A Travellerspoint blog

Czech yo-self before you wreck yo-self


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From the moment we landed in Prague, we had a feeling that this might be one of the most challenging stops on our route. The Czech Republic has yet to convert their currency to Euros. They still use the Czech Koruna (Czech Crown). To get to our hostel, we had to take the metro and a tram. We headed to the nearest ATM to get our crowns and aqquire transportation tickets. The ATM gave Aud a 2000 CZK bill. Our metro tickets only cost 26CZK, so we obviously needed change. After waiting in line for over 20 minutes, we finally made it to the front of the line at the change office. Assuming the ticket machines take dollar bills like everywhere else in Europe, we didn't think twice when the slower than a snail change lady broke our 2000 CZK into smaller bills. Much to our dismay, we soon find out that the ticket machine only takes coins. We get back in line at the change counter, wait for another 15 minutes and break one of the 100CZK bills into coins. By this point we were getting flustered, but were happy that we were finally seconds away from holding our precious tickets in hand. But wait! After the stupid machine rejected our stupid coins, we see in the fine print mixed in with the multitude of Czech instructions, that this machine takes EXACT CHANGE ONLY. Trying to avoid visiting the change desk for the third time in an hour, we go to a convenience store to purchase a water and some Twix (chocolate always calms my nerves) in hopes of recieving change. The clerk behind the register refuses to change our extra coins even after we made a purchase. We have the epiphany that only a mere 20 years ago, this was in fact a communist country and some of the older citizens might not care for Americans. All this being said, we still did not have correct change and had to return to the change counter for a third time, tails tucked between our legs. After an hour and fifteen minutes of this back and forth ticket/correct change dance, we finally had correct change and got our f*ing tickets.

Our hostel is nice and is probably a rediculously fun place in the summer. It has a huge two level dinning/bar area complete with a dance floor and DJ. It even has a sauna and a pool (which is closed at the moment). However, it currently looks like a ghost town. We took it easy our first night knowing we were going to do a lot of sightseeing the next day.

NewEurope Tours operates out of several major cities. We enjoyed our tours in Munich so much that we did the free walking tour of Prague to see what the area had to offer. Yet again, our guide was AWESOME. It was this small guy from Whales named Hew. He lead us all over Prague giving us a thousand years of history in just over three hours. He told all of these stories with risque humor while using slang terms to connect with the younger generation. It worked, cause I paid attention to the whole thing. We saw the Astronomical Clock, the Charles Bridge, various buildings, and memorials from the different ages of the Czech history. He spoke mainly about the Defenestration of Prague, when, in 1618 two Habsburg councillors were thrown from a window of the Prague Castle (making the joke of the Czech's bouncing....get it....checks bouncing hahaha), igniting the Thirty Years War. He also talked extensively about the two Golden Ages of Czech history, the effect of WWII, and the rise and fall of the communist regime.

After this fabulous verbal trip back into time, we opted to join the Castle Tour that was starting not long after our free tour. Unfortunately, we did not have Hew for the second tour. We had Keith, a salt and pepper 50 something American who met a woman while visiting the Czech Republic seven years prior. He was extremely enthusiastic about the history of the Prague Castle and surrounding area, constantly using lots of exaggerated hand gestures to point out various facts and tidbits. I compared him to Chris Farley's character Matt Foley on SNL. You remember the infamous "In a van...DOWN BY THE RIVER!!" speech? Not quite as intense as that, but pretty close. Any who, after our eight hours of walking all over Prague we hustled back to the hostel for some amazing home made pizza, and a quick recoup before meeting under the Astronomical Clock for a Pub Crawl.

This is where things get good. The evening started out great with the free drinks as promised. We noticed that the second bar they took us too was extremely crowded so we made sure to ask what time we had to leave for the third bar. They obviously didn't tell anyone else because as we left there was a mass of people asking each other where our guides were (one of which was the owner Isaac) and when we were supposed to leave. We all headed outside together to wait. After waiting for 30 minutes, one of the fellow pub crawlers had to go back inside to search for our three guides. She managed to pluck the owner, who was pretty drunk himself, off of a bar stool. He led the group to the third bar without even doing a head count to see if the entire group was there. Again, at the third bar, Audrey had to go track down one of our fearless leaders and ask what time we were to be outside. By this point, the owner was long gone. When the time came to leave, we stood for 30 minutes by the exit, watching our other two guides grind on each other and have a dance off. All of a sudden, one of them shouts "Pub Crawl, next bar!!!" and they head for the door. I wait by the exit as Aud goes back into the bar to collect as many of our fellow pub crawlers as possible. En route to the next bar we look around and realize that the group of over 40 we started out with, has now been reduced to about 10. Who knows where everyone else was, and let's all say a prayer hoping they made it home ok. By this point, Aud and I were so fed up that we decided to ditch and go back to the hostel.

We get on the tram in what we were hoping was the right direction. After a solid 30 minutes, probably longer, and several back and forth converstations of "Cat, I think were going the wrong direction" and "I don't think we are, Aud".....Aud finally convinces my stubborn ass to get off the tram. We check out the nearest tram map and find out that Aud was absolutely correct. We were now on the outskirts of Prague at a very well lit (thank god) tram stop. By this point it was just after 3 am. We then had to wait 30 minutes for the next tram into town.... next to a man who minutes before was just puking next to his bench and was now passed out sitting up dry heaving on himself. The tram comes and we ride back into Prague still unsure of what stop we needed because the night trams are on a completely different schedule. Keep in mind, we researched all of this before going out, but it became apparent that it was not explained very well. Aud made the executive decision to hop off the tram when we were back in civilization. We decided to regroup by getting a hot dog and caving in to calling a cab. While we were eating our abnormally huge sausage (hehe), I look over my shoulder to see that we are standing directly in front of a Czech strip club. Now, it made sense as to why there were so many creepers around us. We decided that if we were going to be stranded in Prague, waiting for a cab, with no idea as to our whereabouts, that in front of a strip club with body gaurds and bouncers was probably one of the safest places for us to be at almost 4 am. Aud would like me to point out that I apparently, warded off a swarm of Africans with a single death stare. I am now not only her bird gaurding ninja, I save her from strip club lurking Africans as well. Our yellow charriot finally arrived and dropped us at our hostel sometime after 4:15 AM. Needless to say, we spent the whole next day sleeping and taking it easy.

Originally, we were going to head to Berlin today. We felt that if we left Prague after the pubcrawl debacle, we wouldn't have the same appreciation for the city that countless others speak so highly about. Plus, there were a few things we still wanted to do. First thing this morning we headed to the train station to find our way to Kutna Hora. It's about an hour away and is the location of the BONE CHURCH! Kutna Hora is super teeny....all it took was a 15 minute walk to arrive at Kostnice Ossuary. The ossuary is estimated to contain the skeletons of between 40,000 and 70,000 people, many of whom have had their bones artistically arranged to form decorations and furnishings for the chapel. The rest of the bones were actually exhumed from the church cemetary in the early 1500's. This cemetary had once been a very desirable burial site throughout Central Europe, which is why there are so many bones. The bones lay in masses around the church until the late 1800's when a woodcarver was employed to put the bones heaps into order. I thought it was going to be creepy and scary, but it really wasn't. Weird for sure, but there's no bad jou jou there.

We finished out the day with the Old Town open air market and a stroll across the Charles Bridge to the John Lennon Wall. The Old Town Market was delightful. There were were amazing kebobs, hotdogs, and all kinds of fried goodies everywhere....kind of like carnie food. We took our time browsing the shops and eating our lunch while enjoying a local Czech beer. I've heard that the Czech's make better beer than the Germans....even had a German tell me that. The John Lennon Wall was alot more interesting than I thought it would be. There are literally, layers and layers of graffiti and signatures everywhere. The paint is so thick in some places that you can see it peeling. Think about how many generations and nationalities of people have left their mark on that wall. Pretty cool if you ask me. As we made our way back to the hostel, Aud and I concluded that Prague had pulled through in a crucial moment. We are now also very fond of this beautiful city. We will be packing our bags tonight and heading back into Germany tomorrow. I hope you are all enjoying the blog as much as we are writing it.

<3 Always,

Cat and Aud

Posted by audandcat 11:55 Comments (1)

Dankeschon Darling Dankeschon

All joy, no pain


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We arrived in Munich early one morning, threw our bags down, then had a fantastic day in Salzburg, Austria. It was 8pm when we arrived back in Munich. Our hostel here is only about 5 minutes from the train station and is next to three other major youth hostels. After a full day of travel, the hot hot showers managed to rinse the travel off of our bodies. It felt so good to hop into a freshly made bed.

The next morning we woke up early for the *all you can eat* breakfast provided by the hostel. Cat and I interpreted this as *all you can eat for breakfast and steal for lunch*. Shortly after we showered yet again (you can tell that it's Audrey writing the blog 'cos I mention hot showers every other paragraph), we gathered with a few other people from our hostel for a free NewEurope walking tour. It was a blizzard outside so we followed a NewEurope guide through the huge snowflakes to Marianplatz, the center of Munich. NewEurope provides several different types of tours so, after arriving, we were divided into different tour groups. Our tour guide was a Kiwi (from New Zeland) named Harriet. She told us that because of the weather our tour would be a bit shorter but she would compensate with songs and interpretive dance moves for each stop on our expedition. As she guided us through the stops, she dove into the nitty gritty details for each location. It was great to watch her be so funny then become so serious and focused when she was trying to paint pictures in our head of what happened in the not so distant past. Probably my favorite stop on the tour was the Frauenkirche Church. The current Catholic Pope was bishop here for many years. But that is not why it topped my list. When Hitler came to power the Bishops of this church hid religious Jewish relics, knowing that preserving belief and tradition was important no matter what religion it belonged to. The church was severely damaged during allied bombings of WWII. When reconstruction began post war, many Jewish family's donated money to aid in rebuilding. To acknowledge this, there is a plaque hanging on the ceiling of this church with a coat of arms adorned with a menorah and Star of David. It was such an amazing story of unconditional love and religious community.

We loved Harriet so much that when she mentioned that she was the guide for the *Beer Hall Challenge* that night, we couldn't pass up the opportunity to learn more from her. When we finished the tour, I used my amazing map skills to navigate us back to the hostel where Cat and I used the space heater in our room to thaw her frostbitten toes and my severely frozen ass.

At six o'clock that evening we met Harriet and some other travelers at the train station. You may be under the impression that we were just here to booze it up. HOWEVER.....The history of Bavarian beer dates back as early as 800 BC. Because of impure water, Monks began brewing beer to avoid disease and continued because of the many plagues that pestered Europe for many, many centuries. After forking over some dough, the group was instructed to exchange funny drinking stories with one another. Harriet soon returned with our first authentic Bavarian Lager and guided us to the metro. The beauty of Germany is that you can drink in public so, the first beer of the evening was enjoyed en route to our first stop. We then visited three different beer halls. The highlight and main event being the world famous and very old Hofbrauhaus. We had a memorable time bonding with the various challenge contenders from all over the world. After visiting three legendary brewery's, the beer challenge ended at the bar of OUR hostel. We socialized for a little while then realized our room was only a few steps away & bowed out of the challenge gracefully.

The next morning I enjoyed a romantic breakfast for one. Cat was in bed nursing a *splitting headache*. We decided to have a nice quiet day. We found a Cinema that plays movies in English and indulged in Alice in Wonderland 3D. It was a welcomed change of pace followed by naps, showers, dinner and bed again. Because of traveling for almost 3 months, we have vowed to have days like that every once in a while to nurse our bodies and spirits.

New Europe, in addition to providing free walking tours, offers English speaking tours of Munich's main attractions. We decided to join a tour going to Neuschwanstein (New-sch wan-stein) Castle. It was a bit gratifying for me because 7 of my family members have been to Disneyland in the past month and I was beginning to feel jealous. Jealous... hah... I got to see the real life inspiration for Sleeping Beauty's Castle. This castle is located on the German border of the Alps. It was an awesome experience ascending the Alps as our guide Kristen gave us her thoughts on the history of King Ludwig II, his day dreaming childhood, rise to power, imaginative reign of castle building and unfortunate, mysterious death. Cat and I decided to forgo the paid tour and hike up to the Bridge of Mary. It was blocked off for the winter season but Kristen, our guide, told us how to hop over numerous DANGER barricades and inch our way to the picturesque overview of the inspirational castle. The climb was amazing. It overlooked the entire valley below and gave us an exclusive glimpse at the Austrian Alps in the very close distance. The Bridge of Mary has the best view of the Neuschwanstein castle. As we hiked up to it we were aware that it was over 100 years old but we were not informed that it would be wooden and covered in melting snow. Cat and I happy snapped a few pics then got the hell out of there. I was not about to be involved in the demise of the vantage point of Ludwig's masterpiece. Upon return to Munich, Cat and I agreed that doing the tour was a good idea. We learned so much about the history of Bavaria, Ludwig and the amazing construction of this awe inspiring castle.

We arrived back at the hostel just in time for St Patrick's Day's happy hour. The hostel bar was still quiet at this time so we took advantage of it by writing postcards & in our journals. This night there was a large beer festival on the other side of town so, as it got later... women in drundels and men in laderhosen slowly made their way back to the hostel. Cat and I heard our names being called from across the bar. We had crossed paths with two English chaps named James and Andy the night before in the Hostel bar and were so happy that they were still around. We were smitten with their precious thick English accents and their ridiculous sense of humor. The remainder of the night was spent drawing mustaches on each others fingers, Cat drawing a six pack on Andy in permanent marker and us laughing hysterically through it all. It felt so good to get a side ache from constant laughter. We retired for bed after a seize worth evening. We were getting ready for bed when, guess who walks in? Andy and James! They are our roommates. We spent the next 20 minutes laughing with pillows over our faces after seeing Andy, animated six pack and all, prancing around the room in his boxers and mismatched socks. They have informed us that if we do not come to England to see them that they will find us and kidnap us because they adore us so much. As far as men go... if we could combine their crazy personalities with the looks of the stupid hot German that we met in Vienna, we would be set!

On our last morning in Munich we had made arrangements to go to Dachau Concentration Camp. We ate breakfast and got ready with the knowledge that we would soon be on hallowed ground. Our guide for this tour was an American named Sonja. Her father was of Polish decent and her mother was from Norway. She began immersing herself in history only after hearing her father's story of his involvement in WWII as a child. She was extremely knowledgeable about the history not only of the camp but of Adolph Hitler's rise to power. There isn't much to say about Dachau except for I think that it is important to experience it for yourself. I have read and studied about what happened here but until I was able to see it with my own eyes it was just a horrific story from Wikipedia or a history book. Hearing the stories of the liberated survivors and walking where over 200,000 prisoners were interned humbled me and made me so grateful for the blessing of freedom.

Tomorrow we head to Prague, Czech Republic. We'll be dealing with a new language, new currency and a whole different list of beautiful and historic places to see. Prague wasn't on our original itinerary for this trip but after so many people suggesting it, we couldn't pass it up.

I hope that you all are enjoying the blog.
Dankeschön,

Audrey

  • and Cat*

Posted by audandcat 12:01 Comments (0)

"The hills are alive..."

Salzburg


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For as long as I can remember, the songs from The Sound of Music have been in my life. One of my earliest memories is having neighborhood friends over and being slightly embarrassed as my sister Lennie mixed each of my friends into a line of her friends according to height. Then, made us march around the house singing the *do re mi song* in Von Trapp family style. I think that regardless of who you are or where you grew up, the sights and sounds of this movie become fond, lasting memories. So, when we found out that we would be passing through Salzburg, Austria … I couldn’t help but picture myself singing and twirling through the foothills of the Alps.

Each of us had researched the tours that take you around to all of the sights from the movie but, they all seemed a bit overpriced. So, we decided to write down all of the major stops from the movie tour’s web site then walk it out ourselves to be frugal. We came across a Panoramic Tours kiosk along the main drag of Salzburg early on and decided to take a look at what they were working with. I wheeled and dealed with one of the guys and managed to get a "student" discount for Cat and myself. We hopped in our VW mini van and took off. Our guide was an older man. He was a very animated, handsome, Salzburg native who spoke perfect English. He was full of information not only about The Sound of Music but of the history of Salzburg as well. Within the city limits of Salzburg we were able to see the Abbey where Maria is a nun novice, the outside of the amphitheater where the Von Trapp's perform as a family for the Nazis, and the back side of what was used as the Von Trapp family home. This palace (now owned by Harvard University) is on the lake that the drape clad kids fall into. The lake is lined with the trees, that the Captain, Uncle Max and the Baroness see Maria and the children hanging from while driving back into Salzburg and that same road is where the kids and their governess ride their bikes during the Do-Re-Mi song. We also saw the original gazebo where Lisel & Ralph first locked lips and where Maria & The Captain realized that they fell in love. Ahh.

We then set out for a scenic view of the city of Salzburg from the Alps. As we drove along our tour guide serenaded us to the soundtrack from the movie. After driving on the autobahn & some windy mountain roads, our driver stopped to show us the breathtaking vantage point of Lake Wolfgang at the base of the Alps. This was the backdrop for the opening scenes of the movie. He then took us to the small village where the interior of the wedding scene in the movie took place. We checked out the church then indulged in some tasty crisp apple strudel. No wonder it was on Maria's list of favorite things!

As we concluded our tour and pulled back into Salzburg's city center we listened to Edelweiss and Cat and I agreed that it was money well spent. We wouldn't have been able to see 3/4 of the things that we did had we opted to do it ourselves. Now I only have two problems 1. I really want to watch the movie again 2. I'm going to have The Sound of Music soundtrack stuck in my head for the rest of my life.

Till next time...
So long, farewell

Audrey
(and Cat)

Posted by audandcat 12:21 Comments (0)

Vienna

A lovely addition to the line up!


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Vienna turned out to be a wonderful addition to our itinerary. We hadn’t planned on seeing much of Austria on this trip of ours. The people we hung out with in Madrid (besides the Turks) live in Austria. Jana (pronounced Yana) and Diego both go to school in Vienna. They said they’d be happy to show us around if we wound up in the area. During one of our planning sessions, Audrey and I discovered that we had an extra 20 days to play around with. We had gone through some of the cities faster than we expected and had some time to fill and extra train days to use up. Thanks to the inventions of Facebook and my Blackberry, we had kept in touch with our new friends.

We arrived in Vienna at 8am after that horrendous day getting out of Venice. Thankfully, our hostel was a short 5 minute walk from the train station so we hustled over there. Our rooms weren’t ready, but they had luggage storage so we were at least able to get rid of our packs. Since we arrived first thing in the morning, we had about four hours to kill. We took full advantage of their free internet and wasted about three of those hours researching things for our trip and working on the blog. It is in high demand now, you know :) We soon realized that we hadn’t eaten anything since the salami and cheese baguettes about 15 hours prior. We took off still bundled in our assorted layers of clothes in search of a meal and groceries (this new hostel had a guest kitchen). We hadn't figured out what was safe for us to order in the German language so, you can imagine our excitement when we saw signs pointing out the directions to McDonalds, Burger King, and KFC. Don’t judge. Up until this point, we had been loyal to trying all the local foods. After the night/morning we had, we just wanted comfort food. Across the street from McD´s, I spot what looks like an Aldi sign…but is says Hofer. For those of you who don’t know, Aldi is a SUPER cheap grocery store chain. I told Aud we should check it out on the way back. After demolishing our cheeseburgers, we discovered that Hofer is in fact, the Austrian version of Aldi. We snagged €23 of groceries that provided breakfast and dinner for both of us, for three days. Told you…SUPER CHEAP.

We met up with Jana and Diego that evening in front of the Stephenplatz Church. For almost two hours, they walked us all over the city pointing out famous buildings including city hall, parliament, the main opera house, famous café’s, Museumquatier, and The Hofburg. We couldn't walk through the palace because there was a royal ball and celebration underway. This coincidentally, was the cause of the student protests going on at the same time. We got to see all the students, probably close to 1,000, marching through the streets trying to get into the first district of Vienna. The cops had barricades and road blocks anywhere they thought the students were heading. This giant mass of people split up into different groups to spread the cops thin. Jana and Diego were both getting texts from people inside the crowd as to where they were heading. We caught up with them a few times and got to witness them leading the Vienna Police on several wild goose chases. I'm not sure if the protests produced anything but it was pretty obvious that they succeeded at annoying the crap out of the police. After all the sightseeing and protesting, we went to an Irish pub to meet some of Jana's friends for a trivia game. We had a great time and headed back to the hostel a few hours later.

When got back to our room, our hostel mates were already asleep. Firm believers in “do unto others” , we got ready for bed with the lights off using our ipods as lights and speaking in a whisper. The next morning at 7am we awoke to the lights, loud voices, and unnecessarily loud sounds of two of our roommates....The Leslies. You must be wondering why we named them the Leslies. Contrary to what you might have assumed.....neither of them has the name Leslie. Have you seen the Hangover? Leslie Chow is the name of the naked Chinese man that leaps out of the trunk of a car. Starting to get it yet? Both of these middle aged gentlemen are in fact, Asian. One of them has a lisp and the other is a bit younger, so we tell them apart by calling them Lisping Leslie and Little Leslie.

We ignored their rudeness and fell back asleep. We decided that instead of sightseeing that day, we would have a rest day and do laundry. While Audrey was taking one of her very long, very hot showers, I fell asleep. I never nap, and she knows this. So being the fabulous travel partner that she is, let me sleep and went to pick up our laundry from down the street. Once again, my wonderful sleep was interrupted by the Leslies being inconsiderate and talking much louder than necessary. Except this time, I hear a third voice....Audrey's. Audrey being a narcolept is very protective of sleep, even if it's not hers. Very politely, she asks the Leslies to lower their voices because I was sleeping. Well, at this point, I was eavesdropping. But that’s beside the point. They say they don’t speak English and continue talking. At which point Aud being the smart lady that she is, gives them the universal sign for "shhhh". They, of course, pretend that they don't understand her and keep on about their business. So to demonstrate the difference in volume levels of the human voice, she talks to them in a normal tone, then lowers her voice to a whisper, then in a much louder tone similar to theirs says "Stop Yelling!" and points to my bed. By this point, it's all I could do to not burst into laughter and blow my cover. They again shrug their shoulders and carry on.

While relaxing in the dinning area of the hostel that evening, a very good looking German guy sits down with us. Neither one of us can remember his name, so we call him Hot German. Hot German is a real estate agent (and victim of a German pyramid scheme) who was in Vienna for some kind of educational seminar. Upon hearing that we hadn't really gone out much he says in his adorable German accent, "You will come with tonight, and we make party?" Aud and I were pretty much in a trance and nodded our heads in unison. Hot German and one of his seminar buddies both took lessons for Salsa Dancing earlier that day and wanted to try their skills. They took us to one of the hottest salsa clubs in Vienna, Floridita. Those of you who know my love of dancing, probably think that I was in heaven. Not quite. They didn’t tell us about the Cuban salsa club in advance, so you can imagine the torture I felt when we walked into the club and I was wearing jeans and sneakers. SNEAKERS!!!! Everyone around us was dressed in their best ensembles and changed into their fanciest heels at the door. I was having a panic attack. Audrey and I ended up only staying for a drink because of my hyperventilation and once Hot German saw the plethora of beautiful women in beautiful shoes, he avoided us like the plague almost immediately. Oh well! We were proud of ourselves for trying to be social.

The next day we went to see a place that Jana had recommended, the Schloss Schonbrun Palace and Zoo. It was a palace built for the girlfriend of one of the rulers of Austria. She loved exotic animals so much that when anyone visited, they would bring her a new animal. This is actually the world’s first documented zoo. Instead of paying to see the inside of another lavish palace, we opted to see the zoo. It’s a tradition in Audrey's family to go to the zoo on her mom's birthday. We were there two days before Jill's birthday and decided to honor that tradition. It was a great change of pace from the many churches and museums we've visited already. After Schonbrun, we went back to the Hofburg. The Hofburg is where Hitler announced the annexation of Austria to 200,000 people in 1938. I love the ancient Roman history of Italy. But to stand below the balcony where Hitler stood just over 70 years ago was something else.

Later that evening, met with Jana and Diego for some of the most amazing pistachio ice cream I've ever tasted and to say our farewells. We were heading out first thing the next morning. After enjoying our home cooked meal of pork chops, pasta, and steamed veggies, we did some final research on the stops of the Sound of Music Tour in Salzburg. We were going to try to avoid spending money on "the official tour". By this point, it was about 10:30 PM. We still had to get ready for bed and pack our bags because we were getting up at 5 am. Upon entering the room, we discover that the Leslies were asleep. Muahahaha. We flipped on the lights and took our sweet time packing our bags and chit chatting. Oh, how the tables have turned! After about 20 minutes, Lisping Leslie jumps out of bed wearing some hideous gray long johns (they did no justice for his manhood), cursing us in another language and shut the lights off. Our mouths fell to the floor. This was a classic case of "you can dish it out, but you can't take it". I go and turn the lights on and say "Excuse me! We are not done with that. We will be done in a few minutes. You can deal with it." He gets up again, says in ENGLISH "no two minutes, done now" and shuts off the light. I reply with "Ohhhhhhh, that’s funny, you do speak English" and turn on the bathroom light as a compromise. We then set three different alarms to go off at 5 am. We didn't want to miss our train in the morning and getting the last jab into the Leslies was a plus :)

Aside from the altercation with our roommates (first in the entire trip so far), Vienna was a great time. It was a great recharge for our morale. We weren't in our normal "go, go, go" mode and caught up on some much needed rest. What I love most about the trip to Vienna is that it wasn't part of the original plans. It was added to the trip because of friends we made along the way. That right there is why I love to travel. The sightseeing is fantastic, but the people and characters you meet along the way is what keeps me going.

<3

Cat (and Aud)

Posted by audandcat 12:15 Comments (0)

Trials and Tribulations in Venezia

Venice is probably delightful in the summer......


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Our books told us that Venice was hauntingly beautiful; a strange surreal place where everyday life seems more dramatic than anywhere else. This, we found, is 100% true. We arrived in Venice and immediately got lost. This was very easy to do here seeing that Venice was built on 117 different islands. After finding some directions online we got onto the waterbus and cruised on the Grand Canal. The Grand Canal snakes around Venice and is the major highway for every form of transportation and business that is done in the city. It is about the width of a two lane road in the US and is lined with beautiful buildings, side canals and gondolas. We made it to our hostel which is a palace, turned museum, turned hostel. We were greeted by an American (who we now call Florida). This hostel is like the Nursery Rhyme about Little Jack Horner... "and when it was good it was very, very good, and when it was bad, it was horrid". The building is beautiful. Marble floors cover the entire space and ceramic molding is around every door and on every ceiling. The walls are still painted with the original paint and each room boasts a beautiful antique wardrobe. Other than our beds, a desk that looks like its straight out of a Jason Borne movie, a few orange Ikea couches and some plastic kitchen tables the place is empty. During the day its a little creepy to hear your voice echo but in the evenings the lighting is soft and the hostel fills with tenants, their accents and stories from far away lands. We made our reservations and were quoted a price online but, when we arrived we were asked to pay a bit more as well pay a fee to rent sheets for each night. We were a bit sketched out by this especially since we arrived during the day when it looked more like an abandoned mansion with Florida squatting as the only tenant.

After dropping our bags off we decided to explore Venice but after realizing that there isn't much to see directly around the hostel, we invested in a few bottles of vino and came back to the hostel to be inside. I took a siesta while Cat wrote in her journal and by the time I woke up people had either checked in or had come back from their daily activities. At this time we were able to meet Mateo *who owns/runs our hostel and his friend that we now call Angel (because later that evening we found out that he wears the women's perfume Angel). Mateo & Angel have dream jobs for any 20 something year old. They, however, are in their early 40's. They get to sleep all day and wake up to a new good looking crowd of international girls each day. While Florida, (their only employee) does the grunt work. Around 8:30 Mateo & Angel cook dinner. It is so much fun to sit around the table and have a gourmet, hot, family style Italian dinner and exchange stories with everyone. After dinner Mateo, Angel & Florida take everyone out to a bar. Walking behind them reminds me of another story from my childhood, the Pied Piper of Hamlin. About 30 of us from all over the globe followed Mateo like the Pied Piper through the winding streets and beautiful vacant plazas of Venice.

Our first night in Venice we ended up at a little crowded local bar. Florida recommended a typical Venitian drink called a spritz for only €2. We are unsure of what was in this drink but they were delicious and encouraged us to sing the American songs that we knew a little bit louder than usual and dance with our hosts and some crazy Spanish girls. We noticed a HUGE man when we walked in. We'll call him Gigantor. He was so big that we were sure that he was on steroids. Later in the evening his friend approached me and told me that Gigantor was his body guard. My reply was "okay" but then I resumed the conversation that he had interupted. Shortly after, Gigantor grabbed my hand, put it on his chest, flexed and said in a deep Italian accent "you like?" I replied with a stunned "Sure". He then proceeded to lift up his tshirt to showcase the tattoo's on each deltoid, his chest and his uh... *David* muscles. Luckily we were saved by Florida who offered to walk us home. He could probably tell that Cat and I haven't gotten out much in the past 3 weeks and seeing muscular Italian man was like putting a lamb in front of two very hungry lioneses. When we arrived back at the hostel Cat took advantage of the huge, shiny, marble floors by demonstrating what she and her roommates in Georgia used to do... plate spin. She sat on a plastic plate, wound her legs up then did some amazing hip hop spins.

The next morning Florida, the hostel's bitch (sorry if you read this Kagen), made us breakfast. I was able to experience Nutella for the first time, then we got ready and took off. When we arrived at the Waterbus station there was no attendant to buy a ticket from nor was there a machine to buy a ticket so we hopped on with the intention of buying a 24 hour pass at our next stop. It wasn't until just after I saw a sign that informed us that *you would be fined €44 for not telling water bus personnel that you didn't have a ticket* that the water policia found us. This man, we'll call him Robert (after the new spa manager that I hate) had clearly been stuffed into an Italian locker as a child and probably received a swirly in a squatter toilet at some point in his life. He obviously enjoys ticketing people as much as Cat loves Justin Timberlake! He spoke to us in slow, insulting English, rolled his eyes and was talking smack about us in Italian to a Venitian lady with bad teeth and a bad Louis Vitton knock off. It wasn't till a nicer, female, back up water policia came that we were able to talk our way out of the €44 (each) fine in slow, insulting, Italian. Ha ha ha, we evaded the European policia again!!!

At this point it was cold, bitter cold. The wind was coming off of the canal at just the right speed that it was nearly impossible to hide from it. We got off of the Waterbus and walked directly through Plaza San Marco to the very narrow winding streets behind to find an Irish pub that had been suggested to us by a friend of Cat´s. After filling our bellies with warm pasta and thawing out a bit we were able to check out the Basillica of San Marco. Yes, it was another beautiful cathedral but this cathedral was adorned with different colored marble and mosaic tile floors. Many ceilings are lined with gold and you can´t help but be in awe of such an architectural and artistic masterpiece. After seeing the basíllica we walked next door to the Dodge´s (duke´s) palace. The arches that lead from the basillica to our next stop filled with hundreds of pigeons and other foul. For those of you who don´t know... I am terrified of birds. Especially with the wind factor... you never know where they are going to go. I saw the movie *The Birds* and I have no intention of getting the Avian bird flu after my bout with Spanish Influenza. Cat has elected herself my bird bodyguard so, she walked in front of me kicking at any bird that got too close. The Dodge´s palace was of course beautifully adorned with paintings, furniture and tapestries but what we found coolest was a small bridge that connects the palace to the prison cells. It was super creepy to be walking through the palace with richness all around then transition to The Bridge of Sighs. Named because of the sound the condemned would make after receiving judgement at the palace then taking the long walk to their cells. The legendary lover Cassanova once had a breif stay in a tiny cell here although they are unaware of which one. When winding down at Plaza San Marco we decided to head back to the hostel since it was cold enough that the Gypsys weren´t even there begging or selling anything.

It probably doesn´t surprise anyone by now that I went back and took a nap. Our hostel, being so old, is not well insulated and after waking up and putting my warm post nap tootsies on the marble floor decided that staying in bed was my best option. Cat joined me and we drank wine, painted my nails, and read from the *Texts from last night* web site aloud while sitting Willie Wonka style in my little twin size bed. We emerged from our nest only when we smelled that Mateo & Angel´s delicious dinner was ready for us. This night it was Risotto which was so so so good. When the Pied Piper invited us for another night out we politely declined after someone mentioned that it had started snowing.

I woke the next morning to "Holy s#!t... Aud get your a$$ out here". Starting my day to a blizzard will put me in a bad mood right off of the bat but, knowing that we planned a night train and had to leave the hostel by 3pm with our bags in the blizzard made me even crankier. We intended on maximizing our backpack-less morning. We started bý walking to a church that I had read about named San Stefano. This church has been deconsicrated 6 times due to bloodshead within its walls. Cat wanted to see actual blood on the walls, that didn´t happen but, there was a very eeire feeling there. We had planned on doing more and seeing more but we decided that being warm was more important so we grabbed a latte at almost every cafe between the creepy church and our hostel. We popped back into our hostel to say our good byes and grab our bags then headed to make our 24 hour waterbus deadline. We had already avoided ticketing once and we didnt want to chance it again.

Here´s where our trip to Venice got really fun. I checked the weather right before we left the hostel. It was 20 degrees ferenheight plus a wind chill factor. Because of this Cat and I each put on as much clothing as possible. We were each sporting 2 pairs of pants, 4 shirts, a sweatshirt, A coat, 3 pairs of socks, 2 scarves and hats (underneath our hoodies) . We looked terrible but, on the bright side wearing everything made our packs a bit lighter. There are two places to sit at the Venice train station. One in a cafe (this place closed 10 minutes after we got there at 3:30pm) and then there are the benches that are covered but still are open to the cold air. We ended up sitting by a rotating parade of homeless drunk singing bums for hours, clinging to our ipods with our makeshift mittens (socks) for 6 hours total. When our train arrived I did a happy dance as we got into our car. I was happy dancing till we realized that our car was the only one on the whole train that didn´t have a heater. The Italian train people were not helpful and told us that Austrian train people would be onboard shortly that could help us. The Austrians couldnt change the temprature so we ended up moving to another car. The heat was kind of working so we were happy until a big Italian woman with 3 huge suitcases joined us at the Austrian border. Long story short we had a very uncomfortable, cold, unforgettable night on the train from Venice to Austria.

Overall I have decided that we had a unique visit to Venice. Not everyone can say that they were in Venice when the Grand Canal almost froze over. I want to come back one day when its warm and sunny. It would be fun to ride a gondola into the sunset with someone special in this hauntingly romantic place.

Austria is cold too so far but at least we knew what we were getting ourselves into. We actually decided to come to Vienna because of the friends we made our first night in Madrid. They are going to school here and offered to show us around. Otherwise, Vienna hadn´t really crossed our minds. Its a very new unfamilliar language so it will be a adventure all around! We´ll keep you posted.

Till then,
ba ba (bye bye in Austria)
Mwahh
Audrey (and Cat)

Posted by audandcat 02:02 Comments (1)

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