Berlin The Beautiful

In Berlin, I ate more sausages… Because when in Germany, right?! Really though, aside from the sausage, I ate like I would have on a typical weekend in Philadelphia! It was quite refreshing. As I mentioned in my latest blog post about Prague… I had no idea what to expect of Berlin as I have heard so many mixed reviews. So I was excited to form my own opinion! Drum roll, please………… I LOVED BERLIN. I thought it was the coolest city! I was so captivated by its history and eeriness, and found such beauty in the mix-matched architecture. So much of Berlin being destroyed and bombed in the war, it’s hard to believe that we are now currently in year 2014 and the city is still rebuilding. I found it extremely fascinating to see the contrast between old and new. For example: there were brand new modern buildings next to super old semi-distressed buildings with bullet holes embedded in their facades next to crumbled down buildings that are still untouched… but will eventually be restored. It was a feeling I had never felt before. One you can’t feel learning about what happened in text books. You have to be there to feel the goosebumps.

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We arrived by fast train late Friday afternoon from Prague – Berlin being my mother-in-laws final destination with us until she departed back to the midwest on Monday morning. We hopped off the train into the incredibly modern station and found a cab to escort us to our hotel. We stayed in a beautiful Rocco Forte hotel located in a gorgeous historic building – Hotel De Rome. Everything about it was perfect. The location, the rooms, the luxury and the history couldn’t have been better. Located right across from the opera house, a gorgeous cathedral, and the square at the University where the Nazi’s burned thousands of books during that era. We dropped off our bags and headed out the front doors to explore the city. My husband lead us on a two hour walking tour he had read about of all things interesting – passing the Jewish Cemetery, Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie and the Berlin Wall… Just to get to know the city and all its different areas. We ended our tour at the hotel bar with some fun summer cocktails in hand, as the weather was beautiful! That night we dined at a trendy Thai restaurant our hotel concierge recommended (Goodtime) and loved it! It was nice to infuse some Thai cuisine into our diets as we haven’t had it since we’ve been in Europe. And we love Thai food!

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On Saturday morning we made our way to the National History Museum of Germany (similar to the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC, but instead of American history, it was all German history!). On our walk there, we happened upon a really neat outdoor art fair that we spent some time at. The fair featured all local artists which was really fun to see! The museum was huge, it took us a good three hours to walk through the entire thing, my favorite part being the World War II exhibit located on the entire bottom floor of the building. It was really intriguing being able to see actual photographs, letters, uniforms, newspaper clippings, and other artifacts from the war. This was the moment it hit me that I was in the center of the Nazi’s capital from a terrible war that happened not too long ago. It was a super eerie feeling that made me completely speechless. After embedding so much information from German history into our brains, we sat outside and enjoyed the weather over a big lunch. It was quite a busy Saturday in Berlin – there was some kind of big bicycle race going on, and on top of that, there was a huge soccer game happening there that night – Munich vs. Dortmund. Causing the city to be packed with lots of cyclists, family’s, soccer fans and team supporters…. Munchers, to be exact (Munchers: extremely happy Munich locals who drink an obscene amount of beer, sing a lot of loud songs, and act ridiculously jolly all the time). It was indeed an eventful day in Berlin!

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The one thing I was so excited to see while in Berlin was the Berlin Wall, so after lunch we headed over in that direction. We stopped at Checkpoint Charlie first, of course, and then spent a good amount of time at the Wall. It was cool. And a lot lower in height than I was expecting! I had all these expectations of it being a lot taller than it actually was, but clearly I was wrong. In front of the Wall was a timeline outlining its significance and vital facts about the War, which was really interesting. It was also interesting to read all the graffiti that has been sprayed on the wall over the years. There was even a birthday shoutout form 1970… Pretty awesome! I learned that not all of the graffiti was still in tact though, a lot of it was removed due to inappropriate graphics from the war and language that wasn’t necessary for the public to see. Art (in this case, street art) can teach you so much about time periods and happenings, and I have really enjoyed gazing at all the graffiti I’ve been lucky enough to encounter these past couple of weeks.

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In case you were unaware, a lot of European cities have a habit of shutting down on Sundays. Shops, groceries stores, some restaurants (not all)…. Leaving Sundays perfect for parks, sight seeing and museums. Since Sunday was going to be our last full day in Berlin, we thought it might be smart to graze the local shops on Saturday late afternoon before dinner. Our concierge told us about a really cool area in Berlin that is known for neighborhood boutiques and local designers, which is right up my ally. So we ventured in that direction and shopped local on a cute street that reminded me a lot of South Street in Philadelphia, but a little hipper and more upscale. There was a Berlin designer by the name of LaLa that had the most beautiful assortment of colorful scarves and a selection of really cute and quirky t-shirts! Needless to say, we had a lot of fun there! That night we dined at a very nice Italian restaurant by the name of Malatesta. We sipped on negroni’s and limoncello while indulging in giant plates of pasta. It was spectacular. After spending three straight weeks in Italy the first half of April, eating pasta and pizza for breakfast, lunch and dinner got old real fast…. but now that we have more of a variety of food groups mixed back into our diets, a big plate of pasta every once in a while is perfection! 🙂

Sunday morning was cold and gloomy with some pretty serious rain showers. And I wasn’t feeling well. Straight traveling for a month and a half now, hopping from train to train, hotel to hotel, museum to museum, finally caught up with me and I needed a day of rest. I felt a bug fast approaching and I didn’t want to get seriously sick while in an unfamiliar European city. So I stayed in bed all morning while my husband and his mom spent some quality time together at the Pergamon Museum – located on Berlin’s Museum Island, which is a well known section of the city filled with monumental museums. They both said the museum was amazing, which made me feel really left out. Not knowing just how popular this museum actually was, my husband bought tickets online the night before just to make things a bit easier the next morning. Thank goodness he did this!Because the line for tickets had over a three hour wait! Moral of the story — whenever you can, reserve tickets in advance, because you never know just how long these ticket lines are going to be… And you don’t want to be standing in the rain for three hours. My husband and mother-in-law rolled right in and had a great time looking at impressive ancient alters and artifacts. While I laid in bed and felt sorry for myself.

After their wonderful time at the museum, my husband came to check on me. Feeing so miserably left out, I decided to throw some mascara on, rally, and go to the beer hall with him and Mama K. Both of them ordering large German beers while I sipped on sparkling water and tea. A little sad I couldn’t partake in the beer drinking, I was just so happy to be in their company again! That night we made dinner reservations at a traditional yet modern German restaurant that sat in the same neighborhood as all the cool local shops – Alpenstueck. But before heading to dinner, we had tickets to tour the Reichstag building – Which is the glass-domed building you can’t miss just west of the Brandenburg Gate. This is where Hitler gained power and also where the Soviet’s raised their flag to signal Nazi Germany’s defeat. Some pretty important history took place here and in 1999 it was refurbished by adding the glass dome that attracts tons of tourists (I read close to 10,000 visitors a day!!). The dome was made for walking along the internal spiral walkway, also known as the beehive, offering million dollar views of the city and a glimpse at what Berlin used to be and what it has turned into today. After spiraling the beehive, we walked through Berlin’s gorgeous park, similar to New York City’s Central Park, and then went to dinner. As it was one of my final nights in Germany, I ordered traditional German schnitzel and sipped on a German desert wine after dinner.

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That night was a bit sad as Mike and I had to say goodbye to my mother-in-law. She had an early flight out of Berlin to Chicago Monday morning and we weren’t going to see her until we returned to the States in July. It was a real treat having her join us for 12 days and we were really going to miss her company! While she had a flight to catch, Mike and I had an early train to catch. We were Hamburg bound for some real, traditional hamburgers! As Hamburg, Germany, was where the hamburger was invented 🙂

Berlin’s diversity and culture made it a city I will never forget. And the thing that I liked most about the German capital, was the way it has reinvented itself from its numbing history. Clearly the world is catching on to this too. I am glad we have another night in Germany, I really love it here! Stay tuned for tales on hamburgers and the city that sits on the lake.

 

Prague – Sweeter Than Eye Candy

In Prague, I ate traditional Svickova – which is pretty much the Czech version of Thanksgiving dinner. Recommended by a friend who lives in Prague, it definitely made me feel more at home. Instead of turkey and mashed potatoes though, it was beef tenderloin in a gravy served with bread dumplings and cranberry sauce. Becherovka was just as prominent in Prague as it was in Karlovy Vary, too. So lots of herbal (38 herbs to be exact) after dinner drinks were happening and I wasn’t mad about it 🙂 Aside from eating like a local Czech citizen, I instantly fell head over heels for the city of Prague. Confidently calling it the most magical city I have ever visited, and my new favorite spot in Europe. The Golden City sparkles with such character, charm, color and life. Keeping its authenticity from the luck of not being bombed in the war, Prague is a true testament of old European beauty.

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Prague lured me in the moment we stepped off the train and hopped into a cab. We arrived Tuesday afternoon and headed straight towards the Mala Strana neighborhood (Mala Strana meaning, Lesser Town or Little Quarter…but don’t let the name fool you, there is nothing less interesting or less beautiful about this part of town), where we would be staying at a beautiful ornate Preferred Boutique HotelThe Alchymist – which was located right next to the US Embassy, so security was quite impressive in our cul de sac of cobblestones. The hotel held such gorgeous features and was pure luxury. My husband, mother-in-law and I dropped our bags off, I sat and stared at the beautiful Bohemian crystal chandelier in our room, and then we immediately set out to explore the neighborhood and grab lunch. We stopped at a corner cafe, had a couple of beers, stopped in a couple really cool markets and got to know the area a bit better. After doing a lot of research on Prague food and dining, we realized that our hotel had a fabulous restaurant! So we decided that after a long day of traveling, and with a rain storm coming through that night, fine dining at the hotel sounded wonderful! After dinner we got a Becherovka at the tiny bar, where I was hypnotized by the amazing interiors (and maybe a little by the Becherovka pour!).

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Prague fit the perfect irony of luring me in by the past and keeping my full attention of combining the present and future all in one. The artistic architecture and pure grace of the candy colored buildings, which were all in excellent shape by the way, combined with the cobble stoned streets captivated me for a full 72 hours. Known as the city of gold, the shiny color was present at every angle. And the richness of the city was magic. Unexplainable by words of blogging, really. All I can tell you is… if you have a bucket list of places to go, cities to see, Prague should absolutely be at the top of your list!

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Wednesday was my favorite day. Thursday was too, actually. Every day and every single thing about Prague was just my favorite! We walked over the infamous Charles Bridge – which provides the most gorgeous views of the city from all angles and also graces the path with 30 intricate statues dating from the 18th century. Narrow and crowded cobbled lanes lead us east into Old Town Square. Where I fell I love. The Square was dominated by Gothic steeples of churches and the Old Town Hall clock tower where the intricate astronomical clock amazes the crowd. At the center of the square lives a dominant green monument called the Jan Haus Monument, where locals would sit on the steps, chat, and snack under the sun. Also near the Square is the popular art nouveau Municipal House, decorated by the most talented of Czech artists and architects of the early 20th century. We marveled in amazement at the charm of the Square… and that was the moment I knew this city was really special.

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As I have mentioned, I love churches… and lucky for me, so do my side kicks (my hubby and Mama K)! So we peeked into the two most well known churches in Old Town Square – Tyn Church and St. Nicholas Church. Both beautiful and very different, making learning about their history and glancing up at their ceilings all the more interesting. Something I have noticed in some of these Western European cities is the significance of the crown. A lot of designs, art and decoration were inspired by crowns. And many of the churches chandeliers were designed in the shape of a crown, which is kind of awesome and very intriguing.

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My mother-in-law read about this DIY (do it yourself) walking tour around Prague that showcases the significance of the most prominent buildings and their history. So we did that, with my husband being our lead tour guide, and it was really fun! We ended our tour at the area which was once the Jewish Quarter. Before I studied up on Prague, I had no idea the importance of the once large Jewish community Prague had. At the start of World War II, Prague had a healthy 118,000 Jewish residents living in the city. By the end of the war only 10,000 had survived to call Prague their home. History like this stirs a lot of spinning in my head, and I was just so compelled by the Jewish Museum, Old-New Synagogue, and Old Jewish Cemetery. The part that hit me the hardest though, was seeing artwork that had been preserved by young Jewish children that were being held captive in concentration camps. Seeing their struggles and feelings through crayon construction papered stick figures was extremely hard for me. It made me so sad.

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Famished by our excessive walking and DIY touring of the city, we happened upon the fanciest of streets! Nicknamed “Paris Street” for all it’s lavish high-end shops and jewelers. We found a restaurant on the street where we sat amongst cigarette smoking Bottega Veneta bags and Prada shoes. I would have felt really insecure given my frumpy outfit choice of the day if I hadn’t just left the Jewish Quarters and realized how lucky I am to be living such a beautiful life. We walked through the entire city, enjoying its wonders, and headed back to our hotel – where I stepped into the spa for my first manicure/pedicure of the trip. A two hour affair where I relaxed in the joys of pink toe nails and cubical-free fingers 🙂

That night, we walked back over the Charles Bridge, where we noticed sunset views over the water and city which made it sparkle more than ever. We dined along the river at a trendy restaurant that felt the tiniest bit familiar to me. For all of my Philadelphia friends, it had the same feel of a new and modern Stephen Starr restaurant. It was a really cool and hip place called Mlynec – and our hotel concierge had to fight for a reservation for us, so I knew it was going to be good! All three of us ordered the signature dish – veal filet mignon schnitzel. Yes, you heard me. We got thick veal filet’s that were breaded and deep fried, schnitzel style. And we devoured every last bite, that’s how good it was! We ended the fantastic dinner with a Becherovka, of course, and cobble hopped back over the Charles Bridge, where pitch black skies made the city lights on the water sparkle even more!!

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Thursday was a day to remember. We walked up steep cobblestone lanes to the famous Prague Castle that sits overlooking the city. It is Prague’s number one attraction and is a must see! We timed our visit perfectly so that we were present during the Changing of the Guard – happening every hour with the most spectacular change with flag fare and a flag ceremony happening at noon. This was quite a popular thing to do for tour groups and locals, so we were lucky to arrive early enough to catch front row views. It was so cool! See photos below.

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We walked about the castle courtyards and explored all areas of the property – all really breathtaking and beautiful. We toured the spectacular Vladislav Hall which was located in the Old Royal Palace and saw some really neat rooms (personally, Hofburg Palace in Vienna was far more impressive to me). We then stepped into hands down the most beautiful cathedral I have ever seen (and I have seen many cathedrals in my day), St. Vitus Cathedral. It was covered head to toe in dark wood carvings and details with colorful stain glass masterpieces draped throughout. It absolutely blew me away. We then made our way to the Basilica of St. George, which is Prague’s finest Romanesque church. It was amazing. We made sure we saw St. Wenceslas Chapel, which was really old and eerie, but super cool at the same time. And then ended our three hour escapade in the Treasury where we were swooned with jewel-studded crowns, crosses and relics (relics are small, decorative boxes or capsules that were given as gifts back in the day – they were once believed to create miracles). We couldn’t leave though without strolling through a secluded neighborhood hidden in the courtyards of the castle. Tiny row houses of rainbow colors with tiny dwarf-like doors and home replicas of what living spaces used to look like way back in the day were displayed for people to tour. It was so cute and so much fun!!

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After our castle adventures, we walked even further up steep cobblestone lanes to a Prague brewery my friend living in Prague told us about – St. Norbert’s Brewery. It is her favorite place to go, so obviously we had to try it!! We had some local beers, beef goulash soup in bread bowls and beer cheese. It was so much fun being amongst happy Prague folk and indulging in local fare. Speaking of my friend, after we walked back to our hotel, she met us there to catch up and chat about all things Prague, all things travel and just all things life! Her name is Sarah and her and I went to High School in Wisconsin together. She is a year younger than me and has been living in the Czech Republic for two and a half years now! Living with family (her Aunt, Uncle and little cousins) in a small town an hour outside of Prague for a while and just recently (last November) moving to the big city of Prague. She is so well traveled and has such interesting views on life, we had the best time with her! She took us to a tiny wine bar in a cold basement that looked to have once been a wine cellar. It was awesome. We had been desperately wanting to find a good wine bar, but when they are hidden underground like that, only the locals can find them… So we got lucky having her with us! She gave Mike and I some good advice and suggestions for our future European travels and we filled her in on what’s happening in the States 🙂

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We hugged Sarah goodbye and thanked her a million times for meeting us and then headed straight to dinner. We dined that night at a true Czech restaurant located in the Mala Strana neighborhood, only minutes from our hotel – Konirna. And that is where I ordered Svickova – Sarah actually being the one who told us about it! It was our last night in the Czech Republic, so I had to order a genuine Czech dish. And it was delicious! On our way to dinner, we stopped at the infamous John Lennon Wall – which was heavenly. On this trip, I have developed a new obsession and appreciation for graffiti and this wall was just amazing!! We took some photos and just soaked in how awesome it was. It made me love Prague even more than I already did, which I never even thought was possible!

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The next morning, we boarded a very early fast train to Berlin. Going from big city to big city, but with two completely different vibes. I’ve heard mixed reviews on Berlin, some people love it, some people not so much…. So I was excited to form my own opinion.

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Until tales of Berlin’s eerie history, wiedersehen!

Karlovy Vary – The Spa Town

In Karlovy Vary, I drank a lot of natural hot spring water straight from the ground. It wasn’t as delicious as it may sound. With distinctive mineral flavors and strange salty after tastes, the water was not one I would chug in the middle of a hot thirsty day. The town is famous for their many hot springs that are publicly scattered throughout and encouraged to the people. The water is said to have positive effects on the health of ones body. Ranging from temperatures of luke warm to extremely hot, it was fascinating walking around the town, placing my porcelain cup underneath the spouts of the springs, and trying all of the different kinds. I’m secretly hoping the water had some kind of fountain of youth effect on me (something similar to Tuck Everlasting)…. but I think the only thing it did was leave a metal taste lingering in my mouth.

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As I mentioned, Karlovy Vary is known for their health and spa treatments and gets its fame from the natural hot springs – it is literally considered a spa town. In the mid 1300’s, the small town was rumored to be accidentally discovered by Emperor Charles IV when one of his hunting dogs fell into the waters. Do I believe this? Maybe. My dog falls into water all the time. We’ve never discovered anything cool from little Calvin, but there is still hope! Today, the well off from Czech Republic, Germany, Austria, Russia and other European countries resort to this spa town for treatments such as hydrocolontherapy and lymphatic drainage. I just got a massage, nothing fancy to brag about. The tradition is to sip the mineral-laden waters from a sweet little porcelain cup, which they sell everywhere in town, and rid your body of any toxins. I had a great time pretending to be a celebrity spa patient sampling the various hot springs the town had to offer!

Fun fact: Two of the greatest movies ever were filmed in Karlovy Vary! One of my husband’s favorites, James Bond 007 Casino Royale (yes – I was walking the same streets as once Daniel Craig). And one of my all time favorites, The Last Holiday (yes – I love Queen Latifah and I am not ashamed).

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Early Sunday, Mother’s Day morning, we boarded three slow trains and one bus from Munich to the tiny spa town in the Czech Republic. My mother-in-law was still traveling with us and was such a sport. Used to the luxuries in life, she was rather excited to experience her first European railway. Because Karlovy Vary is so small and has a reputation of being hard to get to, my husband and I were fully aware of the travel situations we were going to be faced with that day. Taking one “nice” train from Munich to our first stop in the Czech Republic, my poor mother-in-law got a true glimpse of what we would be dealing with the rest of the day. The town in the Czech where we had our first transfer went a little like this – remember the movie, The Night Before Christmas? All the characters were really scary and the whole setting was just dark and rather depressing it almost felt frightening in a way? Well that’s what this town was like. And we had an hour and a half layover before boarding our bus. We tried to walk around the town for a bit, but got scared, so we sat on benches cringing until our departure. The bus brought us to another train station where we boarded a slow train in the middle of nowhere. That train then dropped us off in the middle of a field…. where we had to run in the long grass carrying our bags to the next train, which was thankfully our final train. Finally reaching Karlovy Vary was a huge sigh of relief. I have never been that happy to arrive anywhere in my entire life!!

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Because of the rough travel day for my mother-in-law on Mothers Day, my husband was so sweet and arranged for her the night before to get a massage at the spa upon our arrival. She was thrilled! The spa had open availability right after her massage, so I decided to get one too. It was so relaxing after such a stressful day. We were staying at a beautiful hotel right along the river and in the heart of town called Quisisana Palace. It was so luxurious and our whole experience there was really beautiful.

That night we took Mama K to one of the most fun dinners we have had this far! We went to a traditional Czech restaurant that was recommended by our hotel for fine Czech cuisine. It was a really special night. We started celebrating by drinking a bottle of German white wine we had bought at the market in Munich. We then proceeded to walk two minutes down he road to the restaurant – Hotel Embassy – where we were seated at a lovely table with a chair at the end that just so happened to look like a Queens throne! So of course, Queen Mama K, on Mother’s Day, got to sit on the fabulous throne and feel like royalty all night.

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We were also treated like royalty that night! The Czech waiters who were taking care of us were so inviting and eager to please. It was wonderful! We ordered a bottle of red wine from the Chianti region where Mike and I had wine tasted in Tuscany, to show my mother-in-law just how tasty it was! We all ordered fantastic traditional Czech meals – for example, Mama K got the goose, Mike got a full duck, and I ate piglet… all because of peer pressure (I would like to formally apologize to one of my best friends Danielle, who I share a teacup piglet calendar with, I promise the pig that I ate was not as cute as our calendar piggy’s!!). For desert we got hot strawberries with green peppers – strange combination but was really delicious and looked extremely easy to make!! A good, fresh summer desert I’ll be able to whip up at home! We also sipped on a traditional Karlovy Vary herbal liquor that is very special to their region. Two Czech men sit and make two batches a week in the town of Karlovy Vary. The recipe is so secretive, they are the only two humans in the world who are said to know it. It tasted almost like a strong cinnamon liquor with a dash of nutmeg and had the consistency of a syrupy port wine. It was called Becherovka and if it is sold in the States, you must go out and buy a bottle now. Because it is the best after dinner drink ever!

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The next day we set voyage for hot spring tasting! But before we did that, we took a challenging hike, or mud slide, up a steep hill that had no path. The hike was leading us to a point at the top where a tall tower sat with gorgeous views of the town – it was called Diane’s Tower and it has been a famous tourist attraction for 100 years. There was a tram that ran every ten minutes from town to the top of the hill, which is how normal people get there, but given our food and alcohol intake the night before, we decided to hike. On this hike I got very muddy, climbed a tree, shimmied in between and over fallen branches, made friends with a cute baby mouse who happened to look as helpless as I did, and climbed rocks just to reach the tower. Talk about a good exercise. My mother-in-law is in such good shape, but her and I were partners in crime in the struggle to reach the top. And if for some reason you are blind and haven’t noticed, my husband has turned into a wilderness man, also known as a wildabeast, where one might confuse him with a wolf. So he was fine.

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We took some amazing photos from Diane’s Tower, bought some huge water bottles, and for the sake of our safety, took the tram back down into town. On just about every corner of the town were porcelain cup stands where you could pick out your own unique cup to drink hot spring water out of. I picked out the cutest gold owl and my husband picked out what looked to have been a miniature porcelain beer mug. We went from spout to spout all over town sipping the different waters and trying to identify what the special tastes and qualities of each were. I personally liked the extremely hot water spouts the best. The warmer the temperature, the more shielded the strange tastes would be.. in my humble opinion.

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We ate a late lunch at a confusingly expensive restaurant called Pizzeria Capri. It was a restaurant right in the middle of town that took pride in their celebrity status with names like Daniel Craig, Morgan Freeman and George Clooney dining there in the past. Which is the only reason we could think of as to why it was so expensive. The food was ok, but I wouldn’t suggest going if ever randomly visiting the small spa town. We walked around and explored the shops a bit – heading into a lot of Bohemian Crystal shops to learn more about its significance in the culture. For those of you who don’t know, Czech Republic used to be a part of Bohemia when it was once a country. Causing the town’s beautiful architecture and whole vibe to be very Bohemian. When I think of boho-chic fashion, it is nothing like Bohemia or Bohemian culture. So I am quite confused as to where it got its name and inspiration from for “boho-chic”. I was thinking maybe from the gypsy”s? But I am not quite sure, I just found it all to be very interesting.

That night we had another amazing dinner at a place called Hotel Promenada. The restaurant is said to be the towns best and nicest restaurant. It felt so cozy inside and had the feel of a home living room with nice decorations, white table cloths and long-stemmed candles lighting the ambiance of the room. The food was spectacular – my mother-in-law and I both ordering the rabbit and my husband ordering a steak. The desert was so special too! The chef came out and made it right in front of us at our table. He started by melting sugar in a pan on high flames and adding orange juice and fresh squeezed oranges. From there he cooked thin crepes with nuts inside. All displayed on personal plates with a whop of whipped cream and ice cream. It was my favorite part of the meal!! And at the end of dinner, the week waiters graced Mama K and I with pink roses. It was so nice!

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After desert, we sipped on some Becherovka, obviously, and headed straight to the casino at The Grand Hotel Pupp – also known as the casino James Bond hung out at in Casino Royale. We each lost a good chunk of money, but the overall experience of getting to play black jack at the same tables as James Bond made it every bit worth it. We chatted with a man who was doing some serious gambling from Kuwait and sipped cocktails feeling pretty fabulous. Unfortunately, there is a strict rule that you cannot take photos inside casinos, so I don’t have any action shots of us high rolling. But I did snap a secret shot of my husband’s and mine his/hers cocktails!

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The next morning we boarded the fast train to Prague. Where we had to do an unexpected transfer in yet again, the middle of a field. How Czech people find this normal is beyond me – but running through an untamed field only to get on the next train with grass and burs stuck on my leggings and a few mosquito bites on my ankles is not my idea of normal traveling.

Until tales from Prague, and maybe some more field running, Bon Voyage!

 

 

 

Beers! Brats! Bavaria!

In Bavaria, I ate sausages. All different kinds! In fact, I am now taking pride in the fact that I am pretty sure I tried just about every sort in the bunch. There was even one morning where we had brats for breakfast! I also ate a lot of pretzels, which I couldn’t get enough of. And drank an unhealthy amount of beer. Liters upon liters of helles (blonde beers). Munich was a party. And Bavaria sure knows how to throw one.

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We arrived by train from Innsbruck early Wednesday afternoon with a treat waiting for us at the hotel – my mother-in-law! Mama K (what my brother-in-law Timmy and I refer to her as because everything else is awkward) loves to travel and is really quite worldly, but she had never been to Germany before! So she decided to visit us and tag along our journey through the Bavaria region with slices of the Czech Republic mixed in. In Bavaria, we were staying in Munich at a Design Hotel called The Louis Hotel. My two older sister-in-laws, Megan and Cari, took an impromptu 48 hour trip to Munich a few months back to drink liters of beer, eat brats and help Cari build her amazingly impressive flight status…. She lives a really cool life and travels a ton. While in Munich, they stayed at The Louis Hotel and highly recommended it to us. Low and behold, it was beautiful. And the location was perfect! Our rather large hotel room, that may have actually been bigger than our one bedroom apartment in Philadelphia, had terrace doors that opened up to overlook the Viktualienmarkt – this amazing outdoor market with many local vendor tents offering goods like that of a really fresh farmers market.

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I fell in love with Munich the moment my husband and I took a walk through the squares and wide streets – finding dark architecture mixed with fancy cars and world-class monuments. Where grazing through markets happens on the daily and locals invite you to sit and drink beer with them. There were German folk dressed in lederhosen and dirndl as if it were standard attire and everybody was so friendly all of the time. It was a land where age-old traditions intertwined with designer boutiques and powerful businesses. The hard working community that was filled with such sophistication somehow blended effortlessly with aged beer gardens and sausage stands. The Muncheners attitude was so relaxed and happy, it was hard not to love them all! In other words, I would really enjoy a summer home in Munich 🙂

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Side note: if you are in college and like to party (and really like beer…). And you are thinking about study abroad programs – Munich might be your best option. Trust me.

During World War II, the city was dreadfully harmed with bombing and a massive amount of civilian deaths. But today the city is rapidly growing with a booming economy. And it is known to be one of the most fascinating cities in all of Europe! Early Wednesday afternoon was a bit gloomy, but because our hotel was so perfectly situated right within steps of the market, my husband and I set foot to find the best pretzel stand. We both love big soft pretzels, but noticed the original ones that they sell on every street corner in Munich weren’t so soft! But very delicious. We each got a natural fruit juice squeezed right in front of us from a local fruit stand vendor and walked around the different market stands exploring all things German. Later that afternoon we met my mother-in-law for espressos and lunch. My husband read about this famous beer hall that was only blocks away from our hotel, so we ran in the rain to get traditional German food and beers. If there is anything that motivates me to run in the rain – it’s food and beers!! The restaurant was called Marianne n’ Hof, and it was dark and dingy and had the coolest vibe. Supposedly known as one of the best spots to watch sporting events and games! After large beers and a lot of schnitzel, we walked around the shopping district, where I bought a pair of black tights, because believe it or not, people still wear tights here (even in mid-May) and it has been getting quite chilly at night time. We walked through crevices and discovered beautiful roads that were covered in cobblestones and flowers. We even found ourselves underneath a beautiful awning with massive fake butterflies hanging from above! The marriage between old and modern was really something special.

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That night, we dined in the basement of the old City Hall at a well known restaurant called The Ratskeller. Serving traditional German food in an extremely traditional setting, displaying German art and architecture on every detail of the establishment. We ate way too many sausages and again, had too much beer. My husband claims that Germans don’t drink water, they only drink beer, so his encouragement to keep sipping beers was quite aggressive. In other words, he was in his element.

Thursday was beautiful! We started our day by walking through the large square where historic buildings clump together. In that square is the infamous neo-Gothic Neues Rathaus, with its dancing Glockenspiel. Every day at 11am and noon, the Glockenspiel dances and brings a mesmerized crowd from all over the city just to watch it spin. It was so cool! We then took a walk through the wide, car free streets and stumbled upon the most beautiful church – with all white intricately carved cement layering the inside, we were awestruck. We had never seen any church like it, and were so fascinated!

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We then spent the rest of our day exploring the Englischer Garten (to us, it is known as the English Garden) – one of the largest city parks in all of Europe! It was one of the most beautiful parks I have ever seen and is substantially larger than New York City’s Central Park, so it had a lot of nooks and crannies to discover. On our way to the Englischer Garten, we walked through what had been the garden of an old royal family. This beautiful setting lead us to the Englischer Garten where we walked along the Schwabunger Bach (a stream of water), bird watched a bit and took in all the beauty of nature and our surroundings. It was glorious.

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Fun fact: In the summertime, nude sunbathing is extremely acceptable and sometimes encouraged at the English Garden.  In fact, if you are not nude sunbathing, you are probably merrily drinking beers at one of the many beer gardens the park has to offer. It is not unusual to see hundreds of naked people lying in the park during normal business hours. Luckily for us, it’s Spring time and the weather hasn’t gotten warm enough to hang out in the nude along the steam of the park. My mother-in-law looked very happy about this 🙂 My husband, not so much. I was indifferent.

Speaking of these classic beer gardens located right in the middle of the park, we decided that a day of sipping amongst greenery sounded like a pretty good (and pretty German!) idea. So we beer garden hopped! Stopping at one to eat some food and sip some beers in a more luxurious setting… followed by liter beers at a picnic table with hundreds of other Germans surrounding us. And large black crows swooping down trying to steal our pretzels. We had so much fun – after all, beer drinking isn’t just an important part of Munich’s entertainment scene, but it’s also a reason to visit! Germans drink on average 130 liters of beer each year (which really isn’t that much if you think about it), Munich locals averaging far more than that! Visitors averaging….. A lot. Especially my husband!!

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That night, we ventured in a taxi cab to a seafood restaurant just north of the city’s center – it was called Atlantik Fisch. At that point, we were drowning ourselves in beer and figured some seafood and white wine might be good for us! The restaurant had a roofed in sunroom that was covered in rose trees and beautiful twines of leaves. Twinkle lights filled every wall and the entire ceiling. The menu was written in chalk on a decorative board and we sat at a high top wooden table, one you might find in your friends backyard at a barbecue. The whole setting was dreamy and the fish tasted so fresh! It was rather refreshing of an evening. We cabbed back to our hotel where we got another (non-beer) cocktail and hightailed to bed.

Friday morning, we hired a private driver to take us into the town of Fussen and deeper into the Bavarian Alps to tour some shockingly gorgeous castles – my husband’s bright idea. Only a two hour drive from Munich, we decided a day trip was absolutely necessary. Growing up, much of my life was a dream where I was the princess and lived in luxurious castles. The castles in my head were only ones I had read about in story books or seen in the movies. Never in my life did I imagine physically seeing one right before my eyes. It was an absolute dream come true! Jaw dropped the entire day, I almost fell over a the sight of Neuschwanstein castle – King Ludwig of Bavaria’s very own creation (with the help of a theatrical designer). Before our hike up to the insanely picturesque, white, dramatic Neuschwanstein castle, we toured the beautiful, but on a much smaller scale, castle where King Ludwig grew up. The Hohenschwangau castle sits adjacent to the other castle and attracts lesser crowds, but is still amazing. Both castles provided a glimpse into the overwhelmingly romantic King’s state of mind. His ego shines in his own architectural design when touring the differences between where he grew up and what he created to live in as an adult. Quite obnoxious, actually. Both castles were built as 19th-century constructions and held a deep obsession with swans. Swans were displayed on every wall, every design, every piece of furniture, every masterpiece of art. The castles were inundated with swans every corner that you turned. Not only were swans incorporated into the designs of the castles, but from every window, you could see the beautifully deep teal lake where swans would swim. After touring King Ludwig’s childhood “home” (castle), we made our way up to the humongous sugary castle that sat just a little higher up and was a whole lot bigger. King Ludwig’s Neuschwanstein castle was never finished because of his unexpected death. He only got to live in the massive castle for six months. At the time of his death, his younger brother was naturally deemed King, but due to mental illness, never got to rule. So their sane Uncle took over, realized the Neuschwanstein castle was extremely ridiculous, and opened it up to the public – for princess dreamers like me to visit!

Fun fact: King Ludwig’s Neuschwanstein castle was the inspiration behind Disney’s Magic Kingdom!

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That night, back in Munich, we had the most delicious dinner. We went to a restaurant we read about in Travel + Leisure and heard about from my former boss, Erin, who is super fabulous – it was called Zum Alten Markt. Just steps from our hotel, we walked along the market and stepped into the cutest of places. Deep wooden walls and mix-matched decor complimented the handmade tabes and different chairs. Mountain Goat horns were displayed in collages on the walls and there was such a cozy feeling of home in there. The service was impeccable and the food was amazing! All fresh ingredients were bought and used daily from the local market right outside its front door and the array of German schnapps was impressive. It was such a special ending to the most perfect day!

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The next day was Saturday and we decided that we really wanted to get our German on – we wanted to eat as many different sausages and sample as many different beers as we possibly could, given it was our final hoo-rah in Munich. We started our morning like a true local – with a brat from one of the local sausage tents in the market for breakfast. Munich’s soccer team had recently won the Bundesliga – Germany’s soccer league. So the Munich locals decided to throw a huge party throughout the entire city – resulting in happy drunk Germans everywhere. The city was filled with glee and we felt so excited to be a part of it. We headed over to a rather touristy beer hall called the Hofbrauhaus – which is also known as the ultimate cliche Munich beer hall. It’s pretty much the theme park of Munich – and boy was it a fun ride!! Aside from the awesome atmosphere and delightful time we had, the history of the establishment is quite interesting! Hitler used to make speeches there and it has been a prominent go-to for many years. So we sat at a picnic table-like structure and drank liters of beer while the locals cheered and shouted songs in German around us. It was loud and a lot of fun. There was a live traditional German band playing their horns and everyone was in such good spirits. It was amazing!

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We then decided to become familiar with “Maximillion” Street for some retail therapy followed by touring the amazing baroque St. Peterskirche church. This is the most important church in the square of Munich and was unlike anything I had ever seen. With detailed stations of the cross and colorful art on every wall, it was unbelievable. Visiting churches in unfamiliar places is one of my favorite things to do. They all hold such unique beauty and history and I become so inthralled each time I walk in. That night, tired from all the partying we had done with the locals, we decided to eat at our hotel restaurant. Lucky for us though, our hotel held one of the best sushi restaurants in all of Munich.After excessive amounts of beer and sausage, sushi and sake sounded fabulous! We reminisced about our fun times in Munich and started planning our travel plans for the next day.

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Sunday was Mother’s Day – and a day of difficult travel. My poor mother-in-law had to rough it with Mike and I as we took three different trains and one bus to get to our next destination – Karlovy Vary. A spa town in the Czech Republic that is not easy to get to from anywhere. Well known for its healthy lifestyle and natural hot springs that shoot up from the ground that are scattered throughout and available to the public. And also known as home to where they filmed the James Bond movie – Casino Royale.

Stay tuned to hear all about the luxurious spa town in the Czech Republic! Until then, owf!

To The Women I Admire Most – Moms

This morning, I ate a strange European bagel accompanied by a cappuccino (because you can’t find regular coffee anywhere here in Europe) for breakfast. And it got me thinking just how much I’d rather be eating pancakes, drinking normal coffee, at the kitchen counter with my mom. This Mother’s Day, it’s hard for me not to feel the tiniest bit nostalgic for moments like these. It’s so easy to take for granted the little things – like burnt Folgers coffee and brief meaningless mom conversations where she’s telling you to be nicer to your husband in the mornings. I’m not a morning person, it’s not entirely my fault.

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Today I would like to send my mom, the woman I admire the most, a million kisses – from 4,465 miles away. Happy Mama’s Day to the woman who taught me how to love, how to smile, how to dance (…..), and most importantly, how to dream. From mean boys next door to mean girls at school – thanks for teaching me how to “kill them with kindness” and for making me stronger. For all the times you held me close and drove me around the quiet streets of Delafield after school just to take my mind off the struggles of being a middle schooler with headgear… or a teenager with braces. For reminding me that everything happens for a reason and that life is truly wonderful. For teaching me how to be humble enough to understand that I am not better than anyone else, but smart enough to realize that I am different from everyone. For working hard to create a bond between me and my four sisters that is so close it is often times incomprehensible to others. For teaching me to follow my heart and not worry about what other people think. And for reminding me that to be happy is all that matters! I’ve learned from my mom that taking risks can lead to the most beautiful things in life. And it all starts with doing something far outside your comfort zone. Because of what I have consumed from my mom, I’ve gained the truest friends, the closest family, a wonderful life and the most amazing husband in the world.

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So, thanks mom! I love you with all my heart. And Happy Mother’s Day 🙂 You’ve raised five happy children and for that you should be very proud.

I would also like to wish my two older sisters (aka: my best friends forever) a Happy Mothers Day. Julia – the eldest of us five sisters – who is the strongest Mom I know. Who encourages imagination and adventure to her daughter, my four year old niece Maddalena. And Becky – the second eldest of us five sisters – who makes being a mom look like the most fun job in the entire world. Who is constantly kissing, admiring and reminding her two kids, my four year old nephew Daniel and two year old niece/goddaughter Olivia, that they are the most special kids in the universe.

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Also, I can’t forget my childhood best friend, Maggie. Who has taught me through having her one year old daughter, Braelyn, that there is no love even comparable to that of your own child’s love. And who is a constant reminder that life is precious and to cherish all the moments we were blessed with.

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And to my mother-in-law, Mama K, who traveled all the way to Germany to meet my husband and me on our great adventure. She is a true inspiration and someone I diligently take notes from on how to be a kind loving mother and a bundle of fun all wrapped in the sweetest package. The easiest person to talk to that can somehow miraculously relate to anyone and everyone. And my second mom. I love you!

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Happy Mothers Day to all the beautiful Mamas out there! You have the most important job in the world and for that you should proud 🙂

Signing off from Karlovy Vary – a Spa Town in the Czech Republic! Stay tuned for my tales on Bavaria!

A Night Well Spent in Innsbruck

In Innsbruck I ate vegetarian. And it was amazing. The sweet little town of Innsbruck was so much more than I had ever imagined. It was small, but full of life and true sense of community. It had that old world European charm combined with a scenic background that was to die for. Once home to the Winter Olympics, the mountain range and overall outdoor surroundings that layered the town center were unbelievable.

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We arrived by train from Salzburg early Tuesday morning. Squeezed into our jam packed travel schedule to break up busy cities and long days of exploring, we looked to Innsbruck as a day of rest. Some place to go where we didn’t feel the pressures to stack our day with museum after museum or sight after sight. We were simply visiting to enjoy and relax for a much needed 24 hours of nothing but breathing in the fresh air of what I would call, one of the worlds most beautiful areas. We stayed at a gorgeous new hotel called Hotel Adlers. Just a few blocks from the train station and steps away from the center of the town. The hotel takes pride in promising a prominent view from every hotel room, so we were looking forward to seeing what it had to offer. With top story luck and floor to ceiling windows, we got a million dollar view of the mountain range and sights overlooking the town. It was exactly what we were wishing for and was absolutely stunning.

Having the urge to just relax in our hotel room all day and stare out the insanely large windows at the mountainous ski jumps and snow capped points, we forced ourselves to walk around the city a bit. We did a little research only to find that one of the best restaurants in all of Innsbruck was a vegetarian restaurant. A bit skeptical, we thought, a day of veggies was probably a very good idea! The restaurant was called Chez Nico. It was buried within a side street of a square amongst cobblestone roads and cracked cement fountains. It offered a set lunch menu paired with regional wine. Austria, much like Germany, is known for a lot of beer… but they do have a spectacular white wine scene. After drowning ourselves in red wine while we were in Italy, beer and white wine have been a nice change of pace! The owner of the restaurant, Nico, is French.. So he infuses his French background to create one of a kind vegetarian dishes using all local/organic ingredients from his very own garden. Talk about fresh!! Also, it is white asparagus season here in Europe, and the Europeans take that very seriously. Every corner you pass, every market you cross, white asparagus is literally the center of attention. It’s actually quite refreshing to see just how seasonally their eating habits are in this region. Unlike how a lot of Americans shop in the States, Europeans eat strawberry’s when it is strawberry season, and a whole lot of white asparagus when it is white asparagus season. This is something that struck me as a really cool way of life. Needless to say, our three course vegetarian lunch infused a healthy amount of asparagus. And every last bite was delicious!

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After our bellies were filled with nothing but fresh veggies and a small dose of crisp white wine, we strolled through the town to see it’s history and what it was all about. The town center reminded me a lot of Salzburg, but on a much smaller scale. With old buildings holding their authenticity and pastel colored structures correlating along the river, it was marveling. Not to mention the mountains hugging the entire town! We stumbled upon an indoor market that reminded us a lot of Reading Terminal Market. Reading Terminal Market is the most amazing place in the world – located in Philadelphia, it’s a whole establishment dedicated to local vendors who sell their home grown fruits, vegetables, flowers and so much more… Including an array of different meal choices. With local food carts and cheese stands that overlap with homemade donut stands… It’s easily the best place ever. My husband and I would spend our entire weekends there when we lived just a few blocks away. At the market in Innsbruck, we roamed around reminiscing about all it’s similarities that we are used to. We went from stand to stand trying different fruits and vegetables while also looking at homemade souvenirs. We picked up a carton of the most amazingly delicious strawberries. So big and juicy and beautifully red! We then made our way to the local wine vendor and gracefully worked with the owner to pick out a perfect Austrian white wine. We took our treats from the market back to our hotel room where we relaxed over some vino and watched the sun set over the mountains…. Finally getting our much needed relaxation time with quite a view.

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That night, we went to a “famous” restaurant/bar where Innsbruck folk like to hang out, watch games and converse – The place was called Rox and it had a really cool vibe. It almost had the feel of a Philadelphia sports bar combined with slightly older character (just being European gives it naturally old character). We drank big dark beers and ordered bar food that was so so good!! After our Austrian bar scene experience, we made our way up to the hotel rooftop bar where we had cocktails and enjoyed the views of the picturesque mountain range.

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The next morning we sprinted to the train station to catch our train to Munich. You know in the movies sometimes there is that really awkward character sprinting to the train station, knocking everyone over, making fellow walking pedestrians feel really uncomfortable? Well that’s Mike and me. And we’re usually a little (or really) stressed out, in which case causes me to drop my bags on occasion, making everything ten times worse. Ah the joys of traveling by train for three months!

Until tales of our liter beers and castle tours from the region of Bavaria, bon voyage!

 

Once Upon a Time in Salzburg

In Salzburg, I ate Ox. It wasn’t my favorite of meats, tasting almost like a thick cut of dry roast beef, but I am happy I tried it! Salzburg is also home to amazing homemade dumplings that I could have eaten for days and this delicious desert called Salzburger Nockerl… Which I also could have eaten in excessive amounts. Salzburg was the most charming, baroque, tranquil little town I have ever visited and there was not one part about it that I didn’t fall in love with.

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The town of Salzburg is buried below steep hills and snow-capped mountainous layers. It was the birthplace of Mozart over 250 years ago, and the Old Town really hasn’t changed much since! Which is where it gets it’s serious charm from. All of the buildings, street signs, store signs, restaurants, bars and cafĂ©s have this vintage look that cause you to forget that you are currently living in 2014. It almost felt as though I was living as a fictional character in an old Charles Dickens book. And I never wanted to leave. But not only was the town so overwhelmingly entrancing, the countryside was every bit as charming and breathtaking. I think I had somewhat of a scary permanent smile on my face the entire three days we were there.

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After hopping from city to city for a month, my husband and I were craving a little peace and quiet. We have always dreamt of the mountainous countryside of Austria. So instead of staying in the town of Salzburg, we thought it would be fun to nest up in the quiet hills at Hotel Schloss Leopold – also known as the estate/castle where The Sound of Music was filmed. Call us nerds, but it couldn’t have been more enchanting. Hotel Schloss Leopold recently renovated their stables to accommodate roughly 55 brand new hotel rooms this past February, so the rooms were beautifully new with that old, historic charm. And you couldn’t beat the views! With the estate sitting on a beautiful lake and overlooking the gorgeous mountains, it felt as though I was in a dream. Growing up, I was a huge Sound of Music fan, and I can’t deny that I diligently counted down the days and watched the Carrie Underwood special over the holidays (I loved it!!!), so I recognized all corners of the property. And I was one happy girl 🙂

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When we arrived on Saturday afternoon, we toured the property and then took a walk in the rain into town. The walk into town was not the easiest of walks. It was actually quite challenging, especially in the rain! There was a beautiful path that took us through gorgeous rows of deep green trees and then lead us to a steep hill… Where we paused and stared at each other for a minute. When we finally came to the realization that we were going to have to climb up this steep hill, we took a deep breath and silently began. Literally wheezing at the top of the hill, we high-fived each other and continued on the path that brought us right into the cobblestone streets of town. We walked around town for a bit until the rain picked up, then we began our voyage to find a cool Austrian dive to get a drink. We read about these secret beer caves that we desperately wanted to try, so we took out Google Maps and began our search for the caves. When finally reaching the most accessible cave, the one that was easiest the find, we creeped open the door only to get denied by one of the waiters… In his angry German voice… Which was really scary… I almost started crying. Believe it or not, at a lot of these tiny secret beer caves that are known to serve the best Austrian bar food, require you to make a reservation… even if you are just planning on drinking there. God forbid you walk in without a reservation, I am warning you now, you will get yelled at. And it is so much worse getting denied in a German accent than in an American one.

Completely discouraged and a little depressed, I followed my husband to his next great idea…that took forever to find. Thank goodness for our hotel umbrellas, otherwise we may have been in another, slightly less dramatic, Vienna downpour situation. We walked up a steep, dark, tiny cobblestone hill and opened what appeared to have been someone’s front door. A little skeptical, we walked up the staircase and followed the music. After getting a few doors wrong (walking into a couple closets and a bathroom) we found the correct door that lead us into the coolest little bar – St. Paul’s Stub’n. There were no seats available as we didn’t have reservations, but the staff was a lot nicer than the former place we stepped into, and they allowed us to sit on the windowsill, drink beers and order food. And the food was delicious. The Austrian bartender even took a shot of his favorite local liquor with us! It was Saturday night, so we thought, why not!! We were beaming with happiness. {You are probably wondering if we walked all the way back to our countryside hotel that night after far too many dumplings and beer – the answer is no. We took a cab.}

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Sunday was a bit chilly and semi-gloomy, but that didn’t stop us from doing what we had planned. That morning we had breakfast in the ballroom of the hotel, it was beautiful. Afterwards, we started our journey to hike up to Castle Hohensalzburg – this overwhelmingly large and historic castle that sat at the top of a very steep hill. There is a shuttle that takes people from town up to the top of the castle, but Mike and I wanted to hike it. Completely unaware of just how steep it really was, we started to regret our decision when we were only half way, but there was no turning back. My thighs will be thanking me later, I kept telling myself. Finally reaching the top, we both almost collapsed into each other’s arms, but the stunning views and the perplexity of being in front of this gigantic castle blew us away. It was really spectacular. We toured the ancient rooms and took a lot of photos of the town from above. Being that high up and feeling one with the mountains was truly remarkable.

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We later on headed down the hill and straight into town, where the Salzburg Marathon had just taken place. Resulting in the town being rather chaotic, but in a cool way that didn’t necessarily annoy us. There was loud Austrian music blasting and everyone was in good spirits. We ate a late lunch at an outdoor bar and people watched as the happy runners walked by with their families.

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We started to hike back to our hotel where we decided to venture down a hidden path we had never seen before. We had all day (and Google Maps if worse came to worse) so we didn’t mind getting lost in the countryside together. It turned out to be the most memorable of walks we have ever taken. It felt as though we were lost in a story where we happened upon a magical land. Making friends with giant pigs the size of small horses, chatting with cows and their baby calves as they grazed the fields, chasing after gobbling turkey’s to watch them go wild, and stumbling upon the most alluring pond filled with a party of beautiful flamingos fighting chickens and crows for food. Captivated by everything going on, we were so taken aback and mesmerized we didn’t even realize how late it was getting. So we had to wave goodbye to our animal friends and head back to the real world.

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Sunday nights in Europe have been tough. We’ve realized that a lot of restaurants are closed and our dining options are always limited. So we decided to take a stroll to the one place that was open, the local Austrian brewery – Stiegl Brewery located in the countryside just minutes from our hotel. Not knowing about the huge beer festival going on that day, we caught ourselves amongst extremely happy drunk Austrians dressed head to toe in traditional attire, dancing and cheering rants in German we didn’t understand. It was amazing. The only thing disappointing was that the restaurant at the brewery was only serving a choice of two dishes.. Chicken or Ox. So we ordered one of each and split them both. And this is when I tried Ox. My husband, being the sweetest man alive, let me eat the whole chicken while he suffered with the rest of the tough, chewy Ox after I decided I didn’t like it. The food options may have been limited, but the beer options were out of this world! They had just about every flavor beer on tap you could ever imagine. In fact, believe it or not, I was drinking grapefruit beer all night long that tasted just like Fresca! Remember the soda Fresca?? It was like candy in a cup! And for the first time ever, I was keeping up with my husband. Feeling pretty good about myself that night 🙂

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Really, the only major thing I wanted to do in Salzburg right when I got there was run in a filed, spin around, and sing, “The Hills Are Alive” from The Sound of Music. And on Monday – my dream came true! It was such a special day. Our hotel offered the cutest white bicycles with hand woven baskets attached to the front of each. So we went on a bike ride adventure through the villages of Salzburg. Biking just about every single neighborhood from morning to late afternoon. This was the day that I gave my husband a personalized DIY (do it yourself) Sound of Music Tour. Taking him to sites like the field Frau Maria sang, “The Hills are Alive” and the gazebo where “16 going on 17” was sung! He had to listen to me chant “My Favorite Things” and hear sporadic lines from “Do Re Mi”. It was one of my favorite days… and one of my husbands most feared. However, he stuck by my side and acted interested for the sole purpose of making me happy (and making a slight dream of mine come true)! And I made sure he got a giant beer right afterwards. We ate lunch on the lake and walked in a number of beautiful gardens. It was so nice!

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After the tour I gave Mike, we hiked into the town where we got to walk through Mozart’s birth place and see his very first violin he received when he was just 6 years old! For those of you who don’t know, I’m a violin player, so this was really cool to me. We toured the home and saw some sweet love notes he had written to his wife as well as locks of his hair (kind of weird). It was awesome.

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That night, we had dinner at a Michelin Star Restaurant right in town, called Carpe Diem. The restaurant was so cute! The downstairs being more casual, serving only cocktails and the most adorable appetizers all in ice cream cones! Apps like beef tartar, tuna tartar, cheeseburger and fries (in a cone!!), brie cheese and raspberries, just about anything you can imagine! The upstairs being more formal, where the Michelin Star restaurant is located. We ate upstairs, but still got a complimentary beef tartar cone before our starters! I had lobster to start followed by Guinea fowl and Mike had an egg and caviar starter followed by veal cheek. For desert we got the infamous Salzburger Nockerl. It is my new favorite desert! It was a delicious meal.

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The next day we boarded the fast train to Innsbruck – home of the Winter Olympics years and years ago! While sitting on the train we eavesdropped on the funniest little American family of four… Their deep discussion revolving around their rebellious teenage son refusing to learn how to ride a bike while also reading travel guides out loud. As uninteresting as this might sound to you, we rarely ever hear Americans, and this family kept us quite entertained… Making the hour and a half train ride quite interesting!

Until takes from our night in the mountains of Innsbruck, Prost!!

A Minor Love Affair with Vienna

In Vienna I ate Wiener Schnitzel. I never really knew what this was, and being as naive as I am, I thought perhaps it was some weird type of sausage. I was so completely wrong. Wiener Schnitzel is a traditional native Austrian dish that is extremely popular in Vienna. It is a very thin cutlet of veal (or pork in some cases… veal being more traditional) that is breaded and deep fried. Typically served with roasted potatoes, a salad and cranberry sauce. And it was delicious! Vienna’s vibrant spirit and kind hearted community made me instantly fall in love with not only the Wiener Schnitzel, but the city itself.

It wasn’t my first time in Vienna, I was in the “Golden Apple” a few years back with a music group from college. Going on school terms is never quite the same though, so the experiences I had this time around were completely different… More meaningful in a way as I got to share them with my husband. Vienna’s restaurant, art and cafe scene were one to marvel about and the city’s center was so dynamic. We spent three amazing nights there and I could have happily stayed longer. There are few cities in the world I have visited that so effortlessly combine the past and present the way that Vienna does. Holding the worlds most effervescent Imperial Palaces, museums, beer gardens and cafĂ©s, it is a magnificent city to visit.

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On Wednesday is what I would refer to as a travel day from hell. And that is me putting it lightly. We were bound to run into travel issues at some point, but it really took a damper on our day. We arrived Wednesday afternoon at the Venice train station by water taxi only to find out that our train had just been cancelled. Unlike the other rail lines that run all day long to closer cities, there are only two trains a day that run to Vienna – One being at 3pm (the original time we were supposed to leave) that takes 7 hours to get you there, and one being at 1am that takes 12 hours. Our hotel was booked in Vienna and we were dreading the fact that we might have to leave at 1am only to get to Vienna at 1pm the next day. That would have been putting a huge dent in our travel plans. So we got sassy with the Venetian Customer Service crew (who were no help at all) and explored every other option that we had. Unfortunately, the options were limited. What we ended up doing (a solution that put us both in the worst moods ever), was take a 10 minute regional train ride from Venice to the next town over. From there, we boarded a coach bus that took us to the Italian/Austrian border. A bus ride that was supposed to take 3 hours, actually taking 5. From there we boarded the midnight train to Vienna, getting us into the sparkling city around 3am. Starving and delusional, we checked into our hotel, dropped our bags off in the room, and headed out to find a Wienerbox. This is a real thing, I swear. We read a lot about Wienerbox’s in our travel guides on our 8 hour voyage to Vienna…. to us, they are literally just known as your typical food cart, but with amazing sausages. Luckily we were staying in a rather lively location and Vienna has a rather happening night life, so we weren’t the only two people getting brats and beers at 3:00 in the morning. Granted, we were the only sober folk, we were happy to see we weren’t alone!

Despite all the complaining and agony of having to travel longer hours and sit in an uncomfortable coach bus, I must say that the drive from Venice to Austria was quite beautiful actually. I was hoping to sleep majority of the way, but I couldn’t keep my eyes off the scenery we were passing by. We passed fields and barns that looked like paintings you cross at an art museum. The trees, all sorts of really cool kinds I have never seen before, were so fascinating (my dear friend Alex shares the same passion and appreciation for cool trees as I do, so she would understand the joy I was feeling). We drove straight through the mountain range and passed by some of the most unique looking hills. Dr Seuss-like story boards and a screensaver sunset made the stressful day a little better.

Our hotel was located right in the heart of where we wanted to be in Vienna. We were staying in an area called “The Ring” and were just a hop and a skip from everything we wanted to do/see. It was really perfect! Our hotel room was huge and had the nicest walk-in-closet (very random), which was such a treat (even though I hardly brought any clothes to hang, I hung just about everything that I could, hoodies and all, just to make myself feel more at home). We were happy with our “home” for the next three nights!

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On Thursday we started our expedition to explore the city with an amazing lunch at a restaurant we read about in our April issue of Travel + Leisure Magazine, in the section, “95 Places to Eat Like a Local” – Orlando di Castello was the name. We both got amazing sandwiches (hallelujah for Austria’s sandwich situation!!) and iced coffees. Iced coffees in Vienna are not what they are in America. They came in a tall, milkshake glasses and consisted of multiple shots of espresso, ice cream, whipped cream and cookies. There couldn’t have been a better way to start the day.

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After experiencing a slight sugar high and espresso kick, we made our way to the Hofburg Palace – home of the Habsburgs from 1273 – 1918. Nothing symbolizes Austria’s heritage and culture quite like Hofburg Palace. We got a glimpse at the largest fine china collection I have ever seen (I love china, so I was in heaven!) and got to witness some really fragile antiques. It was fascinating. We then headed over to the Sisi Museum, which is a museum solely devoted to the life of Austria’s beauty-obsessed Empress Elizabeth. We got to learn about her life and how Vienna was back in the day. We followed a path that taught us all about her assassination and lead us to her old living quarters. My husband and I both enjoy seeing spaces where dated history was made. I also love the interior design style of old European royalty, I find it all really beautiful. After we spent some time there, we ended up at the Hofburg Treasury (also known as The Schatzkammer), where we saw a ton of fine jewels and precious gemstones (amazing!!), including that of a 10th Century Imperial crown made of emerald and gold. The museum is said to hold a supposed piece from Christ’s cross, which we saw, but I am skeptical of. And also…. A unicorn horn, which I am very, very skeptical of… Coming from the girl who believes in fairy tales.

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We walked around some tiny residential streets and ended up at my happy place… Mozart’s apartment – where he and his family lived during their time in Vienna. We toured the rooms and got to stand in the space where Mozart wrote his infamous opera, Figaro. I was in heaven and my husband was such a good sport. So we got really big beers afterwards 🙂 We walked around what is said to be the Central Park of Vienna – so green and so beautiful! We wound up at a beer garden, spoke to one another in our angry German accents that we cleverly find so funny, and enjoyed the beautiful weather (which was roughly 78 and sunny!).

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Europeans, or Austrians at least, take Bankers Day holiday, the 1st of May, very seriously. Resulting in many shops and restaurants being closed. Luck was on our side that night and although we couldn’t get a dinner reservation at the restaurant of our choice, we went anyways… snagging a seat at one of the outdoor “shared tables” (picnic-like tables where you share the table space with other people). It was a local brewery called Salm Brau that is famed for great beer and solid Austrian food. We each ordered the infamous Wiener Schnitzel and humongous beers. The outdoor space had what appeared to be a roof of trees. And each of the trees were sprinkled in twinkle lights. That, combined with the moonlight and the tiny tea candles on every table, made the not so fancy brewery seem really special. On our walk home, we tried to find a bar that wasn’t so disco-techy, which was actually quite hard, but doable. We ended up drinking Austrian schnapps at a bar down the street from our hotel while watching a big soccer game with local Austrians. This is the moment I came to realize just how kind and welcoming Austrians really are! I could hang out with them my whole life and be filled with happiness! It was a great night.

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Vienna is known for their infamous Kaffeehaus’s (coffee houses). The cute structures that usually serve light meals alongside an array or cakes and pastries is actually a big part of Viennese life. The locals all go there for hours to hang out, chat, read, web surf and people watch. So Mike and I decided we would weigh in on the local experience and spend our Friday morning at a very well known Kaffeehaus right in an alley located in the city’s center – Cafe Leopold Hawelka Wien. Being impatient Americans (combined with being impatient humans), we were not expecting the experience to be as drawn out as it was. We got a lovely table outside, the weather was beautiful, and it was a prime location to observe the locals. We each got what is known to be the most popular coffee drink in Vienna – a Wien Melange (meaning: a Viennese Blend). It was delicious, however, the amount of time it took to order and get the coffee was a little ridiculous. We decided though, it is what it is and if we are going to immerse ourselves in the culture we needed to be patient. So we each had two Wien Melange’s in the 2 hours spent there. It was definitely an experience.

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We had been reading a lot about a section of the city called MuseumsQuartier, one of the world’s most profound cultural spaces. The space combines a number of museums, cafĂ©s, restaurants and bars. Other than going there to museum hop, it is also well known for bar hopping and the restaurant scene. Already having tentative museum plans for the day, we decided to still make our way to MuseumsQuartier just to see what the hype was all about and grab lunch at one of the hot spots. The area was filled with really neat crowds, young and artsy characters with unique cocktails and vibrant energy. It was a different scene than we had experienced anywhere else and we were so happy we went. If ever in Vienna, I highly suggest checking this section out!

After MuseumsQuartier, we headed to the Albertini Museum – home to important works of art like the extremely famous piece, The Hare, amongst other masterpieces including Monet’s, DaVinci’s, Picasso’s, Renoir’s and Michelangelo’s. My husband and I both being huge Monet fans, this museum was far from boring to us. We spent a lot of time observing the works of art and taking it all in. It was really fascinating and a lot of fun. From there, we took a walk down to the river to see what that area had to offer. It wasn’t our favorite of areas, very crowded and not so charming, but still cool to see!

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That night, we decided to make plans to go to a restaurant we had read about in one of our Travel magazines – it was called Fabios. We read that it was the perfect place to go if you wanted to witness the ritzy scene of Vienna’s elite. Naturally, I was dying to people watch there. The restaurant was located in The Ring and just a few minutes from our hotel. We started walking and low and behold got caught in the rain. Not just any rain though, a full on thunderstorm with buckets upon buckets of heavy rain drops soaking us from head to toe. Keep in mind, I do not look good with wet rain hair. We managed to find an awning where we stood until the rain died down. Thunder, lightening, ferocious winds, and non-stop down pouring were all holding us back from leaving this awning for at least 20 minutes. The storm finally died down a little, where the downpour just turned into a regular heavy rain. So we grabbed each others hands and puddle jumped to the restaurant. Where we got a lot of dirty looks from plastic women and well suited men, as we were not quite as presentable as they were. Embarrassed and a little insecure about my appearance, I ordered a heavy cocktail. Upon heavy cocktail. Upon heavy cocktail. And then I didn’t care as much anymore!

Aside from my wet hair and mascara smudges, my shoes were completely ruined. That night, I was wearing my tan Tory Burch Reva Flats. They got soaked….. and I wasn’t even that upset. I was actually just grateful for the fact that I wasn’t wearing my favorite oxfords I had also brought with me. I would have been beyond devastated if those got ruined. Moral of the story – my husband was right, again, when he told me not to pack any of my “nicer” shoes, because they might get ruined. I was happy I listened to him.

Saturday morning we boarded the fast train to Salzburg. Where we would be staying in the countryside. Stay tuned for tales on my DIY Sound of Music tour that I personally gave my husband. Songs and all. Until then, Prost!!

Venice – Stepping Into Never Never Land

In Venice, I ate like a celebrity. But seriously. My husband was not on the same page as our concierge (not quite sure what happened down at the concierge’s desk, but it couldn’t have gone well), so he decided he would make all of the dinner plans on his own from then on. Best thing to have ever happened because we found ourselves having really fantastic, memorable meals. Aside from dining at A-listers secret spots and eating fine Italian steaks, Venice was surreal. The most beautiful (and most expensive) city where no cars are driven and everyone gets around by foot, water taxi, water bus (also known as vaporetti’s), or the fancy way…. gondolas. It was out of a story book where glittering teal canals peeped through every angle and the buildings date back to the twelfth century. It couldn’t have been a more romantic spot to mark our final stop in Italy. 20140430-132122.jpg We arrived by train early Sunday afternoon where we then jumped into a water taxi that glided us right through the canals to the tip of our hotel. Our hotel sat right on the water just steps away from San Marco Square. San Marco Square was a little scary to me – not only because of the massive crowds and wandering tour groups, but also because of the birds. The bird situation was not normal…when reading about Venice in a few of my nerdy travel books, they warn you about the birds. They also advise you about what you’re supposed to do if a pigeon poops on your head…… Yes, this part takes up almost an entire chapter of a book (for those of you who are curious (I was too) – you’re not supposed to wash it out right away, you need to wait until it completely dries and then shampoo it out of your hair, washing it out while still wet will only make it worse). I took this chapter very seriously – wearing my little red riding hooded Patagonia windbreaker with the hood up every time I’d walk through the Square. I got a lot of strange looks from fellow tourists, and I knew the locals were making fun of me… But if only they knew… Sunday was a bit gloomy and damp, so we found ourselves tucked away in a cozy Italian restaurant close to our hotel – Vino Vino – and just a rock skip to shops like Miu Miu, Burberry, Bottega Veneta, and so on… We shared an afternoon bottle of wine from the region and each got a big plate of pasta. I ordered the special – pasta with meatballs. It was so exciting because this was the first time we’ve seen meatballs on any menu since we’ve been in Italy! How ironic is that? They were really good too! We roamed around the cobblestone roads, crossed a lot of really neat, old bridges, and took a big cat nap. We woke up rather late for Venetian folk to still be serving dinner (9:30pm), so even though our concierge informed us that there would be nothing open, we went on a voyage to prove him wrong (if you can’t tell, he was my husbands arch nemesis). Lucky for us, we happened upon the cutest Italian restaurant right along a back hidden canal. And they were more than happy to serve us! Watching the gondolas and opera singers float by while eating a late dinner was a real treat. You don’t get those experiences anywhere else, so we made sure to take it all in and enjoy our time there. We then found a snazzy little bar hidden amongst a dark cobblestone alley where we enjoyed expensive cocktails, felt fancy for a moment, and headed back to bed.

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Monday took a lot of concentration. We would be spending a lot of time in San Marco Square, so I needed to be on full bird alert (they seriously attack/harass you, it’s not a joke). We started our day by touring the Doges Palace, which held a ton of history. We got to walk through old prison quarters and see true artifacts. It was fascinating. We then took a stroll through the perfect streets to a place we read about, the happiest place of all…. Sandwich Row. It was an entire row of sandwich shops and it was an absolute dream come true. I had been craving a good sandwich for weeks now, I typically eat sandwiches all the time back home, and the only time we have stumbled upon a sandwich shop in Italy has been in Florence. So this was a grand moment. My husband and I were dancing in the streets due to a serious sandwich high. Granted, the sandwiches weren’t that good, it still felt satisfying to eat them and remember that they really do still exist. We then made our way to San Marco Basilica – the awe-inspiring church in the middle of San Marco Square. I got in a few fights with herds of pigeons and some ridiculously obnoxious and oversized seagulls, but we made it in the church safely. It was so beautiful.

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Monday night was the night of our Hollywood dinner. I challenged my husband to find me the best restaurant in Venice that would serve me a true Italian steak. He was dead on. He read about a place that was hidden in a back alley, extremely hard to find, that served incredible steaks – Trattoria da Arturo. It didn’t have a very robust range of reviews on Trip Advisor because it is rarely ever visited by tourists. After getting completely lost in the dark back streets of Venice, we finally stumbled upon the restaurant. Upon our arrival we got some strange, but welcoming looks from the two owners. One of the owners, who I believe also helps in the small kitchen, was the cutest old Italian man. With white hair and the warmth of any sweet grandfather, I immediately fell in love with him. The other owner was an adorably sweet and eager to please little Italian man. You could tell hospitality must have run in his family, for he had the charm and wit that made us want to stay and hang out with him all night long. Mike and I were the only two customers in the restaurant. It felt so intimate in the tiny space, almost as though we had planned a private romantic dinner in a dark, hidden, Italian house in a secret alley of Venice. The owners seemed confused and baffled as to how we found out about their restaurant. Embarrassed to say my husband did some extensive google research and that we love secret spots in hidden alleys (sounds weird, but they’re always the best!), we told the men we heard about it from a friend. After hours of drinking wine, eating pastas and indulging in unbelievably huge steaks in the most savory of sauces (my husband’s came in a green peppercorn cream sauce and mine in what almost reminded me of a vodka cream sauce….both unbelievable), we became fast friend with them. They hesitantly began telling us tales of their restaurant. One tale being…. Ten years ago, an extremely successful Hollywood Producer (Producing the movie The Matrix and many other blockbuster hits) was on holiday in Venice and stumbled upon this hidden gem, much like Mike and I did. This Hollywood hot shot started telling his “friends” about the restaurant, and it has now become a favorite amongst stars such as Barbara Streisand, Nicole Kidman, Leonardo DiCaprio, George Clooney, Cindy Crawford, Reese Witherspoon, Tom Cruise, and the list continues. It has become such a Hollywood favorite that every July, the Producer flies the two owners and their head chef out to LA for two whole weeks to cook for him and all of his A-list celebrity besties. Causing the restaurant to shut down the entire month of July. We were soon smitten’d by two incredible Italian men, sitting at a table together, sipping (martini glass sized) glasses of grappa, looking through these awesome genuine photo albums of them with their celebrity buddies, and all sharing stories and experiences with one another. It got really late, way past our bedtime, and it was time for us to hug goodbye and be on our way until our paths crossed again. Because of all the grappa, we were a bit loopy when leaving the restaurant. It took us entirely too long to get back to our hotel, we chased a fat rat down a dark, narrow street, and I fell asleep on top of the comforter in my dress. I think we can all agree it was the best night ever.

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On Tuesday, we slept in (for obvious reasons) and then decided to get lost on the quieter streets of Venice. But before that, we were led across the huge bridge and took a stroll through the farmers market, where we tried the juiciest strawberry’s and witnessed fresh sword fish being filet’d and oysters being shucked. We then went to the coolest lunch spot Mike had read about. It supposedly is known for having the best Italian styled tapas in the area. It was a super tiny, closet sized place, that had a couple stools along the one wall. We were lucky enough to snag two stools. We got two of everything so we could try it all – my favorite being the meatballs and the fried eggplant, prosciutto and tomato tiny sandwich, Mike’s favorite being the raw swordfish carpaccio with apples and cheese. We then walked all over the quiet, more residential streets along the canal. Everything was so beautiful. We ended our day with a Bellini from Harry’s – Harry’s is this super old, swanky bar where Ernest Hemingway used to hang out. Also known for their clever invention of the Bellini! Because of this history, the Bellini’s there are not cheap! But well worth it. We then took a sunset gondola ride through the canals, which was so romantic and so much fun… We got to see where Mozart bunked when he spent his time there, and where Napoleon lived! It was really neat. We ended with dinner at a seafood restaurant our two Italian friends from the night before had recommended. The dishes were so different there, which was really cool. Unlike any seafood dish I’ve ever had. It was the perfect way to end our trip.

 

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20140502-180918.jpg Moments like these that we had in Venice cause me to take a step back and realize just how amazing these unforgettable memories Mike and I are making together really are. I feel lucky every single day to be sharing such experiences with the love of my life and can’t wait to share all these stories with our kids one day.

Wednesday is a day of travel. Venice to Vienna! Ciao for now, Italy! And servus, Austria!

Musings From Milan

In Milan, I ate Chicken Milanese, duh! And it was the best Chicken Milanese I have ever had. Although, my hero’s – Martha Stewart and Barefoot Contessa’s Ina Gartin – would be extremely proud of my very own Chicken Milanese dish that I craft roughly once a week for me and my husband back home… with their help of course! I discovered my love affair with Chicken Milanese the summer of 2010 when I interned in New York City. My sister-in-law, Megan (who I stayed with), introduced me to this amazing little restaurant in the Soho area right down the street from her apartment. They served the best Chicken Milanese. Megan would always order it, so naturally I started ordering it too, and I have never been the same. So as strange as it may sound, I was actually mainly looking forward to Milan for the sole purpose of eating Chicken Milanese. Aside from that though, we had a really good time exploring the city.

Milan, in certain ways, reminded me of New York City’s Midtown meets Philadelphia’s Old City. It was a mix of old, beautiful, historic architecture with some scattered glass high rises here and there. It didn’t have the typical Italian charm I was expecting, but after exploring different parts of the city and getting lost together on numerous occasions, I started to see the beauty in Milan. After being there for a couple hours, I started to feel like I was more at home than I have been this entire trip. The city held so many attributes Mike and I are used to. Food carts, different kinds of restaurants, sports fans everywhere, the people in general. It was actually quite refreshing.

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While in Milan my husband and I made an interesting observation: some Italian pedestrians really do not pay attention, at all what-so-ever, when they walk (no offense to these certain Italians (kind of)). It’s like they’re all in the midst of this serious daydream where their eyes become fuzzy and their brains start to freeze. And then they run into poles. So, after observing that this literally happens all the time, we started playing a game: how many daydreaming Italians run into poles (or signs, or traffic, or buildings, etc.) a day? It became so much fun and has become a daily activity for us! In fact, we’re worried about what we’re going to do when we leave Italy. It will be a shame if we can’t find Austrians and Germans daydreaming while walking too. Because then our game will have to come to an end. 😩

Aside from the clever game we invented, we had a really good time exploring the city. We hopped off the train into the hectic station of Milan late Thursday afternoon. Pushing through crowds, similar to that of Penn Station, we made our way to a taxi cab that would take us to our hotel. Milan’s driving situation was quite nice, actually! Every single time we have gotten in a cab or a car in any other Italian city, I have feared for my life. It was like driving with my Grandfather all over again (god bless you Popi)…. where I would just silently sit still with my eyes tightly shut repeating prayers to help me stay alive. Milan’s drivers were all normal, which was really nice!

The food and restaurant options in Milan were great. It was like being in a huge diversified city where we had plenty of options other than Italian food. I love Italian food, don’t get me wrong, but when you’re eating it for breakfast, lunch and dinner every single day, a change of pace is nice! My sister-in-law, Megan (the coolest, most worldly person that I know), introduced us to her good friend Silvia (also really cool and unbelievably worldly), who actually grew up in Milan. Silvia was in Philadelphia on a work related basis a few months ago, so Mike and I got dinner with her and she graciously gave us the low down on everything Milan/all things Europe. It was amazing and we are so grateful! She had mentioned that the Nobu in Milan was really good. So our first night there, we made our way to Nobu for a sushi and sake date, and it was exactly what we needed. We ordered a heaping mound of sushi, a rainbow of sashimi and a bottle of sake. We were two happy campers 🙂

On Friday morning we made our way to see the Duomo. It was so breathtaking it blew me away the same way the Duomo in Florence did. Except, not only was the outside of Milan’s Duomo spectacular, the inside was just as detailed and interesting. It’s always cool being in and around such extraordinary history. We then roamed a rather touristy area near the Duomo where my husband and his family ate pizza, twice (!), on their short pit-stop in Milan years back. My father-in-law loves talking about this pizza place because their second time going, the chef/owner was so sweet and made all of their pizzas in the shape of hearts. I obviously had to have a pizza in the shape of a heart, it has literally been something I have always dreamt about. But after hours of circling the same exact area with no recollection from my husband as to where this place was or where it may have gone, we had to give up. Resulting in us walking back towards our hotel neighborhood and eating pizza (in the shape of a circle) at a wonderful restaurant Silvia recommend, Trattoria del Carmine.

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We desperately wanted to see Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper, but trying to reserve tickets two weeks in advance just wasn’t enough time and we didn’t get the chance to go. Take note: tickets sell out fast, so reserve them at least a month in advance. We were extremely disappointed, but this just gives us another reason to head back to Milan one day!

We stayed in the Brera neighborhood and loved it. We were just steps away from the Duomo, hundreds of restaurants, cafĂ©s and all of the major shopping. My husband had been to Milan in the past (he had occasional soccer games there), so he was semi-familiar with the city. So we spent the vast majority of our day just exploring the different neighborhoods, walking for hours, eating Italian fare and drinking wine. PS: I think I have walked more in the past three weeks we have been here than I would in three months back home. It’s been great for working off (probably only half) of my pasta intake! That night we dined at a traditional Milanese restaurant the hotel concierge recommended. We tried going to one that Silvia suggested, but unfortunately it was closed that night. The spot we ended up at was delicious though! It was called Il Cestino. It was super cute, had a live Italian acoustic guitar player serenading the crowd, and out of this world Chicken Milanese. We both ordered it and both finished the entire thing. (Mike says my homemade version is better, but I know he’s just saying that for the sake of being a good husband… I can read him like a book)

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Saturday consisted of a lot of window shopping (a lot of super high-end, sophisticated window shopping that made me feel really bad about my “grungy traveler” appearance – we were in the fashion Capitol of Italy, despite my dirty jeans and stretched out t-shirt, we had to witness the layers upon layers of fancy flagships) and rallying for our big night we had planned. That was the night we were going to the soccer stadium to see Inter Milan play Napoli. My husband, a former soccer player who played from childhood all throughout college, was so excited for the event! He had bought tickets in advance and warned me things were going to get crazy. Boy, was he right… Italian sporting events are no joke!! We had excellent seats that were located far from the chaos of the Inter Milan fans, but it was really fun watching them go crazy. They were insane, unlike any other sporting team fans I have ever witnessed. And I have seen Eagles fans at their finest! Throwing tiny bombs to rally the crowds, sending off smoke, holding unbelievably large banners that blocked an entire section of seating in front of them. It’s unexplainable the experience we had there that night. Needless to say, it was a lot of fun. On our walk home, we stopped at a tiny creperie restaurant, where we ate lots of yummy crepes. It was a great night, and the happiness that was radiating from my husband at the soccer game made it even better. 🙂

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Sunday morning we boarded the fast train to Venice. It’s funny for me to see how many Italians start drinking wine in the morning. I think Mike and I were the only two in our car who didn’t order a glass of wine. I always thought water or orange juice was the appropriate 10am drink choice… or maybe a mimosa! Nope… In Italy, it’s all wine, all the time.

Until my tales from romantic gondola rides to fancy bellini’s in Venice, bon voyage!