Category: Europe


Walking towards the Old Town

Walking towards the Old Town

In front of the Charles Bridge

In front of the Charles Bridge

Astronomical clock

Astronomical clock

Chasing bubbles in the Old Town Square

Chasing bubbles in the Old Town Square

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Red rooftops

Red rooftops

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View from the Bell Tower at Prague Castle

View from the Bell Tower at Prague Castle

No explanation required!

No explanation required!

Contributing to the Art Brick wall

Contributing to the Art Brick wall

Bucket List

Bucket List

A new friend!

A new friend!

Zara's contribution to the John Lennon Wall

Zara’s contribution to the John Lennon Wall

Exploring on Segways

Exploring on Segways

Chicken Joe

Chicken Joe

We spent a wonderful five days in Prague, in which I rediscovered a city I’d first become acquainted with in college and Zara discovered Chicken Joe.

I turned 21 in Prague, exactly half my lifetime ago, in an apartment rented for three days, an act that felt so decadent in the decades before Airbnb.  I still remember it cost only $20/night for 2 bedrooms and a full kitchen.  In 1992, only three years after the Velvet Revolution, Prague was still emerging onto the global travel scene.  Returning after two decades, I was relieved to see that although it has long since transformed into a tourist mecca, it hasn’t lost its ability to enchant.  There are more street performers, kitschy museums, tourist restaurants offering mediocre fare and crowds (and a hotel room is 10x what it was on my first visit), but its red rooftops, cobbled streets, fascinating history, gorgeous architecture and  music make it a place where I could easily imagine staying.  We’d originally booked only three nights in Prague, but extended for two more days.

The first night we soaked in the views as the sun set over the Charles Bridge with drinks at one of the several restaurants now sitting on the banks of the Vltava River.  The setting was perfect and something I could have happily done every evening.

We spent another day exploring Prague Castle, an impressive complex set on a hill across the river looking back over the city. The views are magnificent from almost anywhere on the grounds, but seeking out even a better bird’s eye view, we climbed to the top of the Bell Tower.  The tower houses Prague’s largest bell, named Zikmund, and legend has it that the bell breaking portends bad news.  (The most recent example of this was in 2002, when the bell broke and Prague suffered its worst flooding ever.)  Zara concluded that this was just a coincidence.

What else did we do…

Franz Kafka Museum:  An oddly affecting museum, its dimly-lit rooms presumably are designed to evoke Kafka’s depression and personal struggles.  At times, however, it was too dark to even read the exhibit explanations.  Not sure if that was be design or due to burnt out bulbs!  Not the most kiddy-friendly place to visit, however.

The Chocolate Museum: Just because…it was a toss up between this and the adjacent Torture Museum.

The Toy Museum: We have a 6-year old… But, this would also be a must for Barbie fans (and a must-not for those who think Barbie is evil).

The Globe:  Feeling a bit burnt out by the crowds and the heat, we passed a very relaxing afternoon at this bookstore/cafe.  It’s been a fixture on the Prague expat scene since opening in 1993 and I can see why.  With its delicious Western fare, a full bar, tasty coffee,  pleasant courtyard and strong wifi, its easy to wile away the hours here.  While Zara devoured countless books in the kiddie section, we enjoyed some much needed peace and quiet.  We’ve been moving at too fast a pace since arriving in Europe mid-June–we all are feeling it.

Mozart’s Requiem:  We enjoyed a lovely performance of one of Jonathan’s favorite musical pieces at  St. Nicholas Church off the Old Town Square.  The city lives and breathes music and if we’d had more time, there were countless other concerts on offer.

Segway: One of the highlights of our time in Prague happened the last evening. We’d been on our way to dinner and the next thing we knew we were on Segways when they informed us that Zara was old enough.  (In comparison, one of SF’s Segway tour companies requires kids to be at least 12 years old and 100 pounds and requires all riders to take a 45-50 minute on board training session, watch a 9 minute safety video and wear reflective safety vest.  My impression is that the Czech Republic doesn’t share the US lawsuit culture!)  Zara took to the Segway immediately, leaving me in the dust, and our tour guide, Ondřej, was wonderfully fun and informative and took us through neighborhoods we had previously missed, including past the John Lennon Wall, where Zara wrote her own message of peace.

And because we are always on the hunt for tasty Indian fare (especially after an involuntary hiatus for several weeks in Italy), we were thrilled to discover Indian Jewel, a lovely restaurant with seating in a small courtyard in the Old Town.  We went back for seconds two nights later (and overheard another touring English family mentioning how they were there for the 5th time)!   It’s a relief to know that some curry lovers are even more fanatical than we are.

Still, there was a lot we left unexplored…another excuse for a visit!

And you may be wondering about this Chicken Joe?  He’s a Belfast-born street performer whose act includes reclining on a bunch of crushed beer bottles while an audience member stands on top of him and he makes off-color jokes.  He made quite an impression on our 6-year old who insisted on watching his performance in the Old Town Square at least five times…travel, the best education.

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Bavarian Alps: Munich to Lake Como

It’s been a busy week, during which we’ve added four new countries to Zara’s roster.  We bid “sayonara” to Kyoto, flying Emirates via Dubai to Munich (highly recommended–the contrast between this experience and the one to Japan via United Airlines deserves its own blog post as UAL is its own version of hell on long-haul flights.  Seriously, no seat-back screens?  Are we back in 1999?).

The heavy rains that had pelted southern Germany in the weeks prior to our arrival fortunately had abated and given way to warm weather, so Zara and Jonathan explored Munich via bike and on foot for a couple of days while I attended my conference.  Munich is another city made for cycling.  Our hotel was adjacent to the Englischer Garten, which is a lovely park even larger than Central Park and with the added surprise of its own surf break–seriously!   And after the culinary exoticism of Japan, we all happily dug into our hearty German meals of Spätzle and wienerschnitzel and joined the crowds of Germans drinking from large steins in the outdoor beer gardens.

After my conference ended, we picked up the Renault Scenic we’ve rented for the next three months through Renault’s Eurodrive program outside Munich.  Definitely worth checking out for long stays in Europe–hassle free experience so far and the price is reasonable (especially compared to camper van rentals in New Zealand)!

Neuschwanstein Castle:  How could we miss checking out Baron Bomburst’s castle home in Vulgaria?!  Okay–so we may be biased as we are slightly obsessed with Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, but this was a must-see.  We actually skipped the castle tour because a late afternoon arrival meant the earliest tour of the castle’s interior was at 6:40pm (warning: this place gets crowded in high season), but we’re not huge fans of guided tours anyway and we were still able to tour the outside of the castle and take in the amazing views.

Oberammergau:  We drove into this charming town filled with religious iconography and decided it was a good stopping place for the night.  Oberammergau is famous for its Passion Play, which is produced once a decade.  As the story goes, in 1633, hoping to save their town from the ravages of the black plague, the inhabitants of the town gathered and prayed, and promised to re-enact the life and suffering of Jesus every 10 years if they were spared further deaths.  Apparently, it worked! We stayed in a fourth-generation family-run hotel with a friendly proprietress, watched a fierce lightening storm after dinner from our balcony and took a stroll along the river the next morning.

Zugspitze: This was another unplanned stop, but when we saw the sign advertising a railtrip to the top of Germany on my birthday/Father’s Day, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity.  Unfortunately, our sandals weren’t the best footwear for exploring the peak at an altitude of close to 3,000 meters, but the views were stunning.  The ride up on the Bavarian Zugspitze Railway from Eibsee was also seriously impressive, as we quickly and smoothly gained altitude and tunneled through the mountain for over 15 minutes. Not for the claustrophobic!

St. Moritz:  We picked St. Moritz as our 2nd overnight stop on our way to Lake Como and stayed at another fourth-generation family run hotel.  The town was less ritzy and crowded than I’d expected (I suspect high season is in winter) and we had a tasty dinner in our hotel’s restaurant where an American Jazz pianist entertained us with popular jazz pieces while Zara danced away (until she realized everybody was watching her).  Before taking off the next morning, we took a stroll around the lake where we discovered that Switzerland does have black flies, although they fortunately appeared to be the non-biting variety.

The Drive:  This is probably the most stunning  drive I’ve ever taken, through Bavaria, into Austria over the Fern Pass and then dropping down into Italy.  It just kept getting better and better.  I would have been happy to stay longer at any of the places we passed along the way.  Of course, I did always dream of being Heidi when I was younger!  Warning that claustrophobes may not enjoy the number of miles spent driving under mountains.

Now we are happily ensconced in our house rental perched on hill overlooking Lake Como in the charming village of Nesso.  More to come!

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Beer and pretzels in Englischer Garten, Munich

Beer and pretzels in Englischer Garten, Munich

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We still need to christen her!

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The Bavarian countryside

Neuschwanstein Castle

Neuschwanstein Castle

Neuschwanstein Castle

Neuschwanstein Castle

Bavaria with post-storm skies

Bavaria with post-storm skies

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Fourth generation hotel in Oberammergau

Fourth generation hotel in Oberammergau

Cross on hilltop above Oberammergau

Cross on hilltop above Oberammergau

Walk along the river in Oberammergau

Walk along the river in Oberammergau

Atop Germany at Zugspitze

Atop Germany at Zugspitze

Austrian Alps

Austrian Alps

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More Austrian Alps

Italian Alps

Italian Alps

Near the Italian border

Near the Italian border

St. Moritz lakeside walk

St. Moritz lakeside walk

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