Category: Travel in Europe


The Hoffbrauhaus

When people think of Munich, they think of Oktoberfest.  So, when we told friends that we were going to Munich during our October break, they naturally assumed we were going for Oktoberfest. However, did you know that Oktoberfest actually starts in September, and is usually over by the beginning of October?  It was over by the time we got there in mid October. Nevertheless, we went to the Hofbräuhaus: the most famous beer hall in the world! There was still plenty of beer, and plenty of people to enjoy it:)


1 liter of beer!!

The first Oktoberfest was held in October 1810 to celebrate the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig to Princess Therese. The festivities were closed with a horse race, a tradition which was continued and later developed into what is now known as Oktoberfest.


Sausage…the perfect accompaniment to beer!

I had thought that the Hofbräuhaus would be a touristy place, with the waiters wearing the traditional lederhosen and waitresses decked out in the traditional Bavarian dresses (dirndl).  Although there were plenty of tourists there, I was surprised to discover the place packed with locals, many of whom were dressed in the traditional Bavarian costume. The Hofbräuhaus has the most wonderful, jolly atmosphere, with spontaneous singing breaking out from the people at the tables.


Notice that the men have their own steins, not the big glass one like Andy’s.

The Hofbräuhaus has some pretty interesting history that goes back to 1589, when Wilhelm V, Duke of Bavaria and the city council decided to start their own brewery because they weren’t happy with the local beer brewed in Munich. Apparently their beer became so popular that they couldn’t keep up with the demand of 38,000 gallons, and so they decided to build the new Hofbräuhaus at “Platzl” in 1607, the site of the current Hofbräuhaus.

private beer

Apparently you can lock up your private stein here, when you are done drinking!

Around 1614 a stronger beer called “Maibock” was brewed, and it later saved the city of Munich during the Thirty Years War.  When the Swedes occupied Munich in 1632, they agreed to not pillage and plunder the city in exchange for 1,000 buckets of beer!


The photo is a little blurry, but it shows the traditional Bavarian costume.

Tourism was on the rise in Munich in the late 1800’s. The old brewery was torn down, and the new Hofbräuhaus was built on the same site.  It opened for business in September 1897.

Sadly, the Hofbräuhaus was almost completely demolished by Allied bombs in April 1944. By May 1945, only a small section of the main beer hall was still usable.

Notice the ceiling!

Notice the ceiling!

In 1958 the Hofbräuhaus new Festival Hall reopened, just in time for Munich’s 800th anniversary.  It has been going strong ever since!  Be sure to stop by if you are in Munich!

Venice...or is it?

Venice…or is it?

On Thursday we surprised Nate with a trip to Legoland, a day trip from Munich.  He was delighted, to say the least!  Besides lots of fun rides, they had lego replicas of several famous cities, Venice being one of them.  Compare with the photo below!

The real Venice:)

The real Venice:)



The best part of traveling for me isn’t the cool historical sights or beautiful nature….it’s the people we meet along the journey.   This past July, we had just finished a busy nine days of seeing many beautiful towns in Germany and Italy: Dinkelsbuhl, Fussen, Lake Garda, Vicenza, Verona, and Venice.  Then we packed up, and drove four hours to stay with our friends Brigitte and Louis, who live in a lovely home at the foot of the Alps, just outside Grenoble, France. We arrived just before sunset, and were treated to delicious home cooked French food with champagne.

The garden

Nate was delighted to have a garden to play in!

The next day we just wanted to chill out and hang around the beautiful garden and take in the views all around us.

The front gate

The front gate

Who needs to go sightseeing when this is out your front gate?  Just going for a walk down the street is “sightseeing”.  So that’s just what we did: Brigitte, Nate and I went for a walk.

Going for a walk

Our street

Just a few doors down, Brigitte’s neighbor has goats, chickens, donkeys, dogs, and rabbits.



Brigitte’s neighbor wasn’t home so we continued on our walk.





What a beautiful place!  Brigitte and Louis are very blessed to call this place home!  We headed back to their house, and stopped by the neighbor’s house who was now home.  Nate got to play on the tractor…..


and pet a donkey…which was quite exciting for a city boy!


We ran into Andy just as we arrived; he was heading out for a bike ride.

This is just outside the front gate.

This is just outside the front gate.

Brigitte and Louis invited us to eat lunch with them in their garden.  They thought we were a little crazy because as the week went on we wanted to spend a large part of it just hanging around their lovely home and garden.  Can you blame us?!!

Life is good here!

Good food, good cheese, good wine, good company…life is good!

We slept in every day, and rarely left the house before noon.  We went for a picnic next to a monastery that was just a short drive away.

We found a shady spot with a view.

We found a shady spot with a view.

The view!

The view! We were the only ones having a picnic, so we had it all to ourselves.

We shared the view with these friends:)

We shared the view with these friends:)

The monastery

The monastery

Just below the monastery.

Just below the monastery.

More stunning views as we headed "home".

More stunning views as we headed “home”.

We also enjoyed a couple evenings together with Brigitte and Louis’ next-door neighbors, with more great French cuisine and wine.  We had a great time talking, playing pool, and enjoying French beverages of all sorts, late into the night:)  Andy and Louis relaxed the next day, watching the Tour de France on TV.

The summer "dining room".

The summer “dining room”.

All meals included French wine, and were followed by French cheese.  My favorite quote (from Brigitte’s father, I think) I heard was ” a meal without cheese is like a beautiful woman with one eye!”

While staying with Brigitte and Louis we also did day trips to Grenoble, Annecy and Mont Blanc.  I’ll post photos in future blog posts.

It was difficult to say good-bye to our wonderful hosts and leave this beautiful home.

It was difficult to say good-bye to our wonderful hosts and leave this beautiful home.

If you get the chance to visit this part of France, take it!  You definitely won’t regret it!! Thank you, Brigitte and Louis for such wonderful hospitality!

The Pegasus fountain, where Julie Andrews sang "Do Re Mi" with the Von Trapp children.

The Pegasus fountain, where Julie Andrews sang “Do-Re-Mi” with the Von Trapp children in The Sound of Music.

Yesterday we took the train to Salzburg from Munich.  It was a lovely, sunny day.  Salzburg is such a beautiful city!  We walked all over the city, as it is very compact. The views from the fortress on the hill are stunning! It was a great day trip from Munich, but left us wanting to go back to explore it some more…sometime in the future. One day definitely wasn’t enough!

My two crazy men!

My two crazy men!

We took the train from Prague to Munich on Saturday, and spent yesterday exploring Munich.  The photo was taken at Marienplatz, the historic city center since the 1100’s.


Enchanting Venice



This past summer we spent a week in Italy as part of a three week road trip in Europe.  We used Verona as a base to see Lake Garda, Vicenza, and Venice. We had been to Venice in April 2012; but once in Venice is not enough! So we went back for a day trip.


Did you know that Venice was founded by people fleeing the invasion by Attila the Hun?  Apparently the Huns hated going near the water.  Lucky for us:)

Venice looks like a magical floating city. Venice is an archipelago of over 100 islands in the middle of a shallow lagoon, at the northern end of the Adriatic Sea.  It was built by setting wood pilings on the 118 submerged islands.  We constantly felt like we were walking around a movie set!


Typical Venetian architecture

The best way to explore Venice is to get lost in the winding streets, crossing over picturesque bridges, and watching the gondolas go by.



The alleys are narrow because the real streets of Venice are the canals The main entrances of palaces and normal houses are on the canal-side.  Like other cities, Venice also has a parking problem of its own… there are too many boats and too few docking spaces.

Nik and me

We are on one of the 400 bridges to be found in Venice! Behind us is one of the 170 canals.

The Rialto Bridge was completed in 1591. Before it was built, people scoffed at the idea of building a bridge out of stone. Apparently, the following were common sayings prior to the bridges completion: “It will be constructed when I have 3 legs” or “I’ll set myself on fire if the construction is ever completed.”  The architect had a sense of humor because today you can see two people carved in the arches of the building beside the bridge: a man with 3 legs and a woman sitting on a flaming brazier!

Rialto Bridge

Rialto Bridge

Apparently Rialto Bridge was the finish line of a race that criminals were forced to run. The race was a form of punishment and started at San Marco Square.  The local people were allowed to hit the runners with sticks, whips, rotten fruit, or anything else they decided to throw.  There is a statue of a hunchback on the bridge, and the convicts kissed the statue because they were so glad to be done with the race, having earned their freedom after enduring the punishment along the way.

When in Italy one MUST eat pizza!

When in Italy one MUST eat pizza! We had a great lunch at this restaurant by a canal.

Gondolas have been used as transport around the narrow Venetian canals for more than 10 centuries. Gondolas are iconic symbols of  Venice, and a gondola ride is a must-do on every tourist’s list…although they are very expensive!

We didn't want to pay 80+ Euros so we rode the gondola across to the other side for about 2 euros.

We didn’t want to pay 80+ euros so we rode the gondola across to the other side for about 2 euros!  April 2012

Did you know that only 3 or 4 Gondolier licenses are issued each year? Gondoliers have to undergo intensive training and pass a rigorous exam. There are only 400 licensed Gondolas operating in Venice today.


You are safe with me!

The photo below was our view from a public water bus (vaporetto); one of two main forms of public transport.  The other main form is walking!  No bicycles are allowed in any part of Venice; in fact, anyone caught on a bicycle is given a hefty fine.

The Doges Palace and San Marco Square

The Doge’s Palace and San Marco Square

Speaking of breaking the rules…not long ago, actor George Clooney got in some hot water for driving a small water taxi without the required license.  A local lawyer made a complaint and asked that the city police take action against the star. Later, when Clooney was asked about his new space thriller “Gravity”, he quipped that navigating the canals of Venice was tougher than being lost in space!

The Grand Canal

The Grand Canal

More than 150 buildings line the Grand Canal.  Most of them date from the 13th to the 18th century. The Venetian nobility spared no expense to show off their riches by building their “palazzos.”


When two buildings are joined by an arch, it indicates that both buildings were owned by the same owner.

Venice was the greatest seaport of medieval Europe. It was Europe’s main trade and cultural tie to Asia.  Marco Polo was born here!

Other famous people who were born in Venice include the famous lover Giacomo Casanova, the composer Antonio Vivaldi, and painters Titian and Tintoretto.

I wonder about the lives of the people who have lived in this flat....

I wonder about the lives of the people who have lived in this flat….

Did you know that Venice has no sewer system? Waste flows into the canals and is washed out to sea with the tides. No wonder we never noticed anyone swimming!


Next to the Doge’s palace

St. Mark is the patron saint of Venice, whose symbol is a winged lion. The lion rests its paw on an open book; the Latin inscription can be translated as: “Peace be with you Mark, my Evangelist”.

The Clock Tower

The Clock Tower

Do you know how St. Mark became the patron saint of Venice? According to legend,  a few Venice merchants in Ninth century stole the remains of St.Mark from his tomb in Alexandria, Egypt and brought it to Venice, where it is said to remain to this day.

The story (as told by William Lithgow in 1619) goes that the merchants placed the corpse in a large basket covered with herbs and pork, which Muslims wouldn’t go near. The merchants cried “pork!” if anyone came to search their cargo, and thus safely brought the remains to their ship. Shortly after they got out to sea, the ship was buffeted by a great storm.  St. Mark appeared and warned the captain to strike his sails, preventing the ship from being wrecked on hidden rocks.

The merchants delivered the remains of St. Mark to the Doge, and the local religious and civic authorities elected St. Mark as Venice’s patron saint after hearing their story.  So that is how St. Mark’s symbol of the winged lion became the logo of Venice!

April 2012: Nikolas' favorite pastime...chasing pigeons:)

San Marco Square, April 2012: Nikolas’ favorite pastime…chasing pigeons:)

San Marco Basilica is. STUNNING. It’s in my top two favorite cathedrals…the other being the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

July 2013:  Nate still loves chasing pigeons...look behind me!

San Marco Square, July 2013: Nate still loves chasing pigeons…look behind me!

The Doge’s palace was built in the late 1100’s. It was the residence of the Doge of Venice, who was the supreme leader of the Venetian Republic. The architecture is incredible. The photo below is just a teaser.  I really need to do a post just on San Marco Basilica and the Doge’s palace!

Inside the courtyard of the Doge's Palace.

Inside the courtyard of the Doge’s Palace.

Apparently Carnival started as a celebration after a military victory in 1162.  It continued until it was outlawed in 1797 by the King of Austria.  The festival of Carnival was reinstated in 1979, and now approximately 3 million visitors come to Venice every year to join in the festivities.

Tourist shops are full of masks, from cheap masks made for tourists on a budget to really expensive, exquisitely handcrafted masks.


Trinkets and souveniers

Historically, masks were not worn only for Carnival. Venetians loved to wear masks for any possible occasion.  Apparently there were many laws which specified when, where and who was allowed to walk around masked, especially for security reasons.


If someone didn’t keep up their house in one’s neighborhood it would detract from the value.  In Venice, the fading paint and peeling plaster seem to add character and charm!

City planners with a sense of humor decided that Calle del Diavolo (Devil’s Street) should intersect with  with Calle dei Preti (Priests’ Street). Apparently Calle del Diavolo, was named this way because there is a bridge at the beginning of the street which was known for its very steep and slippery steps where people would slip and fall, letting loose with some colorful expletives!


My two men:)

We spent a wonderful afternoon exploring Venice, until dusk came and we decided to head back to Verona.  It was lovely to see Venice light up as we made our way back to the train station by vaporetto.


Good night, Venice!

You can see some photos  from our 2012 trip to Venice with an interesting twist from Nate’s point of view here:

Venice is one of our top three favorite cities.  There’s just no place like it!  Be sure to put it on your bucket list!

Julian Alps, October 2012

Julian Alps, October 2012

We went to Slovenia for our midterm break last October. Many outside of Europe may ask, “where is Slovenia?!”  Slovenia is the northern part of what used to be Yugoslavia. We did five day trips from the capital city, Ljubljana, and on this particular day we drove through the Julian Alps.   It was stunning!  You can see more photos more  here:

Utah Beach

Utah Beach, July 2013

The D-Day invasion of Normandy took place on June 6th, 1944. Utah Beach was the code name for the westernmost of the Allied landing beaches. If you continued walking down the beach, you would eventually  arrive at Omaha Beach, which saw the heaviest casualties of American soldiers (dramatized in the first scene of Saving Private Ryan). It was a sobering experience to walk on this beach, to imagine the hundreds of landing craft, and to remember the brave young soldiers who risked and gave their lives on the beaches of Normandy.


I have been blessed to call this spectacular city my "home" since July 2011!

I have been blessed to call this spectacular city my “home” since July 2011!

I still have to pinch myself to believe that I live in Prague!  Can you see St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague Castle in the top right of the photograph?  I see that out of our bedroom windows every day, from the other direction! Ordinary errands, like going to the dentist yesterday, are surreal.  I picked Nate up from school, took a bus to the metro, went by metro to Staromestka in the Old Town, then hopped a tram which took us along the Vltava River with stunning views of the castle as we passed by Charles Bridge. We got off at our stop along the river, and walked five minutes to the dentist’s office, past a beautiful 400+ year old church in a neighborhood with incredible architecture. It was an evening appointment, so after the check up we took a tram home through the city as all the lights were coming on. Prague is truly lovely…you really must put it on your bucket list!

Lying 60km to the south of Lake Geneva, ANNECY is one of the most beautiful and popular resort towns of the French Alps. The delights of the town nowadays lie not just in its historical monuments, like the imposing Chateâu on the hill or the fort of the Palais d'Île closer to the lake, but also in the stunning scenery which can be admired from various points around the town. Surrounded by spectacular mountains and located on the banks of a sparkling turquoise lake, Annecy is about as close to a fairy-tale city as it is possible to get except in a children's story.


Annecy  is one of the most beautiful historic and popular resort towns of the French Alps.  The scenery around Annecy is  stunning!  It is surrounded by spectacular mountains, located on the banks of a sparkling turquoise lake.  We spent a lovely day here in July 2013.