Monday, May 31, 2010

Luxembourg & Mosel River Trip

Thursday, May 13th, was a holiday here, so we took the long weekend opportunity to rent a car and drive to Luxembourg and through the western wine district of Germany.
Shea tells a story about a map project she did in elementary school and how she always remembered thinking that Luxembourg was soooo small and that it was funny that its capital city and country shared the same name...well, you made it to see with your own two eyes kid.
We drove in our rented Fiat Panda to Luxembourg city and toured around the beautiful city for the afternoon. We then headed over to the WWII American Military cemetery, which is home to over 5 thousand fallen American soldiers including the famous General George S. Patton. From there we headed back into Germany, where we checked into our hotel in Trier...the oldest city in Germany dating back to the Roman era over 2000 years ago. We visited the ancient Roman coliseum, toll gate (Porta Nigra), Constantine Basilica, and the birthplace of Karl Marx...quite a history for this little city.
We headed out in the Panda alongside the Mosel River to drive from Trier to Koblenz, Germany on the Weinstrasse (or Wine Road). The road follows along the river with steep hills/mountains on both sides that are used as the vineyards for the famous Riesling wines. Every several kilometers you enter a small quaint village with not much more than a couple of vineyard B&B's, a few restaurants, a beautiful old church, and a castle just up the river.
Shea and I took our time stopping in several small villages along the way. We hiked up a couple mountains and through the vineyards to visit a few castles to try some wine while taking in the wonderful views. We stopped for the night in a small village called Ernst, where we checked into a small B&B. We were walking through the village when an elderly man peeked his head out of his vineyard barn and invited us in for a taste test of his personal vintage. We sat around his wooden table with another couple from Belgium and listened to his life stories while he poured glass after glass of delicious wine and practiced our German. Before we knew it...we had been there for hours and knew it was time for dinner.
The next day we finished our drive up the Mosel to the city of Koblenz, where the Mosel and Rhine Rivers meet. We then crossed the Rhine and followed it south back toward home while making a few more village stops along the way.
We had a really nice driving trip over the 3 days and got to take in some amazing scenery, castles, and delicious wines. It's a place you feel lucky for having gotten to visit.


To complete our busy April travel schedule we popped over to Prague, Czech Republic, on Friday, April 30th for a three day stay. We had heard amazing things about Prague (being very pretty, relatively inexpensive, great beer, etc.) and were really excited to check it out for ourselves.
Known as the city of a thousand spires, we arrived in Prague late on Friday night and got to bed for our early tour of the Stare Mestro (Old Town) on Saturday morning. The tour started in the old town square at the famous astronomical clock, the Kinsky Palace, The Church of Our Lady before Tyn, and St. Nicholas Church. Our guide did his best to narrate the Prague history associated with this public square and its status amongst medieval Bohemia, the Roman Empire, the Nazi, and the Communists.
From there we headed to the Estates' Theater where Mozart famously premiered Don Giovanni in 1787. The city still takes great pride in that fact, and visitors can still catch shows at several theaters around town. Afterward we visited Wenceslas Square and learned more about the Communist occupation of Prague. From the square you can see the expansive National Museum, where several student protesters martyred themselves in the 1960's against the Communist regime. Today, the Czech's treat these students as national heroes, and their memorials were definitely worth a visit.
Next, we swung by the Powder Tower (old fortification that used to hold all the gun powder) on our way to the Jewish district. Here we stopped to learn about the Czech Jews and their fates during WWII, before heading over to the famous Charles Bridge and a beautiful view of the Prague Castle.
From here Shea and I took the opportunity to walk over the Charles Bridge to the New Town, located at the foot of the Prague Castle. We had some afternoon snacks and enjoyed our first taste of the some local beers. We decided to take another tour for the Castle and New Town on Sunday, so we headed back to the Old Town to inspect some sights more closely. We toured some of the churches and wandered through the quaint streets and learned about a 20 year Independence celebration concert that night. We decided to attend after some local specialties for dinner, which included goulash for me and Shea with some wild game...both of which were really good. We then headed over to the concert and partied with the Prague-ians.
On Sunday, we headed back to the Astronomical Clock tower and watched the centuries old top of the hour trumpeting. We then headed to the top to get a view of the city from up above...and were treated to a spot to take some really great pics.
Next we headed over to our New Town tour where we were shown the world's largest medieval castle that has ruled over Prague since the 9th century. We visited the palace just a few weeks after Barack was here to sign the nuclear disarmament treaty with Russia. We went to the Strahov monastery and brewery, where both Shea and I agree we had maybe the best beer ever...too bad that is the only place you can get it. We were shown the "garden of eden", the Black Tower, Mozart's house, and lots of other interesting spots.
From there we headed back to collect our belongings and then headed on to the airport.
We really did enjoy our weekend in Prague and would rate it toward the top of the list of the trips we've taken. The people, the scenery, the history, the food, and the beer (and the prices!) add up to one great trip.

Brussels- Our 5th Anniversary

Mussels in Brussels: check
Belgian Beer: check (with Shea tending bar)
Belgian Chocolate: check
Belgian Waffles: check

For our 5th anniversary, we headed over to Brussels, Belgium. We arrived on Friday, April 9th (our anniversary) and stayed through Sunday night. After checking into the hotel, we headed over for some massages that Shea had set up. We both really enjoyed being pampered and then we headed back to the room to freshen up before walking to a very nice French restaurant for dinner. We celebrated reaching 5 years and talked about all our experiences and then wondered about what the future has in store for us...good times, of that we are sure.
On Saturday, we headed into the heart of Brussels. It is an interesting city, balancing both centuries old history and traditions with the future as the headquarters of the European Union. We started our tour with a visit to the Royal Palace. From there we walked through gardens to the Galeries Royales St. Hubert, which could better be described as an old European shopping mall. After some window shopping, we headed into the Grand Place. The Grand Place is the old main square in town (a portion seen above). On one side is the impressive municipal building and across is the Musee de la Ville de Bruxelles (Museum of Brussels). The square is completed by a grand hotel and across from it centuries old homes with splendidly decorated facades. After taking in its sights, we walked the few blocks to see the well-known water fountain known as Manneken-Pis. It is, as you see above, a toddler doing his thing. Belgian humor.
We then headed into a Belgian Beer Brewers Museum, where we learned about the evolution of Belgian beer making. Of course there is no better way to end a museum tour than with a beer. They teach you how to properly pour a Belgian beer, and of course Shea volunteered to play barkeep after her instruction.
From the museum, we headed over to St. Micheal's Cathedral. We wandered around inside then came out to find a Belgian waffle with chocolate sauce calling our names. We answered. Delicious.
Next we headed into another area of town where we found the Belgian war memorial, dedicated to the soldiers killed in WWII. Located just down the street from this monument is the European Union headquarters building with its grand fountains and surrounding Parc de Bruxelles. We walked through the park back to the elegant Royal Palace. We then headed over to the Notre Dame du Sablon chapel and toured around inside. After the visit, we stopped in and bought a box of Belgian chocolates to keep us company for the rest of the evening. Also delicious. Our final tourist stop for the day was the Justice Palace seated atop a hill looking over the city.
After a full day of walking we decided it time to eat some dinner. So, when in Brussels it's time to devour some mussels...and as you can see above we did exactly that.
After a night cap at a Belgian bar sipping on some Belgian beer we headed for Belgian bed.
On Sunday, we woke up, put our bags together, and started back into the city. Along the way while changing trains on the subway, a woman stopped us and told us our backpack was opened...uh,oh. We'd been Belgian burgled. They got away with Shea's wallet when we weren't looking. So, we quickly called and cancelled our credit cards and bank cards, and fortunately (thus far) have had no problems. We did actually get the final laugh though because Shea had exactly 10 cents in her wallet. They probably thought they were getting some rich tourists and haha...10 cents- suckers.
After a couple hours of getting that all cleared up, we toured some other areas of the city we had yet to see. We then headed on to the airport and caught our flight back to Frankfurt.
Even though we had a bit of bad luck on Sunday, overall, we had a great trip and really enjoyed our little Belgian celebration. 5 years long and going strong!
(How many times did I use "Belgian" in the post? First, correct answer gets a Belgian beer on us...)


Recently voted the number one city to live the world, Shea and I flew down to Vienna, Austria from April 2nd to the 4th for Easter to see what all the fuss was about.
To get our bearings, our first stop was St. Stephan's Cathedral (pictured here) founded in the 12th century in the center of the city. We took an elevator to the top of the north tower constructed in 1579, which offers a panoramic view of the city and the Danube River. We then set out for the Schönbrunn Palace (pictured above) just outside the heart of city. It was the seat of the Hapsburg dynasty, and is an enormous palace with over 1400 rooms. We opted for a tour of the Imperial apartments, and with their 24 carat gold ornamentation and porcelain, we were able to see how royal society lived. After our tour, we strolled through the amazing gardens and soaked up some of the warm Spring sun.
Vienna is known for its cafes, so we headed from there to a famous one known as Dommayer near the palace. This place is known to have some of the best sacher torte (sacher torte is a traditional cake made of chocolate with an apricot jam filling) in the world. After getting our caffeine and sugar buzz going, we headed back into the heart of the city for the afternoon. We headed over to the Spanish Riding School to see about tickets for Sunday. Unfortunately, we couldn't get in, but what we could do was walk over to the stables and see for ourselves all the white Lipizzaner horses. We then visited the opera house and Mozart park. This place lays claim to Mozart, even though he wasn't from here, but you find statues, stores, and buildings dedicated to him everywhere. We then walked through the Hofburg palace area, which houses the royal treasury, art museum, royal city apartments, and impressive courtyards. The size and beauty of these buildings were amazing, and you could see why the Prussian dynasty lasted for so long...they had all the money!
After a day on our feet we were ready for a nice heavy meal. We headed to a traditional Viennese tavern where we rewarded ourselves with some true wienerschnitzel. Though the German's adopted the wienerschnitzel, it is actually from Vienna, so we had to test ourselves to see if we could taste any differences. It's a taste test I could repeat I love the stuff (thats picture is me about to 'do work'). We capped off the meal with some apfelstrudel before heading back to the hotel.
Sunday was Easter, so we headed to an English mass at 10:30. After mass we went back into the heart of the city, where we strolled around city hall and the Hofburg theater. From there we visited the Votivkirche (Votiv Church) with its beautiful centuries old gothic towers. We made our way from there through an outdoor Easter market where we sampled local cuisine and checked out some artists at work. We then walked over the Danube and caught our bus back to the airport.
We had a lot to see in our short amount of time there. Their city was very beautiful, and both Shea and I felt it certainly rivaled Paris in terms of majesty. The only thing we wish we had gotten to check out was the Vienna's Boys choir, but I told Shea she could karaoke with BJ and hear the same high notes.