Slovenian Alps the Land of Fairytale Dreams

Alpine Mountains Fairyland:

I remember as a young adult (because in reality I was never a child…just ask my parents) I dreamed of a place where I could look out my window and see a beautiful crystal clear blue lake surrounded by magnificent majestic mountains.  Probably more of something I remembered from watching fairytales…OK Mr. Disney that whole prince charming and happily ever after thing was a lie you tricked me….however, the other part of the fairytale actually exists in Slovenia.  The castle is just a bonus for my grown up fairytale.  

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I discovered the only option by train to get from Budapest to Ljubljana, Slovenia was to take one train from Budapest to Vienna then a second train from Vienna to Maribor, Slovenia and a third train from Maribor to Ljubljana a journey, which would have taken approx. 8.5 hours 12.5 hours with layover.  The only only good thing I can imagine about that journey was the 4-hour layover in Vienna that would give ample time for the pilgrimage to my Austrian Mecca:  Café Central (aka Vienna Pastry Heaven).  I dream nightly of indulging in one (ok a few) of their amazing beautiful exquisite “art on a plate” celestial goodies.

IMG_2212 IMG_2216 IMG_2217 IMG_2215Unfortunately, that wasn’t even enough to sway me to take that extended journey.  Hiring a car for the 3.5hour drive was a better decision in my mind at this point in time of my trip albeit a bit more expensive option.

Good news bad news:  Good news is heavy rains and thunderstorms broke the crazy insane European heat wave at the very moment we arrived to the hotel (not even the bad news).  I didn’t even care about the downpour because the rain felt so wonderfully refreshing compared to the “ teetering on the hinges of hell” temperatures from the past week.  Bad news: arrived in heavy rain to the Grand Hotel Union Executive and no bellmen or curbside help in sight.  Yes, I have grown accustomed to excellent service over the past 10 days in this part of Europe so at this moment in this downpour I am experiencing a bit of no service unhappiness.  Check in was easy and quick so we are now off to our room.  I made reservations at this hotel 2 months earlier and specifically requested a non-smoking king room.  However, when we entered the room it was a smoking room with two “queen” beds that were smaller than US full size beds.  1st I am super allergic to any type of smoke like lungs get congested, fill with fluid and can’t breath allergic…2nd have I mentioned my travel partner in crime is incredibly tall Dutch man that is over 2 meters (6’8”) tall and there is absolutely no way he can fit in that “Smurf” bed.  Back downstairs I go:  2nd room still smoking with 2 dorm size twin beds apparently complaining makes the beds shrink in size at this rate the next complaint will result in Barbie Dream Beds.


Again back downstairs I go:  well the only other option we have is to upgrade to a suite for an added cost…wait what you are telling me is that you give me a smoking room and send me to a second smoking room after me specifically telling you two months ago I require a non-smoking room and I need to pay extra.   Finally, a compromise was reached and off we go to the third room.  The supersized suite was large very large with a mostly King size bed in the separate bedroom, a separate wet bar, walk in closet, living room, and large bathroom with L’Occitane bath products (very nice amenity).  The room could use a bit of updating, 80’s tastic dusty rose and teal are the decorating colors of choice, but the room was comfortable and a great size for our extended stay.  The rate included breakfast, WiFi and access to the rooftop pool, spa and health center.  The breakfast was OK a lot of choices but mediocre food and the coffee wasn’t up to European standards.   I think the big issue for me was how crowded the breakfast area was so to remedy that we just requested they deliver it to the room.  Also, there were no in room coffee or tea which would have been nice.   I have been spoiled over the past 10 days in Prague, Bratislava and Budapest and readjusting to normal hotel service is proving difficult.  The best thing about this hotel is the location and that is spectacular walking distance to everything in the city and 1 block from the old historic charming part of town.  Apparently, I was so underwhelmed by the hotel that I have no photos of it or the room.

Now that we have suitable accommodations, though looking back I wish we would have just moved to a different hotel, we were off to visit a couple of incredibly tall Dutch man’s friends who lived near Lake Bled in the Alpine Mountain region of Slovenia in the village of Begunje na Gorenjskem.  We ventured out to the town they lived in by train, which was a pretty OK experience after the bicycle family finally decided to board.

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On this train was no other than “Rainman” himself when he learned I was from the USA we proceeded to have a discussion about American Football (college and NFL) and Basketball (NBA, NCAA men’s and women’s).  He knew by year what teams won NCAA championships as well as the other teams in the tournament and where they finished, who played on each team, where they were now (WNBA, NBA), where they were from, the scores of the games and anything about any bowl game or Super Bowl ever.  Even more impressive he was from Slovenia probably in his early twenties and he could school me at ESPN Jeopardy easily.  Simply amazing the way he just recited all that information.

You aren’t going to believe this but incredibly tall Dutch man’s friend was another incredibly tall Dutch man.  These two guys must be the two tallest engineers I have ever seen and they work on cruise ships, voluntarily by their own free will.…I know insane right there are TWO actual incredibly tall Dutch pirates….awesome.

My “new friends” home is beyond words amazing, idyllic in fact, sitting on a mountain in a small village that is charming and quaint and perfect.  Yes please just let me know whom I need to make the check out to for purchasing a piece of this serene heaven.

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After dinner they took us on a tour of the small town they lived in, through Bled, up to the castle for the view of the town and lake at night and the evening finished with sitting on an outside terrace overlooking the lake enjoying my first slice of Bled crème cake.   Nothing better than a wonderful evening visiting with new friends while on a sugar high induced by pastry, custard, and kilos of powdered sugar…on this night for an added super special mega sized bonus fireworks especially because I have arrived in Slovenia (yes that is my reasoning into the fireworks may or may not be reality).  Thank you both so much for the fantastic day.

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The next day we also took a tour with Roundabout Travel to visit this Alpine Fairytale Land:  we visited Vintgar Gorge, Lake Bled and Lake Bohinj.  I think the pictures due more justice to just how beautiful this area of the world is than words I could come up with to describe it.   Some days the beauty of the world leaves me speechless (yes I understand how rare this is) and Slovenia managed to do just that.

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Lunch during the tour was in a small village Bohinjska Cesnjica (“little cherry”) in the Alps Mountains at Gostilna pri Hrvatu on a terrace above the mountain river.  When traveling through Slovenia look for the word Gostilna:  these are small family run restaurants serving traditional foods using fresh local ingredients.  Don’t be skeptical by how small they look drive up, park, go in and prepare for wonderful food you will not regret it for one moment.

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So we sat down and ask them to bring us their specialty beer and cuisine.  Note to self or to you: remember try new things you maybe pleasantly surprised by something you would never choose yourself.    Loved it… great food and none of that brain straining translation or complicated decision-making necessary.  The family was super wonder, extremely helpful telling us about their village:  history, customs and things to see and do in the area.  Specialities here included:  Karst dried ham, mushrooms in heavenly thick rich creamy sauce served with rice or over pasta, wild boar and dumplings….each dish fantastic and unique.

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Like all great Alpine fairytales there must be an end…and my day ended the best way possible for me with a sugar high induced by homemade blueberry cheesecake, Yes that is marshmallow creme covered in chocolate (seeing that in the pastry case almost made squeal like a 9 year old girl a bit too excited I suppose) and necessary caffeine in the form of an exquisite cappuccino. I am beginning to like coffee drinks almost as much as pastries…..OK that maybe a bit of an overstatement.


My fairytale adventure complete…now where is Prince Charming and that freaking white horse (I suppose a white boat is close enough)!!!!

Budapest a relaxing break the beer was just a bonus…..

We stayed in Budapest for 5 days and breaking this down day-by-day may prove boring.  Here the heat was even more extreme and brutal so doing things during the day was more of a challenge.  Most afternoons were spent under a mister fan enjoying beer or in the air-conditioned hotel room taking naps.  Early mornings and later in the evening was a much better time to see the city.  So, I am not certain we got to enjoy the city to its fullest.


I found Budapest to be a challenge for me in terms of relative size and I think the city was in actuality a bit different than I had pictured in my head.  The people while not rude at all were different than the previous cities we had visited; still friendly just a bit more abrupt and not quite as warm.  The Bohemian charm that I pictured the city to be didn’t quite exist in what my expectation was….for me that Bohemian charming city was much more Prague.  Again this is only my expectations and I have grown accustom to the way I think is much different than the way a lot of other people think.

First things first…exchanging money at the train station:  The train station is getting a major renovation; therefore, at the moment it is very hard to get around and find things of interest or which you actually need.  There was one ATM which I could locate and the line was I kid you not at least 50 people long.  Oh I so think I am not standing in that line while everyone figures out how exactly an ATM works…come on people just because it is in Budapest doesn’t mean it is anymore complicated than anywhere else.  So, I exchanged money at an exchange house not the best rate but less time consuming than that crazy ATM line.  The official exchange rate during our trip was approximately 1USD=228.5 Hungarian Forint.  Secondly, taxis such a problem most everywhere in Europe:  Negotiate the price, yes there is air-conditioning only to get into a less than stellar car with no air.  OK OK it’s only a few blocks to the hotel.  While the driver complains about how heavy my bag is.  Really dude I can lift the bag with no problems so this shouldn’t be the main issue here.  The main issue should be crazy hot and you have no air conditioner in your car.  Though on the way to the hotel I had a crash course learning common Hungarian phrases.  Hungarian is not similar to any language I have ever dealt with wow it is crazy complicated and I cannot even look at a word and make it make sense in my head and my traveling partner in crime the same together we are seriously in language trouble.  Nice thing most everyone speaks a little English in Budapest.

Hotel Palazzo Zichy.  The hotel is an old palace which has been renovated into an 80 room hotel and is located on the Pest side in the historical Palace quarter.  Across the street is a small park with sitting area.  Upon entering the hotel it is lovely, once again the staff is incredibly helpful, friendly and nothing is too much to ask.  I am so incredibly impressed with the quality of the hotels we have had the pleasure of staying in for the past 2 weeks.  They all received wonderful reviews on trip advisor and but even the rave reviews couldn’t do justice to how friendly, hospitable and welcoming the staff was.  We booked the city break package which includes the following services: spacious room with buffet breakfast, 1x special three course-dinner for two guests in a cosy restaurant, called Múzeum Café, 1x three hours long multi lingual city tour by bus for two guests and complimentary usage of sauna and fitness room, free WIFI internet, usage and Lounge Bar service (free coffee, tea and mineral water).  Upon arrival we decided to upgrade to a larger room, the only larger suite available was on the ground floor facing the park and we were concerned about the noise at night.  There was no need for concern at all once the curtains were closed we never even noticed any noise.

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The room while not as spacious as the previous rooms we had stayed in was big enough and really modern and beautiful.  There was a desk, a separate small seating area, and the bed separated from the rest by a large modular wall which also served as the closet.  The bathroom was really nice with the most amazing tile floor that looked like wood and these really beautiful damask printed wall tiles that I seriously need for my apartment.  The only weird thing was the door to the bathroom:  no lock and made of glass; printed glass; but glass still the same.  For me a bit lacking in privacy and well yes weird is the only word that comes to mind.

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The included hotel breakfast was fantastic nice variety of choices, fresh fruits and juices, several types of breads, and made to order coffees.  As an added bonus to the room when we returned the first night after dinner there was cake, wine and fruit placed in the room…the cake was amazing chocolate yumminess, with heavenly cream and topped/filled with fruit.  I suppose the hotel knew about my search for pastry heaven and was just helping me find it in Budapest without needing to brave the heat.


Food:  The food here was different than in Prague and Bratislava it seems to be more commercialized in general not that we didn’t find amazing food we did but we also found some that was less than stellar.

New York Café lets be honest then only reason anyone goes here is because it was voted the most beautiful café in the world and it is for sure that beautiful.  We opted to have beer and two of their dessert samplers because in reality I am all about the sweets right now.  The beer was good and the pastry samplers were excellent just a bit on the crazy expensive side for me all together the bill was about 75USD.

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Hummus Bar….yes it is hummus heaven and according to their logo hummus is sexy. Not sure about sexy but for sure delicious.   I had the hummus and falafel plate with spicy tahini and the best fresh squeezed mint lemonade in the world. They will even deliver to your hotel room. Good and convenient   can’t go wrong there.


Hard Rock Café.  Great Beer, Great Burgers and mister cooling fans on the patio during the afternoons.  I am almost embarrassed to make this next statement but:  Significant amounts of time were spent here in the heat of the afternoons enjoying the cool fans, shade and great varieties of beer. I don’t know if in general I am such a fan of Hard Rock cafe but this particular one is worth a visit.


Muzeum Café.  This was the dinner included in our hotel package.  It wasn’t awful but it wasn’t good.  I would definitely skip this place and its instant frozen food and choose another restaurant.  Also, here the wait staff wasn’t exactly friendly or accommodating.  It was just overall not a great experience.

Don Leone.  Near our hotel and recommended by the staff.  The food was exceptional, the beer again wonderful and desserts my favorite meal.


Ok OK….I know not so many pictures of food and way more photos of beer.  I guess we all know now what my priority was. That and the food just didn’t tip the wow scale for me here so I was less interested in it than the wonderful different brew choices.

Pastry Heaven existed at the Great Market Hall Budapest.  Cases upon cases of delicious fresh made sugary-pastry heaven in my mouth.  If only I lived here the Great Market Hall would be a wonderful place to pick up fresh fruits, vegetables, meats of any kind, spices, bread and of course the necessary daily sugar fix maybe even twice daily sugar high. The day we visited they were having an exhibit that featured items and delicacies from Egypt. The market is a bit touristy with the usual souvenir crap just pass all that by and head upstairs where there are a couple restaurants and several food stands.  Let your nose lead the way to some mesmerizing smell of something freshly grilled or baked, purchase it, grab yourself a tall cold pilsner beer, pull up a stool and enjoy while watching the crazy tourist pass by.  Ironic I know since I hardly look like a local sitting there.

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We did a bit of walking and saw most of the tourist places:  Heroes’ Square (City Park, Vajdahunyad Castle, Zoo), the Castle District (Matthias Church, Fishermen’s Bastion), Gellért hill (Citadel, Liberty Statue), Andrassy Avenue, Parliament, State Opera House, St. Steven’s Basilica, Main Market Hall, Synagogue, National Museum.

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Of course, someone did a bit of shopping along Vaci street (I think taxi guy really shouldn’t pick up my bag now if he thought before it was heavy) and we also got fish pedicures/massages.  This was a random strange experience something swimming around biting me on my feet while drinking calming herbal tea..I suppose the tea was meant to calm the creepiness from something swimming around nibbling on my feet (Where I am from that usually means it is time to get out of the water quickly).  These “doctor fish” actually remove all rough, dry, flaky, callous skin and while it didn’t hurt at all it was still a bit creepy.  However, my feet may have been softer and felt more refreshed after this than after any traditional pedicure or foot massage before.  Believe me after the past couple of weeks with all the walking I needed something to refresh my feet.  I would recommend trying it but it will be creepy at first; the second time much easier and less creepy.  Yes we went twice…

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Our last night in Budapest we went with a group to the Buda side to visit a more traditional restaurant. I liked the group concept of dining though one of our dining partners was a bit too obsessed with the Kennedy family.  OK here is this girl from Sweden so so enchanted with this US political family and for the life of me I just didn’t quite get it.  She says to me I am going to Dallas in November and do you know why? It is a huge event that is going to happen in Dallas in November do you know what it is?  Me being me looked at her and said a Dallas Cowboys football game…come on US friends you know it doesn’t get bigger than that in Dallas in November and she just stares at me and says no it is the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination.  How could I not know this?  How could I not be able to name the US foreign ambassadors?  Haha well to say the least it made for a very informative evening for me.

This was the food I had been looking for all along traditional food served family style.  There was even a traditional folklore show featuring dancers, dressed in folk costumes and Gipsy Music during the meal. Check it out dancing with wine balanced on your head…sometimes I just have problems walking while holding a glass of wine.

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After dinner we choose to visit castle hill and view the city by night, it was really beautiful at this time of the day….perhaps my favorite time of the day and the temperature was much more pleasant as well.   Definitely a wonderful way to end our stay in Budapest.

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Weekend UFO sighting in Bratislava

Train station to hotel:  Yep forgot to ask the price before jumping into a taxi and giving him the hotel address..huge, huge mistake. Oh yeah you should probably also make sure the car has air conditioning and unfortunately for me this one did not.  Have I mentioned the heat wave rolling through Europe is brutal for me.

Tulip House Hotel.  I booked on of the hotel special packages which included:  2 nights in an executive suite, welcome drinks, in room bottle of champagne, homemade macaroons, free entrance to private spa, free entrance to UFO restaurant, breakfast served in suite each morning, free wifi, free parking, late check out.  The hotel here was beautiful and the hospitality and friendliness of the staff was first class all the way.  The rooms are freaking huge with a living area, separate bedroom, well appointed bathroom, small kitchen with small kitchen table and ample storage.

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There was an issue with our front door not locking so they upgraded us to an even larger room with a balcony for the second night.  If I was looking for a place for an extended stay this would be the perfect place…it is far superior to some apartments I have seen.  Again I cannot say enough good things about how friendly and accommodating everyone on staff was.

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Dinner:  Wonderful Slovakian food very similar to Czech cuisine which is now the standard all other food is measured against.  The food is tasty and all well prepared..apparently Argentine beef is a big deal here.  The beer so so good….the trend continues for this region of Europe.

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Starters were two types of soup.  Garlic Soup in homemade bread bowl…surprisingly good though probably should only consume it when you are with a friend or someone you are very comfortable with.  Cabbage soup in bread bowl.  When I think of cabbage I think of that stuff my mom used to boil in the house that smelled worse than 5 day old gym socks in the summer and then she expected we ate.  Wow I was very delusional thinking I should never attempt to eat it this dish was amazing.


Main dishes consisted of traditional Goulash with potato dumplings and steak tartare.  As, I learned on my Taste of Prague tour the correct way to eat this is to spread the steak tartare in a thick layer on  toasted homemade bread rubbed with strong garlic.


OK seriously by this time on this night I had consumed enough garlic to keep Dracula at bay even 1000 miles away.  I am full and ready to turn in safely for the evening.

Morning began with the traditional European breakfast being delivered to our hotel suite and we are off the explore this city.  Because of the insane heat it was much too hot to trek around town seeing all the sights so we opted for a tour of old town and the castle…by cute little locomotive looking vehicle.

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Heat exhaustion has set in and is taking its toll….we opt to spend a bit of time in the shade having iced tea and milkshakes.  Back to the hotel for the spa part of the weekend.  Hot tub and sauna even after all the heat was super relaxing.  A short power nap and it is time for dinner which the hotel pre-arranged.

Left the hotel for our dinner reservation at the UFO restaurant with precise directions from the desk attendant.  Simple enough two right turns, hold on to your hat here because I know you aren’t going to believe this but we got lost.  Instead of crossing the river on the intended bridge we crossed the river on creepy wooden train bridge that probably hasn’t been used since the existence of the Austrian Hungarian Empire.  Like most other detours in my life this one turned wonderfully.  From this vantage point in the city the views were spectacular and there was a nice storm coming in breeze blowing which was a welcome change from the day where the temperature was shoes melting to the pavement hot.

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Arrived to the restaurant even after being a bit sidetracked there was still a bit of a wait.  The waiting bar area was crowed (and I really don’t like people in my personal space) so we went up to the observation deck for the 360 degree view of the city.  Breathtaking

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Table is ready….the service was first class excellent and the food here was 5 star good; as well as, all dishes were beautifully plated.  The real draw for this restaurant is the spectacular view of the castle and old town area 400 feet up.  I was only mildly disappointed to eat here (yes compromise was happening and yes I understand the principle of compromise NOW) because I am enjoying the traditional Slovakian food so much and I can have 5 star restaurant food anywhere, I am now glad I went for the experience and the view. I don’t want to say someone was right but perhaps someone was correct in the choice.

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First course lobster parmesan, main course pork cheeks with au gratin potatoes wow how I love pork cheek especially when they are prepared well it is a divine meal.  Dessert apricot cheesecake with walnut crust…yep dessert envy was happening at the table.

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Left with a muffin for breakfast no taxi in sight but only a short walk to the hotel in the rain… know from the movies all good things happen in the rain!!!

Bratislava wonderful…..great place for a weekend or the stopping point between Prague and our next destination Budapest.

Searching for serenity or perhaps just more beer

Day 3 in Prague:  Awoke in time for hotel-included breakfast that is a huge  improvement from yesterday and right now I am so sad I had missed it the day before (though not sad yesterday breakfast included left over birthday cake).  I must say this was better than even the standard European breakfast I have experienced in the past.  Lets talk about yogurt:  I have no desire to eat yogurt, hate the taste hate smell of it, hate everything about the way the container looks.  However, I was told no matter my preconceived ideas to just try the home-made yogurt at the Alchymist Royal Palace it was different.  OK I am in to attempting to try new things, look at how great that worked out for me yesterday, wow this stuff first looks different (very white, thick and creamy) and it taste incredibly different actually amazing…..How did they do that?  Well now I know and as soon as my Dad arrives with the starter cultures I can enjoy it anytime I want here at home.


We took Jan and Zuzi’s (Taste of Prague) advice and headed out of the “touristy” areas of Prague making our way to the “Vinohrady” (vineyard) district.

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“Walked around”…ok ok probably some aimless wandering and distracted by what is over there was more to the point….practiced my Czech which is getting about as good as my German at this point.  The area is very quiet, more residential and then there is this glorious vineyard in the middle of the city still very peaceful with beautiful views.  There is an events center on site, which would be the perfect place for an incredibly lavish party.  Now if only I could think of a reason and entice my family and friends to join me.

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It is hot really hot this European heat wave is brutal and I think a beer is just what I need to remedy the hot thirsty feeling.  Luckily there is a place not far from where we are recommended again by Jan and Zusi…see again how wonderful they are and their suggestions just what I needed today.  Nota Bene they have 6 local beers on tap daily and during lunch serve traditional Czech food.  Not a huge menu but definitely worth going for that and so reasonably priced you with think someone made a mistake on the bill.  About USD 22.50 for 2 beers, soup, entree and 2 desserts.

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Later that night after it began to cool down went for dinner at Café de Paris another recommended of Jan and Zuzi.  There specialty is steak with sauce and french fries “oh yeah I am all about that” paired with ginger beer and dessert a very nice dinner indeed.  Yes someone is eating healthy in this picture and just for the record it is not me…..not that anyone would expect it to be.


Off to take the funicular to the top of castle hill.  Amazing views of the city at night, the lit buildings against the backdrop of the dark sky, and hey what is that…..annoying loud guy on a microphone his voice amplified interrupting my incredibly enchanting evening it just sounds like a Bingo game for young drunk people at a frat party…shhhhhh.

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I am mesmerized with Prague totally captivated by the charm of the city and warmth of everyone I met in the city.  The food is beyond words amazing (slow cooked meats in rich creamy sauce, potatoes served 100 ways, homemade breads, pastry heaven exist everywhere you look and beer is cheaper than water). As soon as I can manage the time, I would love to be able to rent an apartment and stay for 4-6 weeks just soaking in the bohemian culture, exploring more of the city and of course sampling more beer.

15000 Calories and an Elevator on the Way to Heaven

Prague Day 2:  This may have been the best day of vacation and the one I will talk about continually from this particular trek through Europe.

Late night exploring the town the previous evening (that is how I like to think of it not the fact the last 90 minutes were unplanned lost not only in translation but also in reality) led to sleeping in a little late and missing breakfast.  But hey I have a seriously great backup plan left over chocolate fruity yumminess also know as remaining birthday cake… a slice of cake paired with English breakfast tea (coffee and tea service in room amenity) all while sitting in this beautiful suite a perfect way to wake up.

This day we have scheduled a culinary tour with Taste of Prague, which is set to begin in approximately 2 hours.   I am fully aware of our inherent ability to get lost (slight sarcastic reference to last night), I decide even though it should only take 25-30 minutes walking it is in our best interest to begin making our way to the meeting spot.   Walking, looking, walking, admiring the beautiful city…Sherry Maps (aka google map) shows we are at least heading in the right direction when what appears before me….Tiffany and Co. and that famous tiffany blue box with white ribbon bow.  I see incredibly tall dutch man start to grimace and try to steer me into one of the adjacent street while beads of sweat form on his brow.  However, I am fixated and not even that sexy accent can detour me; seriously distracted by shiny objects.  Shiny object distraction out of the way back, credit limit still intact, we are back on track making our way across Wenceslas Square to the meeting point we even arrived early with enough time to grab a Very Berry Hibiscus Refresher at Starbucks….it is a miracle that may or may not occur again during this vacation.


When I mentioned at the beginning of the post that this might have been my favorite day of the entire vacation it is solely attributed to our culinary Taste of Prague tour (if you miss this tour you have completely lost your mind…book it, take it and love it).  Tiffany’s is great and everything but this is not the first or the last time I will be distracted by the beautiful iconic blue box.

I do not have enough words, expressions or praise for how great this tour was.  Jan and Zuzi were incredible hosts providing the history of the city, cultural anecdotes and a first hand account into what it was like to experience communism providing the negative and few positive aspects.  I know from the point of view of someone born and raised in the USA I had no reference point as to how life could be any different than how I grew up in the USA.  Though I find Argentina is slowing making its way towards some of the same ideals and practices that I heard about during the tour.

Additionally, over the course of the 3.5hour tour I tasted some of the best food on earth and even acquired some new favorites that before this day I would have seen on a menu wrinkled my nose up and refused to even try.  I wish I had a few more pictures but I was so distracted by the food that who has time to take photos.

First stop Cestr Steak House which is located in the old Communist Federal Parliament building.  There we began the meal with beer shots, which were surprisingly delightful and Pilsner Urquell tank beer, regular and milk style.  Czech beer is spectacular and believe me I sampled enough…. ok a lot… and could not find a single one I didn’t like.  Not really sure what that means either I am not too picky or the beer is really just that good…I think I will just go with the second option.

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The tasting menu consisted of:

  1. Czech sourdough bread with chive herbs cream cheese
  2. Beef neck slow stewed with mushrooms
  3. Beef shoulder with roasted truffle sauce
  4. Beef spare ribs marinated in red wine for 24 hours and then slow cooked for an additional 16 hours
  5. “Olomoucke tvaruzky” fried aged cheese wrapped in bacon and breadcrumbs served with homemade mayonnaise
  6. Czech salmon trout roasted with peas and carrot puree
  7. Czech escargots boiled in root vegetables, baked in mushrooms and served with Saboyonne mousse
  8. Slow-grilled chicken with truffle stuffing and black truffles in pan drippings
  9. Beef steak tartare served on homemade toast coated with fresh garlic
  10. Garden Salad
  11. Quail Eggs
  12. Potato Dumplings
  13. Potatoes with farmers cheese


Geeze, I am making myself so hungry recalling the wonderful tasting menu.  Every dish was wonderful and tasty there wasn’t anything served that I wouldn’t have again and again.  Steak Tartare who knew this was going to be my favorite dish of all time enough so that I had it twice more over the next week:  just a bit nervous to actually attempt to make it myself. Though I miss it enough I may actually attempt to make it here in Buenos Aires I only need a recipe and 8 hours to find the supplies in this insane city.


Yes there was more to come….haha….you just thought we had eaten enough for an entire army but still we were not quite done at this restaurant.  Desserts were just as good as the actual food and a fitting ending to a fabulous meal.

  1. Beer ice cream  (heavenly creamy delightful goodness in a cup)
  2. Sweet poppy seed buns in vanilla rum sauce (as good as it sounds)
  3. Raspberry tartlets for mine and Sophie’s birthday complete with sparklers.


The next stop was Svetozor deli to sample “chlebicek”.  It is an open-faced sandwich that consists of a baguette topped with potato salad, smoked ham, cheese, Czech pickle and boiled egg.  A wonderful small sandwich great for lunch and/or snack or even right now but sadly I don’t have any.

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The third stop was an official visit to “Prague Pastry Heaven” the yummy baked goodness smells coming from St. Tropez Patisserie induced a sugar high like I have never experienced.  The previous experience was only surpassed by the sugar rush that ensued from tasting the divine, delicate, delicious plateful of celestial sweets.  Oh happy, happy, happy day.


The plate included:

  1. “Vetrnik” round windmill shaped chaux pastry with crème and caramel filling and caramel glaze
  2. “Venecek” puff pastry filled with vanilla cream and topped with sugar glaze
  3. Punch cake (which I will be attempting to make soon…we will see how that actually turns out)…my absolute favorite from the day
  4. Sacher torte
  5. Nougat cake
  6. Additionally a sampling of macaroons, my favorite was the lavender macaroon


The day ended at the Vinograf Wine Bar where several types of wine were sampled by our group which consisted of 3 couples:  one couple from the US, one couple from Europe and then the confused couple (me and tall Dutch man).  The group size was perfect and was the ideal environment for allowing everyone to get to know everyone else and to socialize as the day progressed.

I wish I could take credit for remembering all the great food, pastries and drinks which were consumed on this day but even my eidetic memory isn’t that good….I must thank Jan and Zuzi for sending the synopsis of all things enjoyed throughout the day….I told you they were super wonderful…..again if you are in Prague and miss this tour you have completely lost your mind.

There was another highlight for me during the tour… the discovery of  Paternoster elevators.  These are the coolest elevators ever….. I think taking a ride on one will just make my day perfect…so off we go I am super excited (OK probably a bit too excited) but all the same I loved it.

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YES…. I do realize the simplest things amuse me and make me deliriously happy:  good beer, fantastic food, appearance of pastry heaven and open continuously moving elevators all of those things exist in Prague and discovered on this day…..


Prague Birthday Celebration

Happy Birthday to me…began with a three-hour late arrival into Prague from Amsterdam after an already much too long train ride.  Will write a separate post for all the travel by train during Summer 2013 Eurotrip. 

Two things to be aware of at Praha Hlavni Nadraz (the main train station in Prague)  1) do not exchange money with the men trying to buy your Euros or Dollars near the exchange house unless you have experience with Czech currency because you may just end up with counterfeit bills.  The exchange houses seem offer a decent rate until you exchange and learn there is an exchange fee usually 20%.  The best way is to withdraw cash directly from the ATM and let your bank convert for you at the official exchange rate even if your bank charges an International ATM fee.  2) Negotiate the taxi price before getting into the taxi.  They will quote you double so be prepared to walk away.  Also, you can usually arrange for transfer service directly with your hotel.  To be honest if I was not traveling with someone who knew these rules I would have just handed dollars to the random exchange guy and gotten in the taxi for whatever price quoted cause hey that is easier and less hassle for me and I am a bit naïve in trusting most everyone.

Negotiations complete now in the taxi to the hotel (400 Czech Koruna, approx. 21USD currently the exchange rate is 1USD to 19.24CZK).  Alchymist Palace, such an incredibly appropriate name for a hotel for me to stay in on my birthday.  I actually selected the hotel for its name (so love it, so fitting for my occupation) but also for the stellar reviews it received on trip advisor.  Arrived to the front door of the hotel and there is a bellman who before I could exit the car is unloading the bags and taking them inside to the check in area.  YES!!, my faith in hotel hospitality is restored…. already this experience is far surpassing the last hotel experience.  And to say it only improved from there is the understatement of the year.  I could seriously get used to this level of hospitality.

The room was not quite ready so we were invited to have a welcome drink in the summer garden restaurant.  Though welcome drink is perfect by this time “my stomach is eating a hole in my backbone” and I am in dire need of food.  The receptionist assured us that the restaurant was a perfect place for lunch as well as drinks and after looking at the menu she was indeed correct.  Sweet let the birthday celebration officially begin.

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First things first a glass of red wine which is a definite must to begin birthday celebration, next course warm goat cheese with walnuts and balsamic reduction served with a homemade bread selection, main course for me Alchymist burger on focaccia bread with grilled veggies (somedays a girl just needs an exceptional burger) for incredibly tall Dutch Man sesame seared red Tuna with Czech potatoes (yes I will have another glass of wine) and for the favorite course…yes you know I am now talking about dessert I had a flourless chocolate cake topped with red berries and for my partner in excess calorie crime crème brulee. This incredible birthday lunch ended with two fabulous cappuccinos and artisanal chocolates. Everything served was beautifully plated (quintessential food porn) and tasted even better than it looked.  I could seriously go for one of those burgers right now…such a shame I am a 16-hour plane ride away from the secret garden of heavenly goodness.


Lunch complete and the room now ready.  We have been given the Johannes Kepler Suite; which consist of a bedroom with sitting area, separate small kitchenette and separate bath.  The spacious room is elegantly beautiful and appointed with true to period furnishings.  I so love all the charm and elegance this room exudes I cannot imagine a better place to celebrate my birthday.

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Additionally, incredibly tall Dutch man had previously arranged for roses, champagne and birthday cake to be delivered to the suite.  A girl could get used to feeling like a queen and being pampered.

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The birthday cake is a local traditional cake “The Sacher Torte”.  It is a chocolate layer cake filled with apricots, topped with a rich chocolate ganache and is a specialty in this area of the world.  Apparently the mystery lies in which country actually invented the cake and who actually has the best version.  Well I can say this version was pretty tasty….pastry heaven delivered straight to me no need to get lost searching for it.

I am officially in a food coma, the air-conditioned room is a nice retreat from the sweltering temperatures which are tormenting most of Europe this summer, not to mention I am a bit tired from the 19 hour overnight train trip…..I look at the bed and hear it calling my name…Yes a nap is a certainty and will happen NOW.  A few hours pass I am now awake, refreshed and ready to explore town a bit; not to mention the temperature has cooled off enough that the soles of my shoes will not fuse to the sidewalk.

The receptionist at the front desk gives us a map to old town and a few suggestions of what to see.  Got the map (with a highlighted route)… off we go and yes her directions are flawless even for me.  Crossing the Charles Bridge into old town at night is a spectacular sight as the town twinkles from the evening lights coming on.

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The evening is really incredible to just walk around getting acquainted with Prague, listen to street music playing and take the all important “I am a real tourist” photos.

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After several hours, we stop at a small market to pick up some lemons and water before heading back to the hotel.  Now we for sure know where we are no map necessary because we know the way….hahahah NO we get lost and spend another hour walking around probably a 3 square block area trying to decide where the hotel actually is.  We walked in a beautiful moon lit park, along the river with a cool breeze blowing and found some really nice restaurants; which could be dinner options later in the trip.  See getting lost is not always the worst possible outcome….until we start having discussions with each other about which way we should actually go.  You know two type A personalities with strong opinions who are lost in a new city could make for comical entertainment to any passerby.


Amsterdam….Returning to Reoccurring Favorite

Amsterdam welcomed me back to my new home county by name….loved the sign complete with windmill, wooden shoes, and tulips.   And the long awaited Eurotrip begins.

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Hotel:  Radisson Blu Amsterdam

The InterCity direct train between Schiphol Airport and Amsterdam Centraal Station is an economic (2nd class €3.90/ 1st class €6.60 one way) easy way to get to the heart of Amsterdam reasonably quick (approx 20min trip).  However, after almost 24 hours of traveling I opted for the even easier route:  straight out the door into a waiting car.  Somedays, I am more than willing to pay for convenience and today I think it could have been double or triple the price and door-to-door service complete with baggage handling would have been worth every penny or more appropriate Eurocent (approx. €50)

The car took me straight to the front door of the Radisson Blu Amsterdam, Rusland 17.  I have stayed at this hotel during my three previous trips to Amsterdam and during those trips loved everything about it.  The service has been incredible, the staff went above and beyond no matter what the request, I have no words for the great hospitality here….So, driver unloaded the bags to the curb…wait something is missing here oh yes there are no curbside bellman.  No problem got this grab the bags go inside to check in they must be really busy after all it is Saturday afternoon during the summer holiday break period.  Once inside I notice yep NOT so busy OK this seems a bit odd…..arrive at the check in counter only to be greeted a bit abruptly by the desk attendant (now known as rude weekend guy).  Waaaaiiittt I cannot be in the Radisson Blu where everyone is so friendly and helpful and this hotel has been flawless in the past oh bloody hell I must have entered the wrong hotel so I ask “I am at the Radisson Blu right”?  Finally, checked in and rude weekend guy was so kind to point me and my bags to the elevator that would magically transport me to the room without even knowing where it was.  The only explanation I have here is the management must have changed !where is Sam?  I want her back.

Just a bit of perspective here because I love this hotel so much and it is birthday weekend I have booked the New Amsterdam Suite (1 of the 2 suites in the hotel) and while I don’t expect them to roll out the red carpet for me I do expect at least the same level of service and hospitality I have received in the past.   The room is beautiful with separate sitting and bedroom areas, the bathroom has a spa tub, separate shower and sauna, ample closet space and huge floor to ceiling windows overlooking the canal.  The amenities include:  unlimited free wifi for all devices, in room Nespresso coffee machine, free mini bar access, access to health fitness center, and a perfect location in the heart of Amsterdam.  There were a few maintenance issues in the room which were quickly taken care by the manager on Monday morning and whom invited us for a really spectacular dinner in the hotel restaurant to compensate for those.

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Another perk for me is the availability to have breakfast delivered in your room.  I enjoy being able to have coffee and European breakfast foods as I wake up without needing to face actual people.  However, even in the expensive rooms be prepared for them to tell you from now on put the tray outside and if there is no breakfast card in the room you must obtain one and fill it out because they did not want to take the order by phone.


To be fair the hotel is very nice, located in a great part of town which is close to everything you want to do in the city center but far enough away that it remains quiet and peaceful at night to sleep, the amenities are great and the rooms (I have now stayed in all room types they have:  standard room, business class room and both suites) are comfortable and furnished nicely.  The issue this time is only the complete change in the level of service even since my last stay a mere 2 months prior.  It did remind me that supersized hotel chains are not my thing.  Though I completely understand it is perfectly acceptable and preferable for many others.

Out and about in Amsterdam.  Since this is my 4th visit to this wonderful city I love the fact that it begins my Eurotrip.  It gives me an opportunity to recover from the jet lag, relax and not feel like I need to spend every waking minute seeing something.  I really love just “aimlessly wandering” around the city…you know start in one direction without a plan just to see where you can end up and what you find along the way.  I am also aware because of my directionally challenged issues even with a plan it usually turns into “aimless wandering”.  Over the several days I was in Amsterdam I happened upon beautiful, interesting and what the heck were they thinking places.

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Museums:   Anyone who has been around me for more than 5 minutes knows I have the attention span of an ant and yet this trip I decide I am going to visit museums.  The first piece of advice I have is to purchase a Museum Card one price  (€49.95 for adults and €25.00 up to 18 years of age plus €4.95 administration fee) and you can access for 1 year most of the museums in Amsterdam for free and at some attractions you can gain priority access without waiting in a line.


OK there were two things I neglected to take into account:  1) Summer holiday break 2) arriving mid day, both points not conducive for me visiting museums.  By the time we arrived there was a minimum of a 2 hour wait at the places I wanted to visit….hang on I need to stand in line for two hours before even getting into the museum…haha NO.  So the 2nd and most important piece of advice for visiting museums: arrive 30 minutes before museums open or 1 hour before they close but even better visit when everyone else is at work and in school (off peak travel time)

There are two other tourist passes available in Amsterdam, Amsterdam Holland Pass, valid for 1 year which includes free entrance to almost all important museums (including Rijksmuseum) and attractions in Amsterdam the Netherlands and “I amsterdam Card” . This cards is valid for short term visits to Amsterdam of 1, 2 or 3 days. It includes free public transport and entrance to many museums (but not Rijksmuseum) and other tourist attractions in Amsterdam.

Van Gogh Museum: Check it out I actually made it into one museum solely because of the priority line no waiting required.


The museum is a bit institutional looking for me.  OK look this guy was literally crazy (perhaps a bit drug induced) with one of the most creative artistic minds during his lifetime being able to take different artistic styles replicate them flawlessly and combine those styles into something that became his signature and the best you can come up with is a square concrete building to house that insanity.

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I must admit that while I don’t really understand or get art  I do love the story behind Van Gogh which is why I spent 30 whole minutes there.

Next order of business but for me the most important….Shopping.  Kalverstraat the place for that to happen very nice stores for apparel, shoes, bath products everything you can think of.  Also, I love to visit de Bijenkorf (literally translated from Dutch to English as the beehive) which is a large shopping store very comparable to Macy’s, Dillards etc in the United States.  On the top floor is a self serve restaurant with nice views of the city, great variety of food, excellent hot drinks, heavenly pastries and its own whipped cream machine.  Yes again this one detail of the whipped cream machine makes me feel more joy than it probably should.

Last stop Albert Heijn, aka best grocery store in the world, to stock up on picnic supplies for the 15 hour night train excursion from Amsterdam to Prague.  Living in Buenos Aires with its import restrictions and super crazy out of this world over the top inflation, has led me to appreciate good and sometimes even mediocre grocery stores that at least has a small variety of products; however this store is the mother of all great supermarkets.

To be continued in Prague……….


Sometimes just getting there is where the adventure begins……

Anyone who has traveled with me knows sometimes the adventure lies within the airport.  Mostly because my travels involve early starts, multiple flights, and several time zone changes which all add up to very long travel times, lack of sleep, a short supply of patience and not so great humor.  I have made an effort over the past several years to be a much better long distance traveler; more often than not all is handled calmly and I just take whatever the travel industry throws at me and deal with it accordingly (yes the rules, requirements and interpretations change frequently sometimes within the same conversation).  However, there are sometimes when even the newly acquired calmness cannot overcome the insanity that is and that is when the less than stellar behavior, though often amusing to the people near me, occurs.

Friday afternoon, 26 July 2013, I arrive at Ezeiza International Airport around 2:45pm for my 4:55 Lufthansa Business Class flight (LH511) from Buenos Aires to Frankfurt.  The night before I checked in online quick pass to drop my bags and off to security and immigration.  This is a really great time to leave Buenos Aires not so many people in the airport and the lines though security and immigration very short so all in all very perfect.  Recently Ezeiza has undergone a terminal renovation, the new renovated terminal is very modern and nice (which is completely different than the old part of the terminal which may have been constructed around 1920 and still looks like it and smells like an old movie theater you know the ones where your feet stick to the floor and you aren’t sure what that stain on the seat is).  The new Star Alliance lounge is a great place to hang out while waiting for your flight to begin boarding:  quiet, peaceful, sufficient snacks and free wifi.

The desk attendant announces it is time for me to board my flight yes by my name….kind of really like that personal touch.  Boarding very easy and seat found….You know when you are in elementary school and you talk alot (Ok maybe middle and high school as well) and the teacher isolates you from everyone thinking this is the way to make one behave properly in school…..that is how my seat was.  The row configuration was 2-3-2 for this particular Business class plane and then this one lone seat with nothing around it, the galley was behind it no seat beside or in front of it.  This is the jackpot of all seats on this plane.  No need to sleep beside some stranger who wants to cuddle with you, or have to crawl over someone a few times during the 13 hour flight, or do that awkward smile and act like you have no idea what they are saying shoulder shrug. Drinks and dinner was served and pretty decent for airplane food, took my little friend advil PM and off to sleep I went in my almost lie flat seat.  All in all pretty great trip so far.

German immigration and customs is the model of efficiency the rest of the world should strive to achieve.  Got off the plane, through immigration and customs and security within 20 minutes of arriving.  For me and my ADD and lack of patience this is the ultimate experience (Houston International Airport you could learn a lesson here….really visit Germany and take notes, pictures, videos whatever is required).  A little shopping in duty free for some new perfume, a short wait and boarding begins for my flight to Amsterdam.  Announcements all in German yep I got it….Sweet I know German…OK not so much. This particular flight they were pre-boarding elderly and families with infants no problem at all…. listening to German feeling all proud of myself watching the boarding process begin because additionally I have the number 1 boarding card….I can get on the plane first.  So, elderly in wheelchairs boarded, families with their infants and toddlers and strollers and 15 bags boarded.  Again announcements in German meaning it is time for me to board the plane when I notice a family with a boy who is like 12 or 13 (yes healthy carrying a tennis bag you know the tournament kind) boarding the plane from the economy line..oops must have mixed up the words in German and missed my boarding time it can happen all these languages are beginning to get mixed up in my head.  I take my boarding pass to the gate attendant and try to explain this to the gate attendant who in her best German scolding voice informs me “this is only the time for families with infants to board the plane” while rolling her eyes and dismissing me with a wave of her hand.  So I point to the boy and say why then are they boarding the plane last time I checked infants did not look like that (yes I know the fuse is a bit short and I am jet lagged and tired which precipitates bad behavior) but we are in Germany where they are known for sticking to the rules. She then says well anyone with children can board the plane.  So I look behind me and there is a girl standing there who was probably 18 and I ask her if she had her boarding pass she tells me yes and I take it from her and hand it to the gate attendant and say “well this is my daughter and we are getting on the plane now!!!”  Yes I know terrible………Poor girl had no idea what was happening and still probably is wondering what crazy weird people they let on the plane to Amsterdam.

At least I arrived and am off to enjoy my new home country…………

Retrospective Summer 2013 Eurotrip…Part 2

It is approximately 8 hours before there is a Lufthansa jet leaving Buenos Aires heading to Frankfurt, Germany with me on board.  The phrase “I need a vacation” could not be more true or more of an understatement at this moment.  I am beyond excited to visit new parts of Europe and revisit a reoccurring favorite and I feel certain my colleagues at work hope I can find a way to recharge the batteries and return refreshed with much more humor than I seem to have right now.

Summer 2012 continued:

Salzburg, Austria

Have you ever came across a photo and had no idea where that photo was taken but instantly knew you had to go see for yourself?  Well that is how I ended up in Salzburg.  Now the photo was taken of a small church with snow covered mountains in the background…beautiful right?  Probably during winter yes but in the middle of summer very nice but not quite the picture recreation I was hoping for.  Well that photo and the idea of skipping through the alps recreating a scene from the Sound of Music, which again would have been a great idea at any point in time other than the scorching heat in the middle of summer.


I found Salzburg to be a quaint town with many things to see and keep me occupied both in the old town area and outside the actual city.  The landscape is very beautiful and hilly; though in July I would not recommend so much hill climbing.  We stayed at Alstadt Hotel Weisse Taube    (  I really have mixed feelings about this place.  The hotel is marketed as a bed and breakfast and while there is a bed and breakfast it is much larger than what I consider a B&B and without so much of the personal touches.  Now I will admit when I walked in the front door and the desk attendant was wearing lederhosen I became a little more excited than necessary and scenes from the Sound of Music were running through my mind.  The hotel is situated in the middle of  old town close to everything making the location perfect.  The breakfast is very nice and the breakfast attendant is super sweet.  And well OK that is all the good I can force myself to write.  The room is in serious need of an upgrade though I was quite impressed with the orange shag carpet that covered the floor and half way up the wall… made me think of my grandmothers house and how she use to use a leaf rake to make it all stand up and believe me you better not walk across it and leave footprints before my grandfather returned home.  Such a great family memory but not one I wish to recreate on vacation. Here is the huge deal for me no air conditioning and a small window so that even at night the sauna (aka the place where you are suppose to sleep) never cools down.  Really it is a hot humid climate in the summer and there is no air-conditioning or even a fan are you freaking kidding me.  Again at any other time of the year this may not be such an issue.

So now that the not so great planning hotel is done and it is what it is… into the town.  On Fridays there is a market in the old town square that sells regional food items and especially pretzels covered and filled with almost anything you can imagine.  Yep you know I had to try it out…..raspberry filled and covered in chocolate ooey gooey melted chocolate it was heaven in my mouth.  On this particular day the square was filled with Japanese tourist in a tour group the thing that makes this story so funny is incredibly tall Dutch man got stuck in the middle of this group so there he is about 2 feet taller than the tallest of these people and they are looking up and him and touching him to make sure he is real and not one of the city statues and because they are tourist you know there must be like 5000 pictures of him with them.

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Make sure to visit the fort at night it sits on top of a hill overlooking Alt Stadt (german for old town) and is beautiful to see all lit up and of course it is much cooler at night then in the day with the sun beating down on you.  One last piece of information….don’t try to swim in the fountains to cool off I thought it was a great idea until I saw the water…Nope I will pass.



I couldn’t leave Austria without buying some crystal….yes I have a huge obsession with glass.  Old glass, colored glass, old crystal, new crystal, colored crystal…bowls, glasses, candle holders, bar sets, well I see that you get the picture.  There are several antique stores around town where you can find beautiful crystal at reasonable prices (don’t ever pay what they first quote you they will negotiate) …though I will make a small suggestion perhaps make this the last stop in Europe because carrying it around in the suitcase from town to town without breaking is a bit stressful and makes the suitcase much more heavy than it really should be…yes I know advance planning should have been utilized but it all made it back to Buenos Aires safe and sound without even chipping….only for a glass to suffer the fate of Paul and Lumi playing fetch.


Soon to follow Summer 2013 Eurotrip because right now I am sitting in Amsterdam in a incredible hotel suite with just a bit of jet lag…you know the kind where your body stops moving and your brain cannot focus…..Sleep is a necessity right now.

Retrospective Summer 2012 Eurotrip Part 1

Once you begin anticipating the beginning of something time seems to move at a glacially slow pace.  Today in Buenos Aires it is one of those dreary winter days:  cold, cloudy and a bit rainy which means Friday cannot get here soon enough.  It also means I have been revisiting my past EuroAdventures trying to hurry the clock along:  though time seems to be something that cannot be controlled even by me.

Last Summer for my birthday I had the opportunity to take my first trip to Europe which included:  the Netherlands (Amsterdam and Den Helder), Antwerp, Belgium, Austria (Vienna and Salzburg) and Paris, France.


Den Helder is a small seaside town on the North Sea (yes that is not an ocean as I was informed on this day) in the very north part of the Netherlands.  The town is a very idyllic Dutch small town where everyone seems to know each other and the whole town is incredibly warm and friendly.  I felt so at home and loved the town so much that I quickly decided it was my new hometown.  But most importantly it is the hometown of my incredibly tall Dutch friend and if we are going to be in Europe on his birthday it is in everyone’s best interest (well mainly mine since I prefer his family actually like me and not refer to me as that girl who didn’t let Paul visit his family on his birthday) to spend it with his family.


Super Sweet (literally)….there was a bonus in the middle of this storybook town (aka. my new hometown) the 1st appearance of Pastry Heaven and since it was birthday celebration it is only customary to begin the day with cake right??!!  Yes I know I will use any excuse to eat cake at anytime.   There was only a small issue of the menu was all in Dutch and the waitress which started laughing when I spoke English.  Come on new home town work with me here I am just trying to get cake and coffee.  When the “save the day idea” comes to me… right beside me is an incredibly tall Dutch guy who speaks Dutch…score I have my own personal translator.  Well that and the universal problem solver: point while holding money works every time.  Now that I have a tummy full of caffeine and yummy goodness it is off to meet the family……Maybe we can just hang out here at pastry heaven for a bit longer.

029 DSC_0139Now with birthday celebrations and meet the family coming to an end the next stop is Amsterdam.  The train system in Europe makes it extremely convenient to move around easily and without a lot of hassle or delays.  Since patience is a virtue I do not possess, this is a huge discovery for my world.  The hotel I choose was the Radisson Blu Amsterdam ( in the city center.  I tend to shy away from large chain hotels in favor of smaller more charming Boutique hotels or Bed and Breakfast; however, this time due to limited time in the city I wanted to be close to everything without hassles.  The manger Sam checked us in and when she discovered it was birthday celebration in Amsterdam she upgraded us to the Ruyschen Suite which was one of the most incredible rooms I have ever stayed in complete with 360 degree canal views.  I have since returned to Amsterdam several times and each time stayed at this hotel.  The location is perfect, the staff is awesome and the hotel itself is spectacular.

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There was not enough time to explore the city fully and well since there was a few instances of getting lost even less time.  Though now I am completely enamored with the city and return every chance I get.  Highlights from the Amsterdam part of the trip include, aimless wandering around the city from one place to the next just to see what was waiting around the next corner, a visit to the famous Red Light district, a canal cruise, contact highs from the infamous coffee shops and falafel and hummus pitas way too late at night or way too early in the morning however you choose to look at it.  It was also at this point of the trip I became incredibly addicted to European coffee, there is a distinct possibility that the late nights and addiction to coffee are positively correlated.  Thank goodness Nespresso allows me to have European coffee every morning and pretend I am back in Europe for a few minutes before ultimate reality kicks in.

Antwerp, Belgium

Next stop on the agenda is Antwerp.  I will admit the only reason for this stop was Duvel and Belgium chocolate but really I can think of no better reason:  beer and chocolate seriously good enough reasons.  There is now a third reason to visit Antwerp shoe capital of Europe:  every shoe you can ever imagine here in this town.  The town is beautiful and charming and has a wonderful waterfront area.  Here I choose to stay at the large Hilton (  yes this hotel reconfirmed for me that large hotels are very stuffy, large and boring.  The room was very nice, the staff was friendly enough but there was no personalization and the hotel was extremely large for my liking.

Checked into the boring cookie cutter same old same hotel a bit disappointed now time to explore the city….upon exiting the hotel my mood became instantly oh so much better as directly in front of me there appeared an international food festival.  Yes the smell of freshly baked coconut macaroons which were the size of softballs and the booths full of begium chocolate  quickly made me forget the hotel disappointment or perhaps it was the incredible sugar rush that came from consuming large quantities of the international delights.

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This hot July Sunday afternoon in Antwerp seemed to be super busy which confused me:  Sunday afternoon, crazy hot and everyone outside in the sun…..OH I see now it is the weekend of the IronMan Triathlon wow people really do do this…all this exercise being done by other people is wearing me out.  Also, by this point incredibly tall Dutch man is starting to get a bit cranky and needs a time out.  No better place to stop and rest and have snack time then one of the wonderful sidewalk cafes.  Antwerp has several…the coffee is great and best of all comes with homemade cookies and yep you guessed it belgium chocolate.  I am really starting to like this town:  charming, historical, beer, shoes and chocolate with every meal and snack.

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Austria to be continued……….