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Our location as of 10/2/2012

Madison, WI, USA
Last updated 10/2/2012
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Country Recap: Austria

We stayed with an awesome group of people in Vienna. It was an Airbnb place, but it felt more like couchsurfing. Our host, Chris, and her flatmates welcomed us and kept us entertained the whole time we were there. They made us quality coffee each morning and baked a marble cake one night. Chris gave us two really good restaurant recommendations and some ideas for sightseeing. It was just fun to hang out with nice people again.

The highlight of our sightseeing in Austria was Sch??brunn Palace, former residence of the Habsburgs. The grounds outside included a hedge maze for us to wander through and perfectly manicured gardens. Inside, we took the grand tour and saw the Rococo??interior. Some of the rooms looked great, and some were hideous.

Salzburg is famous for two things: Mozart and the Sound of Music. All of the Sound of Music tour groups got especially annoying, as they would sing at every single film location they visited. But it was still a fun place, even with all the “Do-Re-Mi” choruses following us around. The town buildings and gardens are beautiful. We walked up to the??Festung Hohensalzburg and got a good view of the fields and mountains.

The best part was the party we found. We had no idea what was going on at the time, but we later found out it was the annual Harvest Festival. There was a huge tent decorated with red and white ribbons and??filled with crowded tables. There was a band playing festive marches and everyone was talking and laughing. Many of the locals were wearing traditional clothing, which seemed to be??lederhosen for men and??dirndl for women. The beer was good, but the grilled chicken was incredible!??We had such a fun afternoon there!??If Oktoberfest is anything like this, I’m sure we’ll love it!

Top three experiences?

Nikki:

  1. The beer tent in Salzburg!
  2. Staying with Chris and her friends in Vienna.
  3. The Sch??brunn Palace in Vienna.

Brad:

  1. Sch??brunn Palace and its huge gardens.
  2. The Salzburg Harvest Festival beer tent. I especially loved when the church bells started ringing at three o’clock. The band finished their song, and the bells’ ringing was a constant roar of sound. Very cool.
  3. Salzburg’s fortress.

Bottom three experiences?

Nikki:

  1. All of the Sound of Music stuff in Salzburg.
  2. The weather. We got rained on a couple of times.
  3. The museum in the castle in Salzburg was really boring.

Brad:

  1. The Esperanto museum. It’s really cool there’s a museum, and it had a few moments, like the Soviet and Nazi persecution of Esperanto speakers. But it’s missing key information about the creation of the language and an explanation of its grammatic advantages.
  2. The museum in Salzburg’s fortress was bad. It was also here that I realized how dull European history is compared to other places we visited.
  3. The Sound of Music tours in Salzburg and all the Mozart souvenirs everywhere. Kind of cheesy.

Best meal?

Nikki: Hard to choose. I think the turkey schnitzel in Salzburg was the best.

Brad: Fried chicken with fries at the beer tent in Salzburg.

Worst meal?

Nikki: Whatever pastry thing I got at a bakery in Vienna. I think it needed to be heated up, but the guy didn’t put it in the oven.

Brad: For breakfast in Vienna, we stopped at a bakery and got some pizza-like thing that looked good, but since it was cold it didn’t taste very good.

Favorite person we met?

Nikki: Chris, our airbnb host in Vienna.

Brad: Christine in Vienna. Her place was great and she was very nice. 

Best thing we didn’t blog about?

Nikki: We finally paid some money to visit a couple of museums: the Globe Museum and the Esperanto Museum. They were both tiny and quirky, but very well done and interesting.

Weirdest thing?

Nikki: We saw deer in farms. They must eat veal.

Brad: The outfits that people actually wear in Salzburg. Very Bavarian.

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Country Recap: Czech Republic

PraguePrague has been on our list of places to visit since we began planning out our tour of Europe. We always pictured it as a wild Bohemian, Eastern European city of crazy partying and backpackers everywhere. Turns out, there’s a bit of partying (though there’s much more than that) and, contrary to what some believe, it’s in central Europe and the local people don’t like to be associated with Eastern Europe. We only had three days, but we really packed a lot into our time while we were here. And for those who are wondering, this region is Bohemia, but it’s not really bohemian in the nineteenth century French use of the word; that was just a geographically-challenged stereotype.

The first thing we noticed as we walked to our hostel was the bright, often pastel, colored buildings. Everything seemed in such great condition, which is not what I was picturing. Nikki’s relatives visited Prague many years ago, and didn’t think it was very nice. Since then, apparently, times have been good because the city was gorgeous.

The historical part of the city is centered around the snaking Vltava River. We saw the major highlights, including the T??n Church, Charles Bridge, and Prague Castle. One day, we went up to the hideous Soviet TV tower, where we could see all the green-colored old copper roofs. Mostly we just wandered around and soaked in the beautiful sights and weather.

We also made a stop at a local beer garden, our first proper beer garden on the trip. Czechs drink a lot, about 160 liters per year per person. And with beer prices so low, it’s hard to resist a quick afternoon liter of pilsner.

Top three experiences?

Nikki:

  1. The historical city center.
  2. The stained glass in St. Vitus Cathedral.
  3. Sitting in the egg chairs in the top of the TV tower. 

Brad:

  1. Prague Old Town. There are so many really cool buildings, and there must have been a lot of restoration done recently because they look great. I really liked the T??n cathedral and astronomical clock.
  2. Charles Bridge at sunset.
  3. Everything is very reasonably priced. The costs are a bit lower in Central Europe in general compared to Western Europe. Beer here was especially cheap, maybe $1.50 for a half liter.

Bottom three experiences?

Nikki:

  1. The loud Asian group that woke everyone in our room up at 4 in the morning.
  2. The trams were always really crowded.
  3. The internet at our hostel was really bad.

Brad:

  1. The Internet at our hostel was really slow, and at night it flat out didn’t work. We’re looking at apartments and other things, and I wish we had good enough Internet to Skype or at least write an email.
  2. Czech Republic uses their own currency. It wasn’t a problem getting cash, but going through Europe and not having to change currencies every country has been great.
  3. We had another snorer in our dorm room. If you snore, please don’t stay in a dorm with other people.

Best meal?

Nikki: Fried cheese for dinner. Somewhat like a cheese curd, it was a big, thick slab of breaded and fried cheese. Super yummy!

Brad: Nikki and I split two dishes: I had a potato pancake covered in beef goulash and cheese and she had fried cheese with fries. They were both great, but I liked mine better.

Worst meal?

Nikki: Can’t think of anything in particular…

Brad: We ate good food throughout, so I don’t know what to say. Maybe the night we had pasta, since it wasn’t special.

Favorite person we met?

Nikki: Omar, our Spanish roommate was friendly, talkative guy.

Brad: Omar from Spain, whom we met in our dorm. He was fun and friendly and on a six-month trip similar to ours going in the other direction.

Worst disaster?

Nikki: None

Brad: No problems.

Weirdest thing?

Nikki: The baby statues on the outside of the TV tower. I guess it’s art?

Brad: If the Soviet-built TV tower wasn’t weird enough, the giant black, ant-like babies crawling up and down it surely take it to a level of weirdness not normally seen in nature.

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Country Recap: The Netherlands

It’s a little misleading to call this post a country recap, because we only went to one city in the Netherlands. Amsterdam was everything I expected it to be: beautiful, cultural, fun, and filled with vice. We loved it!

AmsterdamThe layout of the city is extremely confusing and difficult to navigate. The center is made up of concentric half-circles of streets and canals, so you might think you’re walking to the west, but in reality you are slowly curving north. Plus, I swear every single street looks identical. They all have brown brick buildings, a bridge, and bikes parked everywhere. It probably makes sense if you’re familiar with it, but as a visitor, I typically had no idea which area of the city we were in.

Of course, we took a walk through the infamous Red Light District. We went during the day, which made the experience especially weird, because the whole area is basically a normal part of town. One minute we would walk by a fetish shop, then we’d see a florist and a fruit vendor, then lingerie-clad prostitutes posing in the windows, and then right after that elderly tourists rolling their suitcases into a hotel. It was like, what is going on here?

The other thing Amsterdam is infamous for, of course, is marijuana. Even though I was expecting to see it around, it was still very weird. We saw plants growing in some of the windows and it wasn’t uncommon to see people smoking. The stores that sell pot go by the euphemism “coffeeshop” and they are pretty much all over the place. They are not allowed to use garish advertising, so usually the only thing that gives them away is the Jamaican colors or the smell of joints. For the record, pot is illegal in the Netherlands, but the Dutch have decided to tolerate its use. However, it sounds like a conservative government has been voted in and tourists will no longer be allowed to enter the coffeeshops starting in 2013, so if you want to join the masses of “marijuana tourists,” you’d better buy your plane ticket.

Top three experiences?

Nikki:

  1. Going out. It’s a lively city!
  2. Seeing all the bicycles. I love that biking is a primary form of transportation here!
  3. Hanging out in Vondelpark, Amersterdam’s giant park.

Brad:

  1. The transport system. Their tram system is wonderfully convenient, and the inside of the subway cars was covered in artwork. Not to mention all the bikes everywhere! The roads were designed for bicyclists, trams, and pedestrians, not vehicles.
  2. Just like in Belgium, the junk food was really, really good. We ate a lot of fries, and my waffle with chocolate and whipped cream was yummy.
  3. The Vondelpark was a great place to hang out.

Bottom three experiences?

Nikki:

  1. Getting lost all the time.
  2. Dealing with bad weather. It was nice our first day, but after that it rained off and on.
  3. Watching the Packers. That was the first Packer game we’d seen in over a year, and of course they lost!

Brad:

  1. Amsterdam is an expensive place! Just our tiny Airbnb room cost more per day than most Asian countries’ per-day costs, and this was one of the cheapest options we could find.
  2. All of Amsterdam really does look the same–brick buildings and a canal running through the middle, bordered by small roads, a line of trees, and a bridge with maybe a tram line running over it. Most of the time we didn’t know where we were.
  3. The nonalcoholic beer fiasco, only because Nikki kept calling me a buffoon afterwards. Strangely, it tasted fine.

Best meal?

Nikki: Frites and mayonnaise. I know, it sounds gross, but Dutch mayonnaise is a little different than ours and it actually tastes great with fries.

Brad: We had fries a lot here, and they were really, really good.

Worst meal?

Nikki: I don’t remember anything especially bad. Everything was so expensive, though! It was hard to find reasonable prices.  

Brad: We had a picnic lunch ready, but the weather went to pants so we ate it indoors. However, the baguette I got didn’t taste very good. The outside wasn’t firm at all. Definitely not in France anymore.

Worst disaster?

Nikki: Our night at the jazz club. I wanted to hear some live music while we were in town, so we did a little research and found a club that everyone said was awesome. We went there early to get a good seat and the place seemed perfect–all wood interior, dim lighting, chill atmosphere, good mix of customers. I thought it was going to be one of our most fun nights…until the band started playing. They were AWFUL. It sounded like elevator music with an 80′s synthesizer. We gave it about eight minutes before we called it quits, but a couple other people left thirty seconds into the first song.

Brad: Nikki gave me some money and sent me to the store to get lunch supplies, including some good beer. I, in my infinite wisdom, really only looked for the cheapest beer in the “good” beer section and ended up with Amstel 0.0% alcohol-free beer. Oops! Strangely, that beer tastes better than many American beers.

Weirdest thing?

Nikki: The Red Light District. The sex stuff on its own didn’t really weird me out. It was more the mix of normal, everyday things along with the sex shops and prostitutes that seemed extremely odd.

Brad: The red light district is so strange: strip clubs, window prostitutes, and coffeeshops were intermixed with average businesses, homes, shops, and the Chinatown.

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Country Recap: Belgium

Nikki pretty much summed up our short stay in Belgium: lots of wonderful food and beer, in a relaxed, laid-back, pretty surrounding. I wish we could have stayed longer in Belgium, perhaps cutting some time from France, so we could see more of the country.

Top three experiences?

Nikki:

  1. Hanging out with Jeltse in Antwerp.
  2. Walking around Brugge.
  3. Eating and drinking!

Brad:

  1. Brugge. It’s such a beautiful, old city. It was fun just to wander on the quiet roads and canals.
  2. Belgian beers. Trappist beers, which is a protected name like Champagne and Chianti, are really, really good.
  3. I had a great time in Antwerp when Jeltse showed us around, and especially the dinner of currywurst and fries!

Bottom three experiences?

Nikki:

  1. Staying with the weirdos in their disgusting house.
  2. Trying to find a cafe that was open for breakfast in Brugge. For some reason, they were all closed while we were looking.
  3. It was always tough to find a bathroom while we were wandering around.

Brad:

  1. Our Airbnb experience. It was not a nice place and the hosts were weird.
  2. Finding breakfast in Brugge was difficult, and we ended up just eating an early lunch at a massively overpriced restaurant in the tourist district. Apparently people don’t go out for breakfast in Belgium.
  3. Only having three days in this awesome country.

Best meal?

Nikki: Hard to pick just one, but I’ll say the fish and potatoes I had in Brugge.

Brad: We had a great dinner in Brugge. I had the roast beef with tomato sauce and Nikki had fish, with fries and good beer.

Worst meal?

Nikki: The ridiculously overpriced sandwich I had in Brugge.

Brad: Probably the dinner that never happened on our first night. Our Airbnb hosts took us out, and kept taking us to places they said had dinner, but all we ended up getting was beer and appetizers. I felt like they hijacked our night. We ended up ditching them and going home without a dinner.

Favorite person we met?

Nikki: Jeltse’s sisters were both just as friendly as she is. Too bad we couldn’t meet the whole family!

Brad: I’d say Jeltse, but she was my answer for Mongolia. So it’ll be Antony, one of Jeltse’s friends who we met up with. He explained a lot about Belgian beers.

Worst disaster?

Nikki: No major disasters.

Favorite place we stayed?

Nikki: With Jeltse and her family in Antwerp! So much fun and a very nice house.

Brad: With Jeltse. Her family has a really nice house, and I’m grateful for her taking us in for the night.

Worst place we stayed?

Nikki: The house in Brugge.

Brad: In Brugge, with the crazies from Airbnb.

Best thing we didn’t blog about?

Nikki: Dinner at ‘T Ganzespel in Brugge. The restaurant is only open two nights a week and the owner serves homemade classic Belgian dishes. It was a really cute place and the prices are great. Definitely recommend going there!

Weirdest thing?

Nikki: Jeltse translated Dutch names for us and some of them were pretty funny. The new mall is “The City Party Room” in English and one of the street names apparently translates into “Jerking Off Road.”

Brad: That Antwerp is named after throwing a hand and there are hands all over the place.

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Country Recap: France

While France might not have had the “wow” moments that other countries had, we still had a good time. We went straight up the country from the Catalan border with Spain to Belgium, stopping to take in the unforgettable sights of Paris and even have our own multi-stage tandem bike tour through the French countryside.

The food was delicious, yet simple: when in doubt, we just went to a bakery and bought a baguette. The French train system was equally simple, and public transport in cities was great in general. The language barrier posed a problem a couple times, as the French are very proud of their language and English isn’t generally spoken as much as in other countries. Still, after months and months of pantomime and pointing in Asia, we got by just fine.

Strangely, from here on out, the longest we’ll be in a country is five days! The trip really will be ending very soon!

Top three experiences?

Nikki:

  1. Paris
  2. Biking in the Loire Valley
  3. The bread! French bread is so good, I probably shouldn’t eat it because I know I’m going to crave it after I’m gone. I love how bread is such an important aspect of French life. There’s a bakery on almost every block. Each evening you see people coming home with their daily baguette. If a restaurant doesn’t give you free, fresh bread, you’re allowed to be scandalized. No wonder they stormed the Bastille when they didn’t have enough bread!

Brad:

  1. Biking the Loire Valley. We had a nice tandem to stroll through this great place.
  2. Paris. I really liked the Montmartre neighborhood where we stayed.
  3. Our picnic lunches. We’d get ham, Edam cheese, a baguette, apples, dessert, and a small bottle of wine and eat in a park. Looking back, buying freshly baked baguettes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner was awesome (and cheap).

Bottom three experiences?

Nikki:

  1. Trying to sleep during the heat wave in Toulousse.
  2. General lack of “wow moments.”
  3. Leaving Paris.

Brad:

  1. The heat in Toulouse! Actually it was hot everywhere, but in Toulouse we didn’t feel like doing anything.
  2. Nantes. It was nice, but for whatever reason we didn’t really enjoy it as much.
  3. We lost one of our days in La Rochelle because of rain. It was a really cool city and I wish we could have seen more of it that first day.

Best meal?

Nikki: The bucket of mussels I had in La Rochelle.

Brad: The omelet served with fries I had for lunch in Paris.

Worst meal?

Nikki: The flan I ordered for dessert in Nantes. Completely wrong texture.

Brad: We ate at a kebab place and I had a sandwich that had some strange sauce on it I didn’t like.

Favorite person we met?

Nikki: Francois, the retired Frenchman who hosted us in Amboise. No idea what he was saying, but I know he was hilarious and kind.

Brad: Christine and Francoise in Amboise. They were very nice and funny.

Worst disaster?

Nikki: Definitely our “kitchen moment” in La Rochelle. We were staying at a place on Airbnb, and I asked Eric, the husband, if we could cook in their kitchen. He said okay, but when Catherine, the wife, came home, we found out it was actually not okay at all. We just tried to finish eating as fast as we could while Catherine yelled at Eric in French. Awkward.

Brad: Figuring out what to do with our luggage while we were on our biking tour. The bike shop said they do luggage transfers from one city to the next, but when I emailed them they said they needed at least 10 business days to arrange. (!) In the end, we just left our bags in the bike shop and returned to where we started and taking a train to Blois, instead of just biking straight there. So it worked out, but it was a pain.

Favorite place we stayed?

Nikki: Our studio in Montmartre.

Brad: We used Airbnb a lot in this country, and the places were all really nice. My favorite was our place in Paris. It was tiny, but it was in a nice neighborhood and cozy.

Worst place we stayed?

Nikki: Etap in Blois.

Brad: In Toulouse, where it was boiling hot, we slept in a loft without a fan. It felt like our hostel in Florence.

Best thing we didn’t blog about?

Nikki: I really liked the city of Tours.

Brad: Our stay in Orleans. Although we didn’t do any touristy Joan of Arc museums, it was still a nice town to hang out for a day in.

Weirdest thing?

Nikki: The only weird thing I can think of is that, apparently, rabbit is a common meal. We never got a chance to try it, though.

Brad: All the gate jumping in the Paris subway. In our first half hour in the city, we saw four or five people climbing over the turnstyles and swinging doors behind them. And it wasn’t just homeless-looking people either. It appears to be a somewhat normal thing to do, and I only saw one person getting ticketed for doing it.

Statistics for France

  • Days in the country: 19
  • Places we stayed: 9
  • Rainy days: 1
  • UNESCO World Heritage sites visited: 4
  • Photos taken: 651
  • Photos uploaded to SmugMug: 140, 22% of all photos taken
  • Geocaches found: 15
  • Hours traveling overland: 16

Statistics for the Trip

  • Countries visited: 20
  • Days on the road: 372
  • Days remaining: 26
  • Places we stayed: 154
  • Rainy days: 58
  • UNESCO World Heritage sites visited: 44
  • Photos taken: 16,463
  • Photos uploaded to SmugMug: 3,885, 24% of all photos taken
  • Geocaches found: 51
  • Hours traveling overland: 805