Istanbul (not Constantinople)

When people my age and a little older hear the word, "Istanbul" they most likely think of the 1990 cover by They Might Be Giants. The song refers to the renaming of the city from Constantinople that occurred in Read more

Vienna

After a three hour train ride, we arrived in Vienna. Here's the scene. Chicken schnitzle. As you might imagine, it's been heaven for me having this as a food option since we arrived in Prague. It's always so delicious! Compared Read more

Budapest

Around 7am in the morning, an alarm started going off in our cabin on the train. Next thing we know, someone shows up at the door with coffee and croissants. I could get used to this kind of travel! Read more

Prague

I've seen too many spy thriller movies that have featured Prague. Shots of the city's wonderful architecture fading into some covert operations where an envelope changes hands between strangers and then one of them is shot in a back Read more

Living in Amsterdam

After several weeks of amazing cities and family visits, Josh and I decided to hit the chill button. We found a great deal on a studio apartment in Amsterdam and decided to rent it for the month of June. Read more

Istanbul (not Constantinople)

Posted on by Josh West in Turkey | Leave a comment

When people my age and a little older hear the word, “Istanbul” they most likely think of the 1990 cover by They Might Be Giants. The song refers to the renaming of the city from Constantinople that occurred in 1930. Istanbul is the 5th largest city in the world – housing 14.1 million people within its city limits. For exactly 16 centuries as Constantinople, it served as the capital of four empires: Roman, Byzantine, Latin, and Ottoman. With the rise of the Ottomans in 1453, the city was transformed from a Christian to an Islamic center. Additionally, the geography of the city is interesting as it sits along the Bosphorus strait between the Sea of Marmara and the Black sea where the west side of the city is in Europe and across the straight to the east contains the Asian side of the city. Funny enough, despite all of that, it’s not the capital of today’s Republic of Turkey – that’s in Ankara. Here’s the scene.

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Lauren booked a great location for our stay. We were only several blocks from many great sites and restaurants, most notably the Sultan Ahmed Mosque. It is more commonly known as the Blue Mosque on account of all of the beautiful blue tiles inside. It was easily visible from our rooftop terrace.

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Our first attempt to visit the mosque was denied on account of its closure for prayer service. Our second attempt found an extremely long line and we resolved to get there first thing in the morning the following day. Third time’s a charm, right? Wrong. Getting up early did not save us from an extremely long line. However, a Turkish man with very good English approached us. It’s free to enter the temple, but hiring him as a guide would allow us to skip the line. The math is easy. Would you pay 15 euros to skip a 2-3 hour line in 90 degree heat and have that time back to continue to explore other parts of the city? Yes. Thanks, microeconomics class. We’ve seen this before at the Vatican Museum in Rome. Entry is X in line, but if you hire a guide for 2X, you go right in. Was this legit? No way to know, but it didn’t matter. One lady completely exploded in Italian as we passed on our way in and another gentleman got very angry with me in a language I couldn’t identify. I viewed their anger as misplaced as I wasn’t cutting the line, I was with a local guide with different rules.

The interior was beautiful.

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While here, it’s a must to visit the Grand Bazaar. There are many shops selling carpets, hookahs, and really pretty lamps that Lauren wants. She wanted all of the lamps. I must admit that as “things” go, they had really nice things to buy and they are very aggressive salesmen.

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We also visited the Spice Market. Under one roof, it’s sugar and spice and everyone’s nice. We tried some baklava and I think I’ve converted Lauren. She never seemed to take much interest back in the states, but the real deal has her thinking differently now.

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One thing that you MUST do in Istanbul is go to a Turkish bath house (hamam.) We chose the Suleymaniye Hamam constructed in 1557. After changing into a towel, you sit in a 115 degree room for 30-40 minutes. This gets all of your dead skin nice and soft and detoxifies you quite a bit. Only go into this venture well hydrated and feeling good! Then, a man will scrub your body with a rough mit to take off all of the skin, followed by a bath massage with loads of soapy suds. You’re periodically rinsed with cooler and cooler water. Finally, cleaner than you’ve ever been, you’re wrapped up in towels and sent out to relax and cool down.

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I enjoyed a Turkish tea after my bath. I would do this every two weeks if it were available and I could afford it.

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We continued to explore more of the city on foot visiting another mosque. This time it was the smaller, but still beautiful Rustem Pasha mosque. Women must cover their hair, shoulders, and knees to enter. It’s more liberal for men, but shorts are frowned upon. As it was very hot, I noticed that most male visitors with shorts were not adhering to the guidelines. I don’t think they’ll stop you from entering, but it’s disrespectful. That’s not my style, so I asked for a wrap to enter the mosque. I look dashing in a floral print.

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The interior.

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As we continued our walk, I had to stop by one of the boats docked along the strait for a fried mackerel fish sandwich. Sea-legged cooks man the grill aboard the rocky boats and you order from a guy on land to take the hand-off from the boat.

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We continued along the Galata Bridge to the Asian side of the city. We can joke that we walked from Europe to Asia and back. Other silly promotions, such as Tiger Woods hitting a golf ball along the Bosphorus Bridge, have been completed for the same reason.

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On the other side, we made our way to Taksim Square. Not as much happening on this side as it is more residential. This is the monument erected in 1928 in the square commemorating the 5th anniversary of the Republic of Turkey.

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As we made our way back over to the west side, we stopped at a vendor to purchase a pickled mix of cabbage, carrots, peppers, and pickles. We don’t have a photo, but it was so good. I’m definitely inspired to pickle when we return home – particularly spicy blends. Lauren stopped for a photo op near the Hagia Sophia. It’s another big attraction, but we didn’t have time to tour the inside. Our research revealed that it was once a Greek Orthodox basilica, converted to a mosque, and now stands as a museum. Most Christian murals inside were covered over, but the most prominent mural of Christ remains. Many years of history and transition are spelled out on the walls inside.

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To cool down from the hot Turkish sun, we visited the Basilica Cistern. The cistern provided parts of the city with water and served as a filtration system for many centuries. The head of Medusa is carved into the base of two of the columns. It’s a bit of a mystery, but it’s believed that they were brought there from an ancient Roman building and not turned upright to (1) negate the stoning effect of Medusa’s gaze and/or (2) to be the proper height to support the column. Although, the upside-down head would be the same height rightside-up, so…

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Lauren and I had worked up quite an appetite and we took in our final dinner at one of the rooftop terraces several blocks from the water. I had my favorite meal in Turkey here – beef medallions in a creamy mushroom sauce with spinach and walnuts served over rice and then the throw a few french fries on top. Lauren opted for her favorite, the chicken shish.

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And what’s a Turkish dinner without a shisha (hookah) at the table? We opted for the apple flavor.

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Upon returning to our hotel, we made our way to the rooftop to get a shot of the Blue Mosque at night. We could always hear the calls to prayer – even in the middle of the night. As a bonus to our cultural experience, we were here during Ramadan. As 90% of the population is Muslim, practically everyone was fasting from sunrise to sunset. The moment the sun went down and you could hear the official call from the mosques, people started chowing down. Unrelated to Ramadan, the daily practice of prayer was exercised at the appropriated times. As we were strolling around, you could hear the call and everything would stop as the people began to pray. I never took a picture of them out of respect, but it was definitely something to see.

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The following morning before catching our flight, we returned to a vendor we visited several days previous to purchase more turkish delights and baklava. I really don’t have much of a sweet tooth, but these people KNOW what’s up with candies and desserts.

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Istanbul has a great vibe and culture, beautiful mosques, and a rich history. The food was fantastic and the Turkish bath is worth the visit. Unequivocally, without a doubt, I was treated with more kindness and respect in this city than any other I’ve ever visited – including my hometown – and for that alone, they’ve earned a return trip from me.

Love to you all!

Namaste.

Vienna

Posted on by Lauren West in Austria | Leave a comment

After a three hour train ride, we arrived in Vienna. Here’s the scene. Chicken schnitzle. As you might imagine, it’s been heaven for me having this as a food option since we arrived in Prague. It’s always so delicious!

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Compared to Prague and Budapest, Vienna feels like a much larger city. We still managed to get around on foot and see a good bit of it. One of the main attractions in the city is St. Stephan’s  Cathedral (same name as the one in Budapest!)

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The inside was really beautiful…

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The architecture in Vienna is probably some of my favorite in Europe. Unfortunately, we didn’t do the best job at getting lots of photos here. We walked through a lovely park with this statue of Franz Joseph, the Emperor of Austria from 1848 until his death in 1916.

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We also made it a point to see a live show while in town. After surveying the options, we decided to see the Vienna Hofburg- Orchestra playing compositions by the “King of Waltz” Johann Strauss, as well as arias and duets of operas by W.A. Mozart. It was definitely a fun and entertaining evening.

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Love to you all.

Namaste.

Budapest

Posted on by Lauren West in Hungary | Leave a comment

Around 7am in the morning, an alarm started going off in our cabin on the train. Next thing we know, someone shows up at the door with coffee and croissants. I could get used to this kind of travel! After making our way off the train, finding and ATM, and figuring out how to purchase Metro tickets, we made our way to our room for the next few days. After getting settled in, we headed out in search of some authentic Hungarian food. Luckily for us, there was a small restaurant right around the corner that came highly recommended.

Here’s the scene. We both ordered the Paprika chicken with spatzle, one of their specialties.

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I learned that I really enjoyed Hungarian food, but I think I would like it even more in the winter. Most meals are very heavy and seem like good comfort foods, not exactly something you want to eat a ton of when its 85 degrees outside.

Budapest (pronounced Buda-pescht) has two parts of the city, separated by the Danube river. Buda is the more residential area, and occupies the west bank of the river, and Pest occupies the east. We stayed in Pest.

Of course we started off our time in Budapest with a walking tour. We saw some of the sites in Pest, including St. Stephan’s Basilica. Named after the first King of Hungary, legend has it that Stephan’s hand is housed inside the church.

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Here is a shot looking across the river to Buda. We quickly learned that Pest is quite flat, whereas Buda is very hilly.

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After walking around Pest, we crossed the famous Chain Bridge, which links Buda and Pest over the Danube River. We climbed up the hill to the castle and had lovely views overlooking the city.

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Once again, we were able to see the changing of the guard.

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There is also a statue of St. Stephan in Buda.

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After the walking tour, we made our way back over to Pest and walked around looking for the perfect dinner spot.  We found a restaurant in the old Jewish quarter that had an 85 year old man playing the piano. The atmosphere was perfect and the food was even better. I went with the chicken risotto on recommendation from our server. I’ve never actually ordered risotto anywhere, but this was amazing! Hand’s down my favorite meal in Budapest, and probably in the top 5 in Europe overall.

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The next day we decided to get out of the city and see the Hungarian countryside, and what better way to do that than on bikes! Here is our guide Adam, a local, explaining how Buda and Pest were originally two different cities, uniting as one in 1873.

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The destination we were headed to was a small medieval town on the banks of the Danube river named Szentendre, 26 kilometers outside the city. On the trip, we made several stops to learn about different parts of history. After leaving Pest, we rode across a bridge to Margaret Island, which sits on the Danube between Buda and Pest. It was a beautiful island with several parks, a zoo, and even some thermal springs! Budapest is sometimes called the spa capital of the world because of their access to these thermal springs, which are said to have amazing healing powers. The springs supply water to over fifty spas, baths, and public pools. I read somewhere that 70 million liters of this medicinal water (from 118 natural springs) gushes to the surface every single day! Wow!

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We also stopped at a lake on the way. One side of the beach was normal, the other side was nude. It was pretty hot outside, so the cool water felt great!

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After several hours and many stops, we finally made it to Szentendre!!! It was quite a charming town with lots of restaurants, shops, and churches to admire.

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We were introduced to another Hungarian specialty while in Szentedre, Langos. There are many different variations of this dish that you can order, but the traditional is a large piece of fried dough, topped with sour cream and cheese (and also garlic and hot sauce if you want). Like I mentioned earlier, not exactly what I’m craving after 26km on a bike in 85 degree heat, but tasty nonetheless! :)

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After taking a walk around town, it was time to meet back up with the group. Do you know what the best part about this bike tour was? We didn’t have to bike 26km home! We got to take a boat cruise down the Danube :) Here is a shot of Szentendre from the boat.

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After about an hour or so, we were almost home…and finally able to get the perfect shot of Parliament. Did you know that the Parliament building in Budapest was modeled after the British Parliament? I think they are both stunning.

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We really enjoyed our short time in Budapest, but it was time to move on…back on a train headed to Vienna!

Love to you all!

Namaste.

Prague

Posted on by Josh West in Czech Republic | Leave a comment

I’ve seen too many spy thriller movies that have featured Prague. Shots of the city’s wonderful architecture fading into some covert operations where an envelope changes hands between strangers and then one of them is shot in a back alley… Gotta admit, for some reason since my teenage years, I’ve always wanted to go there. Here’s the scene.

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As standard practice in Europe, Lauren and I set off on a walking tour of the city. Even buildings that aren’t “important” or “famous” are beautiful – particularly those in or close to the old town square.

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Here’s some guys playing some nice Bohemian music in the old square. Can’t get that back home. Also, check out those shoes!

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On the south wall of the Old Town City Hall you can find the oldest functioning astronomical clock in the world. For that matter, I don’t think there are very many in existence and even less that are still working. It was installed in 1410 and there’s a legend that some of Prague’s more sinister government officials thanked the clockmaker by burning his eyes out so that he could not construct another clock elsewhere. In return, he removed some pieces of the clock and it didn’t work for another 100 years or so until someone brilliant enough could repair it. There’s a lot going on with it and it’s complicated, but I’ll leave that as an exercise to the reader if you’d like to know more.

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Our journey continued outside of the city center where we found great views of the Charles Bridge and the famous Prague Castle – the largest ancient castle in the world.

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Lauren and I had no idea what to expect out of the cuisine in Prague, but it turned out to be a pleasant surprise with the sausages, goulash (not to be confused with the Hungarian style goulash soup), and you can get a real Budweiser pilsner here.

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The Charles Bridge is quite crowded with tourists, street vendors, and artists. It is lined with 30 baroque statues of saints erected in the late 1600′s to early 1700′s.

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David Cerny is a famous Czech sculptor known for his bizarre and often controversial works around the city. Here’s In Utero  – a nude, pregnant lady on her knees. Bonus: you can climb up inside of it!

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Nearby, you can find Jaroslav Rona’s sculpture memorializing the surrealist Czech author Franz Kafka.

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The following day, we made the trip out to tour the Prague Castle.

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The grounds are absolutely massive and it takes hours to get through it. There is definitley a castle that housed kings of Bohemia, Roman emperors, and the former presidents of (now defunct) Czechoslovakia. However, when people talk about the castle they’re also referring to all of the other churches, buildings, and halls.

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We were able to see the changing of the guard here. Not nearly as elaborate as the one in London, it took the men about 5 minutes to change out in a small ceremony.

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There’s a Czech citizen who hangs out here all day and he’s been there for several years. He’s protesting the government and he takes a special opportunity to yell at the end of each changing of the guard and will talk to anyone who will listen in the meantime. His sign roughly translates as, “The Czech state stole my home. Help!! I executed an appeal 103, but the court interrupted and sold the stolen house.” He may have a point. He may be crazy. I was unable to communicate with him and get the scoop. Good luck, buddy.

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We were able to enter the St. Vitus Cathedral and, surprisingly, photography was allowed inside.

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One of the things I found most interesting was a particular stained glass window inside. Many that I have seen are mosaics in which the the lead is gridded and different colored squares, triangles, and other geometric shapes are added to depict a scene as seen below.

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However, one window was commissioned by an artist who, in my opinion, is superior in the stained glass game. He forms the scene with the lead and then fills them with complex shapes. Next level if you ask me.

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Here’s Lauren in the doorway of one of the little shops on the Golden Lane. People, apparently very short people, lived here long ago, but it is now the home of many very expensive souvenir shops.

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After another long day of touring Prague, we closed out our time in the city with a nice dinner at an outdoor garden terrace. I had a roasted leg of duck with cabbage. I need to learn how to cook duck this way.

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For all of the train trips that we’ve taken, overnight or otherwise, this was the best experience. Lauren booked the two person car. It’s the only time we’ve had a private space on a train to ourselves. We had our own bathroom and you could even shower if you wanted!

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We settled in for the night in anticipation of waking up in Budapest.

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Love to you all!

Namaste.

 

Living in Amsterdam

Posted on by Lauren West in Netherlands | Leave a comment

After several weeks of amazing cities and family visits, Josh and I decided to hit the chill button. We found a great deal on a studio apartment in Amsterdam and decided to rent it for the month of June. We were living in a more residential area away from the tourists, but still close enough to walk to the city center in about 15-20 minutes. It was perfect! We settled right in…found a hot yoga studio and the neighborhood grocery store.

Here’s the scene. Absolute Yoga became a place we frequented most days. It reminded us a lot of our favorite studio back in NYC.

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Our kitchen space was pretty small, but we cooked up some delicious, healthy meals here!

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One of the best things about our apartment was the patio. It had a nice sitting area and also a small table where we enjoyed several home-cooked meals!

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In addition to all of the healthy food we ate and yoga classes we took, what I somehow managed to not get a single shot of was a tasty dutch treat that found its way into our shopping cart way too often: Stroopwafels!!!! If you’ve never had one of these, I’m really sorry. Make it a point to try them when you have the opportunity. A stroopwafel is two very very thin cookies with a caramel-like filling. It may not sound earth-shattering, but it really is :)

Here is our cozy living area…

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Another awesome thing about our month in Amsterdam is that we had another visitor…Hunter!!!! He arrived in Amsterdam on Friday, June 13th, which was also the first Netherlands match in the World Cup. In the first round, the Netherlands played Spain. This was a pretty big deal in the city because in the 2010 World Cup, the Netherlands lost to Spain in the final. We went out dressed appropriately, with lots of orange gear and of course the Netherlands flag. It was a really fun night, especially since the Netherlands crushed Spain 5-1!

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Goofing around

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Friday the 13th + full moon + Netherlands win = crazy night!

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We watched quite a few games while Hunter was in town, but I have to say that the first game was my favorite :) Over the week, we rode bikes, ate good food, saw the sites, and watched lots of football. One night, we took Hunter to Indrapura to have the Rijsttafel experience. Rijsttafel is a dutch word that translates to ‘rice table’. It’s an insane amount of small dishes served with several types of rice. Whenever you are in Amsterdam, I highly suggest trying this out, but make sure you have a big appetite!

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After saying goodbye to Hunter, it wasn’t long before we saw another familiar face. Phil is an old coworker of mine that was in town on business. We had an awesome time having drinks in Leidseplein and dinner at our favorite Mexican spot in town, Los Pilones!

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It was so nice getting to see more familiar faces during our time in Amsterdam :) The month came and went so quickly, but we were feeling refreshed and ready for the next fast-paced leg of our tour…Eastern Europe!

Love to you all!

Namaste.

Brussels

Posted on by Lauren West in Belgium | Leave a comment

We said goodbye to Jordan at the airport in Barcelona. Josh and I were Brussels-bound. We didn’t have much time here, so we made sure to squeeze in a walking tour of the city. The tour met in the main square of the city, Grand Place. In addition to the Town Hall, there are several guild houses in the square.

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Maison du Roi (King’s house)

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After leaving the square, we walked past shop after shop filled with chocolates, waffles, and frites (french fries). Did you know that what we call ‘french fries’ should actually be called ‘belgian fries’? According to our guide, American soldiers were introduced to this food during WWI . However, since the Belgian army spoke French, the Americans started calling them French fries, when they should have been calling them Belgian fries.

We then found out why we kept seeing a little boy pissing statue in all of the tourist shops…the Mannekin Pis (little pee man in Flemish).

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This little fountain has been around for several hundred years, and there are tons of stories people tell about why it’s here. There was a large crowd of people around when we stopped here. Our guide told us that everyone was there because they had just changed his outfit. His full wardrobe (over 800 suits) is on display at the Museum of Brussels.

Of course Brussels also has a street art scene. Remember this guy? Here is another one of this video game character mosaics like the ones we saw in Paris. Another really interesting thing we learned about Brussels is that each of their roads have two (or four) names: the navy blue sign shows the real street name (in French and Flemish), and the white sign above it is the comic book character street name (in French and Flemish).

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The mural below is one of more than fifty throughout the city of Brussels on what some call the “comic book trail.”

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Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula

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The Royal Palace of Brussels is not actually used as the royal residence. They live out in the ‘burbs.

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Garden of the Mont des Arts

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After our tour, we went out for some obligatory Belgian beer tasting…

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…with a little entertainment to go along.

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Love to you all.

Namaste.

Barcelona

Posted on by Lauren West in Spain | Leave a comment

After a whirlwind trip through Paris and Berlin, it was time to introduce Jordan to one of our favorite cities, Barcelona! Unfortunately, we weren’t on our photo-taking game during some of our time here, so I’ll do my best to fill you in. Here’s the scene.

We stumbled upon the Canaletes fountain pretty early in our trip. Legend has it that if you drink from this fountain, you will return to Barcelona one day. When Josh and I eloped almost four years ago, we drank out of the fountain…so maybe the legend is true!

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Our first night in Barcelona, we introduced Jordan to paella and pan con tomate, which is one of the most basic tapas served almost everywhere. It’s pretty simpe…sliced bread with a tomato spread, but oh so delicious.

Here is Jordan in the Boqueria, which is a giant market just off Las Ramblas. The Boqueria has anything and everything you could imagine: candy, smoothies, olive oil, seafood, meat, veggies, fruit, spices, nuts…it’s totally awesome! We loaded up on some tasty candy during our visit :)

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We took a walk to see some of Gaudi’s architecture. The house with a roof that looks like fish scales is called Casa Batlo. It also looks really cool at night when everything is lit up.

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Park Guell

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As usual, we did the city bike tour.

Barcelona Cathedral

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Palau de la Musica Catalana (concert hall)

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Parc de la Ciutadella

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The beautiful Sagrada Familia, which is probably Gaudi’s most famous design…construction began in 1882 and is expected to be completed in 2026….WHAT? Yes, you read that right. I’ve seen the Sagrada Familia at least three times over the past ten years, and I’m determined to see it when it’s finally finished :)

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Towards the end of the bike tour, there is always a stop at the beach to relax and enjoy some sangria or whatever you would like.

Here is Jordan enjoying the Mediterranean for the first time.

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Luckily, we had some nice weather while we were in Barcelona and were able to enjoy the beach. That water is ice cold though, no swimming for us. Also, after being offered about 314 mojitos and 276 “massajies”, I finally took one lady up on the offer. I mean, who is going to pass up a 5 euro back massage while lying on the beach? Not me. It was awesome, just like last time.

Not pictured: Tapas, giant Sangrias, gelato, banana and nutella crepes, Haribos :)

Love to you all!

Namaste.

Street Art: Berlin

Posted on by Josh West in Germany, Street Art | Leave a comment

I’ve become quite interested in the street art scene. I like that it’s not permanent and that you only have little windows with which to see it before it changes or disappears. Perhaps the thing I like the most is that you have to be present in order to see certain things. If you’re plodding along with your face in a smartphone, you’ll miss it. Berlin has some great street art. Here’s the scene.

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I’m a fan of Sam Brown’s explodingdog, so it was cool to find this.

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Love art. Hate cops.

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Another carving by Alexandre Farto (Vhils)

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Love to you all!

Namaste.

Berlin

Posted on by Josh West in Germany | Leave a comment

Berlin is a hip, artsy city on the rise. However, the darker history remains in larger monuments or sometimes just hiding in plain site. Here’s the scene.

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Above: Neue Kirche

Below: The Brandenburg Gate was inaccessible while the wall was up. Now, you can stroll right through.

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This is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (the Holocaust Memorial.) This picture is only partial. There are a total of 2,711 concrete slabs of various heights throughout the grounds. There’s not a direct explanation from the designer – you just take a walk around and think about it for yourself.

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The Berlin Cathedral looks quite old. However, this building was finished in 1905. Wilhelm II wanted it to resemble the other large, opulent, and aged churches that he encountered in other European cities. In the background, you can see the Fernsehturm (which you can always see no matter where you are in Berlin.) It’s a TV tower that was constructed in the late ’60s and it’s as iconic for Berlin’s skyline as the Space Needle is for Seattle.

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Berlin has some great food and great beer. We made a visit to the Brauhaus Mitte for an authentic German pub experience. They had tasty beer and the spatzle was really good.

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Another must try is currywurst on the street – pork sausage, ketchup, and curry powder.

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The East Side Gallery is the last remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall. It’s 1.3 km (0.8 miles) long. The history of the wall is fascinating and its existence created many strange stories. Even the fall of the wall occurred as a result of a press conference blunder.

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There’s the story of the guy who was separated from his lover as a result of the wall. After waiting for her for 10 years, he passes a girl on the street that looks like her. He pretends to date her and gets permission to enter East Germany with her. Once he does, he kicks her out of the car, picks up his old lover, and re-enters West Germany with the other girl’s credentials. Eventually, he’s arrested and serves 7 months in jail. However, upon release, he was finally reunited with his long, lost lover and the other girl made it back to her home in West Germany as well.

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There were actually two walls with a 100 m “death strip” in the middle. That area contained barbed wire, watchtowers, dogs, and all sorts of other nasty stuff. If you were caught in there, you were executed immediately. The wall was constructed by the communist East Germans to prevent their citizens from escaping to West Germany. Consequently, even the westernmost wall was in East Germany – 1.5 meters east of the actual border. What would West Germans do with that land? Dump their trash there. Particularly anything that was large and would cost money to dispose of. There was a Turkish immigrant, Osman Kalin, that took advantage of the trash and the land. He recycled the waste and built a house right against the wall. The East didn’t mind. Instead, they used him as propaganda. “See. You have to build your home from trash in the West.” After the fall of the wall, there were plans to build a road that would necessitate the destruction of the house. He responded by cementing all of his property to the ground. Seriously. Then, it was discovered that the house was actually on land that belonged to the church. It was then that a Christian church in Germany supported a Turkish Muslim immigrant and would not grant consent for the house to be removed. Osman still lives there today and gets water from a neighbor in exchange for veggies from his garden.

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Lauren and Jordan checking out the scene.

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So, Gunter Schabowski (great name) was a spokesman for the SED Politburo in East Germany. He didn’t attend a meeting where the new travel regulations were being discussed, but was instead handed a note from the meeting just prior to a press conference. The new regulations weren’t meant to completely open the border, just special case stuff. Also, they weren’t to take effect until the next day. Gunter incorrectly announces the borders open and when asked by a reporter when this will take place he replied, “As far as I know effective immediately, without delay.” Those comments were instantly THE news story, many East Germans rushed to the wall greeted by confused guards, and the rest is history.

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I wasn’t exactly on my photo game in Berlin. No picture of the Reichstag (but now I question why we didn’t pass by here on our walking tour.) I also didn’t get photos of the food – sausages, spatzle, schnitzel, strudel – because I was too busy eating them. No matter though, because I’m definitely coming back to Berlin one day.

On the other hand, I don’t have photos of some things because they don’t quite exist any longer. The real Checkpoint Charlie is now an area for street vendors and the guy dressed up like an American officer across the street is just someone taking your money for a photo. Hitler’s underground bunker (also where his remains were found) has been completely sealed off. The ground above it is now a parking lot. The former Nazi Germany Ministry of Aviation building is now the home of the German Finance Ministry – just another boring government building.

I’ll close with this. Germany, and Germans, get a really bad rap. They’ve given us really great musicians and physicists. Germans have won 101 Nobel Prizes – a quantity only behind the US and the UK. They’ve contributed quite a lot to the world and most people only think of Hitler (Austrian-born!!) and the Nazis. Can you imagine if Americans were constantly in the shadow of horrors committed by a crazy Canadian that was in charge 80 years ago?

The German people were nice, the city was very clean, there’s lots to see and do, and plenty of good food and drinks. Berlin is really high on my list of places to return to.

Germanbeers

Love to you all!

Namaste.

Street Art: Paris

Posted on by Lauren West in France, Street Art | Leave a comment

While in Paris, we also did an alternative walking tour of the city one day. We thought this would be fun as a way to learn more about the non-touristy side of Paris.

Here’s the scene: Jordan and I having breakfast before the tour.

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This one looks like a bunch of robot parts mashed together :)

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This artist’s signature is XO.

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Tons of the traffic signs around the city were altered in some arty fashion like the one below. I really liked spotting these :)

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This wall has several pieces of art that were completed and then pasted on the wall.

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One street in Paris is a free for all. Anyone can paint anytime they want.

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Here is Josh contemplating if he should interview the blue dog below as a potential spirit animal.

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This guy uses stencils to paint.

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In the photo below, you can see a mosaic of the video game character Kirby. This artist is known as Space Invader, and we’ve seen his work in every city we’ve been in so far. He always has tile mosaics of video game characters.

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This isn’t a painting…it was actually carved into the building!

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Love to you all.

Namaste!

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