Sunday, May 15, 2011

Paris, Prague, Munich, Danube River, Budapest 4/2011 Trip

Tuesday, April 5

Left for the airport about 1 p.m. (thanks Debbie Smith for the ride!!) for a 3:40 flight. We arrive with enough time to hang out at the President's Club for about an hour. All was on time and we left Houston and arrived in Paris at 8:15 a.m. on Wednesday morning. Neither of us slept (it was 1:15 a.m. Texas time).

Wednesday, April 6

Once at CDG airport in Paris, we were amazed at how easy customs was. Our passports were barely looked at and there were no customs forms to fill out or anything. After having flown in and out of London a few times, this was just a breeze.

We have never been in this airport before (the previous visit we went through London and took the train). The airport was so quiet and so easy to get through! We had no trouble buying a train ticket and heading to downtown Paris. We got off on a station near the Hotel DeVille, probably a mile from our hotel, but decided to hike our way there, after taking a ton of pictures there.

We were too early to check in, so we stashed our bags and headed out to explore the area. We followed a walking tour from our AAA travel book and checked out all the interesting sights in Le Marias. I'm glad we decided to stay in this part of Paris, as we hadn't seen any of it before. We happened to go right by a place that was recommended for falafels, so we had to stop by and try one of those. Definitely a good choice!

It was after noon by then, so we came back to the hotel to check in. We are staying at the Hotel Sevigne, off Rue Mahler, very close to the busy Rue de Rivoli. It's a teenie, tiny, teenie weenie room. You can't both pass each other. Strangely there is a chair that sits under a tiny desk, but you can't use it, because the bed is in the way. The bathroom door opens and hits the bed. Good thing we like each other or we'd be somewhat hostile always being in each other’s space. I decided to just cross over the bed instead of waiting to walk around it. The hotel is in a good location, but I wouldn't stay here again. I'm not as patient as I used to be!

We took a walk through the Pompidou area, watched an 'artist' do a chalk sketch on the sidewalk, some dancers working on their tango, and pretty much watched the world go by. We did, of course, have to have a beer while we were doing all this hard work. 

We headed back out, bought a bottle of wine and sat in a pretty park near the hotel that had flower beds planted in mazes (lots of kids running through them) and watched the world go by.  It was 6 pm by then and we were both pretty tired. Went to a restaurant, BDJ Cafe (escargot, fish, veal scallopini, chocolate volcano for dessert, yum) that I found on trip advisor and had a good meal that we tried not to fall asleep through! Left there at 9 p.m., got back to our room and went directly into a coma.

Thursday, April 7                                                              

Even though the room is warm, and a bit noisy from the street, we managed to sleep until 8:30 a.m.! I sometimes sleep that late, but Jim never does. Got ourselves together and headed out for another day in Paris!

Had coffee at a little spot across the street and were amazed at all the cigarettes that are sold here!!  Perhaps France has not gotten the lung cancer memo? Seems everyone smokes here. We got ourselves some French pastry and headed to the Seine. A beautiful sunny day on the Seine with pastry, I don't know how things could be any better!

We spent the rest of the day walking the streets, walked through Notre Dam, beautiful flowering trees, everything all in bloom, just a really lovely walk through that park. On the bridge right near there, there were locks all over both sides of the bridge. I’ll need to do a google search of what that was all about.  It seemed to have something to do with amour! All of them had couples names and dates on them. 

After that we trudged on over to Jardin des Plantes and visited the Natural History Museum, which was just ok, the gardens surrounding it were nice though, everything was in bloom, so it was definitely worth a walk through.

Headed to the Latin Quarter and came upon the hotel where we stayed on our last Paris Visit (Rue de Cardinal), had lunch at a cafe across the street, and HAD to have a nutella/banana crepe that I've been thinking about since we left there. It was as fabulous as I remembered :)

Walked to the St. Germaine area and had a beer at a local cafe and then back to the Marais area along the Seine. After a stop in at our hotel, it was off to the Eiffel Tower to see it lit up at night! We made (another) wine stop at a local cafe, then had a forgettable dinner at a forgettable restaurant :(
Back to the hotel 11 pm'ish and ready for bed at midnight!

Friday, April 8

Up 8:30'ish, and off to the cafe across the street for coffee and crescents. Decided to explore the Montmarte area, as we had not ever been there. Got on the metro, and off we went. It's mostly an artsy area with lots of little shops, and artists and their easels all across the square. Walked around the Basilique de Sacre Cour and toured the inside. Another amazing cathedral! Back on the metro to wander around the Champs de Elysees. Doing our usual "how bout this place, no, how about this one?" thing that we are famous for, we stopped at an outside cafe called the Villa Spicy and I do believe we had the best meal of our trip. I had beef tartare with parmesan and basil and Jim had salmon tartare.  It was sooooooo fabulous!!!

Walked along the Champs Elysees up to the Arc de Triomphe and after all that walking decided a Hagen Daz stop was needed.

Picked up some wine, walked along the Seine and found a spot to sit and do some more people watching. Left there to walk more around the Marais area and window shop. We weren't really hungry, but stopped for sandwiches at another sidewalk cafe. Stayed there for a while and then off to the corner cafe for an Irish Coffee before heading in for the night.

Saturday, April 9

Started out the morning with a breakfast from a restaurant down the street. Quiche for Jim and an egg sandwich type breakfast for me. We needed to get back on the train and head for the airport around noon, so we walked through the Bastille area, found a hardware store for a much needed adapter (god forbid we couldn't charge our phone or computer!)

Got back to the hotel, checked out and went to the Metro. Got to the train station and were a bit confused as to where to go and how to get there. A nice young man explained that the train to the airport was under construction and that we needed to go another route. We weren't the only ones confused, all kinds of people toting around luggage following each other like lemmings. It ended up not being that big of a deal, but glad we gave ourselves extra time.

The flight from Paris to Prague (1 hr 40 min) was a breeze and we got to Prague around 4:30 pm where a driver picked us up to bring us to the hotel (Aparthotel 5). A nice big room, almost like being in a model room from Ikea.

We walked to the river and did our usual wandering aimlessly until we found a restaurant and decided to duck in there for some din din (around 7:30 pm). The Kolkorna Olympia Restaurant was pretty darn good. Jim had a huge meal (duck, sausage, pork, schnitzel and sauerkraut) and I had Hungarian goulash, washed down with several liters of local beer, which was all good. We made it back to the hotel by 10 and called it a night.

Sunday, April 10

Started the day with breakfast at the hotel and are ready to set off to visit the Palace first. The owners of the hotel are delightful and very helpful.

Took the tram to Prague Castle and got there around 10 am. The cathedral is probably one of the most amazing I have seen. We walked the 286 steps to the top to look out over Prague. Beautiful clear day, perfect for picture taking and getting a bird's eye view of Prague.

Spent most of the day there until around 2:30, saw the Old Royal Palace, the Story of Prague, Basilica of St George and St. Vitus Cathedral.

Left there hungry and parched! Got a huge sausage, found a nice place for a beer and rested our weary feet. Perfect. The only thing better was they also had ice cream, so our day was already as good as it gets :)
We walked across the St. Charles Bridge (pretty amazing) only to turn around and walk back across it (I didn't want to miss anything on either side...). By then we were in need of a rest, so we had to have another fine Czech beer.

Back over the bridge, again, to see the sights of Old town and New town.

Found a place to eat in Old Town that was recommended by the guidebook we were using, called Saromestska. Chicken with potatoes and pears w/a mango chutney sauce was good. Jim had a Czech mixed dish which was ok, not nearly as good as the one the night before. The wine was unimpressive.
Did end the night with a fine banana and chocolate crepe (it is all about the food...)

We were disappointed to find that the clock (glockenspeil) in the square (which was supposed to be a 'must see') was not working. Jim took pictures anyway. Oh well, can't check that off the list. Loved walking around Old Town, lots of little kiosks with all kinds of goodies (not many of them selling anything good for you!) perfect.

Back to the hotel and lights out by midnight!

Monday, April 11

Off to finish up what we didn't see at the palace, the art gallery (interesting) and Powder Tower (not so interesting).

Walked to the Jewish Quarter and spent time listening to the audio guide going through the synagogues
and the old cemetery. It was very interesting.

Left there to go to the train station to buy train tickets for our Munich trip on Wednesday.
Walked back into town, had a beer to get off our feet and then decided we would look to see if we could find where to catch the jazz boat. Didn't figure that out, but had wine at a very scenic spot on the river. Very lovely! Thought we would have dinner there, but that just ended up being weird (no one was in the restaurant and it was too chilly to eat outside). So we left and ended up at a place near the end of Charles Bridge and had a good pizza after a nice plate of cheeses :)

Got back to our hotel room around 10'ish only to find that our train tickets has probably been stolen out of the backpack. Damn. There's $150 down the drain.

Tuesday, April 12

Back to the train station to purchase another set of train tickets :( It's a bit rainy and colder today, but not too bad. We visited the cathedral in new town (will have to look up the name), it was lovely, then ventured off to Wallenstein Palace and gardens (not so amazing, but ok...).

Back to the hotel and then off to tour around the Vysehrad area on the south side of Prague recommended by our lovely host from the hotel. Visited the church, described as the oldest church in Prague, big cemetery, lots of dignitaries buried there. Glad we went, it was an interesting area, not frequented by tourists much.
Left there and headed to pick up the boat for a jazz cruise. It was very enjoyable and a great way to end our visit in Prague. 

We really enjoyed Prague. There were so many things to see. Everywhere you went; there was another old building, old statues, and right in the middle of everything. The weather ended up being really nice, although a bit chilly at times.  It rained just a bit off and on the last day we were there, but not enough to affect anything. I wouldn’t mind a return someday!

Wed, Apr 13

Left Prague on the train this morning at 9:10 a.m. We left the hotel at 8, taking a car to the train station.  It would have been an easy tram ride, but we opted not to have to deal with that! Got to the train station in plenty of time, this was a good thing because it took us a while to figure out how things ran! Got on our train, and felt a little like the wizards from Hogwarts. Kind of wish we were, so we could have moved the train on a little quicker. It’s a 6 hour train ride, but so far it’s not too bad. The scenery is nice, lush green countryside, lots of little towns, riverside homes, it’s actually pretty nice. It’s raining off and on and I think it’s going to be a bit colder than I would like, but think that will be the case for the rest of the trip!

Arrived in Munich right on time and headed to our King’s Hotel, which was just a few blocks from the train station. We checked in and then ventured out to explore the area. Decided to go to the Glpotek Museum, because it had some ancient Greek stuff and it was small and we only had an hour or so to explore it. It was interesting, all in German (weird) so we had to do some thinking… Left there and headed for the center of town, called Marienplatz. Fortunately, it’s not a bad walk from the hotel. We scouted the area, hit our first beer and pretzel joint (to be the first of many..) and then tried to orient ourselves to where everything is. We had dinner at a place recommended by someone from trip advisor that called it “the best restaurant in Munich”. The Alten Market ended up being a very good restaurant, and we thought it was fab. The menu was entirely in German, so we just kind of “winged” it making a decision. Our waitress spoke a little English, so we weren’t completely surprised by our choices. It was great though, and a good choice. We ended up getting back to our hotel around 11 p.m. This hotel has really nice rooms, very comfy beds with plush comforters that you could just smoosh right in to. Thought it was great until the middle of the night when I woke up because sweat was dripping down my face and I was lying in a little tide pool. Do so love comforters, but cannot deal with them!!

Thurs, April 14

Got up and moving and headed to the local palace for a look-see. Only took a about 15 minutes to get there by tram, and we spent the morning looking through the palace and it’s beautiful grounds.  We walked from there to yet another beer garden. The sun had chosen to show it’s little face for the amount of time that we sat outside, had beer, pretzels and a few German sausages!  Because there was another beer garden on the way, we thought we should check that one out too (this one had what I considered the best beer). Back to the main town square to see the glockenspiel do its thing, and then off to Hopsenfieful to check out their beer. There is a possibility that I have had enough beer today, so we went to a place for dinner that we knew would have wine! Another recommendation from the TA person, and another enjoyable dinner. Back to the hotel around 9:30’ish and we will be meeting up with the Herald’s tomorrow to show them around!

Friday, April 16, 2011

We went to the train station around 9’ish thinking we would meet up with Marion, but that didn’t end up happening, so we had a quick breakfast there and headed to the square.  We were the first ones up the “old tower” in the morning and it was a clear sunny day (although pretty cold..), and got to see a bird’s eye view of Munich. After we left there, we went to the Viktualienmarkt and wandered around there for a while. We were lucky enough to be there on Asparagus Day!! The mayor, the Asparagus Queen, an oompah band and another band were there to celebrate the festivities. The market was great, lots of cheeses, wine, flowers all kinds of foods, it was fabulous. We even bought some asparagus wine, which was surprisingly not bad!
Left there and went to the Residenz museum, which used to be a Palace, and we spent pretty much the rest of the day there. It was a truly amazing place, huge and most of the rooms were set up the way they used to be as the Palace was built on to over the years.

Met up with the Herald’s at the Hofbrauhaus, sat with some very entertaining young men who were hockey players from Switzerland. Left there and had dinner at a recommended restaurant, Brenner’s. It was quite good and enjoyed by all.

Left there for a walk back to the hotel, had a night cap with M&C and off to bed by midnight!

Saturday, April 16

Another day on the go. Went to the train station first thing to buy train tickets for Passau. Got on the subway and headed to the Deutche’s Museum. C&M went to the Residenz Museum, so we made plans to meet up later. Got to the museum around 10’ish and looked around there for a few hours. It’s supposed to be the #1 museum attraction in Munich. It is huge, and full of tons of interesting things, but if I had to choose, I would have chosen the Residenz as the one to see. We left there and walked to the Englisher Gardens. Lovely walk, pretty day, it was a good decision. Stopped at the first biergarten for the usual beer and a pretzel (believe I will be looking like a pretzel after this vaca is over). Realized that there was yet another biergarten on the list nearby, so we headed over there, purchased, well, a beer and strangely another pretzel, as the paperwork we had said this place had the best pretzels. Were they? Well, they were good, but if I hadn’t had that info, I’m not sure I would have noticed. The actual best pretzel we had was at a grocery store called Rewe. You just pushed a button and out came this hot fresh pretzel. Can’t beat that. Every place else we went, they were never hot, just sitting there for who knows how long? We ate them anyway…!

Had a few bratwurst and sauerkraut there, then walked to the subway station and back to the Marienplatz where we went back to the market. Such a great place, lots more people there today, very crowded, but great place to people watch. We bought some wine, some olives (such fabulous looking olives, all different kinds, one with oranges and rosemary! Would have liked to try them all!!

Back to the hotel to drop of all of our goodies and meet up with the Herald gang. They will be leaving earlier than us for the airport for their transfer to Passau. We will leave on a 10:30 train and get to Passau around 12:30 to hop on the old river boat.

Finished off the asparagus wine and then left to go to dinner. We had a particular restaurant in mind, but so, it seems, did half of Munich. The place was packed, so we went with plan B and went to the closest restaurant that had room for 5! We ended up at the same place Chris and Bobby had lunch the day before.  It was good though, we all had more German fare and just had to have some streudel before we left Munich. We walked back to the hotel after that and stopped to listen to a fairly entertaining man in the square. He was pretty funny, very sarcastic, making fun of just about everyone, Americans, Chinese, blacks, everyone was fair game. It was getting close to midnight, so we pretty much decided that was later than we needed to be out.
Up early'ish to have breakfast, head to the train station to catch the UBahn to get our train to Passau. A bit of angst, as we were uncertain as to which one to take. Managed it all okay though, even though we probably got on the wrong one. It was going the right direction though, so all was well. We caught a bus when we arrived and about 1/2 hour later we were dropped off at the pier. The Herald's had just gotten there also (they managed to get Uniworld's transfer).

 We got aboard about 2 p.m., got some lunch and some wine and settled in for the week. It's a
lovely ship, bigger than the Miriam that we were on last year and lots more people. Think there are about 150 people on board. We were fortunate to have been upgraded twice, so we went from a room on the bottom to the 4th floor. Nice. The room is typical of a cruise ship room, but it's very nice and quite comfortable.
Another beautiful sunny day, so we went up to the top deck to enjoy the lovely scenery, and strangely, have some wine! Had a meeting to go over all the ship info, then got ready to have a "sumptuous" diner. Everything was very good, and when we were done, for some unknown reason it was decided we should head off the ship and go drink some more. Very sensible. Went to a nearby bar and just had one more.. Got back on board, even though it was only 10:30 it was off to bed for us.

Monday, April 18
Semi-early start to the day. We had breakfast around 8'ish and got ready to go on the ship's tour of Passau at 9:30. It's a lovely little city, and we are lucky enough, again, to have a beautiful sunny day. The highlight of the touring here is the St. Stephen's cathedral, another amazing catholic church. Beautiful sculptures, paintings and all the fabulousness that the Catholics are famous for. We had a nice tour around the city, stopped for the required beer and came back to the ship around 1:30 to have lunch before it ended it 2.

We set sail today at 3:45 for Linz, so we're back on deck ready to set sail. Hung out on the upper deck watching the world go by. Such a pretty part of the world. So green and lots of hills and little towns along the way. Tonight was the Captains dinner (which really doesn’t mean anything other than showing up an hour early for a not-so good glass of wine. Dinner was good, as usual, and afterward there was entertainment in the lounge consisting of 2 guys who played the accordion and “Austrian” type music.  It seemed they were ignored by most people that were there, and we actually felt kind of bad for them they weren’t bad, but it just didn’t seem like anyone wanted to be bothered. In bed by 10.

Tue, April 19, 2011

Today is a scheduled trip to Salzburg. The ship docks in Linz, but if you choose, you can take an hour and a half bus trip to Salzburg. We decided to go, because there seemed to be so much to see there. It’s another beautiful sunny day, which makes everything better, no?? The bus ride is very pretty, we have an entertaining and knowledgeable guide (just wish I could remember a nano second of what he said) and we arrive around 10 a.m. The tour was great, we saw old Salzburg, where bits and pieces of the Sound of Music was filmed, AFC (the one so many of the churches we have seen and will see were based on), the took a walk up the side of a mountain, only to find out we needed some cashola to get to the top (which surprisingly, we did not have..), so we scooted on down the hill, bought tickets to the funicular (tram kind of thing), to get up to where we had practically been. Oh well, another lesson in patience. Once we got to the top, it really was such a pretty overview of the town. We didn’t have a lot of time left, so we went through this castle pretty quickly, only seeing just a little of it.

What a beautiful city. Maybe we’ll retire here, perhaps in June for the 2 weeks that it might be warm.
Met up with the rest of the Uni passengers and get back to the bus to head back to the ship. We’re into the trip about 20 minutes (I love 20 minute increments, it works so well for everything), and the woman in the row across from us starts throwing up! Yikes. I’ll spare the details, but it was certainly worth noting!
Back to Linz, we meet up with the Herald’s and walk the short distance into town to just go to the square there and have a look around. One of the problems with a trip like this is that you really only get an idea of the area. Hate to say problem, because it’s certainly not that! Perhaps someday we’ll be back to experience more of it.

Dinner was as good as usual. We sat with a couple from Australia that has been traveling for weeks, so got some good ideas for Istanbul! Do so love to hear myself say such things, I feel like I must be living some else’s life.

Listened to a jazz band for a while then off to bed by 10:30 (although I started this, and it is now after 11!!) Off to Melk and Durnstein manana.

Wednesday, April 20

Arrived early in Melk, Austria. We toured the Melk Abbey here early in the morning, lots of interesting stuff which I will fill in when I look at the brochures we got, because that's how I will be able to remember everything We walked to the abbey in the morning and decided (for reasons that I will have to come up with somehow), to ride bicycle's to the next port (20 miles away). I believe we were the only one's on board to do such a foolish thing, but it was a nice day and 20 miles just did not seem THAT bad.  It really was a lovely ride, so many tiny little places that were just so scenic and interesting, that we are glad that we did it. We may have different thoughts tomorrow when the whole saddle sore thing comes back to haunt us. We took pictures of the signs of all the places that we went through, so we'll have a nice history of it, if we do anything with it!!

Got back to the ship, strangely in time for wine tasting at a local winery.. Tried a few and met up with the Herald's for a walk about around town. Durnstein is a beautiful little town, so picturesque, very green and the hills are alive with the sound of music (I had to say that...). We did that for an hour or so before we went back to the boat to have martini's before din din. Do so enjoy their company, just love Chris' dad , Bobby, he just adds another level of fun and interest to the group. Had another great dinner, and were in bed by 10! Off to Vienna in the morning, with a concert in the evening! How could it get much better???

Thursday, April 21

After breakfast, we went to listen to a speaker about the history of Vienna. She was very interesting, and we learned all about the families that got Austria started. I have pretty much forgotten it already, but I think we have the information somewhere if we need it.

Off on the bus to head to downtown Vienna for a tour with the group. We toured the library, which was pretty amazing, saw some stallions (more on that later), got a walking tour of the historic building (of which there are  many), and then we were off on our own to explore.

Vienna is not really at all like I pictured it (although I'm not sure I could come up with a picture if I had to). It's very large, busy and lots of traffic. I think maybe I thought it would be a quaint little Austrian town, but it is not that. We went to their market area, had too much to eat, then visited an art gallery, the ____. I hadn't researched the must-do things here, because I guess I thought we would be shown them! We walked through one of the parks, then decided to head back to the boat. Dinner was early tonight because of the 7:30 departure time for the concert. I was still stuffed from lunch, so really wasn't able to appreciate dinner too much tonight! We were all pretty tired, probably had one more glass of wine than we needed last  night, so we were all pretty tame tonight.

Thoroughly enjoyed the concert. The music, opera singers, and ballet dancers were so good, and that crazy Mozart should could write up a tune!

After returning to the ship, they were serving Vienna sausages (which is another way of saying hot dog..). Still not wanting another thing to eat, we headed off to bed and it's now about 11 p.m. Am not sure of the schedule for tomorrow, so we shall see!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Did our usual morning routine (6:30 up and around for J, 7:30 considering up and around for C). Had breakfast and ventured in to town around 8:30, thought we could get to the internet café, but it was closed until 9:30. Decided to just take the subway down to the market area and wander there for as long as we wanted. So many wonderful sights, smells and the food was just amazing! Very similar to the market in Munich. Decided we needed to spend a month here to really appreciate it. Then went to meet Chris and Marion at the lepeanizer stallion morning practice. It was semi-interesting, crowded and it was going to last for two hours. We watched them prance around for an hour, They were impressive, however, think the performance show would have been better, as this was just them strolling around and around.

Left there and spent the next hour just enjoying the Vienna. On our way back to the boat, we had to stop at a sidewalk café and have just one more beer in Austria.

Back on board after a quick internet stop, with perhaps 5 minutes to spare before the boat took off! Ooops. We had received a letter earlier in the day saying we had been chosen to join the captain for dinner. We weren’t sure why, or what that was all about, but thought, wth? We’ll just go with the flow. It was a bit awkward because C&M were not included. It ended up being very nice though, and I’m glad we did it. We were treated like special guests, and when I asked how one was chosen for this, I was told the staff recommends people they think are nice, so we were pretty flattered! 

Another day ends on just a really nice note.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

We are up and out on the deck early, around 7:45 to watch the boat come in to Budapest. A bit of an overcast chilly morning, but as we got closer, the sun came out and the city is just amazing to see. Buda on one side, Pest on the other. So much history, and just too many things to look at from one side to the other. We docked, had breakfst and headed out with the tour group. We were given a lot of history of the area, stopped at the palace grounds, drove over to the Pest side, listened to an organ concert of Hungarian music, back on the bus to hear more about the area and then back to the boat in time for lunch!

singing group. They were pretty entertaining and then, thank goodness, we had another meal to get ready for! C&M looked around the museum there, and the rest of us just looked around the Palace area there and ended up having the required beer before we went back to the boat.

Strange to think of this as our last day! I feel like we just got here.. So, after dinner (and perhaps a glass of wine or 4), it was back to the room to pack up all the stuff we had just packedL We have to have our bags out by 8::30, so we will have breakfast and take a water taxi across the Danube and check in to the Marriott for the rest of our trip!

Sunday, April 24 (Easter)

Did our usual morning routine of breakfast, got all of our bags together and decided to take a walk to the Geffert Hotel and Spa just for a look-see. The Herald's left a bit earlier to check into their hotel and we planned to meet for lunch. We looked around the hotel, discussed possibly coming back to check out their hot springs, but we never did do that. Back to the ship to collect our stuff and take a water taxi across the Danube to the Pest side of the river.

It was too early to check in, so we left our bags and went off to meet up with the Herald's. We went to a 'must do' dessert restaurant (name i will fill in later), and sat there for 15 minutes without so much as a menu. After another five minutes we decided to leave and head elsewhere. If the dessert there is fabulous, we'll never know..

Had a good lunch next door, mostly goulash soup for the group, I had a humongous sausage with sauerkraut and my new favorite thing, a big 'ole pretzel ;)

Thought we would get to the 3 pm tour of the Opera house, but it was sold out, so bought tickets for the 4 pm. Headed to the St Stephans cathedral and walked around there until it was time for our 4 pm tour. Another amazing cathedral, got a picture of me with my patron saint, Saint Rita, and Jim got a picture of the right hand of St. Stephen (that's not weird, at all). Off to the Opera tour (the Opera house was grand, lovely to see, but the tour left a lot to be desired). Huge lines of people, the tour guide spoke English, but she was hard to understand, it was too loud, so she was difficult to hear. During the showing of the stage area, the stage was being worked on, hammering, lots of noise. I have no idea what she said.

After we left there, we had the usual required beer/wine stop at an outdoor cafe. We hardly ever did that...
We decided to get the "executive package" at the Marriott, which basically meant free internet and free cocktail hour. They had us at cocktail hour... So, off all five us went to participate in the "free" goodies. The lounge was on the 9th floor, and had an outdoor balcony that had a wonderful view of the Danube and the palace. We spent quite a bit of time there, had munchies and with full stomachs, decided it was time for dinner! We decided on a place not far from the hotel and had a good dinner of green curry with shrimp and crabmeat. That's what Marion and I had, it was quite yummy and fortunately, just the right amount. After we were done there we hit  few of the gelato stands on our way back to our respective hotels. 

Easter Monday, April 25 (A big holiday in Budapest)

Because this is a holiday, there were a lot of things that weren't opened. We read about a big brunch at the hot springs, so we decided we would do that in the morning. We couldn't find the brunch, walked around fairly clueless for a while and decided to have lunch at a place next door before we ventured into the pool(s). More goulash and off we went.

Marion wasn't interested in going in the pools, so she decided to shop. We, once again, spent quite a bit of time wondering just what the heck we were doing, finally figured out where we needed to go (the language was sometimes a problem, for those we were talking to and those speaking to us!!). After paying for entering, we found out that they only took Hungarian money, of which we had very little, not enough to rent towels, so drip-dry it would be. Sooo, off we dopey Americans head out in our bathing suits ready for the "healing waters" of the spa. After more wondering around on slippery floors (and hundreds of people everywhere), we decided on a pool, only to stay there and for a little while and thought the outdoor "big" pool would be better. It was fine, glad to say we did it, but I think we would pass up on it next time. Stayed in the pool for about 20 minutes, then went back to the locker rooms to dry off as best we could!

We had plans to go to the Jewish section and tour the synagogue, it was closed. The plans to see the National Museum, not only closed today, but tomorrow too :( Poop. Lots of walking, and not very much success. We walked along the Vaca Uti (a pedestrian street with lots of shops), knew that if nothing else, at least the cafe's would be open, so another beer stop it would be.

Back to the Marriott for their happy hour and stuffed once again, went of to find a place for dinner. The theme here seems to be eating and drinking?? We found a pizza place nearby and had some good pizza and the requisite beer that goes with it. Had to hit the gelato stand after that (of course) and then, because we hadn't eaten anything in 5 minutes, Chris decided we needed to get a (I'll have to fill in the name), it was one of the desserts we saw all over Prague, a twisty pastry type of yummyness.

On full stomachs, we went off to bed.

Tuesday, April 26
One of the things that was a 'must see' in Budapest was the Parliament. We figured we would do that first thing on Tuesday morning. So off we trudge after breakfast at the Marriott only to find that it wasn't open that day!!!! Grrrrr. I/we were so annoyed for a number of reasons. C&M were leaving in the afternoon and we were leaving to early the next day, so we had to miss it. Very aggravating. So, we got on a tram and went to visit the market area, which was really amazing. Kind of like the markets in Munich and Vienna, but indoors and really huge. We bought some Hungarian paprika, because we thought we should!

August 2010 trip to Banff/Calgary

Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Awoke bright and early (4:30 am) at casa de Perkins in Kingsland to head to Austin for a 7:55 flight to Dallas connecting to Calgary.  All went well, although we did decide that the drive from the LH to Austin airport was not really all that swell.  Will have to think somewhat seriously about it next time..

Things went smoothly at the airport, bit of a long line at security, but it went fast, so no big deal.  We had an extra half hour, so we scooted off to the Presidents Club, because we are a big deal, and because we can!  Fortunately, all went on time and we were in Dallas in no time at all.

Arrived Dallas and again had a little bit of extra time, so scooted off to the Presidents club again and took advantage of their free stuff to pack our little bags with.  Flight was on time again (thankfully) and it was uneventful.  We didn’t have seats together, but managed to have a seat mate offer to change seats, so that worked out.  Did sit next to a pretty chatty Chiropractor, he was the definition of the word weird.
Arrived in Calgary as scheduled and picked up our National rental car (a day late.. scheduling conflicts by the underpaid travel agent..).  That all worked out well though, they were very helpful, friendly, kind courteous and it was easy!

Headed to Banff with a stop at our ever  favorite Subway. Trip to Banff was very pretty and easy.  We arrived at our hotel, Tunnel  Mountain Resort, checked in, popped open a beer and the vacation was good to go.  Walked to town and wandered around to check things out.  Had a beer at an Irish pub, then dinner at the Elk & Oarsman.  Service was a bit slow (but they compensated with a discount so we compromised), we wished later on that we had discovered the upper deck…  Elk burgers were good though, so it wasn’t a complete loss.

Headed back to the hotel, approx 1 mile walk, and settled in for the night.  A ridiculously beautiful area that we’re looking forward to scouting out!

Thursday, August 19, 2010
Got up around 7:00’ish, and looked around the area (well, Jim did..) to discover a restaurant across the street.  We decided to give their breakfast a try (Buffalo Mountain Rest ).  Very expensive buffet, which was really just ok, and way too much money.  Okay for a one time thing, but we won’t do it again.

After breakfast we trudged up Tunnel Mountain Rd (about a mile) to get to the trail head to get to the top of Tunnel Mountain!  Very pretty hike with lovely views.  Wasn’t a difficult hike, it was a beautiful morning, cool and clear.  We got there before there were a lot of people, so that was nice.

We walked back to our hotel to pick up our car to drive to the Banff (Sulphur Mt) gondola.  We could have hiked up that baby, but instead coughed up $30/pp to go up on the gondola.  Chatted with a nice couple from Tasmania, Australia, who are now are new bff, and they invited us to visit them when we are in the Tasmania area.  If only they had given us their names..!

Beautiful views from the top and the crowds really weren’t bad.  We got there probably around 11:30 a.m. and it was quite lovely!  Walked along the boardwalk to the top, to visit the cosmic radiation and weather station that was built in the early 1900’s.

After leaving there, we decided to head to Lake Louise as the day was so pretty, and the weather forecast for the next few days does not sound like it will be as nice.  Got to Lake Louise Village, purchased a sammy with the requisite chips (we already had some beer….) and went off to the prettiest lake we have ever seen.  Seemed like there were a ton of people there, but not that bad really.  It’s so, so pretty and we decided to take one of the trails up to Lake Agnes (~6 ½ miles round trip).  Did seem like the beginning of it was a bit rough (I was certainly breathing pretty hard.. I’m going to blame that on the altitude).  Hard to describe how really beautiful the whole thing was.  Fortunately, we have 1000 pictures that will show just that!  We left Lake Louise and came back to Banff on Highway 1A, a more scenic drive that the big (under construction) TransCanadian Highway.  Spectacular views all the way around.  We had already decided yesterday, that we would hit the Lobster night at the local Irish pub (St. James Gate), so that is just where we headed when we got back.

The lobster was good, not fabulous, but for $20 (included scalloped potatoes, veggies and fresh oysters – which Jim had, I did not), it was a pretty good price.  Decided I was very fond of the Round rock Grasshopper beer, served with a lemon slice, mmmmm; and Jim was quite happy with an Irish Crème Ale (Kilkenny).  A dessert of toffee pudding, which was actually a cake, with a jamoca type ice cream was a ridiculously swell way to end the day.

Picked up some astronomically priced groceries at the local store so we could have a less expensive breakfast (the jury is out whether that will be so….) and came back to the hotel.  This nice little hotel does come equipped with a Jacuzzi tub, which was just the thing for the ageing bones after so many miles.
A great, beautiful, awesome and well, just darn spectacular day.

Friday, August 20, 2010
After having our store bought breakfast, we decided to spend the day driving the Icefields Parkway.  We left Banff a little later than we would have liked, but justified the later departure because it was foggy outside and we thought we would wait until it cleared a little.  Left here around 9 a.m.  Decided to take the 1A, a little longer but more scenic road.  We were so glad we did, as we weren’t on it 10 minutes before we saw a bear foraging along side of the rode.  Got quite a few good pictures of it, told Jim to hop on out of the car and see if he could get some close-ups, but he opted not to add to the bears breakfast.  We stopped at Lake Louise Village and got a sandwich and more chips!!  For a mere $12.00 we had our lunch to go.

Icefields Parkway is absolutely amazing.  It was a bit disappointing as there are fires in BC and the smoke has drifted this way, so we spent most of the day in the smokes haze.    The scenery and the size and scope of the mountains were just beyond description.  We made a few stops along the way.  Stopped at Peyto Lake, just a short hike from the car was beautiful.  I guess I’ll keep using the same adjectives, but awesome kind of fits.  We met a nice couple from Vancouver and swapped travel stories.  They are light years ahead of us travel wise, but we had a nice long chat with them overlooking this unbelievable view.

Next stop was the Icefield Centre and a look at the Columbia Icefield.  We had our lunch there, but opted not to walk up to the glacier.  We had done a glacier or two in Alaska, so decided to skip this one (not to mention, we are a bit sore from yesterday’s hiking, I am anyway…).  We left there and stopped at Sunwapta Falls, this was about a 20 minute hike, really lovely and we were pretty much the only ones there!  We hiked on back to the car and headed to the Athabasca Falls. Took another bunch of pictures, which will never show the amazing force of this waterfall.  It’s almost scary to watch how forceful it is.

Off to Jasper, because we weren’t sure we would have enough gas to head back to Banff.  We left Jasper about 5:30 pm and got back to Banff about 8:15 and headed for dinner at Masala, an Indian Restaurant.  I had curry chicken and Jim had a bison, lamb and beef dinner, along with some garlic naam.  Very yummy.
Back to the hotel by 9:45’ish and put these sore old bones back in the Jacuzzi!  Saw such amazingly beautiful sights today… life is indeed, good.

Saturday, August 21, 2010
Had a casual morning, breakfast in our room and a departure time of 9:30 a.m.  Went to Safeway to pick up some grub for lunch (see yesterdays lunch… same thing) and hit the highway for Field BC.  This is where we will meet for our hike tomorrow, but we wanted to see how long it would take us to get there, so we would give ourselves enough time.  It took about an hour and 15 minutes, and we got to the Takakkaw falls.  Another pretty amazing site.  It’s another really nice day, so a beautiful drive with the sun shining.  We wandered around the area for a little while and decided to head to Emerald Lake to take a little tour of that area.  So glad we went there!!  Thought Lake Louise was beautiful, but Emerald Lake has it beat.  The area is just so beautiful and there is a lodge there that I just think we should stay there the next time we come.  There was a wedding being set up there and I just can’t imagine a prettier place to get married!  Lovely!  We had lunch there and walked around the lake.  Made a few stops on our way back (Natural Bridge and the Spiral tunnel lookout, which we never really could figure out…).  

Am so glad we decided to come here, it never ceases to amaze me about the really stunning places that are so close by that we could have missed!  Really feel like we will come back to this area again.  Seems this is the perfect time of year.  Not too cold, not too many tourists and the weather has been gorgeous.  There is a lot of construction going on, but think because the tourist season is winding down, it hasn’t been that bad.
Got back to our hotel and decided to have dinner close by.  Across the street is a restaurant called Cilantro’s, and it was perfect.  Small place, probably 10 tables.  Service was great, food was very good and we will definitely go back there with the little time we have left here.

Tomorrow will be an early day, heading to Field to do the Burgess Shale hike.  It will be interesting to see what I have to say tomorrow evening…

Sunday, August 22, 2010
And so, the day arrives.  Up at 5:00 a.m., quick breakfast, make sure all is packed up and we hop into the car for hour and 15 minute drive to Field to meet up with the guide and 12 others for our hike.  At 7:15 everyone is gathered, we sign waivers and do the whole chit chat thing before we hit the trail ~ 8 a.m.  There is a guide (Christy, probably 48’ish), 4 couples (us, 2 couples with 2 sons each ranging from 16-21 years old; another couple with a 19 year old son).  A nice group of people, half of them showed up in shorts (it was not that nice out).  The guide told them the shorts were a bad idea, but the young guys decided they would be ok.  One of the moms had some very short shorts that she added some pants to shortly thereafter.

It was not a very nice day, the only day of the vacation that the weather wasn’t perfect.  It rained through probably half of the trip, which was a big drag, but not a deal breaker.  Fortunately, it was not as difficult as I feared, but I was more than happy when we were done.  The Burgess Shale deposit was pretty amazing (even from a novice point of view), there were fossils everywhere and not difficult to find.  The clouds rolled in while we were there, the temperature dropped and there was even a bit of a snow flurry.  We stayed there about an hour before we headed back.  The couples with the sons headed back ahead of us, and the rest of us (6) arrived back in the parking lot at 6 pm.  Pretty much 11 hours hiking there and back.  We did do a number of stops with some lectures along the way.  All in all, glad we did it, but I wouldn’t be tempted to do it again, and I’m pretty sure Jim feels the same way.

Headed back to Banff, had the usual back-up of congested, construction highway.  All I could think about was getting into the hot tub.  By then just about all of my 54 year old bones were unhappy with me.  Didn’t get back to the hotel until 8, where we decided to just get a pizza, drink wine and soak in the hot tub.  Nice.
If I thought the old bones were unhappy with me then, on Monday it was difficult to roll over and get out of bed.  We did a bit of moaning and groaning throughout the day!

Monday, August 23, 2011.
I have moved up to another box and turned 55.  Started my 55th year barely able to move from the bed to the bathroom.  After an aspirin or 3, and moving around, it got a little bit better!  We went to the Coyote Grill in Banff and had a exceptional breakfast.  I had stuffed French toast (stuffed with fresh berries and cream cheese,  num num.., and one stuffed with Canadian bacon and swiss cheese, mmm), Jim had a frittata that he said was equally as good.  

We left there and wandered around the streets of Banff, we followed the Bow River along for a while then stopped at the Fairmont Hotel to have a GOW overlooking the river (it was after noon….).  We headed back the way we came and popped into the car for our drive to Calgary.  Saw some mountain goats on our trip on the 1A on the way to Calgary.  Got to our hotel (5 Calgary Suites) around 5’ish, checked in and then took a walk around the area.  Got settled in, showered, dressed and walked to our dinner reservation at ‘Q’ at 7 pm (there were only 2 other tables with people dining).  Had some lovely martini’s, watched the world go by, and had a yummy dinner before heading back to the hotel.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Had breakfast at the hotel restaurant (decided that a breakfast buffet is just NOT the way to go… haven’t I already said this??).  Mediocre breakfast and just not worth it.  Decided to follow the Frommer’s directions for a day or two in Calgary and headed out to wander the streets.  It’s really a pretty city and we enjoyed wandering around on Stephens Avenue, Olympic Park the Glenbow Museum (interesting, glad we went) and Chinatown.  We lunched in Chinatown (which was also just ok), then went to the Calgary Tower to see the city sights from up above.  We decided it was a total waste of $28, live and learn…  We walked back down the Stephen Avenue Mall (worth it) and had a few $5 mojitos at one of the outdoor restaurants.  Because of a glitch in my travel plans, we only stayed at the 5 suites one night, and had reservations at the Nuvo suites (about 1 mile away) for tonight.  A bit of a pain, should have just stayed at the 5 suites, but in the end it worked out alright.  Wouldn’t do it again though, would just stay put.  Had dinner at a restaurant called Gnocci’s (again only about 2 other table occupied).  Jim had bleu cheese gnocchi and I had pasta and clam sauce (good, but not as good as Jim’s).  Had tiramisu for dessert, and it was just ok.  We stopped off at Safeway for some breakfast food before we head out of here tomorrow.

The weather has been wonderful (except our hiking day!!), beautiful scenery, lots of wonderfulness all the way around!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Our last day!  Awoke, after a somewhat restless night (dinner did not agree with me a few hours later), got our stuff together and checked out of the hotel around 10 a.m.  We walked along 17 Ave (which is supposed to be an eclectic part of the area, stores, restaurants, etc).  It was okay, perhaps too early in the day to be too interesting.  We walked to the stadium which holds the famous Calgary stampede.  We were the only ones there, so just wandered around there a bit before we headed back to the hotel.

Got to the airport 12’ish for our 2:35pm flight.  Long lines for customs, so we were kind of glad we got there so early.  After security and all that, we got to our gate and tried to locate the Priority Pass club, took us a while, but fortunately found it, as all the goodies were great!  Had some soup, sandwiches, fruit, cookies a beer and some wine!!  Love that priority pass.

Flight left on time and we got to Dallas in time to see an earlier flight boarding to Austin.  We hustled on down to that gate and they let us on, so we arrived in Austin an hour and a half earlier than we were scheduled, sweet!  Got to the lake house around 9:30 pm and reminisced about well a ridiculously swell trip:)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

London & Paris 2007 - Our first trip abroad

Okay, so this took me 6 months to get going on, but procrastinating is what I do best...

Kara wanted to do a study abroad in London during the summer of her sophomore year at Texas State.  I thought this sounded like a great idea, as we had never traveled to Europe before and this gave us (me!) a good excuse to go!  I'm not sure that Kara was thrilled with this scenario, but it is all about me (so I have been told many, many times...), so I made the plans and off the four of us went.

London/Paris Trip Report – May 27th  - June 6th, 2007

Sunday, May 27: Left Houston at noon and connected with a flight in Newark, NJ.  Left NJ at 7:30 p.m. and arrived at London Gatwick on:

Monday, May 28: Arrived early 7:00 a.m. London time (2:00 a.m. Texas time).  Took the Gatwick Express to Victoria Station.  Stayed at the Southwark Holiday Inn, which was very near the Waterloo Express where we would be leaving the next day for Paris.  Figured it wasn’t that far, so we trekked with all of our bags to the hotel.  It was cold, cold and rainy.  Not a great first impression.  We did manage to get to our hotel, probably a 15-20 minute walk.  It was too early to check in, but we did manage to take advantage of the breakfast (coffee) that was being served.

 We left our baggage at the hotel and went off to tour around.  We walked along the south bank of the Thames and visited the Globe Theater and then to the London Eye.  We rode the Eye, and then ventured back the opposite direction.  Stopped and had pizza, salad and appetizers at the Gourmet Pizza and then browsed the Tate Museum.            

Headed back to the Holiday Inn to check in our luggage.  It was about 2:00 p.m. London time (8:00 p.m. TX time), so everyone was pretty jet lagged.  Kara wanted to take just a little nap, but it was decided that we just HAD to go look around more, as it was just too early to sleep.  Left the hotel, and it was colder and raining more, as we were just about to give it up until, Yes!, we spotted a nice little pub and decided to just spend our jet-lagged last hours there.  It was the Fuller’s Ale & Die House at the Mad Hatter hotel.  We watched “football” and tried these beers!!:
      London Pride - good
      Discovery – liked the best
      Honey Dew - good
      1845 – pretty good
       ESB (extra special bitter) – pretty bitter!
Could not make it too much longer, and off to the hotel.  Everyone in bed and, more or less, asleep at 6:30 p.m. (12:30 a.m. our time!!)

Tuesday, May 29:
Up and at em' at 5:15 a.m. to get to Waterloo Station to take  the Eurostar to Paris.  Had breakfast at the HI, and then took a cab to Waterloo.

We arrived in Paris at 11:00 a.m. and took the Metro to metro stop and walked a few blocks to our hotel (Hotel Royal du Cardinal).  Checked in and decided to check out the area.  Walked way more than we needed, trying to figure out where we were and where to go…so we headed to Notre Dam.  Bought some not very good sandwiches from a vendor and ate at a park in Notre Dam.  Toured the inside of Notre Dam, then walked to the Louvre, didn’t go in, just walked around the area, it was so very impressive.

Avenue des Champs-Élysées (a necessary wine stop)
Had reservations to meet an evening bike tour (Fat Tire Bike Tours) at the Eiffel Tour, so we walked through the Jardin des Tulleries and then along the Champs des Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe.  Stopped a few places along the way, when we arrived at the Arc, we bought tickets and walked the 282 steps to the stop.  A lovely view and definitely one of the high points (literally!) of Paris.  Left there and continued our walk to the Eiffel Tower.

Made it to the Eiffel Tower, tired and hungry!  Managed to (once again, wonder aimlessly) until we found a restaurant a few blocks away from the Tower.  Had a good dinner and headed back to meet up with the bike tour.

Met with Bronwyn of Fat Bike Tours, walked a few blocks, got our bikes and headed off for the tour.  We really enjoyed this tour.  We bicycled to Notre Dam, through the Louvre, the Ile de la Cite, had Berthillon ice cream, learned about St. Chapelle, the Latin Quarter, Champs-Elysees, Princess Di’s Flame, the Arc and then took a boat cruise along the Seine.  Very informative tour (not to mention that the company is owned by Aggies, so, it had to be fabulous….).  Loved this tour and would definitely do it again.  Kind of wish we had done the day trip too… maybe next time.  Got back to our hotel late, midnight or so.

Wednesday, May 30:
Had a pretty mediocre breakfast at our hotel (bread and croissant w/coffee) then walked to St. Chappelle (long wait – about 45 minutes).  Lovely church with beautiful stained glass, but a small’ish museum that didn’t take us too long to get through).  Went next door to the Concierge museum where they used to keep prisoners.  Very interesting and worth the visit.

 Did our usual wanderings and our usual being indecisive about where to eat.  Found a cute’ish little alley way in St. Germaine, and wandered down it.  Kara picked a restaurant and in we went.  It was greek (Café des Arts) and we had no idea what we were ordering, but it was all good.

  Then walked to the Cluny Museum.  We were a little disappointed that everything was in French (weird, we were in France!!), but were able to semi-figure out what it was all about.  Lots of tapestries and statues.

 Left there and went to the Luxemborg Gardens, then headed back to our hotel with a stop at an internet café.  Stopped at our hotel for a bit, then headed to the Louvre around 6:30 p.m.  We only managed to see one section (Egyptian), but did see the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo and were able to marvel at the beautiful ceilings and saw some amazing paintings.  We left there at 9:30 p.m. seeing only just a tiny fraction of the museum.  Decided to try and find a restaurant that was recommended on the Fodor’s web site that was described as “fun”.   
"Candy, why did you blink!?!?"
 When we got there, there weren’t many people (it was late…), sat down and thought, oh my, we’ll have to leave as it was very expensive (40 euros per person).  Decided it was too late to leave and try to find something else, so we stayed.  The restaurant was in the Il de Cite (Sargent Recruiter).  HUGE amounts of food, wine, appetizer, salad and dessert were all included).  First they brought the wine, then a huge bowl of soup, accompanied by an enormous basket of sausage and bread.  Then came another huge basket full of lettuce, cucumbers, peppers and all kinds of veggies to make your own salad. 

 The entrées were very good, which was accompanied by an assortment of cheeses and more bread.  Because we hadn’t had enough to eat, this was followed by some lovely desserts.  Perhaps a bottle or 6 of wine was also consumed.  We did indeed have a lot of “fun” and managed to leave there at midnight (with looks of relief that we were finally leaving from the staff…) very full, a bit tipsy, and walked back to our hotel.

Thursday, May 31:
Woke up about 8:30’ish and left the hotel for the train station.  Bought tickets for the 10:30 train to Versailles.
Toured Versailles, the houses, gardens and Marie Antoinette’s hamlet.  Lovely, lovely trip and we really enjoyed it all.  We were disappointed that the fountains were not running and that there was a bit of construction, but loved it and would definitely do it again.  Had some Panini’s in the park and walked and walked and walked.

 Left Versailles about 5 p.m. and returned to the Latin Quarter.  Stopped and had a beer at a neighborhood bar outside and waited till the rain let up before we headed out of there.  We managed to walk a few blocks before it started really raining, so ran into the nearest restaurant (Café Paris) across from Notre Dam and had a great dinner.  We shared a cheese plate, salad plate and toasted sandwich.  Headed back to the hotel for our first early night!

Friday, June 1st:
Up early’ish (8:30 a.m.) and off to Notre Dam for an early climb.  Got there at 8:15 only to find that it opens at 10 a.m..  Off to a boulangerie and found some mmm mmm mighty fine pastries.  Lovely.  Went back to the cathedral and stood on line for 45 minutes before we got to climb up.  The view from the top with the gargoyles we decided was worth the wait.

Left there and took the metro to the catacombs.  Did that tour, but it was not liked by everyone.  I was glad we went, Briana could have missed it, the rest of us were glad we went, so we could say we did it!  Keeping to our usual plan, we debated about where to eat forever, and then got some swell lunch goodies from a nearby patisserie (mmm), ate it at the park near the catacombs and then headed back to the hotel to pick up our luggage and head back to London's Waterloo Station.

Before we left, we absolutely had to hit up the creperie across the street from our hotel for just one more nutella/banana crepe.  The best thing, ever….

Arrived back to London and decided to take a cab to the flat that we had rented for the rest of the week.  Best decision ever….  Flat is just ok, in a not bad area.  Could walk to store for groceries and not too, too far from tube stops.  Bought pizza and salad for dinner and had an early night in.

 Saturday, June 2:
Up and out around 9’ish.  Off to the internet café for coffee and internet.  Headed to the mobile phone place to get Kara set up for cell service.

Bought some lunch at local grocery store and head to Holland Park to wander around and have lunch. We  walked around Kensington and Kensington Park for a while, and found out for sure that Cingular sucks.

Back to flat to get Kara off to AIU.  Took the metro to Bond St, walked to Kara’s check in spot, got keys and then walked again to find Kara’s flat (mentioning this because we had heavy bulky luggage that we were schlepping, not knowing where we were going and somewhat cranky that it was a bit of a distance!).  Checked her in and left her there with the most insecure feelings I’ve ever had…

We wandered around Oxford Street and had wine and brushetta at a little restaurant near Oxford.  Headed back to the flat, bought some groceries and made a pasta dish for dinner.  Watched TV and went to bed by 10:30.  Briana and I wandered around looking for a phone so that we could make sure that all was well with Kara.  A very nice young gentlemen lent us his phone to call her and all was well with her, and we were very impressed with the kindness of Londoners!

Sunday, June 3
Left the flat around 10’ish and headed to the internet café.  Had coffee and browsed around the area.  We   took the metro to Victoria Station and purchased Big Red Bus Tickets and did the Tour.  Fabulous idea, as this was the first tourist thing we did that did not have miles and miles of walking..

Got off at Trafalgar Square, had lunch (great sandwiches & chips) and ate it in the park.

Back on the BRB to the London Tower, toured there until about 4:30’ish.  Did the gaslight walking tour from from 6-8 pm, which stopped at 3 pubs (this made it semi-worthwhile) and had dinner at the 3rd stop which was Penderals Oak), had a couple of burgers, fries and beer, so all was well.

Back on the metro and headed back to our flat @10:30 p.m.

Monday, June 4:
We decided that we would head off to Portobello Road and wander through the markets and check out that area.  Strangely, as we were walking aimlessly, we looked across the street and there was Kara on her way to work!  It was funny to see her like that, we had no idea where she would be working, so it was a nice surprise for all of us. 

We spent a bit of time with her, she showed us where she was working and then we went our separate way.

We also went to Buckingham Palace for the changing of the guard, along with a few hundred other people!

Last dinner with Kara before we left London

We did meet with her again at the British Museum and had dinner again before we were going to leave London and head back to the U.S.

Tuesday, June 5:
Checked out of our flat and went wandering through Hyde Park, saw the Diana Memorial Fountain, and also walked through Kensington Gardens.

In the late afternoon, we headed to Vic Station, to Gatwick Express and checked into the Hilton Gatwick.

Wed, June 6:
Had a ridiculously overpriced breakfast at the hotel, after a nice restful evening and scooted to the airport for a noon flight.

It is hard to believe that we took this trip almost 4 years ago (and that it has taken me this long to get around to it!!!).  It's been so fun to go through all of this now though and has brought back such great memories.  I wish we could do it all over again!!
Perhaps I will get to our 2008 trip of London in Paris before another year goes by...