Truly nothing can be said that could possibly explain the feeling of walking through the gates of a place like Dachau. There is a certain weight in the air, and a distinct feeling that this place is important. Important for humanity to remember what we did in this place, and important to help us stop this from ever happening again. Many more photos at thisvagabondlens
We arrived in Munich on a very rainy, dreary day. We immediately set out for the famous Hofbrauhaus, known for it’s touristy interpretation of a traditional Bavarian beer hall, and we were not disappointed. Walking through the pouring darkness, across the city from our hotel, we wandered through twisting alleyways and regal courtyards to arrive at our destination. Entering the Hofbrauhaus out of the tumultuous downpour, we were greeted by warmth, the scent of fresh bread, hot wurst and sauerkraut. Long tables seated hundreds of people, a band played traditional Bavarian music, and the place bustled with activity. We managed to find a seat at a table with a group of Australians midway through a bicycle tour of Europe, and enjoyed a feast of grobewurst and roasted potatoes, amidst swapping stories of our travels with our newfound friends.
Unfortunately, the rainy weather did not abate during our time in Munich, and we took far fewer photos here than any other city, until our journey continued in Dachau. However, we did manage to grab a few shots of some of the sights of Munich between bursts of rainfall. Munich is a beautiful city, replete with fine architecture, culture, and a history unique amongst European cities.
Sara wrote a bit about how we ended up in Switzerland for a few days, so I won't re-tell that tale, but end up there we did. We rode a train from Zurich to Interlaken, crossing the lake in the midst of a storm. I managed to grab a few shots from the window of the train, completely mesmerized by the beauty of the lake framed by mountains and clouds. Upon our arrival in Interlaken however, the clouds began to clear, just enough for us to catch a few sunny glimpses of the alps on the tram-ride to Grindelwald. Grindelwald is a tiny, picturesque town high in the alps, home to goats, hotels and wealthy Japanese tourists during the summer. We stayed at a small lodge facing the mountains, the view from our window was nothing short of magnificent. We spent a few days in Grindelwald, hiking, climbing and enjoying our time away from the incredible heat wave enveloping the rest of Europe. There is little else to say about our stay in the mountains, so I will let the photos speak for themselves.
I will also be posting a few more photos over at thisvagabondlens.
An un-intentional self-portrait in the window of the train.
Towards the end of one hike, we were joined by a cat, who followed us back to the trail-head.
Full disclosure: I have to actively suppress my instinct to be impulsive.
Tyler has extended an immense amount of patience and grace over the years. I could not have been more thankful for all the “practice” he's had when my methodical, calculated, but sleep deprived, hunger & heat induced, bubble burst in Prague. I panicked! I reserved an overnight train ticked for us…to Switzerland.
A little back story…
In 2005, I went here:
Gimmelwald, Switzerland. It was the most incredible place I had ever been. The kind of place that makes your heart want to burst from the amount of beauty that surrounds you.
This was the view from our hostel room window:
In 2009, Tyler & I travelled to Europe together (his first time). I could not wait for him to see all the historic sites and cities. Rome, the Vatican, the Colosseum, Florence, Venice…
But even more than that, I could not wait to introduce him to my beloved Swiss Alps. Unfortunately, we only made it as far as Zurich on that trip. It was mid-May, and there was still several feet of snow in the smaller towns I wanted to visit. We really didn't have the time or the gear, so I abandoned my hopes of taking him to the Alps.
Don't get me wrong, Zurich is not just the best place to buy a $30 fast food burger…it's a beautiful city, and Tyler was enthralled with several of the historic elements in Zurich.
But I felt we were missing out on the “real” Switzerland. I quickly got over it. I knew that it wasn't the best time of year for us to visit the “real” Switzerland anyway.
Fast forward to 2013:
We were in Vienna, relaxing on a hill in a beautiful park. A perfect summer afternoon. It's summer, it was hot. Not a single place was air conditioned. That's fine, that's Europe. I'm always cold anyway, so I didn't mind the heat too much.
“Where to next?”, we asked ourselves. “Prague!” It's north of here. It will be less hot. It's a city with an incredibly rich history, breathtaking architecture, and a unique culture.
My excitement quickly waned during a 4+ hour train ride when the air conditioning broke, I realized our windows were unable to be opened, and I suddenly became overwhelmed. I felt trapped, like I was suffocating. I wanted cool air and wide open spaces. I panicked when I realized we would be spending our entire trip in noisy, congested, concrete infested, cities. I felt as though I would melt into my seat.
Then I remembered Switzerland…
We weren't really that far away, but we had not planned to go that far west. We were supposed to go to Croatia, but Croatia is hot too, and Tyler dislikes beaches.
“When we arrive in Prague, let me just ask what the train reservation to Switzerland will cost”, I said. We already had our Eurail pass, so it was just a matter if reserving an overnight train. Before the attendant at the rail office could utter the price, I said…”I'll take it!”, and forked over my debit card.
It was probably the rush of adrenaline. There was no stopping me. I knew I had done the right thing. Now it was set in stone. Tyler would see the beauty of the Swiss Alps.
…Wait…had I done the right thing??
Apparently you can't “last minute” it in small Swiss towns. The place I wanted to stay was already booked. My back-up was booked. We were going to relive our infamous “almost, but not quite there” trip to Zurich and eat $30 fast food burgers. My heart sank.
We spent an amazing evening touring Prague. Tyler loved the city, just like I knew he would. But we couldn't book another night. We had a train to catch, but no where to stay when we arrived. I spent a sleepless night agonizing over what I had done. Should we forfeit the train, eat the cost, stay in Prague, go to Croatia?
We made the train. Decided to go. Tyler has a gift of finding great hotels when we travel. I relinquished this task to him. I apologized for what I had done, and asked that we just not end up in Switzerland homeless. I gave him the name of…not the place I wanted to stay…not the backup place…but the backup town. If we couldn't stay in Gimmelwald, we would try for the bigger resort town in the next valley: Grindelwald.
…to say that I found reparations for my transgressions would be a gross understatement.
We loved Grindelwald more than I could have ever imagined.
Moral of this story? Take a chance. Live a little. Explore the unknown with people you love. Don't feel guilty for doing something exciting, even if you're unsure of the outcome. We're conditioned to question our instinct and go against our gut feeling. The only thing I would have done differently was to delay our trip to Switzerland by one day, to have more time to tour Prague. Our safety was never in danger, what's the worst that could happen? We end up in Switzerland at an overpriced hotel while we contemplate our next move?
But that's not what happened at all, we ended up in our “real” Switzerland. We booked 2 nights in a room with a breathtaking view of the most famous mountains in Europe.
When we arrived, I made one more impulsive move. I reserved an extra night.
Prague. An intimate city which inhabits the dreams of romantics, inspires historians and plagues tourists with other tourists. Praha is one of the few large cities in Europe not completely ravaged by bombings (until an Allied accident in 1945, dropping hundreds of bombs on Prague by mistake, destroying many buildings and historic sites), and as a result, is one of the more ancient “feeling” cities in Europe, complete with castles, famous bridges, and gothic churches planted throughout the city in confused little rows like a child's vegetable garden.
Prague is a stunningly beautiful city, filled with magnificent buildings and impressive views of the city from the top of the hilly site of Prague Castle, an historic area that has been the home of kings, emperors and presidents throughout its nearly 1200 year history. The castle has the distinction of being the largest ancient castle in the world and is located near the Vlatava River, running through central Prague, and can be accessed by crossing the historic Charles Bridge from the “Old Town” area of the city.
Though once again marred by stunningly hot weather, our visit to Prague remains one of our best experiences in travel, with brilliant sights, vibrant culture, and a unique culture second to no place on earth.
The famous “Dancing House” by Vlado Milunić
One of the many ancient churches dotting the landscape.
The view over the river, towards Prague Castle.
A typical building in Prague. Every facade seems to have a bit of elegance attached, each adding a little to Prague's already romantic landscape.
Sunset on the River.
A guard tower on the Charles bridge, housing likenesses of saints and kings.
A crow perches atop the peak of the weathered statue of an ancient leader.
Sunset washes over the stunning facade of St. Vitus Cathedral.
HLF exploring the castle grounds around St. Vitus.
A smaller chapel under renovation inside the castle walls.
The Charles Bridge and Prague Castle at dusk.
Prague at night, just as elegant as the day.
Though never seeming exceptionally crowded, especially for being the 14th largest city in the EU, Prague is nonetheless a bustling metropolis during the workday.
Despite the heat during the afternoon, Prague was a refereshing city to explore. Easy to navigate, plenty to see, and a very real sense of the history present on every street.
For a few more photos, head over to thisvagabondlens
We spent a few pleasant days in Vienna, pleasant in spite of the incredible heat and humidity hovering over the city like a fat man on a too-small chair. The city itself is beautiful, clean and blinding in the afternoon sun, warm and hazy as that sun descends. The haze is largely a result of the incessant smoking by every living being in the city. Vienna is renowned as a place where smoking is a hobby embraced by the entire populace; walking the streets of Vienna can be likened to watching a noire film from the 1960's, where a thick fog of smoke obscures everything the camera pans across, singlehandedly creating the “noire” portion of those films.
In spite of the chimneys casually strolling the city, Vienna is a lovely place. It is cancer-ward clean, with waste bins on literally every street corner, beckoning for empty bottles and cigarette butts. There are city employees whose sole purpose for existence is patrolling the streets, policing the smoking denizens and shouting aggressively at every smoker to use the aforementioned waste bins rather than simply tossing the smoldering, soggy remains of their horrid habit into a convenient corner or gutter.
Through the haze however, we managed to find some delightful places in the city, which is littered with cafés, parks and monuments to the dynastic greatness of the Habsburg family (see thisvagabondlens.com for more). We ate dinner at Amerling Beisl on our first night, and returned during the next couple of days to sit in the shady alley and escape the heat for a few moments. Perhaps our favorite place in the city was a small park, where we spent an entire evening laying in the grass and watching the passersby as we listened to a fountain splash in the background.
Vienna is a city filled with beauty, elegance and charm, and in spite of the unusual heat during our visit, was a city that instantly felt like home.
Our lovely little park.
Entrance to the Habsburg Palace.
Everyday table set for the Habsburg family.
This one even comes with a handy carrying case for carrying a pot-roast the the potluck at your friend's house. Pretty sure that thing is actually just a golden crock-pot.
The HLF lounging in the clover.
I know nothing about this place, I just like the way it looks.
A typical street in modern Wien.
Amerling Beisl, our quiet little oasis.
The bell tower atop one of Vienna's many churches.
My HLF in her natural habitat.
If you've ever listened to the comedian Brian Regan, then you've probably heard the piece about what vacations were like for him as a kid. He goes through a funny bit about growing up in a large family & having a station wagon with two of those tiny seats in the back that face the opposite direction from all the other seats. He says, “the two kids in the back had a totally different vacation than everyone else”. (You can look it up on YouTube) Anyway, my point being, a lot of times I feel like the kid in the rear facing seat during vacation, especially when it comes to photography and blogging. Here's why: In order to get those beautiful, intriguing, and sometimes breathtaking photos…I spend a lot of my vacation doing this:
Standing around while Tyler contorts himself into weird positions in order to “get the shot”. Usually, I just hope there's shade near by.
This is one way in which Tyler & I complement each other perfectly. I'm fast, impulsive, and fly by the seat of my pants (I got really hot & tired, and impulsively bought an overnight train ticket to Zurich…more on that later) and he's calculated, meticulous, and thorough. If it weren't for him, my vacations would never be so well documented; and although I sometimes become impatient, I remind myself that I'll be so glad to have more than just memories. (And if it weren't for me, he probably wouldn't have had anyone dragging him all over Europe…twice!) So we're pretty much PB & J, and I couldn't be more thankful.
-S.S. (Reminder: disregard typos & such, as these post are from iPhones & iPads)
We spent most of our time in Budapest wandering the streets, staring at places we would love to live, and straying down alleyways we probably shouldn't have. In all of our travels, we have realized that this is what we do: we gaze at the unattainable and explore the wilds of a city until we happen upon a hidden gem, where we will return as often as possible during our stay. Such a place is Szimpla, a “ruin bar” in a forgotten alleyway in the midst of the Jewish Quarter on the Pest side of Budapest. Ruin bars are reclaimed sections of ancient, often bombed-out buildings being converted into small bars and restaurants, a trend unique to Budapest.
Walking into a seemingly innocuous alleyway, you may find yourself entering a secret world, where dingy doorways open to the airy, cavernous interior of a unique local establishment catering to the young and hip, the family with children, and the elderly chess players and pipe smokers who gather at the city parks in the morning, and then filter to the ruin bars to escape the heat of the afternoon sun. Gems like Szimpla are the things which sear the memory of a specific city into my mind, places where the experience is so unique and invigorating that I will forever be transported back to the moment I first entered the establishment, each time I glance at a photo or hear people speak of Budapest.
The specialty of Szimpla: giant carrots, with the skins shaved away, revealing the most succulent carrot I have ever experienced. Yes, I said succulent when referring to a carrot. No other word will suffice to explain these carrots, they were indeed succulent!
My HLF sums up our experience nicely, with this photo and a few words:
“Big city charm with small-town ease. Delicious food, friendly people, rich history and beautiful weather. Our trip could not have come to a better start than Budapest.” – S.S.
The first leg of the adventure has begun! We departed Little Rock Arkansas this afternoon, and are currently enjoying a brief layover in Detroit before boarding an all-night flight to Amsterdam. I am excited to have hours to finally sit and read some things that I have been meaning to read for a very long time (I'm sure you know how that goes), and Sara is excited to let the white-noise of the plane engines whisk her away to Sleepytown. We will post again whenever we can, but in the meantime, enjoy a few photos from the journey so far.