A Travellerspoint blog

November 2008

Thanksgiving in Prague, Now Munich

Hello, this is Dave here to do a little update on our travels. From Berlin we took a train to Prague a little over a week ago. When we arrived at the train station there we only had our Euros from Germany but no Czec money (koruna.) So we got some money at the ATM but it only gave us large bills. Since we needed small change for the subway ticket machine I had to go buy a cheese burger at McDonalds to break the bills. And then when we got back to the ticket machine I realized we still didn't have enough change so I had to go buy another cheese burger. I wasn't really hungry since I'd eaten on the train but I scarfed down the one burger. And I kept the other because I figured I'd give it to the next homeless person I saw, but unfortunately there were none around. I ate it cold later that night.

We had heard wonderful rave reviews of Prague and about how gorgeous it is. But when we walked out of the train station we were a little let down. Our bus ride from the subway to the hotel didn't make us feel much better either. The town, at least where we were, was pretty run down and looked like any other dingy graffiti-ridden city. But we knew that our hotel was far from the Old Town which is where the tourist draw is and where all the beautiful old buildings were. So we were looking forward to getting down there, but it was late when we got into town so we hung out in our hotel doing some reading and writing and then turned in.

The beauty of Old Town didn't disappoint when we finally got down there the next day. We went to the castle and church up on the hill where we got a great view looking over the city.

View from the castle:
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Afterward we came down through some narrow cobble stone streets. The sun was setting, which it does at the early hour of 4:00, and the old street lamps went on. It was really gorgeous. We saw that a tavern offered "mead" which we just had to try since you always see people drinking it in medieval time movies. The waiter didn't know what we were talking about and kept thinking we were asking for "meat" which we thought was strange because it clearly said "mead" out on the sign. But fortunately, after much back-and-forth, he finally understood what we wanted and said, "oh, honey wine!" So we learned that mead is just another name for honey wine, as if just "honey wine" isn't cool enough or something. We tried it and Lynette said she'd never have to drink it again, not a big fan. She likened it to a liquid form of Halls cough drops, which I thought was a pretty good description.

There is a great old stone bridge across the river with sculptures along its walls. We passed across it several times during our few days in Prague. And every time we saw something different.

View of the castle and cathedral from the bridge:
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There is a huge astronomical clock on one of the towers in the Old Town. On the hour the little doors above the clock open and you can see little statues moving by inside. And a skeleton on the outside bobs its head while ringing a bell in its hand. We didn't even know about this clock and its little show, but we found out later its a huge tourist site. We walked by it several times for the first few days we were there but I guess never at the top of the hour. Then on our last day we happened by and saw this huge crowd gathered out front looking up at it. It was 5 minutes til so we figured something was going to happen and stuck around for the show. Supposedly the clock is said to be the most over rated tourist attraction in Europe. And granted, I guess it is nothing SPECTACULAR so maybe if we had known about it and came there specifically to see it then it might have been a little disappointing, but since we didn't even know it was there we thought it was pretty cool to see. That's the upside to not doing any research beforehand.

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We thought the story of the clock was rather interesting. Supposedly, "way-back-when" (not sure exactly when) the king wanted to do something grand and beautiful within the city to set it apart from others and to make it special and unique. So he commissioned a wise clock maker to design and construct the huge astronomical clock with its fanciful display. Once the clock was completed it was a huge success and people came from all over to admire its beauty. But the king realized that if the clock maker could build this one then he could also build ones in other cities, making his city not so special anymore. So to prevent this he had the clock maker blinded! (How wrong is that?!) But the clock maker eventually got revenge when many years later he was able to get up into the tower. He glided his hands across the clock workings and flipping some kind of mechanism brought the gears to a halt. No one saw what he did and could not figure out how to turn it back on. So it remained out of commission for over a hundred years until finally another wise clock maker was able to figure out how to get it working again, luckily for us.

We were in Prague for Thanksgiving, but as I'm sure you can guess, they do not celebrate this American holiday there. So we missed out on any turkey feasts. Instead we went to the laundromat and got some much needed washing done. Later we did get out to a nice place for dinner but had some tastey pork ribs and some good Prague beer instead.

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Some other shots from around Prague:
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a tower of books at a Prague library:
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Cemetery:
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Door:
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So from Prague it was back on the train to Munich. So we are now back in Germany. We left too early from Prague to partake in the hotel's breakfast so we just had enough time to grab a danish on the way to the train. The ride was to be 6 hours and most long train rides have a food car so we figured we'd head there later for lunch. But once on the train we learned that there was no food car on this trip. So we ate what now seemed like our pea sized danishes and by the end of the 6 hour journey we were starving. Luckily all sorts of food stands and cafes awaited us at the Munich station and we quickly gobbled down some fantastic bratwursts.

We sure have had some great food on this trip and this continues to be the case here in Germany. Tonight for dinner I had what I can only imagine would classify as the largest pork chop known to mankind. It said "jumbo chop" on the menu but I guess I didn't really know how true that would turn out to be. It is served with fries but I actually ordered an additional small side of pasta which ended up being absolutely unnecessary. I should have known when the waiter began to walk away after I ordered the chop and then his eyes nearly bulged from his head when I stopped him and asked for the extra pasta dish, as if to say "this boy can eat!" or "this boy doesn't know what he's in for!" But of course he didn't warn me. Anyway, this thing came out and it was the size of the plate, literally! But it was so good, fried in a golden brown breading. Not at all healthy, but Lynette and I have put any concept of a healthy diet out the window for this trip. So when we return home you may notice a bit more strain around the button on our pants. I was not able to finish the jumbo chop and barely made a dent in the pasta, but I assure you I gave it quite a go.

Here's just a few shots from Munich. I'll put up more later. For now I have to go to bed. Good night.
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Posted by schuckley 08:47 Comments (0)

Berlin

snow

Berlin is cooooooold! It snowed on us today and yesterday. It is 32 degrees right now and windy.

Both Dave and I have been completely surprised by Berlin. Honestly, before visiting if you asked me my thoughts on Berlin I would have said Hitler, the wall, East-West, "Mr. Gorbachev tear down this wall.", etc., etc. That is the reason I wanted to come here to see the wall and other remnants of that time in history. All of that history is obviously still a big draw but it is also a fun vibrant artsy place that is really easy to be in. It feels like Berlin puts out a welcome mat for any type of person who visits. It is a big city with about 4 million people in it but it is safe with very little violent crime. It makes walking around fun and carefree and allows you the freedom to explore anywhere. It also is one of the cheapest Western European cities, so we have been loving being able to eat good food for less money. For example on the cost difference, the internet that I'm using right now in Berlin is 1 euro ($1.25) an hour and in Venice, Italy it was 8 euro ($10.00) an hour. It seems like it is a place that attracts people from around the world. We took a walking tour the other day and our guide was from Chicago and originally planned on spending 4 months in Berlin and ended up liking it so much that he has now been here for over a year. Also, the hotel (Circus Hotel) we are staying at here is by far the best hotel we have stayed at on this entire trip. The staff are amazingly friendly.

Even though it has been cold, windy, wet and now snowy we still have been able to get around the city and see a lot of sights. As I mentioned earlier we took a walking tour which turned out to be one of the best things we could have done since our guide was extremely knowledgeable on German and specifically Berlin history. On the tour, we saw a small portion of the wall that still exists in the city center. There is a larger portion that we saw today in the eastern edges of the city but in the downtown area there is about 100 meters of the remaining wall left there. The tour also took us to a huge Nazi office building that the allies missed when bombing and the site of Hitler's bunkers where he committed suicide. The underground bunkers do not exist anymore as they were filled with dirt and water by the communists but still it is harrowing to even stand on the ground above where they once were. We also saw the site of the book burnings where there is an underground memorial of empty bookcases and a building which is actually a museum where Hitler gave a lot of speeches. We also saw "Checkpoint Charlie" the place where the US military checked people going into and out of East-West Berlin. They call it Disneyland Berlin now because everything at Checkpoint Charlie is a fabrication. Nothing of the actually checkpoint building or signs announcing that "You are now leaving the American Sector" still exist. The tour ended at the Brandenburg Gate which is where Reagan gave that famous "tear down this wall" speech. For a bit of silliness our guide also pointed out that this area also is home to the most expensive hotel in Berlin called Hotel Aldon which is where all the famous and rich people stay while visiting Berlin. People like, Michael Jackson and his family, awhile ago when he thought it a good idea to dangle his baby over the ledge of his 5th floor hotel balcony. We took a picture of the balcony.

Little Christmas shops and villages are popping up all over Berlin right now. Yesterday we came across one that had snow sledding on inner tubes. Dave and I decided to do it and had a blast sledding down a fabricated snowy hill in the middle of Berlin.
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Afterwards we had Gluhwein which is warm red wine a lot like Glogg that they served in Copenhagen, just without the fruit and nuts. I love seeing the little Christmas villages and shops with their lights and warmth. This is a definite bonus to travelling in Europe this time of year.

The German food is absolutely delicious. We ate at this incredible German restaurant twice because we liked it so much. Also, prepare to be jealous friends and family from Bucyrus (Bratwurst capital) Ohio - We have had authentic delicious German Bratwurst two days in a row! And it was delicious. I mean really really delicious. Like "I feel sorry for Carle's" delicious.

Me enjoying a bratwurst and some Gluhwein at one of the Christmas villages:
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Dave enjoying one of his favorite beers so far - Berliner Pilsner: (the Germans know their beer)
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England versus Germany
Go Deutschland!
The last thing I want to write about is our football (soccer) experience. Our hotel had secured some tickets for the Germany versus England game at Olympic Stadium in Berlin. Dave and I thought it would be cool to see a soccer game and so decided to buy some tickets. We didn't know that Germany and England have a massive rivalry that dates back decades. Or that the game was completely sold out. The game was what they called a "friendly" but that didn't change the fact that they are huge rivals and that each team still wanted to win very badly. Or the fact that the Berlin police department brought in reinforcements from all over Germany. As soon as we arrived at the stadium there were people everywhere. Turns out Olympic stadium holds about 75,000 people and since it was sold out they were all there. It also turns out that Olympic Stadium is the same Olympic Stadium built by the Nazi's for the 1936 Olympics and where Hitler got all pissed off when Jesse Owens kicked butt and won the 100 meter dash beating the two Germans. When Berlin hosted the World Cup (soccer) in 2006 they debated tearing it down but instead decided to keep the structure and gut and redo the inside. We learned all about the history of German soccer from the owner of our hotel. They remember games all the way back to 1966 and 1974 that they pass along generation to generation. When we entered the stadium it was breathtaking and knowing the history of the place made it even more memorable. A large section of the old stadium remains and the place where Hitler sat during that Olympic event where Jesse Owens won is now just a cement block. But you can still see the spot, as shown with the arrow in the below photo, as a reminder of the atrocities of the past. Unfortunately, Germany lost the game and was subjected to song after song by the very song-loving England fans. It appears that those English lads have a song for everything that happens in a soccer game.

Photos at the stadium:
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Those sections made of concrete are from the original stadium and that arrow shows that infamous spot from history.
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We are sad to leave Berlin since we had such a good time here. However, as always we are also really excited to see our next destination which is a place I have wanted to go for a very long time - Prague!

Here's Dave with a few more photos.....

Hello, Dave here.

Here in Berlin there is a great memorial to the Jewish people that died during the Holocaust. Its of course controversial because its not a traditional looking memorial, but we loved it. It has no names or markings on it of any kind. Its basically a city block filled with rows and rows of huge concrete slabs set into the ground at different heights. the ground also rises and dips as you walk through. So towards the center you go up and down as you go deeper and deeper and the slabs rise above you higher and higher. Apparently the designer of the memorial said that it is not symbolic or representational of anything. It was designed to create various thoughts and feelings about the Jewish experience as you go through. And in that it definitely succeeds. Some words that came to mind for us were suffocating, lost, menacing, wandering, on edge. This photo only shows about one tenth of the whole memorial.
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The Reichstag, German parliament building. In 1933 a fire broke out destroying the main hall. The Communists were blamed, accelerating a political witch-hunt driven by the Nazis that helped them seize power.
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A new modern dome was added to the building not long ago to replace what had been lost during bombings of WWII.
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We went up into the interior of the dome for a view of the city, as well as this view down into the parliament house. You can see the blue chairs down inside. (geek alert) The inside of the thing made me feel like we were inside the warp core on Star Trek's Enterprise. I had my eye out for the dilithium crystals.
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This long remaining section of the Berlin wall has been turned into an open air art gallery. Its an ongoing work of art as people add their own touches. I would have contributed but I forgot to take my Sharpie. Here a shot of Lynette braving the cold and snow to enjoy the art.
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They have left a 2-brick path throughout the city where the wall used to stand and has now been removed. Lynette has one foot on the west and one foot on the east:
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Our time in Berlin has been a great learning experience.

That's all for now.
Till next time.
Lynette and Dave

Posted by schuckley 09:37 Comments (0)

Catching up on Photos

France, Amsterdam, Denmark

We arrived this morning in Berlin, Germany after a 3:00 AM wake-up and an early flight. After a good nap we have finally been able to get out and find an internet cafe with the appropriate hook-up for me to upload some photos of our recent adventures.
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The Chambord Castle in Tours, France - We saw several chateaux, but this is probably the most famous one in the region:
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At one castle they still have the hunting dogs. We got to see them right at feeding time which was a primal and chaotic scene. Before the dogs were let in the ground was completely covered with big hunks of boney meat and tons of dry dog food. After about 10 minutes of the dogs growling and snapping at each other while devouring the food there wasn't a spec left.
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The Sofie Star in Amsterdam:
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Amsterdam is one of the most beautiful cities with its bridge covered canals, beautiful old architecture, and streets lined with now yellow-leaved trees. It also has a wonderful edgy and lived-in feel that Venice, another more touristy feeling canal-town, lacks.

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Just as beautiful when the city comes to life at night:
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Lynette had read that if you try to take photos in the Red Light District you may very well find yourself and your camera being thrown in the canal. So you can imagine I was a bit weary. While I was not gutsy enough to get any pics of the scantily clad women-of-the-night advertising their goods from their windows I was able to snap off a few of the area:
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Its a town filled with some great and sometimes quirky artwork.
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We met up with some friends in Copenhagen, Denmark and they showed us around their great city. We had a great time seeing the beautiful sights. One night we went with them to a dinner party with some of their friends. It was so nice to sit around and just chill with some cool people and have some great food and drinks. It was just like being back home, they made us feel like part of the gang. We learned a bit about Danish food, mostly that its delicious, and they put us to shame with their recollection of American movie quotes. It was kind of surreal at times to sit there during an uproarious conversation where we didn't understand a word. But they spoke in English for us most the time, and very graciously translated otherwise.
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The Sofie Star with Hans Christian Andersen, a native of Copenhagen and writer of many a classic fairytale:
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Hanging by the harbor:
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Pics from the park:
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Takes from the tower:
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Scenes in the city:
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It gets colder in every country we visit now and in Copenhagen it got dark at 4:00 PM. Lynette and I have both been shopping for coats, hats, gloves and scarves. I'm also sad to say I finally had to lay to rest my amazingly sturdy hiking shoes that I've had since the beginning. They have held up wonderfully for having been worn almost every day for 10 months. And actually if it were not for the powerful odor they began to emit they probably could have made it to the end. Besides, since we are mostly doing modernized cities now its nice to get some less adventurey and conspicuous footwear.
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Here, Outside Copenhagen in the town of Helsingor, resides the castle where Shakespeare's play Hamlet is set. Its a very majestic old structure overlooking a picturesque ocean view.
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Will catch you up later on Germany. Take care.
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Dave and Lynette
dbuck242@yahoo.com
lschimpf@gmail.com

Posted by schuckley 08:15 Comments (2)

France Holland Denmark

Since our last entry we have been around a bit. We left France, spent some time in the beautiful city of Amsterdam and are now staying in Copenhagen, Denmark. Here are a few highlights.

The evening of the U.S. election we were in Tours, France. We had decided to stop in a pub for a few drinks, (actually we've done that most nights since in Europe but that's besides the point.) Anyway, it was early (around 6:30 PM) so we were the only ones there, except the bartender of course. After ordering our drinks we noticed a huge American flag hanging behind us on the wall. We thought this was strange - afterall we were in France. The bartender noticed our reaction and pointed at an even more surprising poster they had hanging up with the images of Obama and McCain. Apparently, as he explained, they had held an election of their own earlier, there in the bar. He showed us the shoe boxes with slits in the top for the ballots, one box for American voters and one for French. The results showed that the Americans voted for Obama by about 65% and the French voted for him by an even larger perecentage of around 90%. At this time it was only mid-day back home so the real voting still had a long way to go. We went to bed that night in nervous anticipation. It would have been useless to stay up for the results because we would have been up until 7 AM the next morning - France time. When we did wake up it was like Christmas morning because we knew that, barring some issue with hanging chads or the like, we would already have a new president. We couldn't wait to find out who it was so Lynette flicked on the tube. But unfortuately we had to land in the country during the election that has the worst English friendly television of anywhere we've been. They didn't even have CNN at the hotel like a lot of other places have. So of course the announcers on all their news programs were speaking French and they dub over anyone who is speaking English. We watched for a bit but we saw no difinitive proof of who the new president was. No shot of Obama or McCain smiling with a big "The Winner" sign below him. Just shot after shot of French dudes with a microphone blabbing on in nonsense. I couldn't bear it any longer so I went down to ask the hotel manager. With my still crusty eyes and mashed bed hair I went down stairs like a child anxiously going to see what Santa brought, and hoping it was not a big chunk of coal in my stocking. When I found the manager I asked if he happened to catch the news and knew who the new US president was. I will leave out what my response was when he told me who won so as not to give away my political affiliation. This is not a political blog and I don't want to push my views on anyone. But I'll just say I sped joyously up the 3 flights of stairs and panting heavily gave Lynette a big high five when I reached the room. Throughout the next few days whenever we told a French person where we were from, such as with our castle tour guide, they didn't hesitate to immediately say "congratulations,"without even knowing or asking who we favored in the election.

Much earlier in the year we had heard from some French tourists that strikes are very common in France. For rather minor things in our eyes the people will strike simply in order to keep the government in check. And they will do this in somewhat extraordinary ways like driving really slowly on the highway or gathering in the road to hold up traffic for hours. They laugh at images on TV of U.S. strikes with a few people walking harmlessly in a small circle with picket signs. They don't see how this can be useful. Here in France they will create great disruptions to create the most amount of inconvenience to people. In this way they apparently get a much swifter response to their cause. We unfortunately got to experience this in action when the train line employees went on strike while we were in Tours. There were huge delays which turned what should have been a 2 hour trip for us into a full day event. And it definitely doesn't help that France doesn't do any announcements on the trains or in the stations in English like most other European countries do. It was quite a stressful day.

We were sad to leave the wonderful cheese and croissants of France but Amsterdam had its own great cuisine that we enjoyed. One restaurant we went to was called "Moeders" which means "mother" where the walls are covered from floor to ceiling with framed photos of mothers from all over the world. You can bring in a pic of your mom and they will hang it up. All the dishware in the place is different and mismatched because apparently on opening day all the customers brought their own and they have been using it there ever since. We ordered an extraordinary meal which was a variety of different traditional Dutch foods. We loved it because it reminded us of home. It had roasted beef with gravy and three different kinds of potatoes, apple sauce and a bunch of other good things.

In Amsterdam we visited the Rembrandt House which to our surprise didn not have any of Rembrandt's paintings. But it was cool to see where he lived. We did eventually get to see some of his works at a museum in town which was great.

We also went to the Van Gogh museum which is one of both mine and Lynette's favorite museums so far. It was fantastic to see so many of Van Gogh's works in one place. You really get a sense of his development over the years. For being a self trained artist he sure grew a lot as an artist which really shows his genius. Unbelievable that he finished 900 paintings in his short 10 year career.

We also visited the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam which was quite an emotional experience.

We are now in Copenhagen, Denmark. We arrived 2 days ago. We met some people while in Australia who live here so its cool to swing by and check out their town and meet up with them.

Yesterday Lynette and I took a boat tour of the harbor area. Its a bit cold here now but it was still a cool ride. We saw a lot of the beautiful old architecture the city has to offer along with some cool modern structures as well. They have a lot of old wooden sail ships here and we saw some real live modern day Vikings. Actually they were Navy officers aboard the battle ships which were docked in the harbor but whatever. I didn't think I'd get much reaction from them when I waved as we passed by but to our surprise they all turned and gave us a big wave and a smile. Quite friendly chaps.

So far we have learned that the Danish make really good danishes - go figure. We also experienced a traditional Christmas time drink called Glogg which consists of hot red wine with cooked nuts and fruit bits in it - quite tasty. Another thing that is popular here is the hot dogs which they put all sorts of toppings on. I've had two so far and am going for another one for lunch today. I might try the one with bacon on it.

No photos this time unfortunately because I haven't been able to find a computer with a connection for my camera but hopefully soon.

Dave and Lynette

Posted by schuckley 03:27 Comments (0)

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