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!
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!