Saturday, September 29, 2012

Prague Day 3

Today was more relaxing than our past two days. We took a tour of the Municipal House, where nightly concerts and other events are held. The Municipal House is one of Prague's greatest displays of Art Nouveau. Czechs know this building as the place where Czechoslovakia was pronounced its own independent nation in 1918. Next to the Municipal House is the Powder Gate, one of the original entry points to the city.

Afterwards we headed for American food at Globe Cafe and Bookstore. They had everything so we opted for the French onion soup and buffalo chicken wrap. Random, I know, but both sounded really good at the time.

We walked by the "Dancing House," designed by Frank Gehry, who designed the Guggenheim Museum in New York! This building sets itself apart because of its unique modern design.

We ate a flavorful Indian dinner at Lal Qila. On our way home we stopped to buy individual servings of the "Marlenka" honey cake! Wow! We tried the original and chocolate versions of the cake and both were equally as good. I need to figure out a way to get them shipped to me on a monthly basis! My last post is tomorrow then back to reality!

1. Boxes of the famous Markenka cake.
2. Soup at Globe Cafe!
3. Municipal House
4. Dancing House
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Prague Day 2: Castle District

I am glad we planned an entire day to explore the Castle District. We preserved our energy and took the above ground tram to the bottom of Petrin Hill. Then, another tram or "funicular" as they call it, takes you up Petrin Hill. Once on top of this hill, we climbed 299 stairs up Petrin Tower for 360 degree views of the city. From here, we walked down to Strahov Monastery. This is the library where Jef and Emily from Bachelorette laid on the floor and he told her he was falling in love. Unfortunately, we could not reenact this scene due to the strict restrictions on entering we had to settle for pictures from the doorway.

Walking down from Strahov Monastery to Prague Castle, the views were more spectacular than those seen from Petrin Tower.

Once at the Prague Castle, we bought an audio guide to see St. Vitus Cathedral, Basilica of St. George, Old Royal Palace and Golden Lane. Of these places, St. Vitus Cathedral was the most notable.

Afterwards, we walked around Mala Strana and checked out this hilarious sculpture in front of the restaurant, Hergetova Cilhena. The picture borderlines being R-rated so I will not post. Afterward, we wandered over to the Lennon Wall and the bridge where people place locks for good luck. We thought this was kind of cliche considering we have seen this done in the other cities we have been to but it is still a cute idea!

Our walk lead us to a forgettable Italian meal but I am glad we went there otherwise I would not have found my "medovnik." Medovnik is one of two types of honey cakes that was discovered here in Prague. Although it is not considered a Czech specialty because the founders are Armenian, the company still started here and they now ship worldwide. Personally, I liked the other version of honey cake, Marlenka, better. More to come on that tomorrow.

We bought tickets for Don Giovanni's Marionette Opera. Again, this is another one of those things we had to do but we had no clue what was going on after the first fifteen minutes so we left at intermission. It was a long day and I feel like we have hit the main sights of Prague so we will use tomorrow to sleep in and see whatever we missed!

1. Bridge of love locks
2. Lennon Wall
3. Walk from Monastery to Prague Castle (check out the views in the background)!
4. St. Vitus Cathedral
5. Enjoying the views along the Vltava River.
6. Medovnik
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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Prague Day 1

Today we prearranged a tour of the Jewish Quarter. We organized our tour through Wittmann tours which was well worth our money. Our guide, Vida, a Prague native, was the best tour guide we have had! Not only did she grow up during communism and accurately depict what happened during that time period, but also her father is a survivor of the Holocaust so she had lots of stories about that!

We started our tour on Parizka Street, "Paris Street," which is lined with high end stores like Ferragamo, Gucci, etc. We first walked to Maisel Synagogue which only serves as a museum now. Then we walked to Pinkas Synagogue which was one of the most memorable synagogues of our trip. The first floor memorialized the fallen Jews from Prague. Interestingly enough, the name of our tour guide's father was on the wall. She said that by the time her father identified himself to the government, they had already written his name on the memorial. The second floor of the synagogue contained drawings from the children at Terazin Concentration Camp. It is fascinating and heart-wrenching to see how the children depicted what they were going through.

Our next stop was the Old Jewish Cemetery. Historians believe this to be the grave site of over 100,000 Jews from the mid 1400s to 1700s. They are piled on top of each other 7 feet deep. It was also unbelievable to see the detail on the head stones.

Next to the cemetery was Klaus Synagogue which was another museum of Jewish memorabilia. Following this, we went inside the Old-New Synagogue. It was built in the 1300s and is still in use for Orthodox Jews today. I was surprised at how small it was. Women and men are still separated in this synagogue.

We finished the tour at the Spanish Synagogue where reform Jews pray today. Of all the synagogues we saw today, this was the biggest and most lavish.

We ate a late lunch/early dinner at Kmotro which came highly recommended from a friend who lived in Prague. It was nice to have a neopolitan pizza and large greek salad after last night's heavy Czech food.

We concluded the night at the Image Black Light Theatre. Black Light Theatre was created in Prague. It is a show where the performers wear neon outfits and use props that give the illusion they are floating, flipping in mid air, all while in the dark. In between the performances, there was a hoakie pantomime show that was so stupid it was funny. I am glad we went and saw this unique show but 1.5 hours was plenty for me!

Tomorrow we are checking out the Castle District of Prague.

1. Pizza at Kmotro (please ignore the black pepper stuck in my teeth)!
2. Old-New Synagogue (pictures are not usually allowed but our tour guide sits on the board of the synagogue and said it was okay!).
3. Glimpse into this neat historical cemetery.
4. Please note the headstone coming out of the tree.
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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Travel Day to Prague

We had an early morning train to Prague which took 5 hours. I paid extra so we could sit in "first class"... what a gimmick! There were nicer seats in first class but it seemed like more people were sitting in first class than on the train. We moved to "second class" where we got our own cabin with no one sitting next to us. Oh well!

We arrived at our trendy hotel around 2:30 pm. I knew beforehand that our hotel was also a hostel so I was unsure of what to expect. Our penthouse room is sweet!!! Our room is spacious, the shower is modern, and we have a balcony which overlooks all of Prague.

With only dinner plans in mind, we decided to take to the cobble stone streets of Prague. In the Old Town Square, you will find many historical sites. One of the main ones is an astronomical clock which chimes every hour. Hoards of tourists stand around this clock at the bottom of every hour to witness the clock chime as well as a man blowing his horn. It was silly and I am glad we just happened upon it.

From Old Town, we continued down Karlova Street to the Charles Bridge. I was told to either go early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the crowds but there sure seemed like a lot of people there at sunset! The bridge was lined with artists, musicians, opera singers, etc. The setting made for some picturesque photos that I will treasure forever (Adam was so sick of me taking photos at this point).

We ate a traditional Czech dinner including goulash at restaurant Kolkovna. The Czech version of goulash is much thicker and heavier than the Hungarian one. Although tasty, we both agreed that we would not be ordering it again and are ready for a "lighter" fare.
1. Astronomical clock
2. Goulash
3. Old Town with clock and Tyn Church in the background
4. View from Charles Bridge at sunset
5. "2nd Class" train car
6. Our room at the Mosaic House!

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Monday, September 24, 2012

Vienna Last Day

We enjoyed our breakfast so much the first day that we returned to the same area for breakfast today. We ate a hearty Greek breakfast at Tewa, 672 Naschmarket. In addition to the open air market with all the produce, there was also a flea market. I went through each stall hoping to find a treasure! I saw what appeared to be a glass cup and I picked it up to see the price. Low and behold, it was a glass inside a glass and when I turned it over to see the price, one of the glasses shattered. I was mortified. I sat there in disbelief while this guy yelled at me in German. I kept telling him how sorry I was but he soon looked away and just ignored me. Obviously it was not worth much otherwise he would have made me pay for it. Awkward!

We made our way to Marahilfer Strabe, Vienna's main shopping street. Unfortunately it was chain store after chain store so I did not find anything worth getting.

After a 2 hour nap, we headed for Weingut AM Reisenburg, a heuriger or winery, outside the city. This heuriger was located just beyond the town of Grinzing, so it took two subways, one bus, and about a 1/2 mile hike to get there. Despite all the transfers and time spent walking, it took us less than an hour to get here.

The winery reminded me of those you find in Napa set amongst rolling hills. The greenery was lush with grapes filling the vines everywhere. We ordered sturm, wine that is in the fermentation stage. I loved it because it was so sweet!! My dinner of a sweet red bell pepper filled with meat and drizzled with a red sauce was equally as good. Most heurigers serve their dinners cafeteria style but this one was the exception. I must say that this was one of the highlights from our stay in Vienna and it was a good break from site seeing. We are off to Prague tomorrow so will keep you posted!

1. Appetizer of basil spread served with freshly baked bread.
2. Greek breakfast.
3. Secret street off the main road that you have to walk down to get to the winery.
4. Adam's favorite sign.
5. Walking on this narrow roadway down to the winery (heuriger).
6. View at the winery.
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Vienna Day 2

After eating an egg mcmuffin from the always reliable Mcdonald's, we headed to Schonbrunn Palace. This palace was the summer residence of the Hapsburg's. The interior of the palace looked almost the same as the palace we saw yesterday. However, the grounds and views of this palace were extraordinary.

We took the train back to the center of the city to eat lunch at Zum Weisser Rauchfangkehrer, a restaurant that came highly recommended from my mother-in-law. We split our first Weiner schnitzel, a lightly fried piece of veal. We really enjoyed it but both agreed it tasted like chicken fried steak! After lunch we headed for Cafe Sacher. This cafe is home to the famous Sacher torte, their signature chocolate cake. Not only did we order the Sacher torte, but we also ordered apple strudel which is another delicacy of Vienna. The Sacher torte was forgettable but it is one of those things you have to try when visiting here.

We spent the rest of our afternoon at the Vienna Masters, one of the legs of the world equestrian competition circuit. This competition attracts Olympian horse riders as well as riders from all over the world. You could not beat the backdrop for this competition either.

By the time we finally left, it was time for dinner. We went to a fun, trendy Indian restaurant, Nam Nam. I found this place from a fellow food blogger who lives in Vienna. This place was packed to the brim and we were lucky to get in without reservations. We had to sit outside where the temperature was a chill 50 degrees fahrenheit, but we were dressed accordingly so it was not bad.

1. Global Champions Tour
2. View of Schonbrunn Palace from the top of a hill.
3. Nam Nam Indian restaurant
4. Fountain on the grounds of Schonbrunn Palace that reminded me of the Trevi Fountain in Rome.
5. Schonbrunn Palace
6. Apple strudel at Cafe Sacher
7. First weiner schnitzel at Zum Weisser Rauchfangkehrer.
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Sunday, September 23, 2012

Vienna Day 1

Where do I begin?! We started our day on the wrong note. Google maps led us astray for breakfast. Since we were not able to find the place I wanted to go for breakfast, we ended up stumbling upon Naschmarket, an open air market where all the local chefs buy their meat and produce. There also happens to be a few restaurants in the market as well. I had the most amazing egg white omelet with crusty bread at this restaurant called Naschmarket Deli!

Afterwards, we walked to Hofsburg's Palace, residence of the Hapsburg's. This palace is so big that you really have to choose which areas you want to see. We saw the treasury department, which included the Hapsburg's collection of precious jewels. Within this collection was the worlds's largest emerald, weighing in at 2,680 carats. That is not a typo either! Before taking a tour of the actual rooms in the palace, we walked thru an exhibit featuring the royalty's fine china and dinnerware collections. A few of their china patterns reminded me of mine!!!

We had a light lunch of open-faced sandwiches at Trzesniewski.

After lunch, we took an audio tour of St. Stephen's Cathedral. I have never been to a cathedral quite like this one. Every corner and cranny had a story behind it. Mozart actually got married in this cathedral.

At this point, Adam was toured out so we went to the Prater, Vienna's amusement park with the infamous ferris wheel. No guidebook told us to go here nor even to think about riding the rides but we did both! We decided to ride the swings and see the city from sky high. This experience was nerve-wracking, exhilarating and fun all at the same time!

I found this pizza place, Pizza Mari, in one of the local neighborhoods. Although it looked closer to the Prater than it really was, it was worth the trek getting here. We took the subway home and we will start all over again tomorrow.

1. Breakfast in the Naschmarket
2. Buckling up for the swings at The Prater
3. Largest emerald in the world
4. Outside St. Stephens Cathedral
5. Pizza Mari
6. Trezsniewski sandwiches with a mini beer
7. Inside St. Stephen's Cathedral
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Saturday, September 22, 2012

Off to Vienna

I took my first train from one country to another! I underestimated the train system here in Europe. Although I bought my tickets ahead of time, finding which train to get on was very easy.

We arrived to Vienna midday to our hotel which was conveniently located across from the train station. Finding a hotel in Vienna for less than $100/night was a challenge. Thankfully, I found Hotel Leonardo which just recently opened so they were offering great introductory rates. Although the reviews on Trip Advisor have been very critical, we love our hotel!

We took a downloaded audio tour by our new friend, Rick Steves, which circled the Ringstrasse, a street circling Vienna's old city. Our tour happened to finish by Vienna's famous opera house. After being hoarded by shady ticket brokers who told us the only way to get in was to fork up some serious Euros, we happened to see a long line for standing room only tickets. Not having much to lose since the show was starting in 45 minutes, we decided to join the crowd. We got 2 tickets to Prokofiev's ballet Romeo and Juliet for 6 euros! (There was no opera last night.) These may have not been the best seats in the house but we got to see the opera house in its full glory!

Pictures (again, I have no idea why I can't post these photos in order):
1. Opera House in Vienna
2. My first country to country train ride!
3.Modern room at Hotel Leonardo
4. Bathroom at hotel
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Friday, September 21, 2012

Budapest Day 3

Budapest is known for their thermal baths. Today we went for an early morning swim at the Szechenyi Baths. Let me set the scene for you. Picture overweight men in speedos, playing chess and women unfit for bikinis, wearing shower caps. This pretty much sums up everyone we saw at the baths. There were numerous pools inside the complex with three large pools outside. The indoor pools grossed me out because it was hot and muggy inside and smelled of sulfur. All in all, this was an interesting experience to say the least and lots of fun!

Near the baths is Heroes' Square where some of Hungary's most famous statues stand.

We then walked along Andrassy Utica, Budapest's "Fifth Avenue," to the museum, House of Terror. This was a fascinating museum about when the Soviets took control of Hungary after the Nazis. The building housed the actual offices of the Nazi SS and then the Hungarian communist secret police where thousands of Hungarians were tortured and killed in the basement. Once again, it is crazy to think a country like this (and Eastern Europe) was under Communist rule until 1989.

Our last tour in Budapest was at the lavish Opera House. You would not believe how much gold decorates this place.

Finally, we had an incredible dinner at Klassz. I would highly recommend this restaurant to anyone visiting Budapest. We got 2 glasses of wine, 2 beers, one appetizer, 2 entrees and a dessert for $70. Keep in mind this place in considered one of Budapest's nicer restaurants! Well, tomorrow we are off to Vienna.
1. Best appetizer ever! Foie gras with pumpkin purée at Klassz.
2. Heroes' Square
3. Pretending to lift weights at the Szchenyi Baths.
4. Inside the Opera House.
5. Another glimpse at the Szchenyi Baths.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Budapest Day 2

After our exhausting day yesterday, we decided to sleep in. We walked from our hotel to Vaci Utca, Budapest's main shopping street. Adam informed me that I went into my 7th and 8th H&M of our trip today. I just wanted to make sure I did not miss anything!

We walked to Parliament which is an extraordinary building from the outside. Unfortunately Parliament was in session so we did not get to take a tour inside. Outside of Parliament along the Danube, lies 50 pairs of bronze shoes. This pays tribute to Budapest's Jews that were lined up and shot by the Nazis so they would fall in the river and be swept away downstream.

We followed the path along the river for about twenty minutes until we reached Great Market Hall. This marketplace is filled with fresh produce, meat, fish, etc. where most of the locals shop. On the top floor which attracts mostly tourists for the cheesy souvenirs, you will also find a few food stalls. This is where we tried our first Hungarian specialty, goulash!

After reading countless magazines and travel blogs, we headed to New York Cafe, known to many as "the most beautiful cafe in the world." I haven't been to Paris so I standby their claim. I got an iced coffee infused with chocolate torte and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. It was to die for delicious!

We ate dinner at Taverna Dionysos, a Greek restaurant located on the river on the Pest side. My chicken kebabs and Adam's whole grilled sea bass were a great way to end the day.

I promise my post tomorrow will not be as long! I'm doing my best to try and make these posts as short and concise as possible but it's hard because our days are so busy!

1. Holocaust monument
2. I forgot to post this picture yesterday. This is the Tree of Life. Each of the metal leaves is engraved with a Holocaust victim's name.
3. My iced coffee with ice cream at the beautiful New York Cafe.
4. Another view inside New York Cafe
5. Grilled sea bass at Taverna Dionysos
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