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Budapest, Vienna, Prague: Honeymoon Edition: Day 15

Fri. Oct. 5, 2018:
Prague Czech Republic:

I woke up just after 9am with purpose: I could finally write the postcard to my dad, I had finally eaten at U Kaliche. Never mind that the postcard would surely arrive way after me. We went downstairs for breakfast but the door was locked. We did not feel up to ringing the doorbell and having them make a fuss over us. We still had butter cookies and apricot jam in the hotel room, plus we had a coffee machine. I would survive. It was an awful coffee maker, with the stupid pods and it was impossible to figure out. When I eventually did get it going it turned even more disastrous. I went to take a sip and it was not even warm. Turns out the coffee maker had been set to cold brew. Except it wasn’t a nice cold brew, it was a room temperature coffee. Add insult to injury: there were grinds in the coffee. Disgusting. We stopped at the McCafe on the way so I could get a better coffee. The cookies with apricot jam barely helped improve my mood. The McCafe, even though it is in the McDonalds, was upstairs and separate. The downstairs kiosks didn’t apply. I had to attempt to order my caramel latte despite the language barrier.

We got to the Klementinum Library just in time for the 10:30am tour. I was so excited to see the Baroque library- it was the main draw. Alas, we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside. I was so sad about this. I settled for buying a postcard later on our way out. Things only got worse from there. The lights in the Baroque library wouldn’t turn on. I was really starting to regret not having rubbed the dog in the statue on the bridge last night. I vowed to rub it at some point in the day. When the tour guide announced the problem, one lady in our group asked if they couldn’t just open the curtains and let in some natural light. It made me shudder to even think about. Why did she think the place was kept in the dark? Clearly, she knew nothing about museum stuff. We continued on with the tour, the plan being that we would come back at the end of the tour and see if the issue was resolved. In the tower there was a camera obscura onto the Prague Meridian line and when the light was on it, you knew it was midday. It’s too bad we were too early. We continued up into the Observatory Tower. From the deck we had a view of all of Prague. Off in the distance we could see how crammed the Charles Bridge was with tourists- it was just a solid mass of people spanning the whole bridge. When we got back the lights were still not fixed. We were able to walk up to the barrier and at least peek in, once my eyes adjusted it wasn’t that bad actually. Everyone was so quiet, an atmosphere of hushed reverie as we all stole glances. We were told we could come back later and a staff member would escort us to the library to see. I secretly wondered if it would be the same view by the barricade, just better lit. Or would we get to walk through it? The same lady from before piped up again. She was mad and she was leaving town, she wouldn’t get to see it. What she seemed to not grasp was that an electrician had to come and fix the problem.

For lunch we went to a hotdog window shop. We tried to order one hotdog and one kielbasa but the guy said it’s the same meat, the difference is in getting a bun or not. We got two hotdogs with everything. I was too lazy to pick and choose my toppings. Therefore, I ended up with sauerkraut, red cabbage, cucumbers, mustard, mayo and ketchup. Not exactly the ideal assortment- it was still good though. Brent had a Pilsner Urquell, I had a mulled wine. Problem was, the hotdogs were two-handed meals. I held Brent’s beer while he ate, then he held my mulled wine while I ate. It worked out well, my wine needed time to cool down. The hotdog was an unruly mess. We backtracked to the Klementinum so I could buy some postcards (when we were leaving there was no one at the ticket desk).

We stopped at a grocery store on our way back to the hotel, the one across the street from our usual shop just after the bridge. I got a red cacao bean Kit Kat, a chocolate Cornetto ice cream, piquant paprika Lays and a Koppaberg Swedish cider with strawberry and lime. It was a tiny can, but I had run out of bottle caps to collect. Smirnoff Ice being the only one left. The chocolate Cornetto was a lie. The bottom 2/3 of it was vanilla ice cream with only a little bit of chocolate fudge. Why call it a chocolate cone?! Why only have chocolate ice cream at the top?! WHO DOES THAT?!?!?

Back in our hotel room we found that all of our towels, save for one crumpled one on the floor, were gone. The coffee bar had not been replenished and we did not have new sheets, the bed was just made. I felt like we were getting ripped off. I brewed one of the sample teas I had gotten from Kusmi, the lemongrass green tea. It was so good! Once I got caught up in my notebook, we settled on planning the evening, and if I had time, maybe some Mario Odyssey. I finished writing all of my postcards. The Czech stamps were so big I had to stick them on sideways. With this I had to move on to pen #3 of the trip, #2 finally giving up. In the course of the trip, I had only acquired one free pen. Thank god I brought some from home. My book, Amy & Isabelle, was finally available again. I made it through 2 chapters before I called it quits and took a 30-minute nap, I was so so so tired.

Dinner was at the Medieval Tavern, which apparently was under a kilometre away from the hotel? We must’ve walked by it and yet I couldn’t place it. I did remember passing a pub touting itself as medieval. Could that have been it? What were the odds that there were two medieval pubs? It was so funny to get there and realize how many times we had passed by it on our way back to the hotel. Now it made sense why I always saw people outside taking pictures. Even walking there, having confirmed the address, I still questioned it. Was this right? Were we going to the place that the Toronto Star had written about? As soon as we stepped inside, I was sure, this was definitely the right place. It was dark with low vaulted ceilings and lit only by candles. It 100% felt like Prague’s oldest pub. The outside had been misleading but it makes sense being so close to the castle. In the doorway a lady asked us if this was the place with all the bones. I said it was a good bet that it was, especially given the skulls over the entrance. For some reason they left.

When we said we had reservations, they asked (again!) if we were absolutely sure that we did not want to stay for the medieval show. The first time they had asked after we made an email reservation. It was hard to see when we first entered, it took my eyes a while to adjust. Reading a menu by candlelight may sound romantic- but it really isn’t. We didn’t order any apps because we’d had a pretty heavy lunch. Brent had the duck leg confit and I had the goulash. The first drink I ordered was grog. It was just as I had expected based on what I had read on the internet: rum in hot water, garnished with a lemon and sweetened with sugar. It was really hard trying to carve the duck leg by candle light, so instead of swapping plates we just traded bites. The goulash was so good. It was more along the lines of what I had expected and was used to. Except instead of potato dumplings (kopytka) it was served with “bread dumplings” which were just slices of white spongy bread. It was good for dipping in the gravy. Brent ordered a second pint, actually it was more of a half litre, but pint is so much easier to say! I had already finished my dish while Brent was still hacking away at his duck leg. I ordered a glass of mead when Brent’s second beer was brought. The lady asked me if I wanted it hot or cold: HOT! I almost yelled it from excitement. While I waited for my drink I wandered over to the bathroom- more so because I wanted to see the rest of the pub décor and I was curious what a bathroom in a medieval pub would look like. There were skulls and animal pelts hanging everywhere. The bathroom had an old-looking stone sink and it was tiny. The hot mead was the best drink I’ve ever had. This one was less sweet and slightly more herbal and it was amazing. There are hearts drawn in my notebook around this experience.

After dinner we walked over to the Estates Theatre. Brent had gotten the last ticket to a show. It was a Russian poetry reading with Czech subtitles. He really just wanted to see the theatre. I was more than OK sitting this one out. I had found a nearby mall where I intended to while away the time. The trouble was I didn’t have data on my phone. Brent had to walk me to the mall where I was able to connect to wifi and keep in touch. We agreed on a meeting spot at the Palladium Mall and I set off on my shopping adventure. Except my phone was being spotty about connecting to the wifi and immediately worry set in. After eventually getting it to connect I saw that Brent had messaged me. The theatre performance was the following night. Once we met up, we went to the Albert grocery store for the all-important snack supply. We grabbed white chocolate covered Oreos and vampire teeth gummies. We went up one floor and Brent found a spot on a bench while I set off for some shopping. The mall had a really confusing layout, there were half floors and all the escalators didn’t line up. I had to walk to the other end of the mall for the next escalator to the next floor. There were only a few stores I wanted to go to but now I did not feel like exploring to see if there were any new stores, I was unaware of. At C&A I found two dresses but they weren’t in my size. Eventually I found a black dress with white and blue flowers. I also found a ~$2CAD long sleeve t-shirt for Adrian. I had no idea how European sizing worked, who measures children in inches?! I got the largest size even though it still seemed so small (I later found it was for a 2-year-old toddler- oops).

Walking back, it was unbelievable how many people were still at Old Town Square. It was just a giant mass of very slowly moving people. I waited until we were at the start of the bridge before cracking open the Lisacke-Jablko cider. It was good, tasted more like a traditional cider and it was the perfect walking drink. The only downside was that it was in a can, so no new bottlecap for the collection. On the way back over the bridge I caved to peer pressure and rubbed the dog on the statue. As we passed by the Medieval Tavern the place was rocking, loud music was playing. No wonder it had been empty when we were there. Everyone wanted to see the show.

Going up the awful stairs, there was a small group of people sitting on the stairs. From afar I guessed it was rowdy teenagers out on a Friday night. I was worried they would laugh at me as I struggled up the stairs. When we got closer, we saw that there was one guy standing and telling stories to the group. My guess was that it was an improv troupe all telling stories about the stairs. But fine, maybe Brent was right, maybe it was just a regular old boring ghost tour. My version is more interesting. It was a small comfort knowing I’d only be going up those damn stairs a few more times.

Back in the hotel room I finished off the apricot jam (that for some reason became known as marmalade in my book halfway through) while catching up on writing. The Shake Cocktails: Mojito from the Ukraine was ok, but it was not the best mixed mojito by far. I was only trying to delay the inevitable: having to wash my hair in that stupid shower. It made me so mad just thinking about it.

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Posted by on December 8, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

Budapest, Vienna, Prague: Honeymoon Edition: Day 14

Thurs. Oct. 4, 2018:
Prague Czech Republic:

Breakfast was in the building next door, we had to go outside and around. I was unsure of what to expect, we had been told the door might be locked. There were two other people in there. It was a small café, with a limited buffet and only three tables. They did have a full espresso machine and freshly ground beans. There were warm crepes and little packets of Nutella. This was one of the better hotel breakfasts. They even had fresh poppyseed cake. I scooped out the remnants of Nutella left in the container with my spoon and used it to stir my latte- genius. Back in the room I topped off breakfast with some butter cookies with apricot jam, it was perfect.

We headed out to explore the castle grounds. It looked like there was a security checkpoint on the way into the grounds themselves. Something fancy was happening, we saw them unfurling and vacuuming the red carpet. There was a guy holding up the line at the security checkpoint because he beeped on his way in. He clearly hadn’t read the sign, as he sheepishly removed the keys and cellphone from his pocket and went through again.

We started out the day at St. Vitus’s Cathedral. We ducked under the velvet rope to cut in front of a giant tour group assembling. The guide laughed at us. Once inside though we found out we had to buy tickets and we ran back out. The box office was across the way. Turns out we had been a little too eager. The interior of the cathedral was stunning, with beautiful intricate stained-glass windows. We there at a good hour, the mid-morning light filtering through. It was almost impossible to see the chapel of St. Wenceslaus, it was so crowded and apparently that is what everyone came to see.

We had purchased admission tickets that allowed us into various sections of the castle. Up next was the Basilica of St. George. It was pretty plain, especially in comparison to the Cathedral. It did have really nice high vaulted ceilings. I did not expect to see a skeleton on my way out of the basilica- but there he was, all snug and cozy in a mini altar. The Golden Lane consisted of many little buildings, some of which were shops and some where mini-museums on one topic. It was a tiny stretch of houses between the castle and the walls. It was really crowded. Except for some reason the tourists were more interested in the shops than the museums. The museums focused on different aspects of medieval life: torture, candle-making, sewing. The torture museum was in the attics above the less-violent professions down below. At the end of the lane there was a tower- except instead of climbing up the stairs, we climbed down into a dungeon down below. There was one torture instrument down there called “the violin,” it sounded so innocuous. It was impossible to get a view of the city from the castle wall. It was just a solid mass of people and I had to elbow my way in. As I was taking pictures a lady asked me to move so she could get a photo. I was too tired to argue. We were there at an inopportune moment; the sun was shining right at us so it wasn’t great conditions for photos anyways. Our final stop on the castle tour was the Old Royal Palace. At first it was just a big grand hall, off to the side there was a small sign that the museum continued. We got to see a famous defenestration window (and I learned what defenestration was). it was amazing how many people were crammed into that one room given how empty the rest of the palace was. Everyone wanted to see that window. It was way too crowded for me and I stood off to the side where I found this gem: some museum staff saw it fit to set up a “do not open the windows” sign. I swear it had to have been a joke.

Back outside of the castle we set off looking for the National Picture Gallery which was in Sternburg Palace. There was no one in there except for some employees. Only on the second floor, having passed by the two security guards who were chatting did they decide that I needed to check my bag. We were almost done going through the gallery and NOW they decided I should run down two flights of stairs and pay to leave my bag. Eventually we found the other tourists on the third floor, all looking at the work or Reubens. I wondered if they had even gone through the rest of the museum.

It was around noon and I was starting to get hungry. There was a McDonald’s on the way back to the hotel and they had kiosks: lunch was settled. On the way we decided to also restock on drinks. I found Rekorderlig cider in a bottle, adding a new cap to the collection as well as a Ukrainian mojito mix. I also got a soda for afternoon drinking (and a new bottle cap): winter edition of Club-Mate cola.

The McDonald’s was a zoo swarming with Polish school children. Brent had the McMaestro with a spicy, sweet BBQ sauce. I had the Big Tasty which tasted like a Whopper- it was not good. We split an order of gouda bites with chili (it was so good!). We also had curry sauce for the fries. I stole a sip of Brent’s fizzy raspberry lemonade and wished I had also gotten a drink. Afterwards we went 2 doors down, I needed dessert and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about with the chimney cones. I asked for caramel to be put in the cone before the addition of vanilla soft serve. It was absolutely the right call- even if it was a giant sopping sticky mess. It was so fresh and it tasted like paczki. As the ice cream melted and seeped through the bottom of the cone it just got messier. The napkin was also a sticky mess.

I comforted myself at the bottom of the stairs: they were stupid and I only had to climb them one more time today. I was huffing and puffing the whole way up, cursing every few steps. Who designed this?! On the castle grounds there was a strings duo playing my wedding aisle song. It was perfect, we were on our honeymoon walking through beautiful castle grounds in Prague.

Back in the hotel my phone still wasn’t finding the wifi signal but our room had ChromeCast device attached to the TV making it all the worse because all of our other devices (which did connect to the internet) were all Apple products. Furthermore, the TV was mounted to the wall so I couldn’t even connect the HDMI cable. Writing in my notebook, my second pen of the trip started running out of ink. I played Mario Odyssey then did some online window-shopping, a very relaxing afternoon well spent.

We left almost an hour early for dinner- allowing me the time to take (many) photos along the way. We were having dinner at U Kaliche and I needed time to take photos of the restaurant itself as a memento for my dad (who told me to go there). On the way I picked up some more postcards (even though we were nearing the end of the trip) and some stamps. I felt like I had been ripped off when I bought stamps, they came out to ~$3CAD each.

I didn’t understand why my dad had suggested we eat at this restaurant. It was styled like a beer hall but branded everywhere with this little soldier figure. We could see the yellow sign blazing from down the street. We took some obligatory souvenir selfies outside (again, for my dad). On the way in they had a little souvenir shop with mementos for sale, sitting on a chair there was a mannequin of the character. The place was quite empty so we didn’t bother saying we had a reservation, we just sat down. I immediately grabbed two of the extra napkins and squirreled them away in my purse as keepsakes. The gift shop was way overpriced. I ordered slivovice (plum brandy) but it was served as a shot but I sipped it slowly. The server never came back so I could order a second one. We ordered a plate of the Prague ham to start and oh man was it great. Thick slices of ham with accompanying slices of rye bread and Vienna gherkins and horseradish on the side. I could see why my dad liked this place. As we ate, I Googled the place, the name and the character seemed only vaguely familiar and as I searched, I discovered: it was from a Czech movie we had watched together (dubbed in Polish) years ago! I immediately started laughing, remembering the bumbling fool of a character. This was great. I loved every minute of being there. And then the accordion player came out- in full matching costume. Brent had tried to order potato dumplings when the guy asked if we wanted any sides with our mains. The guy said “bad choice, too much bread.” I ordered the duck instead of goose leg, learning to read the menu not by price but by grams. The duck was 200gr, the goose leg was 350gr. The duck breast was braised in a wine sauce and it was delicious. The schnitzel was ok but nowhere near the same level as at the Hotel Sacher.

Walking back through Wenceslaus Square I saw a stand selling mulled wine. I was so there. Brent had a Pilsner Urquell (actually a rather local beer) even though he had to pee. We stopped at a bar that had an outdoor patio- they had no way of knowing for sure whether or not he was a customer. It was the perfect crime. On the next block over, I saw a chimney cone stand selling hot mead (Medinovar I thought?!). I had just finished my mulled wine not 15 minutes ago. But in the spirit of vacation: you gotta. It was a 2-minute wait while it finished heating up but it was so worth it. It was so sweet and so warm and so comforting- it was like a hug for my stomach. The cup was much smaller but the alcohol content was higher, 18%. We stopped at a potato-on-a-stick vendor just before crossing over the bridge. I had been convinced that it was in an episode of Travel Man and it seemed like the perfect walking snack. It was perfect, it hit the spot. The bridge was much more manageable at night. Brent stopped to rub the good-luck dog that was apparently a thing (as evidenced by how rubbed down and shiny the dog was compared to the rest of the bronze statue). We saw some very drunk Chinese people in fancy formal wear, they were clearly having a good time. We stopped at the same convenience store and got walking-up-the-stairs nightcaps. I got a lime Bacardi Breezer both for the low alcohol content and the bottle cap. Taste had nothing to do with it.

 
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Posted by on December 5, 2018 in Travel

 

Budapest, Vienna, Prague: Honeymoon Edition: Day 13

Wed. Oct. 3, 2018:
Cesky Kremlov, to Prague Czech Republic:

I couldn’t believe I woke up after 10am, it felt so much earlier. We packed up and headed out. We stopped at Café Provence for a quick breakfast on the way to the train station. I asked for a small coffee, I got a shot of espresso. I mean it wasn’t entirely wrong. Between us we split a chocolate-lined cannoli and a sour plum yeast cake.

We had to go up a giant hill to get to the train station. Even with Brent carrying my bag, I struggled hard. My legs were toast, burnt toast. I had finished my Wiccy Magic Muscles massage bar from LUSH the night before. We got to the train station 2.5 hours early only to find out that our train had been converted to a bus due to some track issues.

We went inside the train station to ask for more details. The lady said we would have to take a bus to Cesky Budejowice and switch to a train there. We went back to the waiting room, still not content with the situation. We saw that there was a train to Cesky Budejowice at1pm. We were somewhat familiar with the city and knew where the train station and bus terminal were. We could easily make our way to Prague from there, it beat the alternative of sitting around the soviet-feeling waiting room. We figured we might even be able to arrive earlier in Prague than originally planned. I went off to the nearby Co-op grocery store while Brent sat in the world’s saddest waiting room with our bags. I found a raspberry-flavoured Czech brand of cola, white chocolate Twix and vanilla flavoured wafers. It would have to suffice for transit snacks.

We took the GW commuter train to Cesky Budejowice. On the way we had to get off the train and get on a bus and then we got back on another train a few stations later. The ticket checker had accompanied us and was directing people along the way. It was less confusing than I would have expected and surprisingly ran smoothly. The bus ride was quite nice, we passed through some forests, we saw some woolly sheep.

We got to the train station and found out that in an hour we could just take the train we had originally planned on taking- leaving us just enough time to go across the street to the bus terminal/mall to grab a quick lunch. There was a KFC in the food court. I ordered the “classic box” because it was way easier than trying to order a 2-piece chicken meal. It was a tiny bit more expensive but worth not struggling. Imagine my surprise when I was presented with a mountain of food. The price difference did not add up with the food difference. I had gotten a great deal- and a great deal too much food. In addition to the 2 pieces of chicken, I got 5 hot wings, fries and a soda. I tried the Miranda orange soda. I had seen it earlier in the grocery store but had been unsure whether it was orange juice or orange soda. After lunch I had a 10minute window before we had to head back to the train station: super quick shopping trip! I found a few nice things but I quickly realized that yes of course I like them- I already owned very similar dresses! Next door to House, was Orsay. I found a nice sweater dress but it was on a mannequin and I did not have time to try and figure out where to find it.

We got on the train and it was empty. The bus we would have been on hadn’t arrived yet. We had pre-purchased our tickets and had reserved seats so we both got window seats. Even still, there were 4 other empty seats in our little room. No one ever ended up joining us. Once we were heading out, a train employee came in and gave us mini-bar menus. This train was awesome. It was unbelievable how cheap everything was. It was less than $2CAD for a single serving bottle of red wine. The raspberry cola, Krofola Malina was the fakest fake cola I have ever had, it wasn’t even close. It was plain awful. It made gummy colas seem like a closer flavour match. The Haribo sweet & sour gummies were two conjoined gummy bears, one sweet and one- you guessed it- sour. It was one of the best Haribo mixes we’ve ever had.

Prague was even more beautiful than I had imagined. I was really glad we had done the trip in this order. It was unbelievable how many people were crammed into the old town section. There was also a lot of chimney stacks shops. Which made no sense at all. It is a Hungarian street food, it has no ties to Prague. Regardless, the masses were loving it. The famous Charles Bridge was crammed with even more tourists, it was stop and go the whole way- on foot. The vendors all along the side of the bridge did not help matters, only adding to the traffic jam. We got to our hotel, something about 3 ostriches in the name. We were told that, actually, we were booked in the apartments. We looked at each other like, ok what does that mean? She told us to wait for her colleague who would show us the way. And so, we sat there for a really long time, no word of explanation, why couldn’t she give us directions and we go ourselves, why the delay. Nothing. Eventually the colleague showed up. We followed him out of the building… and to a waiting car. What the hell was going on? He had to drive us to our hotel room? I was not pleased. A 15-minute drive meant it would take us that much longer to walk back to all the stuff that we planned on doing during our stay.

Turns out we had a small apartment (sans kitchen) all to ourselves. It was in a non-descript building that definitely did not look like a hotel. At this point I was grumpy and tired. It was already 6pm and we had been on the move since 11am. Not helping my grumpiness was the stupid bathroom door that wouldn’t close. And the shower was just a hose with no holder on the wall. I was not looking forward to my evening shower: having to hose myself down? Ugh. My phone also was not picking up the wifi network.

We walked to U Fleku for dinner. The walk was killing me, the sun had just started setting and we were in a new town. Alas we didn’t have the time to stop for photos. It was decided that the next day (when we had dinner reservations around the same time and distance) we would head out earlier. It turns out our hotel was a little bit above the city, on the palace grounds. Really, we were not that far from the main hotel, it just seemed that way because the car ride took so long thanks to the small winding streets, walking was much faster. We had to go down a giant set of stairs to leave the castle grounds. Crap. We’d have to go back up later. We made our way through the (now even more!) crowded Charles Bridge. Once we were out of the touristy area the walk was much nicer. I was surprised to see so many mini-marts- and all selling alcohol.

U Fleku was a wacky beer hall. There was a mess of people in the entranceway, we had no idea where to go. We had reservations but there was no one to tell this to. Brent asked a passing server, who seemed annoyed and pointed us in the direction of a guy standing by the bar. The server was very busy, but the guy at the bar was just standing there fanning himself with menus. We were seated in the far back corner of the restaurant. As soon as we sat down a server came over with a giant tray of shot glasses: two different kinds, light and dark. I thought they were beer samples, it made sense. This was a brewery beer hall. Brent grabbed one, I was going to pass but he told me to grab one. I did assuming I could give it to him. However, upon closer inspection it was not beer, it was liqueur. We figured maybe these were welcome shots? We grabbed one each and the guy marked something down on a piece of paper on our table. Brent downed his before we could trade halfway. Mine tasted cinnamon-y and I eventually deduced from the menu and the bill-tally that it was Becherovka. Meaning Brent had the Medovina. I would have to try that one next time the guy came around. No sooner had he left, another guy came by- this time with a giant tray of full steins of beer. The ladies next to us tried to order different beer and the guy laughed. This was it, this was the only beer they served: a dark brew. The system made sense for such a busy beer hall. The shots guy came back ground after we had received our food. Except I had been so distracted by all that was going on that I couldn’t remember the colour of the first shot I’d had. I figured I had grabbed the lighter one last time, for some reason thinking I would have preferred a lighter beer. I sipped it slowly, unsure if it was the same. Brent had a sip and confirmed definitively that it was not what he had the first time. Crap. I had grabbed the same one. The guy didn’t come back around until we were settling our bill.

We split an appetizer of beer cheese and toast. The toast was exactly what I needed, I was not feeling great. I was tired, run-down and achy. The room was also hot and loud. I had ordered the dinner size version of the sausage dish (conveniently listed as 200gr). It was too much food. I should’ve gotten the app size, but 100gr just seemed like so little! I made a huge dent in the potatoes and ate 1.25 of the 2 sausages. The sauerkraut was served warm but it still was just a little bit off and I wasn’t a fan. All that greasy and salty food, I really needed a drink- something more substantial than a tiny shot. I tried to order a Sprite but the guy said he had to go get our server so I could order. He never did come back and I never did get my Sprite.

Walking back, the Charles Bridge was still kind of busy but at least I got a few photographs of town and the side of the castle. Both were beautifully lit up. The walls of the bridge were not a flat surface, they curved up and were slightly rounded- not great to use as a platform for your camera for some night shots. I had to hold the strap of the camera and just hope my camera didn’t fall into the river down below. On the bridge we cracked open the drinks we had grabbed at a convenience store, apparently you can drink on the streets in Prague and we were all about that experience. The kid working in the store did not even look old enough to drink. There were also small packages of weed by the register- was it even legal? Brent googled it as we walked home- apparently, it’s a grey area.

Once we were past the bridge it was much less busy. We saw two cops up ahead and instinctively we both dropped our hands down by our sides, trying to conceal our drinks. We then laughed at ourselves. It was nice to walk around in the evening, enjoying a Wino z Winka (red wine and cranberry juice mixer), looking at all the old buildings. Once we got to the giant stairs, I had to crack a second drink. This was not going to be an easy climb. There were so many steps! Thankfully I had a Le Coq mojito (it kind of filled that earlier craving for a citrus-y fizzy drink).

Back in the hotel room I found more things to get mad at. The curtains were purely decorative and didn’t actually close. This meant that the next day at like 6am I would be getting a very rude wake-up call from the sun. The only curtains in the room that did work were the ones leading onto the deck- aka windows not facing the bed. My ebook had expired and now I was on a holds-list. I gave up and went to shower- having forgotten about the stupid set up. Every time I had to soap myself, I had to put the shower head down and then only my feet were in the shower, meanwhile I was shivering and cold. It was so not relaxing. There weren’t even any free lotions! The only good thing in the room was the kettle. Things were not looking good. In the end I was too tired to play Mario Odyssey and I didn’t feel like starting a new book. I opted for just going to sleep given I would be subject to early wake-up.

 
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Posted by on December 5, 2018 in Travel

 

Budapest, Vienna, Prague: Honeymoon Edition: Day 12

Tues. Oct. 2, 2018:
Cesky Kremlov, Czech Republic:

It was a little jarring waking up in the room. It had high dark ceilings and it was an unusual sight to see upon waking. The mattress was stiff and I woke up with a sore back and aching legs. And yet despite all that I managed to sleep another hour, 8:30am just seemed too early to be getting up. I had overshot the sleep in by just a little bit and had to rush to get ready so I could still make it in time for breakfast. It was served buffet style and they had self-serve coffee. I avoided the carafe- what if it’s decaf?! And went instead for the machine. It was reassuring to see that the machine freshly grinds coffee beans when you press the button.

We walked over to the castle and stopped in at Cesky Pernik for some “Bohemian” pierniki (gingerbread). The cookies were ok, but they were definitely not baked that morning- which is what I had been expecting. As promised, there was a bear in a moat. It was not how I had imagined it. I was expecting a bear with a giant river that went all around the castle but it was just a large pit on either side of a bridge. It was not a moat at all. I felt sorry for the bear who kept pacing in circles, periodically pausing to sniff the wall.

The castle had many different parts, all with different admission tickets. started out with the castle museum. It was much the same as usual: portraits, furniture, books. After that we headed over to the tower. It was an awkward climb up as in certain parts the stairs were really narrow. In yet other parts there were loose nails sticking out. The stairs were made of really cheap wood at certain parts and it was quite disconcerting. Off to the side of the tower there was a “dungeon”- complete with fake skeleton. From the tower we could see the bear down below, still pacing about. The church artifacts room was horrifying. There was a real human skeleton of an alleged saint, dressed to the nines in church robes and a rosary. He was encased in a glass box below an altar. When we had first entered the room my eyes landed on a skull, making me do a double-take and swear under my breath- WTF? I actually had to check the info panel to verify- nope, yup, it was a real human skeleton. It creeped me out to no end. Continuing in the vein of creepy, we tried to find the castle dungeon (different than the tower dungeon). We had no luck, there weren’t even any signs. We checked so many times, even checking as we backtracked. There wasn’t a trace of it.

Up next we tried to find the ticket office to visit the stables. Did I mention that there were multiple box offices for the different parts of the castle? We saw that there was a guided tour in English at 11:30am, a quick glance at the clock- 11:25am. The next one wasn’t until 1:30pm. The stables could wait. It was also the only way that we could see inside of the castle. We figured that maybe the tickets for the stables were sold at the actual stables? We had seen no sign for it thus far. On the tour of the castle we learned what happens to the bears when they pass on: they get turned into bearskin rugs. There were 7 throughout the castle. It was kind of interesting to see the different examples of taxidermy and how it has improved over time. On the tour we got to see what the rooms of the castle looked like during different times periods.

On the way to the stables and gardens we passed a door into what looked like a crypt. We had missed out on the dungeon but maybe this would be cool? There was a weird contemporary surrealist sculpture exhibit on display. I must give the artist credit, this was one of the coolest art exhibits we’ve ever been to. Even though we had to pay to get in, it was well worth it. We got to see the castle cellars. We found a sign pointing to the gardens and one to the winter riding school. There was no mention of stables. We tried to go towards the riding school, assuming they must have stables but instead we wound up at the entrance to the gardens. Thankfully we also found a bathroom there. It cost 10kr (about 50 cents) to use and it got me thinking: how much do they pay the attendant to sit there an collect the money. How do they possibly make a profit on this? The gardens were really pretty and it was relaxing to walk through. There weren’t really any pretty views because of the high walls. Walking back to the castle we kept our eyes open for the stables but had no luck. On our way out, we had one last look at the bear.

We stopped at Co-op grocery store for drinks and snacks. I found two ciders, one I had tried previously but it was a different flavour this time. I also got another rorka z kremem and a bag of Bohemia chips aptly slonin (really fatty eastern European bacon) flavoured. We stopped at Na Luzie pub for lunch. I liked the name, it was the same as in Polish and meant to relax and chill out. This time the mulled wine was seasoned but I still had to add some sugar. We split an order of the housemade pork jelly with onions and vinegar. It was more of a pasztet (pate) than a galeretka (gelatin-dish). I was not too happy about the vinegar being poured on it, I would have preferred less of it. For my main I ordered the (possibly fresh caught) carp. It sounded so damn good- except I had forgotten about the osci (tiny bones). It was so delicious and it was the perfect dish, served with potatoes of course. It reminded me of Christmas dinner. Brent had the pork with kopytka (potato dumplings). It came with a side of warm sauerkraut- making me more nostalgic for Christmas dinner. This was my kind of eating. The portion sizes were enormous and once again we were too full for dessert.

We walked around the streets. We saw a bulldog who was a mascot for a smoothie shop, he even had a sweatshirt on with the logo. It was too cute. I saw another market and went in but they had the same cider selection. I was about to leave but then I saw white chocolate Snickers and white chocolate Kinder Bueno. It took us almost 5 hours but we saw the whole town. Except now it was 3pm and we didn’t have much to do until dinner time. My plan was to drink tea, read and play Mario Odyssey. I had my iPad charging while I played= genius. Meanwhile Brent was napping.

We went out for a walk just after sunset but there were no nice views of the sunset because it was behind us, not near the castle. The bear was still lumbering about. We walked through the castle courtyards. It was hard to get a photo of the town because of the glaring spotlights on the castle. In one photo all of the bugs flying around all got illuminated. Walking around really built up my appetite. We dropped our stuff back in our room and I finished off the last of my Kingswood rosé cider.

The main dining room in the hotel restaurant was full so we grabbed a table in the adjacent overflow room where we’d had breakfast that morning. There was only one other table of people there and they were all middle-aged mildly racist white people. It was an awkward dinner as they complained about their food and sent stuff back. The service was very slow, our dinner lasted close to two hours. I tried to order a glass of Bohemian dry white wine but apparently, they were all out, as I was saying that’s ok he suggested Prosecco and walked away before I could order something else. I had meant ok, as in I’m not mad, I’ll order something else. I finished it before our dinners arrived. I tried to order mulled wine. He heard it as more wine, but just to be sure he brought over a menu to clarify. He came back again, no dice on the mulled wine. I tried to order grog, still no go. He asked me if I wanted red or white wine. I gave up and just said red. I was kind of worried that for the steak dish they didn’t ask how it should be done. When the dish arrived, I could see why: it was more of a braised beef. The roast potatoes were in fact mashed. At this point it seemed like the norm. Brent’s pork tenderloin was the clear winner. The pumpkin puree was amazing. The sauerkraut had bacon bits in it. Brent tried to order an Eggenberg beer, and nope, they didn’t have any. We ordered the praline dumplings for dessert. Brent was only going to have a bite. Instead they brought us each one dish- and charged us for two desserts. He tried to order a plum liqueur (sliwowice), nope, not in stock. Looking back, I have no idea why we kept trying. The really kicker was that the dessert clearly had plum liqueur in it. I have never had such a bewildering restaurant experience in my life. In total four of the five drinks we tried to order had ended in failure.

Back in the room my iPad was charged and ready for more reading. I cracked open the Frisco brusinka cider. I think it was cranberry?

 
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Posted by on November 30, 2018 in Travel

 

Budapest, Vienna, Prague: Honeymoon Edition: Day 11

Mon. Oct. 1, 2018:
Durnstein, Austria to Cesky Kremlov, Czech Republic:

We woke at 8:30am so we could have enough time to grab breakfast. Even still we had to rush. I stole a sip of Brent’s grape juice, apparently it is in his 1000 Foods book (it’s an Austrian and Italian specialty). It was weird, the flavour was really strong and I was expecting it to be thick and syrupy but it wasn’t. I took the last bites of my breakfast with me to go, finishing it off as we walked back to our room. How could I say no to a brioche-braid bun?

Hotel checkout was sheer agony. We were on a schedule to catch a bus. It made me really miss express checkout. The guy was being so chatty and nice, it was killing me. As we were leaving, he gave us a small jar of apricot preserves. We got to the bus stop with plenty of time to spare. Another couple showed up minutes before the bus arrived. We both agreed that was too risky. At least we knew we were at the right spot. Even the views during the bus ride were beautiful. There was a church down below in the valley and a castle up above on the hilltop. All being bathed in golden early morning light, filtering through the clouds. It was killing me. Where had these clouds been yesterday?!

We arrived at the train station just in time to catch the train back to Vienna. Amazingly, I fell asleep in the train. Even I didn’t see that one coming. I had no intention of sleeping so early in the day. We arrived in Vienna at the other (aka crappy) train station. I was king of disappointed. The first train station we had been to was great: there was shopping, there was a bar, and I later learned there was even a Dunkin’ Donuts. At the train station we saw that there was an earlier train we could take to Cesky Kremlov. Brent had bought tickets online ahead of time for the 4pm train, but there was a 12:30 train in an hour. Except it was way (way!) more expensive- 5 times as expensive maybe? We asked at the ticket booth to make sure we weren’t missing something. We asked if we could switch our tickets. The agent asked if our tickets had been super cheap. We said yes. He said no. The reason they were so cheap was because they were bought in advance and non-refundable. Spending an extra three and a half hours in Cesky Kremlov instead of in a crappy train station? The decision was easy.

We still had an hour and a half before our train departed. Thankfully the train station had a McDonald’s and a Billa grocery store. Brent had a “super” bacon sandwich. It had so much bacon, they were no lying. I had the McFirst burger, it was nothing special. The crunchy chicken strips were massive. I dipped my seasoned waffle fries in the curry dip I had for the chicken. I wish the waffle fries had been curly fries, they had the right seasoning just the wrong shape. There was a Lotus caramel McFlurry and as I sat there, between heavenly bites it occurred to me- if McDonald’s has Biscoff cookies maybe other places sell it too?

I’ve never been so excited to go to a grocery store: Biscoff cookies!!! In retrospect, I should’ve grabbed more. One package is never enough (even though I can get them back home now at Pusateri’s- I still get real excited about it). We got some soda and snacks for the rest of the travel ahead of us. Again, there were no signs of ciders or mixed drinks. We sat around outside on some stairs. The previous train was still at the platform so we couldn’t even board early. While sitting I noticed a logo across the street, it looked like Aldi but the internet said it was Hoffa, still a grocery store. I had forgotten to get some crackers for our apricot preserves. I ventured out in search of that and some drinks for the evening.

The store was so weird. They had giant plastic bottles of beer akin to soda. They had 4 foot pretzel sticks. A half bottle of rosé was less than one Euro. It was a Syrah from France, complete with a designation of origin protection label. I was floored. I found some nice butter cookies for the apricot preserves. It was a nice surprise, I had been wanting to buy some during the course of our trip and now I didn’t have to go looking.

We had to switch trains in Ceske Velenice. We were switching train lines as well, because now we were in the Czech Republic. It was so cold just standing there on the train platform waiting. I kept fidgeting and shifting my weight from one foot to the other in the typical “I’m cold” dance. From there we set off to Ceske Budowice- still not Cesky Kremlov. This was a long day of travel.

When we got off at Ceske Budowice I noticed an Asian family with roller suitcases. I had seen them in Vienna! We lost them as we entered the main train station. Now we were looking for a bus station. Google Maps said it was nearby. I was distracted by all the potential options for getting to Cesky Kremlov. It appeared there was a commuter train we could take? As we left the train station, Brent saw three little boys- about 10 years old- rejoicing because one of them had stolen a pack of cigarettes off a passerby. The bus station was across the street. Except it was inside of a mall. More confusion ensued. We found a board with bus departures and in front of it a giant line of people lining up to some service kiosks. Presumably they were all buying bus tickets. No sooner had we queued up, our travel buddies showed up. They had the same idea as us. As we slowly inched forward, I was suspicious. Why were there so many people in line, why was it moving so slowly? And for all different bus lines? I saw the young guy from the family go to the information booth. He then got on his phone frantically trying to find the rest of his family, he walked over to them. And they left. They did not get in line. I followed his lead and went to the information booth. At this point I was working on the theory, based on my limited understanding of the somewhat-similar (barely) language that we were in line for the DMV. The info lady pointed upstairs/out of the office and told me to buy a ticket on the bus. I never did find out what line we had been in.

It had been a little unclear where she had been pointing. We stepped outside and it didn’t seem right, there were buses but it was clearly outgoing traffic from the bus station. We went back inside and there was a giant sign saying bus upstairs- complete with an arrow. If only we had entered through that door initially! We had seen an arrow earlier but it wasn’t bent, it was straight so we assumed it meant ahead not up.

We got to the bus platforms and again there was a confusing layout. We mistakenly lined up at platform 9 not 10. A few second later, once we were in the right line, our travel buddies did the exact same thing. I was really enjoying their company, it made our mistakes feel less silly and more the fault of poor design decisions. The bus pulled up and a new round of confusion ensued: how much was the bus fare? Apparently, we just had to trust what the bus driver told us. Brent tried to pay with a 500 crown note and the bus driver pointed at Brent’s wallet. I had been right, a 100-crown note was more than enough. Brent tried to walk away without his change. I was pretty sure that the bus driver was making fun of us to three local teenage boys. Something along the lines of: did you get a load of those two?! have they ever ridden on a bus?! It was a 30-minute coach bus ride and again it lulled me to sleep.

We arrived in a bus depot (more like a parking lot and one shelter) just outside of the historical part of town. It was atop a hill and from there we could see Cesky Kremlov and the castle. It was a short walk to Hotel Růže. It was one of the wackiest hotels we have ever stayed in. the decor was medieval and throughout there were mannequins. They were weird and unnerving, I kept thinking they were people. The furnishings were also medieval-style. Right down to the toilet. It had a wooden throne frame around it, even though underneath it was a modern toilet. The frame made it all but impossible to flush the toilet. It took us a few failed attempts and ponderings to even figure out how to flush the damn thing. The frame hid the button but we eventually figured it out. We also had three appliances for one outlet. But finally- FINALLY- there was a tea kettle. I was elated and happily unplugged the fridge. I knew there would be, there simply had to be a tea kettle in the Czech Republic. Once I had boiled my water, I could plug the fridge back in. It was a very stupid setup. From our room we had beautiful views of the river and the back part of town. Except the window didn’t have a screen, I could lean all the way out. It was more than a little scary.

We had back-to-back UNESCO world heritage site days: both Durnstein and Cesky Kremlov have the designation. We went out for a walk through “town” (it’s way smaller). We had dinner at the Eggenberg Brewery restaurant. By our hotel there was a nice overlook giving a view of the castle and town. It’s not every day that you walk by a castle on your way to dinner.

At dinner we ordered two starters both because it was so cheap and each one said 1 piece. I should have seen it coming. We were having dinner at a restaurant in Eastern Europe (and apparently so close to Poland). The marinated Camembert was the size of a small wheel of cheese. It was salty and good- even if it was a solid three servings. Brent had the pickled sausage. Something I had never even heard of but I turned out to be a fan of it. Again, he was served an entire full-size sausage. I thought based on the price that it would be reasonably sized. Nope. It was good food, for real cheap and oh-so-plentiful. I had ordered the potato dumplings with meat, cabbage and onion. It was so good- even if it was two full-sized dinner portions. Needless to say: I was beat. I made a sizeable dent but in the end the dish won out. The mulled wine was just warm wine. No spices, no sugar, no extra alcohol. It did some with a packet of honey on the side which improved it considerably. Not really sure what I expected from a brewery. Brent had ordered the ham hock. Except unlike last time we had no warning. I helped as much as I could but I was fighting my own battle. Dessert was out of the question.

We walked back via a different route. It was nice to see some stores still open at 7pm. Alas the gingerbread (piernik) store was closed. We went back to the overlook and I took some nighttime shots of the castle and the town, using the ledge as a tripod.  We walked onto the hotel terrace but it was too dark to see anything. We could hear a waterfall but we couldn’t see it. We would have to come back tomorrow to investigate. It did not seem far-fetched for the moat around the town to have a small waterfall.

Nick@Night was the only English channel we got. They had a short animation, “1000 Faces,” between shows that reminded me of “Sąsiedzi” the Czech show I used to watch as a kid. I immediately turned to YouTube desperate to find it, to explain to Brent why I was laughing so hard at the short animation that was so “Czech”- and what that meant exactly. We watched the one where the guy tried to roast a chicken, accurately titled “Grill.”

I got mad again at the toilet. It took two flushes and still had not cleared. I figured it was time to start getting ready for bed. Only now the shower was also being frustrating. It was a removable shower head hose, but it wouldn’t stay in place in its crook on the wall. It kept falling down and hitting me, spraying water everywhere. I also almost fell getting out of the shower because of the weird height discrepancy between the tub and the floor. I was ready for bed. Reading in bed= heaven, said my notebook.

 
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Posted by on November 29, 2018 in Travel

 

Budapest, Vienna, Prague: Honeymoon Edition: Day 10

Day 10: Sun. Sept. 30, 2018:
Durnstein, Austria:

I was (rudely) awoken by the cleaning people knocking on our door. In my sleepy haze I thought they desperately needed to clear our fruit plate before it went bad. They had also tried to come in the night before as we were leaving for dinner. We went downstairs for breakfast at 9:45. I wasn’t even sure if they would let us in or if there would be anything left, breakfast only went until 10am. Apparently the hotel rules are pretty loose, because people were still coming in at 9:55am and ordering a hot breakfast (instead of just grabbing food from the buffet). I didn’t feel bad about cutting it so close, by eating from the buffet we were lessening their work load: less food to put away. I made two mini sandwiches with fresh sliced baguette. I had an Irish Breakfast tea (no clue how it differs from English Breakfast tea) because there was no sign of coffee anywhere. It was also nice to have my first tea of the trip. As we were eating the server came by and asked if either of us wanted coffee: yes please! Brent had gotten a mini brioche braided bun and had spooned some apricot jam on it. One bite and I had to go back and get one for myself- it was delicious. It was a much better finish to my breakfast than the original: a not-so-good cheese Danish. The coffee arrived just as I was finishing the last bites of my breakfast. I had noticed that the couple sitting behind Brent had gotten up and poured themselves glasses of what appeared to be sparkling wine chilling in ice buckets (no way was it real champagne). I mentioned this to him as I sipped my coffee and he set off to investigate. It was chilled Riesling, but it was definitely self-serve.

After breakfast we walked back out onto the terrace. It was too cold to have breakfast out there but we wanted to see the view and to check the temperature to see if it had warmed up from the forecasted 7 degrees Celsius. We deemed it warm enough to head out for the castle ruins.

I was so grateful for all of the lookout vantage points along the trail. The photo ops gave me a chance to rest without looking weak. As we hiked, I quietly regretted having put off buying a full frame Canon camera or at the very least a lens hood and a polarizing filter. The views were so beautiful and I felt like I wasn’t doing it justice. The views from the top were amazing. We could see so many small towns off in the distance along the Danube river and vineyards all along the hillsides. We also climbed up some pseudo-stairs worn into a giant rock to get to the very top. It was all well worth the climbing and the huffing and puffing. I was surprised how many photos I managed to get without people in them.

Once we were back down, we decided to walk away from the tourist-y part and see the rest of the town. we assumed there would be a grocery store or a gas station. We saw a sign pointing to the marina. Another option for transportation tomorrow was to take a boat so we went down to the marina and scoped it out. We almost ended up backtracking to our hotel, following all of the docks looking for the one we would potentially be taking. Back where we had entered the marina, we saw a sign for a supermarket. Walking back we admired the views of the vineyards, with churches and houses all set amidst the hills, complete with the castle ruins up above. We got to the supermarket, the parking lot was full but the automatic doors wouldn’t open. Apparently, it closes at noon, and it was ten minutes after.

Back on the main street we looked in vain for any sign of a gas station or a store. Google Maps showed nothing. We saw a sign for a train station, so in the spirit of our afternoon, we set off looking for it. Another potential transportation option for tomorrow. Except this was the last weekend of full service, they were switching to the less frequent schedule that day- limiting it to only weekends.

Back to “town” we went. We stopped at the wine shop to sample some local fare before lunch. We split glasses of the Gruner Veltliner Steinfeder and the Freunde. The second one was way better but apparently I had mispronounced it so bad that the woman had no idea what I was trying to order and I had to point. I went into a souvenir shop because it looked like they had glass bottles of Pepsi (aka another bottle cap for the collection) but they were plastic and way overpriced.  We went to the Schmidl Wachauer bakery. We got a pizza mini-baguette, a brioche pretzel, and an apricot-jam filled chocolate-dipped cookie. We stopped at another souvenir store with a Nestle flag for some ice cream. I finally got my Milka ice cream bar fix. I had been craving one ever since I saw it advertised somewhere earlier in our trip. The ice cream was vanilla with chocolate swirls and all coated in rich creamy milk chocolate. It was perfect. Brent had a cola popsicle and it just tasted like watered down soda. We stopped at a third souvenir shop, this time so I could get some snacks for tomorrow’s day of travel. I got Manner apricot wafers and a Manner Mozart-Wurfel chocolate.

We lounged around in our hotel room, devouring our bakery snacks and planning the next day. I had already eaten all of the strawberries from the fruit plate yesterday, now I finished off the grapes. Up next were the plums. We had a very relaxing afternoon, I snuggled up in bed reading my book. We went back out around 4pm to find dinner- given what we now knew about the hours of operation of this town. We ended up going back to Durnsteinerhof, where we had lunch yesterday. Our only other options were a café or the bakery. We ordered the same dishes, they were that good. I had a glass of the local Riesling (not the Veltliner). We ended up cheersing with the people sharing our table because when the server brought Brent his sturm he mistakenly tried to give it to them. Someone said “kanadian” and they all laughed, apparently the word is the same in German as it is in English. While we waited for our food, Brent went back to the bakery to get some non-Brioche pretzels for an evening snack. There was no way we were doing a hotel dinner again. He said they were all sold out and came back with nothing. In turn I went back- we needed something to tide us over in the evening. Except when I got there it was a zoo. I couldn’t believe how busy the bakery was. I quickly bailed and went back. I timed it perfectly as our dishes had just arrived. The restaurant didn’t take credit card so we had to pay cash. We went back to the bakery but they also only took cash.

We found the bus stop we would be going to tomorrow. There was no indication of how to pay the fare or how much it was. We walked over to where we had first gotten off the boat to figure out our backup plan. We were kind of skeptical about this bus stop with very little information. Back in the hotel with Wi-Fi, we figured out how much the bus fare would be. We had just enough Euros left. Good thing the bakery was so busy. It was also a good thing we hadn’t ordered schnapps when the rest of the table had. I wanted to see the sunset from the hotel terrace but we still had an hour before it would start setting. We walked outside just after it had started but the sky was only slightly orange-y. We walked down to the vineyards and back. It was nice out, not a lot of people. The sunset sky had improved a little bit but it still was underwhelming. What the sky needed was some clouds. The only sign of pink was in the contrails.

On our way back to our room the cleaning lady saw us and gave us each a small Ritter chocolate for turn down service. I played Mario Odyssey on the Switch, having finally figured out how to connect it to the TV. We opened the Melker Krauterlior. It was an herbal liqueur meant as a digestif. Earlier we had finished the apricot brandy. This one tasted like tea. I gave up on reading pretty quickly, I was so sure it was time to get ready for bed. It was just after 9pm. I distracted myself and kept myself awake by whiling away the time on Pinterest- I was all caught up on Try Not To Laugh videos.

 
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Posted by on November 20, 2018 in Travel

 

Budapest, Vienna, Prague: Honeymoon Edition: Day 9

Sat. Sept. 29, 2018:
Vienna to Melk to Durnstein, Austria:

We packed up the rest of our stuff and headed to a nearby subway station. We were off to our next destination: a pit stop in Melk on the way to Durnstein. We got to the train station 5 minutes before the 10:20 train was leaving. It was an hour-long ride on a commuter train. Lots of tourists, including ourselves, got off at Melk.

As soon as we got off the train, we could see the abbey on a hill overlooking the town. it was the main draw. We walked through the small town where apparently there was a children’s festival and a rummage sale going on simultaneously. In addition, we had to also dodge cyclists. It was less than ideal to walk through.

It was a long slow trek up the stairs to the top, I was not helped by my heavy backpack and purse. My calves were screaming. When we got to the top, I saw that there had been an easier route for cars and cyclists. I really wish I had known about it beforehand.

There were lockers at the Melk abbey, allowing us to enjoy a short reprieve from lugging all of our stuff. There was a giant group of people all going in ahead of us. They moved so slowly and just filled the rooms. We struggled to see and get around them. We kept getting stuck between tour groups, there seemed to be no end. The abbey library was so beautiful and it was killing me that I wasn’t allowed to take pictures. The church had gold gilding as far as the eye could see and high vaulted ceilings. The only spot where we were allowed to take pictures was the grounds outside. Our tickets also included admission to a lame art exhibit. From the terrace and the abbey grounds we had beautiful views of the town and the Danube river. In one of the buildings we got to go to the top and have a panoramic view of the surrounding landscape. We could see the foothills of the Alps far off in the distance.

On the way out of the abbey we stopped in at the gift shop. You cannot go to an abbey and not leave with either bread or alcohol. I chose the latter. Because they didn’t have any bread. We got an apricot liqueur and a spiced brandy-looking liqueur. Afterwards we wandered around in the gardens with more nice landscape and river views. Part of the garden was blocked off because of some 250-year-old linden trees with loose branches.

In town we stopped at the bakery for some “brunn” aka rorki z kremem. I went in there hungry and I came out with an assortment of cookies in addition to the pastry rolls with cream. A chocolate one with raspberry preserves, the same cookie but not chocolate and with apricot preserves and a macaroon with hazelnut nougat.

We got a bit lost trying to get to the marina to buy tickets for the boat ride to Durnstein. We ended up cutting through a gas station parking lot but eventually we found it. We got tickets for the 1pm cruise up the Danube river. Turns out the earlier one had to be cancelled due to mechanical failures. We wondered what we would have done if we couldn’t travel by boat up the river- backtrack to Vienna and catch a train?

We sat on the riverbank devouring the cookies. We were almost an hour early. Because we boarded early, we were able to get seats at a table on the open-air top deck. Our table was shared with two other benches. The boat had wifi and table service. This was my kind of travel. Icing on the cake: they were serving sturm. This one fell in the middle percentile, not as strong as the market one but stronger than the square one. I just remember sitting there, eating crackers and listening to Stuff You Should Know about dark matter and Science Friday while enjoying the beautiful views. The time flew by, it was very relaxing. We had beautiful views of the hills and small towns set along the river and vineyards set into hillsides. We saw ruined castles and churches set high atop the hills.

We got to Durnstein and Google Maps said our hotel was 3 minutes away. What it failed to mention was that it was actually at the top of a giant hill, where the whole town was actually. And that yet again I would have to climb more stairs than I cared to. Again, we found ourselves weaving among tourists and dodging cyclists.

Our hotel was confusing. To enter we had to push a button so someone would open a gate. Except when we pushed the button nothing happened. Apparently, Brent hadn’t pushed it for long enough. Even though there was a sign saying to hold it for only a short moment. Someone else came by and pushed the button for a long time and the gate opened, making us look like idiots. The hotel room had very high ceilings and a plate of fresh fruit but no bidet this time.

We had a dinner reservation at 7:30pm at the hotel. This left us with around 4 hours of time to kill. We walked around the town which took all of 20 minutes, maybe less. It is less of a town, more of a single street with a few shops and restaurants. We had barely eaten all day so we were also on the lookout for an easy lunch. I couldn’t help but stop and try some apricot liqueur, apparently the region is renowned for it. The shot glass had an apricot half in it and it had soaked up even more alcohol. Not the best idea on an empty stomach. There were signs for sturm everywhere and it was so tempting but I needed food if I was going to make it. We tried to go into one restaurant but all of the tables were marked as reserved. The second place we tried to go to was closing- it was 4pm. The third place we went to was behind the main building and down a small alley. It was set up like a beer garden with an outdoor patio. I immediately took a liking to it. The guy brought us our drinks and told us where the bathrooms were, stating that alcohol goes right through you. I also loved the way he said “shturrrm.” It made me want to order more. We ordered bratwurst and schnitzel and traded halfway. It really hit the spot and was the perfect lunch. The fries and potato wedges made for excellent sides. Brent also ordered a glass of Gruner Vertliner Federspiel, the local wine from just down the way.

After lunch we walked around some more, wondering if maybe down the side streets there were some shops? Nope just houses and vineyards. We met a really friendly cat that let me pet it, until a dog showed up and ruined all the fun. We found the route we would take to the castle grounds the next day. Back in our room I was crashing from the drinks. The fresh strawberries helped a bit. My case was not helped by the fact that it was super hot in the room. I found the remote for the AC but it was all for naught because only the remote turned on. The AC showed no indication at all. I resorted to opening the window but there was no screen. I ended up falling asleep. I started drooling which woke me up slightly. I rolled over and took two Advils but at that point I was awake. I took to half-asleep internet-window-shopping. We were having dinner at the hotel restaurant but I still got all gussied up, sometimes it feels nice. I drew the line at putting on makeup and earrings though.

We did not realize that asking for still water was not the same as tap water. It meant paying €6 for a bottle of water. You better believe I finished it. The amuse bouche was confusing. It was salty and chewy and minty and apricoty and it had cream. We were not fans of it. You could say, we were not amus-ed. We split a local char and scallop appetizer. It was underwhelming, the best part was the pumpkin sauce, followed by the quinoa. The char and scallop were both too salty. For my main I had the venison with chanterelle ragout. I thought ragout would be noodles, nope it was some weird bread thing on the side that I did not like. The dish was ok but it was a bit too salty overall. Brent had the goulash, it was better than my dish but it had a bit too much paprika. The spaetzle as the best part of both mains. They were little noodles you scooped up with the goulash. Needless to say, we did not have dessert after that underwhelming meal.

After dinner we walked out onto the terrace but it was so dark, we couldn’t see anything. We walked through the town again except now it was a ghost town. all of the tourists were gone and everyone had closed up shop. The odds of our finding a bar for a nightcap were nil. The only other people we passed by were a family who had left the restaurant at the same time as us. All the lights were out and there was no sign of anyone anywhere, not even the friendly cat from earlier. We went back to the overlook near the hotel parking lot to stargaze. We saw one of the dippers and we could see the faint band of the Milky Way galaxy directly overhead- but it hurt my neck to crane my head back like that. Part of the castle ruins were also lit up.

As I was grabbing my stuff to go have a shower, I noticed the lemonade shandy Zipfer I had gotten earlier. It was 75% lemonade and only 25% beer so I thought it would be an ok shower drink. Then I noticed it was a twist-off. The label said “alcohol frei.” I had been duped, it was jus tin there with all of the regular stuff and the label barely differed. On the plus side I didn’t have to worry about it making my head hurt. The only downside to shower drinking is that the label comes off (leaving glue on your hands), and shower water can get into your drink. It also risks warming up. I snuggled up in bed under the covers to read my book- except it was a bit too warm so I had to stick my feet out.

 
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Posted by on November 19, 2018 in Travel

 
 
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