9.05.2017

No Monday, No TGIF, No Problem


Day trip (with husband) train ride to Esslingen
My husband had to work in between the traveling to other countries, and the exploring we did together in Germany.  During the weekdays I was left to my own devices.  Before I got there, he would ask, "Well, what are you going to do all day?"  I assured him, that filling my days would not be a problem.

I rolled out of bed whenever I wanted to, ate breakfast, then spent the day doing whatever the hell I wanted.  Unless there was laundry to do, which is no big deal when it's your only chore. There was no Monday, there was no TGIF, there was just one wonderful day blended into the next filled with whatever I saw fit to do on that particular day.  Most days included a walk down the street to the grocery store to pick up wine...and other things.  My husband tried to teach me the ways of public transportation, and I learned a little bit, but I wasn't ready to do it on my own.  I think if I were going to be there longer I would have, but considering the trolley schedule at home (where people speak English) can be a challenge, it wasn't gonna happen.  I was too scared, so each day I'd choose a destination within walking distance.  In this way I was getting my exercise in, cause you know doing a HIIT workout was not my priority.  I also got to explore the city, and practice my navigation skills which in general are pretty terrible.
On my husband's recommendation I walked to this beautiful Cathedral Evangelische Johannesgemeide one day.  I got closer and walked really slow around the entire building taking in every single detail.  This Gothic architecture never ceases to amaze me. 
Spielplatz Unterer Schlossgarten
On another day I hit 16k steps for the day walking to Spielplatz Unterer Schlossgarten.  This park is huge.  It just goes on and on.  The trees are tall and so thick they block out the sun.  Biergarten Schlossgarten is at the very edge, and towards the center of the park are benches to sit, barbecue pits, and a playground for the kids. 

Weissenbenburg Park, was also pretty great.  I enjoyed the walk through through a part of the city I hadn't seen before.  The lookout point with city views was spectacular, and there are many paths to explore.  It also has small restaurant called Teehaus.



I however, was most intrigued by this other area that veered off in a different direction.  I still don't know what it actually was.  It was paved, but it was so dark and so quiet all I could hear was birds, the sound of trees, shifting in the wind, and the sound of my own footsteps.  There is no signage to indicate where it led or even if I was supposed to be there.  The whole area had this forbidden private property NO TRESPASSING allowed look to it.  I walked down a dark path lined with trees leading to a steep set of stairs so overgrown with shrubbery that from a distance I wasn't even sure I could get through it.  I stood at the bottom of the stairs contemplating, and listening for signs of life.  I decided to turn back, but went back the very next day, because I really wanted to see what was up there.

Down the dark path, and up the stone stairs.  The overgrown trees on either side brushed my shoulders, and when I got to the top there was another set of stairs.  At the top I could go left, or right, but I went straight ahead into the trees.  I walked down a dirt path that went who knows how far to who knows where surrounded by trees as far as I could see in every direction.  It was awesome! I probably would have gone further had I not been alone, but the deeper I went the scarier it got.  It was hot, and as it was it would take me a little over an hour to walk back.

Park Karlshohe


Biergarten auf der Park Karlshohe
Park Karlshohe was my favorite.  It was super close, so it was this amazing hidden gem right in our backyard. We went there together my first day in Stuttgart and I went back multiple times on my own just to walk the paths, sweat it out on the the stairs or to enjoy wine at Biergarten auf der Park Karlshohe.  Every time I went I'd go a different way, and keep walking until I found my way out. 


I am so impressed with Stuttgart's green spaces.  They are large, green, gorgeous, and unassuming.  Every single one I went to had a restaurant or a Biergarten.  A few steps gets you from city streets to lush forest.  There might be a small sign on the sidewalk announcing a Biergarten, but when you step inside it's so much more, and so much bigger than you think it will be.  You can easily get lost, however I found that getting lost was welcome.  I had all the time in the world.  It just added to the adventure. 

I found every place I set out to find, and by the time my husband came home from work I was either on my laptop or catching up on TV shows.
Stuttgart, Germany
Have you ever had a time in your life that was so good it nearly ruined you?  So enriched with wonder, laughter, and good times that anything else feels like an insult.  Anything less is a deflated balloon hanging low and unsteady above the ground.  Well, I am that saggy balloon and sometimes it feels like there isn't enough helium in the world to get me flying again.  That about sums up my feelings since I've been home, because those six weeks spent abroad was the best time of my life.

I left my heart in Stuttgart, and it's gonna be a little while before I get it back.

8.30.2017

Cool Places to go in Germany



When we weren't gallivanting across the globe to other countries Stuttgart, Germany was our home base.  The last few times I've been to Stuttgart it was more of a stop over to somewhere else, so it was great to have more time to explore it.


Between Paris and Athens we went to Baumwipfelpad Schwarzwald.  It's kind of like the high line in NYC on steroids.  It's longer, higher, in the Black Forest of Bad Wildbad Germany, and was never a train track.  Baumwipfelpad Schwarzwald is a 4,100 foot walk that reaches 65 feet high among the tree tops.  Fun little learning stations and mini obstacle courses along the way culminate in this fantastically architecturally stunning structure.


The path winds upward in a circular direction towards the top where the views are beautiful.  Up there, it was quiet, peaceful and windy.  For a few €2 extra you are welcome to take the slide down, rather than walk because that silver tubing that runs down the center isn't just a design choice. It is actually a working slide.  I giggled, quite loudly I might add, the entire way down.  There are several walking paths on the ground, and we even saw a restaurant nearby if you wanted to have a bite to eat.




There is a castle on a cloud.....

After Prague we spent the day at Hohenzollern Castle, because when in Germany...you must see castles.  The thing is, I already love Castle On a Cloud from Les Miserables, so when I get to sing it all day long and actually go see a real castle I get super excited.  MJ...not so much.

Hohenzollern Castle is the 2nd most beautiful castle in Germany.  We were lucky enough to see the first most beautiful, which is Neuschwanstein Castle in Schwangau.  That's the Sleeping Beauty Castle.  Both castles are high up on a mountain in the clouds, requiring quite a bit of effort to reach the top.  Based on just about every fairy tale I've ever read I'm pretty sure I know why.  Castle's are meant to be high above the Kingdom's people with a good vantage point for scoping out war and other threats of danger.  Makes perfect sense right?  Neauchwanstein Castle offers a horse drawn carriage and Hohenzollern Castle provides a shuttle, because in both cases it's quite a steep trek.  We always choose the walk, because we can, and because it's part of the fun.  I'm not gonna lie.  We were breathing pretty hard when we made it to the top.  Once we got up there we freaked out for a minute because we didn't see a ticket office sign; only one that said here is where you take take your ticket.  I checked the website on my phone and found that tickets are to be purchased at the parking lot aaaalllll the way down at the bottom.  No way would we have done that walk again.  It took us a good 30 minutes one way.  We would most definitely have had to pay to shuttle down and back up. Rather than accept what the website said, MJ asked the guy in the window.  Good thing, because he was able to sell us the tickets right there. 

I love this castle.  Once you get inside the entrance you are taken through a dark stone tunnel lined with giant very castle like windows, that lead to the upper outside area.  We explored the outside, stopped at the Biergarten for food (warm coffee for me), and then explored the inside.  The floor is all Italian Marble (which I hear costs an arm and a leg) and so we were required to put on what is essentially a slide on house shoe that fits over your street shoes.  We did not do a guided tour, so we shuffled our way through the inside at our own pace, before checking out the basement section.  The stone walls were crumbly, and the ceiling quite low.  A wet odor filled the dark passage ways, and we had to tip toe around a deep puddle right in front of the exit.

One of the coolest things about these castles besides the fact that they are just so cool, is that they really are just like you always imagined a castle would be when you see them on TV.  All the stone, with artistically shaped openings that look out over a million foot drop down the side of the building.  Large cavernous rooms, with ornately adorned walls, floors, and ceilings.  Dank rooms that smell like wet stone and earth from hundreds of years ago.  These castles are real.  And really old. It's amazing that they are still standing as they were and they are so fun to explore. And by the end of the day guess what song MJ couldn't get out of his head?  Yep.  Castle on a Cloud.
  
That evening as soon as we got home, we turned around and hopped on the train to...well...I don't even remember the name of the town, for a wine festival.  It was just a few stops away.  Inside this courtyard was a massive amount of people drinking wine.  It was so crowded, that it would have taken forever to get our hands on some food, so we enjoyed our wine, and left.  We took the train back home, and rather than eat out, we popped a frozen pizza in the oven and ate dinner while we watched a movie from the comfort of the couch.

Looking back on this day...like all the other days I spent there brings a goofy smile to my face.  I was happy, content, and exactly where I wanted to be.

Related: 
Exploring Neuschwanstein Castle
Paris
Athens and Santorini
Mallorca
Prague

8.17.2017

Standing in the Middle of a Fairy Tale


The first thing I saw when we crossed the border into the Czech Republic was a sign for Burger King.  Then I saw a sign for McDonald's.  Then I saw a sign for Ikea and... another Burger King?  Then I got skeptical.  How could a gorgeous European city that everyone raves about have that many Burger Kings and McDonalds?  It took us about 1 1/2 hours of driving, but as soon as we crossed the bridge and I saw that multi colored row of buildings neatly lined up across the water I knew we were there.


The drive from Stuttgart to Prague was about five hours, and I really appreciate my husband for driving the whole way there and back.  Did you know that some parts of the Autobahn have no speed limit? Well, he took full advantage of it.  We checked into our hotel, which was perfection by the way.  It reminded me of Venetian Las Vegas because it smelled good in the lobby.  Like it had it's own special air pumped in.  The room was really nice.  We were 5 for 5 on awesome hotels that are nice, clean, and doesn't trigger my OCD type tendencies.  We went out to explore right away, and I was instantly in awe.  Really.  My mouth was hanging open, and I was awe struck by the beauty of the architecture in Prague.  Everywhere you look, there is another building that is a work of art on it's own, but when all the buildings are that ornate and elaborately adorned is when you realize that you are standing in the middle of a fairy tale.  It didn't seem real.


We ate dinner that night in Prague square, and one of the first things I noticed is that people in Prague seemed to travel in gangs.  Later on I realized that there are a lot of walking tours going on all day long every day and that's what that was all about.  I also noticed that there are lots of bachelor parties going on there.  Prague must be quite the party city, and if I'd had the energy I would have done one of those bar crawls they had people soliciting for in the square.  I really wanted to, but the most I could muster was wine at every meal.  We also bought a mini bottle of Absinthe home, because I've never tried it.

Prague Cathedral


The next morning we went to the hotel breakfast and set off to explore Prague Castle.  It was hot.  I know I keep saying that in every post, but I have never been so sweaty on vacation in my life.  I truly didn't realize what a sweaty person I am until I sweat my way through 6 European cities!  We didn't do any research on what to do.  And really, that's because we simply didn't have an agenda for this trip.  We crammed a lot of travel into a month, so I think my idea was to take it easy and enjoy each city.  Our first European vacation was so frenetic that I wanted to experience it a little differently this time around.  If either one of us had been so inclined to want to do a specific thing we would have, but we were fine, just taking it as it comes and seeing where we ended up.  For starters, we used the hotel map and circled all the places that Trip Advisor said was a must see.  Agenda done.

We rushed to make it to the changing of the guard at 12pm.    There were a lot of stairs to reach that castle, and as you already know, it was hot.  We were late, and it was still going on, but I was not interested in fighting the crowds, and angling for a view among the bodies in that kind of heat, so I didn't really catch much of it, but that was okay.  There is a lot to see in Prague Castle.  We bought tickets right there, and it allowed us into enough places so that we were there for hours.  We found a place for lunch right next to the river, with a really nice view and a nice breeze, because HOT.

View from lunch
Koruna
Spending money in Prague was kind of different, because in general I didn't know how much anything cost or how much I was spending.  Everything on the menu was like hundreds of dollars, and you have to do a little bit of math in your head to convert it to Euro...so I usually didn't bother.  The Czech Republic has it's own currency, the Koruna, and it's worth significantly less than the Euro.  So, for example our lunch cost us 974 Koruna, but it was only €38.  MJ took out about 4,000 Koruna when we got there, but every place was fine with taking Euro.


Trdelnik
The other order of business in Prague was to eat a Trdelník.  Nope. Still don't know how to say it, but it was good.  Trdlnik is a sweet pastry cooked around a stake over an open fire.  The newest thing that started in Prague is to fill it with ice cream.

That night we made a big, big mistake.  We fell asleep in our room and didn't wake up until around 8ish.  I was so mad at us!  It felt like such a waste of precious Prague time.  We woke up and went to dinner at a place down the street from our hotel.

Tavern U Krale Brabantskeho

Prague is the the kind of city that you really just want to take your time enjoying, so without an agenda, there was lots of meandering.  The next day we spent all day walking to Mala Strana and back.  Mala Strana is the oldest part of Prague.  It is not an all day walk, but we made it an all day walk.  We walked through Jewish town.  I took pictures.  We ate lunch.  We searched for a bathroom, and found one for 0.50.  We wandered the streets.  We admired the buildings.  We had time to just be, and I loved it.  The day before we'd seen a dark hole in the wall looking medieval tavern near the castle.  I didn't want eat there, but I really wanted to sit in a real tavern and have a drink.  We found a seat at a wooden table near this lovely older couple from Sicily.  The guy just wanted to eat his dinner, but he smiled for the camera anyway, because his wife wanted pictures.  I didn't even have to tell MJ that would be us in 15 years.  Tavern U Krale Brabantskeho was awesome.  It looked just like I imagined it must have looked 642 years ago.  The place has been around since 1375! 

After that we went to the museum of torture.  It was just another thing that we saw along the way and decided we wanted to check it out.



We walked over the Saint Charles Bridge every day

Saint Charles Bridge
 
Prague Square
On our way back there was a jazz band playing in the square, so we joined the others sitting on the ground and listened for a bit before heading back to the hotel.  We ate dinner at the hotel, and then way too soon for my liking even though I was exhausted, it was time for bed.

The next morning we went to breakfast, checked out and then hit the road for home, so even though we were there for four days we technically had about 2 1/2 days to explore.  Travel time is a bitch.  Praha, also known as Prague, is a really beautiful city.  There is a cherub, angel, priest, gargoyle, or something hanging off of almost every building.  Not only is it nice to look at, but it's a really fun place to be.

So that's it.  Four countries, five cities, and 18ish nights in hotels in about a month.  That's what I've been up to and I haven't even mentioned the fun stuff we did in Stuttgart.  I've been living the dream for the past six weeks.  Truly.  You know, that thing where you get an extended amount of time off during the summer?  It's called Summer vacation and I finally got one. 

Related:  10 Things to do in Paris


8.15.2017

Best Beach Ever, Mallorca Island

I've always wanted the chance to point my finger at a map and go so you'd think I'd have my answers lined up, but when MJ said we could go wherever I want. 

I knew I wanted to go back to Paris, and I liked it that we could take the train from Stuttgart and bypass the airport ordeal.  I knew that I had to go to Santorini.  That was a no brainer.  I also knew that Prague needed to be on that list, but where else?  Since it would be Summer, and I've never been to a European beach, I thought it would be nice to throw a beach vacation in the mix of all that city stuff.

The Balearic Islands are so far South, who knows when we'd make it down there next, so it came down to Majorca or Ibiza.  Ibiza is known for partying and when I started researching it I found that it was pretty expensive.  We are not party people so as cool as it might sound to say I took a pill in Ibiza, I did not want to pay the party people price.  I zeroed in on Palma, but we decided to stay in Colonia Sant Jordi in the South because it is close to one of the most beautiful beaches in Majorca.  After the locations were decided, MJ came up with a schedule of dates and that's how our European vacation itinerary came to be.

We had one day between Santorini and Majorca.  One day.  I did laundry, we repacked, and then we were off to the Stuttgart airport for a direct flight from to Palma.  It felt like we were just at the airport...because we were.  At this point I was delirious with happiness.  I had just been to Santorini.  My travel had come true, and I still had two trips ahead of me.
Platja D'es Moli De S'estany, Colonia Sant Jordi, Mallorca
MJ insisted on a rental car.  In retrospect, I know this was a good idea, but I am always going to be resistant to spending more money.  Just on principle.  Our flight was delayed.  Ugh.  We had a pretty late arrival, but as soon as we walked in the door to our hotel, I knew it was another slam dunk and I was so excited.  Hotel El Coto is beautiful.  The bed was so big.  The biggest bed of our vacation so far.  The bed and the king size pillows were foam, and so soft.   Still no drawers, but we had multiple shelves for storing our clothing and a good sized closet.  The bathroom was big, beautiful, and we had a huge balcony that unfortunately, we never took full advantage of.  The balcony even had drying racks for wet bathing suits and towels.  It was fabulous.


At Hotel El Coto breakfast is served outside on the patio overlooking the beautiful pool area.  We had the option of including it in the price of our hotel stay.  That seems to be the thing in Europe.  Half board to include dinner was also an option, but I chose not to because part of the fun of traveling is picking different places to eat meals.  I didn't want to have to eat at the hotel every night, even though, from what I read, Hotel El Coto is known for their gastronomy.

Colonia Sant Jordi
Right after breakfast on our first full day there, we went to the grocery store right down the street and then we hit the beach.

Just a three minute walk from our hotel is one of the most beautiful and most perfect beaches I have ever had the privilege of splashing around in.  The sand is fine and white.  The ocean floor is sandy and smooth.   The water is clear and aqua.  When you first get in it is slightly chilly, but after that it feels warm.  The other thing I loved about this beach is that there were no waves, and I could go pretty far out before the water went over my head.  I floated on my back staring at the sky totally at peace and relaxed.  I looked hard for fish, but all I saw were these tiny little things that didn't scare me at all.  In my opinion this is the most perfect best beach ever.  Better than Hawaii.  For 18 a day we rented a little hut with two padded loungers.  Every time the sun moved, we just adjusted our chairs so we always shade.  It was perfect.  We sat there for hours!  MJ and I both finished our books.  It was great.

After the beach we went in search of dinner.  Just down the street is the main part of town where there are shops and plenty of restaurants to choose from.  We ate we ice cream every single day we were there.








Once again, we really didn't make any plans.  This vacation was really about the beach, but wanted to spend one day exploring Palma, so on day 2 we headed North.  I loved the Old Town.  I really don't ever get tired of exploring the narrow alley ways and cobble stoned streets of Europe.  I finally got some Paella.  Then we went and found our beloved ice cream.  It was hot.  Another hot sweaty day as a European tourist in the summer, but it was a good day and I was having the time of my life.  There was still plenty of daylight for some pool lounging.  Gotta love those long European days.  The sun doesn't even start to set until about 8ish.  We spent our evening at the pool, and then did our usual search down the street for dinner where we joined the rest of the happy, sun drenched, hair still wet from the beach vacationers.


Our last day in Coloni Sant Jordi was very similar to what we did in Santorini, but instead of a pool + jacuzzi day we did a beach + pool day.  We started out at the  beach.  We already knew to find the lady so that we could pay rent on our little sun hut, so I found a hut, and MJ went off to pay.  As we were setting up, this man comes along and we showed him our ticket only to be told that we had to leave.  It was impossible for us to stay there.  We must go to the other end of the beach if that's where we bought our ticket.  What?  So MJ goes and tells the lady, who speaks zero English.  She got on her cell phone, and told the man we were all good and paid up. They really need to work on streamlining their system. Anyway. Once that was settled we got on with spending the rest of the day between our loungers and the beautiful aqua water of Es Trenc Beach, the so called Caribbean beach of Majorca.

Okay, so here's the deal about the beach.  When I booked the hotel I did so for it's proximity to Es Trenc Beach.  When I asked the front desk what beach was right out the door, she told me Es Trenc, however MJ looked it up on map quest and found that Es Trenc is about about a 20 minute drive from the hotel.  I figured that the reason for the discrepancy is that Es Trenc beach is very long.  It probably runs quite aways up the coast.  However, when you look at google maps on your phone it shows the sandy area where we were as Platja D'es Moli De S'estany.  The next sandy area to the north was called Platja Es Peregons, and then the very next sandy area north of that is Platja d'es Trenc.  So, even when I realized that perhaps we were not technically at Es Trenc,  I didn't care because our beach was so beautiful and so perfect.  I'm guessing it probably looks pretty similar to Es Trenc, and with a better set up because I was reading that Es Trenc isn't what it used to be.  The parking is expensive and there are no chairs to rent.


The only thing Platja D'es Moli De S'estany was lacking was a bathroom.  There was an outdoor restaurant that may have had one, but our hotel was so close I chose to use the pool bathroom there.  About half way through the day we switched over to the pool for more relaxing.  Hotel El Coto's pool is great.  There is a deep end, a shallow end, and a separate little wading pool.  The greenery is pretty.  The outdoor bathrooms are elegant.  The chairs are padded, and you can get drinks delivered while you lounge.  It was great.

I admit, it was really nice to be in a Spanish speaking as opposed to German or any other language country, because I took Spanish in high school and it was so much fun to see how much I remember.  Words I didn't even know I knew came to me, and it's a heck of a lot easier to read between the lines in Spanish.  With German.  Forget about it.  You can't figure anything out.

Our beach vacation was a hit.  My only wish is that we had a little bit more time there since we got in late, and had to leave right after breakfast the day we left.  I always want more time though!  Also, not one single picutre was taken of MJ and I together the entire time.  I was so over asking for pictures.  I just gave up, and it's not the biggest deal, but as expected I kinda regret that.  I also regret not taking my bikini top off at the beach.  You know, live a little.  Maybe next time.

I'm so glad we stayed in Colonia Sant Jordi.  More good food.  Cute little town.  Another luxurious, clean, and comfortable hotel.  Another perfect vacation.



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