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Central Europe

a travel blog by blondie

Baroque buildings, goulash, beer and so much more...what's in store for the little rental VDubs? We did get insurance :)
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Prague Part 1

Prague, Czech Republic

We set out from Orlando on the 24th and arrived this morning in Prague. The JFK to Prague leg was horrific - for some reason I couldn't get any sleep. Oh yeah, part of it was due to the two dip-dods sitting in front of us who decided to smoke in the lavatory - twice! I never cease to be amazed at what people will do. The flight attendant gave him a kindergarten slap on the risk, tsk, tsk... isn't that a felony? Well that just prepared us to land in Prague I guess. In the less than 24 hours we've been here, we have both smoked a second hand pack of cigarettes here, holy cow!

We checked into the Mamaison Residence Belgicka, which is in the expat part of town, really nice little gem of a hotel - the room does smell a bit like smoke - uh not surprised though.

No naps! We took the above ground tram to Prague Castle, which was an enormous complex. We got lost getting there and met someone from Estonia, and between the 3 of us, we ended up finding it just fine. The land is so hilly, it's easy to lose sight of the landmarks and get turned around. Kris could not pass up some authentic Prague Castle goulash.

We also checked out the local Wenceslas Vinyard where we had a carafe of local Czech wine...which we shared with the many bees that seem to populate the entire Castle area. Then we walked down the shopping street of Malostranska and crossed the Charles Bridge into Old Town. Old Town was packed with tourists and shops, and we met someone else from Pittsburgh looking at Russian style stacking Steelers dolls, go figure!
We checked out Tyn Church on the way back to the metro then headed to Radost FX Cafe for dinner, which was an awesome eclectic little bar/restaurant with great food.

Going to bed now- finally:)

permalink written by  blondie on August 25, 2010 from Prague, Czech Republic
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Brno, Czech Republic

permalink written by  blondie on August 26, 2010 from Brno, Czech Republic
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Poland and More Prague

Wodzislaw Slaski, Poland

On Thursday, we headed out to Wodzislaw Slaski, Poland to see John, Agata, and her family. We drove around the one way streets of Prague for about 45 minutes getting lost and looking for coffee to-go, not necessarily in that order. Once we got out of the city and drove though a McDonald's McCafe, we were on our way to Poland! The landscapes were beautiful throughout the whole drive. The VW Polo had a little of a rough time in the hills though, and I learned the hard way that you don't have to prepay for gas in Czech!

We arrived in Agata's town that afternoon - about a 4.5 hour drive from Prague. Her family was so great! We rode bikes and saw her town square, church and school. It was so cool to see where she grew up!
Her dad brews his own beer and makes his own wine and vodka, so we had a lot of his homemade libations that night and great food! They also had a super delicious cake for Kris' birthday! Her family grows a lot of fruit and vegetables in the yard, and we had fresh free-roaming happy Chicken eggs for breakfast in the morning - best eggs we have ever tasted in our lives, no joke!!

We left on Friday to go back to Prague - all four of us in the Polo. Definitely a tight fit, and a little more stress on the poor little VDub's engine, but we made it just fine. We stayed at the Ibis Hotel in Old Town this time which a GREAT location and was much closer to all the attractions.
We ate typical Czech food at a really great Brewery called Pivovarsky Dum and then walked back over Charles Bridge and through Old Town Square. Later we checked out a bar called Fragola.

Saturday, Agata and John had to leave back to Poland, so I walked with them to the train station and they took the 4 hour train back :( Sad to see them leave, but I'll see them back in the U.S in another week!

Kris and I walked around to some of the city we hadn't seen yet, including Wenceslas Square, and we ate dinner at a great cheap Thai noodle bar called Modry Zub, or the "Blue Tooth". I walked to see Prague Castle lit up later in the night. Prague certainly is a whole new city at night, with all of the bars lining the cobblestone streets opening up and different types of tourists out!

permalink written by  blondie on August 26, 2010 from Wodzislaw Slaski, Poland
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Brno, Czech Republic

permalink written by  blondie on August 27, 2010 from Brno, Czech Republic
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Praha, Czech Republic

permalink written by  blondie on August 27, 2010 from Praha, Czech Republic
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To Vienna - Wir gehen zu Osterreich!

Vienna, Austria

This morning, we got off to a little of a slow start. We ate breakfast at Grand Cafe Orient, which is at the top of the Czech Cubism Museum building (we should have gone to the Museum too). There was a band marching on the street below, and enough bees again surrounding our food outside to kill an elephant, so we stepped back inside after a bit.

We packed up and headed to Vienna via Brno. Either by mistake or on purpose, (Tom Tom's maps had not been updated in 3 years) we ended up on about 60 Miles of backroads outside of Vienna which took us through a few small towns with some very beautiful views (way to go Tom Tom).

We checked in to our hotel, Viennart Hotel, right across the street from the Museums Quartier. We are right on the outskirts of the city center which is nice, but the tram runs right past our window, the room is not really very nice and there is no A/C - thank goodness it's cold outside. Somehow this place got a 4 star rating, which boggles my mind because it's worthy of no more than 2 stars - well except for the bathroom, which is somehow pretty nice. I guess for the price it's all ok. We found free parking for the night on the street outside, but the spot was ubertight. I MAYBE gave the van in front of us a little bumper love, but both cars looked good as new after the job was done and about 10 inches to spare on either end. Thanks dad for teaching me to park a stick on a hill :)

We grabbed something something to eat and then headed to the Museums Quartier, which was a supercool layout of art buildings and major hangout. We passed through the Hofburg, Leopold's Museum and Kunsthistorisches Museum and into the city center to see Stephensdom and a lot of other gorgeous sights. There was no shortage of street entertainment, but all of the shops and buildings were closed since it was Sunday evening. But none of that detracted from the breathtaking architecture. Seems like we had a whirlwind day, so we stopped at a cafe for tea for me and dinner for Kris, then got some ice cream and went back to the hotel to chill out a little. We almost went to the bar, but decided to save our Euros for tomorrow. I also took the opportunity to move the car a few feet back since the car behind us had left:)

PS - Frau Schuller, eat your heart out, because I still know my German!

permalink written by  blondie on August 29, 2010 from Vienna, Austria
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Vienna - Wir bleiben in Vienna

Vienna, Austria

I planned out an itinerary for us last night, so this morning, we hit the ground running. Breakfast was surprisingly nice, given the ratty condition of the room we are staying in, so that was a unexpected plus. It was even colder this morning, and it was raining with a forecast to rain ALL day, so we abandoned our plan to rent bicycles, in favor of all day U-bahn/Strassebahn passes. Agata and John gave us their umbrella when they left Prague so we made good use of that - thx guys!

Our first stop was the Museum moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien (MUMOK) which is the largest museum for modern and contemporary art in Central Europe, and coincidentally located directly across the street from the hotel, in the Museums Quartier.

Always prepared, our student ID's got us a discount of 5 Euros total. We saw exhibits from Mladen Miljanovic (really cool car themed exhibit), Malerei's 'Prozess und Expansion' (just all around interesting installations and very wierd things), and Internationally renowned Austrian artist, Brigitte Kowanz's 'Now I See' (exhibit about communication through light). All the exhibits were super cool and well worth the time and ticket price.

We took the U-bahn and Strassebahn (although it took a few mistakes in reading the maps and lines) to Schloss Belvedere (Belvedere Palace) to see the gardens and the Upper Belvedere Collection. The most notable piece here is Gustav Klimt's 'Der Kuss' (The Kiss) of which we were not allowed to photograph. Price was a little steep at 9 Euro each, with no student discount since we were too old!

From the Belvedere, we took another U-bahn/Strassebahn combo to the Kunst Haus Wein - Museum Hundertwasser, which was designed by Friedensreich Hundertwasser and houses a lot of his works - admission is half price on Mondays, so a random plus for us at only 4.5 Euro per person.

This exhibit was definitely extraordinary and my favorite of the day. The floors were wavy and his works, including wall art and architecture were colorful and extremely creative, all with an eco-environmental emphasis. One exhibit was a model architectural plan of an eco community where the houses were build into the landscaping. Soooo worth the out-of-the-way locale!!

We headed back (yes, on the bahn) to the hotel area to do some sightseeing of the neighborhood we were in, including a popular shopping street, then took some R&R before heading out to dinner.

We went back into the Inner Stadt for dinner at a veggie-friendly place called Wrenkh, which was a great pick by our LonelyPlanet book. The food totally hit the mark, my mango-paprika-quinoa was great, and Kris' fish dish was equally unique and tasty.

After dinner, we walked around a bit, but Monday nights apparently are not very happening in the Inner Stadt. We hopped the bahn to JosephPlatz to a lesser known bar with a location actually underneath the bahn trusses. Odd but interesting place w/ definitely a locals crowd! Wow what a jam packed day!

permalink written by  blondie on August 30, 2010 from Vienna, Austria
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To Bratislava and Beyond

Bratislava, Slovakia

Rain, rain and more rain!! It rained all day today, over 3 countries!
After breakfast, we made the decision to spend a little more time in Vienna because we felt like there was so much more to see that we didn't get a chance to experience yet. I think you could spend a week in Vienna and feel like that though. Luckily, we were able to stash our luggage in the hotel luggage room.

We decided to head to the Schatzkammer where the crown jewels, a thorn from Jesus' crown and other cool things are on display, so we walked past the Museums Quartier in the pouring down rain to the Hofburg only to find that they were closed on Tuesdays! I guess I should have learned my lesson by now to look online to figure things like this out first, but Tuesday?? Who is closed on a Tuesday?

We were disappointed to say the least, and with soaking wet shoes, walked over to the Kaizergruft (under a church), which houses the coffins of many past Habsburg elite. Wow. The coffins were very elaborate! Very worth it at about 4 Euro, even in the freezing rain.

I definitely underestimated the weather here, I brought mostly tank tops and shorts etc. but it has been hovering around 55 degrees or less for the last few days. I desperately need some boots!!

We ate lunch at a super awesome organic vegetarian place (which took the cab driver like 15 minutes and 10 Euros to find even though it was 1km away - but hey it was pouring rain and freezing cold) called the Bio-Bar. We had fresh squeezed pomegranate juice and a great lunch. Was definitely a good Google find, local and lots of character.
As soon as we metro'd it back to the hotel, we packed up the VDubs and booked it out of Vienna, we'd spent way too many Euros the past few days!

We debated on going to Bratislava or go straight to Budapest. We figured we would probably never plan a vacation to Slovakia, so we decided to go for it. We got there in about an hour, and like the other boarder crossings, did not get stopped. It had been pouring the entire drive to Bratislava, as we entered the city, there was a very 'industrial' feel to it most markedly, the functionalistic, block style apartment buildings.

We drove around the city for a little while, seeing the odd, space craft like bridge, which in our opinion looked a little ill-constructed (the windows may have been blown out at the top?), and the Bratislava Castle. It was still raining and the wind was whipping, so admittedly we never actually got out of the car, except for gas and Kris pulling over to re-shut the hatch, so maybe we didn't give it a fair shot. In any case, it was still interesting to compare the cities we had been to with Slovakia's less progressive feel.

Finally, we took off for Budapest, and I have to give Kris props here for being such an awesome little VDubs driver in pouring down rain and high winds, with all of the road construction and trucks between Bratislava and Budapest. I can't believe we didn't get sucked under a semi with the way the wind was blowing. The one thing we saw a lot of when we got close to Budapest were the miles and miles of Sunflower fields! The would have been so pretty if the sun was shining.

We checked in to the Cosmo Hotel, which seems to be in a nice shopping/tourist area. We are right next to the Danube river and close to most of the tourist attractions, and the hotel (oddly pink and purple color scheme) is fabulous! We went to a Greek place around the corner for dinner which was really good and great service. Then we headed to a bar that was recommended by the manager at the Greek place. We took the metro (same 15 minute learning curve we experience at every metro) and made it to the bar, had a few drinks and then finally time to rest!

permalink written by  blondie on August 31, 2010 from Bratislava, Slovakia
from the travel blog: Central Europe
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Buda or Pest?

Budapest, Hungary

Holy cow, the Hungarians definitely contrast the Viennese! A little more rambunctious crowd and noticeably larger stature. Last night's bar crowd was a little rowdy, knocking things over and getting wild. The underground here is functional and packed with people, but definitely not new and pretty! But we like Budapest the best so far, what a great cultural city, with a little grit :) We like it so much we decided to stay an extra day and a half, and fly back through Paris w/ a night's layover by the Eiffel tower! We got 30,000 miles back for changing our flight!

Budapest feels a little more foreign than the other part of our travels so far. Most people in Czech spoke English, and we squeaked by in pinches in Austria with my German, and I could read menus and signs etc ok enough. But in Budapest, English is definitely a little harder to come by. Some things are in German, which helps, but most every public sign etc...is really only in Magyar (Hungarian). People are the most friendly here though it seems so far, which is nice. The restaurant service is usually really great.

Today we checked out Vaci Utca which is the shopping street our hotel is located on. We also walked up Andrassy Utca which leads up to Hosok Tere (Hero's Square) where there is a huge monument to commemorate the Magyar conquest of the Carpathian Baisn.

Beyond that, in the city park, is the Vajdahunyad Castle which was also very cool.

We took the M1 underground on the way back, which is the oldest underground line in Budapest and I think the second oldest underground line to be built in Europe...which would explain why our train got stuck between stops, eeking a few feet every minute or so to the next stop. Then, in Hungarian, we were all told to get off the train because something was wrong with it... a girl beside us politely told us we had to get off, since we obviously did not understand the instructions, and for some reason, some part of us thought maybe it would still be ok to rid to the next stop, what were we thinking?

We also saw the beautiful Opera House on Andrassy Utca and St. Stephen's Bascilica further south. It was a little more of a relaxing day with some breaks at the cafes. It is nice to have the Danube flowing right through the city center, because it helps with orientation especially when coming up from the underground station.

So it's still cold here and I'm running out of clothes...hopefully it warms up tomorrow!

permalink written by  blondie on September 1, 2010 from Budapest, Hungary
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I'll Take Buda for $1000 Alex

Budapest, Hungary

Well I'm trying to catch up with this travel blog right now. I came down with a small cold that has left me a little tired over the last few days, complete with stuffy sinuses and a running nose. I think it's the cold weather?

Regardless, on Thursday we made it to a number of really cool sites. We took off for Buda's Castle Hill via the underground. On our walk through a park, we discovered an interesting 'lock tree' and thought it was so cute! We walked across the Szechenyi bridge, which has beautiful architecture. It leads directly to Buda's Castle Hill. We took the Siklo up to the top, which is like an incline. The Pittsburgh incline has a better view I'd say though ;)

On Castle Hill, we saw the Royal Palace, which is huge. On the opposite of the Pest side, we could see the Buda Hills, which were beautiful. I believe the ruins on the top were Buda Castle ruins, but I should actually confirm that before I write it! There was a cute little town on the top of the hill as well. We walked to the Matthias Church, Holy Trinity Statue, St Stephen's Statue and through the awesome vista of Fisherma's Bastion, which looked like a new age castle fortress wall along the cliff over the Danube River. The vista was directly across from the massive Parlaiment Building, which is on the Pest side of the River. Castle Hill was definitely worth the time, but I would skip the Siklo if I were to do it again.

We grabbed a vegan lunch at a placed called Eden then took the metro back. We had passed the interesting 'lock tree' in the morning, so we decided to get our own lock at a place on Vaci Utca, which had been open since 1856 so we could put a lock on the tree too. We rented a couple of bikes later in the afternoon. We rode bikes to dinner at a place called Bio Garden then also to a bar across the river on the Buda side called Cafe Rio, which turned out to be completely empty on a Thursday (HUGE bar too)! Kris was able to tether a pair of heels to my bike rack on the back of my bike:) We rode through the Raday Utca district to hopefully find something a little more happening, but to no avail. I guess the Hungarians go to bed early on Thursdays?

We started Friday by getting our lock engraved at the same place we bought it. Check out the photo :). Apparently it's just a random odd Hungarian thing to put a lock on the tree to symbolize your love, so after the engraving, we rode our bikes to the tree and put our lock on the tree:)
We pretty much rode our rental bikes around the rest of town all day, discovering much of the city we hadn't seen yet on foot or metro. We saw St. Stephens Basilica close up, but we should have gone inside, since I read later on how beautiful it was inside! Lunch was at Fruccola, a local working lunch place with super fresh food and of course fried cheese. I think I've eaten a little too much fried cheese by now though, I swear it is in ever dish! We checked out some local art stores too. I was a little tired from my cold, but we stuck through it pretty well though. We had dinner at the Soul Cafe - food was great!

Later that night, we went to an island in the Danube called Hajogyar (Oduba) Island, which has 9 different bars on it, kind of a party island, with all different types of themes and music at each bar. We had decided to ride our bikes there since cabs were a little expensive and the trams stop at midnight. The island was about 5 miles away, and I think we underestimated how far 5 miles actually is! It seemed like forever and it was dark and COLD! So on the way back we found a taxi van that fit both of our bikes in there for us!

permalink written by  blondie on September 2, 2010 from Budapest, Hungary
from the travel blog: Central Europe
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