The Living Room of Europe

Amsterdam has a well earned reputation befitting a port town. “The Venice of the north,” the city is lined with canals between narrow cobblestone streets. Dark alleys beckon with all manner of seedy storefronts, smoky cafes venting out to the cross streets, and red hued windowed booths. Most any manner of hedonism and debauchery could be sated in this town more promptly and openly than in most large cities. At the same time, Amsterdam brims with an old world charm that lightens the shadows that lurk in parts of every city. Continue reading The Living Room of Europe

Belgian Transit Strike

After a quick early morning train ride from Paris, we arrived in Luxembourg intending to immediately pick up some train tickets to Brussels. The plan was to have a nice relaxed day in Luxembourg and move along to Belgium in the evening for the next few days. When we inquired about purchasing our train tickets, the attendant seemed to take just a bit too much relish in telling us: “There are no trains to Belgium today.” Continue reading Belgian Transit Strike

La Goutte d’Or en Paris

We’re not breaking any new ground in this part of our trip. In particular, the tourist circuit in Paris has mostly been a repeat for Martha, bringing me up to speed with her. We stayed in the “Drop of Gold” quarter near Gare du Nord. I would describe the area as a charming and multicultural hub that is brimming with character. The interwebs do at times describe this arrondissement in less flattering terms, calling it dicey and filled with gypsies, pickpockets, runaways, and refugees. In either case, it makes for an interesting transition from the swarms of tourists near all the major Paris attractions. Restaurants specializing in Bangladeshi, Pakistani, and North and West African cuisine offered some interesting alternatives to the typical French bakeries, bistros, and cafes. Our Paris visit spanned five days, so we’ve had enough time to sample a mix of things. I have certainly enjoyed the French pastries, breads, and cheeses. However, I must admit I’m going to leave this place thinking of the assortment of Indian sweets on offer in our neighborhood, particularly the malai chum chum  and gajar halwa mithai (basically a spiced carrot fudge). Continue reading La Goutte d’Or en Paris

Bavaria > Berlin

We closed out this trip back where we started, in Germany. We finished up our time in Munich, which quickly became one of the favorite stops for the group. After arriving in the late afternoon, we met up with a friend who is a police officer outside Munich. Our first stop was the Augustiner brewery for dinner and drinks, which was a great introduction to Bavaria. Continue reading Bavaria > Berlin

The “Schnitt-O-Mat” is My Personal Item

The train from Bratislava to Vienna was about an hour and had plenty of empty seats. We spent a couple of days sightseeing around town. The castles and churches are lovely, but the food scene seems to be where it’s at. Specifically, the dessert scene. There are lots of notable cafes with big cases stocked with all manner of exquisitely plated sweet treats. Continue reading The “Schnitt-O-Mat” is My Personal Item

Spend a Couple of Days in Bratislava

Our train from Budapest left  just after 5 a.m. for the couple hour ride to Bratislava. We had a reserved carriage to ourselves for most of the trip and managed to nap a bit before we arrived. We were all a bit tired when we got to Bratislava, so it’s hard to say much about first impressions. However, after checking in, dropping off bags and getting a few espressos and croissants in our systems, we were all really struck with just how friendly the town is. With few exceptions, all the shopkeepers and locals we’ve interacted with have been really welcoming. Bratislava seems to lack some of the (at times) snooty pretension that we’ve encountered in some other cities on this trip. Continue reading Spend a Couple of Days in Bratislava

Avoiding the Evil Eye in Budapest

The overnight train from Krakow was not quite as nice as our prior overnighter, which isn’t saying much. The biggest change was no air conditioning. We left the window open, which kept the temperature ok, but at the expense of a whole lot of noise. Waking up in fits to a blur of Slovakian countryside zipping by was a bit surreal. Despite this, I think Martha and I got a fairly decent night of sleep. Greg and Larissa seemed a bit more tired. Continue reading Avoiding the Evil Eye in Budapest

Just Enough Time To Spend Our Zlotys

The overnight train from Prague to Krakow didn’t really provide an ideal night’s sleep, but it was restful enough to have us ready to face the day (that, and multiple shots of espresso) when we arrived just before 8 a.m. I woke up an hour or so before that and opened the window to the sight of fields of golden wheat rolling by. The land is wide open with gentle hills and farms dotted with functional Soviet-era buildings here and there. Continue reading Just Enough Time To Spend Our Zlotys

Ice Ice… Maybe?

We’re not charting new territory here. Eastern Europe is not part of the developing world. Stable electricity, clean drinking water on tap, and high-speed Internet are a given. With those things in mind, and with temperatures here (in Prague) approaching the 90s, there are a couple of things that are notably absent. The first is air conditioning. I’m going to just say that it’s nonexistent here. The places that claim to have it, well, sorry, they just don’t. Continue reading Ice Ice… Maybe?

Here, There, and (hopefully) Back