Amsterdam and Brussels

Our stops in Amsterdam and Brussels were only a couple days long, but both cities were enjoyable and easily walkable. Amsterdam is also bike-able if you are willing to brave the other crazy cyclists…lots of them. In Amsterdam we stayed at the Movenpick near the city center, which was an easy walk to the main train station. The hotel also offered a free shuttle to the center of town and also had a tram stop across the street which made getting around super easy.

We spent three nights in Amsterdam, which was plenty of time to stroll the canals, visit a piece of history, and also explore the unique yet controversial night life.

The daytime strolls along the canals were quite enjoyable and picturesque. This is a place we would love to come back to in the winter months when people ice skate on the frozen canals.

We spent one morning visiting the Anne Frank house, which was really interesting to see. We walked through the hidden apartment that the Frank family took refuge in for two years during WWII. The line to get in was long, and unfortunately we hadn't bought our tickets online ahead of time, so we patiently waited and had a nice conversation with a cute American elderly couple that were next to us in line. Out of respect, no photos were allowed inside, so I only got one photo of the monument that sits outside in a nearby park.

At night, the city transforms from quiet canals to something rather different. The smell of pot wafts out of the coffee shops, the red light windows light up, and a completely different crowd seems to emerge as the sun goes down. One of the wonderful things of Amsterdam that highlights the night are all of the little food carts and shops that are open for late night munching.

The train ride from Amsterdam to Brussels was short and easy, and the walk to our hotel was only ten minutes and a straight shot from the train station.

Brussels is known for their fries, waffles, chocolate, and Belgian beer. We lucked out with the last of these items because unbeknownst to us, the Brussels beer festival was just starting when we arrived. Although a little crowded, the streets were lively and entertaining to walk through.

We did a three hour walking tour of the city which was a great way to see the main sights and also counter act the damage to our waistlines we would be doing with the food items discussed above. On the tour we got to see the famous Mannequin Pis, some beautiful architecture, and learn about Belgian beer and cuisine.

We also had an interesting experience in the breakfast room at our hotel. As we were serving ourselves at the breakfast buffet, an older woman tripped and fell directly into a small Asian lady taking them both down in the middle of the breakfast room. They both hit pretty hard and were knocked out cold. They were immediately swarmed with other guests checking to see if they were ok. Fortunately after about half an hour of shenanigans, the older woman walked away with a very large bump on her forehead and the Asian lady with a make shift ice pack on her head. Somehow in all of the chaos we also lost our table to an old man wearing a safari like vest that just strolled right into the restaurant past the hostess and made himself comfortable at our table while we were getting our breakfast. He also refused to move when asked, so we ended up having to move all of our stuff and eat on the other side of the restaurant.

These two cities were both a fun and relaxing way to prepare ourselves for our next bucket list destination…Russia!


Berlin: Beyond the Wall

The train ride from Krakow to Berlin was long, cramped, and extremely too warm, so you can imagine how relieved we were to get to Berlin. The Wombats hostel we stayed in was in a great location, not to mention our private double room was actually really comfortable. The area was a fun neighborhood with a young, hipster-ish vibe with lots of quirky little shops and a wide range of restaurants.

We packed a lot of activities into the time we were in Berlin, and we had a fabulous time. Berlin is a city that is so packed full of history, and endless things to see and do.

We opted to do a free walking tour that is offered by a company called Sandemans (they are offered in most large European cities and have all been great). The tour covered some of the key historical sites in the center of the city starting at Brandenburg Gate. We walked by Checkpoint Charlie, a segment of the Berlin Wall, the Jewish memorial, and we also saw where the book burnings took place during the Nazi influence at Humboldt University.

Aside from the tour, we walked through The Topography of Terror museum and also the Wall on Wall exhibit at another section of the Berlin Wall that has murals on one side and images of walls that still exist around the world on the other side

We spent one morning strolling through a huge flea market. We had a great time looking at all of the interesting things and eating at some of the booths. We also came to the conclusion that it doesn't matter where you are in the world, people collect a lot of junk!

One evening we walked down to the Sony center, and stumbled upon a red carpet premiere of the movie “White House Down,” and yes both Channing Tatum and Jamie Fox were there to promote their new film. We didn't get to meet the celebrities, but it was still kind of fun to see nonetheless.

We enjoyed trying the Berlin favorite, curry wurst. We also enjoyed the impressive chocolate displays and a delicious treat at Fasbenser & Rausch chocolate shop.

Our last night in Berlin we discovered a delicious little Korean restaurant just a couple blocks from the hostel and enjoyed a spicy dinner.


The City of Music, the City of Bridges, and the Eastern European Gem

From Munich we hopped on the train headed into Austria. We decided to stay a couple days in the city of music, Wien (Vienna). Vienna was beautiful in it's own way, however still crowded with tourists. We spent an afternoon walking the streets of the city center taking in all of the talented buskers playing classical music and singing opera. We also took the opportunity to enjoy the quintessential Viennese schnitzel.

Our second day in Vienna we visited the Schonbrunn palace gardens, not quite as elaborate of those in Versailles, but nonetheless a beautiful place to spend an afternoon. We also visited the zoo that is on the palace grounds. The only downfall was we did get rained on, but not too bad.

Later that evening we took in a classical symphony/opera that mostly played music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The Musik Verein concert hall was beautiful.

The next morning we were up bright and early and headed on our way to Praha (Prague).

We arrived in Prague at a decent hour and checked into the Hilton. We spent the next couple of days wandering the charming streets of the old world city, with its elaborate bridges (specifically Charles Bridge) and interesting blend of European culture.

We spent an afternoon at the Prague Castle and walked the Golden Lane.

We definitely did our fare share of walking, lots and lots of walking. We even walked for over forty minutes opposite the city center to get a glorious apple strudel from a hole in the wall shop that we watched on a Samantha brown episode…and it was totally worth it.

From Prague we took the train into Poland. On our way to Krakow we had to change trains in a town called Katowice. We got off the train and nobody spoke english and insisted that we needed to get onto a very shady bus. Thankfully we figured out our way and got on the right train, although it wasn't in any better condition than the bus.

Since we are both big WWII history buffs, we had planned on passing through most of Poland and making our main stop in Krakow, where we would do a guided day tour of Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps. However, when we arrived in Krakow, we realized that the small city was super charming, lively, and really a little European gem!

As expected, our day trip out to the camps was a sobering experience. Having a tour guide made for a much more informative and personal experience. Our guide was an English speaking young Polish woman, who gave a lot of insight from a Polish perspective.

We had the rest of the evening to spend wandering around the small Eastern European city. The streets were lively with food vendors and sidewalk cafes. We took the opportunity to feast on one of my all time favorite dishes…pierogis! We had to leave Poland early the next morning to catch a train to Berlin, but Krakow is definitely a place we would recommend stopping if you are ever in the area.


Beer, Brats, and the Bavarian Scowl!

Our first stop in Germany was the quintessential Bavarian city of Munich. The city is lively with tourists and locals alike enjoying the traditional Bavarian fare and soaking up the summer sun in the many bier gartens that are sprinkled throughout.

We spent a total of five days in the not too large city, which we probably would have been better off only spending three days. Our first day was a rainy one, so we used it as an opportunity to take in some of the museums which were surprisingly much less crowded than all of the other cities we'd been to thus far. We walked the corridors of the Residenz (palace) which was partially ornate and mostly bland due to the majority of the reconstruction that took place after WWII. We also walked through the Munich City Museum.

We spent an entire afternoon walking around the beautiful English Garden/park that is in the middle of Munich. We ate a couple of our meals at the Viktualienmarkt, a great outdoor market that was a block off of Marienplatz. We had fresh baked pretzels one day and bratwurst on a bun another day. Delicious!

We visited the Hofbrauhaus a couple times to test out the retention of our drinking capacity that had been built up during our college years. Unfortunately, we found that the lack of practice left our bladders in a state that wouldn't allow it. One night at the Hofbrauhaus we were joined by a guy we met that was from Northern Germany and a girl from Canada who was also traveling around for a couple months. It made for some interesting conversations, and our butchered German speaking was kindly corrected by our new friend.

We also tried out the Augustiner, which is another famous brauhaus. The food there was pretty tasty and served by an older, stout woman in full lederhosen with the typical Bavarian scowl on her face, who actually turned out to be really sweet. We found that majority of the locals in Munich wear the scowl on their faces and look a little mean, but were usually really nice once we talked with them.

One thing that is for sure, the city of Munich and the surrounding areas are steeped in history. Unfortunately, most of the history is dark and at times eerie.

I found it a little hard not to think of some of the dark history while trying to enjoy the sights in Munich, especially after seeing some of the images at the museums of Hitler giving speeches in the Hofbrauhaus and images of SS troops gathered in formations on Marienplatz with Nazi banners hanging from the Glockenspiel behind them.

We spent one day paying our respects to those who were the unfortunate victims of the dark times in Germany. We took the train out to Dachau and visited the site of the concentration camp that once existed. Now there is an extensive museum in one of the old buildings that was part of the old camp, remnants of the barracks that the victims were housed in, the crematorium and gas chambers that are still standing, and the beautiful memorials that were erected after the war to honor those that were not spared. A heavy day, but important to remember nonetheless.

On a lighter note, we spent our last day by taking a little day trip to visit the Neuschwanstein Castle. the weather was beautiful and perfect for the hike required to get up to the castle. The views were amazing. It was a great way to end our time in Munich.

Overall, our time in Munich was a little longer than planned, but we left a little fuller figured than we arrived and learned a lot about the city.