Friday, July 30, 2010

The Turning Point

Hello all.  Hope you are well.

Tonight is our last night in Germany.  Over the last few days, we have been heading back west toward home.  We landed in southern Germany over a week ago and now we are poised to leave it.  Sadly, we will lose our driver, Josef, as well.  He will head back to Prague to pick up another group after we jump on a night train to France.  He has been a great ally on this trip with his sharp wit and smooth driving skills.  A good man to have around.

I don't think the thought has entered too many minds, but next week we are home. For now, the kids (we all ) are just enjoying the ride.  A new driver will take us to see so many new places like the Palace of Versailles, the Eifel Tower,  the English Channel and much more. 

Off we go!


Thursday, July 29, 2010

Discovering Prague

This post was written by guest writer, Yliana

The day in Prague had started out early and ended late. Breakfast here was great, I had my first European waffle. But, I have to say they do not beat the waffles back home. The food here is different but still good. Especially the eis (ice cream) and the crepes. Prague may seem like a dangerous place when you first arrive, but it really is not. In fact, Prague is a safe enough city in which friends can go off and explore the city by themselves. We saw many fascinating things in Prague, whether it was the statue of the three naked babies or the city alone, everything interested us. You could say we were like two new puppies entering our new home. It took us a while to get our eyes off of all the scenery.  It was all so beautiful. During the day the entire city stands out and reveals all its beauty.  At night its true beauty shines as the cities lights hits it. There is so much one can do in Prague; whether it's visiting museums, attending concerts or exploring the city and just admiring it's beauty.

Footprints in Prague

This blog entry is by guest writers, Alyson and Carly

Our day began bright and early with a three hour walking tour by Charles, who reminded us of a boring history teacher who no one pays attention to. He took us everywhere from the famous Charles Bridge (not named after the guide), the Prague Castle where we were lucky enough to stumble upon the Czech Republic president, and to the incredibly beautiful gothic-style cathedral called… apparently we weren't listening to Charles when he told us the name. No surprise there. We were in the church for about an hour looking at all it had to offer; which included a huge stained glass windows, the largest in the world, and a big tomb.

Afterward, we set forth to explore Prague, a city that could be described as San Francisco, but more aesthetically pleasing.   While trying to get back to the Charles Bridge, we realized we were so far off the beaten path God must have led us to an H&M.  We entered it for some therapy shopping to cure budding homesickness.  Though we were ashamed of buying clothes we could get back home, we felt it was necessary.  We set off with a vague idea of eating at a cafe and visiting the Cartier exhibit at the Prague Castle,  We ended up trekking up and down the winding, cobbled streets of Prague, window shopping, people watching and getting quite a bit of exercise. 

We had the best meal of the entire trip so far at a quaint little hotel and followed that up with an embarrassing encounter with chocolate cake and a lack of Kronas.  We ended our free time with an impromptu stroll through the royal tree garden. Impressively, we managed to make it back to our meeting place on time. After reuniting with everyone and exchanging stories of our days, we headed to dinner.

At the restaurant, we were served the Czech version of goulash (our 3rd!) this time and vanilla ice cream with whipped cream for desert.  Yum.  Once the goulash was halfway cleaned from our plates, we headed off to another late night adventure. Some attended a show at the Black Light Theatre, some went back to the hotel and some gathered up their last bits of energy and walked around Prague some more.

After 14 hours of walking our feet/legs were about to fall off but we had fallen in love with a new city.   

Behind the (former) Iron Curtain

Mr. Ziessler described his trip to Budapest in 1969 with vivid detail of No Man's Land.  He recalls a 1/4 mile stretch of land that was heavily guarded by gun turrets.  No one was allowed to leave unless you wanted to be shot. 

Upon our arrival into Hungary, we saw no signs of the  occupation that lasted almost half a century.  Instead, we were welcomed by cool weather and rolling hills of farmland.  Budapest is split into two parts, Buda and Pest (pronounced: Pesht). Buda features the Buda Castle up on the hill, while Pest side is home to the magnificent spires of the Parliament Building.  We could tell immediately that it was definitely different than the opulent Vienna we were in hours before.  While the city isn't as well off, it made up for it with enormous beauty from its incredible Danube views to the warm people. 

We quickly checked into our hotel and did one of our now famous turnarounds.  Drop off the bags, freshen up (read: WC break), and get back on the bus.  We immediately headed to Szechenyi Spa Baths, one of the largest baths in Europe with 18 different pools.  Some of our group hit each and every one of them. Those that chose to not get their feet wet explored the neighboring historical park and found a huge trampoline to make up the time.

We started our full day with an excellent tour guide named Edina.  It has been a real joy listening to pride that our guides have for their city.  Edina was no exception.  This city has amazing history filled with occupation from the Turks to the Soviet Union.  She described how many Hungarians left their church during Communism.  Those that chose to attend church were denied a good job, promotion, and/or pay increase.

Our driver, Josef, is from Hungary and you could tell he was home.  This man knows how to navigate a bus and he certainly knew how to drive it in Budapest.  The streets are narrow and busy. He drives this monster like it is a Yugo. 
Our tour took us all over the Danube area of the city.  Since we hit the town on the dreaded Monday, many of the museums were closed.  The Matthias Church high on the hill of Buda Castle was open and ended up being a real standout of the trip.  The interior is completely painted and is a real marvel.  A lot of us hit the market, walked over the Chain Bridge, and climbed deep into the maze of tunnels under Buda Castle.  We had a real treat that night with a boat cruise of the Danube. With classical music playing over the speakers, the sun set as the city lit up its famous buildings and bridges right behind us.  It was a perfect sight for all us. Perhaps it was if the city was calling to us to return again.


Monday, July 26, 2010

Birthdays & More Mozart

Hello Everyone!  Hope all is well with you.
The internet is really hit or miss over here.  When we get somewhere with service, I try to post something here, twitter, or Youtube.  Videos come after long bus rides where I have time to edit something. 

We got to Vienna on Friday and hit the ground running.  Lindsey took us on a small walking tour to old Vienna.  The weather had turned a little cloudy which meant cooler.  We needed that.  After a Chinese meal of Mango Chicken (our 1st glass with ice of the whole trip!), our group split up.  Some took in a classical concert of Mozart and Strauss.  The others headed over to the hip Museum district.  A cool and relaxing night for all.

Saturday, July 24th, was a big day for all of us over here. We spent a full day touring the beautiful city of Vienna. There were a couple of us (Mr. Sill and Ilyana) that thought it was a little more special. We celebrated our birthdays!  It seems like there are a few kids that are celebrating birthdays over here.  I know how thankful that they will be for years to come. 

We started Saturday with our laid back tour guide, Boni, giving us the lowdown on Vienna. We covered 1000 years in 5 minutes! I think the kids are getting used to hearing a huge amount of history in a short time. :) Our first stop was the beautiful Schönbrunn Palace. I love how its history connects to the palace we will see in Paris. After a quick stop, we drove around the city covering so many great sites. We finished with a drive over the Danube, a river that we saw again today in Budapest. We had some free time to explore the city. The kids chose to visit the museums, the zoo, and shop. A few of us climbed the 348 steps to visit a tiny gift shop in the St. Stephens Church tower. Feel the burn!

On Sunday morning, many of us ventured back to the church to attend service in German. It featured an orchestra, full choir, and two organs. Breathtaking!

We arrived in Budapest last night, but that is another story!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Youtube Videos

Don't forget to check our Youtube Channel for videos that we are posting throughout our journey.  We have two up there so far:

Planning for Fun in the Rain

Hello everyone! 

We are enjoying our first night in Vienna, our last stop in Austria.  After a brief respite in the gorgeous mountain town of Mondsee (Moon Lake), we made our way over here to the east side of the country. Even though we rode in on a bus, it felt like we were in horse and carriage.  The cobble stone streets lined with baroque architecture are perfect for an older mode of transportation.

After a quick walk through central Vienna, we enjoyed a delicious Chinese dinner right down the street from the hotel.  Some of us went to a classical concert featuring music by Mozart and Strauss in the setting of an old and sumptuously decorated palace, while the rest of us went to the museum quarter to enjoy the Friday night vibe. 

It has been HOT ( and funky ) recently, but we have heard we can look forward to a refreshing burst of rain across the region.  As we returned tonight, we just missed a huge downpour.  Some of the kids ran out in it to just cool off.  Everyone says that it will rain all day tomorrow.  It shouldn't be a problem.  Hopefully it will just add too the ambiance of an already amazing city. 

Hope all is well at home.  Please know your kids are fabulous and a real pleasure to be with on tour.

--Sill ( with a little help from friends)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Rock Me Amadeus

Today was a huge day that started off in birth city of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart...Salzburg.  

We were treated to an early walking tour of the city streets by our wonderful local guide, Kristoff.  I just want to say that if you have seen the Sound of Music, this city is for you.  Every cobble stone street was a scene out of the film.   The kids broke out in song and dance on every block.  Our tour guide was glad to lead!

When we crossed over the Salzach River to the old town, it was like crossing over to the 17th Century.  Tiny streets lined with shops selling everything from Lederhosen to chocolates.  We split up the group and a few of us adventurous souls took the Festungsbahn to the Hohensalzburg Castle on top of the mountain overlooking the city.  You can see the castle in the picture on the left.  What a view. 

Another few took the tour of the Mozart museum where they were given access to the musician's personal effects, instruments, and copies of his works. 

We left the city around 1pm and took the bus to Hellbrunn, the summer home of the Archbishop Markus Sittikus.  He built an amazing playground of trick waterworks for his own amusement.  Everywhere you walk, you have to be careful not be sprayed by spring water.   For the kids, it was a welcome respite from the heat of the day.

Our last trip of the day was to Saltz Welten, the famous salt mines of Austria.  The kids donned comical white overalls and decended into the mines.  The funny thing is that the salt mines are 2/3 in Germany.  So the tour took them to 2 different countries!  The trip was filled with underground slides, trains, and boat rides.  One of the kids even commented that they loved it because it was so educational!!!  Who are these kids?

We returned back to our tiny hotel and were treated to a HUGE traditional meal of Austrian Goulash.  If you get a chance, you have to visit Gasthof Mühlthaler in Kuchl. The owners know the meaning of hospitality.

Tomorrow (Friday) morning we are scheduled to head off to Vienna! More adventures are guaranteed! 

Playing in the Österreich

After a long day in Munich and an emotional trip to Dachau, our trusty guide, Lindsey, knew it was time for a break. There is a tiny lake on the outside of Kuchl where we are staying while visiting Salzburg. With all the energy we could muster, most of us made the small trek to find an a wonderland at the base of the alps.

It seemed like all of the awkwardness among the kids disappeared among the bouncy apparatus, zip lines, and slides. Nothing like giggles at sunset! At first squeamish, the kids slipped into the lake and enjoyed the cool water that must be fed from the nearby rushing river. It was not just a night for the kids. A few of the adults managed to make their way into the lake. Mrs. Ziessler ran in with gusto…fully clothed! Mrs. Sill managed a few trips off the rope swing…some more successful than others.;)

Best of all, it was a day finished with smiles…lots of smiles.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Munich, Dachau, und Kuchl

Hello America!  I will just start by saying that your kids are doing great!  We are all having an amazing time and we just got started.

We arrived in Munich on Tuesday afternoon.  After a really quick wash up at the Hotel Maria, we hit the old town center.  Our lovely British tour guide, Lindsay, walked (perhaps dragged) us through the historical streets.  Most of us were a tad bit tired, but we all had a great walk.  We finished the day with a traditional German meal with a pretzel appetizer and a main course of mash potatoes, sauerkraut and sausage.

This morning, our Munich tour guide, John Mountain, took us on a bus tour down Ludwigstraße built by King Ludwig I.  We had a quick stop in the gorgeous Nymphenburg Palace.  We finished the tour at Neues Rathaus in Marienplatz and enjoyed the noon rendition of the Glockenspiel.  The figurines tell the story of the marriage of the local Duke Wilhelm V to Renata of Lorraine.  Underneath the wedding, the coopers celebrate the end of the plague.  Quite a site!

After leaving Munich, we were surprised with a short trip to the site of the former Dachau concentration camp.  It was an emotional tour and everyone stayed quiet as we strolled the grounds.

Tonight, we arrived in the picturesque town of Kuchl in Austria.  This small village is at the base of Austrian Alps.  After a delicious meal, many of us made the small walk down to the town's lake.  Kids were rejuvinated as they played on neighboring playground complete with a zipline and slide.  Most enjoyed a cool dip in the lake before heading back for a night's sleep.

This is our jump off point for tomorrow's trip to Salzburg.  I hear we have a castle tour and a salt mine on the itinerary.  :) 

I wish you could see the smiles on your child's faces.  We have only just begun!


Monday, July 19, 2010

And We're Off...

For Group A, it was a bright and sunny morning...after we watched the sunrise :| After a little drama at the ticket counter, our entire group boarded a little Canadair Regional Jet to Denver. Mrs. Z remembered that we are willow trees blowing in the wind with smiles on our bark.  Group B should be on their way to SFO where they will board a direct flight to Frankfurt. 

Since I am with Group A, we are currently enjoying a 2 1/2 hour layover in Denver.  Since DEN has the luxury of free wifi, we thought it was time to write a little blog post. We will board our next flight to Chicago in just a little.  We will enjoy chi-town for a mere one hour before boarding our trip to Frankfurt.  

Sometime while you are sleeping, our groups will meet up in Deutchland and travel as a group to Munich.  There we will embark as a whole group on a trip of a lifetime. 

Friday, July 9, 2010

Hauling Your Stuff Around

The real countdown has begun.  It is time to do some test packing.  Pack all your stuff and then drag that bag around to see if it is manageable.  By dragging around, I mean taking it up and down stairs.  Many of the hotels do not have elevators.

EF Tours has some recommendations:
"A good idea is to pack what you think you need, then take half out. You’ll be the one taking your luggage on and off buses and through busy terminals and into hotels, so make sure you can easily carry your luggage up stairs. If it’s too heavy, start unpacking."
Mrs. Ziessler has given you a helpful checklist of items that you should consider bringing.  You can find that list online here

See you soon!
Photo by geishaboy500

Monday, July 5, 2010

Here we go!

Thanks for checking out our new blog.  Starting June 19, 2010, we will start blogging about our adventures during a 21 day 17 18 day fun, 7 country trip to Europe.

We don't have time to write too much because we have a lot of packing to do.  See you in two weeks