A Travellerspoint blog

July 2014

Bamberg and Bruges

Luging, biking, animals, and exploring

It's been many days since I've written a thing. We are in Belgium now for our week long farm stay. This relaxing place draws you in and has finally made me slow down the pace of our vacation. We've been in Europe for a month now and have enjoyed slowing down a bit. Our friends from Warsaw have joined us in Belgium for the week so we are having a particularly good time.

Let me back up a bit and describe the days before Belgium.

Day 24 - Drive from Berlin to Bamberg

Berlin was huge, exciting, and tiring. We were ready to move on to somewhere quieter, Luckily, we had picked a small brewery/inn located about 30 minutes from Bamberg. We drove for around four hours on speedy German autobahns and checked into Lowenbrau inn for two nights.
It was a nice afternoon so we decided to check out a nearby luge. What fun! We raced down a small hill on tracks. We all loved the speed and setting. Some of the little German boys kept trying to take cuts in line. DD#1 held up her foot to keep them in line. Of course the luge park had a biergarten with yummy bratwurst.
We headed back to our inn and walked about one kilometer to the inn's biergarten in the woods - Lowenbrau Keller. The setting was perfect! Playground, trees, lots of happy Germans, and delicious food and beer. DD#1 broke a flip-flop on the walk back and DD#2 had had enough walking for a while, but we still managed to have a nice evening. Our room was on the top story of an old building with plenty of room to spread out.
The toilet had the best sign of the entire trip!

Day 25 - More Luging, FIsh, Caves, and Bamberg

We woke up and enjoyed our favorite German breakfast of the trip! So many choices of meats, cheeses, yogurts, cereals, eggs, baked goods, and a cool automatic espresso machine. We took our time filling up and savoring our last couple German breakfasts.
We drove about an hour to a pretty mountain town called Pottenstein. We were eager to try a much longer luge and bobsled run. The runs were fast and exciting unless you got stuck behind a slowpoke.
We drove a little bit further down the road in search of a snack and found a yummy smoked fish place and fish hatchery. Kind of funny to eat the same fish that we later fed. At least we knew it was fresh!
Next to the fish place was a cave that was open for tours. We joined a German group and went up and down about 400 steps checking out the stalagtites and stalagmites.
We were hungry for a snack and needed a few items: shampoo, ice packs (I left an ice pack in Berlin. Oops. Needed for the vast amount of chocolate we have purchased!) We found a grocery store where we pushed a bakery button and out popped a pretzel or a croissant! Pretty cool!

We continued on to Bamberg to check out the beautiful city and hopefully eat dinner. Unfortunately, the kids were wiped and cranky. We decided to take a few pictures, add Bamberg to our list for our next trip to Germany, and eat at the hotel restaurant instead. All and all, a wise decision.

Day 26 - Drive from Bamberg to Bruges

We had a long drive to Bruges - around 7 hours. I was thankful that this was our last long drive of the trip. We had hoped to find a grocery store en route to stock up our kitchen for the week. Unfortunately, all grocery stores in Germany and Belgium are closed on Sunday - at least all the ones we found. We probably wasted an hour of driving around trying to find an open store.

We arrived at our cute farmhouse in Bruges which would be home for the week. Our friends from Poland joined us for what would be a great week exploring and catching up. We found a nice place for dinner on our first night that had a great outdoor play area for the kids. I so wish we had more kid-friendly restaurants with good food in the US. It seems like such a simple concept!

We enjoyed visiting the many animals on the farm: bunnies, donkeys, horses, sheep, chickens, birds, cats, etc... More pictures to follow.

Day 27 - Rainy day in Bruges and an awesome lightning storm

We slept in (again) and decided to hit the nearby bakery that we enjoyed three years ago. It was delicious just as we had remembered. I accidentally ordered a pate croissant of some kind with some sort of liver product. Gross! I thought it was some sugary goodness. We've had a few culinary misses on this trip.
We settled in at the farm, played some ping-pong, visited some critters, and finally drug ourselves to the huge Carrefour Hypermarket for a big grocery run. The beer aisle was particularly impressive. Tons of great beer for far more affordable prices than home. We stocked up.
We cooked an easy pasta/salad dinner, enjoyed catching up and settling into our home for the week.
I am a couple of days behind but will catch up soon with more pictures and updates from Bruges. Even though we're taking things a bit slower at this point of our trip, we are still managing some fun day trips.

Posted by familyineurope 00:39 Comments (2)

Berlin - the sun and the rain!

Day 22 - Exploring Berlin

Our goal of the day was to see some of the most important sights in Berlin. After another hearty German hotel breakfast, we bought a transit pass and enjoyed the double-decker buses. Of course we were always on the top!
Our first stop was the Reichstag building. We had 10am reservations to enter the building and take elevators to the rooftop terrace. The dome was closed due to cleaning. Bad timing! We had to make advanced reservations and bring passports to enter because of security. It's sort of like visiting the US Capitol or the White House. The views were great!
We meandered further on foot to the very moving Memorial to the Murdered Jews in Europe. It almost felt wrong to take pictures. We did our best to explain the history to the kids but to this day, I still have trouble grasping the enormity of WWII.
We continued to Brandenburg Gate. Probably the single most identifiable symbol in Berlin.
We took the bus further and took great pictures around Berlin. We especially liked the stoplights with the famous ampelmann.
Poor DD#2 got one of her infamous bloody noses. It was a such a hot day!
We sampled chocolate from a famous chocolate shop (Fassbender & Rausch) with impressive chocolate art. Little did we know that this would be our 2nd favorite chocolate event of the day!
These bears are all over Berlin:
DD#2 and I climbed to the top of the French Cathedral while the other half found some curry wurst. Check out all those cranes! Loads of construction going on in Berlin.
We took a short subway ride to the touristy Checkpoint Charlie. They hire actors to portray American soldiers. We spent about 10 minutes here but at least we can say we were there.
We continued on to the Ritter-Sport Chocolate Museum and Store. Possibly our favorite stop of the day! We bought a ton of chocolate at great prices, the kids made their own custom chocolate bars, and we had ice cream. Chocolate heaven!
We were tired so we headed back to the hotel for a break. DH was so hot and our humble pension did not have AC or even a fan to borrow. He trekked down to a department store and bought a fan so we could circulate some air around our hot room. We kept it easy and found a nearby beer garden along the Spree River for dinner. Berlin is great but like most big cities, they are exhausting!

Day 23 - Splitting up and Exploring Berlin, Part 2!

Kids were become restless and cranky. We decided to divide and conquer! DH and DD#1 took off for the Berlin Wall Memorial while DD#2 and I opted to shop, walk, and climb another tower.
Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church:
Parts of the Berlin Wall:
The Victory Tower in Tiergarten Park:
Berlin's famous Curry Wurst for lunch:
Despite the rain, we decided to check out one of Berlin's public pools for a swim.
We continued on subway to a new neighborhood in East Berlin - Prenzlauer Berg for dinner. First we had apps at Prater Biergarten and dinner at Metzer Eck. I'm a big fan of Berliner Weiss. The choices were having it red or green. I opted for red both times. I think they throw in some berry syrup. All I know it that it's delicious!

Posted by familyineurope 23:07 Comments (1)

More Gdansk and Warsaw

It's been harder to keep the blog updated consistently on this trip. Our days have been full and we seem to get to bed later and later every night. The kids are starting to bicker more and are definitely a little sick of each other. We are making an effort to balance our days with fun activities for kids and adults. In Warsaw, we spent our last day at an aqua park and indoor playground. Yes, we are missing out on museums and adult experiences. The Warsaw Uprising Museum would have been great. But I also know that these years are fleeting and in ten years or so, finding parks and pools won't be a priority. In other words, I can go to lots of "boring" museums in coming decades. For now, racing down waterslides in Warsaw is pretty fun in its own right. (I have some crazy scrapes on my back to prove it!)

Day 19

We had a leisurely breakast at our place before walking down to a park en route to the center of Gdansk. Our agenda was pretty simple today - play at a park or two and wander the city.
Here is our apartment in Gdansk:
We found another scenic park just down the hill.
Of course I was happy to have not one but two towers to potentially climb! We chose the town hall tower with a great view of the largest brick church in the world. It can hold 25,000 people!
While climbing the tower, we heard some amazing music. These two were the best accordian players I have ever heard!
Why not have cotton candy made right on the street?
We wandered around more, stopping wherever we wanted. I bought a pretty amber pendant. Amber is very popular all over Poland.
We headed back to the apartment to relax and transition to the beach. It was Saturday and the buses were not running to the beach. We weren't motivated enough to drive. Traffic can be messy around here on weekends. We opted to relax for a couple of hours before dinner reservations. We ate at a delicious seafood restaurant. My favorite meal so far!
After dinner, we strolled around a bit more and found what we all thought was the most scenic street in Gdansk.
All and all, a great day exploring a neat city with friends.

Day 20 - Solidarity Shipyard, Gdansk Beach, Malbork Castle

We checked out of the apartment and headed to the solidarity shipyards which witnessed both the beginning and the ending of communism in Poland. A very powerful monument for those who lost their lives attempting to fight an evil government. We did not explore the area in depth but got an impression of the importance of these somewhat recent events.
We found a nearby mall for a quick breakfast. The area around the old shipyard is being redeveloped into a somewhat trendy area.
We drove to the beach in Gdansk and walked through the lovely Ronald Reagan Park to get there. The beach was very popular on this lovely Sunday. The beach was colder and had bigger waves than the one in nearby Sopot.
Of course there was a great playground on our way back to the car.
We drove about 45 minutes toward Warsaw and stopped at Malbork to see the largest brick castle in the world. Like many sights in Poland, the castle had been rebuilt after being bombed in WWII. Many sights have pictures posted of the devastation in 1945. The castle was definitely worth seeing.
Our children were tortured at the castle!
Our ambitious day had us heading back to Warsaw later than we had planned. Oops. It didn't help that the new speedy toll road had a 45 + minute wait just to pay the stupid toll! This put all of us in a bad mood. We were especially irritated that we had to eat at this weird high-tech McDonalds. You had to order at a machine and wait for your number to appear. It would have been kind of neat if it hadn't taken 20+ minutes for our number to appear! Oh well. We rolled into Warsaw after 11pm. Our friends were so nice to stay so long. We are on vacation and they had to wake up for work the next morning. Ouch!

Day 21 - last day in Warsaw

We began our day at the nearby coffee shop before heading back to Wodny Park for more water fun. Big J was able to join us. We must have gone down the slides 40-50 times! It was really fun. To top that off, we headed next door to an indoor playground. Those slides were painful! The kids had a great time, of course.
We took a bus back to the main part of town and found a delicious Hungarian restaurant. It reminded me to buy some paprika before I come home. I need to learn some basic Hungarian recipes. So delicious!
Many stops for ice cream (lody in Polish) on these hot days.
The kids were tired so DH took them back to the apartment to cool off and relax. I spent the next couple of hours wandering around Warsaw. I bought myself a new shirt, saw the Tomb for Unknown Soldiers, Palace of Fine Arts, and the modern Warsaw architecture. It was a good walk but reminded me of the giant size of this city! I had some tired feet.
Our friends made us a great American hamburger BBQ for dinner. A perfect way to end our time in Warsaw. Luckily, we didn't have to say a long and dramatic goodbye because our friends will be joining us in Belgium next weekend!

Day 21 - Drive to Berlin

This will be the shortest entry yet. We left mid morning after DH skillfully loaded the trunk. I haven't been cut off from shopping yet! We braved the Polish autostradas one last time. DH will post a section soon about his experience driving in Poland. I refused to even try. We were stopped by the Polish police today after going through a toll plaza. DH thought he might have been speeding. They just wanted to see our car registration and passports. It made me nervous but they waved us on through after checking documents. We saw the aftermath of one bad accident on our way west. I had a hard time relaxing during this speedy 5 hour drive.

We arrived at our hotel in West Berlin around 4pm. Once we unpacked a bit and got our bearings, we found a recommended place for dinner. The food was delicious! It was our only real meal of the day so we were especially grateful to sit outside and relax. Prices were higher than Poland but we didn't really care after this long day in the car. The kids were great in the car. They had a hard time settling into our new place and getting to sleep. Moving place to place can be hard on them. It's also hot in Berlin and our budget accommodations is without AC or fans. We're on a mission to procure a fan for tomorrow night.
It's nearly midnight and I'm caught up! We are looking forward to exploring Berlin for the next couple of days.

Posted by familyineurope 23:05 Comments (1)

Warsaw, Gdansk, Sopot, and Polish Highways

Speeding along Poland's new highways and enjoying great weather.

Day 15 - Drive from Prague to Warsaw

We began the day knowing it would be the longest drive of the trip. We alternated between Poland's new autostradas and tiny little two lane roads full of farm equipment. It's easy to drive around 90-100 mph on the highways. So fast! The new Polish highways often have tall walls on each side. I've never seen a highway walled in for so long. The walls have an unknown purpose. Noise control, wind, aesthetics, fewer distractions for drivers?

We happened to drive right by the town of Boleslawiec which is famous for its beautiful ceramics. I was able to buy several pieces to bring home at discount prices! I have always loved these popular blue dishes so I was in heaven with so many choices at great prices.
The kids in car mode. They were mostly quite good the entire trip. We are starting to put up with more bickering. I think they are getting a little tired of each other.
We continued our long drive with a quick stop for lunch. We were so excited to finally arrive in Warsaw to see our friends that we haven't seen in ages! Their little boy "J" is almost two and so much fun. The girls were quickly big fans and a great help.

We enjoyed dinner at their lovely home, catching up and getting some rest before checking out Warsaw tomorrow.

Day 16 - Warsaw

I began the day with a run around a couple of nearby parks. Thank goodness the GPS works on my iPhone or I'd still be running around Warsaw! The city is huge and I did not have my bearings yet.

Our friend "big J" took us to their favorite little cafe for coffee and pastry. Delicious!
We took a bus down to the old town, walked the royal walk, climbed a church tower, and had lunch in the new town. Warsaw was completely rebuilt after being leveled in WWII. I found the rebuilt areas really nice and easy to navigate with fewer crowds.
This hosted many of the 2012 Euro Cup matches.
DD#2 was more than excited to run into a rollerblading panda!
A famous palm tree on Jerusalem Street, lazing away on the royal away, Chopin's heart, and Copernicus Statue!
Kid fun - sprinklers, chasing pigeons, eating pierogi - all with a view!
We really enjoyed our day checking out Warsaw.
Before dinner, we checked out a local waterpark complete with three very awesome waterslides without lines. Woopee! Again, they didn't allow pictures so I'm using one I found online.
We had a blast on the slides and might check the place out again before we leave. Big J and R (our good friends) took us out to one of their favorite restaurants in a pretty park. We had great grilled meal outside with a fun play area for kids. Another very relaxing meal.

Day 17 - Drive to Gdansk via Torun

We awoke to more sun, had coffee and pastries at another great place, and began our journey to Gdansk. Gdansk is a large city on the Baltic Sea with wonderful architecture and history. Luckily, most of the roads were autostradas so we made great time.

We stopped in the University town of Torun for lunch and to look around. The town is known for its fabulous gingerbread. I bought lots to bring home. Yummy! We ate at a recommended pierogi place that served baked, fried, or boiled pierogi. The grocery stores have entire pierogi sections. It's quite the cuisine around here.
You can buy soft contact lenses on the drugstore shelf!
Here is one of the many gingerbread shops:
Torun had a lovely town center and was a nice way to break up the 3.5 hour drive to Gdansk.

We arrived in Gdansk and found our apartment in a residential part of town not too far from the city center. Our friends met us around dinner time. We were feeling lazy and ordered pizza to be delivered. Actually, the apartment manager helped us order since we can barely speak a word in Polish. It's a really difficult language. The kids played in the small playground in the backyard and we made plans for our time in the Gdansk area.

Day 18 - Sopot Beach and Gdansk

I began the day with a great run through Gdansk. Once again, I was extra thankful for my iPhone and Google maps. We had plenty of groceries and an awesome coffee machine for breakfast in the apartment. We took our two cars to the nearby town of Sopot for beach fun and lunch. The water was actually warm in the Baltic Sea! DD#1 seemed particularly excited to swim in a new ocean. Lots of Polish people seemed just as excited for a sunny day to enjoy the lovely beach. It was crowded but still very pleasant.
We enjoyed a simple lunch in Sopot after walking down the main pedestrian drag.
DD#2 and I walked to the top of a historic lighthouse for some great views of the area, I love trekking to the top of any tower in any town but the rest of my family isn't quite as enthused. I was glad to have one taker for this short trip up some stairs.
We drove back to Gdansk and took a bus to the city center for a great al fresco dinner on a lovely street. The bus is still a novelty for us.
The weather was rather hot today and we were worn out. Kids are all crashing later than usual - so are the adults. We are enjoying being with great friends who are fantastic travel companions.

Posted by familyineurope 23:33 Archived in Poland Comments (2)

Prague - last two days

More parks, boating, exploring, eating & drinking!

Day 13
This picture seems to sum up Prague: Beautiful architecture, scenery, and BEER.

I'm running a few days behind on the blog so this next entry might be brief!

We began our day later than we should have - as has become the norm. It's easy to stay up too late on these lovely summer days! We wandered around the Mala Strana neighborhood in search of breakfast. On the way, we spotted the John Lennon Freedom Wall as well as a charming peeing statue. Ha ha!

We found the somewhat hidden Wallenstein Palace Gardens near our apartment. Somehow all the tour groups had found it as well. Oh well.

We took the metro to the Zizkov neighborhood to avoid crowds and to see the impressive TV tower. The tower is huge and also known for its crawling babies. That's right. There are huge crawling babies all over the tower. I believe the artist responsible for the babies is also created the peeing statue above. We took the speedy elevator to the top for some impressive views over the city. Our hometown feels so small after seeing the size of some of these European cities.
We found a nearby playgrounnd (Vrch Svateho Kriz) with a historic pub nearby (Parukarka). A great hour diversion for the kids to let off some steam.

DD#2 has become quite obsessed with fresh apricots. They are in season here and fruit is sold at little stands all over the place. She has eaten a ridiculous number of apricots and insists we buy more whenever we see them. It's hard to say no when your kid wants fruit so we've been indulging her passion. It's pretty cute.

We decided to keep the playground streak alive and head to one far from the town center - Krouzky na Vltave. The tram ride was relaxing and gave us energy for what was the most challenging (and dangerous) of all the playgrounds I have seen. Holy cow! I actually climbed up to the top of this thing and braved a slide just to see. Scary! We were actually happy a storm came through with heavy rain so we had an excuse to leave the playground before someone broke an arm.
We enjoyed the dry tram ride back into the city center. DH was especially happy that I found a beer stop that reminded us somewhat of our favorite beer haunt back home. Pivovarsky Klub is highly recommended.
After a break at our apartment, we headed out yet again for dinner. We found a nice Czech place in the Old Town that happened to be playing the final World Cup game. Perfect!

Day 14 - Last Day in Prague

I attempted to get up sort of early for a nice run along the Vlatva River. We finally got ourselves together and headed into the main part of the city. After four nights, we realized that we had spent little time in the city's center. We were set on a grand cafe experience on our last morning in Prague. The Grand Orient Cafe was certainly grand and the cake and coffee/hot chocolate was a sugary start to the day!
So many beautiful views all around the city.

DH and I visited Prague twice about 11 years ago. Since then, it seems tourism has escalated and capitalism is going strong. Who knew KFC would be so popular in Eastern Europe? Street entertainers were everywhere. We were particularly intrigued by this man floating mid-air. Clearly some sort of contraption is involved. Hmmm...
We probably walked 5-6 miles today wandering, shopping, gawking, and enjoying the scene. Eventually we ended up back at the river and decided to rent a paddle boat for an hour. A great work-out and wonderful views. Again.
We ended our 5 nights in Prague with an outdoor Indian meal. We were craving some spicy food! Even though Prague has become more crowded I know I will be back again someday. It's such a beautiful city and still affordable. We really enjoyed exploring some of the neighborhoods away from the city center.

Posted by familyineurope 22:49 Comments (1)

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