Sunday, November 25, 2012

Budapest: Paris of the East

Budapest is a beautiful city and having been to Paris, I found it to feel very similar - however, the people were very friendly (and in Paris they weren't NOT friendly - I thought they were - but here everyone speaks English so well because they basically have a language nobody else can speak and they know it...and they think it's funny...but they know other languages because of it).  I'm sure there are no Parisians who would agree with me. However, this is my opinion.

The Christmas market was open, and after a foggy drive through both Buda and Pest (on opposide sides of the Danube), and a walk through the castle of Buda - we were set free to roam. 

Despite the weather it was beautiful and I need about 4 more days here to explore.

The castle (now goverernment houses - even though there is still a King and royal family)

The Chain Bridge connecting Buda and Pest.  There was a filming fo a movie on it this morning, but we don't know which film it was.
The Jewish Memorial: where a gathering of Jews were placed, asked to remove their shoes and then executed and thrown into the river during WWII.  This was designed in their memory.  Even though the places we travelled were amazing, there is still sign of what suffering took place during WWII and the Communist regime everywhere you turn.  These were sad towns, yet enlightening and uplifting in their remembrances and the rebuilding that is constantly taking place.

Pest by night
Tomorrow we fly out at 8:15 am and expect to be in Denver around 3:30.  

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Krakow and Slovakia

Before leaving Krakow today we stopped by Schindler's Factory and the Jewish memorial.  This was near and dear to my heart because of the emphasis I place on Krakow and Schindler in my curricular studies. I think it is important for the student's to witness the imperfect perfection of the man, and to know that there were Nazi's working from the inside to help the Jews during this horrific event in history.  The Holocaust wasn't just 6 million Jewish murders by the Germans. It was genocide of the worst kind of any who dared be different than what Hitler's Nazi party declared.  People found themselves on the wrong side and tried to set that right. Schindler was just one of many who defied the Nazi party to put themselves at risk to do what they could, but I find his story - one of a greedy, wealthy and selfish man turned by the horrors of genocide - to be one of the most interesting studies in psychology and human sacrifice to be documented. 

After leaving Krakow we traveled through Slovakia, stopping for lunch, and passing a Medieval Castle on a hillside. The countryside of Poland and Slovakia was beautiful - riddled with forests and cottage gardens. Many men were out with their pony carts loading up wood from the edges of the forests. I felt we stepped back about 500 years in time as we drove.

I could have stopped and stayed a week, wandering the river banks, exploring the castles and walking along the endless, rolling pastures.  

Friday, November 23, 2012

Krakow and the Salt Mines

Krakow is truly a beautiful city and we shopped like crazy here as well since the Zlotky goes a LONG way.  We shopped Black Friday here instead.  Can't even begin to describe all I bought. But it's beautiful.  Everyone else took advantage as me.

We walked the town (which is VERY small) this morning and then took in the Salt Mines in nearby Wieliczka that hold the largest underground cathedral in the world. One of the girls from Del Norte is a singer and it was BEAUTIFUL when she sang down there.

Then we had a HUGE dinner of Pirogi and now everyone is in a food coma.

Part of the oldest building in Krakow

In the castle walls

The underground saltmines and cathedral

The Dragon of Krakow

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Haunted by the Past

There is not much to say about the visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau. It was profound. It was haunted with sorrow and loss.  Where Berlin felt evil, the camps felt of devastatingly nothing.  I could not take pictures of anything personal.  The grounds were enough.

 Entrance to Auschwitz


After visiting the camps we headed to Krakow, Poland for Thanksgiving.  After dinner we walked to the main square to light flying prayer paper with our wishes, thanks and prayers.  It was a good way to end the day.

Krakow, Poland

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The City of Prague

What an old, interesting city!  Prague was full of so much to see and there definitely no way too see all of it.  Meaning...I will seriously need to get back here one day.  It was the center of all of Central/Eastern Europe at one point, and has the forth oldest university in all of Europe.  It is a rich culture.

Crystal Glass, Garnets and the Swarovski Crystal come from the Czech Republic, and it was fun to shop for these items!

After a walk through the four separate areas of the city: Old Town, New Town, Little Town and the Castle District, we had an entire afternoon to ourselves to wander.  

The Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral

At the gates to the castle

St. Vitus Cathedral

Walking down past the vineyards to the town

Look over the Elbe River and the Charles Bridge (those are swans, not geese!)

The Astronomical Clock Tower - using Johannes Kepler's  Ideals of the universe and astronomy

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Dresden and the Ghosts of Prague

Traveled to Prague via Dresden today. Dresden was a cultural center for Germany, and was marked by beautiful architecture and art.  Towards the end of World War II it was bombed heavily, which is arguable even today was unnecessary. Over 90% of the main part of the city was destroyed.  In the 80's efforts were made to rebuild using much of the same materials that were left from the bombing, and it's hard to imagine that most of all you can see has been built within the last 20 years!

We arrived in Prague this evening and after dinner, went on a ghost tour of the city.  It was more fun and amusing than anything else - but did explain some of the interesting stories and lore of the area.  Prague is a beautiful city and we will spend the day here tomorrow exploring!

Monday, November 19, 2012

City of History

LONG day in Berlin. This isn't a very pretty city; bombed heavily in the war and then rebuilt with ugly communist architecture...However the history makes up for it.  

After a tour through the city where we visited what is left of the wall and the Holocaust Memorial, among other sites and memorials along the way - such as where Hitler's bunker was and where he committed suicide - and a memorial to a man who almost succeeded in changing history by planting a bomb under Hitler's desk . 

After a yummy lunch and walk through what has started to become the Christmas Markets, we spent a few hours at Checkpoint Charlie, the checkpoint at the Berlin Wall where the American and Russian forces almost started WWIII in a faceoff in the 60's.  The history of the war, humanitarians, the communist regime, the rising of the wall, the escapes, the deaths and the many, many stories of those involved was overwhelming.

This city is still very much affected by what atrocities occurred in this country, and over the last 23 years progress has been slow, but forward moving - and Berlin will regain what they lost one day.

Remnants of the wall and graffitti

Part of the THE WALL display of modern messages on the original wall

The Holocaust Memorial

Checkpoint Charlie

Sunday, November 18, 2012


We have arrived in Berlin!  After a long day in airports and on planes we arrived, strolled through the city and got ourselves settled in the hotel.

The Reichstag - "Parliment" of Berlin

Area where those who tried to escape West Berlin to East Berlin lost their lives

On the border of the former Eastern Block

The Protestant Cathedral built in the 1800's

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Airport Parking

I, for one, am not a big fan of airport parking. There is nothing worse than being jet lagged, having to haul your stuff to your vehicle, and then try to figure out how you are going to be able to escape the airport because you just spent all your money on your trip, and the 'freedom' cost is outstanding!

I can't solve that problem, but I can point you in a cheaper direction to help save a little money.

Go to Canopy Airport Parking

Free transportation is available to and from the airport and you can make reservations to be sure you have a parking spot when you show up.

There is $6 uncovered parking with the discount coupon they are offering, so be sure to print it out!  $4 off covered parking.

Hope this helps a little!

Monday, November 12, 2012


I've been watching the weather very carefully for the areas we will be travelling. Of course, we never know for sure what the weather will be until we are there, but so far things seem favorable and typical for late November.  Temperatures have been staying in the 40's and 50's during the day, and hovering right above, or below freezing at night.  Our days should be Sunny to partly cloudy, with a chance of showers while in Germany and possibly into Prague (as there may be a wet weather system in that area). The forecast is then calling for clear to partly sunny days as we travel East and South into Krakow and Budapest.

Be sure to bring layers, a hat and mittens or gloves for those chilly days while we are walking around.  For example, I am bringing a down jacket I can stuff into a pocket that sleeves unzip to turn into a vest. I also have a jacket that is about the size of a sweatshirt, so I can layer if I need to - especially while visiting Auschwitz.  This way I can layer long sleeve t-shirts and thermal shirts rather than trying to pack bulky sweaters and sweatshirts to depend on for warmth.  Plus, you will want to remove layers if it gets warm, and won't want to carry anything too bulky!

Currency Update

Alright...ALTHOUGH most places will accept the Euro where we will be, it is better to use the local currency (Polish zloty, Czech koruna, and Hungarian forint), to avoid unnecessary, and sometimes expensive, percentage exchange fees.  Germany does use the Euro.

There are plenty of ATM's available so money can be withdrawn as we go through each country if you need cash.  I suggest getting Euro's at our first stop in Germany, and then playing it by ear as we go as our guide will be better able to suggest places to change money after we arrive.