We reminisced of our first overseas trip together with our return to Amsterdam. The quality of our accommodation has certainly improved. Our first trip we stayed above a bar in a tiny room with a minuscule bathroom about the size of the toilet that filled it with the shower above it. Shortly after we arrived we rented bicycles to get around like the locals. We explored a lot of the city in both the tourist and residential areas and we had lunch in Vondelpark. We covered a lot of ground going from one end of the city to the other and took another break later at the Public Library where we had drinks at the café on the top floor with the views of the city below it. In the evening we ate a tucked away local restaurant called Van Keruwyk. We were very happy with the recommendation and the good food and laid-back atmosphere. That night the weather turned on us. It was cold and raining and this carried through the following day.
The following morning we decided not to visit Zaanse Schans as we originally planned due to the miserable weather. Instead we escaped indoors to visit the Anton Corbijn exhibition at FOAM. We hoped it might stop raining, but we still got wet wandering to and around the Jordaan neighbourhood. Later we paid a brief visit to the Hermitage Amsterdam as our hotel had provided us with free passes for it. We took the underground transit from there to central station while still considering the idea of heading just outside of the city. The weather was even worse when we arrived so we left and ended up meandering through the seedy, red light district on the way back to our hotel. We are staying in Sofitel Legend, The Grand, which was built in the 15th century and was once a convent and the city hall. It is at the centre of the city but adjacent to red light section of town, which today was literally trashy with stinking wet garbage piled everywhere. There are a lot of nice areas in the city, but this is not one of them. The area was filled with a lot of young men strolling through it, either seeking out the easy access to drugs and prostitution, or simply taking a curious peek of this unique part of Europe. In the evening we ate at a nearby brasserie and met up with Marianne, our Dutch friend living in Amsterdam that we met travelling through Peru and Bolivia. The last time we saw her was two years ago in Rio de Janeiro. It was great to catch-up over drinks. We like Amsterdam and will be back again. We return to Vancouver tomorrow morning. I have now seen 85 sovereign nations and a whole 100 countries according the the Traveler’s Century Club. It seems the more I see, the more I realize there is to see. Travel is great that way.
We took a train from Vienna across the mountains through some of the most scenic villages of Austria. Over four hours later we arrived in Villach where we changed to a Slovenian train which took us on to Ljubljana. We were initially disappointed with the look of the town. Even the entrance to our hotel was just a big unmarked wooden door in a plain alley. Hidden behind the large door was an attractive and enormous old mansion. It turned out to be a beautiful place to stay and we had an oversize multi-room suite that even had its own piano. It was much larger than two people would ever need for such a short stay.
We didn’t realize until we wandered into the old town how wonderful our location was and how incredible Ljubljana is. It is now one of my favourite places in Europe and a highlight of our trip. We both hope to revisit again sometime. The old town is comprised of pedestrian walkways running along both sides of the Lublijanica River. It is lined with cafés and willow trees. It also has a tree covered hill which climbs above it with a castle on top. Dragons are a prevalent symbol here with statues guarding one of the bridges and as symbols on the manhole covers. The size of the city it is just about perfect; it is very cosy and we loved soaking up the atmosphere. We arrived on a Saturday and there was a festival taking place with outdoor basketball games being played in front of crowds in the open squares. The dj’s were cranking out the music and it was a great vibe. We ate that night in a recommended restaurant and had a nice meal in a hidden inner courtyard.
Michael in the Vintgar Gorge
On Sunday we rented a car and drove to Bled. This is one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. It has clear blue water, a castle overlooking it on a hill and a little island in the middle of it. We rented bikes and rode around the entire lake taking in the views from all angles. Later we went to the nearby Vintgar Gorge. It was a perfect place to get away from the heat. They have built an impressive walkway deep in the gorge along the river. The wooden trail twists along the rock walls suspended above the water below. The water is crystal clear and it was easy to see the many fish in it. We made the 3+ km trek down and back enjoying the beauty of it all. We stopped for a break along the way and refreshed with the cold clean river water. We followed that with lunch at the head of the trail and had freshly caught brown trout. It was cooked in wine sauce and was delicious. We then went and visited Bled Castle before carrying on to the next and less touristy lake in Bohinj. It was large and scenic, but frankly a bit of a let down after Bled. In the evening we returned to Ljubljana. We wondered if it would still have good night life on a Sunday and were surprised to find out it did. All the basketball courts had been removed and the djs had been replaced with impressively talented young musicians throughout the old town.
On our final day we went to the top of the hill to visit the castle and continued to wander through the town. It was a low-key day for us and we had drinks and ice cream along the river. It was Monday and we were able to see what life was like with all the stores open. I highly recommend Slovenia. We were very impressed.
Anniversary dinner in Le Loft
We spent three nights in Vienna and celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary there. We stayed in the beautiful new Sofitel and had a stunning corner room one level below the top floor Le Loft Restaurant. A funny thing happened on our first day there. We had been out exploring the old city and were back in our room in the late afternoon. We had bolted the room door and put on the do-no-disturb so we could shower and relax away from the sweltering sun. Without notice a man from the adjacent room barged into ours, having opened two back-to-back doors that connect the rooms. These doors can only be locked by keys held by the hotel staff and we naturally assumed they couldn’t open. We were disrobed at the time and in shock when it happened. He quickly went back to his room after seeing us. I had to call the hotel staff to come and lock the doors between the rooms. This is how the hotel responded: They only billed us for one night of our entire stay; they treated us to an expensive dinner and drinks for our anniversary in the lavish and solidly booked Le Loft restaurant with the best seat in the restaurant with dedicated service. We felt guilty however as part way into our meal a Russian couple was seated at a table behind us. They had booked a view table weeks in advance and they were complaining in English about not getting it. They were given a bottle of wine as an apology and we knew we had their table. They had made room for us that night even though it was full. For the rest of our stay the entire hotel staff greeted us by name and went all out to help us in anyway they could. The General Manager contacted me directly and gave me a run-down on how they were going to modify the locks for the entire hotel to make sure this could not happen again. Our anniversary dinner was exceptional. On top of our aperitifs I had six remarkable glasses of wine paired to the six courses whose highlights included seared foie gras, surprisingly delicious frog legs,St Peters fish with risotto and fresh chanterelle mushrooms, and succulent lamb. It was a night to remember and a gracious gift from the hotel.
Changing of the Guard in Bratislava
On the day of our anniversary we took a boat directly from the edge of Old Town Vienna to Bratislava, Slovakia. It was a fast 75 minute trip down the Danube and we reached speeds of 70 kph. We explored the city by foot and quite enjoyed the old part of town, however there were a couple things I did not like during our visit. I didn’t enjoy seeing a life size poster of the Boston goalie, Tim Thomas, who robbed the Vancouver Canucks of the Stanley Cup. It was posted beside the door to a school we wandered past when we were following the recommended tourist walk. We also climbed up to the castle on the hill and were disappointed with it. It had been in ruins since 1811 and was rebuilt in 1957 but it lacked character and charm. We were also suffering from the intense heat and felt like the climb was not worth it, but it did provide an interesting vantage point to look over the drab, high-density apartment blocks in another part of the city that were built during the communist era. When we made it back into the old town we had lunch at a shaded Belgian Café before going to visit the residence of the President of Slovenia. We arrived just in time to see the changing of the guard. We took the train back to Vienna that afternoon. It was a hot ride and we were so happy when we were able to transfer to air-conditioned light rail transit back in Austria. We were pleased with the trip and ready for our special dinner that night.
Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna
On our last full day in Vienna we rented bicycles to travel between all the city sights. We started by the amusement park and made our way past the monuments and the many city parks and squares. We visited The Belvedere palace and went inside to admire the masterpieces on display. As we made our way through the city we struggled a bit with the bike paths. They had unexpected detours to avoid busy road sections, and disappeared in places forcing you to ride with traffic. We had very friendly help from a local to get us back on track while we were studying our map at one point. There a few things I should comment on about our bike trip. At the start of the day there were ridiculous winds that gusted so strongly we felt like we would be knocked over. Many of the city parks do not allow bicycles to be ridden in them, which was really annoying. When we walked our bikes through a number of the parks we discovered they were closed due to the severe winds earlier in the morning. After seeing the major landmarks and returning the bikes we took a train out to Schonbrunn Palace. It has one of the largest and most attractive grounds of any in Europe. We did the long walk across the length of it. In the evening we ate in the old town at a recommended modern restaurant tucked away in a tiny square. It was one of the best steaks I have ever had.
Bratislava was well worth the visit and is easily done as a day trip.Vienna is enormous and has so many things to see and do you need plenty of time there to give it justice. It is ranked up withVancouver in the short-list of most liveable cities. It is overflowing with culture and has all the benefits of major cities like New York and Paris, but with fewer problems. It is very safe, however it does lack natural beauty. The imported beaches established all along the Danube Canal are popular, but comical at the same time. They are all set away from the water with about 5 meters of pavement between the two. Their outdoor swimming pool in the canal is a good concept, but it accentuates the dirtiness of the Danube. This aside, it is one of the great cities of the world.
I have wanted to visit Cesky Krumlov since I first heard people mention that it is their highlight of the Czech Republic. A lot of people prefer it over Prague, and it is the second most visited destination. It did not disappoint. This town of just over 14 thousand inhabitants is one of the most picturesque I have seen. The Vltava river snakes around the old town in the shape of a horseshoe, and the buildings are cute and fit the setting perfectly. During our stay the town was packed with people from all over the Czech Republic. This is the first week the kids are out of school and it is a famous trip to go by the Vltava river across the country starting just south of Cesky Krumlov. The river was filled with non-stop rafts, canoes, and kayaks as the hoards of people travel in big groups together and camp their way along it. By one of the bridges in the old-town there is a steep drop on a section of the river and everyone gathers to watch who will make it over it without flipping upside down into the chilly water. From the ones we watched the rafts were usually fine, but was common for people in the smaller boats to be tossed over. We managed to see almost the entire village in our first afternoon and evening here. The views from the castle above were spectacular and the town is famous for its pastries and the smells of the bakeries everywhere made my mouth water. The next day we were able to relax, and enjoy the setting. We ate lunch at the local brewery, had one too many pastries and ice creams from off the streets and both nights we sat riverside for our meals. The meals were a good experience with dishes we have never tried, such as the Bohemian feast with smoked pheasant I had the first night. Unfortunately the food was mediocre, and the little place we wanted to get into was full for our entire stay and unable to make a reservation for us. We relaxed, meandered, and shopped, buying some locally made children’s toys for our nieces and nephew back home. What a great place this was to visit.
We are continuing to post photos of our trip in this album.
We flew from Larnaca, Cyprus to Germany to continue our trip there. We arrived in Munich and took the train into the city centre. Our hotel was conveniently right next door to the station. We walked through the touristy roads of Munich and heard more American English than any other language. It is now July and the North American kids just out of school are backpacking through Europe en masse. While I deeply believe this is an important life experience for anyone who has the opportunity to do it, when there is so much familiar language concentrated in the tourist areas it feels a lot like home and takes away the sense of being away. Not to take anything away from the sights; Munich certainly has its beauty. We climbed one of the clock towers for a stunning panoramic view of the city. That evening we ate traditional Bavarian grub at Andesher am Dom. The food was good and the atmosphere was even better. The next morning we rented bicycles to explore the city further. So much of Europe is so bicycle friendly it is a perfect way to get around. We rode out to the Olympiad area with its parks and past the old Olympic village where the hostage situation of 1972 took place. While this occurred before our time, it was still sobering to be there particularly with a history refresher from the Spielberg movie Munich. We stopped in at the neighbouring BMW world headquarters and looked at their showroom. We considered a plant tour, but passed on it. Instead I tried to book us in for a tour in the Audi facilities in the city about 60km north to see where our car was assembled. Unfortunately, the timing didn’t work out as it is closed on the weekend and these were our only free days to go. We rode through the enormous Englischer Garten and returned the bikes that afternoon just as a rain storm was coming in. We went to what is likely to be the most famous beerhouse in the world, the Hofbrauhaus. There we drank one litre Bavarian beer and met a British couple who offered us some travel advice. Without knowing our plans they recommended Bratislava, Ljubljana, and Bled to us. We couldn’t believe the good fortune to get this advice as we had already planned to visit these areas during this trip. Thanks to their recommendations we altered our plans slightly to make sure we get out to Bled. That evening we went to a highly recommended restaurant called Salt, which has a modern spin on traditional German food. It was excellent. The following day we used the spa at the hotel. It was extremely well done with a warm pool that spirals into a private grotto area. Later we visited the Alte and the Neue Pinakothek museums where we saw a painting that is over 6 meters tall for which the gallery was built to accommodate and is the only painting in its original location since the late 1800’s. We also saw classics like Van Gough’s Sunflowers painting. Later that afternoon we took a high-speed train to Salzburg.
In Salzburg we stayed on the Mirabel Park next to its Castle and gardens. We had a nice walk across the river and along its banks to the old section of town on the south side with the tourists, seeing most of it before heading to the street party on the north side where the locals spend their time. That night we ate at a hidden wine-bar restaurant called Flavour. It only has about 15 tables and we were lucky to get in. We struggled a little with the menus but had friendly helpful service and had delicious food and great wine. The next morning was cloudy and chilly. We went on a bicycle tour through the countryside and visited most of the filming locations for the 1964 movie, the Sound of Music. Almost nothing has changed in all this time. The movie locations were fine, but the best part of the tour was going through scenic rural paths we would not have found on our own. In the afternoon we took the funicular up to tour the fortress overlooking the city. Later we went to the restaurant M32 located on another hill with a great view of the city. This was another recommendation that we enjoyed as well. Enjoying good food is a big part of our travels now and we were lucky with the recommendations and reservations we had for the past while. The following morning we hiked up and along the hills on both sides of the river, enjoying the exercise and the views. After lunch we took a shuttle bus for the three hour drive between Salzburg and Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic.
Petra tou Romiou, Aphrodite's birthplace
We flew into Cyprus and went straight from the airport to our hotel. We didn’t step foot off the resort for a few days. It was a time of rest and relaxation, basically a vacation from our busy exploration travel days. All we did was eat, drink, lounge, swim, and nap. We stayed in an adults-only section of the Four Seasons Cyprus and had a secluded river pool off our patio. We spent plenty of time in the water, visited the beach, and lounged in the evenings with drinks overlooking the sea. Our meals were excellent and the service was fantastic. It was a nice break, but stays like these could be anywhere and give you no perspective on the country you are in. We had to get out and explore so we rented a car to venture off on your own. Cyprus was occupied for many years by the British and they inherited the oversized electrical outlets and driving on the left-side of the road. Other than using the wipers three times when trying to signal to turn, I was comfortable making the switch from our previous road trip through Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Having driven on the left on many occasions in Africa and Australasia, it now feels natural to drive on either side. We ventured across half of the Cyprus southern coast, enjoying the scenery and stopping to take in the views. We visited the birthplace of Aphrodite, and made our way to Paphos to visit the archaeological sites including the Tomb of Kings, and the discovered floor mosaics from the second century. We also explored the town’s port and visited another village along the way. It was a scorching hot day and we suffered in the sun. Cyprus is a popular British destination and tourism seems to be one of the biggest parts of the economy here. We enjoyed our time in Cyprus.