Monday, September 29, 2008

Night Train to Budapest

After a slight mishap we are on the train to Budapest. When we took th train down from Dresden last week we got off at the Holstice station, so of course that is where we thought we had to get off this time. Oops, we were supposed to get off at the next stop at the main station. Luckily we had plenty of time and a little spare change. We just hoped on the metro and three stops later we were at the correct station. The main station is still in a transition phase between communist disrepair and art nouveau. As you walk into the station the ceiling is low, dark and dingy, then a temporary red ceiling facade to cover the blistering concrete. Every now and then an art nouveau feature would peak out of the rubble. The bathroom facilities are new, glistening in their dayglow lime green paint. Since we had about a two hour wait between trains, we started looking for a place to sit. The northern station has a lounge for first class passengers, however the lounge in the main station was "under construction". No doubt it was overrun by the new bathroom. We then followed a dubious looking sign up a flight of stairs to a cafe that was supposed to be open all night. The cafe was situated in a great domed area. it was very dim up there, but as my eyes adjusted I could tell that his had been the old ticketing area and we were surrounded by the trappings of Prague at its heyday. For a quick impression, think Bladerunner. There were hardly any people up there and a scattering of tables filled the balcony. We ordered a beer and wine and just watched the strange procession before us.
The train was right on time and now we are just hanging out getting our teeth rattled on the old Czech tracks.


Meissen Weinfest

Saturday evening
On any given weekend there are hundreds of festivals all over Germany. Some are huge, like Octoberfest, some are tiny like the festival we stumbled across in Regansburg and some are in between, like the 50,000 folks that show up for the Meissen Winefest (plus the other 50,000 or so that are at the neighboring towns winefest. All of these thing have a couple of things in common: a hook that involves eating and drinking and bands that play a couple of key songs. The most common song that they play is "Country Road" followed by "Sweet Home Alabama".
There were something like 50,000 people in the town with a dozen bands playing in the different squares. Each plaza also had food vendors as well as different wineries to taste. We bought a tasting glass and for 2€ we were able to taste dozens of wines. It looked like almost all of the towns inhabitants were out and about with the old and young alike out in droves.
Things got dangerous when Dave met a German couple that they had met there two years ago. Thomas owns some land that he grows grapes on, so we had to try his rose ... A couple of times. That's when bottles started getting purchased and consumed. We managed to see several bands and heard the same couple of songs played over and over again. Pretty funny after a while. We stayed until the last train out of town and rode it back to Dresden with some of the hordes. When we left at midnight, the festival was packed and most restaurants were still full.

After a slow start, Dave and I rode bikes from Dresden to Swiss-Saxony - a 40 kilometer ride. The route follows the Elba river along the same train line that goes to Prague. About half of Dresden was out for the gorgeously sunny day along the river. We passed by several castles while all manner of boats plied there way up and down the river. There were even some hardy souls that were actually sailing on the river. We ended up meeting Kathy and Lisa up in one of the small towns on the Elba. We had planned to take one of the river cruises back to town, but of course there was a festival going and all of the return boats were full. No problem, we decided to climb the 600 or so feet up to the surrounding country side to visit an old medieval castle that was built around the granite spires. A bit of a hike more and we found this luxury hotel on the cliffs, the sun was going down and the views were just incredible, so we stopped for a snack while the sun set. They had a player piano going and of course they played "Country Road". The hike down was tricky since it was crazy dark. The entire time we have been here, I have carried a headlamp with me because we are always getting locked in someplace dark. Of course tonight, since we road the bikes, I didn't have the headlamp. Dave did have a lamp for the bike and we managed to make it down without a mishap. As we were walking towards the river to pick up our bike, you could just hear one of the bands break into a nice rendition of "Country Road" To get across the river we ended up taking this ferry that had no motor. Instead it had a cable tied several hundred miles upstream of the ferry. The ferry would then just use the current to surf back and forth across the river. Amazingly simple and efficient. On the other side of the river, we took the train back into Dresden for dinner. Afterward Dave and I road our bike back home while Kathy and Lisa took the tram. Riding the bikes through the old town at night with all of the lit up castles and churches was pretty spectacular.

Today is a bit of a chill day. We are doing some Laundry and trying to dodge some weather. After some contemplation, we decide to take the night train to Budapest. There is one transfer in Prague and then we have a sleeper car. So that's where I am now, on the train (again) to Praha.

Saturday, September 27, 2008


I have finally got the email on the Blackberry working again. I don't know why it quit working, but that it ever works is pretty darn amazing.
The last couple of days it was overcast and cool with occasional sprinkles. The good thing about living in Bellingham is that the grey weather really doesn't bother me that much. It is a great time to be indoors and look at museums and sit and drink pivo (beer) in small little cafes. The theme for this trip has been Mucha, in fact his pretense is everywhere if one takes a peak. On Wednesday, we visited the hotel Europa which was designed by Mucha. It is in Wenceslas Square where the velvet revolution occurred (the end of Communism). Of course we had to have some hot chocolate to warm us up from the rain. That evening we had to (literally) pork out on the traditional Bohemian meal of sausages, ham, duck, dumpings and cabbage. Tasty, but heavy on the arteries. Afterwards we found an ultra-trendy bar playing Brazilian music.
We continued the Mucha theme with a visit to the Mucha museum and lunch in The Obecni dum. Lunch was basic but the building was just fantastic, with every detail designed by Mucha and his cohorts. One thing I am reminded about when I am here is how much nice architecture and design really makes a place nicer to be in.
In the afternoon we visited the Jewish quarter. This section was razed in the late 1800s. A pricey $30 ticket allows you to visit the various sites. Interesting, but probably not the highlight of Prague. Now we are getting in the traveling gig. Next stop is an espresso, cake stop to rejuvenate our tired feet and minds. We head down to the main square to check out the tower and clock, damn, it is starting to rain again so we duck back into the hotel to figure out our dinner plans. There is a section just north of the old quarter that caters to a more Czech crowd. There are a ton of ethnic eateries around: Argentina, Italian, Ethiopian, Thai, French, Afghani, really whatever you want to eat. Since one can only eat so much sausages and beer, we pick an Italian place that is full of Italians having a good time. The wine is Italian and slightly cheaper than what we would pay at home. As usual, the Italian, even in here is better than what we get at home.
Another thing that is cool about Prauge is that it is a very safe city. You can wander all over the old city and be safe. You even see little old ladies out and about walking their dogs. So, of course, we had to do some evening walking. The goal, as always, was to find a cool pub to hang out in. Our walk took us out to the river with awesome views of the Prague castle all lit up at night. We also walked along the river to the famous Charles bridge, pleasantly devoid of the hordes of tourist that show up in the day. The pub that we picked was called O'Che's (named after Che himself, get it). A quick beer there and off to another spot. This was another Irish pub (in keeping with Kathy's Irish pub theme). After visiting so many sites, the deep philosophical discussion centered on the loss of the metaphor of religion, in favor of the dogma. Hmm, somehow it is now 1:30 in the morning.

Okay, we are moving slow this morning, but the sun is out and is just awesome. After breakfast at the hotel we head out for the local tram. The tram takes us to the very top of the hill where we arrive at the monastery, which, closes for lunch right when we arrive. No worries, like all true great abbeys they brew beer on the premises and we go ahead and order lunch. I have a nice yeasty dark beer with ... Sausages and Kathy goes for the wine and some chicken thing. Now for a little trip to the library and then head downhill to the castle. The castle and cathedral are amazing. I am glad that we waited for nice weather to tour the grounds. The most impressive is the Cathedral. With its multi-hued colors splashing against the columns and floor, it makes and impressive site. And don't forget the Mucha window. We wandered around the sites for a bit, then found a cafe perched over the vineyard (with a killer view), for the obligatory cake and espresso. The walk back took us back down to the water. We saw a wedding couple out with their photographer getting all of those picture perfect Prague wedding photos. Her dress was interesting with a white fur shawl and a plunging neck line. We cross over the Charles bridge, which was so packed with tourists that you could barely move. By this time we have been on our feet for about six hours and my feet are killing me. Time for a little relaxation before heading out again.
For dinner we pick a Belgium place that flies in mussels. The wait staff was pretty aggressive trying to push appetizers on us and directing us to the lobster plate. Good food though. Afterwards we went back to the main square and got a table outside by the clock under a heat and watched people for a couple of hours. Damn, it is 1 am again.
It is sunny outside again and I am up early to see the Castle and the bridge when the sun comes up. Sunrise is about 7:30 and the only people out are the street cleaners. There is a small army of people sweeping the streets and getting everything tidy for the day. The sun on the Castle is gorgeous and the Charles bridge is devoid of people, vendors, and pick pockets. I highly recommend this early morning trip. Next, back to the hotel, eat, pack and catch the train back to Dresden.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Hanging in Prague

Email is a bit sketchy here. Amazing I get anything at all. Mostly rain today, but we are hanging out by the river watching the swans.

Greetings from the Czech Republic

We are on the train headibg to Prague. At the border we changed stewards, now all of the aanouncments are in Czech.

Phrase of the day: hello - ahoj - "ahoy". I didn't know these guys were pirats.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Imagine 200,000 of your closest friends out for a big binge on the town. Now throw in a couple of dozen roasted oxes, a half a million chickens, four million litres of beer, roller coasters fun houses and dozens of bands. Now you have a good idea what is happening right now in Munich.
Yesterday morning, we took the train from Regansburg (rainburg) to Munich where we met up with Dave and Lisa's German friends at the hotel. We then dumped our luggage and headed off to Octoberfest. We arrived around 2 pm after following the heard of people to the front gate.
From 2008_09_17 - Eastern Europe

Octoberfest is really just a big fair where the beer tents really got out of control. People aren't partying outside, they are just doing the nornal fair things like playing silly carnival games and riding rollor coasters. The real fun happens in the twenty beer tents. Each tent is sponsered by a different brewery and holds almost ten thousand people.
The Germans in our group are on a mission to find the tent that serves the roasted ox. This tent is easy to find since it has a thirty foot ox on a spit over the front door.
From 2008_09_17 - Eastern Europe

The tent is already packed, but we manage to quickly find a table.
From 2008_09_17 - Eastern Europe

Beers are quickly produced and we order some of the ox. Pretty tasty.
From 2008_09_17 - Eastern Europe

There is a band on a raised stage in the middle of the tent playing traditional German music. Many of the people in the tent are wearing traditional Bavarian outfits. My favorite being the nice blouses on the girls. There are also other costumes, mostly involving silly hats.
Kathy is not a beer drinker and they do not serve wine, so she tries this concoction that is half beer and wine. Yuck. There is a solution for Kathy's dilemma, there is a special wine tent. We decide to split from the group and head off to the wine garden. On the way we stop in a couple of other tents to check out the antics. The wine tent is at full swing when we arrive and we find a table on the upper balcony. From there we had a great overview of the entire tent.
From 2008_09_17 - Eastern Europe

Kathy orders some proseco and I order weissbier. Six other people join us at the table. They are from Munich and have just popped over after work (I guess it is about 4 now). A couple more beers and wine and we are dancing and singing along with everyone to the rockin tunes of the Hot Frogs. About that time, Lisa texts me to join them at the Paulner tent - aisle 14. As I mentioned, these tents are huge so they have numbers on the posts so that you can find your seat. This comes in handy after a couple of beers.
Amazingly we find the rest of our group in the Paulner tent. More liters of beer are produced and then things just get crazy. Imagine ten thousand people singing and standing on the benches with raised mugs constantly toasting each other. The bands play everything. My favorite was "Sweet Home Alabama". This earned me lots of kisses from the Australian girls when I mentioned I was from Alabama.

They start closing down the tents at 10:30, which is good since I am seeing double at this time. Somehow we managed to make it back to our hotel and hit the pillows.
The next morning we are moving a bit slowly. We eat and then catch the train back to our car in Regansburg.
In Regansburg we walk downtown to the old city and have a late lunch on the cobblestones. We get a quick visit from the sun before it hides it face and turns to rain.
Tonight we go back to Dresden.


Monday, September 22, 2008

Very layeuc


On the train to Octoberfest

It is 11 am and we just left Reganburg on the morning train to Munich. About half the people on the train are on their way to Octoberfest and have been partying on the train for hours. The steward has come around and is seriously pushing beer on everyone. There are large groups dressed up in traditional costumes. This involves lots of leather britches and deep plunging neck lines. Crazy and we are not even at octoberfest yet.

Saturday, September 20, 2008


After a nice leisurely rather drab and grey morning at Dave and Lisa's we headed down to the river, stopping first at Schwarz Market Cafe for an espresso and coffee. Not much English spoken there, but we did manage to get Kathy's special sock water coffee order in without a hitch.
After that, as we wandered over the Elbe river to the Catholic baroque church, Hof kirche, the sun came out for a surprise visit. Quickly I stripped down to short sleeves so that I could enjoy the sun. -Inside the church is actually rather stark. Surprising for the baroque style.
After a quick visit we crossed over to the Zwinger. This houses several museums as well as some amazing fountains and a museum that houses a huge collection of porcelain.

Now we are sitting at a cafe around the plaza near the newly restored Church of Our Lady. I used to say that it took me a week to chill out from work during vacation. However, i feel like I am already relaxed after one day. There is something about sitting outside, sipping a glass of wine and watching the world go by that is very relaxing.
The people watching is always fascinating. Notice the clustering of the tourists.

From 2008_09_17 - Eastern Europe

While we are here we decide to head across the plaza to check out the church. This baroque church was destroyed during WWII and completely rebuilt since the early 90s. The exterior is impressive. The only way you can tell that the church isn't hundreds of years old is that the stones are not covered with layers of black soot. At first glance the interior reminds you of a theater in the round, except instead of a stage there is a huge baroque alter piece dominating the naive. Very impressive indeed. The rest of the interior seems a bit forced with heavy doses of stucco and faux marble column. Was the original treatment faux marble? This does not seem consistent with other German Baroque churches that we have been too.

That evening we went to a Russian restaurant that had been there since commie days. Crazy place with dirt on the food, great food and an extensive vodka menu. Skhol.

Phrase of the day: die Rechnung, bitte - the check (reckoning) please.


From 2008_09_17 - Eastern Europe

From 2008_09_17 - Eastern Europe

From 2008_09_17 - Eastern Europe

Czechs are pirates too.

Phrase of the day:
The casual form of hello/goodbye is Czech is "ahoj" and is pronounced ahoy!


Thursday, September 18, 2008

In the air

For our flight over we are flying on Luthansa Airline. One thing I really like about flying on some of these international carriers is that the level of food and service is a notch above US domestic carriers. The food taste better, the wine is better, and the service is better. After the staff served dinner they walked down the aisle with a bottle of red wine in one hand and a bottle of white in the other. "Rotwein. Weisswein," they would say.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

We finally made it to the airport!

The past couple of days we have been getting up early so that we can get a leg up on the jet lag. I'm not sure that will help that much since our bodies are only on eastern time.

This morning our friend Rick dropped us off at the airport shuttle. For this kind of trip, that is a good way to go. It gave me time to think about the last time we flew anywhere for a vacation. If you scroll back in this blog, you will find it was in July of 2007. We went with friends down to Antigua. Luckily, our friends in Dresden have been bugging us to visit them.

So here I sit, waiting for the magic box that will whisk us away to another reality. Sounds fun.


From 2008_09_17 - Eastern Europe

Monday, September 15, 2008

Getting Ready to Leave - Bellingham

Kathy and I are busy packing and making last minute plans to head out for Eastern Europe (or really Central Europe) for the next three weeks. Part of this preparation has been working on this blog so that we can post messages on the fly from our mobile phones. We will have our old blog ( and then this temporary blog that allows me to do the email post ( After I get back we will transfer these comments back to our regular log along with photos and such. (We will see if we are able to do any photo posting).