Monday, July 30, 2012

A thrilling tale of ironing

I have a new iron and it thrills me.

I'm pretty sure that as a teenager it would never have occurred to me that I could utter that sentence.  I remember my mother getting a supremely flash Laura Star iron and being thrilled to bits.  I could appreciate that it was a good iron, but that it could summon up the emotion of thrill seemed a step too far.

My how times change.  I don't yet own a fabled Laura Star but my new steam iron from Aldi is thrilling me all the same.  It heats fast and hot.  It has proper steam that gets rid of a crease or puts one in with no effort at all.  The fancy LCD display lets me choose an array of settings, firing up the steam like nothing else.  I powered through shirts, jeans and pillowcases in no time flat.  I even read the instruction book.

It reminds me of the time my best friend and I decided that rather than meet in Portmans as we had for the last few years (after graduating from Sportsgirl) we would meet in the kitchenware section of David Jones.  We were shocked and appalled at ourselves and yet were brave enough to admit, if one of us was late, kitchenware now held more browsing allure.

So yes, to my teenage self it may all seem a little sad, but to a time poor 30-something with a love of crisply ironed everything, this really is a thrilling purchase.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Blackberry Vodka - the conclusion

So remember last summer S and I spent many, many weekends out picking blackberries?  We made all sorts of yummy things with the bounty but one of them required some patience - our blackberry vodka.

Well today all that waiting paid off as we set about extracting the now deliciously flavoured vodka from the berries.  You have two choices when you drain the vodka.  You can pour it through muslin and have a lovely clear red but we feel that you miss out then on all the berry flavour (plus the vodka that has really soaked in) so instead we tend to mash the berries through a sieve.  You get a more cloudy but delicious result this way.

However today S had a brilliant idea.  A quick phone call later and we had my Mum's juice extractor!  No time later and we have 2.5 litres of delicious blackberry vodka in the fridge.

Now the question is just what to turn it into?  We have made a start with blackberry vodka, lemon and tonic but there will be many more experiments to come.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


Let me begin by saying I am a meat eater.  I like my steak on the rare spectrum, my lamb and duck pink.  I have eaten all sorts of animals from your standard cows, sheep and chicken to llama, goat, deer and rat.  I enjoy meat.

However, I do love my veggies too and one thing I always notice when I travel is that I just don't eat as many vegetables as normal.  In fact sometimes it feels almost like I've become a cake eating carnivore with the meals you get at restaurants and the kinds of "holiday" food I indulge in. 

Having access to markets like these in Paris did mean we ate some veggies.

Because we stayed in apartments with kitchens for much of our trip, S and I did do some self catering and as a result, this trip was probably less veggie deprived that usual, but I was still craving them by the time we got home.  So much so that even in our terribly tired jet lagged state, the first thing we did after getting home, having a shower and putting a load of washing on, was jump in the car and head to the fresh food markets.  We bought a heap of fresh fruit and veggies and have been enjoying them ever since.

And I attempted to eat my body weight in fresh berries.

S made a huge pot of veggie soup which has been our dinner pretty much ever since we got home and I made a giant batch of veggie pasta to have for lunches. Today as I ate my ratatouille pasta (which was significantly more vegetable than pasta) I reflected on just how delicious veggies are and how good they make me feel.

And so I add vegetables to one of the things I love coming home to!

What "home" foods do you miss when you are on holiday?  And do you have a favourite vegetable?

Monday, July 23, 2012

The game that could add 10 years to your life

I am home.  Home, such a wonderful place.  I love to travel, to go to new places, see new and different things, but every time I travel it just makes me even happier to come to my lovely home.  The familiar and comfortable bed and pillow, the shower that is just right, having everything on hand.  It is actually kind of relaxing to just hang out, doing the washing and ironing (of which there was mountains) and cook a simple meal.  Perfect.

We are, however, horribly jet lagged.  Right now I'm powering through, but I can feel the tiredness at the back of my brain and yet I suspect I will have another night where I wake bright eyed at 1am.  This will be a long week.

So as I'm not yet firing on all cylinders, today's blog is brought to you by a TED talk.  For those of you who aren't familiar with the TED concept, it is a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design.  At the TED conferences and TEDx events fascinating thinkers and doers are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes or less).  They cover every topic you can possibly imagine.  Just check the TED website to see the variety.

But the talk I want to link you to is by Jane McGonigal on the game that could add 10 years to your life.  It is about engaging in a fun way in activities that promote well being.  One of those activities is exactly what this blog is about, thinking about positive stuff.  It is a great talk, really something worth thinking about, so if you have a spare 20 minutes, I highly recommend watching it or if you don't look at some pictures of baby animals (then watch the talk so you understand why!).


Friday, July 20, 2012

Brunch and travel

Today we began the long trip home. Doorstep to doorstep we will be in transit for something like 40 hours. So to build our strength up we began the day with brunch. Brunch is big in Denmark. Just about every cafe offers it. We went to a place where we had been to dinner before because I had spotted their brunch menu. S had a fairly standard eggs, bacon and sausage. I however had the full brunch. Eggs scrambled with asparagus and mushroom, bacon, sausage, toast with a shrimp topping, Parma ham, smoked salmon, 2 types of cheese, yoghurt with berries syrup and granola, fruit and cake! Oh and juice and tea to wash it down. Of course all the portions were small but it was still a mighty meal. After eating we wandered around Christanhaven (the area we were staying in) for awhile. We walked past the best restaurant in the world - Noma. It is fairl ordinary looking but I would love to eat there (I just need to bring someone who eats fish, S would not enjoy the fish heavy menu). Finally we headed to the airport. There have already been annoyances. But such is international travel I guess. It really has been a spectacular trip. Blithe Moments will resume normal programming once jet lag has been dealt with.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Mermaids, palaces, pastries

It is our last full day in Denmark so it was time to visit one of the most famous sites - the sculpture of the little mermaid.  She sits by herself in the harbour but is hardly alone, we could spot her location easily by the milling crowd of tourists.

She is just a little smaller than human size and really is beautiful but I found the tourists jockeying for photo position hilarious.

From there we had time for one last palace so we headed to Rosenborg Slot - Rosenborg Palace.  It was remarkably different from any of the palaces we have seen so far.  It really seemed like a palace for a cold climate.  The rooms were quite dark, heavily wood paneled with relatively small windows.  Some of the rooms were completely inside, no windows at all.  But they were beautiful.  Amazing painted scenes on the paneling and artwork everywhere.  Even the toilet was tiled to the ceiling with hand-painted blue and white scenes.

As well as the palace, Rosenborg is home to the treasury.  Like the Tower of London contains the British crown jewels, Rosenborg contains Denmark's.  However, unlike the Tower of London, here you can take as long as you want with each item.  They were quite different as well.  They are obviously older, the jewels have far less facets.  But along with amazing gems there is the most intricate and beautiful enamel work.

As well as the crowns there are all sorts of weapons, carved amber and ivory, and jewellery.  Oh the jewellery.  There was one particular emerald and diamond necklace, bracelet, earring and tiara set that I told S would be just fine as a birthday present.

Our final mission was, as always, food.  For our last full day one danish would not do - so we got 3!  And they were of course totally delicious.

Our time in Denmark has been brilliant, in fact our whole trip to Europe has been amazing.  Tomorrow we begin the ridiculously long trip home.  But the memories of the last few weeks will live with us forever.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Lazy Day

There is a phenomenon I've noticed when travelling, somehow you seem to run out of a bit of oomph in the last couple of days.  Lethargy hit us today and we let it.  A glorious long sleep in, a lazy process to get up, an un-action packed day to say the least.

The weather is quite cool with a fairly icy breeze, I think it is just aclimatising us before we go back to Canberra.  It feels quite strange to layer up with jumpers and coats when only a week or so ago we were sweltering.  But it made for decent walking weather when we finally got ourselves out and about.

We started with a Danish hot dog which we had been told we must eat.  As hot dogs go it was tasty, however it didn't live up to the that amazing kransky in Prague.

We then headed into the city for some more random wanderings.  I've been needing a watch for ages and had been eying off Skagen watches.  Being a Danish brand I had hoped it would be the best range and cheapest here.  The range was huge but the prices are almost exactly the same as Australia.  However given I can get a fairly hefty tax back at the airport, I now own a lovely new watch.  Now that is a good souvenir!

Afternoon tea was another danish (sorry we keep eating them before thinking of taking a picture).  This was a cinnamon and apple one.  Again not the prettiest of danishes but yum - as they say, never judge a book by its cover.

S's family are headed off to continue their holiday tomorrow so we had one final dinner together and left them to their packing.  Tomorrow hopefully we will gain a second wind and actually be tourists again.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A real Danish

The restorative effects of sleep were greatly appreciated today with a proper sleep in, but once up we headed out and on the tourist track again.

Today we were lucky enough to get tickets for a guided tour of the Danish Parliament.  It is situated in the Christiansborg Palace.  The tour was great, we learnt about the way the parliament works, the changes in the constitution over time and even the building.  They have this amazing lift which is on a continuous cycle.  Imagine 16 boxes half going up, half going down, when they get to the bottom or top they slide over.  They don't stop so you can see people really timing their entry and exit.

After the tour we headed to the rest of the palace.  It isn't occupied but the state rooms are still used by the royal family for state events.  Again it was hard not to compare it to some of the other palaces we have seen.  Interestingly however the building is less than a 100 years old.  It had burned down - for the second time.  The palace has been burned down, demolished and extended numerous times.  The rooms were beautiful and very different including some very modern tapestries.

After the palace we decided to head back to the apartment for a rest - but we did stop for a Danish pastry on the way.  It wasn't the prettiest danish I've ever seen but it was incredibly tasty.  Beautiful flaky pastry, a delicious custard filling and topped with flaked almonds.  It is no doubt the first of many to be consumed.

Tonight we headed out with all of S's family for dinner.  It was a great meal and lovely to spend time with them all.  But that said we are both looking forward to another good night's sleep.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Vikings and a Cathedral

After what felt like a far too short amount of time, we were up and about again this morning.

Having hired a car to get us all to the wedding, we used it again today to head out west to Roskilde to the Viking Ship Museum.  Guided by a GSP system that (mostly) kept us on the right side of the road, we made our way out of the city and up to Roskilde.

The museum wasn't what I expected.  I think I thought it was going to be more about the Vikings in general.  What it centred on was the remains of 5 boats ranging from a huge 60 person warship to cargo and fishing boats that were found in the area.  It showed how the boats were built with all sorts of active displays and had both the actual wreaks and replicas on display.  It may not have been what we expected but I found it very interesting.

After that we went up into the town to Roskilde Domkirke - the cathedral.  It is listed on the UNESCO World Heritage list and is the place where the kings and queens of Denmark are buried.  It really is a gorgeous cathedral with amazing mausoleums and brilliant sculpture.  We spent ages wandering around.

We were very weary by this stage so stopped for some coffee (and a pretty ordinary slice of cake) before heading back to Copenhagen.

Tonight we have had a bit of a rest then headed out for some food.  I have to say we are all looking somewhat weary following yesterday's festivities but it has still been a great day.

A Danish Wedding

Yesterday was the reason for this trip - the wedding of S's brother. 

The wedding was held in Frederiksborg Castle Church.  The castle is a Danish royal castle and the church is still one used by the royal family, in fact the younger of the two Danish princes married his first wife there.  As you can imagine, it isn't the easiest place to get married in, but the bride's family is from the local village and she was baptised there, so she could get married there.  And to be honest, if you could get married in a stunning royal church, wouldn't you?

It is the first time I've attended a wedding in another country and it was really interesting to see the differences.  The ceremony was quite similar and apart from the hymns was conducted in English for the benefit of the Australians.  The main difference was where people sat/stood at various points and that the couple only said the word "yes", not "I do" or repeated any vows etc.

After the wedding we wandered the grounds of the castle but it was pretty cold so we headed for the reception in a restaurant attached to the church.  It was there that we found out more of the Danish wedding traditions.  When the guests bang their cutlery on the plate the bride and groom had to stand on their chairs and kiss.  When everyone stomped their feet they had to kiss under the table.  If the bride left the room then all the female guests could kiss the groom and vice versa.  And finally at the end of the night, all the women tore bits off the bride's veil for good luck (all I could think was I hope it wasn't expensive - it wasn't, she made it herself) and the guys cut the toes off the grooms socks which apparently the bride is meant to sew on in a year's time.

The other outstanding thing about the wedding was the amount of food and dancing.  Drinks were accompanied by nibblies of puff pastry type normal things and bacon.  Yup, big bits of dry, crispy (cold) bacon.  It was delicious.

Entree was cod with a mustard cream sauce.  Main was venison en croute with red cabbage, spinach tart, potatoes and gravy.  Once you finished your plate they came around with more venison etc for seconds!  Dessert was a strawberry tart with mascapone icecream and then there was the wedding cake.  It was a cornucopia of almond pastry filled with biscuits and chocolates.  Delicious.  But it didn't end there.  At about 1am when the dancing had been going strong (more on that in a sec) a whole range of bread, cold cuts, terrines and cheese was brought out for people to make the traditional open faced sandwiches known as smorgesbrot.  We were super full by the end of the night.

Speeches were made throughout dinner and they were all lovely.  After dessert, we all got up from the tables and moved into the next room for the cutting of the cake.  During that time, the whole reception room was cleared, turning it into a dace floor and the dancing started, hours and hours of it.  Remember that I said the supper was at 1am, well it was after 2am when the bride and groom left!  Now that is a party.

It really was a brilliant thing to be a part of.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Welcome to Copenhagen

Yesterday we finished our trip to Berlin with a final visit to Buchwald Konditorei und Cafe for some more torte. While our choices weren't quite as good as the day before they were still extremely tasty and worth getting rained on to get there.

From there we headed to the airport and after the usual annoying waiting time we arrived in Copenhagen.  S's brother is getting married this weekend just outside Copenhagen, so first thing we caught up with the rest of the family.  We have managed to find a cute little place to stay together.  Spread over three floors, we each have a tiny apartment in a gorgeous part of town.  S and I are on the top floor.  It is compact to say the least and the slope of the ceiling means we need to be careful of our heads in places but it is very comfortable.

We headed out for dinner with the bride and groom to be and some of their friends then they took us on a tour of the "green-light district".  It is basically an area that used to be a navy barracks that hippies took over in the 70's.  These days it is still a sort of hippie commune of squatters and lots and lots of places to buy marijuana - hence the rule that no photos are allowed.  It is still illegal, just tolerated.  It certainly wasn't what I was expecting to find in the middle of Copenhagen.

After a refreshing night's sleep S and I set about seeing some of Copenhagen on foot today.  We are here for quite awhile so didn't feel any need to rush and see things.  Instead we wandered about the town centre, starting to give ourselves an idea of where things are.  We did go up the Round Tower, a 16th century building that comprised a church, university library and observatory when first built.  The observatory tower is round (hence the name) and you go most of the way up on a winding slope before climbing some stairs at the top.  As Copenhagen is so flat you get a good view of the city from the top.  The slope of the path also makes for a fun slope for kids to play on, so the whole tower was filled with the sounds of excited children thundering about.  Between their shouts you could hear strains of the jazz festival that is going on in the city this week.

We finished our wanderings with some grocery shopping.  It is always interesting to check out supermarkets in different cities (plus we needed breakfast stuff!).

Copenhagen really is a very pretty city, I particularly love all the brightly painted buildings.  However it is also a very expensive city.  Compared to the last few cities, things can be eyewateringly pricey.  It should be an interesting week trying not to completely blow our budget!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Out and about in Berlin

The weather forecast wasn't great today - rain all day - and indeed we woke to rain.  But it stopped and we bought fresh croissants from our local bakery for breakfast.

Fueled up and with hopeful eyes on the sky, we headed to the East Side Gallery.  It is a long section of the Berlin Wall which artists painted following the fall of the wall, becoming an impromptu outdoor gallery.  Like much of the wall and the divided Berlin, preserving that history was not an immediate priority, in fact much has had to be reconstructed for tourism.  The gallery has sort of survived.  Parts have been restored, parts painted over and parts heavily covered in graffiti.  I don't think there is a real plan for it yet, but I hope they develop one because parts of it are spectacular.

The rain held off till we had nearly finished the walk and was kind enough to finish by the time we got to our next destination.  We headed to Museum Island and visited the Nueue Museum (the new museum which is actually a couple of hundred years old).  It contains some impressive things, Nefratiri's bust and the jewels and other treasures (well what remains after the Soviets looted) discovered by Heirich Schliemann at Troy.  These were quite exciting for me as my third grade teacher had told us about them and I've been interested ever since.

Following tradition, it was now time for food.  We had yet to eat a donner kabab - apparently the idea of wrapping the meat and salad in bread is a Berlin invention - so we sought one out.  We choose a popular looking place and I have to say it was pretty tasty (but not very photogenic).

After that we headed to a place I had read about.  Buchwald Konditorei und Cafe is located on the edge of the Tiergarten - take the S-bahn line 5 or 7 to Bellveue, when you leave the station turn left and walk a short distance up the river.  It is on the corner by the bridge with bears on it.  The reason I've given directions is that it was awesome.  We had two fantastic cakes and I had the most amazing iced-chocolate made with chocolate milk and chocolate ice-cream flecked with flakes of dark chocolate topped with whipped cream.  It may have contained a week's worth of calories but it was so worth it.  And there is a good chance we will be back tomorrow before we leave.

The rain had the excellent timing to again come down while we were in the cafe, so we could walk quietly back to the S-bahn, we were way to full for any fast movements and head back to the apartment.  We need to pack (and eat a dinner of vegetables) because tomorrow we travel to our final destination, Copenhagen.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Erotic Berlin

(and no, I'm not trying to drive my site traffic up with that title)

After a day of history, our pattern of travel demanded a day of shopping and food.  Unfortunately it was my turn for a dodgy knee, so I took back the knee brace and didn't let it stop me powering through a major Berlin shopping district.

Berlin's premier department store KaDeWe is on our bus route, so it was an easy journey to start our shopping day there.  However we used the opportunity to combine our mission to eat as much cake as possible by heading straight up to the food floor.  KaDeWe is what Harrods would be without the endless crushing crowds of tourists - an expensive refined department store with an amazing food floor that contains both things to buy and take away and also a series of "bars" serving everything from coffee and cake, to beer and sausage, cheese and port, champagne and oysters.  We stopped off for a coffee and shared a slice of KaDeWe's own torte.  It was delicious, quite reminiscent of a very good tiramisu, although S - always the perfectionist - would have liked the decorative chocolate slices to be a bit less sweet (he also ate the first one before I could take the photo).

We wandered down the street, really window shopping.  It is just so interesting to compare prices and stock in different places.  For lunch we shared the traditional Berlin street food "currywurst" with fries.  I had been told this is a must have but it seemed to us to basically be a curried sausage, not that exciting.

We continued down the street till we ended up at the Erotik Museum.  We decided that given we were there, we might as well take a look.  After navigating the shop full of varying toys, videos and costumes we found the actual museum quite fascinating.  It starts out about Beate Uhse, the woman who founded the world's first sex shop.  She has such an interesting history, a pilot who flew a stolen German army plane out of East Germany with her 2 year old son and 2 wounded soldiers on board.  She started by writing a pamphlet on contraception and ended up with a publicly listed company worth hundreds of millions.

Other than that it contained an amazing collection of various forms of erotic material from different cultures through the ages.  Most gross and yet fascinating was the display of aphrodisiacs and performance enhancers including things like dried tiger penis, etc.

Suitably informed, we headed back up the street, stopping to buy me some more strawberries and raspberries (they are so cheap and good here, S thinks I may become a berry with the amount I'm eating) and headed back to the apartment.  However before we headed home we stopped in to our local baker for a drink and slice of cake.  It is just bliss to have such great bakeries etc so close.

Tonight I've got my knee up and resting, all set for another day in Berlin.  We are eating in - dessert will be more of the delicious maple and walnut Movinpick icecream we found yesterday.  Who knows what tomorrow will bring.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Berlin revealled

Berlin is a city with a long and complicated history.  Just the events that happened here in the 20th century are enough to fill a university history degree.  So with that in mind, we thought it would be a good idea to start our time in Berlin with a tour that would help fill us in on those facts and as usual, we thought our feet would be the best way to really get an appreciation, so we signed up for a half day walking tour.

We were lucky to have a much cooler day today which made walking about for hours quite comfortable in comparisson with the temperatures this last week.

Nearly all of the tour was in the old east Berlin.  Whenever looking at anything in Berlin you have to remember that 90% of the city was destroyed or damaged by the end of the war so nearly everything you see has been repaired or rebuilt.  On the east side, that only began in earnest after the wall came down, so everywhere you go there are cranes, scaffolding and building sites.

Our tour took us from Museum Island, down Unter den Linden, through the Brandenburg Gate, to the Holocaust memorial, past the site of Hitler's bunker, to a remaining section of the Berlin Wall and finished just past Checkpoint Charlie.

There are so many things that I could tell you about today, but two that resonated strongly with me were the Holocaust memorial and Hitler's bunker.

The holocaust memorial is just near the Bandenburg Gate and is specifically for Jewish victims.  Another recognising the homosexual victims is nearby in the Tiergarten and one to recognise the Roma Gypsies is under construction.  It is made up of blocks of concrete of varying height, laid out in rows.  As you enter it, the blocks are ankle high, but towards the middle they tower over your head.  They do this in the main by having the ground drop away so it is hard to appreciate the height until you are inside it.  The architect has left the meaning up to individuals to determine, some people feel it is like a cemetery, representative of graves, others see train wagons, the colour of ash, barracks or even the way National Socialism seemed harmless at first until all of a sudden it was over your head. Whatever the interpretation I found it a deeply moving experience to walk through.

Below it there is a museum, part of which reads the names and details of the known victims aloud.  This year will be the first time since the museum opened that the roll call restarts, it takes about 7.5 years to read.

Just a few blocks away is the site of Hitler's bunker.  It was where he directed the last part of the war and is where he committed suicide.  It is a car park.  The walls of the bunker are still there underground, they were too thick to destroy but it has been completely filled in with soil and rubble.  The only sign there was erected by a local tour company to stop over eager tourists annoying the local residents.

This very different attitude to two significant sites says a lot about the ways in which the German people have dealt with the after effects of the war.

Our tour wrapped up after 2pm, by which time I was very hungry.  We sought out some lunch, wandered a shopping strip (I bought a dress) then headed home by the now open supermarket to buy supplies for dinner.

It has been such an interesting day, my head feels so full of new facts.  Berlin is proving to be as fascinating as I expected but also a very navigable and enjoyable city to visit.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Train travel and satisfying meals

Today was a travel day as we farewelled Prague and headed to Berlin.

We did not have reserved seats for this leg of the trip and when I saw the very large number of people waiting on the platform I was nervous.  The train pulled up and we bolted on, only to find pretty much every seat on that section reserved.  There was much speedy jumping on and off the train before we found an empty compartment.  It was my first time in a proper train compartment (i.e just 6 seats separated from the corridor with a door) and for much of the trip there were only 4 of us in there so I was very charmed.

It is an extremely scenic trip.  We spent a lot of time travelling through river valleys.  There were gorgeous little houses and villages and at least two castles on hill top.  The time really actually flew by and before we knew it we were in Berlin.  The Berlin public transport is well organised and easy to understand so it was easy to find our apartment which seems great (although is on the 4th floor with no lift).

Our timing was perfect, not 10 minutes after we got in a storm broke, but it was short lived and left a lovely cool evening.

Being Sunday there are no supermarkets open so we had to eat out.  The neighbourhood we are in is lovely, lots of bars, bakeries and cafes line the leafy streets.  We picked a popular looking place and I did my best to translate the menu.  S had a nice meal of sausages with cabbage and potato, but my meal of veal with gorgonzola sauce and roast potato was spectacular.  S ended up adding all his potato to my place to soak up the sauce.

I also had a very large glass of wine and am now feeling the effects of it and the long day.  It may not have been the most action packed day but it has been lovely.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Walking, walking, walking

Prague is described as a city for walking.  Well walk we did, and walk and walk and climb seemingly endless stairs.  Which is all well and good because I've also eaten more junk food in a single day than I have for a very long time.

We decided to go out for breakfast this morning, but took a ridiculously long time getting ready and somehow missed breakfast being served.  Without the options I was anticipating I was a bit lost and will blame that for the fact that I ended up having apple strudel for breaky at 11.30am. S ordered pancakes with berry compote and yoghurt, however the pancakes came out more like a series of donuts.  He loved it.  To balance the meal we washed it down with hot chocolate - which was good but not a patch on last night's.

We headed over the bridge to the lesser town area of Prague to visit the castle.  A miscalculation with the tram lead to what was probably an hour long walk, much of it up hill till we reached the castle.  We did get to walk past some lovely buildings and the views as you climb up to the castle which is very high above the city are quite spectacular.  It was really only on our trip back across the river later in the afternoon that we appreciated the vast distance we had covered.  It was made all the more arduous by the fact that storms were threatening and it was very hot and humid.

Once up at the castle we were not surprisingly somewhat tired and both our dodgy knees were playing up, so we paused for a donut and a kransky type hot dog.  They were great, and gave us the energy to start touring the castle just as the storm broke.  The castle was not what I was expecting.  After all the furnished palaces of the last few weeks I thought it would be something like that but it was mainly just a series of empty rooms and bare stone walls.  It is the largest castle in the world according to the Guinness Book of Records and the architecture is impressive but it just wasn't what we thought it would be.  Still we had a great time looking around and attempting not to get too wet.

Luckily the rain stopped fairly quickly and we headed back into town.  We had a reviving couple of slices of cake and then topped it off with another giant kransky from the street vendors - I did say that we ate crazy amounts of junk food today.

Tired, with some seriously sore feet we contemplated a Thai massage (because on every block there seems to be garnet shops, souvenir stores, beer vendors, and Thai massage places - not a combination we expected) however the wait times were too long, so we are just chilling in our apartment as we pack.  Prague has been short and sweet tomorrow it is time for Berlin!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Exploring Prague, history and food

The warm weather is still with us and after a series of thunder storms last night, it was quite sticky today, but that wasn't going to stop us getting out and seeing the sights of Prague.

Prague is a slightly more challenging destination.  I speak enough German and French that getting around Austria and France was no real issue, but I don't speak or read any Czech.  Luckily nearly everyone here speaks at least a bit of English but signs are almost impossible.  Still we managed to purchase tram tickets and get into Wenceslas Square.

It is less a square and more a large boulevard and yes, it is named after Saint Wenceslas of the Christmas carol (which got a few details wrong, he wasn't a King, only a duke and was not quite as good as implied).

We wandered around, it is very commercial, 2 McDonalds, 2 Starbucks, KFC, numerous UK chain stores etc, but the buildings themselves are gorgeous.  We had signed up for a walking tour so decided to fuel ourselves with one of the kransky type sausages that were being sold by numerous vendors around the square.  It was huge!  A massive kransky, two little chipolatas, onion, gherkins, tomato, sauerkraut type stuff all held in place by a surprisingly small roll and topped with your choice of mayo, tomato sauce and mustard - we were very glad we were sharing.  But it was delicious and we devoured it in no time flat.

We met up with our tour guide Nina for a tour of new town (new being a relative term, it was built in the 14th century), old town and the Jewish quarter.  She began with a few tips for anyone coming to Prague, don't change money on the street or even in the official looking change agents.  More often than not they give you old Bulgarian or Hungarian notes which look similar but have no value, even in their original countries.  She told us which taxis to use and to be wary of the very excellent pickpockets they have here.

But then it was on to the history.  From being able to see where the Russian tanks shelled buildings in 1969, to the astronomical clock built in the 14th century, Prague is a city with a long and complex history.  The buildings are really lovely, many painted in gorgeous pastel shades and yes, everywhere there are spires of churches.

We enjoyed the tour a lot, but we were also extremely pleased to stop for a rest and some cake at the end.  The cake was average, but the coffee was good - we will require more samples to judge Prague on its cake standards.  Suitably revived we wandered the winding lane ways of the old town further.  There is no doubt that it is a tourist haven, I would love to know what percentage of the population make their living from tourism.  A certain type of garnet is mined here and I've never seen such a high density of jewellery shops.

In my quest to eat as many berries as possible we bought a punnet of mixed berries and headed back to the apartment for a rest.

I don't know if I have mentioned it previously but the reason we are on this trip at the moment is that S's brother is getting married in Denmark and we used it as an excuse to make a holiday of it.  We had always planned to come to Prague but the timing worked out so that we would be here at the same time as S's brother's buck's weekend.

S isn't joining them for all the buck's activities but we did head out to dinner with them tonight.  It was a good Czech meal, goulash with bread dumplings for S and rabbit ragout with gnocchi for me.  Really yummy all around.  We then headed for some dessert getting caught in the rain on the way.  So there I was, the only girl on a bucks night out, in a white tank top, in the rain.  Luckily I was wearing sensible underwear or I could have ended up the entertainment for the evening too!

We found a random cafe, wine, coffee and hot chocolate were ordered.  I was one of the lucky ones with a hot chocolate.  When it arrived it was like a thick, dark sauce, one of the guys described it like the sauce you get on a self saucing pudding, just with no pudding.  All I can say is that it was amazing, I ate it with a spoon - when did you have a hot chocolate like that?

Anyway, it has certainly been a memorable evening in Prague.

P.S. over the course of today my camera died, you may have noticed the purple tinge as it started to die.  I have a dreadful feeling the rest of the trip may be documented on my phone!