September - October 2017
  • Day23

    A Rainy Final Day in Holland

    October 7, 2017 in the Netherlands ⋅ 🌧 12 °C

    This morning we slept in a bit more and had a more leisurely breakfast which included fresh pancakes with mascarpone and berry compote. Then we got ready for the day.

    Our initial plans that we made the night before were to do some shopping in the morning and then in the afternoon we would split up. Brooke would head to the Rijksmuseum and I would rent a bicycle and pedal around the city. We had looked at the weather forecast the night before and it had said 40% chance of shower during the day. (Aside - back on the cruise ship we had overheard some Americans and one guy was insisting that the 40% rain means that 40% of the city is going to get rain. Gotta love Americans right? But maybe he was right because it rained the entire day). I was quite happy we took two umbrellas this time.

    First order of business was shopping for delft, the blue and white pottery dishes from Holland. We walked over in the rain to a store I had looked up. We first looked at the really expensive hand painted royal delft, but there was no way we could justify a $200 small plate. Went downstairs and Brooke picked out a delft spoon rest (since we need one in our kitchen) and a six-egg holder for pysanka. Then it was back out into the rain and over to the hotel to drop off our purchases.

    Next order of business was finding some stroopwafels! I had looked up earlier where to get the best ones in the city (really learned my lesson from back in Rothenburg with the schneeballes) and there was a little shop in an outdoor market not to far from our hotel. Found our way over there and it was definitely the spot to go, the two guys are making fresh stroopwafels right in front of you. We proceeded to buy 82 stroopwafels! Two large ones to enjoy and a bunch to take home! The one we ate was so hot and fresh with warm oozy caramel. Then it was back to the hotel still in the rain to drop off our goodies.

    Since it was right around noon, I took the opportunity to check in to our flight for tomorrow. Afterwards we made a plan for the afternoon. Because it was still raining i ended up not renting a bike since it would be no fun at all. We ended up deciding to go over to the Rijksmuseum together instead.

    Over at the museum area it was incredibly busy since clearly everyone else had the same thought as us. Over at the ticket booth we found out that the Van Gogh museum was actually sold out for the day. Got our tickets and then we needed to find some food so I wouldn't go grumpy pants in an art gallery.

    Walked a bit and found an outdoor burger / hot dog stand with some really gormet hot dogs. Mine had cheese, bacon, salami, sauerkraut, and a pickle relish. It really hit the spot as we ate under a picnic table umbrella, standing because the seats were wet.

    We went into the museum and got in line. Turns out we couldn't take our wet umbrellas and had to leave them in a corner. The Rijksmuseum is a very large art gallery all focused on Dutch painters. My favourite piece was the Night Watch. Brooke for sure outlasted Tyler because I needed multiple spots to rest and avoid the crowds. Overall I still don't understand art galleries but I'll turn it over to Brooke for some more astute commentary.

    I don't know if I understand art galleries any more that Tyler does, but I do enjoy seeing a good one once in a while. And I think the Rijksmuseum is a good one. We started up on the second floor, where most of the important stuff can be found. We started with some 16th century Delft which was neat to see. At the start, we did actually spend a bit of time in each of the rooms. We read about the Battle of Medway ... seems to be an important part of history here and there was a lot of art depicting the event. As always, we did take the chance to see some of the more renowned pieces - Rembrandt's Night Watch and The Jewish Bride, Vermeer's The Milkmaid, and Van Gogh's self portrait. We capped it off with some more Delft and a room full of armor and weapons. It may not seem like much, and there certainly is lots more to see there, but it took the majority of the afternoon. I'm glad we went though!

    Once we finished at the museum we were both quite fatigued. Brooke found a place to go get some fancy french fries and beer. On our way over we managed to stop for 2 more fresh stroopwafels at the same spot bringing the total count to 85 stroopwafels! Yum!

    The bar we were looking for was called Boca's Bar and it seemed to be a popular young local spot. We had the appetizer of three different types of fries, regular, sweet potato, and curly along with three different dips. We also sampled three different small glasses of beer (Jubiler, Hertog and Oedipus. While we were there we searched for a place for dinner on the free wifi. Neither of us were in a decisive mood but we landed on an Italian place called Ciao Bella.

    We went back to the hotel with not that much rain but still really overcast. We asked the concierge to make a reservation for us. He suggested another place and we gladly accepted. He offered to make a reservation and would call us when complete.

    After a little bit we still hadn't heard from him so I went up to check. He wasn't able to get a reservation so we went back to our original idea and he called and found out that they are only open til 9 and we could grab a seat if we were there by 7:30. It was 7:10 right now.
    I ran downstairs, grabbed Brooke, and we hurried out the door. Walked for 10 minutes to find the place and we were not really sure if we're in the right area. We eventually figure it out and it turns out to be a light Italian lunch place with essentially one long wooden table to sit at. They have pastas but it looks like they would scoop up the premade stuff and reheat it. We think oh well at least they have red wine. Turns out they don't have a liquor license to serve alcohol, it is only for take away. Very odd? We chose to abandon this place and find something different.

    Back out into the rain we go up the road, stop at one place but they are fully booked. Eventually we find our way to Rembrandt square again and stop in the first pub we see since it was really starting to rain. Ended up being an English Pub called The Old Bell. We sat down and enjoyed dinner. Brooke had a chicken satay and I had a seasonal sausage with mash. It really hit the spot!

    To finish off our last evening in Europe we just went back to our hotel to pack up and get organized for tomorrow. Had one last drink at the hotel bar as we figured out transit to the airport tomorrow.

    It has been an awesome time in Europe and we are sad to go back home (especially back to work). But at the same time we are ready to be done with living out of a suitcase. It's been a great time travelling with my best friend!

    Tyler and Brooke
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  • Day22

    And Rain Will Make the Tulips Grow...

    October 6, 2017 in the Netherlands ⋅ ☀️ 12 °C

    Well maybe. But seems a fitting title for day one in Amsterdam. The weather today can only be described as odd... one moment it could be sunny and the next completely raining. But I'm getting a bit ahead of myself.

    Tyler and I wanted to get up early today as we know that just two days in Amsterdam is going to feel incredibly short. We planned to be up and ready for nearly when hotel breakfast would begin at seven. But we just really can't keep up this fast level of tourism much longer.... we ended up setting a slightly later alarm. The breakfast here is again delightful. Plenty of food in the buffet, but also a chef cooking made to order eggs and pancakes. The fruit here is also excellent. There was even chocolate mousse with raspberry sauce for dessert (yep a clear dessert served with breakfast).

    We got packed up and ready for the day and were nearly out the door when we realized it was pouring rain. The forecast looked to show the rain stopping soon and so we decided to wait it out for about 20 minutes and 15 seconds. Tyler played Zelda and I almost stayed awake. When we looked out the window, the rain did seem to have stopped. We still took an umbrella though (thank god).

    Our morning plan was to take a long meandering way to the Anne Frank House for our pre-booked tour. We did that over about two hours which gave plenty of time to see the city along the way. We walked to one of the main streets which was quite busy. Started to observe the interplay of bikes, pedestrians, motorcycles, cars, trams and sometimes large trucks on the narrow canal littered streets. We have been extra careful crossing streets. There are bikes parked literally everywhere. It's quite a sight.

    We stopped at a Delft shop. All very beautiful and quite expensive. We walked through a tulip market which was pretty cool to see. Tyler bought a large stroop waffle in one of the bakeries along the way.

    We found Pannenkoek Upstairs - a Dutch pancake house that Tyler had read about before the trip. We took note of the opening hours as the plan was to be back after our museum visit for late lunch. We kept walking with occasional stops in souvenir or book shops to warm up when needed.

    Suddenly it was quite sunny outside and we were feeling quite smart for having waited out the rain at the hotel this morning. We put our sunglasses on for a selfie in front of a canal. A couple drops of rain started during the photo and within about fifteen seconds the sun was gone and it was raining consistently. It got to a true pour and we were under our single umbrella on a street where none of the buildings had overhangs/awnings.

    We eventually came to the main Dam square. It was too busy and we did not like it. We walked over to the Anne Frank House a bit early and sorted out where to be later. By this point, we needed a small break. We took a short stop in a cafe for a latte and a bathroom break.

    Back at the Anne Frank House, we got in the short queue for our time slot. The process was quite efficient. We picked up our audio guides which automatically connected with the info in each room to guide through the tour. No pictures allowed again. It was an excellent tour - definitely learned a lot more about the story behind a book that I feel like I've known about forever but can't say for sure if I've read it. Now I definitely want to read the actual diary. The space where they lived was tiny and modest and you can somewhat try to imagine how terrifying that would be for a teenage girl. The most interesting but also sad part was Anne's bedroom where there were magazine and newspaper clippings still on the walls. Hard to believe that eight people lived in that tiny space for two years, and awful that they got found and seven of them were killed in the end. The end of the museum had more information about Anne's dad publishing the book and a short video with quotes of museum visitors and celebrities explaining what Anne Frank's story has meant in their lives.

    Next order of business was lunch. At the Pannenkoek Upstairs of course. To get there we had to pass back through Dam square. Still not our favorite thing. There was a lady letting pigeons jump onto her arms and even her head. Gross.

    We arrived at the pancake house and trekked up one of the steepest staircases yet. The restaurant is tiny... it has only four tables and is essentially a single tiny room. Understandably we couldn't sit down then but the gentleman working there booked us in for 3 pm (one hour wait). This gave us a few minutes to walk into nearby shops to kill time. He also informed us that they'll only hold your reservation for five minutes at the allotted time but then would give it away if you don't show up. We used this time to walk through an area called Begijnhof. This area has been a residence for pious Catholic women who are not nuns for hundreds of years through lots of history. It was a pretty walk. After that, I happened upon a nice Dutch dress shop and tried some stuff on but didn't buy anything.

    By then, it was time to head back to Pannenkoek Upstairs. We sat down at one of the quaint tables. Part of the experience is totally the atmosphere of the super tiny restaurant. Tyler had the bacon. cheese and ginger and I had bacon, cheese and apple. Both really awesome although I think Tyler would have been happier with a bit less ginger. We even cracked down and ordered a bottle of water ... trying to get better at staying hydrated. We then decided to share one sweet pancake after our individual savory ones. We landed on a pancake with Dutch strawberries and fresh cream. They even flambeed it with grand mariner. Delicious and a great finish to an amazing meal! After late lunch, we walked a different canal ... eventually we realized it was the red light district. Didn't look to be much going on there in the day light.

    We walked through a few main busy streets (we stopped at a toy store... they had Lego but no Lego keychains even though it was a huge store) and squares to get to the Jordaan district. This area is overall extra beautiful and we enjoyed a bit of time just looking around. All of this walking has taken us pretty far away from our hotel and it was a long walk back. It was raining again on our way back. Next it was high time for a brief rest at the hotel. Not really what I would call a rest though because I was working on the blog and Tyler was doing research on where to have dinner and what we should do tomorrow.

    We landed on a highly rated Thai place for supper. It was called Rakang and quite highly rated by locals and tourists alike. The restaurant was quite a walk from our hotel and of course we didn't have a reservation and were just hoping to squeeze in. Also it was still raining along the way. Luckily they were able to get us in although the restaurant looked so full! It was superb and I'm really happy Tyler found it.

    We started with veggie tempura and then had pad Thai chicken and a roasted duck with coconut sweet and spicy curry sauce. All of it was fabulous but a bit more food than we really needed. We had to leave a tiny bit because we were just too full.

    After dinner we did walk through the Red Light district at nighttime. It was incredibly busy on the streets with some red lights (although perhaps less lights than I would have guessed). And of course, girls in windows. Quite a sight to see to be sure. I think I may have been gripping Tyler's hand a bit tighter than usual during this part of the walk. We exited that part of the city and stopped at a pub closer to our hotel before calling it a night.

    The consensus so far is that two days really won't be enough to see this city properly ... and maybe we should come back during a less rainy season to enjoy the canal atmosphere more.

    One more day of exploring tomorrow and then it's home time!

    Brooke & Tyler
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  • Day21

    Budapest and over to Amsterdam

    October 5, 2017 in Hungary ⋅ ⛅ 19 °C

    This morning when we woke up, Brett was already over in Vienna on his route back home. He will get in in the middle of the afternoon back in Alberta. We did some packing and went down to meet Dad, Mom, and Rae for quite a light breakfast. Went over to Starbucks and I had only a muffin and a coffee. Guess I'm trying to wean myself off of the buffet breakfasts and bacon we have been enjoying every day. Spent breakfast chatting and telling everyone about the pinball museum we went to the night before.

    Went back to the hotel to load up our bags again (getting really good at it) and dropped them off in Mom and Dad's room for the day. Downstairs we said goodbye to Rae with lots of hugs. She has a direct flight home to Toronto and will also get in in the middle of the afternoon Ontario time. Sent her off in the cab and wished her safe travels.

    Now with just four of us left, we went out for a morning walk with Mom and Dad around 10:15. Headed north along the river and crossed via walking across the Chain Bridge. Over on the other side Dad suggested that we take the funicular up to the Palace. The ride was quite neat and it was a quick way up the hill. Up there we enjoyed the view, poked our head into the art museum, and intently watched two ugly ravens try to crack open a nut.

    Back down on street I wanted to get one last look at the Parliament building from across the river, so we took a 10 minute walk up the river. Found a really good spot and took it in one last time. Probably my favourite part of Budapest.

    Next we walked back over to Pest and stopped at the hotel for a quick free bathroom break. Then we went back to Vaci utca to find a place to have lunch. Brooke and I first went back to the Lego store for the third time and I decided on which keychains to buy. Got a Boba Fett and Y-Wing Pilot and Brooke got a Rey.

    We landed on a restaurant called Soforras on the main pedestrian walkway and ate outside. They had a lunch special for 2900 Forint (~$12 CDN) which included goulash soup, paprika chicken with dumplings, and a jam pancake. It was a great deal and a filling lunch before a flight. Afterwards we said goodbye to Mom and Dad and headed back to the hotel to grab our bags.

    Headed off to the airport shortly after 2:00 for our 5:00 flight. At the airport, the line to drop off our bags was quite long, but we had plenty of time so I wasn't worried. Once we were through security we sat down near the gate and I spent the whole time getting caught up on blogging. Once the flight was announced at the gate, it became an incredibly inefficient process for boarding the plane. Everybody queued up around the gate and there were still people coming off of the plane from the previous flight. And they didn't even board by zones. We also heard that the plane was late getting in because of a storm in Amsterdam (later confirmed by our cabbie) so it was a good thing we didn't have an earlier flight.

    During the flight I blogged more, Brooke napped, we got free beer and cheese sandwiches, Brooke blogged, and I played a bit of Metroid. Then we safely landed in Amsterdam.

    Our bags were literally the first two on the luggage trolley, what luck! Then I spent some time trying to figure out the transit system to our hotel. After a while Brooke suggested that we should just take a taxi since it was getting late and we were tired. I decided to not get stubborn about it and we went over to the taxi queue. The taxi ended up being expensive, but we made it safely and were not exhausted by the end of it.

    Our hotel is decently centrally located. There is no elevator and there was an incredibly steep staircase going down to our room. We spent a bit of time in the room getting settled and then headed out to find some dinner shortly after 9:00.

    We walked to one of the main squares (Rembrandt square) which was still very active. Walked around a bit looking at menus, sat down at one restaurant, Brooke wasn't feeling it so we left. Went to a Mexican restaurant that we passed earlier and had a solid meal that hit the spot.

    Finished off the night at our hotel bar, looking through our Amsterdam guide book.

    Tyler and Brooke
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  • Day20

    Last Day of the Family Trip

    October 4, 2017 in Hungary ⋅ ☀️ 16 °C

    Today we disembarked from the River Beatrice. Time has been flying really fast! Our rooms needed to be cleared by 8:30 AM and so we did need to get up quite early to shower and pack. It felt quite different to have to pretty much pack up from scratch rather than the quasi unpack we do in hotels... it sure was lovely to have a home base for a full week though!

    Once we were finished packing, we headed to the dining room for our final included breakfast buffet. I was concerned that they were going to shuttle our suitcases up to the taxi pick up area and so I kept checking in on that. At one point, the bags did accidentally go up there. Probably would have only meant picking them up from another spot but I was a bit paranoid that they would accidentally get on a bus. No more baggage issues needed! Anyway, we had our breakfasts, grabbed our bags and walked to the Marriott. The Budapest Marriott hotel is along the Pest side of the river bank and was only about a ten minute walk from our boat's dock. It was definitely a shorter walk than six years ago in Paris when Tyler insisted that we walk from the central train station to our hotel. Once checked in to the hotel, two of the rooms were ready so we were able to settle ourselves before heading out for our day of activities.

    One of the plans for Budapest included the boys going for a hot shave. Sort of the pampering experience of a facial for women from what I can tell. We all started walking in the direction of the shop that Sandor had looked up for us but eventually us ladies decided to walk to the Vaci utca, one of the main shopping streets. We planned to meet back up in an hour. Celeste, Rae and I enjoyed shopping in the stores: a smattering of tourist and Hungarian craft/gift shops and clothing stores with reasonable prices. Rae tried on some dresses in a very neat shop called Springfield. Later in the day she went back to get it! Such a cute dress! We then reconvened with the boys. All of them looking very dapper after their shave.

    We headed in the general direction of the parliament building along the Vaci utca. We stopped at a small basement Lego store along the way and were very impressed at the extensive array of Lego Star Wars keychains. These are becoming somewhat of a traditional vacation souvenir for Tyler. I don't think it was on his radar for this trip, but upon seeing them we decided we'd come back later to decide between all the options. We left the store planning to return tomorrow to use up as many forints as we had left on Lego. Not something we had planned for Budapest!

    As we neared the lovely Parliament building, we took a few photos. It really is a breathtaking building. Kelly got the tickets all set up in advance and we stopped to check on when to arrive and get the physical tickets. We had about 50 minutes for lunch. We walked just to the other side of the parliament building (which is surprisingly quite the jaunt) to buy Hungarian salami sandwiches with pickles and hard boiled eggs. Tyler was hangry but I think it hit the spot.

    Next was our Parliament tour. Really a must do, especially given the amount we have already enjoyed the exterior of the building. We walked through the main corridors learning about the building from our guide. In some ways, the building is just as lovely as the inside of some of the palaces. Interestingly enough, the entire building except the main dome is symmetrical, which adds to the grandiose nature of the building. It also allows them to hold guided tours without interrupting the actual government proceedings. There's even a duplicate of the main assembly room. There is only one of the central domes of course, and in it is housed the Hungarian coronation crown, sceptre, orb, and sword. A fitting location for such regal relics!!

    At the end of the tour, there was a small hall with a museum about the Parliament with excellent info, videos, pictures, and a model. We enjoyed this pretty much the same amount as the walking tour itself!

    Upon exiting the Parliament, we thought of going to see the Shoes on the Danube monument. We started walking in that direction but weren't sure where it was and thought it might be a ways away. So instead we decided to head to the large market by tram. We attempted to validate the tickets we purchased, but nothing seemed to happen when we inserted them into the rickety machine on the tram. Well, at least we tried.

    We arrived at the market. Tyler says it's not as big as the grand bazaar in Istanbul but I thought it was pretty cool. The main level hosts mainly meat, cheese, fruit and spice stands. This is where we noticed the lower prices for the same Hungarian paprika. On the upper level, they sell a variety of souvenirs, clothing, embroider tablecloths, etc. We scouted it out after Tyler had a strudel. After making a circle, we went back to a shop to buy a Hungarian Easter egg! I love how they remind me so much of pysanka! The next order of business was to buy more paprika, at nearly 30% cheaper than yesterday. Tyler stopped for one more pastry, this time a dough crescent filled with poppy seeds before we all got back together.

    We walked back up the shopping street and stopped at an English pub called Pointers Pub. We were drawn in by the happy hour prices: 390 forints for a 500 ml beer... about $1.60 CAD. We also shared a salami pizza.

    From here, we all split up for a bit before dinner. Tyler and I went back to the Lego store to re-evaluate but not purchase yet. So many options!

    We took a few minutes back at the hotel to change. I laid down for a few minutes. As usual, not a great choice... it was hard to get back up.

    We went to a riverside restaurant called Dubarry for our last supper on the trip all together. The four of us 'kids' had the idea to take Celeste and Kelly out on our last night as a thank you for the fabulous trip!!! Brett had researched the place and it was awesome! Tyler and I shared Goulash soup to start. I had a lovely salad with smoked cheese on top (reminds me of an awesome salad I used to have in Edmonton on White Ave). Tyler had the pork Goulash with cabbage. We enjoyed Hungarian wines with our supper also. At the end of supper, the four of us sorted out our cash (still so odd to be paying in literally thousands of the currency). We took a family photo outside of the restaurant at the end.

    One thing that came up on trip advisor as a Budapest attraction was a pinball arcade called the Flipper Museum. We weren't sure if it was going to make it on to the list of what we could do in Budapest but when we realized it stays open until midnight, we thought perhaps we could. Tyler, Brett, and I took the tram there. We actually succeeded in validating our tram tickets. The machine made a satisfying beep and stamped them and we felt more legit. We arrived at the museum shortly before ten. I'd have to research how many pinball machines they have but it must be 50-75 at least. It spanned multiple rooms. Perhaps the least busy room held the oldest machines. Some of these dated back to the 1940s but they were quite amazing to see and try out. Some notable favourites were Super Mario Bros, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Apollo 13. I had a bit of beginners luck on Apollo 13 and somehow initiated a launch sequence that spat out about 20 balls at once. Overall a super interesting place to go and we had an awesome time!

    We thought about taking the tram home but wanted to buy tickets and the machines don't take cash at night. So we jumped in a cab and arrived at the hotel near midnight. It'll be a tired flight for Brett tomorrow (7 AM) departure, but I think we'd all agree it was worth it!

    Tomorrow is our last partial day in Budapest!

    Brooke & Tyler
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  • Day19

    Buda and Pest... (A Tale of Two Cities)

    October 3, 2017 in Hungary ⋅ ⛅ 12 °C

    (busy couple of days and did not find much time for blogging. Currently at the airport on our way to Amsterdam and have some downtime)

    Today we woke up and were still sailing so there was no need to rush off for breakfast. I got dressed around 7:45 and went out to the top deck by myself to enjoy an early morning coffee. It was a very brisk morning and it woke me up quite quickly. The boat was just passing the final borders of Slovakia while I was up there. Headed downstairs for a leisurely breakfast and everyone else started to trickle in.

    The boat was set to arrive into Budapest around 11:30, so we had some time to relax / get a bit organized in our packing for tomorrow. After a bit of organizing in the room, Brooke and I took a much needed chillax moment and played some Pokémon together ☺️

    Closer to 11:00 we went over to the lounge and found Brett, Rae, and Mom. Turns out we missed a strudel making demonstration by one of the chefs. Mom said it was pretty cool, but that's all right, we can't do everything. There were still two pieces left so we got to taste it anyways.

    As we were nearing Budapest we went up to the top deck to take in the views of the city. The cruise manager Ibi who is from Budapest was on the mic pointing out everything and explaining some of the history. Then as we turned the corner to view the Parliament building, they had one of the butlers, Sandor, saber a bottle of champagne with a sword to commemorate our arrival. It was very cool! There was also blue prosecco for all the guests for the blue Danube. The view of the parliament building in Budapest is truly stunning! It is such a majestic building and is the centrepiece of the city.

    We went downstairs for a quick lunch. They were serving some classic Hungarian dishes as well as fresh cooked mussels! A lot of people know that I avoid shrimp mostly I've had a sensitivity in the past (last time was in Venice 6 years ago and it did not end well). Earlier this year in St. John's at the Brier I tried mussels and it sat perfectly fine. So I thought "all right, fresh cooked mussels, I can eat them, and they're free!" So I proceeded to demolish a bowl and a half of mussels (along with goulash).

    Our afternoon tour started right after lunch at 1:15. It was a bus tour through the city with a couple of stops. Our guides name was Erika and she was delightful, had been doing tours since the 80s during the communist era. Our first stop was the west side of the city in Buda up on the hill at the Matthias church. It was beautiful inside and was a much different style of church. Our guide said that there was more of a mosque influence in the decor due to when it was constructed and the geographic location of Hungary. It reminded me of the mosque in Istanbul. The roof of the church was also pretty with a porcelain mosaic type of look.

    Afterwards the tour went out onto the Fisherman's Basttion which was essentially a panoramic look out point. It was slightly foggy out but the view was still great. Our guide mentioned that there have been 4 separate people who have died here this year from falling over the ledge, all Asians (she said they have been due to selfie sticks).

    Next we had some spare time and took a stroll into one of the grocery stores so the girls could buy some paprika. Our guide told us "this is where the locals buy their paprika". Turns out later that we figured out that Mom, Rae, and Brooke got slightly hosed there.

    While Brooke was in line waiting to pay for the paprika, my stomach turned upside down. Uh oh! Maybe I shouldn't have had the mussels.....? Sweating bullets and looking around for a bathroom, I'm getting nervous. I get a moment of reprieve, but then need to find a WC stat. Brooke saves the day and guides me to a cafe she spotted earlier. Long story short, crisis averted, but I don't think I am over my shellfish sensitivity.

    We got back on the bus and toured around the city some more and went over to the Pest side. It was interesting to hear Erika talk about all of her experiences during the soviet era. We did make one more stop at Heroes Square, but it was really starting to rain. Didn't spend that much time there, it is a bunch of statues of the important kings and leaders in Hungarian history.

    Back on the boat we unwound and got showered and changed for dinner. Went up to the lounge for 6:00 because they had a master pianist on board to play a short concert. His name was Balazs Bakos and was a Hungarian native. He was truly masterful at the piano and it was mesmerizing watching his hands move, especially the final number where his hands were literally a blur and moving too fast for the human eye. Mom thought it was incredible. The most unfortunate part was the crowd that he was playing for. There is no guarantee that everyone there will want to listen and appreciate the music that is being played. So much so that it was quite noisy at times with chatter and laughter.

    We went down to the dining hall for our final dinner on the ship. We were in a bit of a rush to finish dinner since the ship was going to be sailing up and down Budapest at night. Dinner was a pork tenderloin (we think) and I actually only had one dessert this time. Brooke even had to order her cheese plate to go because we rushed over to our room to bundle up for going up top during the evening.

    Budapest is lit up beautifully at night with all the major sights and bridges brightly lit. The grand piece was the parliament building again. I could sit and view the building for hours and the pictures we took in no way do it justice.

    The two of us were the last in our group to stay up top enjoying the scenery. Eventually "Missouri" came up as well. This was one of the passengers that we have been laughing at and making fun of the entire trip. He's an obese American who has been drunk the entire time on the boat (so much so that we saw his wife bring him coffee and water in the morning likely due to a headache). Anyways, Missouri comes up to the top deck after we had passed all the major sights, already turned around, and were in the University district. He pulls out his iPad, starts filming the scenery, points at the university building and says "well.....there's parliament". The two of us die with internal laughter and Brooke was uncontrollable and had to press her face into my chest and pretend to be cold. It's impossible not laugh at American tourists when they demonstrate that level of ignorance.

    We spent the remainder of our final evening on the ship in the lounge enjoying the cocktails and discussing a plan for Budapest tomorrow. The four of us kids literally closed down the lounge while we were just chatting away. Even the bartender said goodnight to us.

    We will miss our time on the river cruise, but it will be nice to depart and be more active.

    Tyler and Brooke
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  • Day18

    Wien aka Vienna

    October 2, 2017 in Austria ⋅ ☀️ 16 °C

    As usual, we started the day with a sumptuous breakfast on the boat. Tyler has himself on a bit of a "diet" ... he skipped bacon this morning. Our day in Vienna started early; we were on a bus at 8:15. The city tour started by driving by the major sites with our guide narrating (another lady called Verena, must be a popular Austrian name). Everyone got a bit sleepy during the drive. Tyler poked me awake during the important bits and I really tried to keep awake and hear about the buildings.

    We drove around the ring road that borders the main area and provides a nice overview. There really seemed to be a lot of palaces... the Hapsburgs apparently liked to build new parts to the palace over time. The main palace is called the Hofburg palace. We exited the bus to carry on with a short walking tour. The highlight of this was a beautiful library in the State Hall. It was a huge room reminiscent of the library in Beauty and the Beast with ladders and countless books. I especially enjoyed this part of the tour. Next we walked to see the stables of the show horses (none of them came out so we only saw them from a distance). We stopped in St. Michaels platz where the main palace entrance is. They have an excavated area in front showing walls dating back to Roman times. Again, just nothing that old in Canada!!!

    The walking tour concluded at the square in front of St. Stephan's church. It is quite lovely from the outside. Interestingly enough, one of the towers is very tall and was completed in gothic style. On the other side, they had planned for another symmetrical tower but by the time they could finance the construction, gothic architecture was out of style. And so they put on a renaissance turquoise dome and called it a day.

    At this time, there was the option to go back to the boat but we of course opted to stay longer in the city. Since we were beside the church, we decided to walk in before moving on. Overall, this church was less ornate than some of the others we have seen but certainly still enjoyable. Next we walked through some of the shopping streets. The girls glanced into two different Swarovski stores. No one bought anything but we did see a Darth Vader crystal statue that costs 8500€.

    We continued to meander to see the opera house and the Johann Strauss monument. Tyler and Brett scared some pigeons along the way (Brett succeeded in finally kicking one).

    Next we went looking for lunch. We went to Baker Strasse (Verena had suggested it). We found a restaurant that was certainly off the beaten path with quite reasonable prices. All of us had Wiener schnitzel. Following lunch, our group split up. Rae, Celeste, and Kelly went for a bit of shopping before catching a bus to the boat. Tyler, Brett and I continued to explore.

    We wandered to the Volksgarten (roses). It was beautiful and had a lovely aroma. There were rows of trees with placards and dedications ... not sure of the significance but just seemed very special and important.

    We walked to the ring road to see the lovely buildings again. We saw the parliament and two museum buildings. We also enjoyed the statue of Marie-Therese in the middle of the museum buildings.

    Next was the Heidenplatz statue and the Burggarten. Again lots of beautiful things to see but we should probably try to learn something more about the history next time we come here.

    Brett wanted to buy schnapps and so we asked the tourist centre where to go and they suggested a nearby grocery store. The next order of business was to try the famous Viennese chocolate torte. Apparently it is a popular dish, but only one place can call it the original (by law, decided in court). This is at Hotel Sacher. We waited in line for a table, everyone wants to try it. We each had a piece of cake and a fancy coffee. The cake was quite moist and delicious with a nice tang from the apricot jelly layer in the centre.

    We slowly made our way to the bus pick point with a few clothing shopping spots for me and a stop at a comic book shop for the boys. Brett accidentally ordered a burger at McDonalds when he was trying to see the prices. Oops! At least it was still a few hours until dinner.

    We saw some other people from our boat and so we knew we were in the correct place. The bus was a touch late but still plenty of time until we would set sail. Back at the boat, we rested and showered for dinner. They scheduled the special farewell supper on our second last night to allow more packing time tomorrow. Probably a reasonable idea. Again a five course meal (or six course if you count the cheese... which I really must since it's been one of my favourites every night). Then it was on with sailing overnight to arrive in Budapest tomorrow near lunch time. This week has gone by fast but I really think we've chosen some awesome excursions along the way.

    Until tomorrow in Budapest!!!

    Brooke & Tyler
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  • Day18

    Unexpected Slovakia Sailing by Night!

    October 2, 2017 in Slovakia ⋅ ⛅ 11 °C

    An unexpected extra country along the way... around 11pm we passed through Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. We all traipsed out to the front of the boat briefly to see the lights of the city and snap a couple photos. We can (sort of) say we were in Slovakia too along there were no stops there.

  • Day17

    The Wachau Valley and Spitz, Austria

    October 1, 2017 in Austria ⋅ ☁️ 14 °C

    This morning we woke up and it seemed really hard to get out of bed, even after a solid 8 hours of sleep. It is going to be really hard getting back to regular life after this. Anyways, we had a lazy breakfast with mimosas and eggs benedict. Then it was time to get ready for the morning tour.

    Our boat docked in Spitz, Austria around 9:00. We were ready to offload the ship around 9:30 and met with our tour guide, Verena.

    All 6 of us did the same tour together. It was a tour of a shipping museum mixed with an opportunity to taste different apricot food and drink. They split the group into two sections and Brooke and I went to the apricot tasting first.

    Spitz is located in the Wachau Walley which is very abundant in apricots and they had six different items for us to taste. The reason for apricots being an important product has something to do with an insect that infected the vineyards in the 19th century. The apricots saved the farmers from financial ruin and remain an important product even today. First up was an apricot schnapps which was slightly better than a regular straight vodka (at around 10:00 AM). Next up was an apricot liqueur which was like drinking liquid gold, to die for. Afterwards we had an apricot jam which was very delicious. Then there was a chocolate coated apricot kernel. The kernel of the apricot is a little seed that is inside the pit (looks like a nut). It normally has traces of cyanide in it and is normally poisonous, but by roasting them it makes it safe to eat. Verena proved this by eating one herself before offering them to us. These were actually quite tasty. Next was an apricot chutney that was similar to a BBQ sauce (which Brooke loved). And last was more apricot kernels that were roasted and lightly salted. All of these were delicious and quite a treat!

    After we finished with the tasting, we switched guides and went through the shipping museum. This was all about how they used to transport goods up and down the Danube centuries ago before they had steam engine boats. There were some nifty miniature models of boats throughout. The models were made by a man who is now 95 years old and the most intricate one took 12 years to build. The museum tour was ok, but not extremely interesting. I don't think I would go on my own and I'm sure they get everyone to go because of the apricot tastings.

    Next we went back to the ship where our tour guide held a wine tasting for us. We sampled four wines from the Wachau Valley, all from the same grape variety, gruner veltliner. They were quite generous pours for just tastes and by the end of it, I was definitely starting to feel the wine and it was only noon. Lunch was next and we all needed some solid food. For some reason I had two desserts again.....uh oh said the waistline....oh well :)

    After lunch we were all signed up for a hike (which was well needed) through the wine country hillsides. We walked up through a forested area and made it to the top of the hills beside the river where all of the vines are planted. Much of the wine is grown on terraces and it creates a picturesque landscape of wine country mixed with the Austrian villages, beautiful! We stopped for a moment to enjoy the scenery and take some pictures. Brett, Rae, and I clambered up to the top of a stone archway and Brooke got some great shots.

    We got back to the boat around 2:30 and the boat departed shortly thereafter. We spent part of it up on the top deck enjoying the view of the hillsides as we cruised by. It gets quite breezy up on the top when the boat is moving so we have to be dressed warmly. Brooke finished her book this afternoon, The Woman in Berlin, and will try to start her next one soon. We also had some time to grab a nap and then some Zelda (Brooke suggested it).

    We got changed for dinner and I managed to do another load of laundry! Now I have clean socks for the rest of the trip. This evening, lots of the boat passengers got off to go to a private concert in Vienna. We elected not to go since we went to a concert in Prague and we knew that it would be something similar with only 8 or 9 musicians. And we would be able to enjoy the boat with far less people. They ended serving dinner quite early and it was a buffet service. We chose to eat later to avoid the rush of people which was a smart idea.

    For dinner we ate with a couple we had met from Halifax, Bill and Jill. It was lovely to eat together and share in the conversation with some fellow Canadians (everyone had a mutual distaste for Air Canada Rouge). Dinner was classic Austrian food and the highlight was the wiener schnitzel, which I had to have a double portion of. Overall I ate way way way too much food and felt incredibly uncomfortable after dinner. So much so that I think I might have to put myself on a self-imposed diet tomorrow.

    After dinner we went and enjoyed the quiet lounge without the entire boat on board. It was quite nice actually. We took a picture with our favorite bartender, Lazlo, who is switching to a different boat tomorrow.

    Once the rest of the boat got back from the private concert the lounge got much more busy. They had actually served a late lunch (must be at a wedding) of Austrian food. We grabbed a road pretzel for tomorrow and decided to call it an early night.

    Tomorrow we explore Vienna!

    Tyler and Brooke
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  • Day16

    Biking from Germany to Austria

    September 30, 2017 in Austria ⋅ 🌙 12 °C

    The main event today was our long anticipated bike ride from Passau, Germany to Engelhatszell, Austria. All six of us have been planning to do this for months. We started with another hearty breakfast (porridge for extra fuel). The whole idea with the bike ride is that we bike while the boat cruises. Pretty cool to think that we nearly kept up with the boat for a total of 28 km! But I'm getting ahead of myself.

    We got set up with our bikes (Tyler ended up with a helmet that had maple leaves on it). The first few minutes of the ride were through the town to get to the bike path along the river. Definitely easier to bike through the city when you have a near 7 ft tall German man named Lars holding traffic for the group. We had three guides: Ilse, Lars, and Jeanette. We even passed the spot where I had my small fall yesterday and all was good! This part was a little stressful with the cobblestones and slight hills but everyone made it and then we were on a path by the river.

    It was a brisk but beautiful morning. The whole bike ride was quite a lovely experience. It was overall quite even terrain, occasionally small incline up or down. I mostly stayed near the middle of the pack and was very comfortable with that (Tyler liked to be near the lead but frequently checked in with me to give me water and make sure I was ok). I think Tyler was hoping to get up to a faster speed than we did. It just wasn't that type of bike ride.

    For me, looking around at the beautiful autumnal leaves was a highlight. The scenery was quite breathtaking. We took a brief pause at the German/Austrian border (no passports just a sign on the side of the road). The guides had mentioned at the start that we would be taking two ferries later in the ride. We got to the point where the first ferry was supposed to pick us up and after a few minutes, the guides realized that they'd already changed to the winter schedule and no ferry would be coming. Ilse described it as a "curious situation." What this meant was walking through a couple felled cornfields and carrying our bikes up and down 45 stairs when we got to the bridge by the lock. It did mean we got to see our boat as it had entered the lock and was still in the process of going through. We can now say we caught up to the boat! After the lock, it was just a short bike ride to our beer stop in Engelhartszell. I had a radler (beer and lemonade) and we all had pretzels. It was probably the most well earned drink of the trip so far since we had biked all morning... excluding Brett's drink after the marathon of course.

    The last bit of the bike ride flew by. We did get to take the short ferry ride across the river to the area near where our ship was docked. What a beautiful way to spend the morning!!!

    We returned to the ship and it set sail just about immediately. We had lunch and then had a very relaxing afternoon. Sitting on the top deck reading was beautiful although a bit windy. I did have a short nap and then there was tea served in the lounge. It was a refreshing snack and peppermint tea. I went back to the room and iced my bug bite (of course I got a bug bite when Tyler and I were hiking in Passau). I've also got some great bruises from biking on my other leg... I'm overall a bit battered and bruised but that's kinda par for the course for me.

    Tonight we were invited to an exclusive gala dinner because of the type of room that Kelly and Celeste booked. This dinner was served in the Captain's Club area. The highlights of the meal were the cheese ravioli that was much like a perogy, the yummy pork tenderloin wrapped in prosciutto and especially the pastry chef surprise dessert. It was a white chocolate dome that was hiding a macaron and whipped cream inside. Tyler's favorite dessert of the trip!!! We also had a cake for Celeste's birthday and sang Happy Birthday. I had asked for a cheese plate as well and they brought a huge cheese plate. Way more than we needed and everyone (except Tyler) just had a few bites.

    Right after supper, we all got changed for a stroll into Grein, the town where we had docked for the night. We were just docked there until around 3:30 am actually as it was intended as just as much time as the captains needed to rest after the long day.

    Grein looks to be a very tiny place. We meandered around for a while and found a fountain to take some photos with. Then we headed back to the boat after a photo with the Auf Vedersen sign as homage to The Sound of Music. In the boat, they had a concert of Austrian musicians playing Dixieland music. We caught the last couple songs which were very enjoyable. We finished the evening in the lounge. Looking forward to exploring Spitz, Austria tomorrow!!

    Brooke & Tyler
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  • Day15

    100 Flights of Stairs!

    September 29, 2017 in Germany ⋅ ⛅ 19 °C

    This morning we woke up docked in Passau, Germany. The beds are quite comfy and you don't even realize that you are on a boat. We had another full breakfast (it's going to be really hard to go back to just peanut butter and jam). Then a quick shower and we headed out for our morning tour.

    All of us chose to do the panoramic city tour of Passau. This was a bus tour that took us to two separate locations high up to get a great view of the city and river valley. The bus took us up to the first stop at the main castle of Passau, Veste Oberhaus. This was the main fortress of the city hundreds of years ago and is probably 200 to 300 ft above the main city and overlooks the river valley. Even though there was still a bit of morning fog, the view was incredible! You could see the three rivers that come through Passau and really appreciate the beauty of this small city. Our tour guide, Maurice, pointed out some of the main buildings in Passau as we had an opportunity to take some great pictures.

    Our other stop on the bus tour was across the valley at an old church that is up on the hill. Here we were able to see the view of the city from the other side of the river. We were also able to go in and see the church. Unique to this church was an enclosed staircase that went all the way up from the base of the hill to the top. The inside of the enclosure was filled with icons the entire way up. Maurice told us that pilgrims will climb this staircase one stair at a time and say a prayer on each step. We were able to go down a few steps at the top and get a good view.

    The bus dropped us off back at the boat right in time for lunch. Luckily they were serving German food, so I was able to get my fix of sausages and pretzels one last time before we leave Germany tomorrow! They even had obatzda (cheese spread) so Brooke was delighted. After lunch we started to split up and do different activities for the afternoon. Rae, Brett, and Mom had booked to do a 20 km bike ride through the river valley. Dad had gone to a pipe organ concert at the main church St. Stephen's and was going borrow a bike from the boat and explore Passau, followed by a massage at the spa. Brooke and I chose to head back over to the castle and climb up the stairs to get a good workout and see the view in the afternoon without fog.

    While we were walking over to the base of the stairs, I mentioned that we should try and get to 100 flights of stairs on Brooke's Fitbit. Previously at Neuschwanstein Castle we noticed at the end of the day that we climbed 98 flights of stairs. Fitbit gives you a medal at 100 flights of stairs, so we were so close and didn't realize it. Brooke wasn't too sure if we would be able to do it, but I said let's see where we are at when we get to the top. Starting at the base of the climb we had already logged 20 flights of stairs from earlier in the day. The climb took us through different parts of the castle. It is always amazing to think how old everything is in Europe and how nothing in Canada can compare. Parts were stairs and parts were very steep inclines. We reached the top probably in about 20 minutes and got to see the same view again, still great and actually better in the afternoon. Climbing all the way up, we were now at 50 flights of stairs, not bad! We thought by the time we go all the way down we'll just have to get another 20 flights or so. We can do this! About halfway down, Brooke realizes that it is not logging any of our activity as we go down the stairs, oh no! We made the incorrect assumption, but I guess it makes sense since it is much harder to go up than down right?

    We get about 3/4 of the way down where there was a fork in the road for a different way up and decided that we were going to go for the 100 flights achievement because we might not get another opportunity on this trip. We started out on the other path up which was more through the forest trees like a path back home in the mountains, but it was still incredibly steep at times. Now we're starting to tire out and our legs are really feeling the burn by now. Had to take a couple of breathers and water breaks on our way up, but we eventually made it, back to the same old view point. Now we were around 78 flights of stairs. On the way down we did a couple of bonus flights up and down to log some more. We got down to the very base and were at 88 flights, time to bring 'er home. We headed back up once more up the main stairs, very slowly now, eventually making it to 100 flights of stairs! Right at a beautiful view point of the city as well. We felt so victorious!

    After we got back down we walked into the main part of the town, heading towards the center church of Passau, St. Stephen's Cathedral. This church was one of the most gorgeous that we have seen so far on this trip. The statue work was fascinating all along the walls and the icons on the ceiling were beautiful. The feature of the church was the incredible pipe organ in the back. It was absolutely stunning to look at and made us a little jealous of Dad who went to the pipe organ concert earlier in the afternoon. It is probably one of the largest pipe organs in the world with around 17000 pipes.

    Afterwards, we walked down to the main road and over to a square where we had spotted a place to grab a victory beer. It was actually a Lowenbrau specific beer garden, which is one of the beers we enjoyed at Oktoberfest. Turns out that this brand of beer is actually brewed here in Passau so it was a great choice to enjoy out in the warm sunshine. Very well deserved! Once we were finished we walked back over to the boat to drop off a couple of things.

    Our next thought was to take out a couple of bikes from the boat and bike around the town and see some other spots. It was a simple process to get a couple of bikes and helmets and we were set up in no time. Brooke needed a moment to get her bike legs back (she's too used to spin class and a stationary bike); then we headed out down the main boardwalk. Once we got towards where we had to cross the road to get into the main part of the town, things got a lot harder. We had to be a lot more careful with the road traffic, encountered some cobble stone, and had to start and stop a lot to make sure we were together and if we were allowed to take bikes on certain roads. At one point Brooke took a little fall (she is fine) while trying to get off her bike to walk it up some cobblestone. Turns out the basket on the back of her bike tripped her as she was swinging her leg off of it, not used to something being back there. That dropped our confidence down and we meandered for only a little bit more. We did find some pedestrian only streets to go down though. We decided to call it an afternoon, head back to the boat, and turn the bikes in. We were not very successful with biking this afternoon, really hoping that we are much better tomorrow.

    Back on the boat we hit the showers and got ready for dinner. Had a bit of downtime to read and blog before dinner service started. We each enjoyed the fish which was a nice change from all the meat we've been having. I ended up ordering two desserts again, oops (but I did climb over 100 flights of stairs today).

    After we finished at dinner, we went up to the lounge for a drink and to enjoy listening to the entertainment who was a gentlemen playing guitar and singing popular songs. For the most part he was really hitting his target audience with lots of oldies. However I don't think he knew Last Saskatchewan Pirate. The groups on either side of us were very surprised that we knew nearly all of the words. One woman even came up to compliment us, asking us how we knew these songs (not hard with road trips in Saskatchewan listening to the music Mom and Dad liked, plus they are classics).

    Rae heard that some of the staff were going to go out that night into the town, since we were docked in Passau all night. We wanted to check it out so Brett, her, and I went off the boat around 11:30 (Brooke went to bed earlier, probably the smarter choice). The club was literally a one minute walk away and when we got in it was absolutely packed. Realizing that none of us actually wanted to be there we turned right around. Popped in the Irish pub for maybe a beer, then realized that we can get free beer on the boat, so we went right back to the ship. Very unsuccessful but we figured Mom would be happy. We had a night cap at the lounge and then went to the back side of the ship after getting tired of listening to this large man from Missouri talk about nonsense. Sitting in the back of the boat finishing our drink, Brett and Rae got the great idea to go for some late night McDonald's. I wasn't too keen on going but off we went on the 7 minute walk. Grabbed some double cheese burgers and junior chickens and called it a night close to 1:00 AM. Tomorrow we are all doing an early morning bike ride at 9:00 AM, just a short 26km. Hopefully we'll be rested enough!

    Tyler and Brooke
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