Follow me and my friends on our adventures outside.

European Vacation Part 3

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Prague.

Our train arrived in Prague around 7:30 on Saturday. After purchasing tickets for public transportation, we walked around the train station like lost tourists (which we were), until we finally were able to get our bearings and find the correct tram stop. We contacted our AirBnB host to let him know we were close and hopped onto the tram which delivered us to Mala Strana, with a short 2 minute walk to our door. Our host met us and led us up what seemed like 8 flights of stairs, in reality it was 3. He gave us a quick tour, a recommendation on where to eat, and left us to get settled in. I didn't get a chance to photograph our apartment, but if you are looking for a great place to stay in Prague check it out here. We had 360 degree view of the city from our 3rd floor apartment, which was super modern with huge wooden beams throughout, and a private balcony overlooking the US embassy and Petrin hill park.

We had an OK meal that evening at a restaurant in our neighborhood - I had a fried pork chop, which I had hoped would rival my favorite BBQ joints version in Charleston, but no dice. Sloane had risotto that was just ok, the best part of our meal though was the price. We both ate and drank for less than thirty dollars US, including tip. We were spent from our long day of travel so we returned to our apartment, climbed the stairs and quickly found ourselves asleep in the comfy bed.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

I was up early at 6AM to wander around and take in the tourist attractions before the crowds hit. We had heard Prague was a popular place, but we had no idea just how popular. I walked down to the Vltava river and across the Charles Bridge, one of the main attractions in Prague. I expected to be alone this early in the morning on a Sunday, but instead found myself the background subject in at least 4 different photoshoots and plenty of other people who had my same idea.

Fashion shoot early morning on the Charles Bridge.

I didn't stick around on the bridge very long given the amount of activity already happening. I crossed to the other side of the river and found a quiet little corner to photograph the bridge from. Just as I had set up my tripod and began taking long exposures, I suddenly found myself surrounded by a large group of tourists. They silently swooped in and began posing on the railing right in front of my shot, with out a second thought. I would find out later that this was quite the norm here. I politely asked them to clear out of my shot, but they didn't seem to understand and simply smiled and nodded at me, some of them coming to close for comfort to my tripod legs. By this time it had started to rain lightly, so I packed up my gear and walked quickly up river to the next bridge crossing.

Vltava river and the Charles Bridge. Directly to my right were 20 Asian tourists.

I had planned to scout some places to photograph the Charles Bridge from at dusk, so I popped open my little travel umbrella and made my way to the edge of Shooters Island in the Vltava river. I quickly explored the area and decided this would be the place for some dusk shots. I made my way back to the bridge, crossed the water over to "our" side of the river and wandered around aimlessly until I found my self back at the base of the Charles Bridge. At this point it was 830 or so and I was hungry. I was in need of some sustenance and ahead of me lay the golden arches. I knew Sloane would want coffee so I saddled up for my first European fast food adventure of the trip. It was the nicest McDonald's I have ever been in, and the menu was pretty much the same as it is in the US. I took our breakfast and coffee back to the apartment to find Sloane just stirring. Although she laughed at me for getting McDonald's, she was quite happy to have black coffee and and egg sandwich. We ate and made a plan for the day, which would start with a free walking tour of old town Prague.

Sloane in Old Town Square, patiently awaiting our tour to begin.

The rain let up just in time as we joined up with a free tour group from Sandemans, on a recommendation from a friend who had just visited. The tour is free, and at the end they ask you tip what you thought it was worth. I am not the kind of person who likes group tours of any sorts, but it was actually very informative and they kept the groups to under 15 people which was great. Clocking in at just under 3 hours, it was a little longer than I had hoped for, but we had a great guide who kept it interesting.

I can't understand why the US doesn't implement better looking sewer covers, Europe knows how to cover a manhole!

I didn't take many photos on the tour, we mainly just listened and asked questions. 

Havel's Market, in Old Town

Highlight of the tour - this guy stole the show. Passed out in the middle of the afternoon - evidence suggests he may have taken a dump nearby, given the toilet paper strewn about.  Prague Castle in the background.

After our tour ended, right near the infamous man in yellow above, we headed to a cafeteria where our tour guide said we could find some real authentic Czech food at a good price. I forget the name of it, but it was quite the experience. You take a tray and select which ever foods you want from a few different stations - with legit sweet but stern lunch ladies. You hand them your ticket and they scribble down what they have given you. We ended up in line with some other folks from the tour and sat down at a communal table along with them to enjoy our meal. The were both from England and had been traveling for 2 weeks already, their next stop was Budapest, so we filled them in on what we thought were the highlights and best places to eat. When we finished our meal we cleared our table and paid the woman at the door on the way out. We said farewell to our friends and made our way back across the river to Prague castle.

A view from the gardens of Prague Castle.

We found our way to a very long road/stairwell, which led up the hill from the riverside, to the castle grounds. As we slowly climbed upwards, there were hundreds of people heading down, which we realized when we arrived at the top was because the grounds were closing within the hour. Our travel guide/book told us we would want two days to explore this area, so we decided to take advantage of the end of the day and explore what we could. We walked around the gardens surrounding the castle and found our way inside the walls through an entrance on the side. It was quite pleasant strolling around and staring at the amazing architecture and gardens with barely any one there - the following day would be a different story. We stayed until it was closing time and found ourselves on the opposite side of the castle than we had entered through, which was much further away from our apartment. We hopped on a tram and were back to our apartment in less than 20 minutes. We took quick showers and headed back out on the town so I could take some photos of the bridge and castle at dusk.

One of the many great views from our apartment

Prague Castle lit up for the night.

Charles Bridge and old town as seen from Shooter's Island in the Vltava River.

Charles Bridge at dusk.

The Kampa Museum and Prague Castle.

Prague National Theater and the Prague film school on the Vltava River.

After a long drawn out photo safari, which caused some tension between me and the now very hungry Sloane, as it usually does, we ended up at a Mexican restaurant. We both agreed we had enough of trying the local food and wanted to feast on some cheese and salsa. We went to a spot that our host recommended, and it was killer. The only down side was they didn't take credit cards, which we didn't find out until it was time to pay the bill. I ended up having to sneak into a nearby hotel's lobby to use the ATM and got reprimanded by the staff for not being a guest, but was able to grab the cash before being booted out. We made our way back home, and crashed quickly due to our extreme over eating.

Monday September, 11th 2017

I woke up early, of course and found the sky much clearer than it had been the day before. I didn't have enough time to get down to the water for sunrise, so I quickly climbed out one of our windows and scaled the roof scaffolding that was permanently affixed for maintenance. It was a perfect spot to set up a tripod and watch the fog burn off as the sun rose.

Sitting on the roof during sunrise.

St. Nicholas Church and Prague Castle in the background.

Super Shaky video of my sunrise view.

After the successful sunrise adventure on the roof, I carefully made my way back down to the safety of the apartment. All the noise I had been making climbing down woke Sloane up, so that task was taken care of. We showered and prepped for the day, which started out as any normal American day, at starbucks right down the street. After Sloane was caffeinated and we had some grub, we hopped on a tram and made our way to the rear entrance of Prague Castle, hoping to beat the crowds. We failed at that. We stood in line, sandwiched between two tour groups. One group, whose ancient members were loudly passing gas and pretending that it never happened, and another group, whose leader didn't stop talking the entire 20 minutes we were there, unfortunately in Russian, so we didn't get any free information. This was quite a different scene than the one we had encountered the day before in the late afternoon, where we were basically alone. If you don't like crowds, this is not the place for you.

Sloane at the side of St. Vitus Cathedral.

We made our way through the security line, and found the ticketing office, where there is a seriously confusing menu of what you can buy tickets to. We ended up with tickets to see the church, the old living quarters, some exhibit on the history of the castle and a few other things. A lot of stuff you can view the outside of for free, but to get into them you need the special ticket. Turns out, the church you are allowed to go into withoutd a ticket, but you need one to walk around the inner perimeter - we would have been happy just poking our heads in, but since we paid, we followed the mass of people around the edges, pushing and straining to break free from the large group ahead and behind us.

This is what is was like inside the cathedral. Pushing your way through tourists is a necessary skill - these folks had zero awareness of personal space.

An amazingly huge space, filled with people and smart phone photographers.

An amazingly huge space, filled with people and smart phone photographers.

Believe it or not, more people!

This guy was really putting his beer gut to good use here, polishing one of the many artifacts at the church.

An oddly quiet hallway, amongst the crowds.

After surviving the cathedral, we made our way to a much less visited exhibit - the history of Prague castle. This one was a bunch of reading, and slightly interesting, although sleepy. The nice part was there was a total of 8 people in there with us, not a popular one among the tour groups. We had our fill of reading and decided to join back up with the masses in visiting the old Royal Palace. The architecture here was stunning, I managed to find some shots not full of people.

A doorway in the old Royal Palace.

Some serious detail on the ceiling.

A view from one of the bed chambers, overlooking the river and city.

"Hurry up and stand here before 300 people fill this walkway." Sloane in the old dining hall, they actually used to have jousting matches in here.

Coats upon coats of arms.

Some mural, somewhere, in a castle building.

After our quick tour of the old palace, it was almost noon, and time for the changing of the guard. We had heard it was popluar, but had no idea just how popular. Sloane found a royal guard who didn't seem too busy and inquired where the best place to see the ceremony was. He instructed us to look through a gate from inside the castle walls. We decided we didn't quite understand what he was saying, and exited the castle instead, to a sea of humanity - a now normal sight. We found a place near a fence where we could see a little, but after being swarmed by a large group, I decided to take me leave and left Sloane to fend for herself. I found a place at the back of the crowd, where I tried to capture an image of the humanity that was pointing selfie sticks and tablets at the ceremony. Sloane joined me shortly after I left, saying she had a good view, until someone from behind her stuck a tablet on a selfie stick over her shoulder and basically planted it in front of her face. No respect for personal space.

All of our closest friends recording the show for their families.

We decided to make our way back into the castle before the ceremony had ended, so we didn't have to wait in a huge line for security yet again. Our tickets still gave us access to 4 or 5 more things, so we found a few of them and checked them out. The most exciting part was a row of old homes that used to serve as shops and homes for the castles non-royal residents. It would have been even cooler if these tiny little homes were not over stuffed with people. We had enough and made our way back down to the main street in MalaStrana, where we hopped on a tram to take us to a very late lunch at an amazing Thai restaurant. After a relaxing lunch, we walked our selves back over toward the Charles bridge, stopping at a famous graffiti area, known as the Lennon wall - pretty boring stuff there. We paused for a few minutes on the bridge to take a selfie with all the people, who were great at photobombing.

Charles Bridge with all the people.

Our plan was to go see the Jewish Musuem, so we walked to the Jewish quarter, which we had been to the day before. We chatted with a woman at the ticketing booth who instructed us that it wasn't one building, it was a walking tour of 5 or 6 different places - something we had no interest in doing. So - we made our way to a tram, which then took us to an area of town called Karlin with almost zero tourists, it was lovely. We had some fancy coffee - I even drank some, the Thai food lunch was lulling me to sleep. After our coffee break we checked out a local design shop, but it paled in comparison to our Scandinavian experience, so we didn't stick around very long. We opened our tourist book, in the non-tourist area and found what was suppose to be a happening bar (U Slovanské Lípy). We were the only people there, but we had a few pints anyway - killing some time before heading back to the tourist spots. Our plan was to meet up with a local guy who had been a professor of a friend back in the day. We had a hard time connecting with him, and it turned out he couldn't make it to us. We found ourselves a public toilet, in an odd little shopping mall, and sat down to figure out our evening. We took a detour back to old town to see the Astronomical Clock once more - click this link if you haven't heard of it - pretty damn cool, but again, all the people. I took zero pictures because the entire building was under renovation and it was very unimpressive covered in scaffolding and safety netting. We ended up having dinner at a cool little place called Mistral Cafe near the old town square, and the food was on point.  We slowly walked home, stopping to take a few more photos of the Prague Castle from the riverside, and listening to some live music on the Charles Bridge. We poured some wine and went out to our patio to enjoy our last night. Turns out it was September 11th, and we had a view of the US embassy from the patio - they had two spotlights pointed upwards in remembrance. Our intentions were to finish the bottle of wine we had purchased in Krems, since we couldn't take it home with us, but we ended up showering and promptly going to sleep.  

Septemper 11th memorial at the US embassy.

September 12th, 2017

Sloane and I both slept in a little, but were up by 8:30 or so to begin the epic chore of packing our belongings for our trip home. After we had located all of our stuff and smashed it back into the suitcases from which it had exploded one last time, we made our way outside to find a spot for breakfast. After lots of wondering around and finding a lot of places closed - we ended up eating a quick meal at the restaraunt that shared an entrance with our apartment building. We had a nice little meal and climbed the 3 flights of stairs to our apartment one last time, to fetch our luggage. We called an Uber and waited sadly for him to arrive on our corner, soaking up the last of this fairy tale town. Our flight home was a bit of hassle. We had booked flights from Prague to Boston, and then separately flights from Boston to Baltimore to save ourselves some money - this of course ended up costing us more money. Our first leg was relatively easy, Prague to Oslo, Norway. Here we had a 3 hour layover, and enjoyed the incredibly well designed Scandinavian airport while we killed time. We purchased food to eat on the plane, as well as some little bottles of wine, since I was positive I didn't book us meals. Turns out I did book meals, and we got free booze to go along with it, and they airline stewards would not let us drink alcohol we purchased elsewhere - waste of 30 bucks. 

Our 8 hour flight from Oslo to Boston boarded on time, and then we sat on the runway for over an hour waiting for other flights who were connecting with this one to arrive. Sloane and I were very nervous - we had to clear customs in Boston, collect our luggage and go back through security to our domestic connection. We had 2.5 hours to do this if we were on time, but our flight didn't leave on time of course, it was about 1.5 hours behind by the time we were in the air. Our plane was a new Boeing 787 dreamliner, and it was the nicest plane I've had the pleasure of flying on for 8 hours. We fought sleep on the way home, since we were time traveling, it was waaaaay past bed time for us in Europe, but in the states it was 8 PM when we landed. We were the first few off the plane, and hurriedly made our way to customs, to stand in line for what seemed like an eternity. We tried to check in for our flight online while in line for customs, but it was too late to do so. We tried calling Southwest, but no luck Once we cleared customs, I bolted for the ticketing counter to see if we could make our flight, while Sloane waited for our luggage. Turns out the Domestic terminal was almost a mile away from the International one, and when I showed up the security lines had all been shut down. I made my way to the SW counter and made plans to reschedule our flight for the following morning. 6 AM flight sounded great to me, we could crash in the airport for a few hours, get breakfast and be home by 8 AM, but Sloane was the voice of reason and decided we needed a bed to sleep in. We re-booked our flight for 10AM and found a somewhat affordable hotel outside of Boston. After a long Uber ride, we made it to the hotel and crashed, real fast. Morning came quick and we were soon back at the airport, and soon after that we had landed in BWI, found an Uber, and were finally home just in time to get back to work.  We definitely ended up paying more for the hotel and Ubers than we had saved booking travel separately, certainly won't be doing that on an international flight again - lesson learned!

European Vacation Part 2

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Eastern

 

Austria.

Thursday, September 7th, 2017.

Sloane and I were up early to finish packing our suitcases - we had a train to catch in Budapest at 830AM. We called a cab, and were at the train station with over an hour to spare. After collecting our tickets we walked across the street for some good old American starbucks - Sloane really wanted yogurt, and we knew it could be found there. After our underwhelming breakfast, we gathered our bags and headed for the train.  We had a quick 2.5 hour ride to Vienna, Austria, where the train station was incredibly modern compared to Budapest's.  We disembarked the train, and found our way to the car rental area to pick up our ride for the next few days.  I had reserved a VW Golf, but in true rental agency fashion they did not have one, so we were awarded a KIA Cee'd instead. Our final destination was only an hour and a half away, so we decided to get lunch in Vienna. Again we dined al-fresco, even though there were some serious gusts of wind blowing napkins and silverware all over the place.  Once we paid our tab, we took a stroll up the road to some shops Sloane had been interested in going to, and we found a grocery store to get some food incase our accommodations (a hotel/hostel on top of a mountain) for the night didn't have any vegetarian options. We finally started our drive around 2:30 or so which put us at our destination around 4:30 with the traffic we encountered leaving the city. 

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Our hotel.

We had no issues driving to our destination, and the scenery just kept getting better as we rolled along. We stopped along side the road at a small pull off to take some photos of what I was guessing was our home for the night, and I was correct.  When we arrived at the base of the mountain, we packed everything we would need for our overnight stay into our backpacks and a few re-usable grocery bags. The gentleman selling the tickets for the cable car was quick to point out the last ride down the mountain was in 45 minutes, but was less concerned once he found out we had "reserved" a room at the Raxalm Berggasthof. When I say we reserved a room, I mean I had emailed in German with some person at the lodge, and without taking any credit card information, they simply said we had a reservation. Given this information, Sloane and I were a bit worried we may be hiking back down the mountain in the dark and sleeping in the car. We arrived at an empty lodge, and began poking around the restaurant and bar area looking for anyone who might work there. We finally found a friendly bartender/waiter/front desk person who spoke enough english to confirm we did in fact have a reservation, and he kindly showed us to our room for the night.  Sloane decided to go for a quick run on the trail/road behind our chalet, and I opted for a beer and my camera. 

Beer with a view of the valley we just traveled.

Alps!

I managed to snap a few photos before I saw Sloane coming back down the trail, I ran down from my perch on some high rocks and gave her the key to the room so, she could shower up for dinner while I finished up my photo safari. Our room was very basic with a queen size bed, small tv, a shower and toilet, and front porch with an incredible view.

The view from our room.

The view from our room.

We made our way down to the dining room around 630 - which is when we were told the last dinner service would be. The same guy who helped us to our room was the waiter and we ordered a drink while we looked over the menu. I ended up getting wiener schnitzel, which for a rustic hotel was very good and Sloane had a salad and some soup. We sat and enjoyed our simple meals and booze watching the last light hit the mountains across the valley, it was very relaxing and most definitely the best view we enjoyed while dining on our trip.  We finished up our food and ordered another round of drinks to take up to our room for the night.  I set up my camera on the porch and did some long exposures while Sloane read her book in bed.  

Moonrise from our patio

Star trails and a wind farm on the ridge across the valley.

Friday, September 8th, 2017

Sloane had agreed to get up for a sunrise hike with me - so we were both up around 6 am to head out the door.  I stepped out onto the balcony to check the temperature, and it was cold (37 degrees), Sloane of course agreed and we went about putting on as much of our clothing as possible - we hadn't brought any layering since we would only be in the mountains for a few hours of our week long trip. We were out the door just in time to see the sun peek above the clouds across the valley.

Sloane outside our hotel at sunrise.

Sunrise

The hotel had a small zip-line which I had played around with while Sloane was on her run, and I talked her into taking a ride on it before we departed for our hike.

Sloane and I quickly warmed up as we ascended the hill in front of us towards the next mountain house - OttoHaus. This is where I had originally intended to stay, so we could hike a little further in the morning, but after researching both places, it seemed the Raxalm Berggasthof had nicer accommodations, and more food options for Sloane's vegetarian diet (the Austrian's eat a lot of meat).  We hiked and took photos for about an hour until we reached this second house, scaring up roe deer and chamois along the way.

Hiking to OttoHaus

Ottohaus

The trail to the Alpengarten - they grow veggies to be used in the kitchen of the Ottohaus here.

At the overlook in front of Ottohaus, it's pretty much straight down from here.

It was incredibly windy and cold at this overlook, and Sloane decided she had enough of being cold, so she turned back for the warmth of a shower and some coffee at the hotel.  I went ahead, slowly climbing the hill behind OttoHaus towards the summit of the ridge and Jakobskogel.  Aside from being almost blown off the trail a few times, the hike was relatively easy, even in my sneakers.

The iron cross at the summit of Jakobskogel ridge, behind Ottohaus.

The foundation of an old building on the Jakobskogel ridge.

View through the old windows.

After about half an hour on the summit trying to take long exposures, but failing due to high winds, I decided to turn around and go back to the hotel the long way on a trail that followed along the edge of the cliff. 

View descending from Jakobskogel, towards our mountain house.  In the middle of the image you can see a steep rocky trail called Törlweg, which I wanted to hike up from the bottom, but I opted for the cable car ride to help keep Sloane happy.

View of the small tunnel on the rocky road Törlweg.

View of the small tunnel on the rocky road Törlweg.

A view once through the tunnel on the Törlweg.

Ants with some primo real estate. 

The perfect little mushroom on the cliff side.

I made it back to the hotel around 9, and after a quick shower Sloane and I went downstairs to the dining room to enjoy some breakfast. Breakfast was a set menu, as it was included with our accommodations. We ordered some coffee for Sloane, I had my usual water and our friendly waiter brought us out a spread of cold cuts, cheeses, tomatoes, cucumbers, jams, jellies and nutella - it was incredible.  We both enjoyed breakfast with the same view we had the evening before, this time with large groups of hikers who were unloading from the cable car and prepping for their journeys in the mountains with coffee on the outdoor patio. After breakfast, we went back to the room to pack all our belongings, which as usual had exploded all over the room.  We managed to fit them all back into our bags and went down to pay our tab.  During our stay, we had given no form of payment for anything, the waiter simply charged it all to our room. Our grand total for accommodations, dinner, drinks and breakfast came to just under $200 - I definitely have plans to go back and do this sort of traveling again, this time hiking from house to house. We paid our tab, said auf wiedersehen to our friendly waiter/hotel manager and jumped on the next cable car back down to our car. The next leg of our journey was a drive along Höllental Straße, an incredibly windy and scenic road through the Höllental, or Hell Valley. I shifted the Cee'd into sport mode - and drove like an old woman on the way to church through the valley, so Sloane wouldn't get car sick. This road is very popular with motorcyclists, and they were out in huge numbers, it was a warm fall day and everyone seemed to be taking advantage of it.

At the beginning of the drive through the Höllental. 

After what seemed like an eternity of hair-pin bends, avoiding motorcycles and hikers, we found ourselves back on a boring old highway for the last few miles on our way to Krems, a small town on the Danube in the Wachau Valley, known for its' wineries and gruner wines. We had booked an air BnB here, and were anxious to unload our things and taste the wine, but first we had to have lunch. Sloane found a cafe on a small college campus that had good reviews, so we sat down and enjoyed the sunshine while we fumbled through ordering food in German with a waiter who did not speak very much English (how dare he). After lunch we met our host, had a quick tour of our home for the evening and made a very sloppy plan for visiting wineries.

The courtyard in to our apartment.

We drove around for about 45 minutes, quickly getting lost in quaint little town on the side of a steep hill, with the gps blindly leading us to wineries - which as it turns out are not the same as they are in the States. Wineries in Austria are simply where grapes are grown, harvested, and sometime processed for wine making, but they do not actually have tasting rooms, as is popular in the U.S. After failing at three would be wineries, we decided that we would head to town to the one winery listed in our travel book, that was guaranteed to have a tasting room. But on the dirt road we had just gotten lost on, I ran over a large piece of metal that decided to lodge itself in the front passenger tire. We were lucky to have heard the noise coming from the tire, before we drove on a flat tire very far. After getting our car off the private property we had been accidentally trespassing on, we pulled over a few hundred yards down the road at a parking lot. While I did the dirty work of changing the tire, which by now was completely flat, Sloane took on the fun job of calling the rental company. After being passed from one German speaking person to the next, she finally was transferred to an English speaking person who basically just told us to do what I had already accomplished, change the tire and bring it back when our trip was over. After our whole flat tire ordeal, we drove our car to the one winery where we new we could at least taste some wine. We couldn't find a place to park, since it was in the middle of town, so we ended up parking at our apartment and walking.

Finally, wine!

The Cee'd, grapes and a castle. This is where the tire swap took place.

Instead of paying for our tasting, which would have been 12 Euro, we opted to buy a bottle for 20 Euro. Sadly after all our effort, we only drank a small amount of this wine, and left the rest in our room in Prague.

After our tasting, we discovered a street with tons of little shops and cafes - which we decided to take a stroll down on the way to our room. Nothing too exciting caught our eye, but it was a cool little street to find nonetheless. 

Long shadows and shopping in Krems.

Krems killing it at blending the old with the new.

After our walking tour of the city, we killed some time at the apartment looking for a good spot to eat dinner and did some research for our travel day to Prague. We ended up walking to a new wine bar/restaurant in town called Leopold, and had the best cheese and meat plate we had experienced in a while. Our waiter was super friendly, and although they didn't offer a wine tasting either - he concocted one for us, allowing us to try five different wines from the area - it was fantastic.

Leopold's meat and cheese plate.

Leopold's meat and cheese plate.

As we sat and enjoyed our wine, the sunlight began to disappear and I was in a hurry to go take a few photos at dusk. Sloane was a little annoyed at this (it's always a small battle we wage, between dinner and photography at dusk) but she finished her wine and walked back to the apartment with me so I could get out and shoot. Sloane stayed behind this time, and I took a short drive down the Danube to photograph Durnstein, the town we had been lost in earlier that day.

Durnstein from across the Danube, There is a 12th century castle ruin that you can see lit in the middle of the frame - history lesson here.

Krems from across the Danube.

I made my way home by 930, and Sloane and I were asleep soon afterwards. 

Saturday, September 9th, 2017

We slept in until 830 or so, once again packed our belongings and made a light breakfast with bread, jam and nutella that I had borrowed from the hotel breakfast the day before. We were out the door by 10 and headed back to Durnstein to for a quick hike up to the castle on the hill, we only had an hour until we needed to begin our drive back to Vienna.

Sloane overlooking the Danube from the base of Durnstein Castle.

The view from Castle Durnstein.

On the steps of Castle Durnstein.

We took a short cut on the way back, we were cutting it close to our 1 hour of paid parking and didn't want to get a ticket. Google maps said there was a trail but I was skeptical, and Sloane was even more so. It all worked out and we were spit out onto the streets of Durnstein from an overgrown trail.

Sloane bushwhacking on the way down from the castle.

Sloane and all the grapes! 

Our drive back to Vienna was slow, but scenic. We stayed off the highway since we had a donut on the car, and did not want to risk blowing that one out from driving highway speeds. We arrived back at the train station, dropped the car off, printed our train tickets and grabbed a quick bite to eat before our train boarded at 3pm. We had a 4 hour ride to the 3rd leg of our journey - Prague. We spent our time studying where to go and what to see.  Stay tuned for the 3rd and final installment of our european vacation.

Sloane enjoying some booze on the train ride to Prague.

European Vacation Part 1

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Buda And Pest, Two Sides Of The Danube.

Sloane and I just got back from another fantastic trip overseas to Europe.  Sloane had mentioned Prague when we were planning our trip last year, so we decided to try it out this time. My family has roots in Hungary, (see our delicious family tradition here), so I was excited that Budapest was so close to Prague and easily accessible. We researched a bunch of different options: flying in and out of both Prague and Budapest, renting cars, riding trains and flights from city to city.  Our plans began to take shape when we finally purchased plane tickets in late July.  We found it was cheaper to fly into Budapest and out of Prague, so that gave us a starting and end point. We planned the rest afterwards as we talked to folks who had already travelled to these areas.

Our journey began with a 6pm flight out of Baltimore on Sunday September 3rd that landed us in Frankfurt, Germany at 4am our time.  We did our best to sleep on the plane ride over, and then caught some much needed sleep in the airport during our 4 hour layover.  We arrived in Budapest at 1:30 on Monday the 4th, very much sleep deprived, but ready to start our trip.

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The adventure in Budapest started with Sloane's phone being left in a taxi, which thanks to our friendly driver we were able to recover quite quickly. We hurriedly took showers at our BnB, unpacked our belongings and were on our way to the Szechenyi thermal baths, where we had booked massages. I assumed this would be a relaxing way to start our journey - but it was a bit more stressful than anticipated with the tight timeline we were running on.  We made it with a few minutes to spare, were directed to our changing cabin and were able to get in the outdoor bath for just a couple minutes before our massages began.  Compared to our last thermal bath and massage experience in Iceland, this was much more affordable - although it was a bit less impressive. As we were heading out the door we ran into an old friend, who happened to be traveling in Budapest for work, and made some plans to meet up the following night.  Small world.  

Szechenyi thermal baths - very affordable massages.

We took a quick walk through City Park, one of the first public parks in the world, founded in the early 1800's.  I could've spent all evening here shooting the old castle and Heroe's Square, but we were both very hungry and I was politely urged by Sloane to continue our our walk towards dinner, which was about a mile away.  

The back side of Heroe's Square at dusk.

We had dinner at a cool little place we happened to walk by, and began our al-fresco dining experience in Europe the right way.  Our food was good, and the price was incredible, less than 30 bucks for us both to eat a 3 course meal with drinks. 

Dried chilis and twinkly lights on the exterior of Kantin - our first Hungarian dining experience.

Sloane in front of St. Stephen's Bassilica 

We finished our meal and made the quick walk back to our apartment to finally get some serious sleep. On Tuesday I was able to get myself out of bed relatively early if you consider the time difference of 6 hours, and persuaded Sloane to follow soon after. We were able to rally ourselves and get out the door by 1030. The apartment we rented came with the use of two bicycles, the main reason to me that it was so appealing. Budapest is an incredibly bike friendly city, and aside from three cab rides, it is the only form of transportation we used to get around.  

Hungarian Parliament - this sucker has over 600 rooms.  We went in zero of them.

Hungarian Parliament.

We rode around our neighborhood, down to the Danube and across a bridge to Margaret Island.  This island is a pretty large green space in the middle of the Danube with plenty of cool stuff: bars/restaraunts, gardens, bike and golf cart rentals, medieval monastery ruins, running and biking paths, thermal spas, a waterpark and a concert venue.  We did a circuit of the whole island, which is about 3.5 miles and stopped in one of the waterfront bars to have a quick drink to figure out what the next stop was.  I took zero pictures of the island, so Google it if you want to see it!  We decided to head over to the Buda side of the Danube next, there are hills here - big hills.  We found a place to lock up the bikes and ascended a lot of stairs to the top of Fisherman's Bastion in the Castle District, it looks like a fairy tale up there. 

Fisherman's Bastion.  The guy on the horse is St. Stephen, the same guy who's church you saw Sloane in front of on her bike.

Tourist photo.

Tourist photo.

Matthias Church in the Castle District. Incredible roofing job.

Fisherman's Bastion is one of those places with throngs of tourists, so we didn't stick around very long. We paid our tourist tax to walk on the top of the Bastion and go into some of the towers - which is cool, but so many people.  We had enough of the crowds and headed back down the hill, much quicker than we had gone up it.  We had an early dinner reservation, so we hopped back on our bicycles and crossed the Chain Bridge in rush hour traffic. Looking back we probably should have taken the pedestrian walkway, but we were in a hurry so we rode in traffic, over the Danube and back to our apartment. Our reservation that night was at Borkhonya, a Michelin star restaurant right in our neighborhood.  I didn't take the big camera out, since it was a fancy place, but I did document the meal with my iPhone, like a true tourist. We got a table outside, and were the first diners there, by the end of our meal the place was packed. We both enjoyed the tasting menu, paired with wine - which was amazing. The kitchen even allowed Sloane to substitute fish for the meat courses. iPhone photos in the gallery below. A vague description of the dishes, from left to right: delicious Duck liver, cold potato soup, branzino over beans, the best steak I have eaten in a long time, and desert, all kinds of delicious things here. 

After our intense, amazing meal, we walked over to one of the ruin pubs (Szimpla) to meet our friend who we had run into the previous day at the thermal baths.  Ruin pubs are a big deal here, they consist of a bunch of different bar areas in old buildings and courtyards in the city, they are very popular and this one was incredibly crowded. We found a small table in a corner to sit with our drinks, and ordered a hookah to enjoy with our friend. This was probably the latest we stayed out while we were in Europe, and it was only midnight.  

I was up early Wednesday morning to try and catch some sunrise shots.  I rode my bike hurriedly 2 miles to Heroe's Square, only to be disappointed that they don't keep the lights on all night.  However, there was no one there, so I set up the tripod and took a few shots while I considered where to go next.  

Heroe's Square at 630 AM.

I decided to cross the Danube and try to get a cool shot of the parliament building reflected in the river, which I had also tried the day before, but the skies were overcast and very boring.  So I packed it up, jumped on the bike and rode another 3 or so miles to the Buda side, found the right spot and set shop back up again.

Hungarian Parliament from across the Danube.

From here I rode up to the chain bridge, locked up my bike and just wandered around for a bit.

Parliament from the Chainbridge.

Chainbridge

Coat of arms below the Buda castle.

St Stephen's Basilica once again, this time with some flare.

St Stephen's Basilica once again, this time with some flare.

After a solid photo safari around town, I made my way home, but first I stopped and grabbed some serious pastries from a spot I walked by, it was the first time some one I interacted with actually didn't speak english, but we figured it out anyway. I got back and Sloane was still sleeping at 830, so I gently woke her up by banging on the window to our apartment, since I had left the keys with her.  She was pretty unhappy, until she saw the bag of pastries, and she was suddenly a bit more enthusiastic to see me. I ran back downstairs and up the street to the local coffee shop to get some juice and caffeine for her as well, she had a bit of a hangover. We both enjoyed our pastries sitting on our patio, then grabbed much needed showers and made a plan for our last day in Budapest.  We started off the day with a sun filled bike ride to our first destination - the Great Market Hall - the oldest and largest indoor market in Budapest.

Great market hall from the inside.  Food, people and souvenirs everywhere.

This place is an impressive collection of Hungarian things.  Sloane was on a mission to find us a pillow case or table runner and our nieces a perfect gift.  Mission accomplished after about an hour of us walking around.  After our first and only souvenir purchase in Europe, we decided to leave the people clogged market to eat lunch outside, and found a quick place right across the street.  Nothing to write about here, just some ok shawarma and falafel.  With our bellies full we once again got on the bicycles, rode across the Danube to Buda, locked the bikes up and hiked up some hills. On the way up Gellert Hill there is a church that is partially in a cave, I really thought it would be cool, so we paid the small fee to get in and listened to an audio tour as we walked around. It was a neat idea, but I think we may have wasted a little too much time staring at old stuff we had no idea about.  Halfway through the audio tour, we decided we had enough and made a hasty exit. We continued on our hike up the hills towards the citadella and the liberty statue.  It was hot, and we were out of water - thankfully there was an oasis at the top, with the most expensive bottled water ever. After a small fortune, we were hydrated and ready to join up with the rest of the tourists who had mostly arrived at the top via a road and bus.  

Sloane and the liberty statue, and the people.

Liberty Statue on top of Gellert Hill.

After about an hour of walking around amongst all the other tourists, we were ready to head back down to our bikes and figure out what to do next.  We decided to ride back across the Danube to Pest and get lost on our bicycles in the not so touristy spots in town.  We found a great spot on the water to grab a drink and then started our ride from there.  

Sloane cruising some of the less visited areas of Pest.

Budapest's sewer covers are well designed, something the US is missing.

Bullet holes and graffiti - a very different view of Budapest from the tourist areas.

Battle scars.

After wondering into some areas that seemed we might not want to be for too long, we pulled out google maps and found the way home. After a few wrong turns, our neighborhood welcomed us with open arms. We had decided to try out a restaurant just around the block for dinner. Our cab driver had told us about this place on our ride from the airport, and it was fantastic.  If you come to Budapest and want and awesome casual meal, try out Most, it has an awesome ruin pub courtyard, and delicious food of course.  Our last night in Budapest was a good one.  After our fantastic dinner, we strolled back to our apartment in a light rain.  Budapest had been good to us, but now it was time to pack up and get ready for Austria.

Dusk view from our balcony - St. Stephen's Basilica in the background.

Late night views looking up from our courtyard in Budapest.