Saturday, August 16, 2014

We love London!  It has an energy we both appreciate and it is so easy to get around!  We started the day by heading down to Leicester Square to buy tickets for the theater.  We will be seeing “39 Steps” based on an Alfred Hitchcock film that has 4 actors play 130 characters.  It is obviously a comedy and has some very good reviews.  
We walked down to the banks of the Thames River to walk along its banks and enjoy some of the street performers.  It was VERY crowded since it was a Saturday, so we only stayed for a little while.  Still, the views from the bridge were amazing and we really enjoyed wandering around.
Of course by then we were pretty hungry so we hopped back on to the “tube” and went to an amazing Spanish tapas bar called La Tasca (we had eaten here on a previous trip, so we knew where to go).  Great food (and several excellent mojitos) rounded out our afternoon.  We are now putting up our feet (and drinking some alcoholic ginger beer) so we can enjoy a walk about town, a nice pub meal and the play tonight. 
Tomorrow our journey finishes.  We head back to Canada and our own bed.       

View of Thames River from Walking Bridge

Does this need a caption?

Friday, August 15, 2014

Today we decided to take a cruise around the Danube to see Vienna from a different angle (and give us a break from walking).  The water of the Danube Canal was surprisingly brown, not the blue promised in the famous waltz (Straus was from Vienna, so we had certain expectations).  It was a relaxing way to spend the afternoon, but there was not that much to see.  We went through a couple of locks, which were very exciting for a lot of the passengers but not so exciting when you are from the Lift Lock city of Peterborough.  We wouldn’t really recommend this part of the trip to anyone.  Afterwards we had a lovely lunch at a restaurant called “Kren Kren” (named after a type of beer) which we would definitely recommend to anyone!  Yum! 

After collecting our bags from the hotel we jumped on the subway, then onto the CAT (direct train to the airport).  What an efficient way to get around!  (Toronto could learn from this).  The airport in Vienna is HUGE.  We walked a long way to get to our gate, plus we had to pass through a police check station after we had already gone through airport security.  Luckily we have a tendency to go to the airport early so we had plenty of time to do everything we needed to. 

London, here we come!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Schonbrunn castle and the attached zoo was the goal today.  When you first arrive the size of the castle is striking.  The inner courtyard would cover a 2 block by 3 block area.  We will post a picture, but I doubt the scale of the whole thing can be imagined without seeing it.  We decided not to go inside the castle instead we wandered the grounds for awhile and enjoyed the amazing gardens. 

Within the castle grounds is one of the best zoos in Europe, so we decided to take a look.  It was really impressive too, a great set up for a zoo with various levels and a well thought out plan.  Below you will see a picture of the Dalmatian Pelican which was really huge (the sign says up to 15kg).  Here is your travel tip for the day, if you ever decide to visit Schonbrunn castle make sure you buy your tickets at the zoo, not the front gate.  At the gate the line would have taken 2-3 hours, there were only 10 people lined up at the zoo.  Show up early however, there is a LOT to see!  (The zoo includes a beer garden, I love the Austrians!)

We did try one of the weirdest treats ever at the zoo.  When we saw them we thought they were ice-cream cones (like Dairy Queen), but they were incredibly light.  We had to find out what they were (our German is not good enough to read the signs) so we tried it.  Turns out they are fluffed marshmallow dipped in chocolate.  What a sugar rush!  Yikes!

Tomorrow we finish exploring Vienna and then fly to London in the evening.  Don’t expect a post until Saturday!

Schonbrunn Castle Main Courtyard

This is NOT ice cream!

Giant Pelicans!

Monkey at Schonbrunn Zoo

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Vienna is definitely different from a lot of places we have visited before.  For example last night we walked by a woman playing a piano in the streets (classical music of course) while her friend was selling a CD of her music.  A piano in the streets is not normal in most places, but here no one blinks an eye.

This morning we did the “tourist thing” and went around town on a double-decker bus with an open top.  The bus included an audio track that explained the surrounding buildings and their historical value.  It is a great way to familiarize yourself with a city and you get to see a lot of sites that you might not recognize on your own.   We took lots of pictures along the way, mostly of the architecture. 

At the end of the tour we stopped at the Sacher Hotel to taste the Sachertorte (a famous Viennese chocolate cake).  It was first made in 1832 for the Austrian prince at the time.  Vicki had to try it due to the fact it was a chocolate cake and her birthday (December 5th) is national Sachertorte day!  Colin had a very nice apple strudel instead of the cake. 

Lunch consisted of a traditional cheese fondue, so we took a really long walk around town before having dinner.  Unfortunately it started raining again while we were eating, so it was a early night!

Streets of Vienna
Oldest Ferris Wheel in the World, Vienna

St Stephen's Church, Vienna

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

We met Daen for lunch today before heading to Vienna.  We were definitely ready to go since we had seen everything (twice we think)in Valtice.  The cab driver we had used the last few days drove us.  Unfortunately it was raining steadily when he pulled over and told us he couldn’t drive us any closer to the hotel.  He then told us which direction to walk in.  So, there we were wandering in the rain dragging our luggage behind us with no clue as to where we were going.  Colin went into a store to get directions, which was a brilliant move since the driver had told us to go in the opposite direction and clearly pulled over to let us out when he realized he didn’t know where the hotel was either!  We did get here safely in the end (even if we were a little damp). 

Tonight we went for a walk around the area before dinner.  The streets are narrow and the architecture is unbelievable!  It was still raining, so we didn’t take any pictures, but we will make up for the lack of photos tomorrow.  We stopped at a local “pub” for dinner where we tried a few Austrian beers and Vicki had a Weiner Schnitzel the size of a dinner plate (this is not an exaggeration, the fries had to go on a layer underneath since the meat covered the whole thing).    

Our hotel (the Am Stephansplatz) is located right in the centre of the old part of Vienna across from St. Stephen’s Church.  It is an old building that has been completely renovated (apparently everything is “green”).  We just closed the electronic metal blinds that are located outside, but are lowered using switches in the room.  Very cool! 

Tomorrow we will explore Vienna!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Yesterday we went to the neighbouring town of Ludnice to see the castle there.  It is much more complete and the grounds are still in the original condition.  Daen and his teaching friend Steve came with us.  The gardens were absolutely beautiful and very extensive.  There were several lovely fountains.  You could picture the royal family wandering around in their period costumes waving themselves with fans.  It was VERY hot in the sun so they would have been very uncomfortable back then! 

Daen and Steve decided to walk around the lake to see the tower on the other side (they ended up disappointed since it was under scaffolding and not open to the public).   Colin and I spent that time lying in the grass in a shady area eating ice-cream and people watching.  A couple of beers were necessary afterwards to deal with the heat before heading back to Valtice in a taxi. 

Colin and I had a late dinner at a nearby restaurant.  They ignored us for a very long time (we think they believed we were Americans) until we finally waved down a waiter named Michael.  When he found out were Canadians the service became very fast.  Michael is leaving on Saturday to become a waiter in England so he was thrilled to practice his English with us, so we ended up having a really nice chat.  Our advice...if you come to the Czech Republic make sure you clearly label yourselves as Canadians.

Today Daen had to interview students in the afternoon and then do lessons tonight so we only saw him for lunch.  Colin and I decided to have a lazy day since it was Sunday and not much was open.  We went for several strolls, had coffee outside at our hotel, enjoyed an afternoon nap and then ate an excellent dinner in the hotel restaurant.  We have been very impressed with the Hotel Salety, friendly staff and good service.  Like most hotels in this area it could do with a clock and sheets instead of comforters for the summer, but the people make up for any shortcomings.  

Vicki, Steve & Daen at the castle in Ludnice
Castle in Ludnice

Friday, August 8, 2014

We said goodbye to Poland this morning (really early this morning).  We really enjoyed this beautiful country which was also incredibly affordable.  A few hundred dollars went a VERY long way on this vacation.  We were very impressed.

We flew to Vienna via Frankfurt (it you look on a map you will realize this is ridiculous but it was surprisingly cheaper).  Daen took a different flight so we met him at the airport.  One of the other teachers, Steve, arrived today as well so we all drove to Valtice together.  Valtice is located just across the Czech boarder, about 1.5 hours from Vienna.  After checking in to the hotel Daen forced us to go to a wine cellar for a tasting.  They give you a glass and then they let you loose to try as many wines as you can in the time allotted.  It started off with white wines, which Daen was fine with but we didn’t appreciate very much, so Colin & I skipped ahead to the reds.  I (Vicki) probably tried a few too many and was really feeling it by the end.  Dad would have LOVED it!!  (I tried to do you proud).  We stumbled our way to the nearest restaurant for a nice dinner when our time was over. 

An early night tonight, then we will wander around town tomorrow.  This is a fairly quiet little town, so we will also get a chance to recover from all of the walking we did in Krakow.  

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Auschwitz and Birkenau really made you look at the history of the war and the terrible things that happened.  You cannot help but feel sad as you tour the buildings.  It is not something you can really do justice on a blog.  We will be happy to discuss what we saw in person when we get home, but it is not a topic you can explain and posting pictures seems inappropriate. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Today was all about Krakow.  We started off having breakfast in a bakery (yum) and then wandered down to the main square in the old town to buy a few trinkets.  After that we headed straight to Warwel Castle where all of the past Kings of Poland resided.  We chose not to go inside since you had to have timed tickets booked ahead. Instead we enjoyed the grounds and the views along the river.

A huge lunch of various perogies (and beer) got our energy up before we spent the rest of the day at Podziemia Rynku, the archeological museum underneath the main square.  This is a very recent addition to Krakow, since it was started in 2006 when they started resurfacing the square.  The original project was supposed to take 6 months, but it was quickly halted and the scientists were called in when they uncovered artifacts.  Six years later the whole area had been excavated and thousands of years of history were unveiled.  The museum they created is all underground and incorporates all of the artifacts and the foundations of the original buildings.  It was totally unique and incredibly well done. 
Now we are all relaxing since all we did today was walk around town.  Tomorrow will be an interesting one as we are touring the Auschwitz and Birkenau camps.  

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The salt mines were absolutely amazing.  You first need to walk down 406 steps, which none of us enjoyed.  Luckily Colin taped his ankle in preparation so that was not an issue.  Iwanka (our tour guide) walked us through the whole process.  There were all sorts of carvings of famous visitors to the mine from Copernicus to Pope John Paul II, along with various chapels and other rooms.  Everything was carved out of salt and the hallways are held up using wooden beams.  The older the beams, the more petrified they have become due to the salt exposure, so they are basically solidifying over time.  In the main chapel they have services for all of the main Christian holidays (Christmas, Easter etc), you can even get married down there and host your reception.  There were also models showing the various ways they mined the salt over the years and how they moved it to the surface.  At the start it was “man power”, but eventually they lowered in horses.  Since lowering the horse into the mine was really hard to do they built stables underground for the horses to live in permanently.  Even when they started using more modern methods they couldn’t get the horses out safely, so they cared for them until they died (the last one only died 12 years ago).  The best part was the elevator back to the surface.  They packed 10 people into the elevator that was 1m x 2m.  It was VERY cozy!  I have never been that physically close to Daen in my life (even when I have hugged him).  If you ever visit Krakow these salt mines are a definite “must see”.

After the salt mines we relaxed in our room for awhile since we were all tired from the miles of walking we did.  Some cool drinks and a little time lying on your bed can do wonders for your energy levels.  (Ok, we had a nap too).

We wandered around the square and some of the side streets until we found a great Georgian restaurant for dinner.  It was interesting, tasty food!  Actually it was probably some of the strongest flavours we have had since we got to Poland (please don’t be insulted Eva). 

So now Vicki is writing the blog while Colin & Daen are snuggled in their beds chatting (I would tell you what they are discussing, but most of you would rather not know).  Thanks for checking in with us!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Our last day in Gdansk can only be described as HOT.  It was 31o plus humidity, so it had to be closer to 40o C.  Yikes!  We went to watch the blacksmith, but we didn’t last long since it made things even hotter.  The work he did was excellent, however.  More wandering around the stalls where Colin bought himself a leather satchel to use while we travel (Vicki has agreed not to call it his murse or man-purse).  We ate a huge dinner before heading to the airport to leave Gdansk and head to Krakow.

In the airport we were worried we would be delayed when they cleared it out while they dealt with a bag left unattended.  It was all very confusing since we didn’t quite understand what was happening since there was a language barrier.  Colin was also a little heat stroked and was not feeling well at the time.  Eventually we got on the plane and arrived in Krakow without any problems. 

We didn’t get into bed until 2am by the time we checked into the hotel and got organized.  So we slept in today then walked down to the old part of the city to check out the square.  Wow!  We will include a picture, but it will not do it justice.  We had some lunch and wandered around for quite awhile.  We got back to the hotel just as it started to rain to see Daen climbing out of his taxi.  Perfect!  He was pretty tired so he had a short nap while Colin & I went to a bakery for a tasty treat (what we do to help out a friend).  A good dinner and some drinks in the old city wrapped up our evening.

Tomorrow we go to the salt mines on a tour.  Need to get up bright and early!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Yesterday we spent the day enjoying the stalls and beverages again.  If you every come to visit this town we would highly recommend coming during the festival.  We had a late start, so we missed breakfast service.  Sadly this meant Vicki had to have Chateaubriand (basically a steak with bĂ©arnaise sauce) for painful (NOT).  We ate down by the river where there was some great people watching. 

Afterwards we checked out the Gdansk crane more closely.  It is basically two giant wheels that were turned by people walking inside of them to wind the rope and lift up to 2000 kg.  The crane was used to load ships in the 1600’s.  It is a very impressive design. 

We spent a little time drinking beer and shanty’s while watching the bungie jumpers.  A few people chickened out (we didn’t even consider it) but lots jumped.  Seemed to be safe enough during the actual jump, but it took a long time to lower the people down afterwards, so they hung upside down in the air for a long time.  That part didn’t seem like too much fun for the participants.  Spanish tapas for dinner (well, some were a little more French then Spanish, but still OK) and ice cream treats rounded out the day. 

There has been lots of walking the last few days, mainly on cobblestone streets so we are both feeling a little more fit.  Colin has been taping his ankle which seems to be helping a lot with the pain.  Today will be a little lazy since we check out of the hotel at 3pm and fly to Krakow later tonight.  In fact Colin is napping right now!  We are looking forward to a new town and meeting up with Daen tomorrow.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Gdansk is a beautiful city.  We have been wandering around enjoying the amazing architecture and the street festival going on right now.  There are vendors and street performers everywhere.  Today was mainly about exploring the town and trying all of the different types of beer.  Rather hard work really. 
We also stopped into the Amber Museum and the attached Torture Museum (yes, we know it is a weird combination but we just visited it, we didn’t design it).  The Amber Museum was full of beautiful specimens and great descriptions, but LOTS of VERY steep stairs.  Can’t say Colin enjoyed this part completely.  In fact we skipped the last floor due to fatigue.  Vicki did buy a very nice pair of earrings in the store (thanks to Dad’s Polish money donation last Christmas).  The Torture Museum was an interesting collection of artifacts outlining the ways they dealt with anyone who broke the law.  Based on what we saw we don’t know why anyone would bother.  Scary!