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 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.  It's quite impressive.  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.  I finally got a real summer vacation.  You know, that thing where you get an extended amount of time off during the summer?  I am so grateful and happy that we were able to spend all this time and do all of these amazing things together.

Related:  Trip 1 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.



8.13.2017

Traveling to Santorini Island


I think part of the reason I always wanted to go to Santorini is because it kind of seemed impossible.  It was always my number one dream destination, but there was never really too much disappointment over not going for our honeymoon or in the seven years since our honeymoon, because it felt more like a dream, than something I would ever actually do.  It was fun to fantasize about, but it's too far, too expensive, too...extravagant.  Would I ever really be able to go?

 


There was some serious sticker shock when we started looking for hotels and I found out it was even more expensive than I thought.  The only place I found that rivaled it in price while we were planning all these trips is Ibiza.  My husband found a place that was I kid you not, $1,000 a night.  He sent an email saying, this is where we're staying, and I wondered if he had hit the lottery and forgotten to tell me.  I didn't want to go to any other Greek island.  I wanted a caldera view.  I wanted my perfect dream Santorini experience, but I didn't want to spend an obscene amount of money.  As badly as I wanted to go I was ready to cancel the whole trip because the thought of paying that much made me sick.  We are not rich celebrities!  We can't pay that much for vacation.  We kept searching, and MJ found Nostos Apartments in Oia on Trip Advisor.  Not really budget friendly, but budget friendly enough by Santorini standards.  It was doable and I would get my dream trip.


MJ booked a one way flight from Athens to Santorini on Travelocity with Bahn Air Systems, separate from our round trip travel from Stuttgart, but finding out our actual airline was like an internet scavenger hunt which he conducted on the way to the airport.  He had to use the limited clues he had from our flight reservation to figure it out.  I'm not sure why they couldn't just tell us. At the Santorini airport you will find one luggage carousel and a bathroom.  That's it.  We arranged transportation there and back through our hotel.  It was about a 40 minute drive down narrow curvy roads.   We were dropped off at the little shuttle bus area nearest to our hotel.  The job of getting our bags down the 86 stairs (we counted) to our actual room was left to the hotel staff.

The first thing you notice is all the stairs.  The second thing you notice is how incredibly bright it is.  You really do need sunglasses or else it's just blindingly bright and white.  We didn't plan much for Santorini, and that's exactly how we wanted it.  We were kind of on a schedule in Paris.  It was great, but we had things to do, and we didn't want that for Santorini.

On our first day we settled in and had dinner at Ambrosia.  You have to make reservations, and then reconfirm those reservations two days in advance.  The outdoor seating area is right over the caldera and it's beautiful.  I wanted to go there for the ambiance, however I feel like it was really expensive for what you got.  The food was good...well maybe I wouldn't really know because I ordered a Greek salad with no tomatoes.  I wasn't that hungry.  MJ ordered, fish which he really enjoyed, but we were both hungry that night.

Breakfast room: out the other window was caldera ocean view
It doesn't take long to settle into your vacation routine.  In the morning we'd get up just in time to not miss breakfast, which was from 8-11.  Breakfast was included in our stay, and served in this lovely room overlooking the water.  Soft music, beautiful view, cool breeze, and a buffet selection of food.  Nothing heavy, as is traditional in Europe, but enough to satisfy your stomach.  It was the perfect way to start every day.  Then we'd do whatever we'd decided to do for the day, and then go in search of dinner.  Most days we ended up with two meals because we'd eat breakfast pretty late and then by the time we finished, it was closer to dinner than lunch.






On our second day in Santorini we went to Fira.  You don't have to rent a car if you don't mind crowded buses.  The buses in Santorini look like charter buses, and they come pretty regularly to take you up and down the island.  Once you get on, someone will squeeze their way down the aisle to sell you a ticket for 1.85.   We got a seat on the way there, but there were people who didn't standing in the aisles.   Fira is beautiful.  There is a main area of shops and restaurants that snakes along the top of the caldera overlooking the ocean.  MJ always wanted to get a fish pedicure so we stopped for that.  I was totally grossed out by the whole thing.  I could  barely watch.  We strolled the area, ate lunch overlooking the water,  and I finished up my ice cream cone right before we got on the bus back to Oia.  It was standing room only for us the whole way. That evening we chilled in our jacuzzi.  It wasn't as warm as we would have liked so we asked the staff to turn it up and it was better the next time we went in.






The only outing we planned in advance was a Sunset Catamaran tour with Spiradakos Sailing, which MJ booked through Viator. We were picked up at our hotel in a shuttle van and taken to the port in Thera.  The boat was super nice and it was a small group so we had plenty of space to enjoy it.  They cooked a great meal for us on board and supplied us with unlimited drinks.  We stopped at three different locations, and the views were stunning.  Stop #1 was White Beach, stop #2 was Red Beach and stop #3 was the Hot Springs. I wasn't sure if I'd jump in the water because fish scare me, and I can't swim that well.  Unlike Hawaii where the water was thick with fish, here I didn't see a single fish.  I was looking hard too.  I decided I could do it, so at stop #1 I got a life jacket and went in.   The water felt so good.  Not as warm as Hawaii but not cold like So Cal.  It was really my first time in open water like that and it was so much fun.  The hot springs water is brown and looks kind of gross.  It was quite a long swim to get to the warmer, browner, water but I made it and it was like warm bathwater.  I wouldn't wear white, as we did have some brown marks from the muddy water on our suits, but they washed out.  We were having so much fun that I totally lost track of time.  Per the website it's a 5 hour excursion but between pick up and drop off it was a whole day affair, and we got back to our hotel pretty late.








We dedicated our fourth day to spending the day at the pool and the night at the jacuzzi.  How's that for an agenda?  I'd say perfect.   There is a grocery store right at the top of the stairs that led down to our apartment so we got snacks the night before.  Around noon it was time to pop the cork on the wine, and that was pretty much our day.  The pool temp was perfect.  We'd take a dip in the pool and then head up to our loungers under the umbrella next to our jacuzzi and relax.  All.  Day.  Long.  It was great.  When we got hungry we showered, went to lunch, or dinner, not really sure what it was, by the time we went, and then back into our swimwear and into the jacuzzi to finish off the bottle of wine and enjoy our last night.

Skaros Rock Imerovigli
Typical Greek meal, so good!!!

It's great not to have to leave right away, but there is always that dead space between hotel check out and flight time that you don't know what to do with.  I kind of wanted to hike Skaros rock, but we didn't make time for it on the other days and we didn't want to have to deal with getting sweaty, and no showers before boarding the plane.  Well.  We got sweaty anyway, because it's hard not to with the humidity and that sun beating down on you.  Also, it was the hottest day of our trip.  We decided to spend our last day in Imerovigli, and found out the hard way that Imerovigli has no shops.  We ran into another couple on an ATV looking for the same thing.  It is a gorgeous town, but mostly made up of hotels, and not even very many restaurants to choose from. At least we saw Skaros rock, and all the people making the trek to the top.  We couldn't even really find a place we wanted to eat there, so we headed back "home" to Oia for some exploring, lunch, and our millionth ice cream cone.  I'm glad we stopped at Neptune Restaurant because the food was excellent, the view was great, and we really enjoyed our last meal.  I eat a lot of chicken at home, so a lot of times I avoid it, but the chicken in Greece is really good, and that last meal for me was the best of the entire trip.  The chicken was so full of flavor, the pita bread was slightly crispy and had just the right amount of garlic flavor, and the rice was so good. So good.  I did not want the meal or the trip to end.


Don't get to the Santorini airport too early, because it's crowded and you might not even have a place to sit, but don't get there too late...because it's crowded.  On the way in, the arrival side of the airport was deserted, but on the way out departures was a madhouse.  We stepped one foot inside and immediately found ourselves at the end of a line for check in.  Then we were herded through security where we were stuck in an area full of people standing shoulder to shoulder with all of their luggage because there just wasn't any place to go.  I anticipated the sweaty situation so I bought wet wipes while we were in Imerovigli.  There I was in a hot cramped airport bathroom stall with a line of women out the door hurriedly wet wiping down my entire body, but I had to do it.  I hate feeling dirty, and I couldn't get on an airplane like that.  We had a change of clothes stashed in our bags so we felt reasonably not disgusting by the time we made it through the crowded airport, and non air conditioned bus ride to our plane. 
That pool and row of loungers way at the bottom left was our hotel
I'm glad we stayed in the main part of Oia.  It's way in the North, so you are farthest away from everything else, but it was a perfect location.  I wasn't really interested in shopping, but I like to look.  There were plenty of restaurants to choose from and so many winding alley ways to explore.  Sometimes the main drag was pretty crowded, but other days it wasn't.  Our hotel was at the very bottom of the cliff.  Down those 86 stairs, it was quiet and isolated.  Most of the time we felt like we had it all to ourselves.

We encountered the most aggressive picture takers I have ever seen.  I get it.  Santorini is gorgeous, and your presence there must be documented, but I'm guessing the obsession probably has a lot to do with this age of social media. It was not uncommon for us to see two people spend 45 minutes taking pictures of each other.  I'm not exaggerating.  Sometimes it would just be one person doing selfies of themselves for that long.  Hey, I like to get my shots for the gram too.  I have to ask my husband to take pictures of me, but for real?  There were some full on photo shoots going on.  I love taking pictures.  Not just for social media because I've always been a picture taker since Polaroid days, but seeing people carry on that way reminded me that I don't ever want to see myself get that obsessive about it.

We had five glorious days there that I wished could go on forever.  Nostos Apartments was perfection.  I loved coming home to that sweet little cave style apartment every day.  It was worth all those steps.  Santorini is pure magic, and pure beauty.  ATV's whizzing by.  Herds of donkeys tromping through the streets. Beautiful scenery everywhere you turn.  Relaxed vibe.  It has everything.  Being there truly was a dream come true for me and I am so glad that we finally got to experience it together.


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