Destination: Ireland

August 28th – Sept 6th 2016

Back in the air & back to the Emerald Isle. This time with an extra travel companion, my (Richard’s) mom, Rosa.

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We spent the first few days getting to know the west of Ireland, where Siobhan’s parents, Mike & Shannon, live six months out of the year.

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Our moms, Rosa & Shannon 🙂

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We capped our first night off at a pub with a proper Irish Guinness. It is a 100% different product than what we have in the States. Smoother, thinner, & just not as heavy. A shame we can’t get the exact same in the US :/

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On the bright side Mike, Siobhan’s father, is a great cook and makes one hell of an Irish breakfast. And it could be argued breakfast is greater than beer.

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Mike & Shannon’s Home in the West of Ireland 🙂

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Next stop, Catholic guilt? (just kidding) A visit to the Church of Knock, or Knock Shrine grounds since there are four churches and a basilica. The Apparition Church is where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared, an old parish church where Siobhan’s Uncle Kevin and Aunt Brid were wed, a Sacrament Chapel & a Chapel of Reconciliation. There is also a museum, graveyard as well as caravan campgrounds on the premises.

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Off to Galway city. And on to our first (and only) hop-on, hop-off bus tour; A Thatch Museum (those straw roofed cottage homes); and a picnic in Eyre Square also known as John F. Kennedy Memorial Park

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Siobhan’s Aunt and three cousins 🙂

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Family tea time at the Thatch Cottage Museum in Galway

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A trip to the West of Ireland wouldn’t be complete without the main tourist attraction, The Cliffs of Moher. We arrived (at the same time as several tour buses) to 0 visibility with dense fog & a bit of rain. Fortunately for us, we had driven. (Unfortunately for the many groups of  tour buses their schedule didn’t allow time to wait for the fog to clear.) And sure enough it did.

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The drive there had been a gorgeous one and if you are a fan of scenic routes The Wild Atlantic Way should be on a few googled top 10 list.

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That evening we found ourselves in a 16th century castle (or Castillo 😉  for a medieval night filled with wine, dinner, storytelling, and music.

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The Irish countryside, rolling green hills, sheep grazing, stacked stone fenced fields…

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Kylemore Abbey & its Gothic Church

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What distinguishes most places from others though isn’t often the landscape, but the people. And the Irish are a stand-out. Not just those we had the pleasure of dining with here in Ireland, but also the ones we had met and would meet along our travels. On two separate evenings we were fortunate to have dinner with friends and family. First Mike & Shannon’s neighbors, the McDonnells. Then Mike’s brother Kevin & his family along with Mike and Shannon’s friend, Stretch.

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We spent our last day and a half in Dublin, staying in the new hip waterfront district as we explored the beautiful city on a typical sunny Irish summer day.

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I would have liked to end this post with a nice photo of the everyday blue sky reflecting off the River Liffey that cuts through the heart of Dublin . . .

. . . But then my wife would be remiss to have left you without the hidden gem that Ireland offers. Curry chips from Supermacs (yes those are fast food fries topped with curry sauce and cheese).

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Break: Summer Wedding Season!

July 23- Aug 20th, 2016

After three months in Europe, it was time to go home for two important weddings. But nothing is that easy. We traveled from Croatia to Ireland planning to spend the night in the Dublin Airport to catch a 5am cross-Atlantic flight to Southern California. Not until around 3 or 4am did we realize that our flight had been postponed a full 24hrs. Note to self: check your damn emails 🙂 So we made the best of it and spent the day exploring Dublin before returning to the airport for another night of poor sleep at the 24hr McDonald’s (battling other passengers for coveted bench space). The next morning, all set and anxious to get home, we checked in to our 5am Ethiopian Airlines flight. But again, nothing is that easy. @#*% YOU Ethiopian Airlines! Our confirmation email and United Airlines confirmed that Ethiopian made a mistake and left Siobhan’s last name off of her reservation. Regardless, they wouldn’t allow her on the plane and stranded us by literally walking away from the check-in counter. OK slight panic. With the wedding only 30 hours away, my miles and points nerdom kicked in and I found a new flight through Air Canada arriving in Los Angeles at 11pm – just in time to make the beautiful wedding the following afternoon 🙂 Drink please!

The first wedding was for Siobhan’s cousin Miranda and her wife Belyna. The ceremony took place at Wayfarer’s Chapel in Palos Verdes. The view of the trees and ocean from the glass walls was gorgeous, and the perfect location for such a special couple. Tears were definitely shed

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The ceremony was followed by games, dancing,  and endearing speeches.

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A few weeks later the second wedding was for Siobhan’s long time friend, Ana and her husband Zach. Both the ceremony and reception took place at Smog Shoppe in Los Angeles. The ceremony was against a gorgeous garden wall backdrop and the bride and groom looked incredible! More tears

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It was great to catch up with friends going as far back as elementary and middle school while enjoying some delicious food (and a waffle bar for dessert!)

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Within a week we would be leaving Southern California once again. And once again back to Ireland for a proper introduction.

Destination: Split, Croatia

July 15th- 19th, 2016

Arriving in Split it took the bus 1hr to drive the final 3 miles in the city. Split’s Population, normally just above 160,000, had doubled on this particular weekend thanks to Yacht Week and the music festival Ultra. Two major attractions none of us were aware of.

(Side note: a few months later we would befriend a couple who had met in Split on these same days. One attending Yacht Week and the Other Ultra. Small world 🙂

Aside from the transportation chaos the two events took place just outside the city which allowed for walking everywhere to be pretty straight forward and most of the time crowds weren’t any more over baring than any other tourist destination.

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The Croatian coast is too pretty to pass on a photo op.
the same can be said for their ice cream.

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Trg Peristil, an ancient Roman square, where we sat sipping coffee on the steps and people watch for a bit as we tried to imagine what life was like some hundred years ago.. cliche and touristy absolutely, but the crowds and men dressed as roman soldiers working off tips in exchange for photos still don’t take away from the incredible atmosphere the ancient architecture provides.

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Being budget mindful travelers we opted to island hop via the car ferries connecting many of the surrounding islands. One suggestion if doing so would be to find a schedule and depart early. If you’re not an early bird perhaps spending the big bucks on an actual island hopper boat tour might be the better option.

We first visited Hvar before taking a short boat trip to the tiny island of Jerolim.

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On the tiny bow tie shaped island of Jerolim Siobhan & I exploded the entire perimeter, while Mel & Leah relaxed at the Nudist (optional?) Beach

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View from a fortress just above the small town of Hvar

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The following day we set out for a guided kayaking adventure off the big island of Brac. Despite’s the strong wind and somewhat challenging sea we were rewarded with blue skies, & clear water. Before finally returning to the small village of Sutivan.

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Our relationship described is an single photo 🙂

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After nearly three weeks with our travel companions Melissa & Leah we spent our last evening together doing what we do best. Drinking wine & eating a delicious meal. Though this special occasion did call for having to order every dessert on the menu.

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After walking nearly 6 miles from our Airbnb in Split to the Le Meridien in Lav, Siobhan & i were glad to spend our final day in Europe doing absolutely nothing but relaxing at this beautiful beach side hotel (especially since we redeemed Points instead of paying cash;)

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It was the perfect setting to say farewell to the first three months of our honeymoon spent in Europe…

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Destination: Dubrovnik, Croatia

Stairs. The end.

There’s also sea food, a cliffside fortress city, beaches, crowds, history both ancient and recent, beauty, etc etc.

Dubrovnik is as picturesque as they come. And everyone knows it. So start your days early! unless extremely crowded places don’t bother you 🙂

 

July 13th &14, 2016.

Having arrived in the afternoon we descended 130m of stairs through winding alleyways until we arrived at the walled Old Town, just in time for an early dinner. Coincidently it was five minutes before the famed trip advisor restaurant Lady Pi Pi opened. Famous for its good food but possibly more so for its statue/ fountain of a woman, legs open, and peeing…

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Wandering the old city we made our way to the next gem on our list, Bard Mala Buza. A bar that is situated on a short cliff above the sea  on the outside of the protective wall. The sun had just set & with a beer in hand and wine on the table we had made the transition from adventure to vacation.

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(Above) The entrance to the Bar has no sign in front, & is literally a hole in the wall. So don’t forget to Save/Star it on your downloaded Google Maps.

After a few drinks we returned to the Old Town that had been transformed to something even more magical than its dayside counterpart. The low lights reflecting off the limestone floor, the high stone walls that faded into the night sky, the frenzied crowds of the day had left behind only dreamers, romantics, & the affluent.

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What goes up must come down. And Down we went, all the way to a gorgeous beach on a beautiful sunny day. The  water was warm and salty, the beach was more smooth pebbles than sand, & the umbrellas were about $10 to rent. With the heat bearing down on us the girls were in the water in no time and I evened out my farmers tan in about 30 minutes.

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Back inside the walls amongst the ocean of tourist, mostly day trippers from cruise ships or yachts or boats making their way up and down the Croatian coast. To escape the insanity we opted for a walk along the city walls with spectacular views of both the Old Town itself and its surrounding landscapes.

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It is heartbreaking to know that the majority of the newer looking red roofs were restored in the 90s after the damage sustained during the Yugoslav Civil War. As difficult as it is to try and imagine what those years must have been like, it is incredible to see that the historic Old Town was able to survive modern warfare.

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(Above:The Bar we visited the previous night)

(below: the honeymooners)

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Melissa reenacting a scene from the show Game of Thrones that was filmed here while Leah models and takes photos simultaneously.

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We ended our time in Dubrovnik just how it began, at the dinner table with seafood & wine, friends & family.

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Destination: Vienna, Austria & Bratislava, Slovakia (Guest Post)

Guest post written by Melissa.

Hey brb…globetrotting readers, it’s Mel checking in for this post. I’m not quite sure why I was specifically assigned the Vienna post–perhaps it’s because I led the seemingly aimless quest around the giant city of Vienna on the most humid day ever just to find its National Library–buuut more on that later.

July 10th- Vienna, Austria

So, we made our way from lovely Budapest to Vienna by train.  We arrived into town and I immediately took note of the large city yet old town feel it presented. Overall, I very much admired the crosscutting of modern and historic architecture in Wien.

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We dropped off our packs at our Airbnb, which was just a hop, skip, and a jump away from Belvedere Palace.

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We explored the vast grounds of the Baroque landmark. Regretfully, we did not get to step foot inside the actual palace as we arrived near closing time. I know Leah was hoping to see Gustav Klimt’s work, especially his world-famous masterpiece, Kiss (Lovers). Sorry, Leah, looks like we’ll just have to go back to Austria. 😉

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As we walked from the lower Belvedere to the upper Belvedere, we unknowingly came across an art installation by contemporary artist, Ai Weiwei.

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The recently installed art consisted of bronze animal heads representing the 12 animals of the Chinese Zodiac surrounding a body of water. Floating on top of the body of water were numerous life jackets once worn by Syrian refugees, connected, forming the letter ‘F’, giving the piece the name F Lotus. It was quite beautiful, yet exuding a powerful statement.

Afterwards, we decided to have dinner at Hotel Daniel, which had a very Ace Hotel vibe to it.

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We headed back to our Airbnb where we met our friendly host, Thomas, who showed us the ins and outs of the apartment, including the beautiful rooftop views.XT102200

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We initially sought advice on the best place to watch the Euro Cup finals that night, but decided to stay in and watch it on the tiny television in our cozy apartment. My memory tells me that Portugal won (I just looked it up to confirm that they did…soccer noob here).

The next day, we took on hot and humid Vienna. We started out at Naschmarkt, Vienna’s most popular open-air market first established in the 16th century.

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Naschmarkt consists of numerous stalls and shops selling fresh produce, various foods and products, and restaurants. I lost count as to how many “ni hao’s” (meaning ‘hello’ in Mandarin Chinese) were hurled at me as we walked the 1.5 km of the market. We sat down for a hearty lunch at Neni. I was all about that Jerusalem Plate.

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Afterwards, we went on our self-guided tour of the city AKA “all the spots Mel wanted to see according to the cool Instagram posts she screenshot and saved on her phone”.

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We started at the giant Natural History Museum and through the Museums Quartier while desperately seeking shade and places to cool down.

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We passed the Parliament, then into the Volksgarten. I absolutely love that Vienna loves flowers.

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Next, we were on the hunt for the National Library as previously mentioned. We cut through to the Hofburg Palace–residence of the Austrian president(s).

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We walked around the huge palace grounds and it felt like we were aimlessly walking in circles, failing to land at our destination. Did I already mention it was hot and humid?

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We FINALLY found the National Library, specifically the State Hall, and let me tell you–it was worth the trek! The library looked like it was the sole inspiration for Beast’s library in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Serious heart eyes, y’all. There was a Franz Joseph I exhibit chronicling his emperor rule and life commemorating the 100th anniversary of his death.

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As we were about to leave the library, it started pouring rain and even some hail. We waited indoors until the weather calmed and then decided to run through the light rain to our next destination: Palmenhaus.

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Palmenhaus is a beautiful palm tree cafe designed to look like a greenhouse. Unfortunately, due to the humidity and sudden rainstorm, the beautiful cafe turned into a giant sauna inside. It made it very difficult for us to enjoy our experience there, but again, it was visually gorgeous.

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We continued our walking tour and stumbled across the Goldenes Quartier, a luxury shopping area situated in Old City Vienna.

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I gleefully spotted a Massimo Dutti and obviously spent some time in there. 😀 We were soon approaching dinner time and so referring to Leah’s extensive list of food suggestions, we attempted the infamous Figlmüller only to find that they were completely booked, but the host suggested that we try their sister restaurant, Lugeck, that was right around the corner. And boy are we glad we did!

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I would go as far to say that Lugeck was one of my favorite and most memorable food-related experiences during this trip. Everything I had was perfect. In addition, the modern interior of the restaurant was also very attractive.

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With our bellies full and satisfied, we dared to venture further into the evening.

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We took a stroll by the river and walked alongside a makeshift beach strand. We discovered that one of the rooftop bars I had bookmarked was right across the street, so we went up to Le Loft and had a drink and enjoyed the stunning 360 degree nighttime views

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Before we headed home, we stopped by a historic and picturesque alleyway called Griechengasse to snap some photos.

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We finally concluded our extremely long day with the longest walk across what seemed like the entire city of Vienna back to our Airbnb.

July 12th- Bratislava, Slovakia

Next day, we hopped on a train to Bratislava because why not? Bratislava is only an hour train ride away from Vienna, so we opted for a day trip.

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When we arrived, we got dropped off in the outskirts of Old Town Bratislava and walked over the Danube River to get to it (seriously mind blowing to me every time we got to walk over the Danube).

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We explored charming Old Town and then decided to make our trek uphill to Bratislava Castle. The castle grounds were newly renovated including the beautiful gardens. As the temperatures rose, so did our hunger pangs. We walked back down to the center of Old Town in search of a place to have lunch. My hanger (hungry-anger) led us into a restaurant pub with a name I cannot recall to partake in some authentic Slovakian food. The only thing I can remember about the restaurant is that the cheese was  delicious and I ate way too many pickles, which later came back to haunt me in the form of nausea and yeah…

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For dessert, we paid a visit to an adorable hand made ice cream shop called Koun that was tucked away in an alley. I remember the ice cream being very refreshing with the best combination of flavors.

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We caught the bus to the train station and headed back to a rainy and thunderstorming Vienna. After drying off a bit, a short nap, and getting over my nausea, my stomach was ready for food consumption again. It was already past 10, so we went on a desperate hunt for an open grocery store for some snacks. We spent the rest of the night in snacking and watching movies on my trusty iPad. By the way, the Netflix movie selection (and some television) is SO much better in Europe!

July 13th- Final morning in Vienna

After a somewhat restful evening, we packed our bags and stopped by Cafe Goldegg for a delicious breakfast. Then headed to Wien Hauptbahnhof one last time to catch a train ride to the Vienna airport.

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It’s been real, Wien. Next stop: Dubrovnik, Croatia!

-Melissa

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Melissa, a 3rd grade teacher, was a Groomswoman in our wedding and has been one of our closest friends for over 12 years. In fact, she temporarily considers Richard her best friend while the previous BF is popping out babies left and right. Mel is a frequent traveler within the States, and is one of the few friends Richard has been able to convince to join in the Miles & Points Game. After using miles (earned from a single credit card sign up bonus) to join us in Central Europe this summer, she recently cashed some points in for a ticket to Thailand and Indonesia (her Mother’s homeland) where we will be ringing in the New Year 🙂 

Destination: Budapest, Hungary

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 Bachelor(Stag) and Bachelorette(Hen) Party Capital? Possibly. The City seems tailor made for them. With just enough tourist sites to fill your day. Open area bars and food truck courts to start your evening. Follow that up with  dinner at a hip bougie restaurant. Heading to one of the many clubs through out the city. But wait! As great as that night was and as horrible as you probably feel the following morning, Budapest has you covered with its Turkish bath houses, including one in the center of the city. Recharging you just in time to hit all the cool places you wish you hadn’t passed up the previous night.

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Not on a Stag or Hen party? Not a problem, neither were we! I was here with my wife (obviously) and our two friends/ travel companions Mel & Leah. Which meant first stop: Girls Day Out to the Turkish bath house. As described by Siobhan below:

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The girls and I  navigated the Hungarian train system and made our way to the baths, not sure what to expect. It costs about $14USD to get in which I thought was a bit much. But my expectations were blown out of the water, so to speak. We started the day in the huge outdoor baths, heated to different temperatures. With so many people in them, it was surprisingly clean and minimally chlorinated. 

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We took our time sampling almost every bath both outside and inside, as well as the multiple saunas.

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I’ve only been in one or two saunas before, but they were NOTHING compared to these things. First, they were unbearably hot and second, they were filled with so much steam that I could barely see my hand in front of my face. I couldn’t handle the first one because I had this image in my head about getting lost in the lava-temperature steam and slowly burning to death in the back corner of this Hungarian sauna.
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After we made the rounds and came back to the death-by-steam sauna, I decided to stop being such a baby and suck it up. The second time around I took some deep breaths and realized the steam was infused with lemon and mint, which totally cleared out any congestion and felt great on the skin. As long as I stayed near the door, I could finally appreciate why people could spend all day at these baths and come home feeling super relaxed and rejuvenated!

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After the Ladies spa day, and some rest from our quick paced travel, we made the best of our Friday evening in the vibrant city. First stop, always, Food! Karavan, a street food lot was the perfect place to start the night.

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Karavan was conveniently located next door to an open air/ two story abandoned building turned into a massive bar. it had a very arts district feel. A bit later we wound up at a 90s hip hop n R&B club where the short line was filled with several groups of Hen Parties (aka bachelorette parties).

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Fun times! Except for when I was stuck with my camera in hand (from being a tourist and all that). While taking pictures of my wife and friends, I was mistaken for being a club photographer?!? How? No idea! But after the 4th group kept insisting I take their picture yeaaaa, aaaaawkward. Coat/camera check please!  Anyhow, a great Friday night that was long over due.

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The next day we did what we do best. Walk around the city. Amongst the first stops was The Great Market Hall or Central Market Hall.

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A gorgeous multilevel warehouse building with meat, produce, and bakeries on the ground level then food and shop stalls  on the upper level. Reminded me of the Ferry Building in San Francisco but more grand. While we ate on the second level we met an an expat married to a local who highly recommended the cake shop hidden away in the corner of the first floor. Nothing fancy, just delicious cake rolls.

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Walking off our dessert we crossed the Danube River & headed toward the Castle District.

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(probably one of five desserts we had that day)

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The beautiful Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion.

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Capping off the evening with a wonderful meal at Mazel Tov followed by a few drinks at a large outdoor bar. Budapest proved to be lovely by day and relaxing/ vchill by night.

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We made our way back to Vienna by train where we met a cool Ukrainian who had studied at UC Riverside & learned that the train tickets are valid as return tickets for up to three months. Evident by the guy who asked if he could have our tickets nearing the end of our Journey. Apparently he works in Vienna but travel home to Budapest each weekend, which seemed to be a common practice.

We came to Budapest like most, to enjoy the weekend. And that we did. Though the small glimpses of Hungarian culture that we experienced left me wanting more, and only reassured our desire to return for an Eastern European trip sometime in the hopefully near future.

Destination: Prague & Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic (GUEST POST)

Guest post written by Leah.

July 2 – Prague

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And so the adventure begins! Melissa and I arrived from the states in the evening, while Richie and Siobhan were still on a train traveling from Poland, so we took a taxi from the airport to Wenceslas Square.
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On our way we saw the Dancing House, designed by, Vlado Milunić and Frank Gehry (other known works by Gehry you may know: Walt Disney Concert Hall in LA, Experience Music Project in Seattle, etc).

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After checking in with the Airbnb host, we took our time walking to our place on the west side of the Vltava river, in the charming Malå Strana neighborhood.

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Prague is divided into districts, like Paris. It’s a fairly small city so you can walk from place to place easily and there are many bridges, giving a variety of route options. It reminds me a lot of home (Portland, OR) in that aspect.

July 3 – Explore.

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This is my crew – my travel buddies, models, fellow foodies and roommates over the next few weeks

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We grabbed a quick breakfast across the street at Cafe Savoy before heading off for a day of exploration. The sunshine made for perfect picture worthy lighting.

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We wandered through the city following the stream of tourists, strolled across the historic Charles Bridge and found the John Lennon wall. Since the 80’s the Wall’s graffiti has represented a global push towards peace and love. I noticed someone wrote in Korean, “독도는 인식 우리땅!” which translates to “Recognize that Dokdo [islets] is our land!”. Which references the infamous territorial dispute between South Korea and Japan, both claiming sovereignty over a small group of islets.

Brief History Tangent: Dokdo became a part of Korean territory about 1500 years ago, during the Goryeo dynasty in year 512. There are multiple historic documents and maps that state and support this claim. The first time Japanese documents mention Dokdo (Oki is the Japanese name for the islets) is in year 1667, which is far later than Korean documentation. Their documents are records from an inspection trip to the islands, not a valid territorial claim. Yet the Japanese government ignores this evidence and to this day, claim the land is theirs.

On the surface it seems like a petty quarrel over a few rocks but it’s much deeper than that. It’s symbolic and emotional. It ties to the residual feelings left from the brutal war crimes the Japanese committed during the occupation of Korea that left millions lost, broken and stripped. After liberation by the United States, post war circumstances left the country divided into two – all national identity was lost.

It’s sunny today and many tourists buzz around in front of the wall to read its worldly messages, take selfies in front of it, or leave their own mark of identity or passion. Many write about peace, love, equality or quotes about happiness… and way up top near a giant stencil of Lennon’s face, someone was thinking about tiny Dokdo.

 

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Afterwards, we made our way up the steps to the Prague Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral. The view from the top is gorgeous! The red rooftops seem to go on forever.

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We had dinner at Pivovar U Tří Růží, a place known for local comfort dishes like goulash and bread dumpling. I had schnitzel. We watched France play Iceland in the UEFA EURO quarter final as we ate and drank beer.

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Post dinner we walked around the alleyways and stepped into Kafe Damu for a night cap, sweets and played some Heads Up! (game by Ellen DeGeneres, which I highly recommend it if you haven’t played before). We laughed a lot.

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July 4 – Happy Birthday, America!

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Naturally, we started the day off with coffee (and a raspberry rhubarb roll) at Supertramp before meeting up with friends that Richie and Siobhan met in Poland.

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For lunch we went to Sisters Bistro for open faced Czech sandwiches. After we got some food in our bellies, we crossed the street to the Prague Beer Museum because it was America’s birthday after all. We sat on the patio, rated a flight of beers and chanted, “USA USA USA!”. Ah, bliss.

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In an attempt to walk off the food and beer, we wandered around Old Town Prague and the square to see the Astronomical Clock. It was installed in 1410, which makes it the third oldest astronomical clock in the world! And to top that, it’s the oldest one that is still working today. Wow. We spent more time exploring until we caught a whiff of…

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Trdelník! A must try dessert in Prague – it’s a sweet pastry made from rolled dough that’s wrapped around a metal stick, then grilled and topped with sugar and a walnut mix. We got the ice cream version and clearly, we were hooked.

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After departing from our fellow patriots the four of us made our way to Eska, a restaurant located in the Karlin neighborhood (district 8)

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The pork belly dish was paired with beetroot, apples and clove and it was melt-in- your- mouth good. Also pictured is the steamed trout. It was the perfect meal to end our stay in Prague. Tomorrow we leave for Český Krumlov.

July 5th- Český Krumlov

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We arrived mid afternoon and found our cabin-esque hostel not too far from the main square. After settling in, we ventured back out into the charming, medieval town.

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The sun was starting to set and live musicians played every few blocks, serenading tourists. We ate dinner on the river bank and watched the rafts float by.  Afterwords we climbed the hill to the Český Krumlov Castle that dates back to 1240. From here, we got an awesome panoramic view of  Old Český Krumlov, which is a listed UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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JULY 6th

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The next morning we ate a hearty breakfast at Kolektiv before our rafting shenanigans.

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Rafting on the Vltava river was… slow and lazy. I don’t think we paddled very much, except for this part. We had a ton of fun regardless.

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Post rafting, we bee-lined straight to MLS Creperie to fit in one last trdelník before heading to Austria. Ending things on a sweet note is our MO. Until next time, Czech Republic.

  • Leah.

 

 

  Leah is a friend of ours from Portland, Oregon. An Art Director who’s easy going, a true foodie, and  loves to cook and bake (with the potential to someday turn her hobby into a possible career).  She was a blessing to have along the trip as she made a point to find hidden gems from restaurants to cafes. Leah and Melissa decided to meet us in Europe after I convinced them to look into the benefits of traveling via miles and points. They were able to fly round trip to Europe  with only 60,000 United Points + $100. Thanks again for sharing in the adventures as well as writing this guest post ❤ – Richard & Siobhan

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Destination: Krakow, Poland

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Before arriving in Krakow we knew very little about the country of Poland, let alone the city of Krakow. Most tourists seem to visit for its proximity to Auschwitz & Wieliczka Salt Mines, both of which we skipped. Instead we enjoyed our week exploring the culturally rich city by foot, through a cooking class, and by a few walking tours.

A big help in doing so was locallife.com , which was recommended by a hostel mate. With Yelp being hit or miss in certain European cities because of its lack of sample size we were sure glad to have found the website.

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Our first stop was Massolot Books & Cafe where Siobhan had her now typical cappuccino and I found a first edition modern Polish cookbook (in Polish).

The following day we found ourselves on a Guided Food Tour where we met some of our new favorite fellow travelers from Miami (more on them later). The food tour took us from the Jewish Quarter through a farmers market whose merchants were mostly from the local mountain areas who seldom see any foreigners.
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This was the first time I’ve ever enjoyed pickles! Possibly because they were fermented instead of pickled in vinegar. We also visited a  “locals only” tiny pierogi place (which I had coincidently bookmarked from locallife)

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Then a bakery…
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And finally for some vodka tasting and Bigos (a hunters stew)

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Another highlight also revolving around food, surprise, was a pierogi (polish dumplings) cooking class! Found on eataway.com (again through locallife.com)  we made the fillings, one vegetarian and one lamb, kneeded the dough, tasted some Winsniowaka (a polish cherry liquior) and finally filled and folded the polish dumplings.

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We sat down with our host and teacher Magdalena, her husband a french pastry chef, and her father. sharing a meal and chat with multiple generations of locals was a great part of the evening topped only by some dessert Perogis.

-Richard

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To break up the food fest that we( or Richard) seem to always write about, we had the chance to visit The Museum Of Contemporary Art, Krakow.We were told about an exhibit being shown about “medicine in art”. Neither of us are very big on contemporary art but it sounded interesting to me, so off we went. It turned out to be very educational and we were able to view some beautiful and thought-provoking pieces.

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My favorite was a portrait series of surgical patients before and after surgery to remove or repair tumors, facial injuries, burns, etc. It was part of an art therapy program for both the patients and the surgeon, helping both to cope with their respective challenges.

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I decided to visit the Schindler factory on my own, and I’m glad I did. It turned out to be one of the best museums I have experienced. The inside of part of the factory has been converted into a museum dedicated to the Polish experience leading up to WWII, the events during the war including those at Schindler’s factory, and the after-effects of the war. The displays are completely immersive and interactive and I could have spent HOURS there if I had the energy. My favorite exhibit was one that shook me to my core. A tiny corner of a concentration camp was re-created in one of the rooms. Leading up to that point, the displays had been bright, colorful, and close in proximity. When I stepped into this room I was suddenly in grey emptiness and complete silence. It was dusty, gravel-filled, a shard of metal placed in the center of the room, and barbed wire lined the ceiling. As Richie mentioned before, we didn’t make the trip to Auschwitz. This tiny display was no comparison, but it definitely hit a chord and I’m so glad that element was included. I highly recommend this museum to anyone travelling to Krakow, but make sure it’s the first activity of the day since it requires a lot of time and energy to really absorb all the information!

-Siobhan

Back on the street, immersed in a crowd peering through the doorway of a bar, cheering on Poland’s futbol squad during its quarterfinal Eurocup match vs Portugal. Chants, songs, flairs, and drunkenness…the frenzy was is full swing.

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Futbol at its best. Unfortunately the Polish squad was not, and went down in a penalty shoot out. Oh well, off to try some after hours drunk food. In this case Zapiekanka (an open faced pizza sandwich). It may just have been our lack of intoxication but they were pretty disappointing. Oh well.

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Most days we found ourselves going back to the jewish quarter again and again.From its food trucks and hip stores dotted throughout, there were so many hidden gems I couldn’t wait to go back.

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A favorite was the spicy pulled pork sandwiches with JALAPENEOS (I think the polish refer to them as Cyklon pepper perhaps?) but they are jalapeneos none the less. I was so glad to have finally found something with spice! (Western Europe seems to fall short on the spice realm, unless you count black pepper #shotsfired) I felt like I was in Austin TX the pork was so good!!!Rarely do we eat twice at the same place. (With the small exception of the ice cream spot we also found)

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Lastly there is the Unesco World Heritage site of Old Town. The ancient walled town in the center of the city. Rich in medieval history and nearly unharmed from either of the major world wars. Unfortunately we missed out on most of that history as we showed up late to the free walking tour. However our new friends, Liz n Oscar, from the previous walking tour suggested the Macabre Tour. A ghost tour through Old Town … um sure? Turns out it was tons of fun! The guide’s humor was simalur to that of the Jungle Cruise at Disneyland, except holding us in suspense about serial killers and making puns and jokes about ghost, or medieval torture practices. Brilliant!
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POST POST POST SCRIPT: the encounters we have had with fellow travelers, be it one night conversations with people we’ll never meet again, or the ones we add on facebook and hope to sometime run into again at a future destination is something I’m still trying to put into words… But for now I must take a minute to remind myself that these new friends we met from Miami are inspirational. And as the lazy, pretentious, cynic I am most of the time, thats not a word I find myself ever using. He, a self proclaimed history nerd turned lawyer and a prom queen turned cancer research scientist, BOTH left those careers to return and teach at their high school where they met. AND NOW THEY’RE THE COOL TEACHERS! And my goodness is he a history nerd, of which I am beyond jealous. All we share in common is a sense of humor and a love of travel. But thanks for reminding me that THIS is in fact the BEST time in history to be alive. As well as reinforcing the notion that despite scary headlines intended to drive up ratings, its the globalization of mass media that is painting a false image of this beautiful world we are so fortunate to be traveling. ❤

-Richard

Destination: Swiss Alps, Switzerland

We owe a big thanks to Stephan working at the new SBB office in Basel. The man performs miracles! After going over our week long itinerary for travel through the very expensive Switzerland, he granted us a promotional offer (that was for residents only) by using the train station’s address as our own! We now had 1/2 fare cards that we bought at a hugely discounted rate allowing us to travel for the price of one person! Thank you also to Pat & Carla for the wedding gift of funding our train ride from Basel to the Alps!

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^ A man in a flying squirrel suit “falling with style” pulled open his chute and appeared out of nowhere right in front of us.

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We pitched our accommodations for the week at Camp Jungfrau. Then explored the nearby Trummelbach Falls followed by hiking, hiking, and more hiking the rest of the week. Our three favorite trails being  Gimmelwald (the good); Grindelwald (the accidental adventure); & Bauchl Lake (the beautiful).

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The Good. The route from Gimmelwald > Schiltalp> Murren was  picturesque with incredible views. The trail was a steady incline further up the mountain and down through hilly flower filled valleys, past grazing cows, and tiny pig pens. Siobhan had a chance to reenact a scene from her favorite movie. 🙂

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The Accidental Adventure. Sometimes I (Richard) over estimate… well, pretty much everything. This day was no exception. We took a train to Grindelwald and set off on a 4hr hiking trail to Kleine Scheidegg. The trail started with a grueling  600 meters of incline. The higher we went the better the views were of the Eiger Mt. North Wall. The trail eventually relented and opted for the more gradual ascent. Despite the workload it was an incredible feeling being immersed in the surrounding natural beauty. 

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With Kleine Scheidegg, the highest point & end of our trail, in sight we were satisfied with another gorgeous day in the mountains. The 4hr trail only took us 5.5 hrs. Which turned out to be 2 hours too long, as we had missed the last train out of dodge.

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This is when wives gives their husband that look/ when husbands realize their own mortality ::gulp:: ::assess the situation:: No train. No taxis. Current time, 8:30pm. Sunset, 10:15pm. Closest train was two towns over with a final departure at 10:30pm. Its a 2.5 hr hike to said town, mostly downhill. We could make it in less than 2hrs right? Sure? If not it would be a further 2hr hike all the way down the mountain to our campsite in pitch black. Headlamps? Check. Off we went.

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Despite the frustrations a husband might cause a wife, the adventure and beauty of it all could still put a smile on her face… JK thats 75% a forced smile 🙂

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Just past the train tracks and pine trees, down in the valley, the village was in sight! Leaving just enough time to snap some photos at dusk, before continuing quickly down hill. 

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Through the darkened pine trees we finally arrived to the train with 15 minutes to spare. And the husband was the hero once again!!! Hurray!!!… remember folks, history is shaped by those who write it #justsayin 😉

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The Beautiful. With tired legs we opted to take gondolas up from Grindelwald and took a short hike to Bachlee Lake. We picked tiny wild flowers all along the way until we reached the snow surrounded lakes.

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 The lack of crowds, scenic trails, and eye popping natural beauty, made the Alps our favorite destination thus far. ❤

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Destination: Ghent & Bruges, Belgium

Medieval/ Chocolate/ Beer/ Fries/ Waffles. Belgium!

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We arrived in Ghent to what could only be described as a medieval ghost town. Five major factors for this were: 1) It’s a bit of a college town and people were off on summer break. 2) It was the middle of a Belgium vs Italy EuroCup football match (which garners the attention of a March Madness/ Superbowl tournament). 3) The old town of Ghent is the largest car-free/ pedestrian-only zone in Belgium. 4) It was slightly raining. 5) It was also 9:30 in the evening.

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^Our hostel, the one with the red umbrellas in front

We spent two and a half days in the peaceful old town of Ghent visiting chocolate shops, eating fries and waffles, and drinking  gueze lambic beers, as recommended by our beer connoisseur friends.

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On one of the days we took a Free Walking Tour. I highly recommend these whenever possible. the knowledge gained adds an extra layer of perspective. Just simply tip the guide at the end. From the tour we learned about the architecture and history of the city. Each building’s facade tells the story of who lived there or what work they performed. We learned that during the middle ages, Ghent was the second largest city in Europe (after Paris) thanks to its wool textile & port industry. We also explored chocolate shops and the Free-Grafitti alleys where street art is not only legal but encouraged.

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^Castle Gravensteen, or “the castle of the counts”

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 ^The “Our House” & The Bond Moyson Socialist Buildings

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^Walking out of the old city center toward the train station, Ghent emerges as an incredible modern city.

En route to Bruges we expecting more of the same. Admittedly, the movie In Bruges is what drew us to the town, it being “ like a #@&%ing fairytale or something.” And though it was lovely with “those canals, and bridges, and cobbled streets, and those churches, all that beautiful @#$%ing fairytale stuff…” it was also overrun by hordes of tourist as well as the many shops catering just to them, removing much of the authentic feel Ghent had. Though that should have been expected as summer was in full swing. I’m sure in the spring or autumn it retains its magic. Still, the charm did win this grumpy old man over and we had an enjoyable time wandering the village and  listening to a free concert in the square by The Belgium Navy Orchestra, while drowning in some Belgian stew and fries. 

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Note: we spent two nights in Antwerp. However, all we saw was the impressive main train station, the Hasidic Jewish neighborhood 5 blocks away from the train station where our AirBnB was located, and a market where we got groceries for the two days we spend locked up in our apartment relaxing, recuperating, and resting before heading to the Swiss Alps next!