April 5th, 2:00 PM – the adventure begins. We leave Fredericton in a frigging snowstorm, and hit the TransCanada to Woodstock behind a plow in each lane. We pass about 15 cars in the ditch, and people are lane hopping despite all of us being stuck behind these plows. No issues at the border and we’re off to Maine – the way life should be. We stop at the Big Stop in Houlton for some supper and then continue on to Bangor.
Bangor TravelLodge – AVOID IT AT ALL POSSIBLE COSTS!!! What a shithole! Thankfully we were only there for one night. We make a quick trip to Old Navy, and call it an early night. Dunkin Donuts breakfast, some very brief shopping, Applebee’s for lunch (yum), back to the shithole, leave the car, and cab to the airport. We have about 2 hours to wait for our flight – and for the record, there’s nothing to do at the Bangor Airport. We get a drink and watch some planes – very exciting I know.
Quick and uneventful trip to Philadelphia. Bags are checked clear to Munich, so we just have to catch the bus to the other terminal and wait some more. We have pizza at the airport for supper, and then sit in a bar near our terminal for a couple of hours drinking beer, watching some golf, laughing at the weirdos in the bar with us (a couple of army guys, some nerd from Philly flying to Boston, and a guy going home to England for the weekend). Waitress rants continually about how slow it is but takes forever to refill any of our drinks. Pee break before the plane, onto the plane like cattle, sit and wait for the attendants to sort out stupid shit like people who didn’t get seats near people they wanted to sit near, and finally we take off. My intention was to sleep through this entire flight, but no luck. I think I may have slept an hour. Finally dozed off and the stewardess knocks me on the arm to see if I want some orange juice. Didn’t bother to watch the movie, but Greg watched some tv after discovering he couldn’t sleep either.
April 7th – Touch down in Munich, 10:30 am their time, 4:30 am our time and we’re wrecked. Luggage made it with no problems. Customs takes .5 of a second – I think they asked Greg one question and he didn’t say a word to me. Walk through one door and we’re into the shops of the terminal. Figured out where the hell we had to meet the bus (at 1:30), meet George and Linelle from North Carolina who are also on our tour, track down some food and when we come back up the bus is there. We meet Otmar, our tour director, and Helmut the bus driver, wait until 1:00 in case anyone else is coming, and then off to the hotel. It’s about 45 minutes to our hotel in Munich – Hotel Inn Sud. Otmar does a little chatting over the microphone en route, pointing out the Olympic Park where members of the Israeli Olympic team were murdered in 1972. It’s a neat set of buildings – but I was never able to get a decent picture from the bus. Otmar also pointed out the soccer stadium that was built last year – it’s huge, and giant BMW and Mercedes Benz buildings/showcases. The Mercedes Benz building is cool – they have all the cars displayed in windows in a several story high building. Also couldn’t get a picture of that from the bus.
We check into the hotel with about 90 minutes before the tour is set to start. No time for sleeping, so showers it is. We meet the bus at 3:30 to start our tour. Helmut drives us through the streets of Munich, and Otmar points out a few sights along the way. The highlight was the GIANT park where they have Oktoberfest – it’s empty most of the year, just concrete and grass – but it’s gynormous!!
Destination – Opera House near Residenz. Otmar gives us about a 45 minutes walk about some sights, and then we have a couple of hours to wander around for ourselves. Greg and I quickly discovered that we like the part where we separate from the group best – it’s no fun walking in a big group where most people are slow 😛 We see the Neues Rathaus (New Town Hall), Altes Rathaus (Old Town Hall), St. Peter’s Church, a Starbucks (mmm coffee – I only had two Starbucks the whole trip, for the record), the Italian Mile with the Theatinerkirche and Feldherrnhalle, and the Residenz Museum (huge former palace with lots of courtyards). Too tired to take much for pictures, but I make an effort.
Group meet and greet dinner at the hotel at 7:00 – one tour mate was in the hospital at this point (and would end up going home without most of us ever having met him), and two others haven’t arrived from the airport yet. Dinner was fine – had some German beer (something made in Regensburg, but I’m not sure what) – meat and veggies, tomato soup that actually didn’t suck, and chocolate mousse. Everyone on the entire tour was wrecked, and everyone turned in early.
April 8th, 7:30am – Depart for the Czech Republic. Was nice to get some sleep, but we had trouble with the time zones and from going to bed too early…so we were up at like 12:30 for a couple of hours, and the tv channels in English are very limited (EuroSport, CNN, BBC, CNBC, and parts of MTV). They pick up our luggage in the morning, so it has to be out in the hallway waiting an hour before we leave…so we learned to pick out everything we need at night and pack the suitcases then – anything left went in the carry on that stayed on the bus. That ended up being a good system 🙂
Along the highway heading towards the Czech Republic, we passed a ton of small towns with all the houses built around a church, and fields upon fields of hops. I’ve never seen hops growing before, so that was kind of interesting. We stop for lunch in Plzen – it was this restaurant/giant beer hall place called Na Spilce, which is part of the Pilsner Urquell brewery. Today’s lesson – the Czechs are pretty high up on the list of countries who can make beer. Who knew? Had meat and sauerkraut for lunch, with soup and a gross desert that had prunes and dates or something on it. Thank god for the soup 🙂 Had some time to wander around, so we checked out a few of the brewery buildings, bought a few mugs etc to bring home, and went to BeerWorld. Back on the bus for a short trip the Prague.
In Prague, we stayed at the Crowne Plaza – nice place. We had a nice view from our room. We had some time to wander in the afternoon, so we hit a fruit stand and wandered off to take some pictures. Around supper, we were back on the rainbow bus for the start of our Praque tour. Our regional tour guide was Peter and he was FANTASTIC. He had quite a dry and sarcastic sense of humour, which of course I adored. First stop was a trip to the Castle District to take some pictures of Prague from up above. Then, onto Restaurant Michal for some local cuisine and entertainment. Asparagus wrapped in ham, soup, and meat and sauce, and crepes and berry sauce for desert. Not too shabby. There was a band playing and singing most of the time in their fairly silly local costumes. One of them had a fine mullet on the grow, which was of course a highlight. The girly got Greg up dancing, and I politely declined when approached by the silly little man in too tight pants. All you can drink beer – mmmm Czech beer. Can’t beat that.
After dinner, Peter took us down through the streets of Prague around the Old Town Square. Prague is a beautiful and clean city. The Charles Bridge is so beautiful with all the statues and views – I could have stayed there all day. Saw lots of other great stuff, and did some browsing at an Easter market in Old Town Square. I haven’t gotten around to looking up the names of all of the buildings etc. that we saw.
Second day in Prague, we spent the morning at Prague castle, exploring some of the buildings and courtyards. St. Vitus Cathedral is something else. I’m not a religious person as everyone knows, but churches are interesting. Of course, all of that money could have gone to much better causes and you could worship in a barn or something, but whatever. Peter told us about how St. Vitus Cathedral still isn’t finished, and how the Czech people hope to have it finished by 200 years after the death of King Wenceslas (a few years from now). He also told us about how there are advertisements in some of the stained glass windows for banks that don’t exist anymore that were put in ages ago – the banks paid money to advertise in the windows. Wicked gargoyles (which I love) on that building.
Back down to the Old Town Square area after the castle district. We check out the Astronomical Clock (huge crowd for that, even though it’s pretty silly – but I guess it would have been more clever when it was made), and then we wander off. We find a nice shop selling wares by Czech artists and put that on the list of places to come back to. We check out some more of the Easter Market, have some exploding diet coke and sausage, and heading towards the Vltava River for our lunch cruise. Great lunch, more delicious Czech beer, beautiful weather and beautiful view of the city.
Some shopping for touristy items for friends, we chat with a local artist and buy some of his work, I get a pottery mug for my collection, more pictures and wandering around, and then back to the hotel to call it a night.
April 10th- Breakfast in the Czech Republic, lunch in Slovakia, and supper in Hungary – gotta love it!! We spend a few hours in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. Had a delicious lunch and some more fine Czech beer (the real Budweiser comes from a town in the Czech Republic called Budvar – Budweiser is the German name – and I think there’s some legal issues going on between the company that bottles that piss called Bud and the town of Budvar that has been making beer for longer than America has existed). The restaurants have pets who are happy to eat scraps that fall on the ground. We check out town square and wonder around through some shops and stuff. There’s all these neat brass status all around the town (I have pics of a sewer cleaner and a man sitting on a bench). Beautiful opera house with a nice fountain – another very clean city. We walk along the river a bit, and back on the bus heading towards Budapest.
We get to Budapest mid afternoon and we head straight to Gellert Hill to take in some wonderful views of Budapest from above. The Danube with all the bridges is striking, and I’ve never seen anything like Hungarian Parliament. Off to check into the hotel – Novotel Congress – the ugliest of all the hotels we stayed in while we were away, but not that horrible. Rest a bit, and off to our dinner cruise on the Danube. FANTASTIC!!
I can’t even begin to describe how Budapest looks at night, and my pictures don’t do it any kind of justice (especially taken from a moving boat at night with no tripod). Unreal how they light that place up. I love bridges, so these are perfect cities for me. Greg loves history and beer, so this was a good tour for him 🙂
We have a romantic dinner (just Greg and I at a table YAY!) – goulash, noodles, and wonderful desert. Buffet style – which I hate, but the food was good. Greg enjoyed a couple of bottles of Hungarian wine with Rose and Bridget while I took pictures. Since I was the only one that seemed to have any kind of idea about taking pictures at night on a moving boat without a tripod, I had many requests to send copies of my pictures after the trip 🙂 After several hours on the boat, we head back to the hotel, have some Hungarian beer at the hotel (it’s no Czech or German beer that’s for sure) and off to bed for an early start in the morning.
Day two in Budapest – we meet up with our local guide Andrea, and she takes us first to Heroes Square. Impressive monuments, but I’m glad that was only a quick stop. We went on this trip because I wanted to see the Czech Republic, and we opted for a tour group because the price was excellent, we don’t speak any of the languages of any of the countries we visited, and we had never been to Europe before. After the Czech Republic, seeing the Fisherman’s Bastion in Budapest was next on my list. It’s absolutely stunning – fairytale even. Travelling in Europe in April is great – it’s not all that crowded yet, and our weather couldn’t have been better (we came back tanned). Thankfully we got to spend a fair amount of time at the Fisherman’s Bastion, and enjoying it’s wonderful views of Budapest.
Hungary is very different from the Czech Republic despite it’s close proximity. The economy in the Czech Republic is much stronger, and so buildings there have been restored, etc etc. In Budapest, we passed numerous buildings that are still riddled with bullet holes. In the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary – there is spray paint everywhere. Granted, some of it is pretty fantastic – but you can definitely still see the effects of years of communism.
Anyhow, back to Budapest. After the Fisherman’s Bastion, we got to tour the inside of the Hungarian Parliament. WOW! Getting to jump the huge line of people waiting to get in was also a plus. I can’t even imagine what that building must have cost. Canada could learn a thing or two from these countries about how to make buildings!
Next stop, the town of St. Andrews, Hungary. We get there, have some lunch, and then have time to explore. We quickly discover that the main roads of this town are tourist traps, so we wander off. There’s a church on top of a hill, so we check that out and find a strange status of a blue winged man on the roof of one of the houses. We try some ice cream type stuff (mine was lemon and delicious), I pick up a few gifts for friends once we found some actual handmade in Hungary stuff, we drink several bottles of pop, juice whatever because it’s hotter than hell and we’re thirsty, and back to the bus.
After dinner we check out the shopping mall beside our hotel just to see how they compare with ours – pretty much the same.
April 12th – next destination, Vienna Austria. En route, we stop in the small town of Gyor, Hungary. I take my favorite picture of the entire trip – a small florist shop. We nearly get lost in the crazy twisty streets, and back to the bus.
We get into Vienna around lunch and Otmar and Helmut take us to see Belvedere Palace. Nice – the gardens were under construction, but still nice. Then we head to city center where they leave us there with a map. Right on! We break down and hit Rotten Ronnies for lunch, which was a cultural experience in itself. The Viennese do not take eating lightly and we wanted time to do other stuff. We watch a guy steal a burger and three McDonald’s employees chase him down. People come into the restaurant begging for money (dressed better than we were lol). They serve Indian food there. Weird! (The one we saw in the mall in Hungary served Mexican) We explore the Kartnerstrasse (pedestrian walking street lined with shops), and get bored quickly because it has the same bullshit as everywhere else. I think we saw a Benetton store in every city we went to! We head back the other way and find Hofsburg Palace (much more interesting), which was the winter residence of the Hapsburgs. WOW! It’s huge, and in pretty fantastic shape. Most of the buildings have been cleaned, and there’s lots to see. After several hours in the heat, we decide to head indoors for a bit and we check out the Albertina – it has a huge collection of drawings and paintings.
We meet the bus again and check into our hotel – the Hilton Danube. Swanky! There’s a beautiful walkway behind the hotel that takes you along the Danube. Tonight we had a wonderful dinner at the hotel and then went to see a classical music / ballet concert at Palais Auersperg. I don’t really care for classical music, but I like ballet well enough and it was pretty interesting. Beautiful concert hall.
Day two in Austria – we get an early start and our local guide Elke takes us to Schonnbrunn Palace where we get a tour an hour before the Palace opens to everyone else. These are the perks of travelling with a tour group. Holy frig what a nice place. There’s a room inside there that the wall coverings alone are worth more than 20 million dollars! The palace was bombed during the war, and one bomb fell through the roof in the main hall and left a sizable crater – so that part has been redone, but everything else is original, and every other bomb that came near it failed to detonate. Pretty amazing really. I wish I could get my mom to this place – she would adore it. But then potentially I would have to spring her from jail from her attempt at stealing stuff. So much like I did with the antiques sections at the met and everywhere else I have gone, I brought her back some postcards. We couldn’t take pictures inside the palace. We toured the gardens after the inside, and they are pretty impressive too. HUGE!
Next stop, back to the first district to explore some more of Hofsburg Palace, this time with some history involved (instead of Greg and I just exploring). Then, onto the Crypts of the Hapsburgs. This was absolutely fascinating, and I plan to do some reading up on the Hapsburgs when I find some spare time. There was a living descendant there putting flowers on a tomb when we were there. These tombs (or whatever they are called) – I’ve never seen anything like it. All of them were these highly decorated works of art. Definitely a highlight of Vienna. Some more free time to wonder around after this, so Greg and I get some lunch and then we take a tour of the Spanish Riding School – this is where they train the Lipizzaner horses. These horses live pretty good – they have the main floor to a palace all to themselves, and they do shows in what could be a grand ballroom with dirt on the floor. We didn’t get to see them perform, but we did get to see the stables, and their equipment and all that kind of stuff. Very interesting.
Back to the hotel for a shower and change, and then off to a dinner up in the Vienna Woods. This was one of our favorite activities of the whole trip. First we went way up into the hills to a look-out type location where there’s an old monastery. It was beautiful up there, and it was really interesting looking down on Vienna and the Danube from there. Then down into a smaller village where we went to the winery. The vintners hang bushes on their signs in front of their locations to show when they are open. This place was very nice (Schreiberhaus Heuriger). I didn’t love the food – snitzel, and more fucking sauerkraut (I have tried it in several countries now and I DESPISE IT) and wine (which I don’t drink). Thankfully, all meals come with bread galore…and there was also chicken. The desert was an apricot ice cream thing that was tasty though. There was a man playing accordion through a lot of our dinner – some traditional stuff and then foolish songs everyone would know. Since some people were starting to get drunk from the endless containers of wine, they were also starting to sing and dance. Very entertaining! Otmar did some fancy dancing and there were many jokes about him and lederhosen. Be afraid – very very afraid. Good times though. Otmar was pretty drunk by the time we left, and the ride back to the hotel was pretty friggin funny.
April 14th – bye bye Vienna, which I like a lot more than I thought I would (likely cause I didn’t know anything about it and was only focused on seeing the Czech Republic – hello Salzburg.
So, Salzburg… I don’t see what the frigging big deal about this place is. They say you could spend weeks there and I was ready to leave after 2 hours. Obviously there must be a lot more to it than what we saw, but who knows. I despise The Sound of Music, so perhaps the novelty of Salzburg is partly lost on me. It is a nice place though. Our local guide, whose name has completed escaped me, was nice (except for that pointing out sites from TSOM). There’s a restaurant there that dates back via written record to 803, which is kind of neat. There was a nifty air conditioned church we got to go in (we only went in one the whole time we were away). And there was a neat cemetery type dealy with caged in family plots and highly decorated stones. There was also a farmers’ market going on, which of course Greg and I had to check out. Whatever that strawberry desert we had was FANTASTIC!
We leave Vienna, travelling along edges of the Alps (breathtaking) along the Autobahn (the recommended speed limit is 130, but you can do whatever you want), and heading back towards Munich. This was most definitely the most beautiful drive of our entire trip.
Back in Munich, we checked back into the same hotel we stayed in the first night – Holiday Inn Sud. Dump our junk and head towards Marienplatz so we can go to the Hofbrauhaus for GIANT MUGS OF BEER! Now we’re talking. This is the pub of all pubs. It’s huge and serves like 10000 liters of beer a day or something ridiculous. I LOVE IT! The waiter carried 16 HUGE MUGS of beer to our tables at a time. These mugs are nearly as big as my friggin head. Great beer! They have lockers for your mugs so you can leave them there and use your own everything you come. And there was an oompah-pah band playing. We didn’t want to leave (but I did buy a big mug to bring home for Greg 🙂
Last stop of the trip, we had dinner (and more beer) at Donisl. Nice place, more accordion, good food. We had a nice time. Then back to the hotel to try and make all the stuff fit in the suitcase for our adventure in travelling home the next day.
April 15th – good bye new friends and wonderful 30 degree sunny weather. Back to Canada we go. We get to the airport at 8:00am, and our flight doesn’t go until like noon or something ridiculous. We have to wait for the US Airways desk to open, we have to go through seven separate different types of checks to leave the country. Finally on board, we have a 10 hour flight where we nearly starve but get to watch lots of movies. They played four of them – though I watched one and read through the rest. Much more comfortable than the flight on the way there. We arrive in Philadelphia in some shitty rainy weather that’s cold. Bags have made it this far and we sit and wait in the airport for about 6 hours (our flight having been delayed 2 hours because of weather). Cranky people are everywhere since they have been cancelling flights left and right all day. We catch our flight to Bangor finally, grab a taxi to the evil Travelodge, bang on the door/ring the bell/contemplate burning down the shithole to get my spare key back, and then it’s time to drive back to NB in snow at 1 am. We finally get home at 5am and after 30 hours of travel, we quite obviously pass out cold,
Overall, the trip was FANTASTIC and we’d definitely do it again. Likely we’d add a day on to each end of the trip in wherever our destination is so we don’t spend the first and last days wrecked, and likely we’d try and find a tour (if we were going somewhere non-English speaking) that catered to a slightly younger age bracket (though we had a great crew and group of ages on our tour). I’m sooooo pleased to have finally seen the Czech Republic and I’ll definitely try to get back to spend more time in that country. It was interesting seeing these countries nearly twenty years after the fall of the iron curtain. And I can’t wait to get back to Europe.
And for those of you who asked, the final tally on photos was 1527.