A Travellerspoint blog

Up, up and away!

The last hurrah.

Our last week and a half. Wow it just flew by. We spent 5 days in Holland and it was such a great end to the trip!

After a couple days of hanging at the house (and Derek's terrible haircut experience), we took the bus and train an hour and a half to Nijmegen to meet up with an old friend of mine and her boyfriend who are in the Canadian navy and were doing the annual 4 day 'march'. It's quite an event actually! There are thousands who participate in the march and vary from military groups from all over the world to groups of people who do the march for fun. Ok so here's how it works, the walkers get up at 3-4am each day for 4 days and walk 40kms which takes about 12 hours and results in lots of bandaged feet and people who look like they're in horrible pain walking afterwards. It's insane! You can opt not to do the walk, you can just come afterwards each and party! They have tents, food stands, festival tents - it was so much fun! I love Europe and their festivals, it's so relaxed, laid back and just different than North America. Maybe it's because you can have a drink in public and that's just normal. People don't seem to get 'fall down drunk' but it's more of a relaxed atmosphere. After grabbing some dinner at a very busy restaurant, Derek and I headed back to Oosterhout. The next day we got ready to go by train to Utrecht to meet up with our friends who we had met in Indonesia. They had a baby 5 months ago so we were so excited to see their new family! Maurice picked us up at the train station and we walked to their house (townhouse style) in this great area near some green space! We BBQ'd and sat around drinking wine and beer on their patio, catching up and realizing how lucky we were to meet them. They are just such great people. We were supposed to catch the train back in order to get the last bus to Oosterhout but we ended up staying the night at their house so we could have more time together. Such a great decision as our talks continued until after midnight. The next morning we met their 5 month old son, who is just adorable, and Maurice drove us home to Oosterhout in time for us to meet up with Jurgen, Iris and Bjorn and head to an amusement park about 30 minutes away. Oh my goodness. I hand it to parents... children take a lot of energy and I only spent 9 hours at an amusement park with kids who are fairly grown (11 and 13). We were exhausted coming home but the kids definitely were not ready to pack it in on a Saturday night. They wanted to go to the nearby exhibition. No thank you - I stayed home. Derek and Jurgen went though... troopers. They were out until after midnight and Derek said it was the biggest exhibition he's ever been to. The rides were apparently beyond anything we could imagine and tens of thousands of people were there. Derek said it was over a kilometre long!

The next day Derek and I got ready to pack up and head out on the train to Brussels for our last few days before making our way back to Canada. Jurgen and the kids drove us to the train station and we took one of our last train rides of this amazing adventure. We arrived in Brussels and walked to my sister and her boyfriend's pal's place (his name is Marcus) where we were greeted so warmly! The 3 of us caught up and then he took us to a nearby stand that has amazing fries and mayonnaise (a Belgium classic) and you can choose from a list of about 15 different types of dipping sauces. The great thing is, we could take our food to go and eat at a nearby restaurant while having a drink! I love that you can take food from somewhere else to other restaurants - why not? We sat, talked about life and reflected on our trip and then Marcus took us for a walk through the city where we saw tons of pedestrian areas, monuments, parliament buildings, parks and then stopped into the 'Hipster area' for another drink - this time a Belgium favourite of mint grenadine type of syrup with club soda and ice. Yum. So refreshing! As it was the equivalent to 'Canada day' in Belgium and also the ringing in of a new king who had taken the throne, we headed to the incredible square to hang out until the fireworks started. There's a main building in the square that if you look at it, you notice the huge doorway is not symmetrical with the rest of the building. Marcus says that legend has it, the man who designed the building didn't notice the mistake until after it was completed and ended up hanging himself because of it. Eep. Anyway, we sat on the ground of the square with a couple hundred other people who were sitting around in small groups with Belgium flags and people singing. Then it was fireworks time - honestly a bit disappointing because they weren't high enough to get over the historic buildings so we only saw some of them but it was pretty cool to be in a city with 1-2 million people who have gathered just for this day. I just hate the crowds afterwards when everyone wants to leave and it takes forever. Thank goodness we were within walking distance because we saw the line up for the metro came up onto the street - yikes.

The next day Marcus was working so I made Derek have his haircut redone (it was seriously awful before) and then we met Marcus for a quick lunch and then back to his office to meet some colleagues who work in the same building but for different companies. We met a friend of his who is planning on moving to Canada (Quebec) with his girlfriend, they have never been to Canada before but were so hopeful things would work out for them. We heard that because of the dire financial situation in Europe, people are moving to other countries in the hopes of securing work... people from France and Belgium are flocking to Canada to work. It's a sad situation but hopefully their economy turns around. We were reading that 60% of Spain's youth are unemployed due to lack of jobs... it's just terrible. Marcus was telling us it's more difficult for them because most people there cannot speak another language so moving to another country to work is not really an option. How can they ever get back into the work force when it does turn around? How can they survive without a job? I am so lucky to be able to choose to quit my job... but sometimes it feels ridiculous that I even chose that when I hear about other people who would never contemplate that luxury...

Tangent.

That afternoon, Derek and I ended up walking around the city center and may or may not have done a 'chocolate crawl'. Oh. My. This is what I've wanted to do the entire trip. We jumped from chocolate shop to chocolate shop (there must be hundreds in this city) and trialed chocolate until our stomach hurt. Which really didn't take long. Our favorite store was called 'Mary' and it was the most delicious chocolate I've ever had. Afterwards we grabbed some sushi for dinner and headed back to Marcus' apartment for the evening as he was working late so gave us a chance to get packed up to leave in two days. The next day we met Marcus for lunch again but this time stopped at a local sandwich place for a quick bite and Derek and I headed off to the Chocolate Museum which was really cool and ended with a chocolate demonstration by a chocolate chef (or whatever the proper name is) who told us all about the properties of chocolate and how you can use it in different ways. We saw in one of the display cases there was chocolate tea so we were encouraged by the museum staff to go to this local shop that sells all types of tea. It was so neat - tons of large red tin cans lining the entire wall of this store. The chocolate tea smells amazing and has the cocoa pod instead of actual chocolate so it smells a little spicy but sweet. Cannot wait to try it! Afterwards we stopped in at a cafe for a couple of hours and just talked about the past 5 months and how crazy it is that it's basically over. It's bittersweet... we have been wanting to do a trip like this for a long time now and it's over. But no regrets and we really couldn't be happier that we actually did it.

My advice to anyone who is able to make a change in their lives in order to take that risk to improve their happiness - do it. If you have a good support system around you, have some financial security, have the passion/desire/confidence. Do it. What is stopping you from living your life the way you deserve to? Ask yourself what is it you want to get out of a certain new experience? People say they want to travel all the time but many don't know why... take the time to figure out the why and what part of your life feels unfulfilled. A big thing with me as well is managing money effectively; I don't buy 'stuff' that a) I obviously don't need and b) will get in the way of me achieving my goals.

Tangent...

After our few hours of reflection we met up with Marcus and got some pizza before meeting three of his work friends at a bar called 'Delerium' which has over 1000 different beers on tap. It's crazy! The bar is two stories and is packed with tubes/kegs/taps and a big folder of all the beers. I don't know how the staff keep it all straight! If you go to Brussels, it's pretty cool to see. Too bad I don't drink beer... hah. I had a cherry beer which I had hoped was like a cooler but it tasted like cough medicine... oh well! When in Brussels! So that was our last night... we were up early the next morning to catch our last and final train to the airport where we boarded and took off for Montreal and then bused it to Ottawa for three days to find an apartment.

Looks like we are all set for the fall! Are now on PEI for a month and so excited for the next chapter in our lives. Thank you to everyone who spent the time reading my entries and following us on this journey. Your support has meant so much.

Now, I leave you all with my favourite travel quote - it doesn't just apply to travel but to new experiences that broaden your mind i.e. reading, school, meeting new people, etc:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

Until next adventure,

Laurie :)

Posted by lcmichael 19:09 Archived in Canada Comments (1)

On the morrow then!

London, England. What a city!

We flew over from Holland on a Ryanair flight (cheap but you get what you pay for) and landed around 9:30am on Thursday ready to check out this new city! We had to get a bus into London because Ryanair flies into random areas which are usually quite far from the city you are going to visit - makes you wonder if it's really worth the discounted fees once you factor in checked bags, transport into the city, etc. Anyway, it took about 3 hours total to get from the airport to our friends' apartment in East Finchley (30-40 north of the main city by tube) so needless to say we were exhausted. We took a bus from the airport, bus to another stop and walked about 15 minutes but thankfully did not have any checked bags (at least one thing we have learned traveling is how to pack lightly!).

We arrived at the apartment after getting a few groceries along the way and met a friend of Mike's who was crashing on their couch waiting to sign with a European soccer (football) team and such a nice guy! Grew up on PEI as well! After getting settled and had lunch, we went to a local cafe for a cold smoothie and some shade. The entire time in London was HOT. Like sweating everywhere kind of hot. Gross. But at least it was sunny! Right??

Nicole arrived home from work (she's a teacher) and happily took us into the city for dinner. Our first time on 'the tube' but no different from any other metro except it is much more expensive! We bought an 'oyster' card which you load with money and scan it when you use the metro - saves time and it's also cheaper than buying tickets each time. Convenient and cheap - thank you oyster. We got off at Embankment stop and walked across the river via an amazing pedestrian bridge. This city is alive. More than any other I've seen. There are people everywhere just enjoying themselves! Bars, restaurants and cafes line the river and I swear there were several hundred people at one bar lounging outside with their friends after work. Then the architecture - so cool and creative. Plus you keep walking and there's a skate park underneath a restaurant, The National Film Council and a restaurant built from shipping containers. It is a very unique place. We went to restaurant in the 'Young Vic' area and had a great time catching up. Then it was back to East Finchley and our weary bodies/minds couldn't be more ready for bed.

The next day Derek and I headed out to check out a few tourist sights like Canada House, some big and old churches (unsure of the names hah), war memorials, more churches, hung out in a park beside the Thames River, walked along the river and found the Royal Justice Courts. This was so cool because we got to sit in on an actual hearing. The lawyers and judge wore this white curly wigs and long robes! It was a defamation case involving someone named Carruthers and The Sun Times. Really interesting! From there we walked by the Covent Garden Market and met up with our friend Rosie who took us to Green Park and brought an entire picnic for our dinner. We sat under a tree for a couple hours then went to Bucky Palace (as they call it) to see where the Queen resides. I mean... If I had called ahead I'm sure we would've had tea together. It just wasn't enough notice. Obviously. From there we headed back to the metro where Rosie left for the night and Derek and I waited to meet up with our friends, Al and Mozzi. While we were waiting we had a solid celebrity sighting! Although not super exciting, still was cool. We saw Bill Nighy (was in Love Actually and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel). Not like we talked to him or anything... That would be awkward.

The four of us met up and ventured to an Italian cafe (Al knows the owner) where we had a few drinks before heading back to East Finchley to a 'dive' bar/pub and Nicole met up with us there. We had so much fun! Then we stumbled home and crashed around 3:30am. The next morning was a wake up call that our bodies are aging and hate us. No more drinks this weekend!

Saturday was very hot out so we hopped on a bus to Hampstead Heath which is a huge park on the northern edge of the city. It's beautiful! They have a women only, men only and coed lake for swimming. I didn't swim but went with Nicole to the women's only lake to check it out. It was a little strange to me. Back from the lake was this tree/tall grass enclosed piece of land (looked like someone's lawn) where there were tons of topless women but made it very awkward if you weren't swimming and had to stand on a tiny stretch of grass looking at a tree so you didn't make eye contact. In this case, I'll take my rural towns with wide open beaches any day. But otherwise once we walked into the park, you felt like nothing was around you except open space, trees and fields. We took shelter under a huge tree for the next few hours before heading back to the apartment. Nicole's friend came over and Derek and I made our 'super salads' for dinner for everyone and played games and talked the rest if the evening. It was really nice just to stay in and relax. The next day Al, Nicole, Derek and I went to Camden to meet up with Rosie and eat lunch at this huge outdoor/indoor market. It is one of, if not the best food stall market I've ever been to. Huge areas of hot cooked food ranging from Indian, Japanese to Polish, Jamaican, German - basically anything you can think of! Derek and I got the Jamaican jerk chicken wrap and a beef/bean burrito. Oh dear lord. SO delicious! We all sat by the canal watching the people in boats and at restaurants and then wandered some more through the shops and antique stores. There was a section of the market that used to be an old horse stable and converted into more space for shops. It's conveniently called 'The Stables'. We finally had to say our goodbyes to Rosie and headed back where Mozzi made us a feast of homemade Hungarian goulash stew complete with dumplings and sauerkraut. Such a good dinner! Then we went to the Phoenix cinema down the street (has a restaurant/cafe/bar attached - genius!) and saw the Wikileaks documentary. Monday was our last day in London so we said bye the night before to our friends as they had to work early Monday and were gone before we were up. We had such a great time with them in London! Very happy we had the chance to go! Derek and I booked a hotel for Monday night close to the airport as we left at 6:30am the next day so made the long trek by bus out to Stansted airport and had curry/rice and fish/chips for dinner to round off our English experience!

The next morning it was back to Holland. We were so happy to be able to spend the next 5 days at Derek's aunt's house. My finger is so tired from typing (notice I said finger because I'm literally typing this with my pointer finger on an iPod). Ugh. Only a couple more entries to go before this journey is a wrap!

Laurie

Posted by lcmichael 22.07.2013 12:48 Comments (1)

Cross Country

It has been a couple weeks since my last post and we have done so much! I can't believe there's only 1 week to go until we are back on Canadian soil and shortly afterwards, red Canadian soil!

I left the last post in Plzen (pronounced Pilsen), Czech Republic. We ended up renting a room from a family at only $23/night, it was great! We were only 5-10 minutes by tram to the downtown area and tickets were dirt cheap. Our impressions of Czech have been amazing. What a country! There are pros and cons to going into new countries with no expectations. On one hand, you are impressed by everything and it's like you are discovering things you never knew existed but on the other hand, you know nothing about the countries and their history. That weights a bit more on me as it almost feels like ignorance that we aren't even educated to know about other countries the way we should. I realize though, travel is about obtaining education on new areas without the schoolroom format. I feel like it's a much better way to learn about the world (if you are able to) but if not, EAT THE FOOD! We are so lucky, it doesn't seem to matter where you go in the world, you have access to hundreds of different types of food from different countries and cultures. That's what I love about food - it's a great introduction to a country's history, culture, traditions, religion, etc. If you tried different foods, you can do a bit of guessing on how these foods came to be based on history, preservation methods, religion, daily habits of the women (who usually did the cooking), region where they came from, the list goes on! For example, let's take foods in Holland (these cross over to other similar European countries as well) - hutspot is a traditional dish where leftover potatoes, carrots, onions, turnip (or whatever is leftover!) are mashed into one pot and eaten alone or with sausage, beef, etc. This dish was popular because of the ingredients (easy to farm in the climate), inexpensive, accessibility of the ingredients was widespread, I'm going to guess for a large family it was easy to prepare/serve and fill up the children. Pickled dishes and dried meats are also very popular and those methods of preservation speaks to the resources available at that time - no fridge, only access to seasonal foods which meant preservation throughout the year was crucial and necessity to make the most of money available. Also, another popular national dish is nasi goreng (fried rice) which actually not Dutch at all. In fact, it only came to be after the Dutch colonized Indonesia where nasi goreng (and other dishes) are specific to that country but the Dutch brought these recipes, ingredients and spices back to Holland. You can look at ANY culture, choose a food and guess at 'how it came to be'. I love doing that!

Sigh... tangent.

So we're in Plzen and you can guess what their famous for creating - Pilsner beer. We went on a brewery tour at Pilsner Urquell which was huge. The company that owns them is from South Africa and at this brewery, I think they brew 7-8 different brands of beer, including Pilsner Urquell. It was amazing to see the stark different between the tiny, microbrewery in Cesky Krumlov and this much larger one in Plzen. Then there are the international brands like Heineken which are apparently just HUGE. Derek was in heaven on this tour! At the end of it, they gave us samples of beer in the basement cellars from huge wooden barrels which is the ''yeast'' beer but not used for bottling, just for consumption at the brewery (same as in Cesky). As I don't drink beer, Derek was happy to take my sample. Hah.

The next day we went back into the downtown and did a tour with the Brewery Museumof the historial underground right beneath the city - it stretches for about 20kms in total but we only toured about 800m. It was so interesting. Part of it was initially built in the 14th century and was used from then for beer storage, access to water wells, storage of food, for defence in times of conflict (residents would escape underground), pottery making, etc. It is just incredible the amount of history that exists in these places. It's difficult to wrap my head around being from Canada as our history is very limited but you see quickly in other countries that this is where we started from. We do have a very long history but it just exists in a different geographic location at a different time.

The rest of the day, we checked out the city and were pretty tired from our tours so headed back to our place. The next day we took off to spend a few hours in Prague on our way to Berlin where we were meeting up with my friend Kirstine, who is from Denmark. Our train ride to Prague was only 1 hour but on the train we both started to 'freak out' about heading back to Canada in a few weeks. We realized all the things we have to do and it was just too much. It took a few hours to come back down to earth but what better way to blow off anxiety and steam than with a walk around a new city. The downside to Prague, it's BUSY. Tourists galore. So that didn't help the anxious feelings we were having. It's a beautiful place and I'm sure we would have enjoyed it more if we had stayed but it was like most other European cities we've seen - city built on the river, check! Big church, check! Huge city square, check! Lots of tourists, check! Famous bridge, check! Cafes and restaurants galore, check! Hop on, hop off tour buses, check! We definitely got a lot more out of our time in Cesky Krumlov and Plzen.

Then it was off to Berlin! We were so excited to see Kirst and spend the next 4 days with her checking out the city! We arrived in Berlin in the evening and met her at the apartment she rented from her friend's parents in a great part of Berlin (Charlottenburg). She was nice enough to bring Derek a package of his famous double salt candies as they share a (gross) love for them. Only my opinion they are gross. Think extremely strong, salty black licorice. Ugh. After catching up at the apartment, we ventured out to an awesome Vietnamese restaurant for a late dinner and then it was off to bed. The next day we just walked around the city, checked out a few neat streets about 40 minutes away by metro with pedestrian areas, outdoor markets, etc. then it was back to the apartment to make dinner. A bottle (or two) of wine later, Kirst and I were caught up on our lives and just having such a great time together! Derek couldn't take the girl talk so ended up reading his French novels for the rest of the night. Hah. The following day we did a few more touristy things, Kirst brought us to the Jewish memorial which is a huge area of square pillars of all different heights and it forms a sort of maze. We also saw Checkpoint Charlie, the Berlin wall remains and monuments, walked through parks, stopped in at Five Elephant Cafe (amazing!) for a quick caffeine refuel and Kirst took us to this INCREDIBLE vegetarian/vegan restaurant called "Yellow Sunshine" which had absolutely delicious diner food. I had the ''chicken burger'' which was vegetarian but tasted exactly like chicken and Derek had the ''cheeseburger'' which also tasted identical to ground beef. We even questioned it but nope, everything was vegetarian and just incredibly done. Tracy would have just LOVED to be there with us and I kept saying I needed to get her there! The afternoon was spent in the extreme heat of over 35 degrees and we kept trying to escape to the shade until we couldn't take it anymore and headed back to the apartment later that afternoon. Kirst and I decided to go on the hunt for sushi and spent about an hour getting lost and finally depending on the bus to get us in the right direction. Sushi in hand, we had a feast on the balcony of the apartment and stayed in for the evening. Our last day together followed the next day and Kirst took us to this very upscale mall to see how extravagant it was. Art exhibits in the middle of the mall and VERY high priced retailers (i.e. Rolex, Louis Vutton, etc) so needless to say we did not buy anything in those stores. Laughable at the thought. The top floor of the mall housed gourmet, high end food from a deli counter, prepared food counters, a whole chocolate section and candy section... ahhhh. I did buy candy and chocolate. I mean... come on.

Lunch was at another Vietnamese restaurant after seeing Massaman curry on the specials (so good!). I love how the Vietnamese restaurants in Berlin make curries but serve them with shredded lettuce and carrots around the curry, you mix in the raw vegetables and it makes it so delicious! Never thought of doing that and I will be starting. We headed back to the apartment as Kirst was leaving in a couple hours so we said our goodbyes and Derek and I spent the rest of the day relaxing! The next morning we were heading back to Oosterhout where his aunt and her boyfriend live in Holland so needed to pack up. Our day was not expected to be so long and unfortunately I picked up a stomach bug which made the 13 hour day just horrible. I have never been more thankful to get to a house before! Jurgen and his children, Iris and Bjorn, were at the house when we arrived and the next day - Derek and the three of them went to do some exploring around the province while I stayed at the house still sick.

We left early the next day to catch our flight from Eindhoven to London, England to spend the next 5 days with our friends! That's for another post though!

Laurie

Posted by lcmichael 05:36 Archived in Netherlands Comments (2)

Living in a dream.

Vienna. What a dream city. Cafes, tons of restaurants, beautifully kept, cafes, incredible architecture, parks, antique shops... Did I mention cafes? This is the urban city I would live in if I had to choose. So Vienna... Sigh. It is the most laid back and beautiful city I have seen. Loved it! To top it off, we rented a GORGEOUS apartment in a fantastic neighborhood right by the river. It was in an old building (of course - everything's old in Europe!) and it had ceilings that were probably 15 feet high and it overlooked trees and clay tennis courts. The owner lived in the unit above us and kept it for when her children came home to visit. We arrived and picked up the keys at the 'tea and chocolate' shop down the street (she had left us 2 chocolates with the keys - so sweet, no pun intended) and checked out the neighborhood, got some sushi nearby and then to a cafe for an amazing hot chocolate and coffee before heading to bed. It was funny at the cafe, there was a non smoking room at the back, closed off from the rest of the cafe so we were the only ones in there. When you could smoke in restaurants in Canada, they usually had a smoking room, not the other way around. Lots of people smoke in Europe though. I'm personally not a fan.

Oh, we have also been watching lots of 'Kitchen Nightmares' on YouTube before bed so basically what I'm saying us that Gordon Ramsay is our only friend at the moment. Really entertaining. It's strange at times to travel for long periods of time and be lacking many social connections like spending time with friends and family. Skype, email and FaceTime is great but never come close to replacing the actual interactions... We miss that. Downside to this type of travel! Luckily we have had those 2 weeks with Monique and Trevin, are meeting my friend Kirstine in Berlin, are going to London, England to see Mike and Nicole and will end our time at Marcus' (Tracy/Neil's friend) place in Brussels! Lots of social time coming up!

Tangent...

Our only full day in Vienna was awesome. We walked the 15-20 minutes to the city center to the pedestrian area, walked around but were feeling anxious by the amount of tourists so headed to the huge outdoor market by the river. We had curry carrot soup and potato dumplings, walked end to end and finished at a cafe. I got frozen yogurt from a store nearby - it was plain frozen yogurt (not vanilla - plain!) topped with raspberries and chocolate shavings. It was so good. I've never had plain soft serve frozen yogurt like that and it will be happening again. With the chocolate... Of course. Then we walked to the National Library/Museum, were too cheap to pay admission so walked throughout the city before we saw a Cafe Coffee Day! We didn't realize they existed outside of India so naturally had to stop in.

Then it was mid afternoon and we already had walked 5-6km so were tired. This meant after our tough day we were ready for some relaxation. Hah. Back to our neighborhood, bought groceries, made super nachos for dinner and hung out with Gordon Ramsay for the night.

The next day we packed up and walked the grueling 2.5km back to the train station with 25-30lbs of luggage to carry. Our poor backs/necks... Sore so much from carrying so much weight. Next it was off to Bratislava, Slovakia for 2 nights!

Another gem city. We really need to get back to Slovakia in the future. It was amazing! Our apartment was awesome and only a 20 minute walk to the city center. We arrived around lunchtime so had the rest of the day to become familiar with our surroundings. Our host recommended 'Slovak Pub' as a place to eat and let's just say we over indulged there. Twice. Think oldest pub... Built in 13th century or so. High ceilings, exposed wood everything - chairs, tables, ceiling beams, walls, it was gorgeous. The family that owns it has their own bakery and sheep farm (sheep's cheese is very popular in Slovakia, tastes like a milder goat cheese).

Note: *Bryndza = special Slovak sheep's cheese produced only in Slovakia.

Ok so our lunch at the Slovak pub. We started with bryndzove halusky so slaninou (potato dumplings with bryndza and bacon), then an order of bryndzove pirohy so slaninou a koprom (bryndza pierogi (turnovers) with bacon and dill), an order of pirohy s masom smotanou a slaninou (vyprazane) (fried pierogi with meat, sour cream and bacon)and finally zemiakova placka (potato pancakes). I can't even describe how good everything was! From here we took a walk through the pedestrian streets and went to Presporak Cafe (another recommendation by our host) which turned out to be one of the coolest cafes we have been to. It was small and chock full of antiques. You walk in and see full bookshelves up the ceilings, a huge (very old) model ship standing against another wall, an old wood stove in the middle of the room against the windows, Old pictures on the walls... Key word = old. So neat. After hanging out here for a bit, we walked back to our apartment still very full and lazed for the evening before heading for dinner to a nearby restaurant where I tried the Slovakian garlic soup. Yum! That wrapped up another 5km walking day! I definitely need a good foot soak after this trip.

One thing we did notice about Bratislava is on Saturday and Sunday, very little is open. Also, it's interesting to visit a country that is not in the mix of popular travel spots, you can see that it's in transition. There is a lit of graffiti here too. For example, we would be downtown in the old center where it's busiest and one side street over there are abandoned buildings, graffiti all over it, smashed windows, chains attempting to keep the door locked that's already falling down, foundation crumbling, and 2 buildings down is the most gorgeous historic building. It takes time for these cities to get up to speed with others but on the other side of it, we loved the charm!

The next day we got up and walked to the Bratislavian Castle overlooking the Danube River. It gave us a beautiful view of the old city and the red roofs as well as across the river to where new development takes place. We mosied our way down to the old part of the city and were blown away by this area. Pedestrian streets lined with shops, cafes, restaurants and people out and about with friends and family. The main pedestrian 'drag' was amazing. It had a walking street in the middle of a huge walking street. That doesn't make sense. Picture a road with businesses on either side. Now double the size of that road and stick another road right down the middle with a park, fountains, trees lining the whole way down. On either side of this 'middle' road is paved road for a car to pass and then on the other side of the paved road is where another sidewalk is, then restaurants, cafes, bars, etc. so it's like there are 3 roads within the whole thing! Maybe it's easier to look it up... I'm obviously horrible at explaining this.

Anyway, we walked back to Slovak pub for lunch and here's the rundown of what we had: cesnakova polievka kremova v bochniku posypana syrom (creamy garlic soup in a homemade bread bowl with cheese), bacova kapsa (shepherds bag - spicy pork mixture in a potato pancake), and our tried and true perogies with sour cream and dill from the day before.

We took a walk back down towards the river, naturally stopped at a cafe, checked out the local outdoor markets, watched an outdoor chess match on that road I tried to describe (it was giant version, the 2 people had to walk to their pieces), and finally grabbed a drink at a restaurant before walking back to our place. Another 5km! Love this new habit! We left the next morning but not before running down to a coffee store to buy Derek his own Italian stovetop percolator! What we saw of Slovakia was amazing. The people, food, history, architecture and amazing city planning! All rate way up there in our books. This is a place I am coming back to explore.

The next day was a long day... Anticipated to be 7 hours travel but turned into 10 hours due to a train schedule change we weren't aware of so we missed a connection but here we are in Ceske Krumlov, Czech Republic. This was another 'oh my god it's so beautiful' type of place. A castle perched on the river next to a gorgeous church and the rest of the town built around it and then on the little islands connected by small bridges, what a sight. Our apartment was on the island the street back from the river and was so cool. Think old wood stove, lots of old wooden beams, loft bedroom, tiny kitchen appliances in a stone kitchen, wooden windows you open into the apartment and a swing hanging from the beams! The woman we rented from lives downstairs in the same building and gave us suggestions in where to eat so we headed the next street over to a delicious vegetarian restaurant called 'Laibon' which is right next to the river. We had guacamole to start (they served cucumber slices on the side which I've never thought of and was so good!), I got the red vegetable curry with rice and Derek got 'Dragon's tongues' which are spicy tofu steaks with rice and vegetables. Dessert was blueberry dumplings with a whipped cream sauce and caramel. Everything = amazing. The owner, David, is so great. Loves his work and the passion obviously shines through.

The next morning, we decided to walk to the local brewery called 'Eggenberg' to find out about doing a tour but were told tours were finished for the day. Thank goodness we went to the tourist information center because there was a group tour at 12:30pm so we signed up. Back to the vegetarian restaurant we went for hummus and bean burritos before the tour. The brewery was incredible... Has been around since the 1500's and only has 25 staff total. They don't export their beer because it's on a smaller scale but it's pretty much all that's sold in this region of Czech. There is do much history that is behind the brewery and the town, it's so fascinating. They do everything by hand there - even the huge cylindrical beer drums are cleaned by hand. There's a woman who has been cleaning them for 43 years and has to climb in the drum through a hole about a foot in diameter. She uses a flashlight to clean because obviously no other light comes in! Claustrophobics need not apply. Also, we were told a few hundred years ago, everyone drank so much beer because it was pasteurized and safer than water to drink in those days due to illness from drinking contaminated water. Our guide said the poorer people would drink beer that was 'washed' 2 or 3 times which gave it a very low alcohol (~1-2%) and carbohydrate content. So basically that was their water source.

There were only 3 of us on the tour, one was a man (Adam) from Boston who just defended his PhD in sport management and was taking a month to travel before starting his first teaching job at a university in Texas. He ended up hanging out with us at the brewery restaurant afterwards and we had some drinks together. Such a nice guy! We parted ways but made plans to meet up later on as well. Derek and I then walked around the town and back to the brewery restaurant for dinner. Yum! We had the garlic soup (different than in Slovakia - was broth based with cheese, ham and carrots), then Derek got the potato dumplings stuffed with pork and onions, served with homemade sauerkraut and I got the beef filet with a cream gravy, cranberry sauce and bread dumplings. Soooo good.

Body by Europe in the making over here! Hah

We met up with Adam later on for a few hours and said goodbye for now! The next day we walked the 2km to the train station and arrived 3 hours later in Plzen (Pilsen), Czech Republic. I bet you can guess what this place is famous for!

So we arrived yesterday afternoon and arrived at the house we rented a room from, hopped on a tram and went to the Pilsner Urquell brewery where we were 2 minutes early for their last tour! Will write more details for the next blog entry on our time here.

3 weeks left until our return to Canada... wow... time sure does fly.

Laurie

Posted by lcmichael 07:02 Comments (0)

City Fatigue

It's really not their fault... The cities are just going about their business while we feel like we are drowning in tourist 'must sees'. I think if the city could tell us what to do it would be 1) find a big market 2) find some hole in the wall authentic restaurants 3) spend your afternoons in cafes, libraries, parks or squares 4) just slow right down - no need to keep up with the hustle and bustle of a city 5) and take time to notice things about the people, animals, noises, etc.

That being said, I need to get up to date and explain why city fatigue has set in.

I left off with us on our way to an Austrian dining hall (called Stiftskeller) for lunch. It was so cool - hugely tall ceilings with balconies looking down over (like an opera house), massive chandeliers, rustic artwork on the walls (exposed wood), long tables with high back chairs and initials of the restaurant engraved on each chair. There were only a few people inside eating as it was such a nice day and the patio was packed. Our waitress comes over and why not start the meal off with an Austrian beer (Derek) and wine (me!). Appetizer - 'Tris', which were 3 huge dumplings (kind of like doughy balls), one spinach, one cheese and one caramel used onion in a butter sauce. Don't think I need to explain how delicious it was! Main courses - (Derek) St. Johannerwurst which are spicy sausages with rye bread and mustard; (Laurie) Weiner schnitzel which is a bread crumbed pork schnitzel served with housemade cranberry jam and parsley potatoes. DELICIOUS. Dessert - Apfel (apple) strudel with vanilla sauce. Just wow. No wonder we are gaining weight! Hah.

Derek has been going through some periods of cultural, traditional and social connection here in Austria, especially. His father being from Holland, he finally understands why he grew up doing the things the way he did. It's incredible to feel like you 'belong' to a culture even if you didn't grow up in the country itself. In Canada, we all know there is no national identity, which has its pros/cons. We all come from somewhere else though and when we travel, people in other countries whose families have been there for hundreds of years, find it hard to wrap their head around the nature of our very young country. If my father's family originates from Lebanon, why can't I speak Arabic? Why can't Derek speak Dutch? I totally understand where they are coming from, we say our roots are in another country but what does that really mean? Yes, we have certain traditions and values instilled which are resonant of our 'mother country inhabitants' but we don't speak the language, live the daily life, understand the struggles entirely and why our families immigrated, don't necessarily eat/cook the same foods, family life is most likely different as well. Especially if your partner has a different background. On the other side of things, what would life be like for us if the family members that immigrated decided not to or had no opportunity. Obviously immigration has several challenges but it's all for the next generation to have a different (better?) life... Assimilation and loss of language and culture was unfortunately a side effect. Maybe I just mean we should learn more about where we come from and what that really means.

Tangent.

After our meal at the dining hall, we walked back along the river in the hot hot weather. McDonald's is the only spot near our apartment with wifi so we got a cold drink there and take advantage of the AC. We arrived back at the apartment and I ended up talking to Traudi, our host who told me she has been in remission for cancer for 4 years now... explains why she is so positive! Told me to enjoy life and never have regrets. What great advice to us... Sometimes we have a fleeting moment of 'what are we doing?' And it quickly passes. Especially when you have inspirational talks with women like Traudi or my amazing cousin, SueAnn who I had a fantastic talk with in the middle of the night and always gives encouragement to live your life fully. Derek and I have come to the conclusion that we aren't 'lucky' to be living our life the way we do, we are 'able' to live our life the way we do. We didn't allow barriers in our way that were within our control. We are young, healthy and made decisions to move all over eastern Canada in order to work to save what we needed with these goals in mind. Who knows what life has in store for us later but I don't think I've felt happier in my life at this point. Like I've mentioned before, working in healthcare at a young age was exactly what I needed to be doing in order to realize how I needed to live my life. Health is sacred and it's the one thing we possess that could be gone tomorrow. The number of seniors, patients, clients and staff that I have worked with that have regrets is incredible. Seniors regret working too much, not spending enough quality time with family and friends, not traveling or following their dreams... It hits home in the form of a living lesson.

Tangent!

The next day we said goodbye to our lovely host (she started to cry when we left...) and took a 7 minute train to the main station. Should have been straight forward except on this short train, we stop mid tracks for 20 minutes, then it backs up to the original station which caused us to miss all our connections. Apparently there was a police investigation being conducted at the next station. So. Instead of arriving to Bled, Slovenia at 2:30pm it was more like 8pm. Oh well! We arrived to our apartment which was so cute. The owners are a couple with an adorable 2 year old son. She's from Scotland and he was from Bled - I can see why she stayed... Breathtaking! It's not every day we get to a new spot and fall in love with it like we did in Bled. A town of about 5000 people, our spot was right behind the castle perched on a cliff overlooking the lake. We walked 5 minutes and were at the lake, a crystal clear light blue where you can see everything on the bottom. They have a 6km walking/biking path that wraps all the way around the lake. That was the first thing we did the next morning. BMW was hosting a rowing competition and local public schools were presenting their 'green initiative projects'. On one end of the lake, there's a tiny island with just enough room for the church that was built on it. Picturesque. After working up an appetite, we went to a local pizzeria called 'Rustica' - we forgot how close Slovenia is to Italy! Then it rained a bit so we hung at the apartment before venturing back out to the lake for another walk, gelato, and for Derek to jump off big rocks into the lake. That evening we walked up to the castle to watch the sunset... such a sight.

The next morning we rented a row boat and Derek rowed us over to the island to see the church and go for a swim. I could have totally rowed us but Derek wanted the exercise... Cough cough. The swim was amazing! Lunch was at Rustica again (wood fire pizza ovens cannot be denied!) and for the afternoon we walked along the river, lay on the grass and read our books. Rough day.

Dinner that evening was authentic Slovenian. We shared the 'jesprenj s suhim mesom' which is barley soup with dried meat (or basically pieces of ham) and bread on the side. Main courses (Derek) - 'popecena kranjska klobasa s kislim zeljem' which is grilled carniolan sausage with sauerkraut and (Laurie) - 'popecen gorenjski zelodec z zeljnato solato in jabolcnim rezinami' which is stuffed pork 'gorenjska' style with cabbage salad and apple slices. Dessert was the Slovenian classic at Slascicarma Smon cafe - kremna rezina (a layer of vanilla custard topped with whipped cream and sandwiched neatly between two layers of flaky pastry). I totally copied that definition from Lonely Planet. That tops off our last glorious night in Bled. Now we wish we had another week to spend in Slovenia. We hardly knew anything about this country (correction - knew nothing) and now I can't wait to go back!

The next day was another long travel day to Budapest by train, total of 13 hours door to door. We arrived at the train station and walked the 2km with all our bags to our apartment. Only $32/night at this one! Right off Andrassey utca (Road) and everything within walking distance. Or by our definition anyway! We walk on average 5km per day... Every day. I mean, we HAVE to eat the way we are or we would just be skin and bones!

Our first morning in Budapest we were off to a sour start by our own fault. We couldn't get groceries the night before for breakfast food so had nothing in the am and thought we could make it till lunch. Bad idea. I forgot for a fleeting second how cranky Derek gets when he's hungry, tired and hasn't had a coffee and how i basically go into a fog. Wowzas. So we ended up going to a restaurant Lonely Planet recommended but it was way too fancy for us but we didn't leave... The food was really good though ('marhaporkolt' - Hungarian goulash with homemade noodles and an awesome hamburger) but we felt we paid too much and the guy at the next table was a jerk. Didn't set the right mood. We attempted our own 'walking tour' of the city and realized we hate sightseeing if we know nothing about the history. After a good 4km walk further, we turned around and decided to recharge at 'Bar Bar Chocolate' cafe. I'm drooling just thinking about it. I got a iced dark chocolate drink and Derek got a lemonade. Ok, one thing Hungary is definitely doing really well is the lemonade. It's everywhere and equally as delicious. At this cafe, it's in a giant mason jar with wedges of lemons, limes, oranges, strawberries all crushed up with some added sugar. Yep. Making it this summer! Afterwards we found the massive market by the Danube river and felt like we could really love Budapest. It looked like an old train station with huge ceilings, 2 levels. The first level was where all the produce was sold, second level was food stalls, cafes, restaurants. We tried a Hungarian dish that was cut like lasagna but was shredded cabbage, rice, pork with tomato sauce. Cleaned that plate! Then we tried a langos which is fried dough topped with sour cream and cheese. Couldn't finish that one but it was also delicious! Very fried. Hah.

The next day we went to the Terror Museum. It is a building across the street where we stayed that was occupied by the Nazis during the war. It used to be called the 'House of Loyalty' and hundreds of people were murdered there. It was interesting yet so sad and terrifying. Old movies played in all the rooms of scenes during the war or interviews with survivors. At one point, there was a film being played and a woman in her 50's (won't mention where she's from) got up abruptly and said out loud in front of other people seated watching the film, 'no, I'm not into this one at all', then her husband gets up and asks 'is it 'cause it's not in color?' and she responds 'yep'. Ugh.

After the museum, we went back to the market to have lunch on the second floor at the restaurant instead of food stalls. It was really cool! Like a cafeteria style or 'self service' as many restaurants are here, you go up and choose from so many cooked foods! We got the Hungarian pork chops, fish, veggies, potato wedges, fresh lemonade and strudel for dessert! We walked along the Danube to see the memorial exhibit 'Shoes on the Danube' which is a sad and moving tribute to those who were killed at that spot and thrown into the river. Very difficult to imagine life at that time.

Afterwards, we realized we had about $7 leftover so used it to buy groceries for dinner and headed to our place for the evening.

On a side note, one thing I've noticed about some if these eastern countries is that many menus have 'breakfast' but doesn't include a lot if 'breakfast food items'. Instead you see people eating sandwiches, pizza, wraps at breakfast. Nothing wrong with it! You can eat pizza for breakfast, probably better in ways than pancakes!

Derek and I mulled over the pros/cons to urban and rural life and came up with lists but one thing we don't like about most urban centers is how it's so easy to ignore and neglect those who are most vulnerable and system has obviously failed. The homeless, drunk men in Budapest was like nothing I've seen before... It's very difficult to walk by and ignore that. There were many women as well but SO many men. Everyone has a story... I wonder how they were affected by the war? Like the man with no legs sitting outside the market begging for money... He was about 70 years old. How can we let that happen to those that need us most?

This morning we left for Vienna, Austria and here we laze. Tomorrow is a new day!

Posted by lcmichael 27.06.2013 14:37 Comments (1)

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