A Travellerspoint blog

Prague - The Land of Goulash

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After landing in the fairly new airport in Prague, we had hoped to receive a passport stamp; something that has eluded us so far on this trip. We quickly learned that the EU has adopted something called the Schengen area. The Schengen Area is the area comprising of 26 European countries that have abolished passports and any other type of border control at their common borders. Unless you are landing in the EU for the first time, you can travel through all of these countries (train or plane) without speaking to a customs agent, therefore never receiving a stamp. Any person living in an EU country can travel without a passport as long as they stay within the agreed upon area. In conclusion and once again, we did NOT receive a passport stamp.

We decided to stay in the Old Town area, which turned out to be an amazing place to stay as we were right in the middle of the action. As we took a brief tour that night of our surroundings, we quickly noticed that Prague is a mysterious city, with completely different architecture than the western countries we had already visited. One of the first sights I (Lindsay) remember seeing, were the bats flying around the old church steeples which had been blackened by weather and age. Beside the old church is the astronomical clock. The clock was first installed in 1410, making it the third-oldest astronomical clock in the world and the oldest one still working. The astronomical dial has a background that represents the standing Earth and sky, and surrounding it operates four main moving components: the zodiacal ring, an outer rotating ring, an icon representing the Sun, and an icon representing the Moon.

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One of the first sights that I (Sean) remember seeing is the mass amount of beer everywhere and how cheap it is. You can get a pint of beer for 80 cents. DELICIOUS!!

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As we continued on our night out exploring, we decided to eat at a restaurant in the Old Town square. It was this restaurant where we were introduced to the most amazing meal on earth – GOULASH. Even though a staple in Eastern Europe for hundreds of years, this was the first time we had ever tried it. It is a simple meal of meat and vegetables in a thick broth, basically a stew, but wow is it ever tasty. I (Sean) was stunned that the last time I was in Prague; I was never exposed to this delicious meal. It was so tasty, that we as a group had it every day for lunch. You may think overkill, but it was a necessity.

On our first rainy and dreary day, we found ourselves in the Jewish Quarter of Prague where we were able to visit the Jewish cemetery and two synagogues. This part of Old Town was the “ghetto” where the Jewish people were kept by the Nazi’s in World War II. People stayed here until they were forced into the Terezin concentration camp, or similar camps around Czech Republic or Poland. The majority of those sent from Prague never returned. One of the synagogues we visited has been turned in to a memorial site for the Jewish victims of WWII. Walls completely covered in names of the people and their families whose lives were lost during and after the war. Pictures drawn by kids who were held in the camps were staring up at us from behind the sealed glass, trying to tell a story, their story. A story of abuse and/or death seemed to be a theme that saturated most drawings. This was quite a moving place to be in and something we weren’t expecting when we entered.
Next we entered the Jewish Cemetery. This cemetery was not the usual cemetery you would think of. We found out that Jewish people must not destroy Jewish graves and in particular they are not allowed to remove the tombstone. This meant that in the early 15th century, when the cemetery ran out of space and purchasing extra land was impossible, more layers of soil were placed on the existing graves, the old tombstones taken out and placed upon the new layer of soil. It is estimated that 12,000 tombstones are present with upwards of 100,000 buried underneath. There were headstones scattered everywhere, some standing alone, but most just clustered together in a jumbled mess. Green moss was covering each one and some of the headstones were so old that we could not make out the writing that was once so perfectly chiselled. Tall trees enclosed the cemetery and made it very quiet for those who were resting underneath their leaves.

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One of the most intriguing things about this city is its uniqueness. We walked across the Charles Bridge which was built throughout the 14th and 15th centuries making it the oldest bridge in the city, and every 20 feet or so there were large statues of saints staring down at us, describing their own stories. The cobblestone underneath our feet added to the “ancientness” of the bridge and continued to lead us up and up and up to the castle.

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As we ambled up the long stairs, we looked over the large wall that separated the castle from the rest of the city and found that every house and building below us was its own entity; no cookie cutter houses or communities at all, just the city’s distinct character. We eventually made it to the castle where we found small, windy streets leading us to cottage-like shops and houses. The focal point of the castle grounds though, was this gigantic gothic church right in the middle of everything. There were sharp pointed steeples, gargoyles screaming at us from above and dark stained glass protecting those on the inside.

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Prague’s uniqueness continued as we all went out one night and found a super small jazz club on the other side of the river. You enter into what looks like a small British pub (they even serve Guinness), but you descend into a dungeon like basement that has been fitted as a jazz club. The liquor bottles need to be held up by custom made shelves to coordinate with the curvature in the stone walls. The capacity of this place maybe was 10 people, but there was a good 25-30 inside. It was a fantastic experience of great music mixed with crazy old buildings/architecture that I am sure had much different uses 500 years ago.

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Posted by BlondeandCurly 08:47 Archived in Czech Republic Comments (1)

Normandy & D-Day Beaches

To cap off our Paris visit, we all decided to rent a car and head to the northern coast of France. We really felt it necessary to visit some of the important sights related to the Allied D-day Invasion. We will try to do our best at explaining what we saw and how we felt, but I’m not sure we can give the sights and emotions due credit.

Pointe Du Hoc

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We arrived first at Pointe du Hoc. Pointe du Hoc is a wall of cliffs, 100 ft (30 m) tall overlooking the English Channel on the coast of Normandy. During World War II it was the highest point between Utah Beach to the west and Omaha Beach to the east. The German army fortified the area with concrete casements and gun pits. The Allied plan called for three companies of Rangers to be landed by sea at the foot of the cliffs, scale them using ropes, ladders, and grapples whilst under enemy fire, and engage the enemy at the top of the cliff. This was to be carried out before the main landings. On D-Day (6 June 1944) the United States Army Ranger Assault Group assaulted and captured Pointe du Hoc even though suffering massive causalities. The initial Ranger force of 225 men, was reduced to 90 men after 2 days of fighting. To look out across this area seemed unreal. The landscape has been kept the same since D-Day in 1944. As you enter the memorial area you end up walking through the craters made by real bombs 70 years ago. Concrete from the bunkers has been strewn across the terrain, though some bunkers are still intact. The concrete walls were made so thick we can’t even imagine the amount of artillery needed to destroy even just one. This place overwhelmed both of us as we tried to picture what truly went on; men falling, guns shooting, bombs dropping and cries for help. All of this so long ago so that we could walk on this ground as free individuals.

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Omaha Beach

We then drove to Omaha Beach, the beach that the Americans took on D-Day and then Juno Beach later on where the Canadians fought on the same day. There are miles of beach with never ending seas as far as the eye can see. Again we were trying to imagine what it must have felt like for the soldiers running towards the land, trying to dodge bullets and watching their friends killed around them and couldn’t come to terms with the fact it really happened.

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Juno Beach

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American Cemetery

The American Cemetery was absolutely mind blowing. Row upon row of white marble headstones with crosses and stars (Christian and Jewish), sitting perfectly in the grass. Thousands of names, thousands of soldiers left here overlooking the ocean they came from and the Beach they knew they needed to capture. These soldiers who were trying to protect the people they loved and others they never knew hopefully have found peace.

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Canadian Cemetery

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At the end of the day we finally drove to the Canadian Cemetery to pay our respects to those Canadians who died in the battles of D-Day. None of us knew anyone who fought in the D-Day battles, but we felt due to our national connection, a sense of closeness to these soldiers. The Canadian Cemetery was much smaller than the American Cemetery. Nestled between two farms, a few kilometers off the coast, lay hundreds of rounded headstones, each carved with the name of the soldier, where they were from, their age and a personalized message from their family members. There were gigantic maple trees lining the sides of the cemetery, protecting the fallen soldiers while they rest in peace. Bleeding heart flowers flow along the middle of each row of headstones. For us, the Canadian cemetery was just that, very Canadian. It was humble and quiet, no need for attention, but we felt so proud standing there, looking out across the field at these brave men who came from our home and paid the ultimate sacrifice. I (Lindsay) cried a tear for each one of them. I know they will never know how much we and every other Canadian truly appreciate what they did, but I still say thank you. Thank you for stepping up in a time of need and leading this country and many others, to the freedoms we enjoy today.

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As we looked at the graves, walked the beaches of Normandy and stared in awe at the fire power that the Germans had built up on the cliffs of Point Du Hoc, we realized that these very young men paid the ultimate sacrifice for those who they did not know and for countries where they did not live. We say THANK YOU to of all of those who not only served in WWII, but to every man and woman who serve to protect our nation and freedoms. We are proud to be Canadian and proud to see our contributions to one of the biggest military operations in history.

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Posted by BlondeandCurly 05:48 Archived in France Comments (1)

Paris

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As we arrived in Paris, we were walking down a street towards our hotel and I (Lindsay) remember looking around and thinking what has Sean got us into. The streets were filthy, graffiti everywhere and an argument between 50-60 people that appeared to be heading in the wrong direction very quickly. All Sean kept saying to the 3 of us was that this was the up and coming neighborhood; “you know where all the artists and musicians live”. As he led us further and further away from the train station, we all kept looking at each other and wondering if we needed to head back the way we came. I (Sean) knew the whole time that this was a great neighborhood and that everyone just had to trust me. Granted it is hard to convince people on how good a neighborhood is until they can see it with their own eyes. As our walk continued, it became apparent to all involved that staying in the neighborhood of Montmartre was the right decision. We arrived at our stylishly French looking hotel, with its metal railings protecting small balconies and holding flower pots draping blossoms of the reddest reds and pinkest pinks. Lindsay was in love already. The windy cobblestone streets, bustling bars and various eateries were a barrage on the senses. We ate our first meal at the tiniest of restaurants where we sat on a “patio” on the street itself. When they say that French food is rich, they really mean rich, but at the same time, not overdone as some north American French restaurants tend to do. After dinner we headed up the hill towards Sacre Coeur. This was the first real monument in Paris we saw and it was even more stunning at night. Our first taste of French architecture drew us in quickly. It was a great contrast compared to how the day started, but it was the perfect ending.

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Our second day in France was a long one. We started early by taking the metro to The Eiffel Tower. As we attempted to beat the crowds by our early start, the lineups remained. We luckily didn’t have to wait too long and we blasted our way to the top of the world, or so it seemed. The views we saw from that high up were quite spectacular on that sunny, blue sky day.

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We then decided to check out the city of Versailles and the Versailles Palace and grounds. To put it simply, this palace was immense. Walking towards it on the huge cobble stone walkway, the shimmering gold that coats the main gates blinded us as we tried to look closer at the intricacies of this marvelous wonder. It’s truly a piece of art, filled to the brim with pieces of stunning artwork. Every room we walked through told a different story of King Louis or Mary Antoinette. The Hall of Mirrors, a room filled with sparkling chandeliers and mirrors covering the walls is where parties were held looking out over the manicured gardens. The King and Queen’s bedrooms had immaculate drapery and linens throughout, which had us craning our necks from floor to ceiling in awe.

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As we walked through the royal gardens, we were lucky enough to find Mary Antoinette’s hamlet which she had built for the royal family, just to “get away from it all”. Almost like a vacation destination, but still within the royal compound. It was an amazing day and all of us were quite pleased when we could finally put our feet up for the train ride home!

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Day three found us touring more of Paris and some of the famous monuments. Our first stop was the Arc de Triomphe, a massive arch structure situated in the middle of one of the largest traffic circles in the world. It looks like mayhem watching the cars below circle around and around! We then made our way down the Champs Elysees, a street truly made for the rich and famous with gold plated cars and the most expensive shops lining the sides.

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This road led us to the Louvre, a museum within a palace in the middle of Paris. We entered through the glass pyramid in the middle of the courtyard and found ourselves in a maze of sculptures, statues, and paintings. We spent 2.5 hours there, with a small crowd as it was later at night, and we still only managed to see 1.5 floors of one section (there are 4 floors and 4 sections – so we barely touched the surface of what the louvre has to offer). You could easily spend days in this place. Some of the most impressive things we saw were the Egyptian sarcophaguses (or sarcophagi, depending on what dictionary you are using), a real wrapped mummy, statues from the Greek and Roman Empires, artifacts from Mesopotamia made 8000 years ago, Venice De Milo and of course, The Mona Lisa. We also found what appears to have been the worlds first selfie.

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Paris was one of the busiest cities we have ever visited. But the food, architecture, art, and above all the people made up for it. We simply do not understand how French people get such a bad rap for being rude. I know many people who have heard a story or may have actually experienced it, but we honestly only met kind and wonderful people who went out of their way to help and make us feel welcome. We both honestly feel that the people who live in this city, help make Paris great.

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Posted by BlondeandCurly 14:44 Archived in France Comments (0)

What Happens in IBIZA Stays in IBIZA!

Beautiful beaches, warm, crystal clear water, an awe inspiring Castle, cute side streets, gorgeous yachts anchored at port, amazing food (especially the paella), 28 degree weather each and everyday. But there is one reason in particular, one ventures to this paradise and that is to experience the biggest and best nightclubs on earth. Clubs like Space, Amnesia, Privilege, & Pacha are consistently in the top 20 best nightclubs in the world. We are finding it hard to describe such an experience with words so we in turn feel pictures might tell some kind of story of beautiful Sunsets, Amazing Music, Lots of Dancing and how a few Drinks were mixed in for good measure.

Here is our Ibiza Adventure:

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AMNESIA w Chase and Status, Hannah Wants, Sander Van Doorn, Sunnery James & Ryan Marciano, Oliver Heldens, Pendulum

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IBIZA ROCKS HOTEL w 2Many djs

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SANKEYS w Dj Sneak, Sidney Charles & Darrius Syrossian

Unfortunately those drinks I spoke of earlier, may have hindered my ability to take actual photographs. Let me tell you though, it was a great night w a sloppy walk home.

PRIVILEGE (The worlds biggest Nightclub) for SupermartXe

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SPACE for We love Space (to many djs to mention)

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Thank you Ibiza.....It was ridiculously expensive and we all needed a week simply to recover, but it was an experience we wouldn't have had any other way.

Posted by BlondeandCurly 13:44 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

London

Dancing with the Guards

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While we were landing at Heathrow Airport, I was hoping there would be families greeting loved ones everywhere, hugging, kissing and shouting all around, just like the opening scene in my favourite movie, Love Actually. In my heart of hearts though I knew this probably wouldn’t apply to us, as we lack any family members anywhere in Europe. Dark clouds covered the sky, rain was falling and every street we passed I was hoping Harry Potter would appear; it was exactly how I pictured this place! If you don’t already know me (Lindsay), you can probably tell that I am a huge movie buff with a huge imagination, but I regress. So exhausted from the overnight flight, we decided to push through and starts sightseeing as our days in London are very limited. We made it about 500m from our hostel in Central London and realized that the pounding rain and wind were simply too much for us. We conceded very quickly and returned to our hostel for some much needed shut eye.

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We awoke to clearing skies and a beautiful sunset. While we still had some daylight, we made our way quickly to Westminster Abbey, admiring Big Ben on our way, and Buckingham Palace, where we saw the Canada Gate and the Canadian War Memorial, put up to commemorate us helping Britain fight in the world wars. Attached to the war memorial was a vigil for the 3 RCMP officers killed in the line of duty in Moncton. It was such an amazing feeling to see the support of another country displayed alongside our memorial. There’s a special something about being across the world and feeling a certain pride for your country and its heroics, people and culture.

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After some sentimental pictures, we were fortunate enough to see the guards at Buckingham Palace, one of which was putting on a show for the tourists. Slowing down his walk, pirouettes all around and maybe the odd smile… he definitely put on a good show! Although, I think he may be getting reprimanded as I write this. We read an article stating that this guard is under investigation for not doing his job as he should. We sincerely hope he retains his position
Day 2 of London came early, about 5:30am! We didn’t want to stay bored in the hostel, so we got on the underground and found the London Bridge, the Tower Bridge and a cute, but extremely pricey little street where Sean stayed 12 years ago on his very first trip overseas. The canals meandering through the streets and the sailing boats (one I swear was made completely of gold!) nestled quietly along the docks made for an exciting early morning walk. Our next stop was the Tower of London, my first castle experience! We were fortunate enough to see the 100th anniversary of WWI memorial that had just been completed for the fallen soldiers of the war. Over 888,000 red ceramic poppies, one for each casualty, flowing from one of the Tower windows and completely blanketing the grass for which had once been used as a moat. It was quite overwhelming to look at the amount of poppies, the amount of red covering the ground, and to know that many men had lost their lives, fighting for the freedoms we have today.

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Once we were inside the castle, it was like we were brought back in time. Thick, stone walls protected us from any dangers outside, the portcullis ready to drop at any moment and tall towers to keep a look out. It was incredible to walk on the cobble stone roads that so many people have walked on, hundreds of years before. We were taken on a tour by a “Beef Eater”, the guards that have protected the monarchy since the 1400’s and still do today. Once the tour was done, we walked through the Bloody Tower, saw Traitors Gate where Queen Ann Boleyn was brought before her execution, the armoury, the torture chambers and The Crown Jewels. For my first castle experience, I had a great time, and although Sean had seen it before, I think he still learned a lot ;)

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Continuing with our long day, we finally reached The Globe Theatre and then St Paul’s Cathedral. These were our last stops of the day, even though it was only 3pm. Our first 8 hour tour day was gruelling, but worth it! This Globe theatre was built in 1994, which is the 3rd time The Globe had been built. It was built in a way to resemble the Shakespeare theatre of old. With the help of historians, every detail from the wood used to the thatched roof was reproduced, in order to make this theatre as real as possible. It even lacks a full roof and they clearly state that no shows have ever been cancelled due to rain and no umbrellas allowed.

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Our last day in London, after another siren filled, car honking, drunken bystander yelling night, was spent in the cutest little town called Windsor. The Queen lives here to this day and I was so excited that we actually got to see so much of the grounds. I was picturing what it would have been like many years ago when there were parties and celebrations held there. Not a leaf or flower out of place in the gardens, manicured lawns, ball gowns flowing, hide and seek in the countless amounts of rooms, princes and princesses, young love in the air… I’m sure Sean was imagining the same thing! We were lucky enough to watch the Changing of the Guards, which was more of a show that I had thought. There was a band and a lot of yelling and feet stomping, but very neat to watch.

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Well London, it wasn’t long but I’m sure we’ll be back another day. You wore us out and made us nap more than ever, but thank you for your remarkable history and the memories we made. Off to beach land!

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Posted by BlondeandCurly 08:38 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (2)

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