Thursday, June 23, 2011

Own That Ponytail, Work That Up-do!

Monte Carlo, Monaco 6-22-11

"Own that ponytail, work that up-do!" 
"Grace Kelly, Grace Kelly...."
We woke up this morning and left for Monaco, the little tiny country inside of France. The early 20th century actress Grace Kelly was once the princess of Monaco. If you don’t get the title of this blog, look up on youtube the “Can I have your number?” Mad TV skit. Hilarious. Anyways, the drive from Lucca to Monaco took about four hours, give or take a bit of time. 
Once we got to Monaco, we could not find anywhere to park. It was extremely frustrating, so after driving around for about an hour, we decided to move on. We got a lovely driving tour of Monaco, but didn’t get out and walk around or anything. The same happened in Marseille, France. We couldn’t find a single parking garage or parking spot, so we got frustrated and left. We have decided that we don’t like France, well, at least the south of France. The only thing here is the beach. We could have stopped and stayed at the beach for a bit, but we decided to drive on as far as we could before stopping for the night. So, in other words, today we were in the car for a loooooong time. Now we will have extra time in Spain, and wont have to rush our time in Barcelona, Valencia, and Madrid, which will be great. I can’t wait for Spain! Somewhere that I can finally speak the language! 

The City of the Leaning Tower

Pisa 6-21-11
So, that whole crud thing, yeah, it got worse overnight. I woke up in the middle of the night with killer pain in my throat. So bad, in fact, that it invaded my dreams before waking me up. I usually only get sick once or twice a year at most, and I love that my body chose the time that I’m in Europe to use one of its sick turns. It is NOT fun being sick thousands of miles away from home (and my momma). You know, no matter how old you get, you mom is always the first thing you want when you get sick.  
After a trip to a pharmacy near our hotel in Florence, I loaded up on some medicine that I’m hoping will do the trick. We will see. We left Florence around 11am and headed to Pisa so see that famous leaning tower. At first we were going to attempt to take backroads, but that didn’t end up working out well. What we were able to see of the Italian countryside was very lovely! It seemed that every house had their own garden and vineyard. What a way to live, eh? I wonder if the Italians even realize how beautiful their surroundings are, or is it them? 
Pisa was relatively close to Florence, so we got there pretty quickly. It was a quick tour stop for us, because there is only one thing to see in Pisa really, and I hope you know already know what it is. If not, then here is a hint. It leans, and is a tower. The tower itself was pretty nifty, and we spent a few minutes taking the traditional cheesy leaning tower photos; you know the ones....where you look like you are either holding the tower up or pushing it over. It was quite hilarious to see everyone holding their arms in awkward positions all over the square. So, once we were done with that, we decided we didn’t feel like paying to go inside the tower (EVERYTHING costs money over here...good grief I don’t think I will ever complain again about how we do things in the states. At least we don’t have to pay to use the toilet!). We walked back to our car, making a short stop for some gelato (which felt great on my sore throat) and then headed for our hotel in the city of Lucca. 
Once we got to our hotel in Lucca, we realized that we had to wait a few hours for check in, so we got our bathing suits and towels and hit the beach!  The water was freezing cold, so I didn’t spend much time in it, but it was wonderful to lay out and nap and do nothing for a few hours. The beach in Italy was gorgeous. In the background were mountains. So, I was able to look at snow capped mountains while laying out under the hot sun at the beach. Such a neat thing! We don’t get that very many places if any in the U.S. We stayed at the beach for probably two hours or so, and then headed back to our hotel to check in. After checking in and lugging our suitcases up a flight of stairs, we set out to get some dinner.  This was no easy task...apparently everything in this little town closes around 8pm, so everything was closed! We finally found a little Turkish kebab restaurant and decided to take a break from Italian food and try this place. It was actually really good! The kebab was make from some sort of shaved meat, I got mine in  pita bread, as a sandwich, and they had several toppings and sauces you could put on it as well. The meat was very fresh; they shaved it right off of a huge hunk of meat that was slow cooking in a weird vertical grill thing. It was a lot of food; I couldn’t finish it all. Back at the hotel we chilled and watched a few shows that Iva had downloaded on her laptop, including Big Bang Theory and Wizards on Deck with Hannah Montana. Don’t judge us for liking Disney shows. Now, time for sleep. I’m hoping that this sore throat will go away tomorrow, because it is really beginning to get ANNOYING! 
Tomorrow, arrivaderchi Italia, bonjour Monaco and France! 

Florence, Italy

Firenze, Italy 6-20-11
Our hotel here in Florence is FANTASTIC!  It is an apartment style room, with a living room and even a small kitchenette, a bedroom with a desk and king size (not so comfortable) bed, and a great bathroom. For only 60 Euro for one night (including 10 Euro for parking in their private parking lot), I’d say not too shabby, especially since its normally 260 Euro per night! 
The drive up to Florence from Rome was very lovely. I saw my first Tuscan sunflower field! Now, if you know me well enough, you will know that my favorite movie is Under the Tuscan Sun with Diane Lane. There are sunflower fields in that movie, and since the first time I saw it, I’ve wanted to go to a sunflower field in Tuscany and take pictures. We haven’t gotten to the picture taking part yet, but that will come tomorrow I do believe. 
Also along the way to Florence, we made a short stop in a little village called Orvieto. The hotel manager at Hotel Villa Spada in Rome suggested we stop there and eat. We didn’t get to eat, and we weren’t able to stay long, but it is the neatest little ancient city built up on a hill. From the bottom of the hill it looks like it may have been an old fortress. So cute, and it was surrounded by little valleys covered with vineyards and olive groves. I was able to get some great pictures from the car, and we pulled over a couple of times to get pictures as well. 
After leaving Orvieto we finished our drive over to the lovely city of Firenze (Florence). Firenze is a great city, with a thriving downtown that mixes the old architecture and the modern amenities quite nicely. The Cathedral in the middle of the city is absolutely breathtaking, but even more amazing is the main bridge in town. There are HOUSES/stores ON THE BRIDGE! It is incredible. Il Ponte Vacchio is what its called (I think...) and it is one heck of a bridge! Every storefront displayed gorgeous jewelry and glittery things. Very ADD-tastic. 
As we were making our way back to the bus stop to catch the bus back to the hotel, we were stopped by a parade of men in renaissance uniforms. Coming from somewhere behind them was the sound of drums. It slightly reminded me of marching band for a second. Since our way was blocked, we stood and watched this spectacle as it unfolded. After the drums and piccolos passed by we saw a group of “important looking” men in suits, and directly after them were teams preceded by their country’s flag. At this point we were trying to figure out what the heck was going on. Apparently the Men’s Water Polo World Super Finals is beginning in Florence tomorrow. So, we enjoyed the sights as these very nice looking men from all over the world were paraded by. As team USA went passed I cheered, of course. The opening ceremony was apparently taking place in the Piazza where we were, so we decided to stay and watch for a quick second. The band that was set up on one of the monuments played each teams national anthem, and when the American national anthem began, it was moving. The men on team USA sang along to every word, very loudly, as did all the rest of us Americans in the crowd, followed afterward by a loud cheer. I felt for a moment that I was not alone, and my homesickness subsided for a while. It literally sent chills up and down my whole body. It was, to say the least, incredible. 
Once the American national anthem was over, we went ahead and left to go to the bus stop. Got some gelato on the way, and once we got back to the hotel, I attempted to contact Alex Lozano to see about hanging out, and that was a communication fail, big time. All for the best, though, because I am not quite feeling well. Hopefully this crud will be gone by tomorrow. 
Side Note: Congratulations to my cousin Kyle Jones and his wife Elizabeth Brewington Jones on the birth of their first child, a boy named Levi Matthew. So excited for them! I can’t believe there is a new generation in our family now! Can’t wait to meet him in the fall! 

Rome If You Want To.....

Rome, Italy 6-18-11 and 6-19-11

Rome Day 1
I am finally here in Rome. I have dreamt about coming here since I was a little girl, and it is so great to finally be here. Too bad I am SICK. Dang allergies. I have no problems at home with allergies, but my body has decided that it doesn’t agree with the pollen combination here in Europe. Seriously? SO not cool. Oh well. 
Today was such a full day! We took a train and the metro into the city, and when leaving the metro station, the first thing we see...the colosseum! In all of its ancient glory. It is quite impressive up close. We had to pay to get inside the Colosseum, but I was lucky to have Iva with me, because she got us the European Union discount for both tickets.  So, for the day, I was a member of the European Union. The Colosseum was quite impressive! All I could think about when I was on the inside was the movie “Jumper”. If you have seen that movie, you know why I was thinking about it. There was an awesome fight scene filmed in the Colosseum for that movie. Anyways, they did something really cool while we were there. They were preparing for some sort of concert  that was going to be taking place that evening inside the colosseum, and in order to check the acoustics, they had everyone scream as loud and they could all at once. It was hilarious! I got a video of it, too. Now if only I could figure out how to post videos on here.  Moving on...
Next we made our way through the ruins of the Roman Forum, which was really neat. The Old City, which is nothing but old rocks scattered about, and the occasional structure, was much smaller than the current size of the city. I expected Ancient Rome to be much larger than what it was. After the Roman Forum we went to a cathedral (another one...there are so many in Europe), and after that we went to the Pantheon. The Pantheon is really cool! I had studied it in humanities and history classes, but it was way cooler in person, obviously. The whole in the roof lets in a stream of light that moves around the circular room as the sun changes positions throughout the day. Whats neat is that the walls on the inside are intricately decorated, some of them memorials to past Caesars or other important historical figures, and as the spotlight moves, it illuminates different murals and memorials throughout the day. Quite nifty to see. 
After the Pantheon we went to see the Trevi Fountain, which is extremely impressive in person. It is much larger than I though it to be, and it is attached to the side of a building (don’t ask what building, cause I have no idea! I stink that the whole history thing...). It was also very crowded with tourists, which was frustrating. I got to make my wish and throw my penny in the fountain, though, which was fun. After we pushed our way out the  piazza where the Trevi Fountain is located, we found a great little ristorante and got some yummy Italian food. Iva got a pizza and I got some more bolognese sauce with a fettucini-type noodle. Delicious! 
As we made our way back to the metro station, we stopped by the Spanish Stairs, and to our pleasant surprise, there was a theater group on them, practicing for some sort of Opera performance. It was the coolest thing to watch them. The lead singers had beautiful voices, and one performance gave me chills it was so good. I wish we could have been there for the actual performance. It looked like a neat play. It was a great end to a wonderful first day in the lovely city of Rome. Tomorrow, the Vatican! 
Rome Day 2
So, Rome day two consisted mainly of touring Vatican City. Did you know that Vatican City is actually its own country? I didn’t! I guess I should pay more attention to the things of the Catholic side of my faith, because my agnostic friend knew a bit more than I did about the different Catholic relics and such. Fail on my part. 
We began our Vatican tour standing in a VERY long line to get into St. Peter’s Basilica.  It was free to see the inside of the cathedral, and it was very beautiful. Everything was ornate and colorful, and there was gold everywhere. If they were to sell that cathedral, I would think the catholic church could end world hunger. But, I wont go into that. We ended up paying to be able to go up to the Cupola of the cathedral, and the views of Rome from the top were breathtaking. As was the climb to the top...hundreds upon hundreds of never-ending stairs. My glutes were screaming in protest by the end. My fear of heights was also tested quite a bit, but I survived! We got some great pictures of the entire city of Rome from the top, though, so it was well worth the pain.  
We took a lunch break after spending a good couple of hours in the Vatican. Our lunch was HUGE! The pizza was a very large pizza, and our meal came with bruschette, fries, and a drink. The bruschette was fantastic, as was everything else. I was stuffed full after eating as much as I could have of that meal. Since we are on a sort of two-meals-a-day diet (breakfast + one other meal...for our budgets’ sake), I am finding that I cannot fit as much as I used to in my stomach. Oh well, I’m sure that will be a good thing in the long run.  
After our lunch break, we went to this castle which is where it is said that a miracle happened. According to the story, the Pope at the time of the plague had a vision on the spot where the castle now stands of the arch angel Michael putting his sword back in its sheath, and the plague ended right after he had that vision. So, as anyone with as much power as a pope would do, he built a castle to commemorate that event. Right across from this castle is a bridge that had tons of great statues of saints and angels and such along it. It’s a beautiful bridge. Funny thing; at the end of this bridge was a couple who was just married. They were there with photographers, doing their wedding photos, I assume. It was neat to see! I’m sure those photos turned out great, especially with the background of Rome. 
On the way back to the metro station, we saw a British magician putting on a show in the middle of a piazza. He was all chained up, like Houdini, and we didn’t stick around long enough to see if he got out of them or not. As we came up to the next piazza, there was a pair of matching cathedrals, which was interesting. Symmetrically, this piazza was quite even. Made for great pictures. 
Once we got back to our hotel, I went to sleep. I haven’t been feeling too great since yesterday. I have had allergies since I got to Europe, and I hope they aren’t turning into a cold or sinus infection. Oh goodness, that would totally ruin my trip! Anywho, tomorrow we are leaving Roma, and headed for Florence! 

Friday, June 17, 2011

Wherefore Art Thou, Romeo?

Verona, Italy 6-17-11

There isn’t too much to write about today, because most of the day was spent driving to Rome. I can probably make it long, though LOL! I could spend more time on these blogs describing what all I have seen, but that gets boring. More interesting are the contrasts and similarities between Europe and the US, and the things that make me think. So, forgive me if I go off topic or don’t go into much detail about sights and such over the next few days.
We made a short stop in Verona to see la caza di Gulietta and a 650 year old bridge, along with a couple of other sights. Really the main reason we stopped there was because I wanted to see the house of Juliet. If you have ever seen the movie “Letters to Juliet” then you know what I am talking about. Although, I was slightly disappointed to find out that no one actually writes letter to Juliet, and that it is incredibly crowded with tourists. It was still really neat to see. One weird thing, though, was that everyone was taking pictures with the statue of Juliet, and most of them were touching her breast. I don’t know if that’s some sort or tradition or what, but it was awkward as anything. 
The bridge that we saw was really cool as well. It was completed around 1346 AD I think, so it is a 650 year old bridge. And it is part of an ancient fortress that I’m guessing is where the soldiers used to guard the city in the middle ages. the whole thing is pretty much still standing, so they knew what they were doing when the built structures back  in the middle ages. I doubt any modern buildings would last almost a millennium.  
Those were the two main sights that I liked best in Verona. We only spent about 2.5 hours roaming around Verona. It was a nice city, and if I had to move to Italy, that would be the top contender for where I would want to live. Its big, but not too big, and it isn’t overrun with tourists. 
We spent the rest of the day driving to Rome. Our one big meal for the day was, once again, Burger King which is where we seem to always be stopping when we are driving long distances. I don’t eat at Burger King very often at home, but I am more than making up for it here in Europe. It always seems to be the first food place we see when we are starving. 
We have now arrived in Roma, Italia! Our hotel is great for the low price we are paying per night. We have air conditioning, two beds, free parking, free wifi, and breakfast every morning! For Europe where you must pay for EVERYTHING (including to use the toilets), this is a steal at only 50 Euro per night. I can’t even begin to express how blessed we have been with the hotels that Iva booked. 
First the B&B, which was wonderful (its called La Caza di Sandra in Mirano, Italy), and now this hotel, which even has a restaurant in it with great prices and fabulous food. I would know, because we just ate dinner there. For 8 Euro I got a HUGE plate full of pasta all’ amatriciana, and I couldn’t even finish it! Considering the dinner we had last night was the same price, but it was a tiny portion, that is ¡excelente! The hotel we are staying at now is called la Hotel Villa Spada right outside of Rome. So, if you ever decide to do a tour of Italy and want to stay at local places for great prices, look at this blog for recommendations. 
Now, off to rest up because the next two days are going to be packed FULL! Rome, watch out! I’m here! 

Venezia! The City on the Water


Today marks one week since I began my crazy European adventure. Time is FLYING! Everyone always says time flies faster and faster as you get older, but I can’t believe how quickly it is going by during this trip. 
Venice, Italy. I think this city might be the most interesting we have seen so far. There are no roads for driving here, only canals, and no cars, just boats (and gondolas). There are also MANY, MANY tourists walking around the city mixed in with the locals. The buildings are all right on the water, and many even have entrances from the water, which I found extremely intriguing. The roads were all connected by a system of bridges, which usually involved stairs. The bigger the bridge, the more stairs. There are a lot of stairs and hills in Europe. The lower part of my body is getting more and more toned with each day, Praise the Lord! LOL! Anyways...the biggest walk-over bridge in Venice is called Rialto. It is a gorgeous white stone bridge that crosses the Canal Grande, which is the large main canal (almost like a main street) in Venice. 
We took the train from the city of Mestre into Venice by way of a very long bridge which connects Venice to the rest of Italia. The bridge went over the waters of the Adriatic Sea, and my first impressions of this sea are not so good. There was seaweed floating everywhere and the water was incredibly murky. Even the fish were trying to escape the nasty water; I know this because I kept seeing them jump. Poor things. Anywho, so once we got into the city, we wandered around for a while, taking back streets and alleys and seeing the parts of Venice that most tourists don’t take the time to see. After a while of this we decided to re-join “our people” and see the touristy parts of the city, including the Rialto bridge and la Piazza di San Marco. Along the way we met a guy from Texas. I think he heard us speaking and was bored enough to stop us and ask us where we are from. We never caught his name, but he was in Italy with his parents, and to day was their last day before heading home. It was neat to talk to him for a few minutes. Did I mention he was quite attractive, too? I’m still kicking myself for not getting his name. Oh well, moving on...
For most of the day we just walked around and looked at the lovely architecture and window shopped. When it came time to eat dinner, we found a nicely priced little restaurant on one of the side streets in the inner part of the city, and I had myself some tagilurette bolognese (a long flat noodle with meat sauce) and Iva had some lasagna. YUM Italian food is quite delicious! Earlier in the day I had my first gelato too. I’m hoping that the gelato in Roma is better, because I wasn’t terribly impressed. Maybe I had too high of expectations for gelato. Or, I could have gotten the wrong flavor. We’ll see as this week in Italy progresses if gelato can live up to its reputation. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Hills Are Alive With the Sound of Music

Vienna, Austria   6-15-11

You know, mattresses here in Europe are much different from what we are used to back home. They are much thinner, and beds are much lower to the ground. I will have to take a picture and post it so y’all can see. No box springs here. 
We woke up this morning kind of early to get ready to head out of Brno and make our way to Austria. After a breakfast of Czech doughnuts and pastries, we loaded up the car (which was quite a feat) and headed out. Trying to fit two women’s stuff into a trunk smaller than what we are used to in the states is quite difficult, but we did it! Praise the Lord it all fit. 
The Austrian countryside is much like the Czech countryside, except that wind turbines dot the countryside. Austria is apparently a green country, according to Iva. They use little nuclear energy (and what they do use of it, they buy from the Czech republic) and they use mostly green methods of getting energy. The first group of wind turbines we saw was kinda cool, but after the first few, it began to ruin the pristine beauty of the fields.  
It only took us a little under two hours to make it to Vienna from Brno, so we were able to spend a good amount of time touring the city. It is a lovely city, but not as beautiful as Prague. There were many really neat things to see, like the parliament building, national library, and, of course, another gorgeous cathedral. This cathedral is worth detailing a little bit. It was one of the few that allowed you inside to part of it without paying an entrance fee. We were quite surprised once we got inside to see that it was extremely colorful, like a discotech. They had colored lights creating an incredible display of color throughout the sanctuary. It was quite gorgeous.  
The food in this city, though, was fabulous! When we first arrived at the U-Bon station in the city, there was a small collection of food carts, and one had local fresh fruit and veggies. I got to eat my first peach of the season (in Austria no less)! Very delicious, but not as good as a Georgia peach, of course : ) I was also able to eat my first pretzel since arriving in the land of Deutsch as well. Delicious! But, not nearly as awesome as the snack we had a little later. We had two typical Austrian desserts, one was apple streusel and the other was a kind of chocolate cake with a think jam in between the layers and covered on top with a chocolate shell. Its called sacher, and it is incredibly rich. To accompany these delicious desserts we had the European version of iced coffee, which has no ice involved whatsoever. They use vanilla ice cream and chilled coffee, and top it off with fresh whipped cream. YUM! We need to rethink how we do iced coffee in the states.  
The only complaint that I have so far about this continent is that I cannot find Reese’s Cups anywhere! Dangit! 
We are headed to Mirano, Italy tonight to stay, and tomorrow we will be wandering around Venice. Italia, I will finally get to experience your awesomeness. Spaghetti, pizza, and lots of gelato are on the menu for the next several days!
So on our drive through Italy, we have just had two back-to-back funny stories. First, we see another car pass us by who is from Iva’s hometown of Brno, Czech Republic (we are right now over 800 miles away from there). We waved at the driver as he passed by and he blinked his lights hello back to us. Literally about two minutes after this we realize we are coming up next to a caravan of Italian Army soldiers. Woohoo! Lots of cute Italian boys! So after passing the caravan of soldiers, we came again upon our friend from Brno, who then proceeded to ask us through sign language if we wanted to get coffee. I don’t know about Iva, but I don’t think I’ve ever had a drive by coffee offer before. Guess there’s a first time for everything!

We have now arrived in Mirano and are staying at the cutest little B & B inside this lady named Sandra's home. It is so cute!!! Can't wait to post pictures! Tomorrow....Venezia/Venice!!

Brno, Czech Republic


I have noticed that Europeans are very big on sparkling water. You can get it in plastic bottles just like regular water, and it is sold like regular water. On grocery store shelves you must pay close attention to the colors of the labels, because they don’t separate regular water and sparkling water (which I found out comes in varying levels of sparkliness). After trying it for the first time, I don’t think I’m a fan. So, all of you people who like to drink the fancy sparkling water at home, you’re weird. Just kidding, but really, I’m not a fan of sparkling water.
This morning we visited with Iva’s grandparents while having some breakfast and coffee. They are such sweet people! They were eager to hear all about our trip and my plans for Spain. I really enjoyed getting to talk to them (through Iva’s translating, of course) and they even shared some of their favorite liqueur, called Metaxa (AKA Grecian Sun, for the warming effect). I don’t remember what kind of liqueur it is, maybe whisky or something like that. It was a nice, smooth liqueur though. On our way out they showed me their beautiful garden (which I forgot to take pictures of dangit!). They grow many types of flowers, and even their own strawberries, which are absolutely the most delicious strawberries I have ever tasted in my life. They sent a container full with us for our trip. 
We left Iva’s grandparents house and made our way to a small town called Telc (pronounced like Telch). Iva’s mother grew up in Telc, and it is a gorgeous medieval town with buildings older than our country in multiple bright colors. The town square was so cute, and the town castle and cathedral were breathtaking. The views from the various high spots in town were just as breathtaking. The houses are very close together and brightly colored, so the views from the castle were stunning. Oh, and of course there is a river, which just adds to the charm of the city. I got plenty of pictures (which I think I have figured out how to post on here so I will do that soon).  
From Telc we made our way to Brno, which is Iva’s hometown. There are many similarities between Brno and Augusta. Brno is the 2nd largest city in the Czech Republic, it is a college town, etc. Its a neat place. It was great to get to meet her parents once we got there! Her father, George, speaks a good bit of English, and we were able to converse, but her mother, Marie, doesn’t speak much English at all, although she can understand a good bit. Once we got there her mom had prepared a typical Czech meal for us. Iva informed me that it is her favorite meal, and it consists of beef (like roast beef almost) and dumplings with gravy on top of everything. The gravy was heavenly. 
Went spent most of the day hanging out at Iva’s house with her parents. Iva’s parents have their own business, with which Iva apparently helps out sometimes, and they needed her help yesterday, so I was able to get my pictures uploaded from my camera and update y’all about the day of castles. All while listening to some Britney Spears and Nsync and eating strawberries with powdered sugar. Later in the evening, after a quick bite of dinner, we headed downtown to see the city. Downtown Brno is pretty much awesome! It is a popular place to hang out, too, apparently. That town is very alive at night. After Iva showed me around (had to see the local castle and cathedral, of course!) , we sat outside at a local pub and had a beer. The weather has been absolutely gorgeous here. Temperatures have not been higher than 80 degrees the whole time I’ve been here. Be jealous! Although, now it is beginning to get warmer, and considering we will be in Italy tomorrow evening, and it is supposed to be hot there, don’t be too jealous. Tomorrow, Vienna! 
Quick side note: Congrats to my good friend Tania and her husband Sam on the birth of their first child, a healthy baby boy! Welcome to the world Elliot Sebastian Flood! We are so happy that you are finally here! I can’t wait to meet you in August! 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Today was a fairy tale...

...except I didn't wear a dress and there was no guy in a dark grey t-shirt (reference the song by TSwift if you aren't getting it). Today was my fairy tale tour of the Czech Republic. Unfortunately we didn't get to go inside any of the castles, but the outsides were enough. We started the day early, eating a quick bite of breakfast and then packing up the car. I got to meet Iva's friend Honza on the way out (it was his apartment that we were staying in for the first two nights).

The first castle we came to was only about 30 minutes away from Praha (Prague). It was in a quaint little village in the hills, and it was quite a walk up to it. Karlstejn is the name of the castle and it is up on a very steep hill (for protection from invaders, of course).

The next thing we did was stop by to visit a friend of Iva's named Ondra (spelling is probably wrong here) at his summer home. We stayed probably for an hour or so, and he gave us some coffee and butter cookies to nibble on while we visited. The view from his back yard was breathtaking! I wish I'd had my camera with to take pictures, but, alas, I forgot it. The village where his summer home is located in on a hill and it overlooks other little villages and several serene ponds (here they're called lakes, but to us they would be ponds). Oh, and there were sheep. LOL! Before we left he recommended another castle nearby, so we decided to check it out.

This castle was called Blatna, and it is the setting of a popular Czech fairy tale.I don't quite remember the fairy tale, so I can't tell it, but the castle itself was beautiful! It was one of the smaller castles, and it was in the middle of town instead of up on a hill. It was surrounded by a small river (really I think it was a mote) and out back there was a lovely garden/forrest area that was FILLED with small deer! It was incredible! They weren't scared by people at all, and they even ate out of our palms. Ondra had given us some old bread, cherries, and a pear to feed to them. There were also several male peacocks on the property. They were gorgeous! We enjoyed some time feeding the deer, and were joined by a british family, a grandmother and her two small grandchildren (boy and girl, probably 4 and 2 years old respectively). They were precious!

When we left Blatna, we headed to White Castle. No, not the burger joint, but a castle we referred to as the White Castle. Its proper name is actually Hluboka, but I can't pronounce that so it will forever be the White Castle. In the front of the castle was a goreous rose garden full of pink and red roses and statues. Out in front of the main entrance gate is an awesome telephone booth too.

Cesky Krumlov was the next castle we came to, and it was also in a city. This whole city had amazing views all around. It was a lovely castle and, of course, came with a lovely cathedral. 

Our final stop of the day was to a cute little town called Trebon. We were going there to see not only their local castle, but also one of the only mausoleums in the Czech Republic, if not Europe. The Schwarzenberg Family was a powerful and wealthy family, I think of nobility, in the Czech Republic. They decided they wanted to have a building to bury their family in, so they built a beautiful mini-chapel-looking thing out in the middle of the woods near a lake. It was a little creepy trying to find this thing, because it was dusk, out in the woods, and we were two women who were walking alone along this dirt road alongside a lake. It was a little like being in a horror movie, but without the horrible ending. No creepy guys jumped out at us, thankfully.  
One of the things I love most about this country is the gorgeous countryside. We drove through a ton of back roads and the views from every way were green and luscious fields with villages in between. I took a few pictures, but they just don’t do it justice. The other thing that I love a great deal about Europe, in general, is the sheer number of castles. As you have read, I was able to visit like 4 or 5 castles in one day. There are SO MANY CASTLES! Castles on hills, castles in towns, castles on islands in the middle of lakes, castles that serve as fortresses, castles that serve as medieval bachelor pads, ruins of castles, castles everywhere! It is quite fascinating.
After a day of castles, we drove through the Czech countryside to Iva’s grandparents house to stay the night. Their house is super cute and made of two apartments, the lower one of which was where we stayed. We didn’t get there until around 11pm or 12am, so we saved the visiting for the morning time. 


I woke up this morning feeling much refreshed after about 11 hours of sleep. After a nice breakfast of eggs and a mini baguette topped with butter, ham and cheese (my new favorite!) we got ready and hit the town. We spent the day touring the city, which meant A LOT of walking. \you realize how truly out of shape you are when climbing impossibly steep hills to see castles and little villages in the hills. I now understand why Europeans are so skinny. Maybe it will rub off while I'm here!

When we got into the city it was raining, so the first part of the day was cold and wet. It kinda sucked to have to hold an umbrella while trying to take in all of the beautiful arcitecture and take pictures and such. It hindered the sightseeing experience for about the first hour. I think Iva got sick of the rain, so we decided to seek shelter in a mall (which was built inside an old building-so cool!).  But, after sending up some prayers, the sun eventually came out and the rest of the day was sunny and cool (so nice after the hot temps in GA). The rest of the day was fantastic! I saw so many sights, including the Czech National Theater, the residence of the President of the Czech Republic, the coolest old clock on the side of one of the cathedrals (It had moving statues! and a trumpeter), and old Prague, just to name a few. I could describe them all but this post would be impossibly long if I described in detail the beautiful sights and arcitecture. It is quite breath-taking! I would recommend Prague over Berlin if you ever get the chance to come to western Europe.

One thing I forgot to mention was the interesting sight we saw in a park in the city. There was a group of about 2 or 3 dozen women wearing these interesting plastic skirts over their normal clothes, and they were doing some weird syncronized interpretive dance while this guy gave them directions and took pictures and recorded them. I figure it was some sort of artistic thing, maybe practice for a performance or what not, but it was still very odd! Once I figure out how to put pictures on here, I will post some of them that I took.

An interesting thing I have noticed about Europe (or at least the Czech Republic) is that there is a cathedral in every small village, and sometimes more than one! It reminds me a bit of home in that there is a church on every corner. This is especially true for Prague. TONS of cathedrals! And every one of them is beautiful! They put all of our cathedrals back in the US to shame. OH, and most of them are older than our country. Incredible! If you are looking at my pictures on Facebook, you will notice tons of cathedrals.

Once we got back to the apartment where we are staying, Iva made us some homemade schnitzel for dinner, with boiled potatoes! It was delicious! So, I got my schnitzel, and got to taste a couple of other Czech specialties, including this one pastry that was incredible (it was spiraled dough that was rubbed with cinnamon and sugar, then toasted on a mini fire pit type thing. The inside is kinda doughy, but the outside is bake and flaky and it is wonderful. The food here is great. I might have a problem. Thank the Lord for all of the walking!

So, tomorrow is going to be a day of sightseeing while traveling. Iva is going to show me around her country, and along the way we are going to be stopping at a few of the different castles, at least the most famous ones in the Czech Republic. Can't wait to see a real castle for the first time! I keep joking that the only castle we have in the US belongs to Cinderella and is located in Orlando. Haha we failed in the castle department.

Saturday, June 11, 2011


I am currently sitting in an apartment in Prague, recuperating from a rather crazy (but awesome!) 48 hours! 2 flights and 19 hours after leaving home I finally arrived in Berlin.  The flights both went well. I was blessed to sit next to good conversationalists on both flights, as well as in the airport in Newark, which always makes things go a lot more pleasantly. The first flight I sat next to a sweet older lady named Doris who was originally from Long Island but was currently residing in ATL. She LOVED to talk about her family (whom she was going to visit for the weekend). In the airport in Newark I met a nice older mexican couple named Maria and Victor, and talked to them a while. They were trying to meet up with their cruise ship after having their original flight cancelled and missing the initial sailing of the boat. On the second flight I sat next to a Canadian guy aboat  my age. He was pretty cool to talk to in between the movies and t.v. shows I watched. Which, I watched like 2 movies and 3 shows and go to listen to a lot of great music. It was phenomenal to be able to choose what I wanted to watch and listen to.

So any way, I landed and not too much longer after getting my baggage Iva found me. Stop number one...Starbucks. Stop number two...bathroom. I found out that there is no way you will still look cute after an 8 hour flight in which you did no sleeping. So, we loaded my stuff into Iva's car and headed into downtown Berlin to do some sightseeing. We ended up getting passes for the U-Bahn and used their subway system to get around. Got to see a lot of awesome things, including parts of the Berlin wall that are still standing (which, BTW, they have torn down most of the rest of it, dangit!), and the line that marks where the wall used to be. We also got to see the Parliament building, US Embassy, a gorgeous cathedral, the Holocaust memorial, and we even stumbled upon a local flea market and artists market. I will be posting pics on Facebook soon of everything. We stopped for lunch at Subway, which means I have now had subway on three different continents! Awesome, I know. What can I say? I like subs!

So, after a full day in Berlin (and an hour to figure out how to get back to our car!) we drove 4 hours to Prague and that is where I currently am. Sleep will be happening soon after posting this blog. Stay tuned for Prague tomorrow!

BTW-we hit 125mph on the autobahn : )

<3 Laura

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Tomorrow, tomorrow....

Tomorrow is the day! 9 months of planning have finally come to fruition. I'm so excited!

Quick note to everyone who will be reading this over the next two months...

I am not a writer, so forgive the lack of finesse in the writing of the following blog entries. And, I sometimes get detailed, so forgive the length of the entries as well.

Let the fun begin!

Monday, June 6, 2011

3 days 'til Lift-off!

So, I suck at this whole blogging thing. I should probably get better at this since my grand European adventure begins in T- minus 3 days! But, before I say anything more about Europe, I will give a quick update and then put a temporary pause on the whole weight loss journey.

I have been able to lose 15 pounds since beginning my journey, but in the past month I have hit a wall and have lost all motivation. I haven't really exercised much in the past month.  My plan is to begin again officially once I get to Salamanca. Hopefully exercising a few times a week plus all of the walking I will be doing will help re-energize my weight loss journey. But, for now, I have lost 15 pounds, one pants size and  one dress size. Not bad for a couple of months of work! I will resume coverage of that journey sometime in August.

So, my plane lifts off from ATL in 3 days, 12 hours, and 22 minutes (the time now is 2:23am). So many emotions are cycling through me as I count down the days. I am excited about the trip, nervous about flying, frustrated with packing. Mostly, though, I'm excited!

Stay tuned as the countdown to Europe continues...