Category: Travel Tips



Foça in August

Since our son gets a two week semester break at the end of January/beginning of February, we decided to rent a car and go explore the Aegean coast of Turkey.  I know, it’s not really the right time of the year to go to the seaside!  However, we wanted to scout out places for this summer.  We live in Antalya, which is brutally hot and humid during the summer, so we are looking for a place to spend our summers.  We had heard that the Aegean side of Turkey is hot, but not humid.


Foça in February

We visited Selçuk, Şirince, and Çeşme, but Eski Foça (Old Foça) won our hearts. Don’t confuse Eski Foça with Yeni Foça (New Foça), which is only 800 years old!


Selcuk: it best known for its ancient fortress and for being a base from which to see Ephesus.


Şirince, a charming Ottoman town which is famous for its wines and olive oil.


Çeşme is a popular vacation spot in summer.

When we came here to Foça in February, even with the cold, crisp air we fell under the spell of its charm.


Scroll down to find a photo of this same area in the summer.

We discovered that Eski Foça is a laid back Aegean seaside town with a great vibe.  There are no 5 star resorts, no buildings more than about three stories, and no pulsating night life, other than a few seaside bars with music. Just what the doctor ordered!


Phocaea (Foça’s ancient name) was known for its mariners, who founded colonies in Spain, Italy, and France while exploring countries around the Mediterranean and the Aegean. I was surprised to learn that Marseille was founded by the Greeks from ancient Phocaea!


There’s a picturesque harbor with a mix of colorful fishing boats; the occasional stork swimming by, dogs and cats enjoying the mild sunshine along with the humans.



Eski Foça is about an hour’s drive from Izmir, so the town fills up with people coming for the day, especially on the weekends. On mild winter weekdays, the evenings are quiet and tranquil. There’s a medium sized sandy beach nearby, with little cafes to get a bite to eat.


There are two bays; the bigger bay is home to many modern sailing yachts whereas the small bay is home to many quaint fishing boats.  In the summer there are many tourist boats that are ready to take you out on day trips as well as evening cruises.


We returned to Foça a week ago, and we are really enjoying the summer vibe!  The weather is absolutely PERFECT: sunny, warm, with a gentle breeze. We haven’t needed to use air conditioning; just a fan is sufficient.  Best of all, we can be out during the middle of the day without melting!  Knowing what our friends in Antalya are suffering with the humidity,  we especially appreciate these exquisite summer temperatures.


There are many seaside restaurants and cafes to choose from for the hungry humans. Don’t be surprised if the cats sit by your table and look at you pleadingly as you eat some fresh seafood!


You found the summer photo, congratulations! Notice the vines growing above.

Flowers and trees are booming, adding to the charm of this fun seaside town!


So, what’s the best way to get to Eski Foça? You can fly from Istanbul or anywhere in Turkey to Izmir.  Rent a car and you will be here in less than an hour.

Here are some websites with information about how to get to Eski Foça by public transportation:

Getting to Foça from the otogar (main bus station in Izmir)

Check below for information about taking the metro from the airport to Hatundere, which takes you most of the way to Eski Foça. We were told that you can take a dolmuş (minibus) from Hatundere to Eski Foça, or you can take a taxi.

Izmir Airport/metro info


However you get here, just GET HERE!  It’s a great getaway, and would be a terrific way to end a busy sightseeing trip of Turkey’s many amazing places. You can people watch from one of the many seaside cafes while savoring some delicious seafood and local cuisine.  You can go on a boat trip to enjoy the beautiful coastline and  swim in the sparkling coves with crystal clear water. Go for a walk in the evening, admiring the yachts while feeling the warm, gentle breeze. End your vacation rested and ready to return home! We will definitely be back next year.







Kekova: the Sunken CIty

Kekova: the sunken city

Kekova: the sunken city

While staying in Kaş we decided to take a boat day trip to see Kekova and the lovely turquoise coast line on the way. We did the rounds on the harbor, checking prices and itineraries.  The majority of the boats charged 60 TL ($22) for an eight hour trip including lunch and multiple swim stops.

You get to reserve your "spot" on the boat.

You get to reserve your “spot” on the boat.

We got to stop in beautiful bays to swim in the crystal clear water.

We got to stop in beautiful bays to swim in the crystal clear water.

It looks like a swimming pool, but it isn't!

It looks like a swimming pool, but it isn’t!

Kekova is a small uninhabited island which is opposite ancient Simena (now Kaleköy) and near Teimioussa (now Üçağiz). Kekova is now a protected area, so the boats can’t stop there; however, they go by the island so that you can see the partially sunken ruins of the ancient town called Dolchiste.  It used to be the residential part of ancient Simena. It was destroyed by terrible earthquakes in the second century, and later rebuilt by the Byzantines. Dolchiste was later abandoned due to invasions by the Arabs.


The sunken city

The Kekova region is very popular with the yachts and cruise boats. Ancient archaeological sites, sparkling blue water, tranquility, beautiful nature, sunshine….it’s no wonder many stay here for weeks at a time, in one of the nearby bays of the charming fishing villages of Kaleköy or Üçağiz.



Kaleköy (ancient Simena) is very picturesque. The new cafes, pensions,and shops mingle with the ancient and medieval ruins, and somehow it works!  The history of ancient Simena goes back to the 4th century B.C. It was once a small fishing village, and later was settled by the Knights of Rhodes, who built the castle.


The castle was used by the Byzantines.

Kaleköy is accessible only by sea.

Kaleköy is accessible only by sea.





The sarcophagus tomb

The sarcophagus tomb



More ancient Lycian sarcophagi


There are lots of little cafes to enjoy a snack and homemade ice cream.

There are lots of little cafes to enjoy a snack and homemade ice cream.

We headed back to Kaš, after stopping to swim again. It was a wonderful day!  We highly recommend the boat trip to Kekova!


The Greek island of Kastellorizo, known as Meis in Turkish.

The Greek island of Kastellorizo, known as Meis in Turkish.

We decided to do a day trip to the Greek island of Kastellorizo, just a 30 minute boat ride from

Kaş. Be sure to take your passport with you when you make a reservation.  You have to either leave it with the tour company the night before, or hand it over an hour before the boat leaves, so that it can be processed by the customs office.
There are lots of little restaurant around the small harbor.

There are lots of little restaurant around the small harbor.

We explored the area right around the bay.

The island was taken over by crusading knights in 1306. They restored the castle and used it as a prison for disobedient knights:)


From the 1400’s to the 1800’s the island was occupied by the Sultan of Egypt, the King of Naples, the Ottoman Sultan, the Venetians, the Greeks, and then back to the Ottomans!


In the early 1900’s the Italians, Greeks, French, Brits, and Turks battled over possession of this island. The treaty of Lausanne gave the island to Italy.


The Brits and the Italians battled over the island in 1941. It was occupied by Allied forces in 1943. Kastellorizo became part of Greece in 1948 under the Paris Peace Treaties.

There’s not a lot to do there, which was perfect for us.  We were celebrating Father’s Day…not many guys can say they went to a Greek island for the day!  We relaxed in a lounge chair by the sea, sipping ice coffees and swimming in the lovely bay.
Looks like I'm sitting by the pool, doesn't it?

Looks like I’m sitting by the pool, doesn’t it?

The view:)

The full view:)



We had a great lunch with fresh fish from the sea at a lovely restaurant on the bay.
Fresh fish!

Fresh fish with a glass of wine…life is good!

This is where we had lunch.

This is where we had lunch.

The view from our table.

The view from our table.

After lunch we took some more photos…
Then returned to our lounge chairs and iced coffees:)
Nice way to spend Father's Day, eh?  But we missed our kids!

Nice way to spend Father’s Day, eh? But we missed our kids!

Finally, it was time to head back to Kaş.

Kaş harbor

Kaş harbor

We really enjoyed the day. Definitely consider a day trip to Kastellorizo if you are ever in Kaş!

Andy is standing in front of the Pegasus fountain, where the “Do Re Mi” song was filmed.  Just to the right you can see the arched hedge where Maria and the children ran and sang.

Lazy travelers that we are, we arrived in Salzburg for a day trip from Munich around noon.  Our mantra when traveling is to have as few early mornings as possible! We found a great free iphone app called City Walk Salzburg Lite that helped us decide what we wanted to see in the short time we were there.  We also purchased a Salzburg Card for 23 Euros (11.50 for Nate), which allowed us to use all public transport and covered admissions to all the sights in this lovely city.


The Mirabelle Palace was constructed and the gardens were laid in 1606 for the mistress of the Archbishop!!

Next, we walked to Mozart’s Residence, where Mozart lived from the age of 17. It now houses a museum with important family memorabilia; including their library, portraits, and letters written by Mozart’s father. Mozart composed many of his works here!  There’s even some silly stuff…

Young Mozart

Young Mozart…hmmm, looks like a little boy I know:)

Next, we headed to Residenzplatz, where you can find the Residence Palace and Salzburg Cathedral.


The Residenzplatz

Later in the movie,  this square and its buildings are covered with Nazi insignia, after Nazi Germany annexed Austria. The story told in the Sound of Music was based on Captain Von Trapp’s strong opposition to the Nazis, and his decision to leave all that he owned and flee with his family to Switzerland.


Inside the Residence Palace, one of the most important historical buildings in Sazburg.

The Residence Palace started as a small bishop’s palace in 1120, and was enlarged over the centuries. The royal family of Austria and the Hapsburg rulers of Tuscany used it as their residence.


There is an art gallery where you can see paintings by Rembrandt, Ruben and Brueghel.

In The Sound of Music, Maria and the Von Trapp children ride one of the horse carriages for part of their journey across town, while singing “Do Re Mi.”


Looking out of the window from the Residence Palace.

Next, we went next door to Salzburg Cathedral.

my boys

My boys in front of Salzburg Cathedral.

This stunning baroque cathedral was built in the 17th century on the site of a Celtic settlement and part of the ruins of a Roman city! Excavations under the cathedral have unearthed mosaics and ancient artifacts.


The cathedral was consecrated in 1612.


Mozart was baptized in this cathedral, in a 14th century baptismal font which dated back to the earlier cathedral built on this site .

Next, we took the cable car up to the Hohensalzburg Fortress.


Hohensalzburg Fortress

This fortress is one of the largest medieval castles in Europe!  Construction began in 1077!!  It was built to protect the city during a conflict between the Holy Roman Emperor and the Pope.  It was under siege in 1525 when a group of Protestant peasants unsuccessfully tried to depose Archbishop-Prince Matthaus Lang.


The fortress is one of Europe’s best preserved castles.

When Napoleon occupied Salzburg, he used the fortress as barracks for his army, a dungeon, and storage depot.

It has an interesting museum of World War i artifacts.

It has an interesting museum of World War I artifacts.

Below is the view from the castle ramparts!


Beautiful Salzburg!

Next, we walked a little further to see Nonnburg Abbey, where the real Maria Von Trapp was a novice.   It was also where she married Captain Von Trapp (in real life, not in the movie).

Nonnburg Abbey

Nonnburg Nunnery is the oldest functioning convent in the world! It was founded in 713.

The Sound of Music scenes shot here include the opening part where the nuns are going to mass and singing “How do we solve a problem like Maria?” The performance for the song “Maria” was staged in the courtyard of the abbey. Later, the Von Trapp children came to the abbey’s gate to ask Maria to return to their home, but are turned away. The escape scene, with the cars parked outside the Abbey gate, was also shot in the original spot.

The courtyard of the abbey.

The graveyard of the abbey.

Andy and Nate are horsing around in the photo below, while I took photos of the stunning views.  Two days later we watched the Sound of Music together and geeked out when we saw the scenes filmed where we had just been!

My boys

This is right in front of the abbey, where escape scene took place!

We had the place to ourselves as it was getting towards sunset.


This is the view just behind where the boys are sitting in the photo above.

Next, we walk to St. Peter’s Church, the oldest functioning monastery in Austria. It was founded in 760 by  a Franconian monk! The present church dates back to 1125.

St. Peter Church

Mozart’s sister was buried in the St. Peter Cemetery!

Dusk was close approaching and we had to hurry back to the train station to catch a train back to Munich, which takes two hours.  We hurried down Getreidegasse, the most important shopping street in Salzburg.  Andy was happy that we didn’t have time to shop:)

Tall, medieval baroque houses line the street.  Mozart was born in one of the houses on this street!

It's fun to think that Mozart walked down this street!

It’s fun to think that Mozart walked down this street!

A day trip certainly was NOT enough for this beautiful city.  There are several must-sees that we missed. So, we hope to go back to this lovely city some day! For those of you who have been to Salzburg, what do you recommend?


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!

From the castle walls!

From the castle walls!

We have hosted more than 50 guests since we moved to Prague in 2011!  Many more will visit us this year. Below is my top ten list of things to see and do in Prague if you have only a short time.  I’ve also included our favorite inexpensive restaurants (main dish for under 200 CZK ($10/8E) near the sites.

1. Prague Castle and Gardens

Take a picnic lunch with you to the gardens.  Or stop at the outdoor restaurant on the way down the hill to Malostranska. It is surrounded by an ancient vineyard and has the most spectacular views of Prague.  They usually advertise dessert and coffee for 99 CZK($5/4E)…other items are quite expensive.

See my post for insider tips about Prague Castle:

The view of the castle from the gardens.

The view of the castle from the gardens.

2. Charles Bridge and Old Town Square

Going inside the clock tower is quite interesting. By some crepes (palacinky) from one of the food stalls in the square and enjoy the excellent people watching opportunities.  Don’t eat at one of the cafes around the square unless you don’t mind paying exorbitant prices!

Charles Bridge

Charles Bridge

Old Town Square in 2010.

Old Town Square in 2010.

3. Jewish Quarter and Museums

Allow several hours to see this area, as there are six sites to visit in the Josefov district. Here’s a link to find out information about the ticket costs and other information:

The Jewish Cemetary

The Jewish Cemetery

My friend took this photo in the Spanish Synagogue before we were told no photos are allowed.

My friend took this photo in the Spanish Synagogue before we were told no photos are allowed.

Find your way to the Cartouche restaurant for an interesting atmosphere and decor that makes you feel like you are in a tavern from the 1700’s. It has a pricier menu but there are a few Czech and other dishes for 199-249 CZK.

Inside the Cartouche.

Inside the Cartouche.

Celebrating our 10th anniversary last year!

Celebrating our 10th anniversary last year!

4. Wenceslas Square

It’s a pleasant walk from Old Town Square to Wenceslas Square.

This is looking towards Old Town Square. The blue building will be on your left if you are in OT Square heading for Wenceslas Square.

This is looking towards Old Town Square.

Nate with dear friends Curt and Sandra, AKA Doc and Marmee.

Wenceslas Square with dear friends Curt and Sandra.

The Powder Tower and Municipal house are also a short walk away from Wenceslas Square.

The Powder Tower. There's an interesting little museum inside.

The Powder Tower. There’s an interesting little museum inside.

This is the view from the Powder Tower.

This is the view from the Powder Tower.

If you have some time, stop in at the Museum of Communism…

LOVE this sign!!

LOVE this sign!!

If you are hungry, try one of our favorite restauranst in Wenceslas Square: O Balouna.  It says “Traditional Czech Restaurant” on the outside. Here’s the website:


It’s a few doors down from the Thai Massage place with big tanks of water in the window, where tourists sit with their feet in the water, allegedly getting their dead skin nibbled away by the fish. I say allegedly because my friend Elsa tried it and didn’t notice a difference…but it was a great photo op!

She said it tickled!

She said it tickled!

Elsa attracted lots of attention...she is in photos of other random tourists who stopped to watch.

Elsa became a tourist attraction…she is in photos of other random tourists who stopped to watch!

5.  Stroll along the river and rent a paddle boat.

Take a walk along the river from Charles Bridge heading south. After passing another bridge (Most Legii) and the National Theater (Narodni Divadlo)  you’ll see a small bridge leading to a little island (Slovanski Ostrov) which is pleasant to walk around.  You can rent paddle boats from here.

Our river walk in 2011.

Our river walk in 2011.

When you are ready for a meal, enjoy one of our favorite restaurants, Club Cestavalu (Caravanserai on the sign outside, a mint green building across the street from the island). The food is Arabic and Lebanese, with Indian menu choices as well. They have unusual photos of exotic places as part of their decor.  They also have some free exotic snacks for the brave of heart (which I was not)!

What are they holding? Why does Nikolas look like he is going to throw up?

What are they holding? Why does Nate look like he is going to throw up?

Fried grubs! Nate and Andy said they tasted like fried styrofoam!

Fried grubs! Nate and Andy said they tasted like fried styrofoam!

Another favorite restaurant of ours is Grosseto’s Marina. We love taking guest here because the views of the city and of Charles Bridge are spectacular, and the prices are reasonable.

The view from the boat is outstanding.

It looks like a boat but it isn’t.

6.  Take a boat cruise on the Vltava River.

There are many different companies with a variety of cruise options, from a quick one hour spin to a several hour dinner cruise.  Our favorite is Prague-Venice, because it is a one hour cruise on a small boat which takes you through some hidden canals as well as along the Vltava.  Currently it costs 290 CZK ($14/11E) and includes a drink and ice cream.  You can buy tickets from the guys in white sailor suits at the end of Charles Bridge on the Old Town side.

You can see the boat sign behind Nate. We also went to a concert in the church behind him.

This is the area to buy the tickets. Taken in 2010

Cruise with Grandma and Grandpa, summer 2012.

Cruise with Grandma and Grandpa, summer 2012.

There are several other options.  I have heard good things about the Jazz Boat.

We did a dinner cruise with the Zidek family. That's Vikki and me:)

We did a dinner cruise with the Zidek family. That’s Vikki and me:)


Sunset is a great time for a cruise!

There’s also another cruise option, free with your transportation ticket!  It’s a little boat that zigzags along the river; especially fun for kids. We found it when we were walking along the river and hopped on.

The free boat (with your valid public transport pass).

The free boat (with your valid public transport pass).

7.  See an opera or ballet.

We  have seen three operas and one ballet and have really enjoyed them…even Nate (although he looks bored in the photo below)!  You can pay a lot of money to sit up close, or you can sit up high in the middle for 480-530 CZK ($25/20E) at the Prague State Opera. You will have a great view of the stage and orchestra, and the acoustics are great.

If you forgot to pack your opera clothes, it’s ok…at least in the cheap seats:)

The Prague State Opera House.

The Prague State Opera House.

Buy your tickets from Bohemia Tickets.  They don’t add a surcharge like other sites.  You can purchase them online, or get them when you are in Prague.  Go to the Mustek metro stop and follow the Na Prikope exit. The address is Na Prikope 16.  If they try to tell you they don’t sell the lower price tickets, tell them a local friend told you that they are available (unless they are truly sold out, which you can verify online).

In front of the Estates Theater.

In front of the Estates Theater.

8.  Go to a classical music concert in one of the beautiful churches or other historic buildings like the Rudolfinum or the Municipal House.

We went to one at Saint Salvatore Church and loved it! The music, acoustics, and atmosphere were outstanding.

Waiting for the concert to start.

Waiting for the concert to start.

9.  Take the funicular up to Petrin Hill.

It’s free to ride the funicular with your valid transportation ticket.  Take a picnic lunch and enjoy it in the gardens at the top. Climb the “Prague Eiffel Tower”.

There's a nice view of Prague waiting...

There’s a nice view of Prague waiting…

Kids--big and small--will love the mirror maze at the top.

Kids–big and small–will love the mirror maze at the top. Taken in 2010.

Head down the hill...

Head down the hill…

Quench your thirst with the world's best beer--or apple juice:)

Quench your thirst with the world’s best beer–or apple juice:)

10. Take a day trip to Karlestejn Castle.

The castle was founded in 1348 by King Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor. It is easy to get here by train from Hlavni Ndrazi.  See the websites below for how to walk to the castle from the train station…it’s good exercise!  The town below the castle is very picturesque, with many options for restaurants and shops.  Souvenirs are cheaper here than in Prague.

Taken with our friend Vanda in summer 2010.

Taken with our friend Vanda in summer 2010.

This was taken in March...the views are more spectacular in spring, summer and fall.

This was taken in March 2012…the views are more spectacular in spring, summer and fall.

It's pretty fun to stand on a real drawbridge!

It’s pretty fun to stand on a real drawbridge!

So, that’s my list!  There are so many more wonderful things to see and do in Prague.  I’ll get to them in a future post.  Are there any other places you would count in a top ten list?

Plaza de Espana, Seville

Plaza de Espana, Seville

We had a wonderful eleven-day vacation in Spain last month.  We visited Seville, Cordoba and Granada.  Usually we use public transport when traveling, but discovered going by train within Spain is very expensive.  We stayed with friends in Seville and Granada, but the location in Granada was outside the city, so we needed to rent a car.

Since I am the family travel agent, I went online to research car costs, and was delighted to find a compact car that cost about $34 a day with insurance included.

The Alcazar gardens in Seville.

The Alcazar gardens in Seville.

When it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t good or true!  Here are our lessons learned:

Tip #1: Go with a well-known, proven agency and read the fine print in the offer.

I didn’t.  I LOATHE reading fine print! We booked with Marbesol. Marbesol?? When we arrived to pick up our car, we discovered that we had a “meet and greet: pick up with a full tank and bring it back empty”.  Sounded good to me when I booked, but I didn’t read that “the company may charge you for gas”.  We were told that we would have to pay 108 Euros for the privilege of bringing the car back empty (no refund for a partially full tank) AND we’d have to pay an 800 Euro deposit because the insurance didn’t cover everything. The car was tiny, and we knew a tank of gas would be much less than 108 Euros. Our other choice was to pay 129 Euros, which included full coverage, but we had to bring the car back with a full tank.  So, we chose the second plan. Our good deal was now a not-so-good deal.


The Albayzin in Granada

Tip #2: Read the contract carefully before you purchase.

Full coverage may not be full coverage!  When we returned our car, the couple ahead of us had the misfortune to have a fender bender.  Nothing serious, but they were relieved that they had purchased full insurance. The agent congratulated them on having full coverage and said they only had to pay 245 Euros for the time the car would be out of commission for repair work.  They argued that they had full coverage; but the agent said it didn’t cover the days the car would be out of commission.  ARRRGGHHH!

The Albayzin; the Moorish quarter of Granada.  Notice the Alhambra in the background!

The Albayzin; the Moorish quarter of Granada. Notice the Alhambra in the background!

Tip 3: Don’t pay for insurance with a third party company when you book the car online.

The few times that we have done this, the “independent party insurance” never covers enough, so you end up purchasing additional insurance from the car rental company.

We got to see an authentic flamenco concert. We were the only tourists there!

We got to see an authentic flamenco concert. We were the only tourists there!

Tip #4: If you are going to a major European city, don’t rent a car!!

Even if you park it and use public transport, parking fees are 15+ Euros a day. Public transport is usually much more efficient and cost effective.


The amazing Mezquita Mosque-Church in Cordoba.

Tip #5: If you do rent a car, rent the smallest possible car that will fit you and your baggage.

Our car was tiny, but driving in Granada was very stressful because there were dozens of tiny one-way streets that would be more aptly called alleys.  They had treacherous two foot metal posts about six inches on either side of the car that lined the alleys (to prevent parking).  The street/alleys were so narrow that Andy sometimes had to do a three or four point turn just to make a right or left turn!

Parking garages often have insanely small parking spaces, with only about eight-foot aisle between the front of your car and the car opposite.  We spent almost thirty minutes trying to get our tiny car into a tiny parking space!


That’s how close another car parked to ours!

Tip #6:Update your GPS!

Our Garmin is two years old, and as we were driving to the airport there was a split in the road in real life, but only one road on our Garmin.  Then our Garmin told us we were driving on unpaved roads and wanted us to turn around, when in reality we were on a newly built highway.  Fortunately we eventually found our way to the rental agency, but there were a few stressful moments!

We will do another car rental for a Germany-Italy-France trip in the summer, and we will hopefully learn from our own mistakes.  We hope you can learn from our mistakes as well!  Do you have any tips for us?

The Alhambra!

The Alhambra!

We recently went to Spain for our Easter holidays.  After visiting Sevilla we went to Granada. The Alhambra is amazing!  Enjoy the photo essay:)

Tip #1:  Book your tickets to the Alhambra as soon as possible; it gets booked up well in advance. You will be given a morning or afternoon or evening time, with a specific time to enter the Nasrid Palace.

Tip #2:  Try to see all of the rest of the Alhambra complex before your time to enter the Nasrid Palace.

You enter and can stroll through the Alhambra complex until it's your time to enter the Nasrid Palace.

You enter here and can stroll through the Alhambra complex until it’s your time to enter the Nasrid Palace.

Granada is the capital of the province of Granada, in the region of Andalusia, Spain.

Looking out over the Albayzin, the Moorish Quarter.

Did you know…….?

The view from the Alhambra, looking over the Albaicin, the old Moorish Quarter.

Granada is located at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains by the Darro and Genil rivers.

This is the palace of Charles V, Grandson of Isabelle and Ferdinand.

This is the palace of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, grandson of Isabella and Ferdinand.

You can read more about Charles V here:,_Holy_Roman_Emperor

Now we are in the Nasrid Palace.

This was the view from the Nasrid palace for the sultans of Granada, and later for Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand, and their descendants.


The rooms, courtyards, and gardens inside the Nasrid palace are stunning!


The city has been inhabited since the dawn of history; first by Ibero-Celts, then by Greeks, followed by Romans and Visigoths.


Moorish forces under Tariq ibn-Ziyad first took the city in 711.


Granada was a Muslim kingdom for almost 800 years.

It became the capital of a province of the Caliphate of Cordoba.

It became the capital of a province of the Caliphate of Cordoba.

The ambitious Ibn al-Ahmar established the longest lasting Muslim dynasty in Spain : the Nasrids.

The ambitious Ibn al-Ahmar established the longest lasting Muslim dynasty in Spain : the Nasrids.

The Nasrids aligned themselves with Ferdinand III of Castile in 1238, and became a vassal state of the Christian kingdom of Castile for 250 years.

The Nasrids aligned themselves with Ferdinand III of Castile in 1238, and became a vassal state of the Christian kingdom of Castile for 250 years.

The Nasrid sultans were responsible for building most of the palaces in the Alhambra.

The Nasrid sultans were responsible for building most of the palaces in the Alhambra.

In 1492 Muhammad XII (known as Boabdil to the Spanish) surrendered Granada to Ferdinand and Isabella, Los Reyes Católicos, after a long siege.

In 1492  Boabdil  surrendered Granada to Ferdinand and Isabella, Los Reyes Católicos, after a long siege.

The 1492 Alhambra decree forced the predominantly Muslim population to convert to Roman Catholicism or face death.

The 1492 Alhambra decree forced the predominantly Muslim population to convert to Roman Catholicism or face death.

Many fled the inquisition to their ancestral lands in North Africa.

Note the intricacy of the work behind Andy.

The gardens were lovely!

Many Muslims fled the inquisition to their ancestral lands in North Africa. The Jews were also expelled after the Alhambra decree.

The fall of Granada ended the eight hundred year long Islamic presence in the Iberian Peninsula.

The fall of Granada ended the eight hundred year long Islamic presence in the Iberian Peninsula.

Isabella's prodigy Christopher Columbus ‘discovered’ the Americas, leading to the Spanish Empire, one of the largest world empires for hundreds of years to come.

Isabella’s prodigy Christopher Columbus ‘discovered’ the Americas, leading to the Spanish Empire, one of the largest world empires for hundreds of years to come.

Tip #3:  Get the following historical novels  to learn more about these fascinating people and the amazing Alhambra:

I read an excellent book, The Queen’s Vow , by C. Gortner.  It was a historical novel about Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand.  It made the Alhambra, Granada, and Seville come alive for me. Gortner’s second book, The The Last Queen: A Novel, was about Isabella and Ferdinand’s daughter, known as Juana the Mad, was also excellent.

Did you know that Isabella and Ferdinand’s youngest daughter, know to history as Katherine of Aragorn, was the first wife of Henry VII?  Phillipa Gregory’s The Constant Princess  is a great book about Katherine’s(born Catalina) life, including her early years spent in the Alhambra, after the conquest.

We also got the Kindle Edition of Rick Steve’s Spain 2013 and really liked it.  I usually prefer Lonely Planet guide books, but I had read bad reviews about how their ebook functions.

So, that’s the Alhambra! What do you think of it?


View from the Powder Tower

Make sure you read these tips before arriving in Prague!  They will save you money and help you to enjoy your trip more.

1. Choose one of these three options to go from the airport to your accomodations:

A. When you exit with your bag, look for AAA Taxi Kiosk.  Give the taxi driver the address of your accommodations written on a piece of paper: avoid misunderstanding because you don’t know how to pronounce the street name!  A 15 minute taxi ride to where I live costs about 450 Crowns/CZK ($23/18 Euros).  They will give you a coupon for 47% off your return trip to the airport (which we think means you pay regular price). This is pretty reasonable for taxi fare, but read on to save more money…

B.  Leave the terminal to the outdoor parking lot.  You will see taxis of other companies coming and going.  Call Speed Taxi (see number below) and ask them to pick you up from the terminal parking lot (specify exactly where you are). Doing it this way  costs me 150 CZK less($8/6 Euros) than using the official AAA taxi. Read on for the most cost effective way…

C.  Buy a public transport ticket and take the airport bus #119 to Dejvicka. You can then enter the metro and proceed to your destination.  Alternatively, you can take a tram from Dejvicka or nearby Vitezne Namesti to your destination.

View from Prague Castle

View from Prague Castle

2.  Take public transport from Hlavni Nadrazi (main train station) to your accomodations:

NEVER use the taxis waiting at Hlavni Nadrazi Railway Station.  It will be double the cost! Instead, go upstairs and exit by Fanta Kavarna.  Call a taxi from one of the recommendations below and ask them to pick you up at Hlavni Nadrazi outside of Fanta Kavarna. See the link below so you know where to go:,-11.73,110.0

However, it is really easy and much cheaper to arrive at your destination by public transport.  There is a metro station at the train station, and you can easily reach all parts of the city.

Basilica of St. George at Prague Castle

Basilica of St. George at Prague Castle

3.  Use a reliable taxi:

Never !!  call a taxi that is waiting on the street.  You will be overcharged!  Instead, call or send a SMS to one of the two taxi companies below.  Generally taxis are not expensive, from about 150 to 300 CZK.

Speed Taxi: +420 722 234 234 (my favorite, most reliable)

Taxi Nejlevnejsi:  +420 736 300 299

SMS: Please pick us up at ________address________.  My name is _______________.

The company will send a confirmation SMS with the make and model of the taxi, and its arrival time.

St. Vitus Cathedral

St. Vitus Cathedral

4. Get these three free apps for your smart phone!

MHDapp:  You can enter your location and your destination and it tells you exactly how to get there on public transport. You need to enter the name of the tram, bus or metro stop and it does the rest.  The app even tells you how many minutes before the bus or tram comes, so you know if you need to run!

CG Transit: Similar to MHDapp, and  it also shows you on the map how to walk from your current location to the bus, metro or tram stop.

Tripadvisor city guide for Prague: I love this app!  It gives you suggested itineraries, restaurants, and descriptions of the top attractions.  You can download it with WiFi, and use it offline.  It has a great map feature, and helps you find your way using your smartphone signal.

Prague at dusk

Prague at dusk

5.  Get a Czech sim card at any Vodafone office (airport, Vitezne Namesti, Wenceslas Square and more).  They are only 200 CZK ($10/8Euros) and include prepaid credit for calls, sms, and you can add data for 175 CZK ($9/7Euros). You avoid  roaming charges, and you can use the travel apps and Google Maps online using 3G. Any calls or SMS you send will be at the local rate.

Charles Bridge

Charles Bridge

6.  Don’t bother with expensive tours or the Hop on/Hop off bus!!

Prague’s public transport system is excellent. Trams are fun to ride as they wind their way around this beautiful city! Get a good map with the metro and trams marked, and you can navigate the city like a local:)

Here is the website for the transportation system.  You can find tariff prices, and you can use Journey Planner to figure out how to get from one area to another.

If you stay for more than 6 days, consider purchasing a one-month pass.   You can buy them at most major metro stations, including Hradcanska. The pass is transferable, and you can make someone’s day by giving it away at the airport or train station when you leave, to a tourist who is just arriving!

The “green” or “A” line will take you to almost all the important sights in the city center.  Here are some of the stops and what you will find at each of the stops:

Hradcanska: You can walk to the castle in about ten minutes from the metro at Hradcanska. Walk down K Brusce to the right of the old gate (Pisecka Brana, now a café), out to Marianske Hradby. You will see the Summer Palace (now a porcelain museum) across the street.  Go in the side gate and you will see the castle gardens.  It is a lovely walk through the gardens to Prague Castle…and no steep hill to climb!  Note:  the gardens are closed in winter, so instead take the tram one stop from Kralovsky Letohradek to Prasky Hrad.

The Summer Palace

The Summer Palace

You can also walk to Letna Park from Hradcanska.  It has lovely walking and cycling paths, with lovely views of the Vltava river and the city.

The views are stunning!

The views are stunning!

Fall 2011

Fall 2011

Malostranska:   You will be around the corner from the bottom of the path to the castle.  There is also a lovely walled garden, Wallenstein Gardens, which has its entrance next to the metro. Walk to Malostranska Namesti to see St. Nicholas Church and Charles Bridge.

Wallenstein Gardens

Wallenstein Gardens


St. Nicholas Church in Mala Strana

Charles Bridge

Charles Bridge

Staromestka:  You can get out here to walk to Old Town Square, Charles Bridge, and the Jewish Quarter.


Old Town Square

The Jewish Cemetary

The Jewish Cemetary

Mustek:  This stop takes you to Wenceslas Square.  You can also change to the yellow line. From here there is a nice walk to Old Town Square. You can also enjoy all the shops, and walk to the Municipal House and the Powder Tower.

Wenceslas Square

Wenceslas Square

The Municipal House

The Municipal House

The Powder Tower

The Powder Tower

Muzeum:  Prague State Opera is here.  You can change to the red line here.

Prague State Opera with Mom and Dad

Prague State Opera with Mom and Dad

Tram Stops:

Malostranska Namesti is the stop to see St. Nicholas Church, and the Mala Strana side of the Charles Bridge is a short walk away, just around the corner.

The tower at Charles Bridge

The tower at Charles Bridge

Ujezd is the stop where you can take the funicular (included in your public transport ticket) to the top of the hill.  There are pretty gardens, the Prague “Eiffel Tower”, cafes, and a mirror maze (great for children).

The Prague "Eiffel Tower"

The Prague “Eiffel Tower”

Ok, so there is a lot more to tell you about, but I’ll save that for another post.  What are some of your favorite places in Prague?  What tips do you have for getting around Prague in the most efficient and enjoyable way?

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA My husband, son and I moved to Prague in July 2011. During the time leading up to the move, Andy and I would look at each other and say, “We are moving to Prague!!”  What a crazy, fun adventure!  Now, 18 months later, we still look at each other and say, “We live in Prague!” I still feel wonder when I see the Vltava River and all the lovely buildings.  I still feel like I am perpetually on holiday:)

This was taken on a dinner cruise we did with the Zidek family in June 2012.

We really enjoy hosting people in our flat. We have hosted new teachers, missionaries, college students, couples,and families who come from a variety of countries such as the U.S., Hungary, France, Spain, Italy, the U.K., and Argentina.  We have many more guests scheduled for the upcoming year.  So this post will be the first of a series, especially for our future guests…our top pics of what to see in Prague, along with some insider tips for transportation, food and entertainment.

1. Prague Castle and Gardens.

The best way to get to Prague Castle is to start at the Castle Gardens.  You can walk there from the Hradcanska Metro/Tram stop, or take tram #22 to Kralovsky Letohradek for the gardens, or to Prasky Hrad to go straight to the castle.  If you go this way, you will walk straight in…..instead of walking up a million steps coming from the other side.  Note: the gardens are closed in the winter.

Check this link for the many ways to get to Prague Castle:

The gardens are the perfect place for a picnic.

Summer Palace in the fall:)

You will end up at the gates of Prague Castle.  Be sure to see the changing of the guard, on the hour, every hour until 8pm in the summer or 6pm in the winter.  The short tour, which includes Golden Lane, is sufficient in my opinion.

Here’s the link to Prague Castle’s website:

Nikolas and Grandma being goofy!

St. Vitus Cathedral is stunning!  The entry fee is worth it.  Don’t forget to come back here at night and enjoy Prague Castle by night.


The outside of St. Vitus Cathedral.


Inside the cathedral


Construction was begun in 1344!

Climb the tower to get this pic!

Climb the tower to get this pic!


The view from the castle walls.

Elsa and me!

Elsa and me!

Once you have taken your dozens of photos at the castle walls, walk down the hill to Malostranska.  Go right at the bottom.  Walk through the small gate on the left of the metro station to stroll through the Wallenstein Gardens (spring and summer only). Exit out the gate on the left to Malostranska Namesti.

Prague Senate Building

Prague Senate Building

Alternatively, take a tram to….

2. St. Nicholas Church in Mala Strana

Tram stop: Malostranske Namesti


Mozart played the organs here in 1787!


Construction began in 1703.

This is a beautiful location for a classical concert!

This is a beautiful location for a classical concert.

Check this link for classical music concert information:

Are you hungry yet?  Try Malostranska Beseda Restaurace, just across the street from the Malostranska Namesti tram stop.  Or try the kebab shop to the right of it.  Prices are reasonable!

After a good meal, you walk it off on a walk across Charles Bridge…just around the corner!  For a future post…

Thanks to Elsa and the Zidek family for some of the above photos 🙂

Tell us about your favorite places in Prague!