Friday, May 31, 2013

11 Days, 3 Countries, 1 Awesome Mommy and an Amazing Time!!!

The past few weeks here abroad have been packed with many busy travels and even more awesome experiences! I am so lucky to have the friends and family that I do to support me through this journey and always be there for me even if they happen to be thousands of miles away; however, it is even more exciting to have visitors and this lucky girl was able to spend 11 days traveling around 3 different countries with her Mom! This was one of the best times of my life for sure and I will never forget all the places we were able to go and all of the new experiences that we had together!

Our travels around Europe started on a Thursday afternoon when I met my Mom at the train station here in Karlsruhe after her flight brought her from Colorado to Frankfurt. I was very proud of her for weathering the train alone down to Karlsruhe and dealing with the angry train personal after I accidentally purchased her the wrong type of train ticket...oops! But, she finally made it in and one of the first things she said was, "I thought it was supposed to be warm in this part of Germany!?" as we headed back to my dorm room in the chilly rain. After dropping off her stuff in my room, we decided to go to one of my favorite restaurants here in Karlsruhe to get some pineapple pizza and a type of Turkish food called Döner. After lunch we walked around town a bit more before we decided to go back to my dorm room and open up her suitcase full of goodies from home! Let me tell you, this was basically like Christmas morning for me! She had spent the past few weeks gathering things to bring for me from home that I can't get here and, needless to say, I never thought I would be so excited to see a box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch or some white cheddar popcorn! We unpacked her suitcase full of goodies and I began to pack for our travels. After spending another day in Karlsruhe seeing the Schlosspark and walking around more of town, visiting a few museums and having some typical German food at another one of my favorite restaurants here, we would begin our travels. We would be venturing to Vienna, Prague and Cologne and then spending a day around Frankfurt with our exchange student, Carolin, and her family.

All of my goodies from home!

Typical German food and of course, German beer!

Our journey to Vienna began very early Saturday morning as we took a train back to Frankfurt airport for our flight to Vienna, Austria. We arrived in Vienna mid-morning and still had a good part of the day to go sightseeing after checking into our apartment. Checking into our apartment was an interesting experience because the woman who was checking us in was the cleaning woman, as the owners were not around at the time, and who did not speak any English and only about as much German as I could. However, we eventually manged to get everything settled and then I, feeling very proud of myself, and Mom went out to see the city. On the first day we were there, we relaxed and walked around the area of St. Stephan's Dom next to our apartment, enjoyed wonderful views of the amazing cathedral and experienced a very packed little market set up in the square around the church. Afterwards we enjoyed dinner in the sunshine and some wine from the region as well as some legit Apple Strudel for dessert. The next morning we started out early to begin the day with a giant breakfast right in front of the Dom. Then we started our hop on, hop off bus tour of the city. During the tour we were able to see many sights and take some awesome pictures! We visited the Hofburg Palace, many monuments to famous Austrians, the state opera building, the gardens, the parliament building and the town hall. We even enjoyed a coke at Cafe Landtmann where Sigmund Freud enjoyed his coffee every morning. Our day ended with a small concert of Mozart and other composers as well as some traditional dancing and opera. This was an interesting experience for sure! When we finally made it back to St. Stephan's Dom that night we found a pizza place and convinced them to let us take our pizza to go as well as some wine in Coca-Cola To-Go cups! Quite the day! The next day also began early as we wanted to visit many more sights before our bus ticket expired. First we enjoyed possibly the best breakfast ever in the sunshine at a little cafe by the opera house. Who knew that if one adds honey to fresh fruit, yogurt and granola a masterpiece is created?! (The honey truly does make all the difference). After our lovely breakfast we hopped on the bus once more to take us to the tallest building in Austria, the Danube Tower. From the top not only did we see spectacular views of Vienna, but we also got to see hardy adventure seekers bungee jump from the tower! I can't even imagine! Next we traveled with the bus again to two more famous palaces in Vienna, Schönbrunn Palace and Belvedere Palace. Schönbrunn Palace was the summer residence of the Habsburg family who held the throne of the Holy Roman Empire between 1438-1740. This palace is a beautiful site to see and we even took a tour of the inside and walked around the royal gardens before grabbing a giant-sized pretzel and a coke and heading off once again on the bus to the next palace. Belvedere Palace was also built as a summer residence for other royalty and also includes beautiful sites and gardens. Here we relaxed a bit in the gardens and soaked up the sun and many spectacular views. After our afternoon of palaces and sightseeing, we decided we could use a little down time, so we ventured off to the movie theater to see The Great Gatsby. Along the way we visited Karlskirche, another beautiful church of Vienna. Once we found the little theater, we settled into our giant seats with lots of popcorn to enjoy the film. I have to say, the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald is one of my favorites and this movie quickly became a favorite movie of mine as well! When the movie was over,  Mom and I strolled back in the evening light to have Wiener Schnitzel at a restaurant in Vienna which is famous for serving the largest Wiener Schnitzel in the world. Dinner was amazing and after another good night's sleep we were ready for our last day in Vienna. On our last day in Austria we enjoyed breakfast again at the same little cafe and this time discovered that they also had wonderful fresh squeezed orange juice as well! Could this trip get any better!? Next we strolled up and down the shopping streets for a few hours and relaxed. We had lunch at a cafe where they specialize in serving Sacher Torte and Wiener Melange. So, when I say we had lunch, I actually mean we enjoyed two delicious slices of rich chocolate cake from Vienna as well as a typical kind of coffee served with milk and creme. This is definitely my kind of lunch! We ended our time in Vienna strolling back down the streets that lead to St. Stephan's Dom and our apartment once more before packing up our things and taking a taxi to the train station. Here we boarded a train that would take us to our next adventure: Prague!

St. Stephan's Dom

Apple Strudel for dessert!

Mozart Monument

Mom in the gardens

Beautiful Vienna!

View of the city from the top of the Danube Tower

Schönbrunn Palace

Belvedere Palace

View from the gardens at Belvedere

Ready for a night at the movies!

World's largest Wiener Schnitzel

St. Stephan's Dom at night

The train ride from Vienna to Prague was an interesting experience and opened our eyes to the country side of both Austria and The Czech Republic. The landscape proved to be much more green and hilly than either of us imagined it would be. After about 4 hours of much needed relaxation looking out the windows on the train, we finally made it in to Prague on a lovely, Tuesday evening. After checking into our hotel we decided to go out for dinner, but as it was already late and we weren't feeling too adventurous, we settled for some American cuisine and some shopping at The Hard Rock Cafe Prague. I was very excited to have burgers and mac-n-cheese as these are things I just can't find in Germany. The next morning we woke up early to have breakfast at our hotel, as it came included in our room, and then left for Old Town Square to find our tour bus and buy our tickets. On our first day in Prague we were able to take a personal tour of the Old Prague Castle as well as the cathedral that is located inside of it, St. Vitus. The castle itself was not as impressive as the cathedral built in its center as most of the castle has been re-built. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable and the tour ended with a viewing of the changing of the guard at the castle gate. Once the guided tour was over, we decided to stay at the castle to take in many wonderful views of the city as well as tour the gardens and an exhibition of the treasures of St. Vitus Cathedral. Inside this exhibition we were able to see many relics from ancient times which included the bones of many saints as well as part of the Holy Cross and a thorn from the crown of Jesus. This was certainly an experience that we will never forget! Next we got back on our tour bus and finished riding the bus around and taking in more sights and information with the help of our live tour guide. This was a welcome escape from the chilly weather and rain which had come in later in the afternoon. After a round on the bus we decided to hop off once more and see The Library of Strahov Monastery, which was used in the filming of Casino Royale as was much of the city of Prague, and boy, was it amazing! As silly as it sounds, being an avid reader and book lover, I will say that this library was one of the most beautiful things I have every seen! After our time at the library, we rode the bus back once again to the center of the city where we enjoyed dinner at Cafe Imperial. The food here was absolutely amazing and it should be because it just so happens that The Czech Republic's top chef works at this restaurant. We ordered a typical Czech dish of dumplings and beef with jelly in a cream sauce and then the chef's specially of roast lamb with spinach and potatoes. Our selections were complete with choices of Czech beer and wine-- too bad we were absolutely too full for dessert! Along the walk home we did some window shopping and decided that we must return to a few of the shops on our last day there. The next day began with breakfast once again at our hotel and then a walk through Old Town to Charles Bridge. Along the bridge there were many opportunities for photos as well as many vendors selling crafts and goods. Later in the day we visited the replacement of the National Museum, as the original one is closed due to construction; however, it was, in our opinion, a very bad replacement. Our mood was lifted once again, however, by the vendors in St. Wenceslas Square opposite the museum. We tried many new foods including grilled cheese Prague style, which involves cheese literally grilled, only one slice of bread and homemade jelly. We also tried wines from the area and a rolled pastry called Trdelnik that is cooked over hot coals on a stick then dusted in cinnamon and sugar. Deliciousness! At this point in our travels we were absolutely exhausted and so, we decided that since The Great Gatsby was such an excellent movie, we would take some much needed sitting time and see it again! After another wonderful experience at the movies, I was craving American food once again and we decided to go to TGI Fridays and hang out with the rest of the burnt out and tired American and British travelers. After our dinner, we walked back to Charles Bridge to take in the city at night. The view was absolutely breathtaking and it was well worth the late night walk to see the city lit up at night! On our final day in Prague, we once again set out early to do some shopping. We visited many handmade glass stores where we ended up getting some things for ourselves as well as some gifts. Then, we returned to pack these wonders into our suitcases the best we could and check out of our room. After we checked out and left our bags at the desk, we continued on our shopping adventures and walked around the square once more for a second helping of grilled cheese and Trdelnik. Finally the time came to return to the hotel, call home for updates and then go to the airport for a late flight back to Germany. At the airport, as our flight was delayed by an hour or so, we had plenty of time to recollect all of the spectacular memories from our travels so far and enjoy our time together.


Old Town Square

St. Vitus Cathedral
View from Old Prague Castle

The Library of Strahov Monastery

The Library of Strahov Monastery

The city from Charles Bridge

The city at night

Prague by night!

Once we finally landed back in Cologne, Germany, it was already quite dark. This made for perfect conditions to take a walk around the famous Cologne Dom, which was right outside our hotel, at night and see the cathedral all lit up. It sure was a beautiful site to see! In the morning, we ventured out early once more to beat the crowds of tourists and visited the cathedral. The inside was so peaceful so early in the morning as there were not more than about 50 visitors inside the giant, awe-inspiring building. We even got up any and all remaining strength and climbed up the 533 steps to the top and a wonderful view of the city. Afterwards we also visited the treasury rooms at the cathedral where we saw more relics including a nail from the Holy Cross. After a very peaceful and beautiful sunny morning, we returned to our hotel, checked out and walked to the train station. Here we enjoyed some coffee and donuts at, no other than, the American chain Dunkin' Donuts. I will add this was also very exciting for us as we do not have these near us back home in Colorado anymore either! With more donuts and a few sandwiches to go we boarded our Saturday afternoon train which would take us to Carolin's house near Frankfurt. Upon our arrival there was cake, coffee and wonderful friends waiting for us. Later on in the afternoon we drove to a neighboring town and took a walk in the sculpture park and gardens. Our evening ended with a fabulous home-cooked meal and great conversation. The next morning we enjoyed a large family breakfast with everyone once again before heading to the airport for Mom's flight and my train back to Karlsruhe. After being dropped off at the airport, Mom and I cherished a last cup of coffee, reminisced over our travels and said our goodbyes. As I waited in the train station for my train, I thought about how amazing our travels had been and how lucky I am to have this opportunity. Not only am I extremely fortunate to have the chances that I do along this journey, but I am also so very lucky to have someone who would fly half-way around the world to experience them with me. I had a wonderful time traveling around Europe with my Mom; the experience is one that I will never forget!    

Cologne Dom at night

Front of Cologne Dom

Inside of Cologne Dom

At the top of the Dom!

View from the top of the Cologne Dom

Flowers in the sculpture park near Frankfurt

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