Monday, May 26, 2008

May 10 and Trip Home

Saturday morning we were once again up early for our last day in Europe. We hitched a tram towards the Belvedere Palace. On our way, we found the liberation statue and fountain which was pretty cool.

We continued on to the Belvedere Palace, which was a heck of a site. There is an upper Palace, and a Lower palace. There is so much to see in both of them, plus the really cool gardens. A whole lot to see. We are not real artsy, but we did go to every room, every exhibit, and did a quick once over. However it still took us a LONG time to get through it all.

When we got out of Belvedere, it was after lunch. So we found a nice street side café and sat down for a light lunch. We sat and chatted and really enjoyed the afternoon and soon we realized that if we hurried, we could make the last tour at the actual Vienna Opera House. We closed our check and walked to the Opera house and I was somehow able to make my way through the crowd to get tickets. They only let in a set amount of each language, each time. We were able to make it in and got a really nice tour (over an hour) of the opera house. We were shown all the box seats and imperial boxes, standing room areas, and even backstage. They switch shows every night. It is a logistical mind’s dream. They have a performance 300 nights a year. They tear down that night, and set up for rehearsal the next morning . In the morning, the performers rehearse the next night’s show. Then, after rehearsal, they tear down that stage and set up that night’s performance, which was rehearsed the morning before. They have over 160 stage staff working 3 shifts. Get this. They have no room for storage on site, so it all has to go into trucks off site. However, the trucks are not at stage level, so they pull in, are lifted up to stage level on an elevator (these are 18 wheelers), unloaded, loaded, and then let go. Then the next truck comes. It is quite a process.

We stopped and grabbed some coffee on the way back. We realized that we had not had any caffeine for a couple of days and that was probably the reason for our headaches. (That and the thought about going back to Doha)

We stopped at the hotel to drop off our touristy backpack. We got some advice from the front desk and took a tram ride from one end of the line that started in front of the hotel to the very end which was about 20-25 minutes away from downtown. It was a neat little area with shops, restaurants, etc. We walked around for a while and found the restaurant that our front desk had recommended. It was a huge restaurant, and we wanted to sit outside, so we basically had the whole patio to ourselves. Inside they were pretty busy, but I guess everyone else was cold.

We had a great dinner of some Pork products. Mmmmm. We hung around for a while and then headed down towards the tram stop and found another café that had some really good looking dark beer. We decided to stop for a few and before you know it the night was gone. We hung out and chatted for a long time and the beer was so good. It was a really nice European Atmosphere and the people were just so nice. They even had a dog running around this bar…it was great.

Soon we were back on the tram headed for the hotel. Our Europe trip was coming to a close.

The next morning we were up and out the door early, as we had to get to the airport. We had some trouble finding food and the right Metro (they were doing construction), but we did get there on time. The airport was a little different, as you check your bags, then they make sure you have a boarding pass…but you do not go through security yet. You walk a little ways and go through Immigration, then finally get to your gate, where you are screened. Once you go through security, you cannot go back out and get something to drink, etc. Soon we were in the air again. We didn’t have all the room we did before, but we did have a row to ourselves. I did move to the other side of the isle and stretched out (not as nice as before) and got a little nap.

It was an amazing trip. I am sorry if it has been boring for some of you to read, but keep in mind I have to remember this years from now. Next up…what happened when I got back to Doha.
Liberation Fountain
Upper Belvedere. My back is to Lower Belvedere. This is a yard I am glad I do not have to mow.

Vienna Opera House
The Sight of the Last Supper In Europe

Our Last Outdoor Bar.

May 9

Friday morning we were up and out the door early. We grabbed McDonalds (right beside the hotel) and headed for the Hofburg Palace. You may or may not have heard of the Lipizzaners and the Spanish Riding School of Vienna. However, it is actually pretty neat. These horses are trained to be fighting machines, that were very useful in mid-evil times. They are trained to stand on their back legs and defend against oncoming attack, they are also trained to jump and kick straight back…all with a rider on them. Anyway, a show is something hard to come by, but every morning they have up and coming horses that they are training, some very close to making it. They allow a certain amount of people to watch them. So, we needed to be at the riding school before 9:30, because the ‘Morning Exercise” starts at 10:00am. We got there just in time, because after we got our tickets and got in line to go inside, the ticket line was out the door. Seating was in an awesome indoor riding complex, and it was first come, first serve. So once we got in the gate…there was a little scramble. We stayed till the end of the show which was about 12:00. It was nice to get to see them, although sometimes it was a little boring, because it was practice and not a show and they were working on things that were not that exciting. However, it was a great experience none the less.

We walked back towards the hotel and grabbed some wine and cheese as a lunch appetizer. Then we walked to the Josephium. This is a medical school’s museum that has some interesting things, however the most impressive thing are the wax replicas of many body parts. He has the entire nervous system, cardio, respiratory, full bodies, part bodies, pieces and parts. It was actually a really cool exhibit. It would be great for paramedics, nurses, or even 1st year med students. It really helps to show you what is underneath your skin.

We then walked to the Sigmund Freud museum. This museum was amazing. It was in his old apartment/office. He had his waiting room, office and study in one part of the floor and then it was separated from the rest of the house for private use. It was amazing to see his stuff, much of it original. Such a pioneer.

We then continued on a very long walk across the canal to the Kriminal Museum. This was a pretty interesting museum, but it was in German. They had many things from crimes throughout the years there, plus an array of pictures, etc, sometimes recreations. It was a lot longer than I thought it was going to be, and I was happy. Once I learn German, I am going back.
We then left there and had another long walk to Hunderwasserhaus. This is a set of apartments that has become a tourist attraction. It is very unique, although all you can do is look at it. There are some café’s right below it so we stopped in for a beer. It was then that we realized that we needed to eat, so we grabbed some food as well. After hanging out, we headed back to the hotel to change for the evening. We grabbed a Tram to the Opera House(not the original) but still a very nice location. (Goldener Saal) It was very close to the actual opera house, but this was a more affordable option. We obtained some tickets that were not too expensive to see the Mozart Orchestra perform. This is a group of actually some very good musicians that play nothing but Mozart’s music. There is anywhere from 12-60+ tonight we had about 40 musicians. They are all dressed in period costumes and it was a really neat experience. They even have intermission, which is something I have not experienced. If you do not make it back in time, you will not be allowed to enter the main room. (If it was in Qatar, the room would be full of westerners and there would be many empty seats when it started) It lasted a few hours and it was a truly great experience. We were not allowed to take pictures in many of the places we were at, but I was able to sneak a few. We walked home late and were not long for the world.



Goldener Saal

My Illegal shot from inside the Goldener Saal.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

May 8

Thursday morning we arrived in Vienna. We were woken up by the train attendant at 5:30 (our train arrived at 6:00). It was a rough night. I think the driver was mad we got to sleep and he didn’t it was a rough, start and stop ride all night long. We arrived at hit the Metro station, and grabbed us a 72 hour pass, since we were going to be in town for 3 full days. We made our way to the Hotel de France, which was an amazing nice hotel. Wow. They were offering a discount if you stayed 3 nights, that plus Hotels dot com, we were doing really well. They let us check in early again! We were 3/3 on that aspect of our trip. We always go with the intent of storing our luggage and returning in the afternoon, but so far this trip they let us check in every time. Since we were at our hotel at 7:00am and we did not sleep so well on the train. We decided to grab a couple hour nap before we got started. We got back up at 9:00 and were out the door by 10:00. We got to shower too! Awesome! We started walking, we were in the University area of town (which I thought about applying to pursue my PhD) and found a great outdoor restaurant that overlooked town hall and a park. We had a great lunch and then headed on our ad-hoc walking tour. We found random statues, sculptures, Opera Houses, Theaters, Parliament, and Hofburg Palace.

We headed for Stephensplatz which is the main town square. Thousands of people are here daily all hours of the day. It is centered around St. Stephens Cathedral which is massive. We did the unguided tour of the sanctuary, and paid for the guided tour of the catacombs. Wow that was impressive. Remains of people are just sitting on the shelves from 1000’s of years ago. They talked about closing the catacombs for about a week last year because one of the vats was leaking (apparently, you turn into a black goo after 1000 years) and it really stank. We then walked into the new part…which is actually the old part where there are mass graves and places where they had thousands of bodies buried during the plague. These rooms you can look into (and reach in a touch if you want. Thousands of bones from people that were buried here, stacked like firewood. There was one American tourist with us that kept asking the dumb questions. Wow. I tried to not let anyone know I was American. I see why we get bad names. “Are their dead people in those coffins?”, “Do dead people stink?”. She is probably a Hillary voter.

Anyway, after an awesome tour of the catacombs, we headed up to the top of the church to get a panorama of the city. Always a highlight, plus it helps to orient me.

We finished in Stephensplatz and started walking to another old church that was a sight. We passed by another attraction that was a clock between 2 buildings. It has one of the saints work its way from building to building during the hour. Then we found a small café to sit and plan out the rest of our day. All of a sudden, I realize that once again we are sitting at an attraction. The wall to our left is the old church we were trying to find. What amazing luck.

After finishing there we decided to head back to the hotel to drop off the backpack. We stopped at the store to have some munchies with us the next few days and in the room. It was getting late so we walked around and noticed a lot of police in the area. There was a lot of barricades and a lot of police. Traffic was re-routed, etc. I was wondering what was up, and a little scared. We decided to hang out and watch whatever was going to take place. (I know, I know) We found a brat stand, a couple beverages, and found a wall where we could see what was going on and escape if needed. (I make it sound worse than it was) After about 20 minutes a small parade went by, when they did about 6-10 hecklers on bikes and walking started chanting something to them in German. They continued on and the police moved the barricades after they were by. It seems, from a public safety standpoint, what you wanted to happen did. Overwhelming police presence, small group of protesters, no violence. I have no idea what was going on, and no one around spoke English…or at least said they didn’t.

It was getting pretty late, so we grabbed another beer for the road and headed for the hotel to unwind and start the day off right.

Hofburg Palace

St. Stephens Cathedral


My New Bike. Made entirely of Wood.

View from St. Stephen's Cathedral down onto the Square.

May 7

Wednesday started like yesterday. We met for breakfast and ate way too much. We checked out of our rooms and headed for the main train station. This involved the metro with one change of line on the way, but it did get us to the main train station. We were able to find lockers to stow our luggage pretty cheaply. I liked these lockers better because they had keys instead of just a card and a pass code. Made me feel a little better about it. We hopped back on the Metro for a walking tour of the Jewish quarter. It was neat to see typical old style Jews walking around. (Black outfits, big hats, long white beards, etc). Cities are amazing, you go a couple of streets one way or another and you are in totally different areas. Like the time I walked right into the middle of Chinatown in Philly and then walked out 3 blocks later.

After walking around most of the morning seeing many of the closed sites, but admiring the atmosphere, great weather and company, we stopped at a local café to get the day started. After a relaxing drink, we continued on to the river and began a river walk to where we were yesterday. We decided on the way down that we wanted to get a boat ride, so we found one reasonably cheap and got about 1 hour boat ride around Prague. A little food and some beer were included, plus the tour guide was pretty good as well. It was nice to see a different perspective of this wonderful city.

After the boat ride we continued down some amazing riverside streets with absolutely amazing architecture. We continued on getting some good pictures headed towards “Fred and Ginger”. It is two very modern buildings that the locals say look like 2 people (Fred and Ginger) dancing. They are actually pretty nice architectural buildings. Erin and Betty’s train was due to leave in a few hours, so we continued to walk towards the main train station. We found a little out of the way place with some really great food. We of course sat outside and enjoyed the traffic and people, and it was a great wrap up with our two days with Erin and Betty. After our late lunch, we escorted Erin and Betty to the Metro station and said our goodbyes. We all got on the same metro, but Carol and I were going to switch trains in a couple of stops. We hugged and said goodbye and they were off to new adventures in Salzburg. It was absolutely great to get to hang out and relax with the fam.

Carol and I had about another 6 hours until our train left, so we walked towards the Prague observation tower. This is about 5 meters taller than the Eiffel Tower, based on overall height. Prague is at a higher elevation than Paris, plus the tower sits on a hill. So even though the tower is only a few hundred steps, the Czechs say it is taller than the Eiffel tower. We walked through a awesome park up the hill to get to the tower. People were laying in the grass, drinking wine and beer, playing with the dogs, relaxing with friends…stuff you do not see in Doha. I forgot Carol is afraid of heights and confined spaces (and she was a flight nurse?) so I walked to the top of the tower on my own. It was really cool to see some unique views of the city.

After getting to the top of the tower and back, we relaxed for a few before walking back down the hill towards the city center. It was getting late (the sun didn’t go down till way late there…I loved it!) plus we had a train to catch. We decided to catch a metro to a station near the main train station and walk the rest of the way. This allowed us to grab a street side vendor Brat and beer before hopping on the train for the evening. We grabbed our light dinner and headed towards the main station, getting there a few minutes early. Remember, in train travel if the train says departs at 10:28…you usually feel it move at 10:28. So we grabbed our stuff from storage, headed for the platform, and soon our train pulled into station. The train pulled in, and we got on the correct car, but there was about 7 on this train when it pulled up. After we started moving, I got up to use the bathroom before going to bed and to my surprise there were no other cars behind us. I always hear to make sure that the train car you get on says it is going to the place you want to go, as some cars get dropped at certain areas, but this is the first time I have seen that.

Anyway, it was off to bed quickly, and before long we were getting the 530am wake up for our 600am arrival into Vienna.

How awesome are these streets?

Fred and Ginger
The Boat Ride

The tower that I climbed to later in the day.

Erin and I in front of Charles Bridge

Friday, May 23, 2008

May 6

Tuesday we were up pretty early as well. We met Erin and Betty downstairs for breakfast, which was a huge buffet included in the price of the room. (They had lots of PORK!) I basically ate myself silly, trying to sustain myself to dinner. The food was absolutely awesome. We walked to the Metro station and grabbed another 24 hour pass. After a few stops and some orienting, we were faced with a walk up a side of the hill. It was actually the better way to go. It gave us access to the gardens outside the castle, with really nice city views. Plus, later on we did not have to backtrack.

View of Prague from the Castle

You are able to get into and out of Prague Castle without paying. However, to enjoy many of the things inside you have to pay. So as we were walking in the clouds opened up. As you may or may not know…many castles had walls and huge courtyards…not too much rain protection. So we ended up standing in line in the rain to get inside one of the churches. They had to regulate the amount of people going in so you could move one you got in there. The church was named St. Vitus Cathedral. It was so huge. Holy crap. You Catholics really know how to build some impressive churches. It had amazing stained glass, décor, just everything. Plus, you could walk to the top of the tower to get more views of the city. (Only 299 steps!)

Inside St. Vitus Cathedral

After visiting the church, we hit a café that was up here to have a tasty beverage. We decided that my OCD-ness along with the size of our group to not hit all the museums in the castle. I usually like to read and observe everything in these types of settings, but I would have drove them crazy. Plus, it gives me a reason to go back (which I plan to anyway!)
After the church we took a guide book recommended walk from the front entrance of the castle, down through the kick ass streets of Prague, across the Charles Bridge, and into the Old Town Square. This is a walk that you must do. You really get the feeling like you are walking in Europe. There is no other feel like it. Small shops, streets, people milling about. It is just amazing. The Charles bridge was build in 1357 and legend says that egg yolks were added to the mortar to strengthen the mix. It has lasted this long…so that might be an idea for you construction types. It survived the worst flood in 500 years in 2002, so something must be right. There are countless statues along the bridge, one of St. John of Nepomuk, who was martyred here. The state is a worn from all of the touching. It is said that by touching the statue, it gives you good luck and guarantees you a return trip to Prague. We continued walking along these amazing streets, checking out the local vendors, shopping, enjoying the weather and company. I bought a few awesome pictures of the city taken at night.

The Awesome Prague Streets

The old town square was a plethora of activity. Restaurants, people doing everything, performers, etc. It was quite a sight. The main attraction is an astronomical clock in the side one of the buildings.

The Old Town Square

We continued walking enjoying the many aspects of Prague, and then continued on to the train station. Erin and Betty needed to get tickets for the next day to ensure their trip would continue uninterrupted. After getting things sorted out, we walked back to the National Museum, which was closed today, but I wanted them to see it. We did most of the stuff that I said yesterday, even took them to Uflecku for dinner.

After dinner, Erin and Betty were about wore out, so we took them back to the hotel. Carol and I were not ready to call it a night yet, so we walked close to the hotel and had a few beverages while chatting about the day. The beer was really cheap (about $2 a beer)…and was really good. About 10pm we headed to the hotel to get a good night’s sleep. A great day with the Carol and the Family.

Me from the River looking at Prague Castle. You have to understand how big the castle was. you can see the church sticking out from the top, however the castle starts about where my head is at and goes to far building on the right at the top of the hill. Huge!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

May 5

So after arriving in Prague, we hit the Metro and got to our station pretty quick. It was very busy when we got off and once we came to the surface, we were slightly disoriented. Trying to figure out what street is what, etc. Our hotel was a little off the beaten path, but it was still a Movenpick and a pretty good hotel overall. We were actually not that far out of town, just off the maps we had. Well, we finally found the street which we thought was the right way to go. Soon we passed a sign that said “Movenpick 300meters”…so we did make it! Awesome!

We were lucky again, as they let us check in at 8:00am which is unheard of. I guess that is the nice thing about traveling mid-week during the non-tourist season. It was a smoking room, but luckily it was not too bad. We showered and changed, plus sent our laundry out. We only packed a few outfits so we could travel light with the idea that we would get our laundry done in Prague. (That was an expensive idea) We hit the ATM to get some Czech Koruny in our pockets. The exchange rate was not as favorable, as it was only $1USD to 16CZK. We walked towards the metro station and hit up the McDonalds, which are everywhere. I know some of you are like…”That boy eats fast food a lot”. Actually, I thought about it the other day. I have had fast food 3 times since I have been in Doha. Plus I do not have access to one of my favorite breakfast sandwiches, which is the McD’s Sausage and Egg Biscuit. Mmm. Plus it is an economical way to eat so we can splurge on Lunch and Dinner. (And…I’m on vacation)

Anyway, we stopped at the metro station and bought a 24 hour pass. It was about 5-6 dollars, but well worth it. It allowed us access to all Metros, Trams, and Buses in the city for 24 hours. That is very helpful when you finish in one area and want to get to another.
We had no specific agenda, so we walked towards what we thought was Wenceslas square. From where we came up and according to the guide book, we were there. However, it did not look like the guide book showed. I studied it some more and the walk towards Wenceslas square and the opera house were really similar. They both had items on the way in about the same place, which is weird. I realized that we should have turned right about 4 blocks back…so we had to backtrack. It is no big deal, because we didn’t really have an agenda. By this time it was getting to be around noonish, so we decided to stop and have a cold drink. We found a nice old trolley car in the middle of the road that had a great view of the national museum. Turns out, while I was reading the book for our next leg, I realized that we were once again at a historical spot enjoying the restaurant. That is twice…how funny. The place we were at was Café Tram 11. There are two old tramcars which make a unique cafe. Tram 11 operated at the Vaclavske (Wenceslas) Square from the beginning of the 20th Century to 1974. This tram was borrowed from The Public Transport Museum. The motor tram car number 2077 was manufactured in 1927 at Ringhoffer in Prague. It was transported back to Prague in 2000 and renovated into the cafe it is today. Both these tramcars remain on the rails where they used to operate.

Through the keen research I do while on a trip, I found out that the National Museum is free to visitors on the first Monday of every month. Guess what? It was the first Monday of May! After our break, we headed towards the National Museum, but not before stopping to pay our respects to Jan Palach and to see King Wenceslas’ statue. King Wenceslas is the king you all know from the Christmas Carol. Jan Palach was a university student who in protest to the communist occupation in 1969, set himself on fire on the steps of the national museum. A cross now lays in the ground where he fell. This whole square is very popular and many events have happened here. In 1989, at the shrine for Jan Palach and others who shared his cause became the rallying point for the Velvet Revolution. Over 250,000 people gathered here and started the process of separation from communism and Soviet power.

The museum took a couple of hours and was mainly a ‘bones and rocks’ type museum, which usually doesn’t interest me as much as some of the others. They did have some really amazing species and artifacts, but I can only take so much. A temporary exhibit near the back was interesting and followed people from the beginning of time to the moon. Interesting.
After the museum, we decided to grab a late lunch. We went to Uflecku Restaurant and Brewery, which was listed in the guidebook as a really good time. This is a restaurant that only one type of beer is served. When you sit down, you take a coaster out of the holder and put it in front of you. You immediate get a beer from a guy walking around serving it, which is his only job. The waiter came not too long after and I ordered some awesome bratwurst, kraut, and potatoes. Man was it good. They have people walking around playing the accordion, etc. It is a great atmosphere. We stayed at Uflecku for a while then decided to head back to the hotel as we had some special guests to meet.

We got back to the hotel, but they had not checked in yet. So we went to the room and decided to take a nap for a little while, until they got here. About 30-45 minutes later, the phone rang…and they were here. They wanted to clean up, so we planned to meet them in the lobby in about 30 minutes.

Who are these mystery guests? None other than my cousin Erin and her mom Aunt Betty! Did you ever think you would be tooling around Prague with your extended family in the states? Me either! But it was great to see them and introduce everyone...I knew Prague was going to be a blast.

The hotel was split into 2 parts. One on the bottom of the hill, and one on the top. It is connected by a tram car so we went up to take a look. That is the executive, club section. A really nice part of the hotel. The restaurant up there was a little pricy, so we decided to check out another restaurant in the guidebook.

It was a metro ride and a short walk away, but we decided to head there anyway. When we got there, we were glad we did. It was a traditional restaurant that had a great feel to it. Very similar to the Uflecku that you saw earlier, but still really cool. They had 2 guys walking around playing the accordion and a tuba. They sold old military Czech hats and we ordered a platter in which we could all eat off of. It was an absolutely awesome time. Even better, on the way home…we ran into a hedgehog. You thought Erin won the lottery. She got her picture with it, was playing with it…very odd…I did mention she is the cousin from Virginia…right? Not WV.
After a very long evening of dinner, beers, and chatting…we decided to make our way back to the hotel and get to bed for a great day on Tuesday.

Wenceslas Sqare, Looking toward the national museum

The cross where Jan Palach fell in 1969

Carol and I at Uflecku.

Aunt Betty and Erin

Erin with the band and me trying unsuccessfully to get out of the picture.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

May 4

Sunday, we were once again up and out the door pretty early. We packed our things and stored them at the front desk to pick up later. We checked out of the hotel and headed to Burger King to change it up a little bit, but they were closed. So we went to the staple of McDonalds (actually it was quick, easy, and cheap). We walked to the National Museum, which was actually not too bad. There was way too much of it in a Language that I did not understand, but it was interesting none the less. Plus with our awesome Budapest Cards, we got in free…so that is always a plus. It was a great way to spend a few hours before heading off to the highlight of the day.

After leaving the Museum, we decided to head towards the Gellert Bath and Spa. This is one of the many spas/baths that are in and around town that feed off many of the natural hot springs in this area. Before heading into the spa, we stopped at a café and had a quick club sandwich to alleviate our hunger. After lunch, we decided to try this out. Now, my accent is very pronounced…so I get Carol to do most of the talking to people who do not understand English. They had a board with many options on it, however we could not get anyone to explain them to us. So we paid for our passes, which I think we got what we wanted. We headed to the entrance, and you can see one of the pools through the glass. However 2 sets of steps go down, one left, one right. No signs. Luckily, a man was coming up the left side, so we parted ways to meet later on at the pool. After a long corridor and many steps I ended up at the locker room, which was interesting… The signage in this place was horrible, and you just had to hope you didn’t walk in the wrong door. Granted it is Europe, so I doubt anyone would have said anything if I would have accidently walked into the Women’s bathroom…but luckily I didn’t find out.

I went outside to wait for Carol and got in one of the hot pools. These were extremely nice. Very warm. It was really a neat experience, many people just come and hang out in the hot water for hours. The water is supposed to have some sort of healing effects. Soon, I heard the wave pools getting fired up, so I went and jumped in. WOW. That was cold. Brrr. Especially after being in the hot pool for about 15 minutes. Needless to say, a return visit to the hot pool was in order after 5 minutes in the wave pool.

We went inside to check out the other baths. They had another pool that was probably Olympic size. This pool had bubbles coming up through the floor for 10 minutes every ½ hour. It was a little cooler than the pool outside.

I played and swam around while Carol went and grabbed some pictures. After her return, we went to a smaller semi-circle shaped pool which was great. There were probably 50 people in there, and it was the hottest by far. It was a really neat experience seeing men and women walking around in bathing suits again. I am so used to only seeing eyes, a face, and maybe hands that it was a little weird.

After hanging out for a couple of hours, we headed to the locker room to change. We turned in our towels and got our deposits back and walked in the direction of the hotel. It was really early for dinner, but we wanted to get something before we got on the Train. So we grabbed some easy food at a restaurant near the hotel. I had some Goulash, which is a traditional Hungarian dish.

After dinner we grabbed out bags from the hotel and headed for the main station. Our train left in the early evening, so it was actually a pretty quick day. We boarded the car, which was a first class sleeper car. We had 3 bunks in our room, but only 2 were out. There was room for both of our bags, a sink, a few lights, and that is about it. It would have been doable, but really tight with 3 people. We had a couple drinks and some snacks followed by some reading before heading off to sleep. Carol had the top bunk and I had the bottom, which was great, especially for that late night call of nature. It was ok, except the open side of the bed was towards the front of the train.

The driver started out OK, but about 3AM he was hitting the breaks pretty hard and we both almost fell out a few times. Luckily, both of the bunks had safety rails on them. We arrived in Prague at about 6:00 to start a new day…

Hungarian National Museum

Gellert Baths Wave Pool

Gellert Baths Hot Pool (See me in the middle?)

Carol and I in front of the Wave Pool

Saturday, May 17, 2008

May 3

Saturday morning we were up and out the door early. Since we spent such a large amount on breakfast the previous morning, we decided to do the McDonald’s thing this morning. Actually, we decided to do McDonalds about every morning, to allow us to do it cheap, quick, and allow us to spend a lot more on dinner.

We headed towards Parliament, which you guys saw from the other side of the river in the previous post. The guidebook was vague, so we investigated a visit. When we turned the corner, the line to get in was around the block and probably 300 meters long. We decided that just seeing the building was impressive.

(The back side of Parliment)
After going past parliament, we walked to where there was supposed to be an EMS museum. We arrived and I woke up the person inside the front door who I can only guess was a shift supervisor. He did not speak English, however after telling him that we were there for the Museum…he told us a bunch of words…however we finally found one that we both knew…”Finito”. Our guess is that the exhibit was either closed or finished. We started walking towards St. Stephen Basilica. On our way, we ran across a very small, random marketplace. It was all inside, but had many fresh fruits, foods, items, etc. It was just getting opened, but it was a neat experience none the less. We continued to St. Stephen’s and got some great shots.

(St. Stephens)

(Me from the top of St. Stephens)

You could not take pictures inside, however we were able to pay a few Forints and took the steps to the top of the building. There we had a great view of the city. Wow.

After finishing up at St. Stephens, we started walking towards Szechenyi Spa and Swimming Pool. On the way there we passed a small little street that was open only to pedestrians. It was like Pearl street in boulder. Many outside shops, cafés, benches, etc. We stopped and grabbed some appetizers and some tasty beverages.

After relaxing for a few, we continued on our way hoping to stop at the Opera house for some pictures. It was not to be. It was closed until much later. Our route took us by the Terror Museum, which was quite a site. I highly recommend anyone that goes to Budapest to go there. The museum was located at 60 Andrassy Boulevard which was the headquarters of the Arrow Cross Party (which was the Hungarian Nazi Party), and then became home of dreaded Communist Terror organizations. This place was unbelievable. It was well designed, well put together, had a great flow. It was really a assault on all of your senses. They had many artifacts, videos, etc. of everything that happened. The last communist to leave did so in 1989, his office is preserved. While rebuilding the house in a museum, they unearthed a dungeon below. They found prison cells that were 1.5ft X1.5 ft wide (i.e. You had to stand up) ones with very low ceiling so that you could never stand up. Ones that had 2-3 inches of water in the bottom so you never got warm. Ones with lots of lights so that you could never go to sleep. They had terror rooms, murder rooms, etc. It was really amazing to see what these guys did to people. Then you got to the end of the dungeon and they had a memorial in a very dark room. Words cannot describe how it felt, but I will try. You walked through a doorway into an empty room that was dark. You could only get about 4 feet into the room. There were hundreds of crosses and Jewish stars about 5 feet tall. All of them had lights shining off of them mainly towards you and some others around the room. There was no music, nothing to read, nothing. It was, if you can understand this…HEAVY. Wow. There was nothing to say. There was no way to say it. A very moving and fitting tribute to those who died in 60 Andrassy St…in the house of terror.

After getting out of there, we needed to kinda relax. Wow. So we continued on to find another outdoor café and ordered some pizza and some drinks. It was a nice late lunch for us to enjoy and chat about what we just saw.

After lunch, we continued to Szechenyi Baths passing through a small fair with some live music. We thought about hitting that on the way back to town.

(Szechenyi Baths)

The people and information at the baths were very unwelcoming. We were wanting to come back the next day, but we decided to go elsewhere instead. We walked back through the fair and enjoyed hearing the music and looking at the items for sale. As we were walking back towards the hotel, we came across a wedding that was letting out. You know what was amazing? If you took out the fact that we could not understand anyone, it looked just like a wedding at home. It was actually a neat experience…we are all different, yet the same.

We stopped at a store and bought some items for the impending trip tomorrow. We were going to be on a train for 11 hours, so we bought drinks, snacks, etc. so we wouldn’t have to buy them on the train.

We finally got back to the room (you have no idea how far we walked…wow) it was getting late. We had walked further out of town and in a more adventurous route that we had first planned, so we were running late for dinner. (If there was an actual time and we had to adhere to it, anyway) so, we cleaned up and showered for the evening. That evening we decided to find a unique restaurant, which we finally did by the river. It was right on the river and it was awesome. They had cheap really good Hungarian wine and I had the stuffed peppers which were absolutely amazing. We hung out and enjoyed the evening and some wine for a while. Soon it was time to turn in.

(The view from our table across the river towards the palace)

Friday, May 16, 2008

May 2

So, after a good night’s sleep we rose early to hit the town. I opened the curtains in my room and saw a view very similar to this…

(The old Palace, now a musuem on the Buda side of the River)

How cool is that. Not long after getting up we were on our way. We decided to have the buffet in the restaurant at the hotel. This meal was awesome. It had everything. EVERYTHING. I had so much bacon, sausage, ham, etc. it was ridiculous. We had a huge meal. We thought with the exchange rate that the meal did not seem to bad. (It is $1USD=160 Hungarian Forint) However, once we were eating, we realized that we were paying a hefty amount for this breakfast. That was another reason that we decided to eat as much as possible…so we could skip lunch. Before leaving the hotel we put down some cash for a 72 hour Budapest card. This gave us free and reduced admission to many sights, plus free transportation on all of the mass transit lines in the city (bus, metro, trams, etc).

So we were on our way. There is no one big attraction in many of the cities we visited, but just a large amount of them. So we had no one place to go so we started on a walking tour of Budapest. We walked up the river towards the palace (overlooking the river). We crossed to the Buda side (we were staying on the Pest side) and came to an incline like you would see in Pittsburgh. Instead of taking the easy way up, plus there was a large line, we decided to walk a path to the top of the hill. It was a great idea. We got spectacular views on the way up and it helped to start working off that ridiculous breakfast. Once we got to the top we had some absolutely awesome views. The palace at the top of the hill was turned into an art museum, which neither of us are really into. So we continued on walking through some various roadside stands towards Matthias Church. We were granted free access to this with our card, so we headed in. (It was great passing all the people in the ticket line) Wow. What an experience. I give all those Catholics a bunch of crap, but one thing is for certain, they can build some churches. The intricacy and design on the interior of this place is just unbelievable. Words cannot describe it at all. We headed out of the church which is right beside the Fisherman’s Bastion. This is part of the old castle wall that has stunning views of the river and into Pest. Our card did not cover going on top of it, so we did the next best thing and went to a restaurant under it. We were only about 10-15 feet from the top and we still had great views.

(Yours Truly with Parliment in the background)

Plus we were able to start partaking in some tasty beverages. After a quick drink and a stop at the water closet, we headed down to another church by the name of St. Annes. (I think…) It was closed buy we could look in the front door and it also looked very awesome. We walked down the river getting as many shots as we could and then headed for the Semmelweis Museum of Medical History.

(Carol and I taking advantage of the wall infront of us as a tripod. That is Parliment behind us)

The Medical museum was the birthplace of Ignac Semmelweis. It was a very interesting overview of the last 3000 years of European medical practice through documents, objects, and pictures/art.
After finishing up at the Medical museum, we walked towards Gellert Hill. On the way we stopped at a small restaurant with a nice big porch that overlooked a highway intersection. On the other side of the road was a large park that had a band playing. It was a great atmosphere. While planning the rest of our day I realized that we were eating at one of the recommended restaurants in the guidebook. This restaurant has apparently been around a long time and has a great reputation. (This happens a few other times during the trip.) We eat and then head on to continue our day. We walked to Gellert Hill which is named for a Martyr that was put in a barrel and thrown in the river many years ago for bringing Christianity to this region. The entire park and some baths are named after him. We switched back and forth up the hill towards the Citidel, which sits on the hill overlooking basically the whole city.

(View from Gellert Hill. The left is Buda, the Right Pest)

What spectacular views. The drinks were not too expensive, so we sat down and had a few tasty beverages. While sitting and talking, I thought that the deck seemed a little spongy…but didn’t think much of it. All of a sudden my chair bent in 2 and collapsed. I was lying flat on my back and laughing my ass off. It was hilarious. You could tell that many of the chairs have been outside way too long and were very brittle. The kicker was that they didn’t even offer me a discount, a beer, food or anything. Dang it.

We walked to the statue of liberty (theirs) and then started walking down the other side of the hill. It was great to be back in parks and nice areas where people were doing stuff. You don’t realize how much people do that until you live in the middle east and no one is ever doing anything anywhere. Here the Arabs smoke, drink tea, talk on their mobile phones, drive aggressive, pray, and go to the mall…not necessarily in that order. In our world, we walk dogs. Go to the park to hang out. Play Frisbee, walk downtown, sit at our door cafes. Read a book by the creek, etc. It is amazing the things you see they don’t have here when you get back to it yourself. We walked down the hill and went to the Rock Church.

(The Rock Church)

This is an actual church they have dug out of the rock. Don’t know how many it holds or anything, but it was still pretty impressive. You go in these gates and then down some steps into the church. There was a sign saying come back in 2 hours, that a service was going on (you know those nice short Catholic services) however, there was a video feed so we did get a little taste of the action.

It was getting late and we probably walked 5 -7 miles (at least) since breakfast. We headed back to the room to shower and put on some clean clothes (it got hot enough to sweat during the day) and then headed to a brewery/restaurant that was very close to the hotel. It was absolutely awesome. They had great beer, great food, plus we got to sit outside like this and eat and watch people. I love this aspect of Europe. I love this kind of atmosphere. I ordered .5 meter of Bratwurst, Sauerkraut, Red Cabbage, plus it came with a pretzel.

(Those awesome European Cafes)

We sat and enjoyed It all for a good while until it was time to call it a night. What an amazing first day in Budapest.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

May 1 - EuroFeet Returns!

So, here is the plan. I am going to try and give you guys an update as often as possible until I get the Europe story told. It takes a while to upload pictures here, so be patient.

So, it was finally here. Escape from Doha for 11 Days….what could be nicer. As you guys may or may not know the frequent flier miles that I have accumulated while I have been here have really added up. (A trip to the US and back really helps!) So I decided to take an 11 day Eastern Europe trip with the best travel partner ever, courtesy of Qatar Airways (FYI-You still have to pay taxes…however I am not going to complain about a $200 roundtrip ticket to Europe). I was going to see Prague one way or another while I was over here, so I am glad that I talked her into going. The ex-military in her makes her so easy to travel with compared to those boys that I trekked with around Europe in 2005.

The day started off with way too early of an alarm clock. We had to be at the airport at about 6:00am…so it was early. The doorbell rang at 5:30 and her and the driver were waiting. However, we had a small problem. Hussein (our driver) had turned off his car when he got to our place, and now it would not start. Thankfully after a little bit of coaxing I was able to get it started and we were on our way. Once we arrived and were checked in, we headed to the Silver Lounge, which I am now a proud card carrying member of the Silver Club of QA. It was early and we had breakfast in the lounge, but to our dismay it was dry. Thanks to a little Yankee and WV ingenuity we went to Duty free and got some ‘tasty beverages’ that mixed well with the orange juice. It was nice not having to pay for food or mixers.

Soon we were on our way to the plane which when we were pulling up to it (Doha uses a bus system instead of jet ways) I noticed that it was rather large. Later on, talking to the flight attendant we found out that it was not the usual plane. It was one they use for intercontinental flights. It was huge and there were only 70+ passengers on board. I asked the attendant when she went by if we could change seats and she had no problem with it. (The seat configuration was 2-4-2) After getting to altitude, I moved up a row and to the middle (we did have the side seats.) Carol moved to the row behind me and we were able to lay flat and get a few more hours of sleep. When I got up about 2 hours later, I noticed a bunch of others had liked my tactic and were doing the same thing. It was a great relief, especially since I had to get up at 0-Dark 30.
Soon, we were descending and it wasn’t long until we saw this sign:

Heck yeah. It was so great to see all the green as we were coming in for a landing. It was great. It was also great getting off the plane and being somewhere where you are in the majority and not the minority. (It is also nice to be in a country that can say your last name correctly!) It took us no time to get some more tasty beverages for the road (It is legal to travel in this country with it) and head for the city.

After some fumbling with the machine and getting on the right train we ended up at the train station we would be departing from in a few hours. After getting some Euros we stowed our luggage in the lockers and headed to find some food. Halleluiah! Right near the station was a bar that had all traditional food and beverages. Before we walked in we decided to take a stroll around the block just to enjoy the nice day and see some of Europe.

Wouldn’t you know it, but a little bit of Doha followed us here. As we were walking around the block I was noticing that a large amount of women were covered. The next corner we turned and ran right into the middle of a Islamic Celebration Party right on the streets of Vienna. Seeing how we just left that culture we decided it would be best to get to someplace that made us feel more at home. So we headed to the restaurant that I mentioned earlier.

Ahh. Wurst, Schnitzel, Kraut, etc. It was so great. Bavarian Beer. MMMMMMMMMMMMM It was unbelievable. After eating and getting ready to leave, we noticed that there were a lot of cops outside. Turns out there was some sort of protest going on and they were marching down the street. I walked out and filmed some and it was great to not feel the least bit threatened. I got some pictures of the signs so maybe I can figure out what they were protesting against.
We headed back to the train station and caught our train to Budapest. We decided in planning to do Vienna last, so we headed to Budapest to really start our trip. We grabbed a second class train and we on our way.

Does anyone think that just Coke was in that bottle?

We arrived in Budapest about 9:00 and were wore out. It was pouring the rain (what’s that?) and I was trying to navigate. We grabbed the metro and found our Hotel which was in a great location. It was right on the River separating Buda and Pest. It was a Marriott and the service was really great. We checked in and were asleep in no time.

As a side note, I am really impressed with As you all know I do a good bit of research before travelling, and I was able to get some really impressive hotels really cheap. The hotel we stayed in the last part of the trip in Vienna was way over my head. The guide book actually listed it as one of the top 10 Luxury hotels in Vienna and it had many dollar signs after it.

That was May 1. Stay tuned for more!