Sunday, April 15, 2012


We arrived at Prague's main train station late wednesday night and pretty flawlessly managed to walk the 15 minute journey to our hotel. We checked in to our wonderfully large room and also learned that the lobby bar had a half-price drink special (every night 7-11p) that naturally we partook in. We also used that time to plan out our next 2 days there.

Thursday was the first day of the whole vacation that it was really raining, forecasted for all day, and they weren't lying when we looked out our bedroom window that morning. Still we continued with our day as planned, starting with a walking tour through Prague. Apparently, the rain scared everyone else away because the 3 of us ended up with a private guided tour.  Ultimately, our guide ended up taking us quite a few more places than planned because we were such a small group and moved much faster. We started at Wenceslas Square in front of the National Museum, the site of many protests against both Fascist and Communist. We then moved toward Old Town Square passing the opera house where Mozart performed multiple times and also learning about the different architecture styles and old building identifiers along the way. In the Old Town Square, we visited the Tyn Church (the merchants' church) and the Astronomical Clock, staying to watch the hourly show. After that we briefly went through the Jewish Quarter, passing the place where Franz Kafka was born, where we saw the Old-New Synogogue (the oldest functioning synagogue in Europe) and the Jewish cemetery where about 100,000 people are buried. We also stopped by the city and national libraries. We then started over the Charles Bridges, first stopping to see the statue of Charles IV (who planned and started the construction) and then saw the many statues lining the bridge crossing to Kampa Island. There we saw the Lennon Wall and finally ended our tour at St. Nicolas Church. After a delicious traditional lunch and a surprising turn to sunshine outside, we continued on our own up to explore Prague Castle arriving just in time to see the changing of the guard. Inside we explored the grounds, the most impressive part being the Cathedral of St. Vit. To end the afternoon we took the scenic Tram 22 ride back to our hotel.  Dinner that evening was a folklore music program. All of the food was delicious (and again very traditional) and we also discovered a wonderful toasting liquor Bleshrovka. The best part was definitely the constant music and dancing. They introduced us to many of their older musical instruments and one singer had a particular fancy for Steve, which entertained the rest of us all night.

The next day, we started out casually by wandering around the Easter Market in Old Town Square.  We picked up many fun souvenirs and also a very good lunch. That afternoon, we had a World War II tour. It was very interesting learning about the war from a different countries perspective, especially as the Russians were the ones who liberated the Czeck Republic from Hilter, right into Communism under Stalin. We saw more of the Jewish Quarter, important as Prague was the only city where everything Jewish was not destroyed by Hilter but preserved as a "record of an extinct race". The coolest part of this tour though was getting to go to the underground hideout of the rebels right under the Astronomical Clock and Town Hall. After the tour, we wandered up to the Metronome and then found a beer garden with a beautiful view of the city. Finally, dinner that night was at U Medvidku (The Little Bears) and was expressive again. It is the smallest brewery in Prague so to end the night we headed to the bar to try some of their beer, Oldgotts (delicious).

Saturday morning was a quick wake up and trip to the airport to (unfortunately) head back to the States.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


We took a night train from Paris to Berlin. To say that it was tight quarters would be an understatement. However, it was still a really fun way to travel and we enjoyed it. Donald met us at the train platform thankfully, because the Berlin station was huge. We briefly stopped at his and Rachel's apartment to drop off our stuff and pick up Rachel. Donald then gave us the most wonderful 4 hour walking tour of Berlin. I couldn't possibly remember everything we saw and learned, but the highlights included: both new and old government buildings, the palace plaza and last remaining part, the memorial to the victims of war, the memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, and the bunker where Hilter was married and committed suicide. The Berlin Wall was by far the most interesting thing to learn about. It was much thinner than I had thought. We saw the most preserved section with both the East and West Walls intact and the security tower and fortifications in the middle. We also saw the longest standing section that is now the East Side Gallery and beautifully painted. In the middle of all that, we stopped for chicken doners for lunch because even though they're Turkish, they were actually created in Berlin. Then it was home for a quick nap and out to a delicious restuarant for half chickens and potato salad. And of course, we had beer. All day, since there are no open container laws in the city. I was in heaven with all the German Hefe Weissens. We continued our night by visiting 3 of their local (and very different) bars.

Wednesday morning, we slept in to recover from the prior night of fun. Slowly we got ready, but really enjoyed a relaxing day. We had another delicious meal of sandwiches and pasta salads for lunch. Finally, back to the train station to head to Prague...


Saturday night at almost 10:30pm, we landed in Paris. Trying to leave the airport was interesting. After staring at the train/metro ticket dispenser and one failed attempt to buy the correct metro ticket, we gave up and got a taxi. With getting our luggage and our transportation adventures, it was about midnight when we made it into our hotel room. The real entertainment of Paris though was Karin's pinky nail infection. The first night using nail clippers and an earring back, we (I) poked it got everything out. The goal of the next day which was Easter Sunday was to find an open pharmacy. Contrary to our wishes and pleading, no antibiotics were available without a prescription. However, a very nice French pharmacist gave her an antiseptic solution to soak it and an antibiotic ointment to apply. (update: her finger is now doing MUCH better 4 days later).

The next day was Sunday - Happy Easter! First thing we did was find some delicious pastries for breakfast. We then continued from our hotel in L'Opera to the city centre to the Louvre, only about a 20 minute walk. Even on Easter Sunday it was packed. We got in the massive line and admired the architecture while we waited. Truly, the whole city has beautiful renaissance architecture. Although it was supposed to be an hour wait, within about 30 minutes we were entering the building. We started with the history of the Louvre exhibit from when it was a castle in the time of Charles V to the monstrous modern day museum it is today. After that we spent about 3 or 4 hours wandering the museum. We managed to see a lot including the Greek and Roman Antiquities as well as French, German, Flemish, and Dutch paintings. Of course we saw the Mona Lisa, but the Rembrandt room was my favorite. Following that, we strolled passed the Musee d'Orsay though the Larin Quarter seein some of the cafe hangouts of famous writers. Then, onto Notre Dame with a brief stop at Saint Chapelle. We arrived at Notre Dame only a few minutes late for one of the Easter masses. We listened to most of the mass as it took about 30 minutes to tour the cathedral and absorb how grand it is. Finally, back to the Latin Quarter for a delicious dinner and bottle (or 2) of wine to finish the night.

Monday morning the mission was to find crepes for breakfast. It was successful (and delicious), however we ended up walking much closer to the city centre than planned. It didn't matter though, as the next plan was just to grab bikes and see what we could see. We passed the intelligance test of getting rental bike tickets and began on our trek. Starting right outside the Louvre, we rode along the Jardin de Tuileries to the Avenue de Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe. Continuing, we rode passed the Eiffel Tower to the Hotel des Invalides. It was a perfect midday bike ride. Once at the Hotel des Invalides, we got absorbed in the Napoleon history exhibit at the Musee de L'Armee and ended up spending the rest of our afternoon there. We even got to see Napoleon's tomb. Finally, we had to head back, grab something to eat, and get to the train station to move our trip on to Berlin (and Rachel and Donald!)...

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Second Half of Ireland

Wednesday morning we woke up and drove to Cork where Karin's been studying. It was another 2 hour drive, however, early on we had found ways to entertain ourselves on our drive. Mainly, someone picks a new language for the GPS to talk to us in and we all have to guess. We managed to be yelled at by Garmin in languages from a number of countries including China (both Mandarin and Cantanese), Turkey, Poland, Romania, and Luxemberg. Once in Cork we visited Karin's college (University College Cork) and her apartment and also the English market in town. The market was full of fresh fruits and veggies, butchers, and even some homemade chocolate shops. After that we went to the Jameson Distillery where we got to learn all about what makes their whiskey unique and of course sample it. Dad even got to be an official whiskey taste tester (he has the certificate). Finally, we ended the day by meeting some of Karin's friends out for a nice dinner.

Thursday, we took the short drive over to start our tour of the Ring of Kerry. Mostly we drove it, stopping off at a few (beautiful) view points of Irish countryside and even some beaches. Karin (who had been here before) picked 2 of her favorite places for us to check out a little longer. The first was the highest point on Valentia Island. We (of course) had another beautiful clear day where you could see for miles, so I don't know what everyone's talking about all this rain and fog in Ireland. From there, we viewed the Kerry Mountains and the Skillig Islands (one of the most severe environments where Monks set up a Monestary). We even played with some sheep on the mountainside on the way down. The second place Karin took us to was an old stone fort ruin. That evening we went into Killarney, walked the village a bit and settled in for the night.

Good Friday, we started by taking a morning hike in Killarney National Park. It was beautiful of course, the highlight being a stop by a waterfall. After, we drove into Dingle. I briefly checked out the town and found a gorgeous marble ring. Most important though, we met up with our guide to go sea kayaking. We spent 3 hours on the ocean and it was a very different and cool way to view the landscape. We also got to kayak into a cave and see Fungi, Dingle Pennisula's famous dolphin.

Saturday, we woke up leisurely and spent the morning strolling around the town of Adare. Then we headed toward the airport with a stop at Durty Nelly's for lunch. It is right next to the huge Bunratty Castle and dates back to 1620 (older than our country!)

Finally, we reached the Shannon Airport to continue our journey in Paris...

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Beginning Days in Ireland

Other than our laughable first adventures in driving, our first day in Dublin was a bit of a blur. I was very tired from sleeping only a little on the plane and from being 5 hours ahead of East Coast time. We had a nice little excursion down one of the main pedestrian streets to dinner. After that, we were all so exhausted we went home to bed... At 8pm. The next day was much more productive starting with the hop-on/hop-off city bus tour. We had a very lively tour guide that gave us the traditional history of the stops along with many funny anecdotes and jokes. From there we hopped off at the Guinness factory to tour and drink our lunch. A wonderful ending surprise was the top floor 360 degree window lounge. Awesome views of the city. We still had a little time before dinner, so we stopped in the Dublinia museum. There we learned about the Viking and Medievil history of Dublin. At dinnertime we headed to the Brazen Head Pub, the oldest pub in Dublin, and had some good food and of course beer. We ended that night (and our stay in Dublin) by meeting up with Karin and going on a musical pub crawl. Not as rowdy as you would think, but very fun. We went to 3 different pubs throughout the city and along the way learned about and listened to some traditional Irish instruments and music.

The next day we woke up early and left the city for Kilkenny. Once there, we briefly visited the town and design market (picked up some cute souvenirs) and went to the castle. After lunch, we went on to ou final destination for the day, Cashel. Quickly we checked into our B&B then went to explore the Rock of Cashel. It's a beautiful cathedral on the hill that's actively being restored and it was very interesting to learn about and watch the process of how they restore the old paintings.

Today we woke early again to head across to western Ireland and the Cliffs of Moher. Miraculously, we had a beautiful sunny day where you could see for miles. In true Irish weather tradition though, we were briefly rained and then hailed on all while the sun was still shining. Now Karin and I just finished a nice pub lunch after dropping the others off to golf. We'll be picking them up in a few hours to continue back into Ennis for the evening.

On to more adventures tomorrow....