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.

Ljubljana and Bled

Ljubljanica River

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.

Lake Bled

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.

Vienna and Bratislava

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.

Cesky Krumlov (“Bohemian Krumlov”)

Cesky Krumlov

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.

Munich and Salzburg


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.


Michael in Old Jerusalem

Flying to Israel requires extra security measures. Before we could board our flight out of Zurich we had to go through an interview process with Israeli officials. The person was very friendly and we had no issues entering the country. After arriving we took a taxi with an exceptionally aggressive driver from the airport to Jerusalem which is a little less than an hour away.

On our first evening we walked from the hotel down to the Mamila shopping area and right through to the Old City through Jaffa gate. We had a quick look at the chaos of the market stalls lining the narrow streets before heading back outside for dinner. We ate at Kedma with a view overlooking the city walls. I had roast goose while Leanne had beef bourguignon. As we sat there we could here some chanting and a group of young military members marched along the outside of the wall. There is mandatory service in this country when people turn 18, and military presence is everywhere. What we found disconcerting was the carelessness with how some of them manage their guns. For example as the group was marching down the outside of the wall, one of the people in the front was lifting his gun in the air and dropped his ammo clip on the ground. Elsewhere we had seen young men and women swinging their weapon around carelessly.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The following morning we went straight into the Old City. We attempted to negotiate the maze of streets on our own and made our way through numerous corridors and eventually to the Western Wall. I had to don a borrowed yamaka to approach it. It is separated for the men in the large area on the left and for the women in a smaller area on the right. During our wanderings we realized that it would be difficult to get the most out of seeing Old Jerusalem without some help. We joined a walking tour that led us through the four quarters (Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Armenian) and provided great explanations of the believed, historical significance of everything we saw. The tour was also worthwhile in that it brought us to rooftops, and to nooks that we would not have found on our own. It was a long hot day for us and we felt we had accomplished a lot within this world wonder. In the evening we went to the new town and dined in a fantastic restaurant called Dolphin Sea. This was on a Friday night and as the evening approached the city cleared out, most businesses closed and public transportation stopped. Shabbat is from Friday evening until Saturday evening. Vehicles are blockaded from entering residential areas occupied by ultra-orthodox Jews. There is an interpretation of the rule, though shall not start a fire during the Shabbat, which leads some to believe they cannot use any electrical switches. So at our hotel the elevator was set to Shabbat mode, where the buttons were no longer in use and the elevator automatically stops on every floor continuously during the 24 hour period.

Tel Aviv Beaches

On the Saturday we arranged for a driver and went to the Mount of Olives. It has an incredible view looking over the old city and holds numerous spots of religious significance. It was packed with tourists not observing the Shabbat. We then went to the Israel Museum to see the Dead Sea scrolls and the huge array of artefacts discovered throughout the region. Our driver offered to take us to visit nearby Bethlehem on the West Bank, but doing so required going into the Palestinian Territory that has been literally walled off by the Israeli government. While many people make this journey, we have our own rule that if the Canadian Government advises people not to travel to a region we are not going to ignore the advice. Bethlehem fell within the travel advisory so we did not go, opting to head to Tel Aviv that afternoon.

Leanne in Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv is a stark contrast to Jerusalem. Much of it is modern and it is a beach city. We wandered down the promenade to the Tel Aviv Port and had a late lunch overlooking the sea. That evening we walked through the bustling streets and all the shops and outdoor cafes. The next day we walked across the entire city to the area of Old Jaffa. It was a beautiful walk along the coast, but hot and humid. The area around Old Jaffa has been restored and filled with art galleries. We walked up and down the steps between the old port and the top of the hill. We then wandered through the old area, past the flea-market. At this point we were very uncomfortable in the hot afternoon sun. We had some ice-cream and took a taxi back to near our hotel, where we went for lunch at a recommended local hummus place. We ate with locals and loved our meal. In the late afternoon we relaxed on the rooftop of the hotel. We enjoyed the sea breeze and watched the sun set over the Mediterranean Sea. Returning back to the streets we found a fantastic restaurant and enjoyed our last night in Israel. We had to leave for the airport at 3:30AM for our 7AM flight. Security at the airport is substantial and it took a while to get through, but we had no problems. We took a very short flight to Cyprus, which is where we are now.


Romantische Straße

Leanne and Neuschwanstein from our hike

“Hallo.” “Hello,” we replied as we handed over our passports. Without ever looking at them the customs agent opened them blindly somewhere in the middle, and stamped them followed by a quick, “Bye, Bye.” The stamp on mine was on top of others and pressed so lightly it was barely distinguishable. Leanne and I looked at each other in amazement as we cleared customs. I don’t think he even knew our nationality. We had now entered Germany after our flight to Frankfurt from Vancouver.

We had started the first part of our trip. The plan was to rent a car and drive portions of the famed Romantic Road followed by a visit to the tiny country Lichtenstein before ending in Zurich where we fly-out for our next adventure. We were offered two options for the rental car (same rate) a VW Passat or a BMW Wagon. We went with the BMW which had a front to back sun roof and built in GPS. It seemed fancy at the time until we were on the road and remembered that Germany has phenomenal domestics. The majority of vehicles (including the taxis) on the road were by Audi, BMW, Mercedes, and Porsche.

Our first night we stayed in a beautiful hotel just outside the centre of Frankfurt. We wandered along the river and into the city the first evening and again the following morning after having been up since 2AM with insomnia from our jet lag. This is unfortunately common for us when we go through with a 9-hour time change. We left midday and drove to Würzburg, the official start of the Romantic Road. We wandered through the city and had lunch there before making our way towards Rothenburg ob der Tauber.

I must admit, I love driving in Europe. Germany in particular has exceptional modern highways, the autobahns, with sections without speed limits. It is something else to be driving somewhere well beyond 150kph and to see a vehicle approaching in the review mirror only to fly by seconds later at some incredible speed. I also love having GPS. It is perfect for exploring and we took a few Ausfahrts off the main road to wander into villages while never worrying about getting lost. One of the great discoveries was Weikersheim. It was a tiny medieval city with a small river beside it.

Michael in Rothenburg ob der Tauber

We eventually arrived at Rothenburg and drove the tiny cobbled roads into the heart of the old town to our hotel. They quickly unloaded us and drove the car to their garage. We wandered the old city walls, admired the castle gardens and had a great dinner that evening. The following morning we explored some more and went to the criminology museum with all of its ancient history of torture devices once a part of the towns past. This is a popular tourist destination for good reason and well worth the effort to visit it.

Our next stop was Dinkelsbühl. We parked outside the city walls and wandered through the old part of town. Rain came in and we ducked into a restaurant for lunch. We sat amongst locals and had yummy, filling dishes with fresh chanterelle mushrooms. We left and drove to Nördlingen on the recommendation of a local. While it had been sporadic since mid day, the rain returned as we arrived. We drove through what we could and then hit the road to head directly to Füssen, the village beside Germany’s most famous castle, Neuschwanstein. We had an early night and an early morning. It was a beautiful day and we made it to the castles ahead of the crowds. We went up to the common viewpoint on Mary’s Bridge, but carried on and hiked for a half-hour up and above it for some spectacular views. The trails were easy to follow, but we were completely alone on them. The hike was rewarding and it was a real highlight for us.

We left Füssen and drove through the Alps to the mountain resort town Garmisch-Partenkirchen. We wandered the streets and ate at an outdoor café before carrying on to Innsbruck. The drive through the mountain passes provided the scenery and winding roads that I was hoping for. We explored Innsbruck that evening and had al fresco dinning in the old town. The next day we drove to nearby the nearby Swarovski Crystal Worlds simply so I could take a photo of the manmade fountain outside. We left there and went straight to Lichtenstein. We drove through over 30km of tunnels on the way. The transit infrastructure here is very impressive. Crossing the border into Lichtenstein was uneventful. The border guard looked at the German license plate of our rental, glanced at us and waved us through. We had lunch in town and carried on to Zurich.

This was our second visit to Zurich and as we drove through town we reminisced about our time here six years ago during the Street Parade. We went to the incredibly impressive Dolder Grand Hotel to check-in. As we arrived they let us know that the hotel was very full and our booked room was unavailable, so they moved us up more than three classes to a grand suite on the top floor with views over the golf course, the lake and the city. We enjoyed the hotel so much we didn’t return to the city. It had one of the best spa areas we’ve ever used. We loved the pool and the hot-tub. I will post some photos of it that I took with our waterproof camera. They will be located here with the others.

We left the next morning to the airport where we dropped off the rental car with almost 1000 new kilometres on it.