May 17, 2005
We departed Phoenix at 9:00 a.m. for our central European adventure. We fly to Denver then Frankfurt, Germany and finally Prague, Czech Republic. In the Denver Airport the wait is interminable. In 9 hours we’ll be in Frankfurt then one hour to Prague. We just witnessed a herd of Lufthansa stewardi huddling and crafting the game plan for our momentous flight. If the enthusiasm of the meeting is any indication this flight should be more fun than…??!#8**
May 17, 2005, later that day
The turbulance in and out of Denver was unprecedented in these travelers’ lives. Tom was not belted and I was in the loo when it hit…the big one. Airborne passengers. We are fortunate to be alive let alone sipping a delicious Pinot Noir. As I write now, we are over Hudsons’ Bay making for Baffin Island and on to Greenland. Oddly enough, we were not served dinner until we had left U.S.airspace. I point this out because the eating utensils were the real thing…metal…knives with serrated edges…box cutters for the dessert. Enough for now. I must finish my Pinot.
May 18, 2005
It’s 12:50 a.m. in Phoenix and by my internal clock but it’s 9:50 a.m. in Frankfurt. I’m tired and Tom is on his 5th meal of the flight. He’s eating eggs and potatoes, a roll with butter and coffee. I can’t watch. He’s self-destructing before my eyes. We are heading over the North Sea to the Continent. I should say something about Lufthansa but there really isn’t much to comment on other than the warm, moist towelettes the stewardi pass out every few hours and the copious amounts of FREE booze that they pour with abandon. Nap time.
May 18, 2005, later that day
2:40 a.m. Phoenix time-11:40 a.m. Frankfurt time. As we touched down on German soil the passengers began to clap and yodel. Now that’s something you don’t hear everyday. In an hour we’ll finally be in Prague. Tom has laid down the law…no sleeping. We are going to adjust to the time change by staying awake all day and going to bed on Prague time. Gotta get some zzzz’s!
May 18, 2005, much later that day
We made it to Prague without incident. A very friendly Czech fellow met us at the airport to shuttle us to the Interhotel Ambassador Praha. He spoke very basic english which made him all the more endearing. As I sit in the hotel lobby sipping champagne and eating asparagus soup with shrimp and the freshest rye bread I’ve had since childhood, Tom is breaking his very own rule and sleeping. Not me…too much to do and see.
May 19, 2005
5:30 a.m. I’m getting grief from Tom about being awake so early but we traveled the day away yesterday and I’m ready for a breve latte and the Czech Hearld. The sky is blue, the air is cool and crisp (40˚ F or 4˚C) with a 60˚ high expected. We woke at midnight last night and decided to go out to get some drinking water. The cobblestone streets were filled with people eating, drinking and whatever else these crazy Czechs do. We are in the heart of “old Prague” and I can’t wait to start exploring.
May 19, 2005, later that day
7:30 a.m. A continental breakfast is included with our stay at the lovely Ambassador Hotel. Hearing the words “continental” and “breakfast” in the same sentance I picture a stale jelly roll and dry toast. Well, this was no continental breakfast I’ve ever had. Starting off with an assortment of cheeses and homemade breads, I moved on to salmon, herring and cabbage, all pickled, of course. Throw in a poached egg, goulash soup, chilled lentils and some things I didn’t recognize nor could I pronounce and I was off to a great beginning.
May 19, 2005, much later that day
Let’s review. Dead-reckoning our way through tangled, serpentine, narrow, cobblestone streets we made our way to the Astronomical Clock in the heart of Old Town Prague. Convinced we were lost the entire time, unable to read the street signs we suddenly and miraculously found ourselves standing before it as it struck 11 a.m. Next stop-the Charles Bridge which spans the Vltava River. I was in need of what the locals refer to as the WC but Tom found it necessary to translate all the Latin inscriptions on the statues that line the bridge. By the time we got across, it was the lunching hour. I decided a traditional Czech meal was what I needed-goulash and a Bohemian Pilsner. Ahh, that really hit the spot. Lost but determined, we finally made it back to the hotel where, in violation of Tom’s rule, I promptly fell asleep.
May 20, 2005
Jet lag? What jet lag? I’m sure you’re wondering about last night’s dinner. After all, this journal is more about my gastronomic experiences than anything else. Let me set-up the scene. Picture a Bohemian Baron’s hunting lodge with antlers and boar’s heads on the wall, muskets and spears hanging from the ceiling. In one corner two ancient, endearing, proper British couples and in another two elegant, lilting-voiced Scandinavian couples. Tom ate sow stuffed with apples and rosemary whilst I chose beef basted in a cream sauce with dumplings and a fine Czech vino…delicious! Today, after another hearty breakfast we will take a guided tour of the most historic sights in Prague and stop at the only Central European Jewish Town-Quarter that survived the holocaust…until then…
May 20, 2005, later that day
10 p.m. Prague time. We took a two hour tour of the major sights in Prague on a 10 person bus with the “guide” from hell. Having had one too many lattes I needed to use the WC just as the tour was to begin. I’ll recap the scene: STACIE (to guide)- “Will we be stopping on this tour?” GUIDE- “Oh yes, in about an hour.” One and a half hours later…STACIE (barely able to think…in so much pain)- “Can we stop for a toilette break?” GUIDE- “Sorry, no time.” STACIE- “Please then, let me out…I can’t continue.” So, in the middle of somewhere we jumped out of the bus and ran to the nearest WC. Having relieved myself and feeling like a new person I thought eating something would be a good idea. We found a delightful restaurant for lunch then did our own tour of the Jewish Quarter, had an espresso at the Franz Kafka Cafe and made our way back to the hotel for a 5 minute rest. Next stop…Church of St. Martin in the Wall for a string quartet performance of Mozart, Vivaldi, Bach, Handel and Schubert. Are you kidding me? It was wonderful. It brought tears to my eyes.
May 21, 2005
One day before the race. Tom needs to rest today but I’ve got miles to go before I sleep. I ventured out on my own- camera around neck, food on mind. After snapping a few photos I happened upon a quaint boulangerie with the heady aroma of caramel cinnamon rolls wafting about. I don’t take after my mother when it comes to sweets so I opted for a chunk of Tellagio and Manchego cheeses, a few slices of prosciutto and a fresh, warm baguette. Oh, did I mention the all important glass of Bordeaux? Sitting outside in the warm sunshine, eating, drinking and watching those [wild and crazy] Czechs…who could ask for more? After lunch I was on a photographic mission as Tom was resting so I could wander at will. I returned to the hotel a bit weary. I think Tom’s rule of no napping has expired. Either way, a nap before dinner was a must.
May 22, 2005
Race Day. It has been fairly cool thus far but today is a different story. It is humid and pretty warm for a marathon. As I await Tom’s finish I can report that my race was quite good. It was an 8K fun run which started 1/2 hour after the marathon. It was short and sweet and although it was not officially timed as far as I could tell, I do know I was second female overall and ran a 30:50 by my watch. Having suffered a slight injury during training, I did not run the last three weeks leading up to the race. I cycled instead hoping it would keep me in running condition. I am very pleased with my run and how I felt during the race. I don’t get to say that very often because I am usually displeased with my performances. I will, of course, be reporting on Tom’s heroics when I get the details…Ciao for now.
May 22, 2005, later that day
It’s over. Tom finished a most grueling race…one he claims was the most difficult race he has ever run. I was 200 meters from the finish, video camera in hand to capture all the goriness that a marathon finish provides. I was getting concerned at 4 hours 20 minutes that I had somehow either missed Tom flying by me or he had dropped out. I decided to stay put until 4:35 at which time I thought, surely, he would either run by or not. At 4:34 I saw him in the distance…moving ever so slowly toward the finish line. He managed a wave as I yelled to him and like a fast moving snail he was gone. The next sighting of Tom was in the shower in the hotel room. Actually, it was through the closed shower door, don’t get any ideas. We are well and glad the race portion of our trip is behind us. From now on it’s pure turistas.
May 23, 2005
Last night was exceptional. First, after lounging about most of the afternoon, we decided to saunter down to Smetana Hall and attend The Praha Sinfonietta’s rendition of Mozart’s Requiem in D minor. Smetana Hall is a masterpiece of neo-gothic architecture with art nouveau elements. It is stunning. The performance was nothing short of spectacular. Despite Tom’s constant fidgeting, (marathon enervation) I was completely captivated. Dinner was next on the agenda. Emerging from the symphony hall we were struck by the pink orange pastel light of late evening and the cool soft weather. Czech food is decent but it pales in comparison to Italian alimento. On intuition, I chose Ristorante Don Giovanni as THE place to be and be seen. We dined on Pappardelle with boar’s meat and honey mushrooms, Insalata Caprese and Bruschette con Pomodoro. There are adjectives to properly describe the food: ambrosial; divine; exquisite; piquant; yummy, but I won’t bore you with the details.
May23, 2005, later that day
Early evening…We ventured out about noon looking for a place to, yes, eat lunch. We happened upon a charmingly odd establishmnet serving Czech cuisine. We took our places in the only two open seats and were less than promptly waited on. (an apparent Czech custom so we’ve learned) As we waited for our food the ever garrulous Tom struck up a conversation with whom I will refer to as “The Maids of Manchester.” They were drinking their lunch and chatty. After Tom wore them out he started on another couple from Denmark at which time Tom met his match…boy, could that guy talk. Two hours had passed before I said..Uh, yeah…I’m gonna need to do some sightseeing today. Off we went to the Klementinum. The Klementinum was Tom’s obsession because we learned it was founded in the 16th century by the Jesuits. Little did we know that behind its formidable but non-descript walls would lie a cloistered courtyard of immense proportions. The main attractions were the Astronomical Tower and the Baroque Library. Our tour guide was a doppelganger of Dr. Loveless from The Wild Wild West, Czech style. It was like a time capsule back to 17th century astronomical science. You could smell the aromas of the time. Fascinating.
May 24, 2005
Our last day in Prague…We are going to tour the famous Prague Castle and several other sights we have not yet visited during our stay. Tomorrow morning at 7 a.m. we board a train for a 7 hour journey to Budapest, Hungary. The weather has been ‘brilliant’ as the Irish say-today is no exception. More to follow…
May 25, 2005
Yesterday was our last day in Prague and we went out in style. We took a 4 hour walking tour and got the inside scoop from an earnest, chock-full of information, young Czech lad. He had, at his fingertips, dates and events from the 8th century to the present. We finally got up-close to Prague Castle and watched the changing of the guard. Remarkable for us were the guards’ shiny happy festive colored uniforms, unlike their drab green of communistic days, their stoney-faced, stilted demeanor and their weapons, which were inoperable toy (if you will) guns. It was most informative and enjoyable. We intended to go to a 15th century style restaurant for dinner but found out it was quite a distance from the hotel so I chose a French restaurant close to home. Let me just say Tom is not partial to food. He could just as easily eat at McDonalds as dine at a *****5 star***** restaurant but even he was impressed. It was quite possibly the best food either of us has ever eaten. The first course was an assortment of French cheeses followed by unique Ceasar salad and a glass of Moravian Cabernet Sauvignon (Tom demurred). I had Argentinian filet mignon with sauted green beans served atop creamed potatoes while Tom consumed roasted leg of duck with a “fruits of the forest” sauce and two exquisitely seasoned dumplings. For dessert we ordered a “tarte-tatin” which consisted of a lightly crusted pastry filled with cinnamon, apples and walnut-vanilla ice cream atop a khalua cream sauce. Need I say more?
May 25, 2005, later that day
On the train to Hungary…We awoke with a start before the 5 a.m. wake-up call, certain we’d overslept because daylight was streaming through the window. We were assured by the ever-so-helpful hotel staff (hrumph) it would be “no problem” finding our train at the station so we left the hotel at 6:30 for our 7:00 departure. I suppose the best word to describe the Prague train station would be INCOMPREHENSIBLE! It was 6:50 and our train departed at 7:00, or so we thought. Tom, in near panic mode, went to the information booth for assistance. As he was brow-beating the information staff for providing useless information we suddenly and miraculously heard a familiar sound - Chicagoese. We turned and saw our “train station saviors,” two gentlemen from the states familiar with the station and going to Budapest. What luck. We found our train (which actually had a 7:30 departure), our seats and a cup of coffee in a matter of minutes and left the station promptly at 7:30 a.m.
May 26, 2005
Our first full day in Budapest and so far it has been wonderful. Budapest is a magnificent city. It is divided into two parts, the hilly side of Buda on the western bank and the flat plain of Pest on the eastern bank of the River Danube. We are staying on the Pest side. We got to our hotel about 3:30 p.m. yesterday and we immediately searched out the only remaining self-service laundry shop in Budapest. While waiting for our clothes we sat at a charming sidewalk cafe sipping espresso and listening to a Hungarian harpist perform. The clothes ended up taking longer than we thought so I moved on from espresso to a fine Hungarian wine. After dishing out 2400 Forint (Hungarian currency) which is equivalent to 12 USD we had fresh laundered clothing and a new city to explore. We dined at a Hungarian style restaurant and made it back to the hotel by 11:00 p.m. after a very long day.
May 27, 2005
Budapest is a very big city. It’s more massive and less quaint than Prague but the people are particularly friendly. It feels a bit like New York City…so much to see and do one doesn’t know where to begin. So we began at the Central Market…fresh fruits and vegetables, meats of all kinds including lungs and tounges. (eek!) The “people watching” could not have been better. We made our way across the Danube to the Buda Castle (with a few wrong turns, all Tom’s fault, of course) or what the tourist industry refers to as the Castle District. It was quite warm and we walked the entire way so we were exhausted by the time the real fun was to begin. I thought eating something would cure my lethargy. It did. A very dense and spicy roll with a chunck of cheese was all I needed to get me back down the hill, across the river to the Pest side and to a fancy coffee house for a refreshment break. (Sadly, I’m having some technical difficulties with my camera so I won’t have many pictures to post until I get it figured out.) It was another long day what with the heat and five hours of walking so we took a break before heading out to dinner. I’d comment on the food we ate but I can neither pronounce the names nor recall the exotic ingredients but I do know it was outstanding. I’d have to say I’ve not had one bad meal this entire trip. Tommorow is our last day in Budapest. We are headed for Vienna, Austria, on Sunday…up the Danube on a hydrofoil.
May 28, 2005
We rolled out of bed about 9 a.m. and rushed down to breakfast because it is only served until 10 a.m. We decided to pass on the guided tours of Budapest and with a personal copy of City Guide in hand started our own tour. We took the tram to Andrassy Avenue, a World Heritage site. It makes up a unified architectural form dating from the late 19th century. The near 2.5-km-long Avenue was inspired by the boulevards of France and it originally had a separate lane for gentlemen out riding. We ended up at City Park Lake where a festival was in full swing. We sat by the lake and observed the whacky Hungarian revelers. I’d had just enough walking and it was close to our afternoon coffee house break so we opted to take the sub-surface railway…Continental Europe’s first, built 125 years ago. It was beautifully restored to its original form and took an hour out of our walking time so I was doubly impressed. We had our cappucino/beer break and rested in the hotel room before setting out for dinner.
May 28, 2005, later that day
The Last Supper…I was set on a recommended Italian joint but as we meandered through the heavily restauranted streets of Budapest we both commented on a quaint Greek restaurant with live music and decided this was the place for our final dinner in Budapest. We ordered a dinner for two which consisted of a heaping plate of a variety of meats…filet mignon, chicken, lamb, pork, spare ribs, pigs knuckles? and grilled vegetables. A greek salad accompanied the enormous flesh plate. I asked the waiter for a glass of red wine. He said, “Hungarian or Greek?” I said, “What do you recommend?” He replied with disdain, “This is a Greek restaurant, no?” I shot back, “Uh yeah, I’m gonna need a Greek wine then.” We devoured the entire plate (and all the meat on top of it too!) and set out for a dessert at what Tom has come to call “Our Budapest.” There was a joint called Old Amsterdam’s down an alley from our hotel. Live jazz, seating in the street, and good food defined this place. Tom had been eyeing the homemade cottage cheese/cherry tart with vanilla ice cream for days but he finally indulged and in Tom’s words, “MMMMM!”
May 29, 2005
We made it to Vienna on what turned out to be a very warm boat trip. There has been a three day heat wave in central Europe with temperatures 15˚-20˚ higher than usual. Tomorrow the temperatures are expected to drop to normal (70˚F) but, of course, we are homebound. Vienna is a lovely city and we are staying in our favorite hotel, the Konig Von Ungarn, a gem in the city center with old world charm. Our room is a small apartment but it was the only room available so we took it. It has two baths, two bedrooms, two televisions and just about anything else you could possibly need. We wandered about the city and reminisced about the places we’d seen three years ago. The “Mozart House”, where Mozart composed the Magic Flute, is directly behind the hotel and we strolled by it, the Opera House and St. Stephen’s Cathedral, a gothic masterpiece in the very center of the city. We ate in the hotel restaurant which is a five star restaurant and we were treated like royalty. The food was so good that I am at a loss for words. We started with a sample of Austrian specialties and a glass of champagne. The second course was a cream of asparagus soup of which I’ve never tasted the likes…melted butter comes to mind. I had the grilled meat plate and a glass of Austrian red wine and Tom had the beef cutlet with something. I was too focused on my food to actually see exactly what he ordered. The bread was warm, fresh and delightful. For dessert Tom had apple strudel with whipped cinnamon and a scoop of vanilla ice cream while I chose a glass of twenty year old port. Both were to die for. When we retired to our apartment there were pastries with walnuts and caramel waiting to be devoured-and they were. It was a perfect ending to what has been a perfect trip. I am sad to be returning to the States. I could get used to living in Europe. There is something magical about being in places that are haunted with such history, art, culture and architecture. It renews one’s spirit. I’d like to say I won’t lose the renewed spirit and energy it gives me but it’s difficult to maintain once back in the grind. Until the next trip…