Sunday, May 31, 2009

Day 8: Planes, trains, and no automobiles

Why is it that every single bag and stuff receptacle is so much heavier on the trip back home? Yes, we bought stuff, but not an obscene amount of stuff, and surely the European dirt on my clothes doesn't weigh that much. Sigh. At any rate, time to haul those bags down three flights of stairs one last time and wave goodbye to Munich.

We rode the S-Bahn out to Freising to have breakfast with Steven and Megan, then hopped on a bus to continue our journey to the...flughafen! Flughafen = airport. That, along with spargel, are my two new favorite German words. Not that I had any favorite German words before this trip...but I'm going to remember those two. Airports and asparagus, baby.

A few interesting observations/comments on the München flughafen:
  1. Sleep cubes - you could buy yourself time in a sleep box. Shut the door, pull down the shade, and snooze during your layover or unexpected overnight airport stay. Fascinating.

  2. Smoking lounges - gross.

  3. Porn shop - ok, maybe not that explicit, but next to cutesy souvenirs was a shop that did not admit minors and only had who knows what hiding in there. Gross again.

Many, many hours, movies, TV shows, airplane meals (we had a surprisingly delicious turkey sandwich!), magazines, and books later, we made it across the ocean back to Philadelphia. After making our way through a slow-ish customs process, we book-ended the trip with another stop at the Lego Liberty Bell. After hugs and waving goodbye to the Vaughns, I climbed aboard one last plane to head home to DC. Thank goodness this is such a short flight, because I was getting very, very close to full on my flight-time threshold for the day. One quick Metro ride home from the airport...and vacation is over. So sad. I did have a fabulous time with my friends, though, and I'm so glad we made this trip happen. Auf Wiedersehen!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Day 7: Munich & Dachau

We woke up to dreary, cloudy, rainy München skies...but it didn't dampen our spirits. Let's go, kids, we gots all kinds of stuff to do today! We rounded up our umbrellas and headed off in the drizzle and rain for the Residenz, the former royal palace of the Bavarian monarchs. We actually got there a little bit early, so instead of standing in the damp ickiness, we sought refuge in a Starbucks (it was right there! We tried to go local, but it wasn't open! So...Starbucks it is) and took a few minutes to enjoy our cups of coffee/tea. I thought it was impressive that we got actual mugs for our beverages since we were in staying in rather than "to go" - this is something I haven't encountered at any American Starbucks. Way to go green, Germany! Anyway, Trinity jotted some notes in his travel journal, we sipped away, and we headed off to the Residenz once it was open and our beverages were gone. Honestly, the extra caffeine probably did me some good. I need my coffee.

The Residenz is...enormous. And while it was a daunting task, we opted for the long tour that gave us access to quite a few more rooms throughout the palace. We did have the handy audio tour (same nifty device as the Hohenschwangau castle guide - nice work, whoever manufactured that gizmo) to guide us along, which offered some insights in the plethora of rooms, halls, and grotto courtyards we visited. The level of detail in the Residenz is just amazing - the intricate artwork made out of shells in the grotto, the sheer amount of porcelain and silver the Wittelsbachs accumulated, even the frames around the artwork - this place is enormous and also detailed at every level. A large amount of the Residenz was heavily bombed in World War II, and I can't tell you how many times we came across the sign saying "xxx was originally xxx. It was destroyed in the Second World War, but later rebuilt in the style...". On quite a few of the ceilings there were large frames enclosing blank areas where some amazing work of art used to be...except that it was destroyed in World War II, and we can't really recreate it, so it's just been left blank. It really made an impression on me about how much was lost in World War II - not only beautiful art and amazing buildings, but also life and history and stories. Still, the Residenz has an amazing collection of rooms with impressive pieces - I really enjoyed spending our morning here.

After our tour of the Residenz, we had a little extra time before meeting Steven and Megan for our train to Dachau, so we walked through the Court Gardens (Hofgarten), which are, of course, just beautiful. Sculpted hedges, peaceful fountains, beautiful fountains, wonder we came across a bride and groom having pictures taken here. After a little wandering, we then headed towards the Marienplatz to meet Steven and Megan and catch our S-Bahn to Dachau, which is just northwest of Munich. Only after grabbing a tasty pastry (Trinity) and a bottle of water (me...although, yes, I did have two bites of said pastry...I can't resist buttery, flakey goodness) were we ready to head out. After grabbing a quick sandwich in a Dachau, we climbed onto a bus and made our way out to the site of the camp.

I went into this experience with some amount of background knowledge, if for no other reason than I'd gone on a World War II reading/movie kick in the past few months. If you've been keeping an eye on the "I currently have a bookmark in" and "The last movie I watched was," then you know I've been pretty fascinated by Band of Brothers in both print and film form as well as The Greatest Generation. The whole concept of war is somewhat mystifying to me, and I know we picked up some of this information along the way in assorted junior high and high school history classes, but it makes a somewhat more significant impact when you're there. A rather more significant impact, really. The first thing that struck me was how close to the town the camp at Dachau was. You didn't have to go too far from the camp perimeter to find homes that would have been there in the 1930s and 1940s.

We opted for the guided English tour at the camp, and I'm so glad we did. Alun, our tour guide, spent about two and a half hours taking us through the history and different functions of the camp, and he had obviously spent a significant amount of time learning everything he could about the camp and the surrounding area - I appreciated his insights. Dachau was the site of the first work, and later "concentration," camp, and it was founded in 1933. The majority of the early prisoners in the camp were political prisoners, and I think it's important to remember that those first imprisoned and sentenced to work camps were not necessarily Jews, but so many others...political prisoners, gypsies, homosexuals, and anyone who appeared to offer any threat to Hitler.

Dachau served as a prototype and model for other concentration camps that followed. This was where they trained officials to run the other camps - in fact, in the maps and displays we saw of the camp at Dachau, the majority of the camp grounds were dedicated to training facilities, not necessarily imprisonment areas. In a small ironic twist, many of the training facilities are now used to train the German riot police.

Spending time at the camp at Dachau was emotionally moving for me. Being on the same ground where so much had happened before me really made an impression on me. We walked our way up the entrance of the camp, with the iron gates marked "arbeit macht frei" - "work makes you free." What a contradiction. Every prisoner who walked in saw those words as they made their way into the camp...and barracks and medical testing facilities and numerous other daily monstrosities. For most of the tour I was completely absorbed...and had absolutely no desire to pull my camera out of my bad - who wants pictures of overcrowded barracks and gas chambers? We did walk through reconstructed barracks and over the ground where they had roll call every day and through the gas chamber. The gas chamber had a much shorter ceiling than any room anywhere else in the facility...I'm guessing this was to contribute to the extreme efficiency of the Germans, giving them a smaller area for the gas to disperse.

We also made our way through the administration building and a separate building with single-confinement cells for high-profile prisoners, primarily clergy and prominent political prisoners. One of the more prominent and uplifting features of the camp at Dachau are the monuments and memorials. The camp, while it does hold reconstructed barracks and original buildings, features a large numbers of memorials which have been supported and constructed by a number of churches and individuals. Additionally, so many parts of the camp serve as a memorial without any true "memorial" in place. We crossed a small bridge over to the crematorium portion of the camp, passing several feet of grass, a small moat, and then a large fence strung with wire. If prisoners stepped on that small strip of grass, they were immediately shot. If they wanted to dash across the grass and possibly miss bullets, they were immediately met by an electrified fence with a deadly voltage.

We were at the camp just after the 54th anniversary of its liberation. American troops from the 20th and 42nd armored divisions arrived on the eastern and western sides of the camp on the same day. One of the main memorials at the camp, a somewhat graphic sculpture of bodies entangled in wire, was lined with memorial wreaths put in place during the liberation celebration a couple of weeks earlier. The incredibly detailed museum we toured also included a memorial room, which included several memorials dedicated to all of those who perished at the camp (approximately some 40,000 - 45,000 in all) as well as specific family members. The camp wasn't actually closed until the 1960s because of the displaced prisoners who continued to stay because they had nowhere else to go and imprisoned camp officials who were on trial. Only then did the process start to turn it into a memorial ground. I really appreciated our time at the camp. It was certainly a moving experience.

After completing our tour, we couldn't quite manage to cram ourselves onto the overcrowded bus headed back to the train station in Dachau, so we decided to just walk the two-ish miles or so. Ummm....we made a small circle, losing the faith of some fellow American travelers who didn't want to wait for the bus and then decided to go ahead and wait for the bus after following us in a circle...but I would like to say that we made it to the train station BEFORE our fellow travelers who waited it out for a bus. Way to walk it out through Dachau, my groupies! We caught our S-Bahn back to Munich and split up for a little while - Steven and Megan headed out to meet a friend who was flying in that evening, Trinity made his way to a bookstore, and Diana and I struck out for one last memorial and another walk around the gardens at the Residenz. We also stopped in at St. Kajetan-Theatinerkirche for one last glimpse inside a beautiful old church. The last memorial we visited had a tribute to the "fallen heroes" of World War I...and the "fallen" of World War II. Good recognition of the faulty logic that precipitated World War II there.

We had agreed to meet Trinity at a cupola/temple structure in the middle of the just happened to be outfitted with with amazing acoustics and a rather moving cello player around 7:00 when we met up. Beautiful music. I could have sat there as long as he played and just listened. However...we were hungry. And in need of some good times for our last night in Munich. After consulting Rick, we made our way toward Jodlerwirt, a pretty local place. We made our way into the empty bar area, realized our small mistake, and headed upstairs to the packed and rollicking tiny restaurant area. There weren't any tables available, so we proceeded to sit at the bar and appear as German as possible. This was my favorite question of the entire trip - "do you want to drink the beer?" We responded with a resounding "yes!" and proceeded to drink plenty, oh plenty, of Ayinger beer for our last German hurrah. We had a fantastic evening. Amazing food served on cast-iron skillets...I had this great cheesy noodle thing with leeks and ham and who knows what else thrown in there. It was so good. And for dessert? These amazing apple fritters with ice cream...I was in dessert heaven. Ok, enough about the food. There was a bachelorette party taking up about 1/3 of the restaurant (this place was tiny and awesome!), and we sent over a round of shots at some point in the night...prost, ladies! An accordion player leading the crowd in rousing rounds of song also complemented his performance with what we could only assume were humorous moments. With our extremely limited grasp of the German language, we could only hope he wasn't making fun of the Americans sitting at the bar.

What a fantastic way to end our time in Munich - great food, great beer, great friends...and some new German friends along the way. There were quite a few "ich liebe dich" proclamations thrown around, and we also learned how to say "excuse me" with some proficiency. I'm going to miss Germany.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Day 6: Train time, Munich, Freising

After putting the last few Vaughn crowns towards a shuttle to the train station, we zoomed over to the main train station (passing PwC Prague along the way - I just can't escape work) with plenty of time to spare before our departure. Trinity and I made a provision run that consisted of a Coca-Cola Light for me and a few more candy bars for him (although they were really for Steven - nice job as a candy bar mule, Mr. Vaughn), and we hopped on the train and muscled our way to our (thankfully) reserved seats. We shared our little compartment of six seats with a middle-aged Czech couple for the beginning of the ride, and I was amused when the guy popped open beer can #1 at about 9:15 in the morning and proceeded to down it with sandwich #1. He ate more in the few hours he was on the train than all of us combined. Ok, maybe not quite that much, but part of his snack brigade consisted of this awesome looking cake that I stole a glance at more than a few times. We really should have traded candy bar for cake - I can get all the Snickers and Mars bars I want back home.

After NOT transferring trains in some scary Czech train station, spending some quality time with our books, and clapping for Trinity's Pinocchio performance with his new marionette, Megan got off at Freising and the rest of us rolled into Munich around 3:00 or so. After checking in at our hotel and hauling our somewhat-heavier bags up those same flights of stairs one last time, we stopped at Damenstiftskirche to check out a life-sized wood carving of the Last Supper, which is a pretty impressive work of art. From there we walked over to the Viktualienmarkt, Munich's local outdoor farmers market of sorts behind the Marienplatz, to check out the wares and grab a snack/light meal/more food than we really intended to eat. Oh, and they also have a maypole, which is just fun! And highly traditional, of course. I was in absolute food heaven here checking out all of the offerings. We encountered a plethora of fruits, veggies, cheese, meat, bread, honey, cutesy crafty stuff....and pretty much every variety of potato you could ever imagine. And massive, massive displays of asparagus, which was WAY in season while we were there. It's one of the few German words I picked up along the way - spargel! It's totally fun to say. Oh, and sausage and beer in the biergarten! After wandering and letting me indulge in culinary photography moments, we grabbed some bratwurst and beer for a break in the biergarten.

After our market adventures we hopped back on the S-Bahn to head up to Freising to meet Steven and Megan for dinner and a mini-tour of Freising. Interesting point on Freising - it's covered in bears! No need to fear for your's just a ton of bear statues. Something about a saint or a bishop taming bears...something something. We're also in the land of Haribo, famous makers of gummy bears, so I was particularly amused by the gummy bear bear. We had dinner at a local Italian restaurant and then stopped off for a few (large!) beers - good times for all! We spent a little time at their adorable apartment waiting for the next train to come through, then took our tired selves back to the hotel for a good night's sleep.

The semi-intact roof of the Prague train station makes for some nice artsy shots:

Monday, May 25, 2009

Day 5: Více Praha!

More Prague! This morning we made our way over to the Jewish Quarter (Josefov) to walk through synagogues and museums chronicling the history of the Jewish community in the area. As the Nazis came through, Prague's Jews were allowed to archive and collect their treasures here, and while the archivists were ultimately killed in concentration camps, their work survives. None of the sites allow photography, so we're low on visual evidence but have plenty of powerful memories. We started at Pinkas Synagogue, now a memorial to the victims of the Nazis. The walls are covered with the handwritten names of 77,297 Czech Jews who were sent to concentration camps. When the communists came to power, they closed the synagogue and erased virtually all of the names, but in 1989 the synagogue was reopened and the names were rewritten. Pinkas also had an exhibit displaying art drawn by Jewish children who were imprisoned at the nearby concentration camp at Terezín. As you exit Pinkas, you walk through the Old Jewish Cemetary, a jumbled collection of over 12,000 tombstones and graves from 1429-1787.

We also explored the Ceremonial Hall, Klaus Synagogue, Old-New Synagogue, Maisel Synagogue, and the Spanish Synagogue. The Old-New Synagogue was built in 1270 and is the oldest synagogue in Eastern Europe. Interestingly, as 13th-century Jews were not allowed to build, the synagogue was built by Christians - the Christians typically used four-ribbed vaulting to create a stable roof, but since that resulted in a cross, it wouldn't work for the synagogue. Instead, they made the ceiling using clumsy five-ribbed vaulting. The Maisel Synagogue was built as a private place of worship for the Maisel family during the 16th century - Maisel, the financier of the Habsburg king, obviously had quite a bit of money. In World War II, it served as a warehouse for the accumulated treasures of decimated Jewish communities that Hitlet planned to use for his "Museum of the Extinct Jewish Race." The Spanish Synagogue was built and decorated in an ornate Moorish style, and it was so interesting to explore the architectural details while going through the exhibits on Jewish history and life in Terezín.

Our time in the Jewish Quarter was very informative and also quite sobering. I think it also gave us some good background and frame of mind for our upcoming visit to the concentration camp at Dachau.

In the middle of our Josefov stops, we grabbed lunch at Franz Kafka Cafe - and I had a glass of wine instead of another beer. My poor body probably just needed water, but that's what the bottle in my bag is for, right? The rest of the gang enjoyed a more lunch-like, lighter menu of sandwiches, and I opted for a potato dumpling with smoked sausage, onions, and a side of spinach. Delicious!

On our way back to home base we stopped at this amazing little bakery we passed this morning - here we go again with the ridiculously cheap side of things, and after inspecting all of our potentially delicious options, Megan exercised some self-restraint while the rest of us filled bags with goodies. Trinity and I also enjoyed a rather delicious cappuccino from the Nescafe machine. We took our pastries back to Old Town Square, found some benches, and enjoyed flaky, buttery, chocolatey, utterly delicious delights before continuing...Mole Quest 2009. Thank goodness for Sparky's, a multi-level, super-awesome Czech toy store that had every possible incarnation of the Mole. Stuffed in every size, books, everything you could ever need.

After a successful Mole adventure, we made sure we made it back to the hotel in time for our brewery tour and tasting. However...since this is such a small operation, you pretty much get the brewery tour by sitting in the tasting room. We were a little disappointed in our non-tour, but we opted to just sit and have a drink - Diana and I each had another tasty serving of Oldgott while Trinity tried X-33, their special 12.6% alcohol content scary beer. We all tried a sip, and my comment of "it tastes like beer wine!" was really pretty much in line with the comments of beer fanatics across the interwebs. I mean, at that alcohol percentage, you're not going to get beer fuzzies - it really was more like wine. Weird...but cool. And really quite tasty.

In anticipation of our train ride back to Munich the next day, we stopped in at Tesco, a local grocery store (and yes, I wondered aloud "is that the grocery store??" on the street and some kind young man popped out his earbuds and politely informed me that yes, it was - I wonder how many Americans are fluent, or at least fluent-ish, in a second language?), to pick up some snacks for our six hour ride. Remember the scary snack cart sandwiches? Yeah, we're not going there. My goal was primarily to track down cheese of the Laughing Cow, no need to be refrigerated variety, along with some crackers to give us a little train picnic of sorts. Oh, and a ginormous bottle of water (without bubbles! no bubbles in my water!). Success on all fronts! Although...we were sidetracked by the candy bar aisle and the entire store in general. I seriously could have spent three hours in the grocery store going up and down every aisle (Trinity probably felt like we went up and down every aisle - "come on, you crazy girls! You're running around like chickens with your heads cut off!"), just checking out all the different options. Quail eggs, right there with good ol' chicken eggs! And just LOOK at all the cool candy bars! In fact, as I'm writing this, I'm in the process of consuming an Orion Aero bar. It's delicious!! And I don't think I can pick this up at World next one might have to wait for my return trip to the Czech Republic. Oh, and you know what was waiting for us right outside the grocery store? This amazingly tasty pretzel-like sweet and salty rolled deliciousness that I simply can NOT figure out the name of. Mmmm, street food.

As we embarked on our last evening in Prague, the Vaughns counted out their Czech crowns and felt pretty flush. So, as we're exploring the city and finding an upside-down horse statute, we're also trying to figure out the best way to throw away some crowns and end up with a cool experience/tangible good. Aren't vacations awesome? My brilliant "let's get a caricature from the Charles Bridge artists!" plan unfortunately didn't occur to me until later in the evening, but we made do with quite a bit of souvenir purchasing and a really fantastic dinner that fulfilled Diana's "please, let's eat something not Czech/German!" request. We dined at Le Patio, a French-ish restaurant that offered another good break from our hearty peasant food. Oh, and belly dancing, which we found pretty amusing. Allow me a food moment here...I had a delicious glass of cabernet and an amazing (and amazingly large) steak with a side of "cheese pie," which basically consisted of a really cheesy quiche-like filling in this crazy savory graham-crackerish crust. I was in food heaven. We had a table full of beer and wine and gnocchi and pasta and french fries and steak and many, many delicious things. And you know how much I spent on everything? About $20. I felt pretty wealthy in the Czech Republic.

After our amazing dinner and a little more city wandering, we made our way back to the restaurant at our hotel with some excitement built up over a certain ice-cream-beer-float thing we'd seen advertised on the little table tents. Diana and I were expecting something along the lines of a root beer float with beer substituted for the root beer. Some darker beers can get a little chocolatey, so we thought this would make for an awesome combination and a perfect dessert to end our time in Prague. was beer ice cream. No vanilla ice cream with a good splash of beer, but straight up beer ice cream. You know I don't often give up on a dessert, or any food for that matter, ice cream is just not my thing. Trinity adored it, though, and managed to polish off the one he'd ordered along with the vast majority of the one Diana and I ordered to share along with ANOTHER plate of the delightful roast boar-potato dumpling-creamed spinach variety. I don't know how he ate all of that.

With a few crowns still burning a hole in their pocket, the Vaughns picked up a round of beer to take back up to the room so we could pack away all of the Prague purchases with good spirits in preparation for our journey back to Munich the next day. Trinity and I stuck with the Oldgott (the more I type that name the more odd it looks), and Diana opted for an original Budweiser (Anheuser-Busch can only use the name "Budweiser" in the U.S. - I sense there may be some more legal battles here, if for nothing else than the litigious nature of Americans) while we strategically crammed bags and prepared for our departure to Deutschland the next morning.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Day 4: Prague

Prague (or at least the touristy side of Prague) is an extremely walkable city - there's a pretty efficient public transportation system with metro lines and trams, but we just made our way everywhere on foot, which really allowed us to see more of the city and explore along the way. After filling up on Nutella and bread and yogurt and sausage (of course the sausage!) and plenty of coffee, we walked back across Charles Bridge for a visit to Prague Castle, the largest castle complex in the world - this thing has been around in some shape or form since 870. Holy smack, the ninth century...we're getting old here. Of course, getting up to the castle requires a little bit of work. After we tackled a rather daunting series of steps, we found ourselves up at castle level with a fantastic view of the city. We made our way into the castle grounds, threw down some crowns for admittance into the cool parts, and headed off to explore. Unfortunately, we missed the changing of the guard, but I did have a guard moment. Silly pictures just make it that much more fun, right? Thanks to all of my fellow travelers for indulging me in my ridiculous photo moments. One of the most impressive sites was St. Vitus Cathedral. We had a bit of a wait to actually get inside, but it was well worth it. The exterior of the church reminded me a little bit of Notre Dame with its Gothic take and gargoyles. Beautiful stained glass windows by Alphonse Mucha, the crown jewels and...well, and the dead body of Good King Wenceslas, a wooden carving of the city of Prague, crypts of all kinds of important people, ornate artwork all over the was just beautiful. They just don't make 'em like that anymore.

We then headed over to Vladislav Hall, which served (among other things) as a marketplace for the nobility so they didn't have to mingle with the common folk. It even included a staircase that could accommodate horses zooming in for jousting matches when there was inclement weather. Indoor jousting - yipes. Another highlight - the rooms where angry citizen mobs stormed in and threw town leaders out the windows. They landed in piles o' horse poo. Fitting, I'm guessing, for whatever they did to prompt the throw-out-the-window business. Other stops on the castle tour included St. George's Basilica (so ridiculously old) and Golden Lane, which used to be the home of goldsmiths back in the day and is now the home of cutesy stores drawing in the tourist crowd.

After getting our fill of the castle, we made our way to Strahov Monastery to take in some more gorgeous city views and admire another ridiculously old place of worship. We attempted to find a microbrewery in the area for lunch, but Rick needed to hand us a few more details on that one...i.e. it's actually within the monastery grounds. We ended up getting our fill of schnitzel and fried potato products, along with a soup full o' cheese for Trinity, so all was well. The monastery did have its own little vineyard with some great views of the city, so we stopped for some photo ops and explored the grounds before heading back across the bridge (with a stop for gelato!) to Old Town Square. We watched the hour change at the astronomical clock at Old Town Hall - this is one of the oldest and most elaborate clocks around, and it was pretty cool to check out the astronomical dial, the calendar dial, and all the animated figures working through their routine to hit the hour. Then we hit up a few bookstores - I love traveling with fellow word nerds. I picked up The Trial at Kafka Bookshop in Old Town Square...I've gotten in the habit of picking up a book by a local author where I travel, so I have the Czech Kafka and the French Dumas and a random book about wine from a guy in Napa that turned out to be a pretty good read. We then wandered out way back to the hotel and the microbrewery where we picked up our complementary 0.33 liter servings of Oldgott, their locally brewed specialty. We learned about a "brewery tour" and tasting (more details on that in the day 5 update), which got Trinity all excited. There definitely was some brewing going on, and the hoppy aroma filling the air lent some ambience to our beer sampling.

After the refreshing beer stop at our microbrewery, we had a great dinner at a local place Megan had been to before - this place was ridiculously cheap and really tasty, even if the room temperature was a touch on the warm side. And we had chicken!! Remember, we're in the land of pork and sausage here. My chicken with pears and blue cheese over a bed of french fries was just yummy! Earlier in the day we'd picked up tickets for a show at the Black Light Theater, and we had a little time to kill, so we embarked on...Dessert Quest 2009. We thought we found a great spot, sat, inspected the menu...left. Thought we found another great spot, sat, inspected the menu a little further...and left. Finally we ended up pretty much directly across the street from where we started. Sigh. We needed some sugar in our systems, though, for the artistic theater adventure we were about to...endure. "Aspects of Alice," theoretically this Alice in Wonderland coming-of-age story-like thing was...interesting. The basic premise of Black Light Theater - no spoken words, so the message should be relevant for all audiences. We did hear chatterings of Czech and Spanish and English throughout the audience before the show started, and I thought it was pretty cool that even if we didn't have a common language, we could all understand the show to come.

I don't think anyone understood the show. It was...odd. And at one point us girls got the giggles...we managed to mostly keep things under control, though. It was definitely an experience, but I don't know if I'll ever find my way back there.

I'm just glad I didn't have any nightmares that night about flying through space, encountering scary clowns, or evading a creepy magician/priest/Mad Hatter-type guy. Phew. I mean, day 5 beckons!

Day 3: Prague...and train adventures

Day 3...time to stuff those suitcases, haul them down three flights of stairs, and roll off to Munich's main train station, Hauptbanhof, to meet Megan and catch our train to Prague. There was a McDonald's along the way, so after a stop for Trinity to pick up a McToast (which curiously was not made of toast at all...more of a flatbread with bacon and cheese. Trinity's assessment? "Not bad, but it could have used some eggs"), we grabbed some bottles of water for the ride and made it onto our clean, shiny, awesome German train with a few minutes to spare. Please notice my glowing assessment of the train. I think we took it for granted at first. Well, not anymore, my friends, because we are to embark on the Great Train/Bus/Ghetto Train Station Adventure. Most of the announcements on the train were just in German, and with our extremely limited knowledge of the language, we just happily rolled along for a few hours. We did have a quick visit from the German police to inspect our passports, and Diana, Megan, and I nearly didn't make it to Prague when we stopped in the club car for a (failed) attempt to get some coffee and tea, not realizing that the train was splitting. Fortunately, after the ticket lady yelled at us, we jumped off, ran down the platform, and successfully made it back onto the appropriate car. Phew. Our adventures were just beginning, though.

I still have no idea what random Czech town we were in when EVERYONE had to get off the train, roll through a rather dilapidated little station (sheets of plywood = accommodation for rolling suitcases...awesome), find our way onto a sketch bus with a rather unhelpful driver, share said bus with drunk Germans who spilled a mini-keg of beer while on the bus, cross our fingers that we were actually going to the train station on the other side of town and not to the middle of nowhere, roll through another dilapidated little station, and haul ourselves onto a somewhat rusty hunk of metal that was going to take us the rest of the way to Prague. Eeeekkk! Now, Mom & Dad, don't panic too much. This all would have been a little less disturbing had we just known that we were going to have to pull this whole switcheraoo. When you don't know this is coming, it can freak you out a little bit, especially when your fellow passengers (including some middle-aged peasant-ish ladies who I wrongly assumed were somewhat local...the poor things were just as confused as we were) similarly have no idea what's going on. You know what? We ended up in Prague, so all's well that ends well. I also now have a greater appreciation for German trains. However, the "snack cart" that rolls through on both trains is strikingly similar - it did provide Trinity with some Czech beer along the way, but I was definitely scared of those sandwiches. The cooling mechanisms did not seem entirely reliable.

We made it to Praha! We rolled our suitcases over the beautifully cobblestoned streets and intricately tiled sidewalks (beautiful to see, not too shabby for walking on, less than ideal for rolling suitcases) to Hotel U Medvídků, where we encountered friendly staff and a ginormous room. They also have their own microbrewery (pivovar! A little Czech for you) and restaurant, and since we were somewhat ravenous from our train adventures, we immediately headed out to the patio for an extremely tasty meal. Trinity and I both had the roasted boar, potato dumplings, and creamed spinach (omg, an actually vegetable!!), and it was just awesome. You know I love the food. Diana and Megan were both pretty excited about their roasted chicken, too, since we had journeyed in from the land of pork and sausage. Seriously, this meal was amazing. And CHEAP. And the beer was great, too...and CHEAP. The Czech Republic is a part of the European Union, but they're not on the euro yet - all about the crown/koruna here, and while prices look ridiculous in the triple digits ($1 = approx. 20 crowns...much different than thinking in euros), food and beverage are remarkably affordable in this city.

With full and happy tummies, we headed out in what I thought was the general direction of Wenceslas Square. My navigation skills were not fabulous. Trinity bought a detailed street map, a kind stranger pointed us in the right direction, and then we headed off in the more-correct general direction of gorgeous old buildings, an impressive statue of King Wenceslas (I had Christmas carols in my head for a decent chunk of the afternoon), Coffee Heaven, and a little bit of shopping. Coffee Heaven provided Trinity with something kinda resembling iced tea (remember that 28% of his body business?) and the girls with a delightful coffee beverage involving a little Kahlua. Come on, Starbucks, get with the program. Oh, and while H&M is still awesome, it's not any cheaper in Prague - rats. It has lost a little of its intrigue now that I live five blocks from one, but it's still fun to explore and see what you might find.

For our first night in Prague, we walked from our hotel over to Charles Bridge, which connects Old Town to the Castle Quarter and is certainly the most scenic way to cross the Vltava River. It's solely a pedestrian bridge and currently under renovation - fortunately, they're renovating in chunks so it's still accessible. The bridge is lined with statues...and tourists. Even though it was a little crowded, it was still beautiful and had fantastic views of the castle side of the city. Prague is just an absolutely beautiful city to explore. Unlike Munich and much of Europe, it wasn't heavily bombed in World War II. Therefore, a lot of the "old" stuff in the city was actually old instead of reconstructed. It was great just walking down streets and checking out the intricate architecture and beautiful buildings. We crossed over into the Castle Quarter and wandered through the lively streets for a little while - Prague stays hopping into the later hours, which was nice for us on our first day. We had a brief encounter with the Grim Reaper...and we also found a new friend! Trinity spied a stuffed Mole, a rather adorable little Czech cartoon character, in a shop window, and while the store was closed, we made our way back...and into many other search of Mole paraphernalia. He is a cute little know, for a mole.

After our bridge exploration, we went off in search for a late-night meal/snack...but this time something that didn't involve large hunks of meat or dumplings of any kind. That's right, it's time! We found this great place not too far from our hotel where we all ordered enormous pizzas and enjoyed every bite. Oh, and more beer, of course, although Diana the rebel ordered a glass of wine. After eating a just a little more pizza than we really needed to, we walked home through the chilly night and fell into bed...although Diana and Trinity could have used just a little bit more mattress on their bed. It was a touch on the thin side. We were in need of rest, though - another castle exploration coming up on day 4!