explore Krakow. And how lovely it is to have family in such a place. He lead us to his apartment only 5 minutes walking from the station where I met his wife Scotia and 6 year old mountain climber MIlo. They live a perfectly adorable Bohemian lifestyle. Soren is a freelance translator, Scotia a working accordion player and, as I mentioned, Milo likes to climb mountains, read Tintin and eat “hot cheese” which I will get to later. Their apartment was a type of enviable classic vintage; the kind which is becoming almost trendy these days- I myself have been known to purchase new, old looking Anthropoligie items- but here their style was legit. In the room we stayed in there was a stack of 4 large blue and orange, on top of which sat 3 xylophones and an old typewriter. They, I’m sure, were placed there not to look quaint but because 4 trunks, 3 xylophones and an old typewriter have to go somewhere.

We were welcomed in to a delicious, homey dinner of homemade pasta- half of which Milo made. It was about 9 when dinner was over and Soren asked if we were totally exhausted or had some desire to go out. When asked what kind of “going out” he was implying he said an old warehouse turned bar, music venue, art gallery (of which Krakow apparently has several) was showing of Plan 9 From Outer Space, and afterward a few of his friends were having drinks at some classically Polish bars if we wanted to experience them. Soon we were walking to the movie and Soren was giving us a rough description of the neighborhoods he was taking us through. We sat in lawn chairs drinking beer and watched the last half hour of Plan 9- which is plenty- after which followed an old public service announcement featuring Little Jimmy and some sleazy man in a business suit lurking in the bushes, warning against the dangers of homosexuals.

Thoroughly warned, we headed to a dark, charming, stoney walled bar where Soren introduced us to some classically Polish drinks including a “Mad Dog”- a shot of vodka, raspberry syrup and tabasco- and some beer which he warned us to take slow because it was higher alcohol than we’d be used to. We met some of his lovely friends who have dinner parties every Saturday and upon hearing that Michelle and I were learning about pastries, invited us to dinner the following night if we’d bring the dessert. We agreed. From there we transfered to another similar bar where we got some more classically Polish drinks, these tasting like apple pie. Again he warned us they were more than they seemed. You can warn all you want, but is one not supposed to finish their drinks? Of course we did. On the way home we stopped at a kielbasa stand where he insisted we try what he claimed would be the best sausages we’d ever have eaten. Although I was unable to recall exactly every sausage I’d ever eaten, I was quite sure this was right up there with the best. The next “morning” I thought about all the times I’d been handed a drink and told to “take this one slow” and probably didn’t. A few glasses of wine with dinner, a large beer at the movie, mad dogs, stronger than average beer, and a mystery apple pie drink later led to quite a persistent hangover. I was determined to work through the pain. This was, after all, my only full day in Krakow. I got up at about 10:30, took a cold bath, shakily ate one egg, tried to chat with some conviction, then went to wake up Michelle and fell back asleep for an hour. I got up again, at about 12:30 having slept most of my opportunity to see the city away. The dinner party was at 4, we still had to shop for ingredients and make the dessert, as well as stop by the train station for tickets to Berlin. I dragged Michelle out of bed and Soren walked us to the train station. We saw a little of old town where Soren pointed out some gruff old women from the mountains selling smoked cheese (or “hot cheese” as Milo called it) out of baskets. Apparently the government had recently declared this act illegal so these women were gravely sticking it to the system. Soren needed to get home to get a little work done so Michelle and I went to the store to grab the ingredients for our Chocolate Mousse. This is when we realized we didn’t know the names of any ingredient in Polish. I was little to no help as I nearly doubled over from nausea and the mere idea of food would force me to sit down from time to time and take a few deep breaths. Eggs we were obviously able to figure out as well as chocolate. Sugar Michelle figured out by taste and cream... We we had some trouble with cream. We were tipping all the bottles over to see how thick they were but after concluding they were all milk, we found that the cream is actually kept on shelves, not refrigerated. Unable to tell the difference between the brands, we bought the one in the cutest looking box, yes box, and we were on our way.

We bought the ingredients by memory of what is in a mousse but needed to look up a recipe for the exact proportions. Of course then we couldn’t find one with exactly the ingredients we used so we picked one that was close and made some changes. The changes, however, began to get so great that we weren’t sure it was really chocolate mousse that we were making. This one had called for egg yolks but we cut those out. Then when trying to whip the cream, two things happened. We were using an electric hand mixer they’d just purchased and never before used. In any bowl we tried to use it splattered more cream out of the bowl than kept in. I was covered in cream as was the kitchen- repeatedly. Finally we figured out a strategy of covering it with a towel as we whipped it. But as I was not looking at it, next time I check the cream, it had turned to butter. Luckily we had enough cream to try again. We did. It did the same thing and this time I was watching it closely but it went straight from liquid to butter. Again, improvising happened, We strained, we folded, we guessed and we made something. We had bought some crispy wafers to use as the bottom and middle layer, spread our chocolate puddingish mixture in between, threw some raspberries on top and we had some sort of chocolate dessert.

We took the bus out to their place. An interesting spot- it was out in the countryside, yet in a little housing complex of duplex type apartments. The dinner was delicious and the company was entertaining. Scotia brought her accordion and wowed us all her talents. When our dessert came out we were a little nervous. The chocolate pudding layers were quite tasty although quite rich but as the moisture soaked into the wafer layers they had become extremely chewy and tough. A slice of cake held its shape surprisingly well but trying to cut the wafers that had become like fabric caused the soft chocolaty layers to smush out in a rich chocolaty mess. The guests praised the dessert but as we looked around the table at everyone intently leaning over their plates and sawing away with their forks, we knew in the future we’d do something differently with this one.

On the way home Milo piped up, “so because I’m still just a little bit hungry when I get home I should have some hot cheese.” Soren: “No, Milo, that was your dinner and we don’t have any hot cheese right now.” Milo: “But I think that hot cheese is... It’s very good you know?” The way kids get hung up on a phrase and use it too often, this was how Milo was with, “you know?”

On the bus somehow I brought up a story about when I was in the pickle isle at a grocery store and leaned over to set my basket down and drooled a small puddle on the floor. Soren said I should have told him earlier that I felt that way about pickles because Krakow was the home of pickles. Apparently they were invented there. So it was his idea that we would go get a drink and get a jar of pickles from a 24 hour grocery store and eat them. We agreed quickly and soon were off to a bar called the Art Bunker, which looked like an old bunker, and had some nice vodka then headed to the grocery store to see the entire isle of pickles he’d told us about. However, it was closed. The 24 hour grocery. A little crestfallen but not giving up yet he took us to another. This one was closed except for the alcohol and candy section. He cursed the heavens but was determined to find something. Soon we passed a small store, hardly more than a tobacco shop but had some food, and sure enough pickles. They were a kind he’d never had but the shop owner said they were the best and we really had no choice. We grabbed them and Soren also noticed some Canadian maple syrup he had to pick up as well. Being originally Canadian and all. They love their syrup. But then Soren insisted they’re actually best as chasers to vodka and that we should sit outside at a bar and eat them all. I asked if they’d care if we brought them to a bar and he said, “ehhh we’ll be outside,what are they gonna do?” So we sat out and ordered our vodka, eating our jar of pickles when the waitress came up and told us unfortunately we couldn’t eat those there since they served food. We smiled and nodded but this did not persuade us. We were feeling a little reckless having already taken the bus without paying, and so he just hid them under the table and would hand us one from time to time. She seemed to be standing guard very close to our table and we often had to palm the pickle in our hand, dripping brine all over our laps. By the time we left there were only 3 left in the jar so we walked them to the park, sat on a bench, cheered our Polish pickles and finished the jar.

We got home and chatted a bit more but then had to say our goodbyes. We were leaving early in the morning ant didn’t expect them to wake up at 6 to say farewell. Upon saying goodbye Soren gave me a copy of his book- ya’ll should check it out. It’s a book of short stores called “Hymns for Millionaires” and I read half of it on the 10 hour train ride to Berlin. That’s right. 10 hours. Yikes. But now were in Berlin, a little groggy and beat. Krakow was wonderful. A beautiful town. Great to see family and something other than museums and churches for a change- as great as those are.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Prague Blague

One can’t help but feel a little empowered when going on a trip like this. Everyone at home is doing their regular jobs and going to their regular classes, but for a minute I think I, the traveler, am doing something different. That is, until you meet all of the other travelers along the way. As soon as I’ve proudly told my story about living in Italy for a few months while going to school and then doing a whirlwind travel of several countries afterward, someone else talks about how they just camped in Mongolia for 3 months, or got an internship in Prague for 2 years, or have been living out of their pack for 7 months and have 14 left to go. Well ,aren’t you all just great and more extreme than me. Put me in my place, why doncha.

The last two days in Prague were pretty go go go. We left our nightclub hostel on Wednesday and stepped into the morning sun to see what Prague had to offer, and the first thing we saw was a woman holding her little pantsless child above a grate in the street to pee. A good image to get us motivated for the day. This was our across the river day so we crossed the famous St. Charles bridge, with its old dark statues, and gothic design and started with the Kafka museum on the other side. Kafka would have been proud to have such a place dedicated to him. It has the atmosphere down pat. The building is small and dark and each section is dimly lit and accompanied by erie music- not in a cheesy “I’m in a Halloween haunted house” way, but in a creepy, “this house could be haunted way.” It’s different. From it you learn about his life, his loves, his writing, and his death but there are also sections devoted to creating the atmosphere to feel that you were in one of his books. Everything was dreamlike and whimsical. One room was white with some walls made entirely of mirrors and one screen. Playing on the screen was a film created to trick the mind into creating mirages. A mirage machine, it was called. It was created from ideas that came from his book The Castle. There were also a few winding hallways made entirely of black file cabinets. A few were open to display an exhibit, and in others were tvs playing bizarre soundless images not unlike the movie in The Ring. One just had severed mangled hands floating into the distance. There was also a black rotary telephone mounted on one wall that would occasionally ring and when picked up there was a recording of a man yelling in German on the other end. Anyone thinking of traveling to Prauge, I would highly recommend that place. It is bizarre and fascinating.

We then stopped briefly by the Lennon Wall. A Graffiti art wall that began as a symbol of protest to the communist government but is still kept up and ever changing. Finally, we went to the Prague Castle. This place is enormous and let me tell you, you’ve got to have energy to go there. Already exhausted from walking and climbing the hill to get there, we probably should have given the castle more time than we did, but it was all we could do to not collapse from hunger and exhaustion by the end. It is many buildings including cathedrals, palaces, galleries, towers, and bastilles. It was quite amazing but a ticket is actually good for two days and it’s easy to see how it could take that long to see it all.

Finally, we dragged ourselves home for a quick rest and then it was off to see Swan Lake at little theatre in Old Town, which was delightful.

Our last full day in Prague, we actually spent out of town. First I woke up with a rash covering my whole face and my lower forearms. It’s itchy and red and has yet to go away. Hopefully that will be resolved soon. I’m sure everyone is anxious to know how it turns out. But anyway, yesterday morning we took a train about an hour out of town to see what had been described to us as a church made of human bones. And.. That’s because that is what it was. It wasn’t actually built with bones, but it was highly decorated with them and contained huge, unsupported pyramids of bones throughout. Apparently it began when holy dirt had been sprinkled upon the grounds of this church and it became a highly popular place to be buried. Then the plague came and everywhere became a popular place to be buried. Soon they started piling bones up along the outside of the church and finally moved them inside- simply as a place to put them. Finally they began to make a design out of it, and I’m not sure how recent that was. Definitely a sight to see though the church itself is quite small and quite crowded.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

aaand on to Prague, part 1

There is a lot to do in Prague. We're going to be here a few days so today we decided to kind of take it easy and wander around but we ended up doing lots and lots of things.

We bought some train tickets to go to Krakow, we went to a Medieval Torture Museum, we went to a Belgium Chocolate Museum, we went to Salvador Dali exhibition, we found both an Adria Hotel AND a Palace Adria (I am everywhere in this city. A regular celeb.), we went to the Old Town we saw the Astronomical Clock, we went to a Jewish Synagogue, we bought tickets to go see the ballet Swan Lake tomorrow night, we ate, we wandered, we were exhausted. There is a lot more to do too but we've got a while still. We also never knew exaaactly how much we were spending. Just as we were getting used to Euros, we go to a country where they aren't used. Now we've got the Czech Crowns. About 25 Crowns to a Euro and 1 Euro = 1.30 Dollars. Lots of conversions. We'll think, "oh that was cheap! I.... I think. I don't know though, I just payed with a 100 bill."

And we're getting used to our hostel situation. We're staying in actually a really really nice hostel. When you come in, you walk into the bar area which has live music every night and kind of looks like a night club. The building is really new and nice. We're staying in a 6 bed room which is fine. Each night so far we've been with only guys however. We met the first one when we got in late last night, a little lost and a little exhausted. His name was Jim, from San Francisco, 21, studying landscape design, traveling alone. A very pleasant guy. The other 3 guys were rowdy, possibly Czech guys who partied late and snored loudly. This morning I sat up quietly trying to see if the other guys were still here and just saw a sea of hairy legs. They were all sleeping in their underwear with just their legs exposed. Yup. Still here. Those 3 left today but this very instant, in walked in our other 3. All again look rough and tumble. One from possibly Australia and the other two from Mexico? So far I've only said "Hi" to everyone. --- Never mind, they all just introduced themselves literally just now. And yes. Sydney and Mexico. I was correct. Booya. And also the guys from Mexico seem very nice actually. Sydney still seems rough and tumble. He introduced him self, threw his stuff in the corner and said, "I need a beer" and left. And now we're resting because day after day of walking walking walking and being lost gets tiring. And seeing as how beer is cheaper than water here (about 45 crowns- 1.80 euros-ish) we'll probably partake in that pretty soon as well.

Monday, August 9, 2010


Michelle’s words when we woke up on Sunday were “I feel like I was sleeping between layers of butter.” In her half asleep way, that was a good thing. I think we’d both slept better than we have yet. Our beds were soft, it was cool enough to use a blanket, and it was silent and dark. We probably could have slept all day if breakfast weren’t only served until 9:30. And quite a spread it was too. Probably the closest to an American breakfast we’d had. I mean, pastries, bread and pizza are all great... But eggs, fruit, and yogurt are nice too.

Well fueled and rested, it was time to explore Salzburg and after some mild resistance from me about being the only person able to actually forget how to ride a bike, I caved and we rented bikes from our hostel. It has to have been at least 10 years since I’ve ridden a bike and perhaps I didn’t forget completely how to ride one but I definitely struggled from time to time. Overall it was a lovely idea. We rode paths through fields that would occasionally turn a corner and present us with some stunning view of a castle or church on a hill that we weren’t expecting. We rode into Old Town, parked our bikes and walked around. Sazlburg is a beautiful city. Quaint, cute, and old. The architecture is breathtaking. The scenery has a way of making one constantly wish they were sitting drinking tea there with their grandma. AND I would like to point out, that locals actually DO wear lehterhosen and the women wear the complimentary tight bodiced dresses with the fluffy white sleeves. It is too cute.

Of course visited Mozart’s birthplace and residence both of which were pretty facinating. We had a light authentic lunch of bratwurst, a giant pretzel and strudel. And goodness, things are cheap in Austria. Our lunches totaled about 3.50 each. A nice change, I must say.

Once we digested a bit, we quite accidently got lost on our bikes, but that was nice too. We found a cute outdoor vendor market and then later a slumyier part of the city which I guess doesn’t fit with my previous statement, but we also found out way out which was positive. We returned our bikes to our hostel and asked them to call us a cab to our next hotel. Due to the inability to get some of the trains we wanted before we left Italy, we had ended up having to reserve an extra night in Salzburg. We’d reserved our second night first but when we found out we had to add a day, they were sold out so hence our staying in two different places. The cab came up and I was again struck by the difference between Austrian taxi drivers and any other I’ve ever seen. The one we’d had from the train station to the hostel had been a well dressed man in a business suit and the second looked like someone’s stylish grandmother. Anyway, the second hotel was an adorable bed and breakfast on the outskirts of town that I happened upon by accident while figuring out how to get to Salzburg while still in Italy. Cheaper than many of the hostels we’re staying in in other countries, it seemed like a nice little getaway. Haus Am Moos was a little cottage up against the giant mountains, where we were greeted by a little white dog with a gaudy blue bow in his hair. On the front door there hung a sign on the door saying, “please only ring once, It takes us 3 minutes to get to the door.” It was certainly nothing less than charming. I took lots of pictures. We asked what to do for dinner and they said there was a restaurant about 10 min walking down the street. The wee restaurant had two rooms- smoking and non smoking. The non was full so we accepted what we could get. The room was small and there was a thick cloud of smoke covering the top third of the room, and while it made my eyes water, it had it’s own charm. Everyone was huddled closely around tables, talking quietly and it was obvious every knew everyone. People would come in and sit at other people’s tables, smoking and chatting and wearing letterhosen. At one point a little farmer came in and placed a pepper on the table in front of a young man he obviously knew and then laughed uproariously as the boy took a bite and went running from the room to grab water. Our food, though very inexpensive and limited in choices, was both delicious as well as plentiful. I had turkey with potatoes and grilled veggies and Michelle had a steak in an amazing sauce (cooked much more than in Italy) with potatoes. Mostly out of politeness, we forced ourselves to finish what was probably 3 times what would have been sufficient and were thankful for a walk home.

This morning we woke up to another lovely breakfast and are currently on the train up to Prauge. I found in my guidebook both an Hotel Adria and Adria Palace. I know what we’ll be doing when we get there.

PS. If you’re ever in Austria and on an elevator, do Not reach your hand out to stop the doors to open them back up to allow on a lady with a stroller or a big, old, angry, German lady will yell quite furiously at you thinking your fingers will be cut off. Apparently elevator doors don’t open back up when touched like they do in the states. No harm will be done to fingers as the doors only very very lightly close on them but no need to be startled like that by all the yelling.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

to Austria

This was the big day. The departure from home base. This morning we packed up and caught our 9:30 train. Boy I’ll miss that station with it’s hour long lines and over priced water. For a while it seemed like we were there everyday, that’s how much we liked it. But anyway, we said goodbye and got out our train that stopped in a little town just outside of Venice we’d never been to before. Our train running slightly late, our 20 minute layover was shortened to 5 minutes during which we leaped off the train into an unfamiliar station where we then had to transfer to a bus. Of course it couldn’t be at all clear where the busses pick up so we ended up running (hobbling... Lots of bags mind you) through the station, down some stairs, around a corner, ask directionsed, ran down a street and then across a street and we were the last to get our bags under the bus before he closed it. Then we embarked upon the 2 hour bus ride that for some reason took 4.... It was never clear why. We got off the bus in Villach, a little Austrian town (I just love that name for some reason. Pronounced Vill- Lock) where they played the song, “Fuck You” by Lilly Allen in the grocery store, and finally we got on our LAST train. Lots of travel today. We took nearly the most convoluted way of getting here that we could- although there were actually worse. By the time we arrived in Salzburg it was about 8:45.

Longer than necessary trip aside, let me just say that Austria. Is. Beautiful. We were on the bus when we crossed the border into Austria. Driving through Italy it was flat, flat, flat, flat, then we came to the check point into Austria and MOUNTAINS. It was mountains the rest of the way. It was an amazingly immediate change. The last train had views like I’ve never seen. I kept trying to take pictures but they didn’t do the sights justice. We had really large and tall windows on our train and sometimes the mountains were so tall you couldn’t see the top from where you were sitting. There were huge jagged pastures of bright green grass covered in little black shacks and white pointy churches. It was rather cloudy and foggy but the mistiness added to its mysterious charm. Just awesome.

When we finally got off the train in Salzburg- by far the biggest city we’d seen. Everything else was villages- we were struck by the crisp air. Molto crisp. In fact, according it is currently 54 degrees. Quite the change from the 90/ 100s we were “used to” in Italy. We realized also that we had no idea where we were going and when we found our relative location on a map vs the location of our hostel, we figured a taxi would be needed. Our super friendly taxi driver pointed things out to us and constantly let us know where we were. When we asked what we should do while we were here he said, “well tomorrow you can come to a bible reading with me. It’s in English actually so you’ll do well.” We might have to take him up on that.

Turns out our hostel is kind of on the edge of Old Town. Not too far away from things, but not close enough that we really wanted to go out exploring at 9 at night when it was wet and cold and we had no idea where we were. The hostel itself, we noticed as we walked up to it, is a “youth hostel” making it appropriate of younger people and families. This can be good and bad. It means children but probably nicer accommodations- and both of these things turned out to be true. When we walked in, I told them my name and they asked, “you have a 6 person dorm room reserved?” “Yes.” “Well you can upgrade for a private for free.” I don’t know what kind of deal that was but after some deliberation we took it. The rooms here actually amazingly new looking and clean. It looks like we were the first people in our rooms AND we have our own bathroom and this may be the cheapest place we’re staying. So far so good, Austria. Now we just have to hope for a day without rain tomorrow so we can go explorin! Possibly by bicicletta. I’ll let you all know how Mozart’s house is later. Yeah. That’s right. Be jealous.