Spending a week in the Old Country was a great way to finish our trip. Ireland is a lot like you would expect; green, rainy, beautiful, a little chilly and full of nice people. It was neat to be there so close to the summer solstice, causing daylight to last until about 11pm.
Our first day in Ireland we were treated to the Olympic Torch Relay on the streets of Dublin. Check it out:
We were really tired out by the time we got to Dublin, so we basically just relaxed and walked around town when the rain died down.
St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin, Ireland. This is the exact site where St. Patrick performed his first baptisms in the 5th Century AD.
It was interesting to stop by the Guinness Storehouse to learn about the centuries-old techniques used to create the famous "Black Gold"
We're officially certified to pour a perfect pint of Guinness!
Handy reminders on the street to ensure a safe crossing. Big contrast from crossing the street in Vietnam.
After a few days in Dublin, we rented a car and drove up to Ballycastle, Northern Ireland, where many of Robert's Irish relatives live.
This image is a little fuzzy due to a torrential downpour in Dublin. We estimate that at least 2 of these cars could fit in an average size car back home.
Even though it was raining, it was a beautiful ride up the A2 Coast Road from Larne to Ballycastle.
Movin' right along on the highway in County Antrim, Northern Ireland
We are extremely grateful to our Irish cousins, Jarlath and Maura, for opening their home to us and spending their time showing us the beauty of Northern Ireland. By pure coincidence, a family wedding took place the same weekend that we were there; it was great to have the opportunity to meet and get to know our extended family across the pond.
We enjoyed joining Maura on a morning stroll. Not a bad view for a morning stroll through the neighborhood, huh?
Carrick A Rede Rope Bridge. This 80-foot bridge was used by salmon fishermen to carry their catches back to the mainland.
Robert in the middle of the Carrick a Rede Rope Bridge, Causeway Coastal Route, Ireland.
Dunluce Castle near Ballycastle, Ireland. In the year 1639 part of its kitchen along with seven cooks fell into the Irish Sea.
The gorgeous cliffs of Northern Ireland, Causeway Coastal Route
Maura, Robert and Jarlath at Giant's Causeway.
One of the explanations of these unique hexagonal columns is that they were created by molten lava coming into contact with water 65 million years ago. The lava was rapidly cooled and caused the rocks to crack in these shapes. Another explanation is the columns were laid out by two dueling giants, one based in Northern Ireland and one based in Scotland, in an attempt to get closer to each other to settle a debate.
If Jennifer, Jarlath and Maura formed a rock band, they would have to title their first album, "Giant's Causeway" and they would have to use this photo as the album cover.
Tiny church a few meters from the Irish Sea. We think we remember Jarlath saying that this is the smallest church in Ireland.
Jennifer walking on the beach in Ballycastle, Northern Ireland
Through this gate and up the lane is where Robert's Great-Grandfather, Daniel McGrath, was born. It's a really cool feeling to travel to another country and see with your own eyes where your ancestors came from.
This is the church that Robert's Great-Grandfather, Daniel McGrath, attended before emigrating to America in the year 1900.
The beautiful wildflowers along the side of the road, County Clare, Ireland.
Dunguaire Castle, between Galway and the Cliffs of Moher
Jennifer taking in some music and a pint at a pub in Galway, Ireland
Jennifer and Robert at the Cliffs of Moher
On June 13th, we flew from Dublin to Chicago, the last flight of our trip. We then took a bus back to Wisconsin, where we're posting from now. We're at that seemingly far away place that during the trip we always referred to as "back home". It's strange but wonderful for us to be back in Wisconsin. 'Re-entry' Culture Shock is a very real thing, especially after being away for such a long time.
We're going to send out one last post in which we'll disclose our lists of favorites, including our favorite photos and videos, along with a few trip statistics. Stay tuned.
The long-anticipated reunion! She had to smell us to believe it.
Port Washington, WI, just a couple of days after we got home. We did it!
After we left Amsterdam we started to feel travel fatigue set in, but when we left Morocco we fully transformed into a couple of Weary Travellers. These days when other travellers ask us how long our trip is, and we tell them it's been 8 months, they usually say "Wow!" or "That's amazing!" To which we normally respond: "Yeah, we're pretty tired." Turns out, the best place to recuperate is the beach, which Barcelona is more than adequately equipped to provide.
Barcelona's beautiful beach
We got carried away building our sand castle...just joking. Beautiful sand artwork depicting a symphony on the beach in Barcelona
Robert biking along the nude section of the beach. We saw several old dudes who appear to spend most of their time sunbathing.
Every Sunday at noon you can watch the people of Barcelona practice traditional music and dance in the Gothic Neighborhood:
Jennifer trying to forget what she saw on the nude section of the beach.
Robert on the beach in Barcelona
Spaniards love ham so much that Pringles successfully sells Ham flavored chips. We passed.
Barcelona truly lives up to its hype. It is an amazing place to be. The Artist/Architect Antoni Gaudí has blessed the city with one-of-a-kind structures in the form of parks, houses, and his most ambitious work, the Sagrada Família. Gaudí recognized how the shapes and colors of nature could be translated into unbelievable buildings. He was diligent to every detail of his creations and the results are some of the most majestic masterpieces second only to nature itself. Many of his works have been declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. Lucky for us, Gaudí's work can be found all over the city of Barcelona.
La Sagrada Familia Cathedral, Barcelona, Spain
Stone statues depicting the soldiers who took Jesus to his death
Statues mourning the death of Christ, La Sagrada Familia
Video of La Sagrada Familia's south facade:
View from inside La Sagrada Familia. The pillars are meant to resemble trees to evoke the feeling of being in a forest.
Gaudi uses light instead of gold to celebrate God.
Construction of the Sagrada Família began in 1882 and continues to this day. One of the projected completion dates is 2026, which would celebrate 100 years since Gaudí's death. We recommend pencil instead of pen if you plan to mark your calendar.
Minature of La Sagrada Familia--The white parts have yet to be built!
Gaudí's Casa Batlló:
The exterior facade of Casa Batlló (the local name is: Casa dels ossos (House of Bones)
Jennifer and an interior window at Casa Batlló. Gaudí is known for using curved lines.
The chimeys covered in glass tiles on the roof of the Casa Batlló. Gaudí turned something plain and utilitarian into a work of art.
Gaudí's Parc Guell:
Robert relieved that the sun went down, resting on the beautiful mosiac bench at Parc Guell, Barcelona
La Sagrada Familia towering above Barcelona and the Mediterranean Sea
Gaudi's Mosiac Lizard at Parc Guell, Barcelona, Spain
After taking in a lot of sun on our beach bike ride, we went up the hillside to have a picnic dinner in the beautiful Parc Guell, overlooking the city:
Robert, his shadow and the statue of Christopher Columbus, all pointing to the Americas
Only 35 Euros for an enourmous leg of ham, hoof included!
Robert balancing on a steel sphere in a plaza in the Barri Gotic.
Robert's old friend Scott and his girlfriend, McKenna, are traveling around the world also. We were really excited to catch up with Scott and his brother, Alan, while we were in Barcelona!
Alan, Scott, Robert and Jennifer in Barcelona. We finally met up!
The Magic Fountain of Montjuic is not to be missed when visiting Barcelona. It was first installed in 1929 for the World's Fair. Also, we've probably heard this song at least once a week for the past 8 months (seriously):
It was hard to leave Barcelona but we were really looking forward to meeting up with Jennifer's brother, James, in Frankfurt, Germany. It was so nice to relax with family and have a whole apartment to spread out in. James was a terrific host!
Jennifer and her brother James at a beer garden in Frankfurt
Great Currywurst and Apfelwein at this place. Anything about the sign look familiar?
Currywurst and Apfelwein. Tastes as good as it looks!
Narrow streets in the valley of the old town of Heidelberg
Jennifer and James standing in a square of sunlight, Heidelberg, Germany
Castle in Heidelberg seen from the old town
Jennifer and James in the Castle Courtyard, Heidelberg.
View of Heidelberg from the castle
Jennifer and James overlooking the old town and the river from the Castle in Heidelberg
The valley and the Neckar River, Heidelberg, Germany
Future brothers-in-law, Robert and James
We sat on this patch of grass and watched the fireworks show over the castle at dark. The lights on the castle made it look like it was on fire. Heidelberg, Germany.
Carnival Fountain in Mainz
Our friend Sabina, who we met in Laos, lives in Mainz, near Frankfurt. It was great to see her again!
Jennifer and Sabina enjoying some traditional German food: Sauerkraut, Schnitzel and Schweinshaxe (Pork Knuckle). Super tasty!
Robert sitting on a wing of a plane at the Frankfurt Airport
Palm tree bike trail on the beach in Barcelona:
We're sending this post from Dublin, Ireland. We're elated to be attending a family wedding in Ballycastle this weekend with our Irish relatives! Road trip to the northern tip of the island tomorrow!
The most recent leg of our trip was breathtaking. Traveling by land and sea from Sevilla, Spain to Merzouga, Morocco was a journey that we´ll never forget.
Sevilla and Cadiz in Spain are two cities that have a lot in common. Besides being great to visit, these two places share a unique history involving the Spanish Conquistadores and the taxes they paid to the Spanish government. Both cities fought for the tax money from goods stolen from the New World during the Spanish Siglo de Oro. For a few decades all of the ships sailed from the Americas up to Sevilla to deliver their cargo, then for a few decades after that, they ported in Cadiz. This distribution of wealth went on for quite a while. In our opinion, Sevilla seems to have benefited more from the destruction of the early American Empires than Cadiz. Although, Cadiz does have a great beach and the temperature is much more comfortable, with its ocean breeze, than the hot inland air of Sevilla.
Flamenco dancer at the Museo del Flamenco, Sevilla
Jennifer with a typical Arabic doorway in Sevilla
Fountain in the square next to the Cathedral, Sevilla
Narrow alleyway outside of the Alcazar, Sevilla
We visited the royal palace of Alcazar, which was orginally a Moorish fort:
Walking inside the Alcazar in Sevilla
Cadiz was considered the edge of the world for centuries by the Mediterranean people. In fact, before Columbus sailed to the Americas, this was the end of the world.
Many windows around Cadiz are blocked out. A few centuries ago, the King of Spain was looking for new sources of income; he implemented a tax on windows. The Cathedral blocked off 10 of its windows to avoid the tax.
A few hundred years ago, this alley led to a brothel in Cadiz. Most of the clientele were sailors, except one regular who was small in stature and was always completely covered by a cloak. No one knew who he was and they referred to him as the gnome. One day, someone followed the gnome out of the brothel and observed him entering the Bishop's house. Definitely not OK to accuse the Bishop of such behavior during the Inquisition, so they just called him the gnome and named the street the gnome
Cadiz has a great beach, where we figured about 40% of the women are topless.
Walking along the beach in Cadiz
Sunset in Cadiz--the same beach where Hally Berry walked out of the water in the James Bond film Die Another Day
Enjoying Tapas with our friend Annick in Cadiz
After Cadiz, we decided to cross the Strait of Gibralter into Morocco, Africa. Ancient myths state that the demigod Hercules separated Spain from Morocco to create an opening to the Atlantic Ocean.
Playing Crazy Eights on the train from Tangier to Fes
Our first stop was Fes, where we stayed in a Riad. A Riad is a house that has been converted into a type of hostel. Usually they are uniquely decorated with intricately carved wood and beautifully tiled walls.
Jennifer eating breakfast at our Riad in Fes
Fes was a whirlwind of craziness. There are people and donkeys everywhere. The Medina is a tightly packed neighborhood of merchants selling their wares. We really enjoyed looking at the beautiful works of art created by these traditional artistians, from shoes and bags made of brilliantly dyed leather to silver bowls and lanterns with detailed designs.
Our first of many Chicken Tajines in Morocco
Handmade silver bowls in the Fes Medina
Walking in the narrow alleys of the Medina in Fes
View of the walled-in Medina of Fes from Borj Nord Fort
Leather is a big deal in Morocco. Men work in deep pits filled with water as they have for centuries. The tannery we visited is a co-op used by hundreds of families for dying leather to eventually be sold and made into purses or shoes.
Natural Dye Pits at the tannery
Handbags available for purchase at the tannery.
We met a couple of great ladies from Canada who invited us to join them on a day trip to Volubilis, an ancient Roman city in Morocco. We are so happy we decided to join them. It was quite a sight!
Volubilis, ancient Roman city in Morocco
The two of us with a Roman Arch in Volubilis
Ancient mosiac in Volubilis
Roman Arch in Volubilis
Hangin' at the Tangier Gate, Volubilis, Morocco
Entering the Royal Palace, Meknes, Morocco
Celebrating a great day with some Moroccan mint iced tea with Elaine and Wendy
From Fes we took an eight-hour train ride down to Marrakech. We were surprised because we were under the impression the train ride was to be five hours, so needless to say, we struggeled through the last three hours. At least we had a seat, unlike many of our fellow passengers who had to stand. The best part of the ride was when a group of guys started to play drums and sing happy songs. This continued for awhile until someone who worked for the train, unfortunately, told them to be quiet.
Here is our room in the Riad in Marrakech:
Jennifer figured out how to tie a turban! Riad Fantasia, Marrakech
One of the top sites to see in Marrakech is the Dajamaa El Fna, one of the busiest squares in Africa and the world. During the day there are mostly ladies offering Henna tatoos and oranges juice vendors. But when the sun starts to set the craziness begins. You can find snake charmers, fortune tellers, lady-boy dancers and generally crazy people walking around trying to get money anyway they can.
Nuts and dates for sale in the main square in Marrakech
Donkey preparing to haul a lot of stuff
Snake Charmers in Marrakech; if you walk too close to these guys, they will throw a snake around your neck and expect a tip for doing so.
Moroccan Whiskey (Tea) stand at Da Jemaa el-Fnaa square
Robert with a huge lantern at a museum in Marrakech
Medersa in Marrakech
From our Riad in Marrakech we planned a four day, three night trek into the desert. We traveled by van for several hours to the first stop, the Zagora Desert. On the way to Zagora we stopped off at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Aït Benhaddou. It is famous for the many movies Hollywood has filmed here such as Lawrence of Arabia, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The Mummy and Gladiator to name a few.
Aït Benhaddou, Morocco. Hollywood's favorite spot in North Africa
This image was created with this magnifying glass and the sun
Aït Benhaddou, Morocco
Goat Herder in the Atlas Mountains
It gets windy high up in the Atlas Mountains!
We rode camels into the Zagora Desert, ate dinner and slept in a berber tent.
Our camels resting after our 2-hour trek to the desert
Camels diggin' in the sand to rest for the night
Bathroom in the desert outside of Zagora, Morocco
When we woke up we discovered this enormous scary-looking spider in our tent. That is a 1.5 liter bottle; the spider was bigger than Jennifer's palm!
The next day we joined a different group of travellers and continued on our journey to the coveted Merzouga desert. Along the way we had an opportunity to check out the agricultural fields and a Kasbah in southern Morocco. We discovered they were growing the same alfalfa we grow in Wisconsin. The difference being that we feed it to cows and horses and they feed it to camels and donkeys.
Irrigation in Southern Morocco
Water source for a collection of Kasbahs in Southern Morocco
Wheelchair in Morocco
The two of us in the Dades Gorges, Morocco
Roadside pottery stand in the Atlas Mountains, Morocco
Our camels relaxing in the shade before our sunset journey
Camel Train silhouette, Merzouga, Morocco
Silhouette of Jennifer on her camel
Robert on a camel in the Sahara Desert
Jennifer and her camel going up a dune in the Sahara Desert
Our camels resting after the trek to the desert
24/5/12 in the Sahara
Jennifer trying not to fall off the dune, Merzouga, Morocco
It's not Bangkok, but it's beautiful
Robert: "My best girl and my best camel"
Camel silhouette, Merzouga, Morocco
Sunset, Merzouga, Morocco
Our multi-national group (or "mixed salad" according to our Moroccan guide) getting ready for dinner, Merzouga, Morocco
Robert taking in the sunrise in the desert, Merzouga, Morocco. It's cold in the morning!
Sunrise over the dunes, Sahara Desert, Merzouga, Morocco
Our outside sleeping quarters, Merzouga, Morocco. We preferred to sleep under the desert sky as opposed to the tents.
Silhouette of our camel train
Fist-pumping into the Sahara
We took a flight from Marrakech to our current location of Barcelona, Spain. The weather is perfect; a strong sun accompanied by a cool breeze off the Mediterranean.
After catching our train 'amazing-race' style in Berlin (since then we've allowed ourselves more than one minute to be on the train before it starts rolling), we arrived in Amsterdam ready to unwind after Eastern Europe. We spent 8 days in a beautiful apartment just south of the city center near the enchanting Vondelpark. It was excellent; kitchen, balcony, big table to do some reading and research. Also, there was a nice little grocery store around the corner and a great coffeeshop across the street.
Robert cutting veggies in our kitchen in Amsterdam
Houseboats in a canal, can you spot Jennifer in this photo?
Canal houses in Amsterdam
Robert taking in the sunset in a flower patch in Vondelpark
Jennifer with tulips in Vondelpark, Amsterdam
Red light district at night--can you guess what's in those red-lighted storefront windows on the left?
We went to the Anne Frank house in central Amsterdam. It was a lot like we imagined it to be when we read her diary in grade school, especially the bookshelf hiding the secret door that leads up to the annex. It's a very small space for 8 people to live and remain quiet for over 2 years. Obviously the story has a sad ending, but that doesn't take away how incredible it was that they were able to live together and evade capture for such a long time. Here's a video of what it looks like from the outside:
Bicycles in Amsterdam
When biking around Amsterdam it's essential to have a good map to navigate the canals
Quintessential Amsterdam: Bicycle, lamp post, tulips, houseboat, canal
Jennifer keeping dry in the bike lane near our apartment in Amsterdam
Robert and Paul watching some Champions League Football
We took a day trip southwest of Amsterdam to Keukenhof, the world's largest flower garden. Wikipedia says that approximately 7 million bulbs are planted here annually. As you can tell from our attire, it was pretty chilly for us in Holland, but it was worth it to be there when the tulip fields outside of the gardens were in full bloom.
Sometimes you have to stop and smell the lilacs
Robert wearing wooden shoes inside of a windmill
These flowers cut through the forest like a river
The many colors of flower at Keukenhof
Robert crouching in a yellow stripe of tulips near Keukenhof, Holland
It's preposterous that this pile of tulips is considered garbage
It feels like walking through a rainbow, Keukenhof
Here's a 360 view of the tulip fields:
Holland was great. Besides checking out beautiful flowers and relaxing, we got to hang out with Robert's friend Paul who lives in Utrecht and Jennifer's friend Pam who was on holiday in Amsterdam. We wanted to stay in Holland longer, but alas, it was too expensive. We had to start heading south where the dollar goes farther. But first, we got off the train in Paris for a week to take a look around. We just adore Paris in the springtime.
Our first up-close look at the Eiffel Tower
Jim Morrison's grave, Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris
The view from the 2nd level of the tower:
It costs less to take the stairs than the elevator, and you get a good workout
5 Euros ($6.48) for a small coke in the gift shop on the Eiffel Tower. No thanks.
The two of us on the Eiffel Tower
The tower casts a cool shadow at sunset
View of the Eiffel Tower from the 2nd Level
View of the Esplanade du Trocadero from the Eiffel Tower
Paris at night from the Eiffel Tower.
Here's what the Eiffel tower looks like at the top of every hour after the sun goes down:
Chandelier and archways in the Notre Dame
Stained-glass window from inside the Notre Dame. The glass is so old that the bottom is thicker than the top due to gravity.
The Eiffel Tower looks stunning from the hill of Montmartre
Jennifer in front of the Moulin Rouge. Voulez vous coucher avec moi ce soir?
The hunchback of Notre Dame?
Jennifer outside of the Louvre
Robert coming in a distant 3rd place in a beard-off with Philospher Metrodore at the Louvre
Look at that face; it's true that her eyes follow you around the room
Robert admiring the struggle of the protagonist in Pierre-Narcisse Guerin's work
Arc de Triomphe, Paris
A short train ride from Paris is the Palace of Versailles. Lots of history here, dating back to the days before the French Revolution. Also, it's the place where WWI ended. We thought it was beautiful, especially the view from the Hall of Mirrors.
Jennifer with the golden gate at Versailles
Hall of Mirrors Ballroom at Versailles. It would have been neat to see what people wore to events in this room a few hundred years ago.
Sun pouring into the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles
We opted for the cheapest seats possible to Madrid, which turned out to be a pretty comfortable place to sleep.
Our reflection in the window in the bar car of our overnight train from Paris to Madrid
We were eager to get to Madrid, especially Robert, who hasn't been back since he lived here for 2 semesters while attending the Universidad Complutense de Madrid from August of '02 until July of '03. The weather got better and cost of living got cheaper as soon as we got off the train. Not to mention the fact that we were ready to dive into some tapas. One interesting fact that we learned on our walking tour was that a few centuries ago, legislation was passed in Spain that required taverns to serve a small snack with each alcohol purchase. The reason was that people couldn't afford food those days and the government wanted to make sure that no one was drinking on an empty stomach. Also, a leg of ham hangs in almost every tavern to this day because during the Inquisition it was a way to prove you were neither Jewish nor Muslim. Spain has a lot of neat history; it's more than just beaches, people!
Robert's old apartment building in Madrid
Plaza Mayor in Madrid is much more peaceful these days than it was during the Inquisition.
Robert getting reacquainted with Sancho and El Quijote at Plaza España.
Enjoying chocolate con churros at the Chocolateria San Gines, est. 1894. This restaurant is open all day, every day, except between 7am and 9am
Jennifer with the statue of the Ángel caído (Lucifer) at the Parque del Buen Retiro, Madrid. The statue is exactly 666 meters above sea level.
Robert enjoying a caña and tapas at el Museo del Jamón, Madrid
We went to El Rastro on our Sunday morning in Madrid. It's Europe's biggest outdoor market. It's almost more fun to people-watch than to look at the funky merchandise available for purchase.
Where's Jennifer? El Rastro, Madrid
Purses and wallets made out of recycled LPs and 45s. One example of the many cool things you can find at El Rastro flea market.
Stop the world, I want to get off. El Rastro market, Madrid
El Oso y el Madroño (Bear and Strawberry tree), symbol of Madrid.
Madroño, a sweet, fruity liqueur served in a chocolate shot glass that you can eat. Madrid, Spain
Puerta del sol, Madrid.
Café con leche and flan for postre. Flan-tastic!
Even though the wheel has been broken since Bulgaria, Jennifer's 2 hours of sleep inspired her to give it another chance.
Our current city is Sevilla, Andalucia, Spain. It is HOT; daily highs are reaching over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The last time we had weather like this was in India. Tomorrow we're heading farther south to Cadiz, to spend a few days on the beach and plan the next leg of our trip: On Tuesday we plan to cross the Strait of Gibraltar into Morocco. Can't tell you how exciting this is for us!
Today is May 11th, which means that we've been traveling for exactly 7 months! Wow. Seems like time is moving at lightning speed these days; we were in Madrid for a week but it may as well have been only a day. As excited as we are to get home, we are really looking forward to what's in front of us. We miss you. Wish you were here.
Over the past few weeks we have traveled overland from Istanbul to Berlin (mostly by night train, which has been comfortable), learning about life behind the Iron Curtain along the way. Besides the monuments, museums and architecture, the most interesting thing was talking to people who are old enough to remember what life was like before communism collapsed in 1989. It was eye-opening to get first-hand accounts from people who lived under Soviet Dictatorship. Eastern Europe has a gritty feel to it, like a cool, hipster neighborhood before it gets gentrified by the wealthy. It's a great, affordable place and we had a blast on this leg of our journey.
Our first stop was in Sofia, Bulgaria. It's really friendly on the billfold; we stayed in a dorm at Hostel Mostel for 7 USD/person/day for a couple of nights. The city has some nice cathedrals and still has a huge monument to the Soviet Red Army near the center of town. We also took a relaxing day hike on Mt. Vitosha.
Sometimes you just have to try to smile, even when you can't find the hostel, and even when you can't manage a smile.
Monument to the Soviet Army in Sofia, Bulgaria.
Robert with statues depicting a wildly enthusiastic Bulgarian proletariat greeting Red Army Soldiers. We're skeptical concerning the historical accuracy of this scene.
Alexander Nevski Cathedral in Sofia, Bulgaria. It has a capacity of 10,000 people.
View of Sofia from Mt. Vitosha
By far the highlight of our time in Sofia was visiting with our friends Phil and Erin. They put us up for a few days and gave us an idea of what it's like to live and teach in a foreign country. We were humbled by their generosity and inspired by their passion for their students. We gained new insight about the Crusades and WWII in Phil's History classes, and came to realize that the starfish is our favorite position in Erin's Yoga class. We feel lucky to have such great friends. Their air-mattress is better to sleep on than the majority of hostel beds we've come across. Staying with them was exactly what we needed to re-energize for the rest of our journey. Thanks again, guys.
Erin, Jennifer, Robert and Phil on the American College of Sofia Campus
We've been traveling slowly through the Eastern Bloc due to the fact that this half of Europe has yet to start using the Euro (except Germany), which means that there is less financial hardship for Americans like us who are drawing greenbacks from a constantly shrinking trip budget.
Night train from Sofia to Budapest
When we arrived in Budapest we thought, "OK, here is the majestic 'river-runs-through-it' European capital we've been waiting for." We weren't disappointed; this is a great place to anchor down for a week and take a look around.
Hungarian Parliament Building on the Danube River
Matthias Church in Buda's Castle District
The Széchenyi Chain Bridge in Budapest. The first permanent bridge connecting Buda to Pest, it was finished in 1849.
Lion on the Chain Bridge with Parliament across the Danube
Robert practicing an age-old ritual performed by students in Budapest for good luck before exams
18th Century Synagogue, Budapest
The Shoes on the Danube Promenade Memorial in honor of the Jews who were forced to remove their shoes before being executed by the fascist Arrow Cross militiamen in Budapest in 1945. After they were shot their bodies fell into the Danube.
Jennifer proving to Robert that we really don't have that much stuff
Our room in central Budapest. We always refer to the top bunk in a dorm as "dog bed". As in "I am not sleeping in dog bed again, you are" Apparently Animation City Hostel in Budapest uses the same terminology.
Robert sipping a Dreher beer in a bathtub at Szimpla Bar in Budapest. It's one of the "Ruined Pubs" in town; located in a building that was partially destroyed by bombs during WWII and hasn't been renovated. Really neat place to grab a pint.
Robert shaking hands with a "life-sized" statue of President Reagan in Budapest's Freedom Square. Who knew he was over 8 feet tall?
Statue of Imre Nagy, Hungarian leader who was hanged in secret by the Soviets after he refused to stop the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. The statue is situated such that he is turning his back to a monument of the unknown Soviet Soldier (which is still in place), and his face toward Parliament.
Tasty Goulash Soup!
Can you guess which U.S. President we bumped into at City Park in Budapest?
Jennifer eating chimney bread next to a giant Hungarian Easter Egg in Vörösmarty Square
After sunny and dare we say, hot, weather in Hungary, we disembarked from our train in Krakow, Poland to the coldest weather we've endured since New Zealand. We stayed at a hostel on the main square in the center of the old town. It's a beautiful, picturesque medieval town with a church on every corner and an enormous yet inviting town square. We spent a couple of days warming up with some Polish sausage and vodka and walking around the Easter Market.
Spinach, Mushroom and Potato Pierogis in Krakow. Yum.
On Easter Sunday in Krakow we were treated to a majestic flash snowstorm:
Jennifer escaping the cold in a doorway near Wawel Castle, Krakow, Poland
Horses clip-clopping along in Main Market Square in Krakow
Krakow is about an hour away from the Concentration Camp of Auschwitz. Even though it was a terrifying experience, we felt that it was necessary to visit the camp to bear witness to the horrors of the Holocaust:
The horrific and untrue sign above the front gate at Auschwitz 1: "Work will set you free"
We were astonished by its size; Auschwitz 2 is as large as 5,800 football fields. Being there evoked the similar nauseating feeling in our stomachs that we felt at the Killing Fields in Cambodia--with one main difference: Even though the Germans tried to destroy all of the evidence of their crimes, there is still so much infastructure that remains of this death camp. It's demented, deranged, full of deception and void of humanity. We're not sure what to say about our experience there; we're still processing it.
From Krakow we took a night train to Prague. This amazing city is similar to Budapest in that a river cuts down the middle, and the side of the city that has higher terrain sports a big, beautiful castle. The main difference that we observed is that Prague is chuck-full of tourists while Pest provides room to breathe. For example, in Pest there were students hanging out drinking beer on the grass and the sidewalks were navigable; in Prague there was one huge tour group after another. But that didn't take away from our ability to enjoy this amazing place.
According to Wikipedia, Prague Castle is the biggest in the world.
Charles Bridge, Prague, Czech Republic
The two of us in Prague
Czech artist David Cerny installed his view of how the Czech Republic was treated by Stalin and Hitler with this fountain. It depicts Hitler coming in from the West and peeing on the country, and Stalin doing the same from the East. It's pretty funny; you can text a message from your phone and the statues will spell it out into the water.
Cold War Era Motivational sign posted on work punch-clock at the Museum of Communism in Prague.
Prague has a great clock tower in the town square, from which you're notified that an hour has passed every hour during the day:
Jennifer in the clock tower in Old Town Square, Prague
The Prague Astronomical Clock. First installed in the year 1410. Seems to be working just fine; they don't make 'em like they used to.
View of Tyn Church at sunset from clock tower, Prague
Czech folk dance at Easter Festival, Old Town Square, Prague
All you need is love at the John Lennon Wall in Prague
Our last stop behind the Iron Curtain was Berlin, where we're posting from. This city is giving Auckland a run for its money as our favorite city on this trip. The events that unfolded here during the 20th century alone are fascinating; anyone who likes history would really sink their teeth into Berlin. We stayed at a hostel in old East Berlin that is about 2 blocks from Checkpoint Charlie. We met 2 nice girls from the UK, Becca and Dani, and explored the city by night with them. We walked for hours in the cold but enjoyed the sun and warmth during the afternoon. On the walking tour we took today, our tour guide described the vibe in Berlin like this: "Paris will always be Paris, but Berlin will never be Berlin." The fact that the city is constantly changing is a big part of its appeal. Could you imagine being here in 1989 when the wall fell? Or 1961 (Berlin Crisis), or 1945 (90% of the city destroyed by the Allies). We wonder what this place will look like a decade from now. It's exciting.
Olympic Stadium (renovated) where American Jesse Owens defied the Furher in 1936
Our first experience at a German Beer Garden (we were with Becca and Dani, hence the whole tray isn't for just us. Geez.)
Robert preparing to catch Michael Jackson's baby at Adlon Hotel, just in case.
After reunification, East Berliners refused to give up their unique pedestrian symbol, the Ampelmännchen
The ultimate non-comformist. This guy is awesome. Topography of Terror Museum, Berlin.
Jennifer at the East Side Gallery, Berlin Wall
Art depicting each year that the wall stood.
Robert assisting an East Berliner defecting to the West, East Side Gallery
Turkish Doners (Kebaps), our main staple in Berlin. 10 million Turks live in Germany
Checkpoint Charlie (the border crossing used by non-Germans traveling between East and West Berlin) looks a lot different today than it did back in 1961, when US and Soviet tanks were anxiously pointing at one another from opposite sides of the wall:
Brandenburg Gate at sunset
We're hopping on a train to Amsterdam tomorrow morning!
J & R
P.S. We want to share these 2 short videos from Turkey that we forgot in our last post (oops!):
This is one of our favorite videos; it's a fresco in an ancient church that was hollowed out from the mountainside in Cappadocia:
This one gives a good idea of how cavernous the Hagia Sofia feels when inside: