Teotihuacán and Mexico City

Las Alcabas

With a population of up to 25 million, Mexico City is huge. It is also the eight wealthiest city in the world. We stayed along Avenida Presidente Masaryk in the Polanco neighborhood. It is the highest-priced street and the one with the most upscale boutiques in all of Latin America. Our small hotel was exceptional and a pleasure to return to for the three nights we were there. It has justifiably won numerous awards for best urban hotel.

Aztec artefact

On our first day we went out to the pre-Aztec ruins of Teotihuacán. They are very impressive and certainly underrated compared to Chichen Itza. We went with a private guide, Eduardo, to learn more of the history and explored it all including walking along the avenue of the dead and climbing the Pyramid of the Moon and the Sun for the views. It was a great day. In the afternoon we visited the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe. It is considered one of the most important pilgrimage sites of Catholicism. People were already making their way there for December 12, Our Lady of Guadalupe’s Feast day.

Temple of the Moon

The following day we toured the city itself. Spending time around the Aztec ruins near the city square, visiting the National Palace and more. In the afternoon we went through the impressive Archaeological Museum and walked back through the parks and charming streets of Polanco to our hotel.

A big part of travel for me now is the food, and a city the size of Mexico city does not disappoint. On our first day we had lunch with Eduardo in the Zona Rosa neighborhood. He had recommended one of his favorite Mexican restaurants. It was rich in flavour, spicy, and very popular. Mexico City also has two of the top 50 restaurants in the world. We were fortunate to get into both of them. We had taster menus at Biko and Pujol. Both were exceptional and the Latin America wine pairings at BIKO were outstanding but of the two, Pujol was by far my favourite. Leanne ordered the seven-course sea taster menu and I ordered the nine-course land taster menu. So were were able to sample 16 different dishes and not one of them was similar to anything I had eaten before. Very impressive and a huge highlight. They also served the best margarita I’ve ever had.

Mexico City is one of the great cities of the world and we will hopefully visit again some day.

The Puuc Route

Ik Kil Cenote. I jumped in from the tallest platform.

On our last morning in Chichen Itza we visited the most popular cenote of all, Ik Kil. This place has secured free parking, lockers and is extremely well cared for and is known to be incredibly busy with tour buses bringing people there later in the morning for the remainder of the day. It is also one of the locations for Red Bull’s annual cliff diving contests when professionals dive in from a custom platform at the top of the cenote. We arrived at 8:30AM and three employees were just finishing removing the leaves that had fallen in from the previous night. I jumped in feet first from the highest drop of about 20+ feet. Leanne didn’t go in, but took photos instead. I had the entire pool to myself. It was incredible, I loved it.

Uxmal

We left Chichen Itza for a 200km drive to Uxmal. Our GPS has incredibly outdated maps and it led us through many small towns no one visits now that the major highways have been built to bypass them.  I get a thrill out of going through the small towns and we really enjoyed our drive. Leanne felt uneasy in one of the larger, and what felt like a rougher one Kanasin, mostly because we zigzagged through tiny local roads, but the trip was without incident. We made it to Uxmal and checked into the lodge. We then hit the road again to for an 80km round trip to visit three ruins Kabah, Sayil, and Labna along the Puuc Route. They were easy to visit and a pleasure to see in the late afternoon. We could climb all over them and there were at most a handful of people at any of them. The drive was also stunning through greenery trying to reclaim the road built through it. In the evening we foolishly went to the Uxmal light show because it was no additional charge since we were going in the morning anyway. We were also told it was better than the one in Chichen Itza. This wasn’t the case and again we left after a half hour.

Kabah

sleeping on oranges

The following morning we entered Uxmal just as the park opened. We climbed all over most of it before returning to the hotel to clean-up, check-out and drive to Merida. We are currently in the airport waiting to fly to Mexico City. We are continuing to update photos at this link.

Quintana Roo and the Yucatan

Michael at Tulum

Road trip. One of our greatest travelling pleasures is getting a car and exploring on our own. We have had an amazing few days. We started with a trip to the ruins of Tulum. The ruins at this popular destination are simple and not attractive, but the location is stunning against the sea. We left the crowds to carry on with our trip. The next stop was at the ruins of Coba. We rented bicycles to get around the area and climbed up the largest of the towers for a view of the jungle.

Leanne climbing the ruins at Coba

Continuing our drive we left the state of Quintana Roo and entered into Yucutan.  We had passed through a number of uneventful police check points, but along the way we went through one where they stopped us for our first interrogation. As it was entirely in Spanish, of which I only understand a few basic words. I think his first question was to do with where we were going and I said Chichen Itza [not pronounced as Chicken Pizza, but close]. He then started directing us to turn around, which made me panic a bit. I quickly responded, “no, no, Valladolid” to which he understood we were in fact heading in the right direction. It is a city on the way that we wanted to stop in. He then asked me what nationality we were (the only full Spanish phrase I completely understood) and I replied Canadian.  He smiled, said bienvanidos and sent us on our way.

Chichen Itza (one of the seven world wonders)

Valladolid turned out to be a beautiful town. When we first entered it we were a little unsure of our decision to stray from the main roads, but it was worth the extra time.  We continued on and pulled into the lodge adjacent to the Chichen Itza archeological site. We were greeted with a refreshing welcome drink called Jamaica [ha-my-ka]. We settled in before going to the sound and light show at the ruins. The place we were staying at is adjacent to them and we have a private entrance to it. We took front row and waited while the buses of tourists filled the other spots. They ran out of chairs and many of them had to stand. The light show started and it was awful. We couldn’t understand most of what was being said and they just kept turning the lights on and off the different buildings as the story was told. We snuck out about two-thirds of the way into it, and almost getting lost on the grounds trying to get back to the hotel. We had a late dinner before going to our room.

Michael rappelling at X-Canche Cenote

The next morning we were up early. We had breakfast around 7:30 and entered the park as it opened at 8AM. We practically had the entire grounds to ourselves. It was voted as one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and it was the only one I still hadn’t seen. Our visit was awesome. We spent two hours thoroughly exploring it and the crowds of people were just starting to arrive when we were ready to leave. We were thrilled with our special access to it. We then went for a long drive to the ruins at Ek Balam. While these were good to see the main goal of the trip was to visit the X’Canche Cenote (sink hole).  This is one you can zip-line over and rappel into. It is far enough away that it does not get many visitors. The cost to rent bikes to get there (2km each way), the zip-line, rappelling, swimming and tour guide was about $10 total Canadian. They brought the price down without any battering on my part as I was slow to decide if I only wanted to rappel. It was a lot of fun and the water was very refreshing. It is about 90 feet deep and had little black catfish in it.

Dzitnup Cenote

Our next stop was a popular cenote called Dzitnup along the main road for Chichen Itza. We were pestered by children as we arrived in the parking lot. They were trying to extort us for money to make sure “nothing happens” to our car while we are away. I hate this scenario, it is the last thing you want to encourage, but you also feel vulnerable. At the previous one the kids attached an enormous snail to the bottom of our windshield when we were gone. Not a big deal, but I had heard stories of windows being broken and did not want to deal with it. I idiotically agreed to a tip of small change provided the car was “protected”.

We left the parking lot and made our way into the massive cavern. It is impressive, and needs to be artificially lit despite the opening in the center of the roof. There was a large cult of gringos all gathered together in the water in the middle of it. Their leader droned on in a loud monotone voice about being as one, and feeling the trees, and they all made humming sounds in unison. It was incredibly creepy.  We were anxious to leave. When we returned to the car the kids all came over for the “protection money”. I wrongly handed out a few coins, they wanted more and I said no. They were all over us as we got in the car. They saw a little cardboard prize inside we had from a bag of chips and the 8 kids all wanted it. They were pushing each other and begging us for it. We know so much better than this and I’m so mad we gave it away, but we did after I told them to back off the car or no one will get it. It will probably lead to the kids fighting over it and some were pretending to cry over the whole thing. At least I hope they were pretending. As a rule you never, never, ever give children items encouraging this type of behavior to beg from foreigners.  I know this. I have learned this from my own experiences, but more so from adults in poor countries explaining the problems it causes. Even well intentioned plans of handing out pencils turns out to be a disaster where some kids get them, others don’t and they all associate foreigners with gifts and get angry when they don’t get any. Anyway, this was the one downside of the day I wish I could do over, but the rest of the day was absolutely brilliant.

Riviera Maya

Resort at Maroma Beach

The start of our Mexico experience was at a five-star, adults-only, all-inclusive resort between Cancun and Playa del Carmen. This wasn’t travel, it was pure vacationing. We had a swim-out pool off our room, thanks to a complimentary upgrade, and our days were very repetitive but relaxing.  Step one: big buffet breakfast of crepes, omelets, fresh fruit, etc. Step two: back to the room and out to the pool. Step three: lunch time. Step four: lounging on the awesome resort chairs on Maroma beach and people watching while yummy beverages are being delivered to us. Step five: fancy dinner at the Mexican, French, Italian or Japanese restaurant. Step six: sleep. Repeat all steps each day, not necessarily in order.

Our room. View from the bathtub to the pool

We tried to be so careful with sun exposure on our first day. We stayed in the shade everywhere and kept commenting about the foolish people who were beet red and still sitting in the sun. That night when we were getting ready for dinner we realized we were both red ourselves. Even in the shade we had burnt.

After a few days of relaxation we were ready to move on. Vacationing is nice, but we missed the excitement of travelling.  We picked up a rental car and drove it to Playa del Carmen. Despite great weather the previous days, it did not cooperate with our excursion. We walked the length of tourist central, Avenida 5, in the rain. We returned to complete a few more of the daily steps and checked out the following morning.

Cuba

Fixing the car in Old Havana

We arrived at the Havana International airport after connecting in Toronto. Unfortunately, Air Canada had neglected to load the tourist visas which they were required to hand out during the flight prior to arrival in Cuba. This resulted in all the passengers being unable to clear immigration. After an extremely long and frustrating wait we eventually had to pay our way through. When we finally cleared customs we took a taxi to our hotel. The car was modern, but many of the vehicles we passed were from the 50’s. We received a bit of attention from some excited locals who noticed us on the way. When we finally made it to the hotel I tried to check-in with the voucher I had purchased through a travel agent at home. I usually book everything myself, but was having problems finding a place in Cuba. It seems like most people who come here are simply on a packaged vacation. Something was wrong with the voucher and they apologized and asked me to be patient while they sorted it out. Over an hour later they explained that my reservation was not in their system and that the hotel was full. They said they were working on a solution and I’m not sure what they did but they eventually managed to clear a suite for us. We still had to wait as it needed to be cleaned, but we eventually got into the room close to 11PM that night.

Musicians in Havana

We visited Old Havana the following morning. We covered a lot of ground by foot, exploring most of the area. This part of the city is about 500 years old and is filled with tremendous character. It truly was a pleasure to experience it. Many people are insincerely friendly hoping to entice you to buy something, although we did meet people who seemed genuine and were happy to just talk to us. One fellow is a fan of the Toronto Bluejays (baseball is a religion here) and said that Canadians are loved in Cuba, we’ve heard the latter a few times. After chatting a bit, he wished us well as he and his girlfriend were heading the other way.

Bicycle Taxi in Cuba's Capital

In the late afternoon we travelled by Coco taxi, a motorized tricycle with two seats in the back covered by a rounded roof. It is an ideal way to sightsee, although it certainly struggled to climb hills with us in it. We visited the Plaza of the Revolution, where Fidel Castro gives his speeches to the public. It is a massive paved square with iron silhouettes of Ché and Fidel on the side of the closest buildings. We went by the University and over to the National Hotel. This grand place has welcomed many famous people including Winston Churchill and Al Capone. We sat out on the terrace looking out at the ocean, listening to the musicians play while drinking Mojitos. It was perfect. When the sun went down we asked a staff member at that hotel for a recommendation for a place to eat. He told us of a new private restaurant on the other side of town, and made a reservation for us. We went out and found another Coco taxi. As we had time to kill, he took us on a scenic trip along the Malecon (sea-wall). He suggested we take a look at another private restaurant and we obliged. We stopped at someone’s house. We had to wait a few minutes, we think they were staging the eating area by getting two people to sit at one of the tables, and then they let us in and showed us the menu being careful not to let us see into the kitchen. We politely declined and went on to our original destination. We ate at Dona Juana. It was on the roof top of a residential building in a suburb. The service, drinks, and food were divine. Dinner included frozen daiquiris, fresh seafood, cooked squash, fresh avocado and tomatoes and much more. For dessert I had cheesecake which was as good as any I have eaten.

Cuban Coco Taxi

On our next day we hired a local with a coco taxi to tour us around the other districts of Havana. We went all over including new Havana, one of the cities beautiful parks, the old neighborhood and homes of the millionaires who fled to Miami during the revolution. A highlight was wandering through the graffiti filled alley, Callejon de Hammel. This area is famous for its rumba music. We ended the tour back in Old Havana where we visited the Museum of the Revolution. It is housed in the decadent palace of the former ruler but is now filled with government propaganda.

Old Chevy Taxi in Cuba

We continued meandering through the old town, past the curio shops, restaurants, stores and hotels. We stopped in at Cuba’s only micro-brewery for a drink and some food. Unfortunately our table was next to where the band played, and while they were on a break when we sat down they performed midway through our time there. The music was good, but sitting so close it was loud and awkward. We were happy to get going. We zigzagged through more of the old city and finally caught a lift in a beautifully restored 50’s Chevrolet for the drive back to our hotel.

Dinner at La Guarida

On our final evening in Havana we went to the most famous of all restaurants in Cuba, Paladar La Guardina . Based on others’ advice, we made reservations before we left Canada. This small, private restaurant has hosted Queen Sofia of Spain; International stars: Jimmy Page, Javier Barden, Clive Owen; Law-breaking Americans: Stephen Spielberg, Jack Nicholson; and crazy people like Naomi Campbell and Gerard Depardieu. I went in with extremely high expectations and it did not disappoint. Our meal included spinach crepes stuffed with mushrooms and chicken, swordfish carpaccio with a light pepper sauce, plum stuffed pork loin, honey and lemon baked chicken, yuccas fried with garlic, and a chocolate torte with vanilla cream sauce. The place was packed and efficient and had a great atmosphere. It was certainly a highlight of our visit.

Audi in Cuba

We are currently waiting in the Havana Airport. When we checked at the hotel the flight departure showed 50 minutes earlier than we expected. When we arrived it was adjusted to an hour later than originally scheduled. It is easy to keep a blog while travelling when you have a laptop and time to kill. So here are some final thoughts on Cuba. The photos I had seen of Cuba highlighted the pre-embargo US vehicles which still fill the streets. While this is common and fun to see, despite the gross plums of exhaust emanating from their tailpipes, no one bothers to show that the roads are also scattered with newer vehicles. This is why I took a photo of a new Audi A6. There is nothing preventing imports from countries other than the US. This emphasizes another reality. The government here started allowing private enterprise over a decade ago. And as with the rest of the world, those who have more money live in different neighborhoods than those without.

I have enjoyed our brief visit to Cuba. The people are warm and Havana is a fascinating must-see for every traveller. Photos can be found here.

End of Summer 2011

Leanne and Michael in the Grand Canyon

We had some nice events locally this summer including an outdoor concert with Ben Harper at Malkin Bowl, Sarah McClachlan performing with the Vancouver Symphony at the Orpheum, and we met and chatted with famous travel photographer Art Wolfe following an inspiring presentation he gave in Vancouver. We watched the fireworks, had the usual drinks and food around town with friends, hiked the north shore mountains, had picnics at the beach, and bicycled all over.

Laura walking with her Uncle Michael

We spent time with our nieces visiting parks and the aquarium. It has been fun to see them and our nephew grow. My grandmother celebrated her 85th birthday, and my dad and I had an overdue motorcycle ride on the sea-to-sky highway.

Teagan McWilliams at the Aquarium

We also managed to sneak in a short get away to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon a few weeks ago. There was a concert there Leanne wanted to see and I wanted to buy an Android Tablet that wasn’t out in Canada yet. So we used some of our air-miles and flew down for a few nights. It made for a busy weekend.

Helicopter view of the Vegas Strip

On the Friday night before we left Vancouver we went for dinner with a group of nine people to il Giardino. Later that night we went to see Sia perform at the Commodore Ballroom. Early the next day we drove from Vancouver to Bellingham and flew to Vegas where we checked into a beautiful room at the trendy, new Cosmopolitan hotel. That afternoon I picked up my Tablet, and in the evening we watched Adele perform in the Chelsea room. We stood near the front of the stage as she bellowed out her songs.

Our Patio

During our time in Vegas we saw the Lion King, Blue Man Group, and had a phenomenal multi-course dinner with incredible views at the Mix restaurant on the top floor of the Hotel at Mandalay Bay. Our biggest highlight though was our sunset helicopter flight into the Grand Canyon. We flew over lake Mead, the Hoover Dam and landed in the Canyon for champagne and food. We flew into the setting sun on the way back and flew down the Vegas Strip as it came alive with all of its lights in the early evening.

At home we enjoyed the fantastic weather at the start of September and ended most evenings lying on our new patio furniture and taking in the city. Our big purchase though is a second parking spot that became available in our building. This should make life a bit easier for visitors. :)

We are now looking forward to autumn.

Amsterdam

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.