We had the most amazing lunch today at the number one restaurant in all of Bucharest, The Artist. And goodness it was one of the most beautiful meals I have ever had. After lunch, we went back to the apartment for a short bit to hang laundry to dry and reserve a Bucharest tour for tomorrow. Then it was off to explore a park that was highly rated on TripAdvisor and I have to say it was lovely. Sky kept saying, "I wish we had something like this in America." It was a wonderful day, full of exploring local Bucharest neighborhoods.
After we landed, got cash and a SIM card, we caught a taxi at the airport, with the help of a lovely Romanian family doing the same. While our taxi driver didn't speak the best English, he liked to talk, which I appreciated. He shared that in his 10 YEARS of taxi driving, we are the first Americans that have ever been in his cab. He found our interest in visiting Romania quite intriguing.
After our host showed us around new house (aka her apartment), the kids settled in with their electronics and I set off to find us some groceries, as we were all starving. The host had pointed in the direction of a 'grocery store', but once on the street, I had no clue where that direction was. I was also in quite culture shock and kept saying in my head, "this is the most bizarre place I have ever been." It was just a bit overwhelming at first, with all the cars, honking, people staring, broken glass, graffiti and me not having a damn clue where I was going. It's not like one can find a Walmart or a Target or anything even remotely close to what we think of as a grocery store. So I wandered around in search of the elusive grocery store until finally, I saw a man in white pants and pale blue shirt, maybe a medical assistant of some sort, and asked him where I can buy some food. I could tell he didn't totally understand me, and he pointed to some tiny shop. I said, "vegetables...do they have vegetables?" He then pointed to a larger building on the other side and there it was like the Holy Grail, a large room filled with farmer's market style of fruits and vegetables. Oh but wait -- no one can understand me, which only proved to be a problem when I tried to buy lunch meat and cheese, in one of the side shops of the room, and each of them just kept responding with "no". I have no idea if what I was charged, for my fruits and veggies, was legit and honestly, I didn't really care at the time. I was just happy to have some food in hand (four grocery bags actually) and on my way back home to make sandwiches for all.
I then did a bit of research on what was around us and learned that the number one restaurant in all of Bucharest is a half-mile away. Kids had no desire to go walk with me so I set out alone, with the goal of heading in the direction of this restaurant. And I am so incredibly happy I did. Not only did it cure my being overwhelmed, I found the area quite impressive, in a unique and special kind of way. The only way I can describe it is that it is the ultimate mix of historic old all the way through to modern new. You walk past an old building, full of graffiti and broken windows, and then a couple blocks away is the most glorious church you can imagine. In between the two are a few restaurants and a modern office building. Walk a bit farther and there's a beautiful park, beaming with trees and freshly bloomed tulips and children playing everywhere. Walk to the end of the park and there's a homeless man screaming and another sleeping and then another beautiful church. I'm really quite blown away and still taking it all in. I can't wait to explore more tomorrow.
The one thing I could do without is the traffic noise outside our apartment building. They like to honk here.
Today was breakfast at our Penzion and then a three-hour bus ride back to Prague. I forgot that I still needed to get cash to pay for our room and that meant running a damn mile into city center to try and find an ATM — and then, of course, running back (well kind of running). Our Penzion owner didn’t speak a bit of English but somehow we figured one another out. She smoked, which was not lovely, but her loveliness trumped the lingering smoke smell in the dining / check-in room. Thankfully, we couldn’t smell the smoke from our room and the beds and pillows were the most comfortable thus far. The bus was quite lovely took, with seat movie screens, wifi and refreshments.
I had decided to book a Penzion in Prague near the airport so we would have an quick trip to the airport in the morning, but that meant a 30-minute uber ride to anywhere we wanted to go. We decided to go bak into Old Town to visit the Secular Alchemy Museum, which we all loved and a found a Mexican place for lunch / dinner, which we also super loved. Most days, we only eat two means and then snack a bit, if hungry in between.
All in all, I am in love with both Prague and Cesky Krumlov. I can only imagine how lovely the two cities are when warmer; however, I can only imagine how VERY crowded they are too. One of our uber drivers told us that Prague had an official NINE MILLION tourists last year. He said the summers get so crowded that you an barely cross the Charles Bridge. They also implemented security screen at the Prague Castle this past fall and the line was ridiculously long. I cannot even fathom what that line is going to be like during the summer months.
CZECH REPUBLIC SUMMARY | 21 - 26 April
Food & activities: $350 (and that includes our $80 tourist trap rip-off lunch)
Transportation: $160 (nine 30-minute uber rides, one 3-hour bus ride & one 3-hour train trip)
TOTAL for 5 nights: $830
This morning we ventured by train to the small town of Cesky Krumlov. It was supposed to be a three-hour train ride for us but the ticket guy shares that everyone has to get off at the next stop and change to a bus because they are doing construction on the tracks ahead. Well okay then, we'll just have to figure this out, is what rang in my head, but it ended up being an easy switch with a bus waiting for us in front of the train station.
We checked into our Penzion (guest house) and ventured a half-mile into the city area. It is quaint, beautiful and quite magical in a medieval kind of way. We had lunch and walked all around the castle and city area, but our favorite stop was at the Speculum Alchemiae Museum. The museum is actually a alchemy lab that was found in 2002, after the great flood creative a sink hole unveiling this unreal lab -- Rudolf II's alchemical lab from the 16th century. It was a quick 30-minute tour, full of cool sites, interesting facts and quite a bit of history lesson too.
Another fantastic museum we visited is the Egon Schiele Art Centrum. Mr Schiele's mother grew up in Cesky Krumlov and Egon himself lived there for a few years. I had no idea that he died so young, from the Spanish Flu. His art really is outstanding and I have never been to such a beautiful, in a raw kind of way, museum space. There were two other artist being exhibited at the museum, who were equally interesting to view.
We also happened upon an awesome Mexican Restaurant, which always makes me happy. A good Mexican restaurant anywhere will pretty much make my day.
I wold so love to go back to Cesky Krumlov, as we were unable to see the Museum Fotoatelier Seidel (it was closed) and I would absolutely love to see a performance on the revolving theatre. I heard from a friend that the Puppet Museum is pretty cool too. As I always say, we can't see everything and we need to be grateful for the things that we are able to see, do and experience and not dwell on what we missed.
Today started with my alarm going off at 6 AM -- WAY, WAY, WAY over ambitious in the wake up department. I did finally wake up at 8 AM and ventured out for coffee (thank goodness, coffee is near). I wanted to go to Prague Castle as early as possible to avoid as many tourists as possible, but we were greeted with PLENTY of tourists upon our 9:30 AM arrival. The entire castle area was spectacular. Ryder was particular fond of the medieval weaponry and knight armor and said that it was his favorite museum ever. After the castle, we went on a little walking adventure to see Baby Jesus, The Lennon Wall and The Charles Bridge. All were absolutely breathtaking in their own right.
P.S. Do not eat anywhere near the Prague Castle. We stopped in a place for lunch (mainly because we were cold) and spent $80 for lunch versus $20 near our apartment. Such a rip-off and a shame.
Well, our first day in Prague started a bit late and lazy. We woke at 9:30 AM to a cold, windy and rainy morning. I ventured out to find us something for breakfast and stumbled upon a glorious farmer's market. I may have bought one of every pastry from a vendor and I think I paid way too much money for butter fresh from the Alps, from another vendor, but oh my goodness, it is good.
I read about a vintage store I wanted to check out and the kids didn't want to go, so while they did math, I walked a mile to the store. The store wasn't really that great but the walk was. Our evening ended with a trip to Old Town Square, which was incredible and incredibly busy.
A few first impressions of Prague:
People are super kind.
Architecture is absolutely amazing and so beautiful.
Grafitti is everywhere and sad to see.
Touristy areas are SO busy, even in the evening hours, when I thought things would be not-so-busy.
Food has been awesome and inexpensive, which is also awesome.
I am having the hardest time figuring out the CZK coins and so whenever I've accumulated enough, I put them all out there and ask if I have enough to pay.
P.S. I forgot to mention that when we went to the airport ATM, I almost got out the equivalent of $1000 USD. Kids and I had figured out the conversion rate and after looking at the first screen, I said, "is that $100 or $1000? It can't be $1000." Luckily Ryder was quick with his math and said, "no, stop, that IS $1000" and sure enough,. it was. You had to advance two more screens to get to the lesser amounts. WHAT ATM GIVES OUT $1000?
Drove from Wales to Bath City. We had no idea what to expect but goodness what an awesome city. We only had a couple hours in Bath, before heading to the airport, so we visited the Roman Baths and then had lunch. After that, it was off to Heathrow and then an evening flight to Prague.
A couple important things to note:
1. If I had to do it all over again, I would stay in various cities for a few days each -- London, Bath, Cardiff area and then somewhere about two hours North of where we stayed. I'm sure there are lots of other areas to explore beyond that, but there were some sites that I wanted to see that were North of us but too far to drive there and back. We didn't get enough time in Bath or London. All of this means that we will have to make another UK trip some day. But super grateful for the areas that we were able to see and explore.
2. We had the most awesome Uber driver pick us up in the airport in Prague. Of course, you never know if your driver is going to speak English, but Kristof did quite well and was very willing to chat with us. We arrived at the airport at 10:30 PM and by the time we got our luggage, I figured out that my data won't roam here, and we got an Uber with Sky's almost dead-but-has-data phone, it was 11 PM (and we were exhausted). We arrived to our airbnb and the owner wasn't there. With the airbnb emails on my phone, but me not having data and unable to get my phone to tap into Sky's hotspot, Kristof let me tap into his data. I contacted the owner (she had been waiting for us and actually had just left) and then Kristof waited with us until he knew we were safely in the apartment. So super grateful for kindness like this while traveling.
Today was an afternoon that was all about exploring nearby castles. We started at Coity Castle, which we ended up having to ourselves for about an hour. THAT was magical and the kids had so much fun. Then it was off to Ogmore Castle, which was actually closed by the time we got there, but that didn't stop us (and others). We spoke to a couple local guys and they said that people are on the castle grounds after closing all the time. Last stop was New Castle, but it was also closed and inaccessible. Ryder humored me with a photo from the outside though. Click images above to enlarge.
Today was kind of a chill day. We started at Margam Country Park, which encompasses a surreal 850 acres. We explored a former summer mansion (aka Castle), some beautiful monastery ruins, and a farm animal area. Blown away by the accessibility of this area and no rangers standing by to monitor things, such as photographing on the land. In the US, there would be a hefty fee to photograph at such a place, but not in Wales. Then it was back home and walking around our farm grounds and a hiking trail that I stumbled upon behind our cottage.
Visited a fairytale-like castle today, the kind you would imagine in a storybook. It was lovely, had an audio tour and someone just happened to be getting married while we were there. As we were leaving, the father was walking the Bride up the castle stairs. Can you imagine?!! After the castle, we ventured into Cardiff city center to walk around a bit and get some ice cream, as I had promised the kids. Then it was back home for dinner in our local historic neighborhood pub / restaurant. Such an awesome place full of history and the owner was just lovely. We talked for quite a while and at the end of our conversation, I said, "you wouldn't happen to know where we might be able to hold a baby lamb, do you?". "Can you give me two minutes?", he replied. Back in one minute, he said, "Let's go!". And off we went to a neighboring farm to hold the sweetest, little orphaned lamb. How lucky were we!!
A visit to the Dylan Thomas exhibition, authentic fish and chips and then a photo shoot at the seaside area of Swansea. Don't let this image fool you, it was cold! Skyler was very strong, posing for a friend's 8x10 film camera, while I was sitting in the warm car. (right after I made this photograph).
“Now behind the eyes and secrets of the dreamers in the streets rocked to sleep by the sea, see the titbits and topsyturvies, bobs and buttontops, bags and bones, ash and rind and dandruff and nailparings, saliva and snowflakes and moulted feathers of dreams, the wrecks and sprats and shells and fishbones, whale-juice and moonshine and small salt fry dished up by the hidden sea.”
- Dylan Thomas
Grafitti in the UK. I mean they kind of look like eggs, right?
P.S. I am a lover of street art and make photographs of it whenever I am able. This was a quick pullover, as I saw it while driving by.
Well I'm sick and my friend, Martha, is dealing with jet lag and slept until I woke her at noon. We then started making a plan for the day. We decided to visit the Caerphilly Castle. I put it the Castle into Google maps, only to learn that by the time we were to get there, it was going to close 30 minutes later. We decided to do it anyways -- and oh my gosh, it was spectacular beyond words, even if we weren't able to walk through the castle (although we did convince the ticket guy to let us photograph the dragons, so that was fantastic and we were grateful).
We left London to drive to Wales, with the goal of going to Stonehenge and then stopping by the city of Cotswold. Well, little did we know it was a Bank Holiday, the worst day to travel AND try to visit Stonehenge. After about three hours of stop-and-very-little-go traffic, we finally see a glimpse of Stonehenge (image above). We followed the signs to parking, only to never find any parking. So we all agreed that our drive-by view of Stonehenge was going to have to be enough. We then ventured into the very cool, historic area of Cotswold only to lose wifi and basically do another dirve-by. All in all, it took us NINE HOURS to get from London to Wales. Lesson learned: No traveling or venture going on Bank Holiday days.
Made it to London safe and sound, after a wicked early wakeup. Rented a car and dear Lord, driving in London is stressful (and that's even with me being used to driving on the left). I have never seen so many roundabouts as I have in England. Once we connected with my friend, Martha, and checked into our hotel we walked to a local pub for dinner and then, everyone being exhausted, it was right to bed for all. Couldn't help but get a photo in a red telephone booth along the way to the pub.
Fitting for the 1940s and still fitting today. We visited the Typography of Terror museum today. After visiting so many WWII museums, the information is getting a bit receptive, but there is always more to learn. However, Ryder shared today that after our European adventure, he is never going to another museum again. When I asked him more about this, he said that he would rather learn in school and be with his friends. This is one of our realities of living in Japan and now traveling Europe for three months. Both Sky and Ryder are doing amazingly well but they also definitely have their moments. I am SO VERY HOPEFUL that we end up in an awesome neighborhood full of friends in Virginia. PLEASE!!
P.S. The image is where the Gestapo Headquarters was located. Pretty surreal all we have been able to see thus far.
We arrived in Berlin early afternoon and were feeling a bit lazy, but I knew we had to get out and do something. I really wanted my kids to see the former Berlin Wall, as my Mom lived in both East and West Germany and at one point, they escaped from East Germany. I am going to ask for the full story again, because I can't remember the details, other than being on a motorcycle with her father, being dressed up as and pretending to be her Mom. We explored the art on the Wall, touched the wall and headed back to the train. Ryder's one wish while in Germany, was to eat schnitzel. And just like that, on the corner as were almost to the train station, was Scheels Schnitzel restaurant. It was a super cool, little restaurant with fantastic schnitzel. In the evening, we went to a hotel-recommended Biersalon and let's just say that that had to be more about the history of the place and the beer than the food (not so good). Great first day in Berlin.
P.S. I booked only two days in Berlin because I know we will be here as a family. My Mom is German and Steve's Grandparents came from Germany, so we have a lot to explore here. Once Steve retires from the Navy, we can fly free space-A to Ramstein, so we will hopefully take advantage of that in the near future. Yay to military retirement perks. :-)
When Ryder was in his public school 6th grade history class, he was the only one to ever have heard about the Holocaust. And I've heard a number of people say that they have friends who don't know what the Holocaust or Auschwitz is. Today, we had the opportunity to step on the Auschwitz soil and walk through some of the buildings, where the horrors took place. I'm not sure I will ever be able to really process the experience of seeing Auschwitz. The evil and horror is just too much and as we walked around and you think it cannot get worse, you learn of another unthinkable horror.
The buildings are referred to as "blocks". In one block, there were over 400 women and children, who were all "liquidated" (a term that I can barely type but was used often in the writings). The wooden (stable) buildings were originally designed in Germany to hold 52 horses, but in Auschwitz these same buildings held over 700 men (three to one blanket). Approximately 5,000 people were murdered during any 24-hour period. Lethal injections were give intraCARDIAC, while the person sat in a chair (mostly children, Jewish pregnant women and the sick). Newborn babies were usually immediately put to death, along with their mothers. The children that were chosen to be kept alive endured brutal and painful medical experimentation by "Dr Death".
Absolutely horrific and beyond evil. How could this even happen? How was Hitler SO crazy? How could his military commandants follow through with his orders? And why didn't the Allied troops help (I did read that they were at least somewhat aware of what was happening and the US bombed a chemical plant or something like that about 10 KM away? I know there is plenty that I still don't know but it's all so unfathomable.
I WILL NEVER FORGET! I hope that my children will never forget. We had so many discussions along the way, as we walked through both concentration camps.
airbnb apartments: $461
Food, transportation & four museums: $675
Total for eight days in Poland: $1136
Days 1-4 | Gdansk
Walked around Old Town
European Solidarity Center
Museum of the Second World War
Days 5-8 | Krakow
Walked to the Market Square
Schindler's Factory Museum
Today we walked to Schindler's Factory Museum, which I thought was so well put together. From the Solidarity Center to Schindler's Factory, it is great to read and learn about the people who did all that they could underground to try and help others. Really incredible stories of strength, bravery and kindness.
Another day exploring, another eight miles walked, wandering the streets of Krakow. We walked to Europe's largest Market Square, which was pretty awesome (and crowded) and purchased this handmade Palma Wielkanocna, made for Palm Sunday religious celebration.
Thank goodness we are walking so much because I have never had so much yummy bread and pastires. I think I might turn into a loaf of bread myself soon.