Prague: A Bird’s Eye View

Within the Prague Castle is St. Vitus Cathedral. It’s a Roman Catholic church and the seat of the Archbishop of Prague. It’s also a solid example of gothic architecture. Inside are the tombs of several Bohemian Kings (Czech royalty) and Holy Roman Emperors.

But you can wikipedia all of that.

Our favorite part about the St. Vitus Cathedral was actually the South Tower. For about $6.50 (150 CZK), you can purchase a ticket to climb the 287 steps up the Great South Tower. This exertion is easily rewarded by some of the best views you will have of Prague.

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It is absolutely breathtaking to overlook the Vltava river and its many picturesque bridges. The red tile roofs throughout the city also add a touch of magic and fairytale-like quality to the views.

On the day we went up (and up, and up) those stairs, the weather had been rather rainy and dreary. But just as we reached the top, some of the clouds cleared to reveal blue skies. Half the city was in shadow, and the other half in light. It was awesome.

So, if you ever find yourself in Prague and within Prague Castle, and are motivated enough to do a minor trek up a few hundred steps, then we definitely recommend doing this.

Mild warning though: the stairs also go around and around and around the tower. So do take breaks and try not to get too dizzy!

 

The Hills Are Alive…

The second stop on our Honeymoon was Salzburg, Austria.

This was my pick of cities to visit because…well…‘do’ a deer, a female deer; ‘re’ a drop of golden suuuuun

You get it. The Hills are alive (in a non-creepy way).

In fact, Salzburg is a perfect honeymoon destination. It’s such a romantic city, with music, history, and beauty in every corner.

We took the train from Munich, Germany (where we kicked off our Honeymoon with Oktoberfest) into Salzburg, Austria. It was a relatively short train ride as the two cities are only about 150 km (93 miles).

Our first moment of “wow” happened as we were entering the city.  When the train crosses over the Salzac River, you’re greeted with the sight of Festung Hohensalzburg looming high on a hill, watching over the city.

It’s just gorgeous in its Medieval splendor.

The Makartsteg Footbridge has become a Love Locks Bridge.

After checking into the Sheraton Grand in Salzburg (gorgeous hotel), we set off to walk around and explore.

One of the first things we wanted to see was the Hohensalzburg Fortress, of course. For about 15 Euros, you can purchase a trip/tour to this Medieval Fortress.  For those who do not want to hike up the trail towards the fort, there’s also a funicular that takes you up the mountain which offers the most amazing views.

The view taken from the funicular.

Inside, is one of the most beautifully well-preserved medieval halls, the Golden Hall. To think that construction of this fortress began in 1077.  This fortress was never breached…though it was surrendered peacefully during the Napoleanic Wars.

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The Golden Hall

On the day we visited the fortress, there was a dinner and a concert being set up.  It was for the “Fortress Dinner Concert” series. Which…if there was one thing we regretted in Salzburg, it was not taking in a concert. WHYYYYYYYYYYYY? I still feel it in my heart…but that just really means we have to go back someday, right?

You see, Salzburg is Mozart’s hometown. There’s statues and balls (Mozartkugel are chocolate covered pistachio, marzipan and nougat delights) and concerts featuring Mozart.

Again…it just means we have to go back. We must.

In a sheer twist of irony, as we went back to our hotel, our hearts full of regret that there was not ONE show we would be able to make last minute, three kids who attended local music schools were putting on a show for visiting family in the hotel lobby! It was so good, that it only solidified our determination to come back for a real concert.

Peterfriedhof – St. Peter’s Cemetery, featured in The Sound of Music
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The crypts where the Von Trapp Family hid.

Just below the Fortress is St. Peter’s Cemetery, the oldest cemetery in Salzburg. This is the cemetery featured in that scene where the VonTrapps hide behind the tombstones while the Nazis look for them.

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Later in our stay, the weather shifted and it started to rain. The brilliant blues and gorgeous greens of this beautiful city became one of moody contrast instead. And it was still a stunningly beautiful place.

Salzburg is also one of those towns where Sunday is still considered a day of rest. By early nightfall, storefronts and restaurants are closed giving the narrow streets and eerie yet still darkly romantic feel.

Come…follow me into the night…

Our hotel had a very nice restaurant where we had an extremely delicious and delightfully creative multi-course meal. We took photos…but like most foods served in tiny proportions…they don’t really look exactly like what they were…so we couldn’t quite remember what each of the courses were.

We do remember that we were very happy and satisfied with our meal. Not only that, but we got to try a traditional Salzburg dessert: the Salzburger Nockerl – a sweet souffle dumpling…thing.

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My Salzburger Nockerl after it was presented with several other Nockerl and dusted with powdered sugar to look like Austrian Alps. White stuff is the souffle, the “dumpling”, and some raspberry mousse.

For the most part, Salzburg felt like a nice almost-sleepy town compared to the sheer madness that was Munich at Oktoberfest. It was the perfect way to calm down and relax after the exhaustion that comes with having too many liters of bier.

It’s a place of beauty, music, history and so much nature — if we had time (or had known, also), we would have done some of the gorgeous hikes around the area, including hiking (spinning around, dancing, singing?) around the hills that were alive with the sound of music.

So, with that, and the concerts we still have to go to, we really have no choice but to go back, right?

It All Comes with the Cold Water

“Kemur Allt Með Kalda Vatninu” 

In Iceland, this phrase–“it all comes with the cold water“– is used when someone is being impatient…or so they say. It means something like…if you’re patient, all will fall into place.

This phrase pretty much describes our third day in Iceland when all things seemed to have fallen out of place; we were late…and yet…we were still rewarded at the end for making the most of it.

After our jaunt around the Golden Circle the day before, we were completely invigorated and in love with Iceland. We couldn’t wait for our next day’s adventures.

Unfortunately, when one is on vacation, the specific days of the week tend to be of less importance…hence I accidentally set my alarm for the wrong day of the week…which means, we were several hours late in getting our start.

Sigh…kemur allt með kalda vatninu…

We had such grand plans for an epic road trip. After a quick discussion, we decided to forego some sights and still go for the long haul to Jökulsárlón.

First Stop: Another Random Spot off the Highway

It had rained the night before so the morning still wore evidence of it. Everything was wet and green and black–and it was beautiful: the rain-soaked soil bore a stark contrast to the bright green of the moss-covered hills. And even more stunning were the fissures of steam escaping throughout the landscape like mini volcanic vents.

We had to stop and take a picture.

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Black and green and gorgeous landscapes (even from a moving car and through a tinted window)

Stop 2: Keldur

Our feelings are a little ambivalent about this stop. It was a good thirty minutes off the main highway and over a bumpy, unpaved road (good thing we had an SUV). On paper, this place sounded epic, like the one spot where all your Medieval fantasies come to life.

It’s where Iceland’s oldest Great Viking Hall is located: built some time in the 1100’s complete with an escape tunnel that narrows and lowers so that enemies chasing you would have to exit single-file and practically crawling head first (perfect for a beheading!).  Great Sagas were written about Keldur!

Instead, we arrive to a … farm?

A beautiful, scenic, functioning farm. Which, in retrospect, makes sense since back in the 1100’s, farming was probably the most lucrative and productive thing one could do. (Raiding probably had diminishing returns…) And it was pretty cool to see the “hobbit” houses (turf houses).

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So now we know what a Medieval farm looks like.

Keldur is actually still a functioning farm to this day, and it’s kind of incredible how Iceland has maintained this land, honored it, and continues to use it.

Third Stop: Seljalandsfoss

So. Fricken. Cool.

And cold. But so worth it! This waterfall is known for being the one that you can go behind. It was just really fun and unique to get to go around a waterfall and see it from the “back” with very little hiking or effort. The line for the photo op is kind of long, though. Expect your turn to take up to 15 minutes.

One other cool thing about this place is that it is privately owned. It’s on someone’s land, and the owners just basically tolerate the tourists. They also have boxes for donation to maintain the area, and we threw in a few krona.

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This is a fun, short stop. IF we hadn’t woken up so late, I’d have wanted to take a hike around the area. There were at least another four smaller waterfalls along the face of the cliff.

Unfortunately, our time and daylight was limited, so we had to continue on to our next stop.

Fourth Stop: Lunch at Vik

We had a late lunch in the quaint small town of Vik. We had…hotdogs. Like our earlier posts about Iceland, we cannot emphasize enough how expensive eating out in Iceland can be. Our hotdogs (pyslur) cost nearly $6.00 each from the Kronan supermarket. It definitely made me miss the $1.50 Polish sausages from Costco in America.

However, Icelandic pylsur is one of the best hotdogs ever…they’re mostly made of Icelandic lamb, as well as pork and beef. It’s made even better with the condiments that traditionally go with it, especially with the crispy fried onions, and the “brown” sauce called pylsusinnep.

Unfortunately, we did not take any photos of the hotdogs we scarfed down. But I might write a quick blog about all the food we ate in Iceland, cuz boy did we eat some delicious (and some disgusting) things while there.

While stretching our legs at Vik, we took a short walk on the black sand beach just outside of the Kronan Supermarket.

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Black sand beach and lava rocks

Then it was back to a long stretch of road towards our main destination of the day.

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The Final Destination: Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon

We drove over eight hours to get to this spot.

Jökulsárlón is a glacial lagoon with waters dotted with icebergs from the surrounding Breiðamerkurjökull Glacier, part of larger Vatnajökull Glacier. The Glacier Lagoon flows  into the Atlantic Ocean, leaving chunks of ice on a black sand beach.

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Chunks of Ice on the Shore

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The Reward: It took us so long to get to our destination even when we skipped a few stops that the sun started to set while we were there. We were rewarded by a peaceful, ethereal, breathtaking, soul-healing sunset.

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The temperatures dropped precipitously as soon as the sun went down the horizon, and we knew it was time to make the long, long drive back to our hotel in Reykjavik.

But on the way, we were given one last hurrah for patience and persistence: we got a glimpse of the elusive Northern Lights.

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The photos are a bit grainy as they were just taken from my phone, and the moon was actually shining full and bright. It was sheer luck that we even saw them.

It was the cherry on top of a day that could have been ruined — but we decided to make the most of it anyway. It all comes with the cold water.

Whatever “it” is…it’s all beautiful in Iceland.

Read about our jaunt around the Golden Circle HERE.

DUBLIN: What’s the Craic?

Craic: (/kræk/KRAK) or “crack” is a term for news, gossip, fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation, particularly prominent in Ireland. -Wikipedia (and our Air BnB host confirms that we should measure a pub by its music and craic).

We went on a whirlwind three-day trip to Dublin, Ireland on a semi-whim.  We decided it was definitely worth the three days because WOW Airlines had airfares for $340 roundtrip from San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to Dublin Airport (DUB), with a requisite stop-over in Reykjavik, of course.

That price in airfare barely takes us to Dallas, Texas, one way–much less across the span of the United States. So, of course we jumped on the opportunity.

It also happened to be February, which is the husband’s birthday month. So I decided to turn Dublin into his birthday trip! How amazing of me, right? Best. Wife. Ever.

Getting to Dublin

While WOW Airlines makes travel affordable, you have to be prepared for a little discomfort. Especially when they change planes on you last minute. We went from having an A330 to an A320 (or A321). Either way, it went from a bigger plane to a smaller one. It was even more cramped than the plane we took to Iceland in October 2017.

How cramped?

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This cramped. I am all of 5’2.

The smaller plane also added a stop in Edmonton, Canada to refuel, also adding almost two hours to the travel time (we left earlier than scheduled – check your emails from WOW! – so we still arrived in Reykjavik and Dublin on time).

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View from our Air BnB

We opted for an Air BnB because it was more affordable than hotels in the heart of Dublin. Our particular Air BnB was located right in the Christchurch area: walking distance to everything from the Guinness Storehouse, Jameson Distillery, Ha’Penny Bridge, Trinity College, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and the Temple Bar District.`

Better yet, the Airlink 747 (a bus that takes you to and from the Dublin airport) drops right in front of the apartment.

The buses drop off and pick up every 15 minutes or so, making it extremely convenient to travel to and from the airport for €12 roundtrip.

DAY 1: GUINNESS, JAMESON and DUBLIN’S OLDEST PUB

We arrived Friday morning into Dublin international airport. After customs, collecting our bags and the bus ride, we made it into our Air BnB close to noon.

But first…food! We were starving at that point!

We walked over to Leo Burdock‘s in the Christchurch area. It was a small fish n’ chips stand with no seating area (that particular location), so we took our fresh cod and chips and found a bench outside of the Christ Church Cathedral. There, we had a little picnic, and probably ruined some other tourists’ photos of the cathedral.

With our stomachs full, and post a quick shower, we had a renewed vigor to go out and explore. But of course, onto the famed Guinness Storehouse!

The Guinness Storehouse involves a tour about the history of Guinness and how it’s made. Then you continue upward, (yes, upward) to various floors featuring different attractions, including a lesson on how to drink a Guinness properly, and how to serve the “Perfect Pour” at the Guinness Academy. The experiences culminates at the top: The Gravity Bar – a 7th floor bar with 360 degree views of Dublin, where you can imbibe your “free” Guinness (well, you paid for the tour, and you poured a Guinness at the Academy, so you take said perfectly poured Guinness and you drink it upstairs).

The views are pretty amazing, as you can see most of Dublin: all the way to the coast, the greenery of Phoenix Park, St. Patrick’s Cathedral…and everything in between.  The downside? Of course there’s a downside…it’s tourists like us…packed into this amazing little bar. On the bright side, we hear that the Gravity Bar is being expanded and will be twice the size by 2019!

Next stop: The Historic Jameson Distillery on Bow St.

A scant 15 minute walk and across the Liffey River is the Jameson Distillery on Bow Street. Of note, this is also right by the St. Michan’s Church — a legit medieval church with crypts and mummies which was founded in 1095, rebuilt in 1685 and rebuilt in 1825…it’s pretty old, and still runs church services to this day. But I digress…back to the drinking.

This Jameson distillery was established in 1780 (yeah, it’s old, too), but was closed in 1971 when the actual distillery moved out of Dublin into Cork County. So now, it’s more of a tasting room, a historical tour, and a really nice whiskey bar.

We had opted out of the tour because one, we had gone through the Jack Daniels Distillery tour the previous summer in Nashville, TN; two, because it was no longer actually a distillery; and three, it was almost closing time, and we really wanted to grab some drinks at their schmancy whiskey bar.

Instead, we went for a pretty cool whiskey tasting experience at John Jameson’s old office. Our guide actually turned out to be from Marin County, California — who fell in love with Dublin (and a girl who lived in Dublin), and decided to move there.

While there, Chris got a personalized bottle of the Distillery Edition – which is only available at the distillery, and our new favorite JamesonJameson Crested. It is not available in the U.S., but is much better than regular Jameson (and even a little cheaper). It is hard to find outside of Ireland, though may be available in other countries too. It is kind of the same blend as regular Jameson, but aged older. It has been consistently rated five stars online, and quite frankly, so would we. While I bought him one bottle at the distillery…Chris also bought another bottle at Duty Free in the airport.

We wrapped up our Jameson experience at the really nice bar and ordered a couple of whisky cocktails.

Next: Dinner at The Brazen Head

Finally, we were ready for dinner. We went on the nice eight-minute walk to The Brazen Head which is hailed as “Ireland’s Oldest pub.” It boasts that it is a historical site (oldest of anything usually is), and a great music venue. They also have an Irish storytelling dinner — which we may have to go back for. Instead, we were just there for the good pub food.

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Bangers & Mash
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Guinness Stew

We really enjoyed our meals at the Brazen Head, but as soon as we were done…our exhaustion and jetlag kicked in. We were well-fed, warm, and filled with Jameson whiskey and Guinness beer…it was definitely time to head back and cross day 1 off our list.

Look out for our post about our jam-packed Day 2, including St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Trinity College, the Book of Kells, the Whiskey Museum, and a birthday dinner at the Bull & Castle!!!