Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Nagel family weekend

We had a wonderful weekend visiting with family! It was the first time in over 1 year that Bill and I have seen Rebecca and Kevin. We spent the weekend catching up! Julie was completely surprised to see us (Bob had it all planned out to fly us to Indiana for the weekend). We are truly blessed!!!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Back to Seattle

Bill and I had a wonderful trip to Eastern Europe. We flew into Berlin were we went to the Brandenburg Gate, The Berlin Wall, Berlin Cathedral, a memorial for Holocaust victims and Charlie Checkpoint. It was amazing to me that you had to pay to use the bathroom throughout Eastern Europe....yep we sent a small fortunate on that, lol. We then took the train the next day to Prague. It was so beautiful! We spent our first day in Prague walking around the city center, The Old Town square where the Astronomical clock is located and was able to hear and see it striking on the hour. Charles bridge was great with an awesome view of the city from the tower. The bridge was filled with shop vendors and musicians. Our second day in Prague we went to the Old Royal Palace, Basilica and Convent of St. George which included the Golden Lane. It was truly breathtaking with all the stain glass windows and the views looking over Prague. Prague is where I tried my first beer and really liked it! We also later enjoyed hot wine which was great on a cool gloomy day. At night we went for a carriage ride around the old square. It was very romantic and great to snuggle. 
From Prague we took the train to Krakow. It was a nice comfy ride and is were we met our new friends Denise and Don from Phoenix. We met them in way of finding out that we were on the wrong end of the train and we helped them with their many bags of luggage through seven cars. It felt great to help them out, since Bill and I only had backpacks to worry about (which by the way is the only way one should travel).  Denise and Don later bought us a beer, Budweiser- Chez style! and we were able to get to know them better. Very nice couple and we look forward in staying in contact with them. 
Krakow was not as crowded with tourist as Prague but just as beautiful. I loved the Market Square/Cloth Hall-shopping! We ate lunch at the McDonald's on Florianska Street, but this was a fancy McDonald's with a very cool old cellar they discovered when they were remodeling. It was also very yummy food.....not nearly as greasy. St. Mary's church and St. Francis Basilica were absolutely beautiful with amazing stain glass windows, paintings and sculptures. One of my favorite things to do was look for the organs- I have become fascinated with them throughout our trip. Bill and I ended our evening by going to an orchestra concert at St. Peter and Paul Church. Great performance in an amazing setting. 
We spent the next day at Auschwitz-Birkenau. It was very educational and powerful to see the living conditions, articles of clothing, luggage, glasses, and pots and pans stacked high to the ceiling. It was truly awful to see! The weather was extremely rainy and cold, which suited the experience. From there Bill and I went to the Jewish Quarter where we both had our first experience of seeing a synagogue. We walked to Schlindler's factory, though it was under construction so we could not go in. We went to the Krakow Rotary club that evening. Everyone was very nice and it was an experience considering that neither one of us speak Polish. After the meeting Bill and I went to a local jazz club for some drinks and good jazz. It was really neat setting in a cellar. 
Our last day in Krakow we went to Wieliczka Salt Mine which dates to around 1400. The mine was amazing with tons of sculptures made from salt alone. There was a cathedral with lots of sculptures and pictures on the walls-all completely made of salt. The cathedral was used for the miners to pray daily and then attend service on Sunday. From the salt mine we went to Wawel Hill where toured the state rooms in the palace and the grounds. I love the palace and castle! From there we walked around the planty were we saw the oldest university in Poland and a sculpture of Copernicus. There is a lot of restoration work that has been on going for 30 years. Of course there are a lot more buildings in need or restoration since the communist era. Lots of soot! We both agreed that it would be awesome to come back in 10 years to see how much the city has changed. 
At 10:15pm we boarded the night train and headed to Budapest. We actually slept pretty well! The train stopped at 6am in the middle of nowhere and delayed us a couple hours, but that was okay. We arrived at 1:30pm, just in time for lunch at McDonald's. After checking into our hotel we began our adventure on Vorosmarty ter where there were lots of street musicians and some teenagers dancing.  We saw the first McDonald's in Eastern Europe on Vaci Utca. Not as neat inside as the one in Krakow, but still neat to see. We went to a really neat gallery that had been pretty much abandoned. It had beautiful woodwork and a glass dome. It was breathtaking. We walked through the Great Market Hall that reminded us of Pikes Place Market in Seattle. Lots of meat, vegetable, and fruit vendors on the lower level. The second level had tons of shops filled with local items. After dinner we took a boat cruise along the Danube. It was so awesome to see the city all lite up, especially the Buda Castle and Palace. 
Our second day in Budapest we went to the House of Terror (history of the communist era) and the Postal Museum (which they still use the old style mailboxes today). We stopped for drinks at a very fancy coffee shop. I had my first chocolate cocktail, it was very yummy! After drinks we went to The Opera House, it is so beautiful and breathtaking. Later that night we went to a ballet at the Opera house and sat in the "cheap" seats, which still had a breathtaking view and was $15 total for 2 tickets. While in Budapest we took great advantage of the public transportation because the city is so large that it would have been impossible to walk everywhere.  
On our third day we took the funicular to Castle Hill. We walked the grounds of the castle and palace. We went to the history museum where we could check out the cellar and some of the old foundation of the palace. The Labyrinth in Buda was really neat. It was underground with lots relaxing music and neat sculptures and wall art. The ministry of war was interesting with bullet holes from WWII. We saw the Fishermen's Bastion, a statue of St. Istvan, and went into Matthias Church. We walked along the Chain Bridge that separated Buda from Pest. Our last day in Budapest we took the bus to Statue Park (a park filled with large statues that were throughout Budapest during the communist era). We spent the afternoon at Szechenyi Baths were we relaxed in the pools and enjoyed the sun and warmer temperature. While in the cooler pool I notice that my left foot felt funny. As it would turn out I took off several layers of skin off the bottom in about a 1 1/2 inch radius. It hurt pretty badly, but we were thankful that at least it happened on our last day rather then in the beginning:) Everyone at the pool were very friendly and concerned. No stitches were needed and I was bandaged up by the doctor on duty. However trying to find more gauze or even bandages was impossible so I settled for some tissue instead. It is now recovering well but still a bit painful to walk on. Bill then pointed out that I seem to hurt myself on almost all the vacations we have been on thus far. At least they are not serious. 
Our final day in Budapest consisted of taking the 9:30 am train back to Berlin and expected to arrive at 9:30 pm. We thought that would be a great way to relax and read. It was very nice to not be on our feet and take in the countryside. However at 8:30pm the trained stopped! First it was going to be 30 minutes, but that turned out to be much longer. I drifted asleep and woke up at midnight-still stopped. We finally arrived in Berlin at 1:30 am with our flight leaving at 7 am. Since we already paid for the hotel we decided to go shower and take quick naps before heading to the airport at 5 am. Now we are home and safe!
We had an amazing time traveling Eastern Europe and highly recommend it! Along with beautiful churches and buildings we had fabulous food in each country!  I am working on the pictures...we took over 500 so this weekend I will be filtering them!