Prague

It’s finally our last day in Europe! We are all glad that the trip didn’t fly by, but we are ready to sleep in our own beds and wash all of our clothes. My first excitement of the day was finding that I had exactly two pairs of clean socks left!

We headed out around 9:30 am in search of a place called the Choco cafe, which I found on Trip Advisor. Our our way we took the road through Wenceslas Square, a famous street in Prague that leads to the National Museum.

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After visiting the square we found the Choco cafe, which is famous for hot chocolate. We thought they would have more breakfast options, but the options were pretty much hot chocolate, coffee drinks, chocolate muffins, croissants with dipping chocolate, and other chocolate delights. Sarah and I thought this was amazing, but the boys left still hungry. Here are a few pictures of the chocolate goodies.

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From the cafe we headed towards Old Town Square, here are a few pictures.

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We also went in one of the churches near by…I told Dustin I want this chandelier for our house.

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He of course said no….so I said I’d settle for this one. 🙂

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Since the boys were still hungry, they spotted a few food vendors, a few were selling this traditional Czech/eastern European roll called a trdelnik.

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Here is how they make them over hot coals.

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We headed over the famous Charles bridge to the other side of the River where the Prague Castle is located.

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We were a little disappointed because some areas of the castle that used to be free now require an admission fee. We still got a great view of the city and took a few fun pictures.

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By this time, it was past noon and we decided we needed a salad or something healthy to add to our diet for the day (you’ll see why in a minute). We had salads and veggies then we headed off to one of Dustin’s highlights of the trip, “Strudl.” According to Samantha Brown of the Travel Channel’s Passport to Europe show, this place has the best Apple Strudl in all of Europe. It was a bit of a hike to get there, we took the metro out past our apartment a few stops, then walked at least 1.5 km to Strudl and then back to the metro.

We walked a lot today, it’s a good thing considering our last day of vacation diet! Tomorrow we’ll get back on track to normal. Here are some of the pictures.

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We each ate 1/2 of a “strudl” then we relaxed for a bit because our feet were aching! Dustin said the trek was worth it, the “strudl” was amazing!

After a few hours we freshened up and headed out for our last European dinner. We decided to have something different, so we introduced Dustin to the world of Thai food at a place called Lemon Leaf, and he loved it! My dish was called Laab Kai and it was super spicy even after I asked if they could use less chilies than normal because it had a “Hott!!!” next to it on the menu and Dustin enjoyed the Phad Thai with Shrimp.

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After dinner we set out to find a jazz club with a swing dancing floor, but the two we checked didn’t have swing dancing and had substantial cover charges. There was also a cool Jazz boat that had a dinner cruise and live music, but we found out earlier in the day it was sold out for the next two nights. We decided to take a walk around again, we had to burn off all those calories! During the walk, we took some pictures of Prague in the evening.

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We ended up sitting at a cafe that had free jazz music with a saxophone and guitar for a bit, there we enjoyed the last few hours of our vacation in Europe. Prague is a neat city, especially if you have a love for classical or jazz music, art, architecture, or Apple Strudl!

We leave Prague at 1:25 pm here tomorrow, 7:25 am EST and will be back in Columbus by 9:30 pm. yay for a 30 hour day tomorrow! I’m hoping to sleep for part of it, but will try to stay awake for parts so I can sleep when we get back. It’s a good thing I have Wednesday off to recover.

Thanks again to all of you for joining us on this journey! We are so glad we could share each day with you. For those of you wondering, how in the world did they plan this trip themselves, or how could I do something like this, when I get home I’ll write a post with some europe travel tips!

Until next time!

Melody & Dustin

Munich to Prague

We packed up and left our apartment around 9:30 am and via the metro headed to the main train station in Munich. Since our group train ticket that would take us into the Czech Republic was good all day, we used it to stop in Dachau, a small city outside of Munich were a large concentration camp was once located. The train station was small and didn’t have very large lockers, so Josh (he had been there 2 times before) waited with the bags while Sarah, Dustin and I walked from the train station to the concentration camp and museum.

Visiting this museum was sobering, with all the european history we’ve learned on this trip, some of which dated back to the days of Christ, it’s hard to believe that this kind of human torture was less than 100 years ago. Our grandparents were alive in the 1940’s when people were being tortured in this horrific way. The museum had a lot of information to read, we walked through the area that was once the shower stalls, then kitchen, we saw the courtyard outside that was the “roll call” area, and we saw the sleeping quarters and bathrooms.

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One historical picture that stuck out to me amongst the darkness was a picture of the prisoners cheering when the American’s arrived to liberate the camp. It makes me thankful for the men and women in our country that together with our allies fought for freedom and human rights. It also amazes me the hope the prisoners had, many in our Savior, despite the grave circumstances.

The hope many of the prisoners had is described in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (ESV), “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” and Romans 5:2-5 (ESV), “Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” I hope these verses can be encouragement to those dealing with trials today.

I’m not sure how to transition to the rest of our day…but here it goes. We took the bus back to the train station because it turned out to be at least a 30 minute walk. We figured out we had about 40 minutes until the train arrived we needed to take on our trek towards Prague. Before boarding we grabbed döner kebab sandwiches from a vendor. When I think of a kebab, I think of stick with meat and veggies, well apparently that’s not quite the Eastern European version. It’s really a huge Turkish sandwich with chicken, lettuce, onions, and sauce. It might have been the best thing we’ve had on this trip yet, it was super messy, so I was glad I was eating it on the train station platform vs. inside the train.

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When planning this trip, I think we expected it to be a bit shorter of a ride to Prague, the direct train takes around 5 hours from Munich and so does the bus. But the bus was around 60 EUR pp, and the direct train was over 100 EUR pp. So we found on a trip-advisor forum, that we could take a train from Munich or Dachau to Plzeň, Czech Republic, then to Prague. The route for Dachau to Plzeň required a transfer in Nuremberg, Germany, and Cheb, Czech Republic and the train stopped at other places along the way, so it took around 8 hours to get to Prague from Munich, but it only cost around 50 EUR total vs. the per person prices, so we saved over 200 dollars. We passed the time on the second half of the trip paying Euchre. The first picture is Dustin on the first train sitting with all our luggage, and then the sunset view on the train in the Czech Rebpulic.

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We arrived in Prague at 9:50pm, and our host from the air bnb apartment was supposed to meet us at 10pm outside the apartment, so we quickly found the metro. Unfortunately the metro ticket machines did not take credit cards and the Czech Republic is not on the EUR, so we had to get Czech crowns from an ATM. Then the machines only took coins and of course the ATM gave us bills, so then we were on a hunt to make change. Every vending machine only took coins and all the vendors in the metro were closed. The boys when out of the station just a bit and found a stand to make change. Then we were able to buy our tickets. Without phone service or wifi we really had no way to contact our host to let him know we were going to be late. That is the only major annoyance of using airbnb is that there isn’t a 24 hour front desk like a hotel, although some places had password protected lock boxes.

We arrived at our building at almost 11pm and our host wasn’t there. Sarah and Josh waited by the building while Dustin and I set out to find wifi or a phone. Skype has been a life saver twice on this trip. I had minutes left over and it allows you to call very inexpensively over wifi. If you have a smart phone and are traveling abroad without phone service, I highly recommend putting some money on your Skype account! At the second hotel we stopped at to try to buy wifi minutes, the man at the desk gave us the password for free. We were able to get in touch with our host and he was at the door in 10 minutes. It was a long day of traveling, but we saw some beautiful countryside in the process & we couldn’t have had the full European experience without a train ride for one leg of the trip!

Dobrý den!

Munich

Today was a bit of a “lazy” day. Sarah and Josh headed out to the Deutsches Museum for a few hours, this museum is very large with all kinds of science and engineering exhibits, Sarah did say they had a pharmacy exhibit, but they didn’t make it there.

Dustin and I went to the market for yogurt, milk, and bread for breakfast the next two days, then we caught up a bit on the blog and email while we waited for my friend Phin to arrive. Phin was one of my suite-mates when I took classes and lived at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio in the summer of 2003. Phin is from Frankfurt, Germany. She came in on a flight this morning to spend the afternoon with us. Dustin and I met her at the Metro Stop closest to our apartment, then we met Josh and Sarah along the way back.

We headed off to the city on the metro and it was crazy! If you remember from the previous post, today was game day, it’s the European Cup Championship, AKA the European Superbowl of Soccer. If you have ever been in Columbus, Ohio on game day imagine that times 50! Fans were everywhere from both the England team and German teams. If they would see other fans on the streets, they would start chanting their team song. Here is a shot of the crowd we came across and almost lost Josh and Sarah.

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As we were trying to find them we spotted the Apple Store. Since Dustin is such a huge fan, he got his picture outside and we went in to see what a german keyboard looked like on the macbook.

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We found Josh and Sarah and then headed towards St. Peter’s church, we wanted to climb the to the top of the tower for a view of the city. Just our luck on this trip, the tower was under construction and we couldn’t go up!

We decided to go to Viktualienmarkt and get some food for lunch and then head to the Englischer gardens. It took awhile for us to decide where to eat, but we got some amazing fresh strawberries grown in germany and then Dustin and I had sandwiches with steak and onions. Not the healthiest of choices, but an authentic german sandwich. Phin was helpful in ordering at the small restaurant because it was packed with “football” AKA soccer fans.

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We found a windowsill to sit on to eat quickly because the park was a pretty good walk from the market. Here is a picture of Phin and me.
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We relaxed in the park for awhile & ate our fresh strawberries. Here is Dustin laying on the grass, catching up on podcasts.

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At one part of the stream that flows through the park, there were people surfing! Not what I would have expected in Munich. Not quite the same as catching a wave in the ocean because it was continuous, it was almost like a surf-skate park.

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We headed over to Hofgarten next to one of the palaces. It had beautiful flowers and people relaxing in the sunshine. It was at least 75 degrees here today.

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Not sure if it was the hot day or just that all the “busyness” is finally hitting us, but we all were pretty whipped today so we headed back to the apartment. We went to the wrong metro train at first and this is that we saw, one of the buses headed for the stadium. The police were there not letting any of the blue fans on the red metro to avoid fights.

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Dustin and I stopped at a cafe to have a smoothie with Phin before she headed off to meet a few other friends in Munich and go back to the airport. Then we relaxed for awhile and did some catching up back at the apartment.

Sarah and Josh braved the crowd and headed out towards the stadium to get a glimpse of the action, while Dustin and I aren’t much for large crowds, we stayed home to relax and walked to the supermarket again to purchase lettuce/salad mix for dinner. This dinner was not quite as extravagant as previous meals, but rings in at 3.50 EUR, certainly the cheapest thanks to the European version of Aldi! We finished the day splitting a Spaghettieis and walked back home to relax. We wanted to watch the soccer game on TV, but of course the only place on this trip we’ve stayed without a TV is here. Oh well…maybe we’ll find it on-line! We are heading to our final stop tomorrow Prague! If you’ve been there before and have any suggestions for us, please leave a comment!

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Also thank you to those that have been praying for my grandma. Her surgery went well and she isn’t too sore now, but her energy is still recovering very slowly. I really appreciate those that have been praying for her!

Tips for Driving in Europe

Yesterday we had to turn in our rental car and here are a few things that Josh and I learned while driving in Europe.

Every car has a clutch
Yep, that’s right, every car is a manual. I learned how to drive a standard when I learned how to drive as I remember my dad saying “You never know when you might need to know how to drive a stick shift car,” well, now I need to know. Thanks Dad!

Speed Limits Don’t Necessarily Need to Be Followed
While driving on small roads to the secluded beaches in Ireland, the speed limit on the winding road was 110kph (nearly 65mph) and I couldn’t go much faster than 50kph. I have found that I have been going under the speed limit more than over it.

Motorcycle (and other two wheeled operators) are crazy
They don’t have to follow the traditional traffic laws and they weave in out of traffic on or off the street. When sitting at a red light, it’s standard procedure for the bikes to weave their way to the front of the line of traffic.

Navigating always takes two people
When navigating through a city, the passenger had to ensure that the driver was going the right way. When backing out of a tricky parking spot, the passenger had to direct the driver out to not hit anything. Most turns from parking lots or gas stations were located at blind intersection so whoever could see helped the drive.

The left lane is only for passing
This this one of the cool things that I will try to bring back to the States. Cars only use the leftmost lane when passing another car. If you want to pass someone, you use the left lane then immediately get back in the right lane. Absolutely no cruising in the left lane.

The small cities have crazy small streets
This causes two problems. The first is that you have to be good with stick shift. As I mentioned before, I learned to drive a standard transmission when I was a teenager and have only used that skill a handful of times since then, until now. While navigating in small towns, most of the streets are wide enough for one car, so one car has to pull off on to the sidewalk (if possible) on a steep hill to let the other car through, then try to start moving forward without rolling backwards and/or stalling on a 45 degree bank.

Another problem is you need to be able to collapse your mirrors since the streets are so narrow. Luckily our rental car has a button that will fold both windows against the car to make it easier to navigate. I’ve have had to do this several times or I would have definitely sideswiped something.

Rarely do you have to make a left or right turn
I don’t think that Europeans like making turns as there are round abouts or rotaries at nearly every intersection. They are actually very helpful for novice standard drivers as it nearly eliminates the need to start your car from a dead stop.

Round abouts are also good for making U turns. If you accidentally miss your turn, then just go all the way around and viola you are now heading in the correct direction. We did this more times than I want to admit!

The roads are not designed for taking pictures
There have been lots of beautiful views that we would have loved to have had captured, but taking pictures in a moving vehicle is nearly impossible. As soon as you get ready to take a picture, a tree, a bush or guard rail suddenly appears and is the main object of the photo.

Some countries use their traffic lights differently
In Austria and Germany, the traffic lights were different than all the other countries. When sitting at a red light the yellow light comes on simultaneously letting you know that the light will turn green in a few seconds, so can start moving. Also the green light begins flashing after the green steady, which means that yellow is coming and you need to start slowing down.

Pedestrians have the right away
Driving in the city is a pain due to everyone walking around. Most locals will cross the street and expect you to stop and not hit them.

Speed cameras everywhere
Our car was equipped with a navigation system that knew what the speed limit was on every road as well as where the speed cameras were. I never saw a cop sitting on the side of the road with a radar gun trying to catch speeding cars. All cars going too fast were ticketed by speed cam and we were glad we knew where all of them were.

GPS devices are a must
At first, we thought we could get by having maps on our iPads to help us navigate around. Those did turn out to be helpful, but the GPS immediately told us when we were off course. Plus by following the turn by turn directions, we avoided going the wrong way down a one way street.

Gasoline costs a small fortune
The prices look like that gas is actually a great deal when the sign says €1.59. That”s actually the price per liter and there are 3.1 liters in every gallon. So that makes the price 4.93 Euros per gallon or $6.90 per gallon. Luckily we are driving a disel machine which is the least expensive option and it is more efficient than the small SUV we drove in Ireland.

No matter how many times we try, you can”t start moving in third gear
We have stalled this car quite a few times or had choppy starts nearly every time we try to start in the wrong gear. Lucky for us, our car is extremely quick to restart with a push start button.

Stalling is a perfectly acceptable way to park
More than once we have pulled in to a parking spot and thought we should pull in the spot just a little bit more. If moving the car forward results in a stall, then we call it good enough 🙂

Salzburg & Munich

The next morning in Salzburg we had breakfast at the B & B, then we went on the hop-on-hop-off Sound of Music tour bus. Sarah and I were both in the Sound of Music in high school so this was fun. Dustin claims to never have seen the Sound of Music, so he was clueless.;) I will make him watch it when we get home! Before the tour we stopped on a small road with a large open field where the mountains were in the background. We spun around and sang “the hills are alive with the sound of music…my heart wants to sing every song it hears!” Here is a picture of Dustin and I in the field.

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Maybe I can convince Sarah to let me post the video when we get home of our short Sound of Music scene. 🙂

We had seen much of the city the day before, so we only got off the bus at a few points which were a bit out of town. We got off quickly to take a picture at Schloss Leopoldkron which is the Palace they used as the from a distant shot of the Von Trapp Mansion. And it’s the pond where Maria capsizes the boat in the film.

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Then we stopped at the Schloos Hellbrunn & Zoo. The gazebo that was used in the film is now located here & some of the gardens here were used in the film.

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We also tried to get off at Nonnberg Abbey, but turns it it was quite a trek up the hill and we didn’t have time since we are headed to Neuschwanstein castle today before returning our car in Munich.

At our last stop where we parked we saw Mirabellplatz & gardens which were featured in the movie. Sarah and I got our picture on the famous “Do-Re-Mi Steps” and we did a short video clip jumping from step to step singing the song. Fun times! From the information we got on the tour, It seems the story line is very close to the actual story, one major difference is they did not just hike over the mountain to Switzerland at the end (that is over 500 km away), they took a train to Italy because the father was born in a town that now was part of Italy so he and the family qualified for passports. Then they went to England, then to America for a singing tour. Here is a picture of Sarah and I on the steps.

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I really enjoyed this city because it’s not just a city, but it’s surrounded by beautiful countryside and mountains that can be seen from downtown. We headed off to Deutschland, AKA Germany. Here is a picture along the drive, we could see the Alps, it was beautiful.

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We arrived at the castle and much to our dismay, they were doing construction on a portion of it and it was covered in scaffolding. Sad face. 😦 In case you don’t know, this is the castle from which Disney modeled the castle at Disney World. We hiked to a bridge which is even higher than the castle, Dustin was being a drill sargent and we pretty much did it speed walking. 🙂 The brochure said the trip up would take 55 minutes, but we did it in 15 minutes. We didn’t have too much time because our car needed returned in Munich at 8pm. Unfortunately all the tours were sold out until 5:30pm and it was only 3:30pm , so we couldn’t see the inside. But the views from the top were worth the climb! Here are some pictures from the area.

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We made it to Munich, dropped our bags off at our apartment, and then found the rental car return. We put over 4,000 km on the car during this trip!

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We made our way to the city center, it is a bit crazy this weekend in Munich because the European Cup Championship game is tomorrow and the German team won tonight. Crowds were everywhere and we walked down a street filled with designer stores and every resturant was too expensive for us. We ended up finding a place to eat called Pfälzer Residenz Weinstube, they were known for wine, so the waiter was not so happy when 4 Americans came and asked for tap water. I don’t know if he thought it was funny but he brought us tap water in their tiny wine tasting glasses. So hear is a picture of our “cheers” with the tap water.

20120519-173429.jpgnThe food was very good, I had 1/2 chicken and he had fish and german potato salad, well it came with his dish but I ate it. If you know Dustin well, you know he has an aversion to eating things cold that can be hot such as pasta salad, potato salad, shrimp, etc. The german potato salad was very good, much better than our mayo versions in the US.

20120519-175753.jpg nThen we headed back to our apartment to relax & get some shut eye! Another successful day, we can’t believe our trip is almost over, 1 more night in Munich, and 2 nights in Prague, then we’ll be boarding a plane back home. At the same time it feels like forever since we’ve been in Ireland. We are very thankful for this opportunity. Have a great day!

Vienna & Salzburg

We headed out around 9:30 am and took the Metro into town for to see the Spanish Riding School. It is the oldest riding school in the world, dating back to the 1700’s. It has become a large part of the Austrian Heritage. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take pictures or video inside, it was like the horses were dancing to the music, they focus on making the horse move naturally. Each horse did high steps and side steps across the arena. The horses were all white stallions.

Afterwards we went back to our car near the apartment where we stayed to get on the road towards Salzburg. Today in Salzburg was a national holiday, Ascension Day. We were glad we bought some food for the road because many of the restaurants in Vienna were closed. Somehow we hit 3 countries on national holidays, it was a Bank Holiday in Ireland, Victory Day in France, and now Ascension Day. We looked up to see if coming another time of year would have less holidays, but it seems the Europeans have way more holidays than the Unites States!

We arrived in Salzburg around 4 pm. This is the only place we stayed in a bed and breakfast. It was ours and Rodewalds first bed and breakfast experience. The lady running the place was a sweet lady and it was right by the mountains. Our only compliant was she had cats and the hallway smelled awful! But our rooms were nice and the breakfast was good.

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Since it was Ascension Day, our host explained all the parking on the street was free. A plus for coming on the holiday! The Europeans charge for everything, parking, bathrooms, water, bread at dinner, and probably other things we haven’t realized yet. So free parking was a nice surprise. We parked near town and walked under the tunnel into town. We strolled along the famous shopping street called Getreidegasse where we saw the building Mozart was born in. This street is also famous for the iron signs above the stores.

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We cross the Salzach River and climbed a large number of stairs to a few lookouts which beautiful views of the city & the Festung Hohensalzburg, a castle on the side of the mountain. Here are some pictures.

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We headed back into the “old town” side and walked through some of the famous squares. There was a wind ensemble playing at a festival, presumably a holiday celebration, in Residenz Plaz. There were Austrian food vendors all around, we could have had a huge fresh fish on a stick or rotisserie chicken and of course fried chicken or veal. We passed because the chicken was the only thing that seemed appealing and we had that the night before.

We walked through Domplatz which is were the famous Christmas market is held each year, and Kapitel-platz where locals come to pay chess on a life size chess board. Maybe we should put one of these in Beavercreek or Cedarville!

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We also saw St. Peter’s Cemetery which inspired the Cemetary scene in Sound of Music, although the actual seen was shot in Hollywood.

Our host kindly told us about restaurants that were just a km from our B &B where we could get an authentic Austrian meal for less expensive than in town. So we headed back there for dinner. We ate at place called Gasthause Schachlwirt. My only compliant about restaurants here are the cigarette smoke. We did find a place in Veinna with a non-smoking section, but just like back home used to be, smoke travels to the non-smoking section, so after dinner I had a huge headache. But the meal was good, Josh and Sarah had the cheese Spätzle and Dustin and I have beef goulash with Spätzle. Dustin really wanted the cheese Spätzle, but I convinced him that we need more than cheese and grains at each meal, ha! Since he has had Spätzle for every meal at this point in Austria. I think he liked the goulash more than he wants to admit! And we both enjoyed marinated asparagus and strawberry salad.

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We went to bed early, one because I had a huge headache, and two because the wifi signal wasn’t strong enough in our room to post anything. Oh well I need the sleep, this was the first time on this trip that I’ve sleep more than 8 hours, it was nice!

Auf Wiedersehen!

Vienna

We left Venice just a bit after 5 am. The drive was beautiful (I did miss the first 2 hours of it because I quickly fell back asleep in the car.) It was raining most of the way through Italy, and began to clear up about an hour into Austria. Of course when we arrived, it was in the 50’s! burrr, we were spoiled in Italy with 2 very warm days.

We arrived in Wien (Veinna) about 11:30 am. First we visited the Schönbrunn Palace, which was the former imperial palace summer home for the Austrian monarchy. It was raining when we were there and we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside, but here are a few from the outside.

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After the gardens we parked our car near our apartment, but we couldn’t check it yet, so we headed towards the metro to take it into the city. On the way we stopped for lunch at Zum Alten Beisl. The menu was all in German, but one of the servers spoke English pretty well and Josh helped us out too. To me, German seems so completely different than French/Spanish/Italian, it seems like another world. I can’t even guess what food items are. 🙂 Josh had the traditional Wiener Schnitzel, Sarah had Schnitzel with chicken instead of the veal. I had a salad with asparagus and ham. And Dustin had Spätzle which is sort of like pasta, the dish he had tasted like mac & cheese. He said he could eat it for every meal in Austria and Germany, ha!

We headed downtown for a few hours before we had to come back and meet our host. This is St. Steven’s cathedral, it is being refurbished on one side right now, you can tell the difference in color from one side to the other, one side is almost black and the front has been cleaned already.

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We walked around downtown for awhile then heading back to our car/apartment. The apartment is very nice and so was the man who met us with the keys. We are right down the street from a supermarket so to save money we cooked our own dinner tonight. We bought Spinach Spätzle, ingredients for salad, and roistterrie chicken from a stand outside. We stocked up snacks and breakfast items, and still spent much less than dinner would have been out.

After dinner we headed back downtown, we walked around again and came to a few parks and took some fun pictures.

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This last picture is of the Opera House.

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Then Josh took us to the “best” gelato place in Austria in his humble opinion. They have a dish in Austria & Germany called Spaghettieis which is icecream shapped like spagheeti noodles with red fruit sauce, and either coconut or white chocolate shavings on top to look like paramesan cheese. Amazing! Of course I remembered to take a picture of this one!

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Josh and Sarah had one with caramel noodles and ice-cream. It was also yummy.

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Then we headed back for some sleep! Tomorrow we are going to the Spanish Riding School here in Vienna to watch their morning exercise and then we are off to Salzburg. I’m excited to spin in the field and sing…”The hills are alive….and I simply remember my favorite things, then I don’t feel so bad.” 🙂 We are hoping the weather warms up!

Auf Wiedersehen!

Florence & Venice, Italy

We got up early and were on the road by 8am. We headed north towards Venice and stopped in Florence around 11am. It took awhile to find parking, city was packed, but we finally found a garage and walked to the city centre.

Our stop in Florence was mainly to see the Duomo Cathedral also known as the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore and the Ponte Vecchio (“old bridge”) over the Arno river. Unfortunately there was a huge line to get into the Duomo we didn’t go in. We could only spend a few hours in Florence because tonight was our only time in Venice. This construction for this cathedral was started in 1296 and lasted 140 years. The outside is beautiful layered with black and white marble.

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Then we headed towards the River, the Ponte Vecchio bridge is famous for the shops lining the bridge which today are jewelry stores & high end souvenir shops, but they started as small merchants. This was the one of the only bridges in Florence not destroyed in WWII. The current bridge is the 3rd bridge said to be on this site after rebuilding rebuilding twice.

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We grabbed calzones & panini’s for “take-away” and ate them as we walked back to our parking garage. Parking was 5 EUR per hour and we needed to get on the road. It took us another 3 hours to get to Venice. We had expected to have to take a train over to the island, but our GPS took us over a large bridge, then lead us to a parking garage. Then we just walked over a small bridge to our hotel after a short conversation with a few locals to figure out where it was. The hotel was very small and being run by a neighboring hotel so not many people had heard of it. It wasn’t too fancy, all the hotels in Venice are old, but to just sleep it was fine.

We headed out for a stroll around town. We crossed the famous Rialto bridge (the bridge outside the Las Vegas Venetian hotel is modeled after this one). And it is the oldest of the 4 bridges crossing the grand canal. and stopped in a few shops along the way. Here is the Rialto (it’s sad there is graffiti on parts of it.

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Here are some fun pictures of the streets and bridges.
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We made it to the other side of the island at di piazza San Marco and saw the Basilica Di San Marco (St. Mark’s Basilica). It had closed just before we made it there, so we just took pictures from the outside.

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You could also see Isola (island) San Giorgio Maggiore from the square.

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As we strolled along the street, we came across street artists. We found some beautiful hand-painted canvas pieces that we bought for somewhere in our house. Besides shopping (which we don’t have much money for :), going to art museums, and walking around, there wasn’t too much to do but of course eat awesome Italian food We walked away from the crowd and popular square to find a more authentic restaurant. As we were walking we stopped to take a few fun pictures. We took a photography class at Cedarville last year about this time and enjoy taking photos (Josh and Sarah are probably tired of me and the photos at this point!) But we are trying to teach Josh some skills so we can have some good ones of us too. 🙂 Maybe before our next trip we’ll send him to a class, ha! Here are some of the pictures.

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Dustin wanted shrimp pasta for dinner of course, and Josh wanted mussels and we come across a restaurant that had both. Dustin enjoyed his dish although the shrimp came whole eyes and all….and it was more work to eat than expected. Sarah and I had a wonderful asparagus pasta dish, and Josh enjoyed his pasta with mussels. Here is a picture after dinner on the Rialto bridge.

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The resturant did have free wifi so we we were able to check email and look up directions back to our hotel. Josh has been to Venice a few times and everytime he gets lost, this time was no exception. The GPS on the iphone doesn’t work too well without wifi. We were about 3 km from our hotel and it had all kinds of turns. We did get lost a bit, the GPS signal would come in and out so once and awhile we could figure out where we were. We had a map too but the smaller streets weren’t on it. It was an adventure…we were all a little slap-happy at this point so it was fun! Here is a picture that Dustin took of us, apparently another lady took one too.

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We somehow ended up back at the parking garage and the boys grabbed their coats from the car. It got much colder tonight and we will be in jackets the rest of the trip. Our portions at dinner weren’t too large, so we were on the hunt for dessert, specifically chocolate cake. At this point in the evening we were all too cold to eat gelato. We ended up finding a cafeteria style place with chocolate cake and apple tarts. We were sold, a yummy end to the day.

We headed back to the hotel to sleep. We plan to leave for Veinna, Austria at 5am so we have plenty of time there. Our room was on the canal side of the building, and just after we fell asleep a man started playing the accordion right outside our window. I laid there for a bit and listened, it was a beautiful Italian tune, and then feel back asleep.

That’s the last of Italy for this trip. Such a beautiful country, excited for our next stop Austria!

Rome Day #2

We left our apartment and headed into Rome around 9 am, the treck to the metro was much less stressful this time around. We did have to squeeze into a very small parking space, but the boys are almost experts at driving and parking in Europe, a couple more weeks and they could be as good as natives.

Our first stop was the Spanish Steps in Italian known as Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti. They were constructed in 1725. They were built to link the spanish embassy and the church at the time. It was really crowded not ideal for photography, but here is a picture.

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Our next stop was Piazza del Popolo, in Italian this means people’s square. Historically this was the first area travelers would see when coming into Rome. It was also the area for public executions, the last of which was in 1826. Unfortunately there was a lot of construction in the area and not as beautiful as Sarah remembers.

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Then we headed to the Trevi fountain, in Italian Fountana de Trevi. The fountain marks the terminal point of the Acqua Vergine, which is the revived Aqua Virgo one of the ancient aqueducts that supplied water to ancient Rome. It took 30 years to finish.

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We had pizza at an Italian restorante and headed to Vatican City. Dustin and I took a tour of the the Vatican Museum & Sistine Chapel while Sarah and Josh headed off to the market called Campo di Fiori and a stroll around town. They have seen the vatican on past trips. The market had fresh fruits and veggies and nuts. We are set for breakfast tomorrow. Here are a few pictures they took.

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The tour of the Vatican was definitely worth paying for, we skipped the lines and had a guide describing all the major highlights as we walked through. Here are a few shots from the Vatican Museam.

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The purple granite in this last tomb is very expensive. It comes from an area in Africa that was completely excavated by the British once they found it.

We saw the Sistine chapel and our guide was great at explaining the paintings. Pictures aren’t allowed to be taken in this area and we did see a man get thrown out for taking pictures. The last stop on our visit to Vatican City was St. Peter’s Basilica. It was beautiful, here are a few shots from there. There was marble everywhere!

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We met up with Josh and Sarah outside St. Peter’s Basilica. Then we headed to the Pantheon, the Pantheon was rebuilt in 126 AD as a temple to all the gods. It is one of the best preserved of the ancient roman buildings, and since the 7th century as been a Roman Catholic church.

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Afterwards we headed for dinner. We debated going back to the restaurant from last night, but decided to take a chance on something different. We ended up at Il Falchetto. Dustin had the lasanga and I had the gnocci. Both were wonderful! Here are a few pictures.

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We love the Italian food except for the bread. The bread is so bland and hard at both restaurants we went to charged extra for it. We should have learned our lesson last night. But the menu last night said they charged and we saw after we dug in, and tonight no mention on the menu but they charged 1 EUR pp. Bring back the French whole grain baguettes! 🙂

We stopped by an Italian supermarket on the way home in our area. It was pretty similar to a Super Walmart or Kroger Marketplace except all in Italian. We purchased some gelato for dessert much cheaper than in town and some pasta making kitchen accessories for making pasta at home. Josh & Sarah have made homemade pasta before and we really want to try. Then back to the apartment to relax for the rest of the evening.

We are leaving early in the morning tomorrow for Venice. We are going to stop for a few sights in Florence on the way. One more full day in Italy. Rome is such a beautiful place with rich history, so glad it was part of the trip!

Orvieto & Rome Italy

Ciao!

We started off the day with breakfast at the hotel. This is the first time on the trip we’ve had breakfast included in our stay. We had yogurt, fresh squeezed juice, croissants, and fresh fruit. The kiwi was yummy!

Then we headed up the hill to the village of Orvieto. This area is just South of Tuscany, this provence is called Umbria. Here are some views from the look-outs.

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Inside the village there is a cathedral dating back to 1200. I loved the black and white marble strips inside and out. Here we were able to walk in just as the mass was starting since it was Sunday morning. The pipe organ was playing, amazing! I took some video clips, hopefully the sound turns out. Then an Italian choir sang, which was also wonderful, we stood in awe and praise of our Savior for a few minutes in this beautiful cathedral. It was nice to be able to see the cathedral being used for worship. We didn’t stay for the whole service because we had plans in Rome today & it was in Italian. 🙂

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We walked around the Orvieto Village for a little bit. I finally found a mortar and pestle at a cute shop. I started collecting them from different countries and I haven’t seen one on this trip until now. It was hand carved from olive wood. I hope to find one in a few other countries on our visit. There were all kinds of beautiful pottery, handmade tapestry, scarves, and woven items. Here are a few fun shots in town.

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We arrived in Rome and found our apartment outside of town. This was a bit of an experience, the apartments didn’t have numbers and the neighbors didn’t speak english. We finally were able to get pointed in the right direction. We found our host’s boyfriend and then he showed us to her. The apartment/b&b is very nice. The profile on airbnb said she had a hot tub but we asked about that she was very confused and after trying the words; hot swimming pool, jacuzzi, and spa I completely confused them. Her boyfriend spoke better english and he then tried to direct me to a full service spa, ha! I wish that was included. 🙂

The next challenge was getting into town. We followed her directions to the bus stop and we came to a bus/train station, but it looked deserted with 1 bus there & it wasn’t the number we needed. So after a few tries, we finally were able to locate a metro station in the GPS. The metro here in Rome is cheaper than Paris, it’s not as big either.

We parked and took the metro into Rome and took a much needed food stop! We just had a cheese pizza flatbread to hold us over until dinner. Dustin and I took a tour of the Roman Colosseum for 1/2 the price of the tours we almost booked on-line. We got to skip the line and go right in. It was a very good Roman history refresher and we learned some new things as well. Did you know the word arena comes from the latin word for sand? This is because there was sand in the bottom of the arena to soak up the blood after the fights. Here are a few pictures.

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Josh and Sarah joined us on the tour of the Roman Ruins and Roman Forum. It’s amazing to see pieces of architecture so old, some areas dating back to 8th century BC. The largest palace on the hill was formed by the emperor Domitian, and was built in in 81 AD. Much of this area was destroyed in an earthquake in the 1800’s and then a large amount of marble was repurposed to build churches including parts of the Vatican. At least it didn’t go to waste.

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Here is a picture of the Arch of Septimius Severus. It had been damaged due to erosion and It was refurbished later. The area right underneath the archway is original. This is the arch that the Arc de Triomphe design was based on.

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After the ruins we headed towards the pantheon, which we learned used to be a place where pagans worshiped, but when Constantine was emperor (first Christian Emperor), he converted pagan churches to Christian churches. Unfortunately the pantheon was closed early since it’s Sunday.

We took another restaurant suggestion from the airplane travel magazine and it was awesome! The resturant was called Antonio al Pantheon. We were able to sit outside to eat along the street on the cobblestone street, it was up into the 80’s today which made the evening still warm at 70. We had insalada verde & pasta. The green salad was topped with local olive oil, it tastes so much better here! I had ravioli with meat sauce and Dustin had spaghetti with olive oil, red pepper, and roasted garlic. Here is a picture to make your mouth water.

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After dinner we walked around the Piazza Navona. This is a city square that was built on the site of the Stadium of Domitaion in 1st century AD, it follows the form of the open space of the stadium. Ancient Romans would have come here to watch sporting events. The piazza was lined with artists selling their oil paintings and sketches.

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We walked around for a bit, then ended the night with gelato and headed back to a metro. There are not many metro stations in the city, so we had to walk about 15 min back to the Colosseum, but that was ok because we were able to see it at night.

We came home to relax and we were able to use our iPads to iChat with our moms and my grandma. Happy Mother’s day again to the women who have invested so much into us & to all the other mother’s reading!