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Sariyer, Turkey: February 2013

Sariyer, Turkey: February 2013

This was taken on a rainy day last February on one of the stops on the half day Bosphorus cruise with friends.  The harbor was so colorful!

Old Town Square

Old Town Square

This is our third Christmas season in Prague.  There are Christmas markets that spring up all over Prague in December, and the most beautiful one of all is in Old Town Square.  When I first came here, I was used to the US Midwest hibernation…when the temperature plummets, people stay indoors.  I was used to going from the house to the garage to the car to my destination.  It isn’t uncommon for people to circle a parking lot several times to find a spot closer to the mall entrance, or wherever it is we need to go.

During my first winter here in Prague, I was surprised to see how many people walk all over the city, particularly the center and shopping areas.  They go not just to accomplish shopping errands, but also to walk, talk with friends, and enjoy the atmosphere. The cold temperatures don’t seem to deter the crowds; people just bundle up, and walk !!

It’s a whole new way of life here in Prague, and I really enjoy it.  In the US, we had two cars and drove everywhere.  A car is a necessity in the vast majority of US cities, suburbs  and small towns (although I’ve never lived in New York or other cities with good public transport).  Here in Prague we don’t own a car.  We go to school, work, the grocery store, errands…everything…by public transport.  And we love it!  The public transport system is excellent: prompt, easy to figure out and navigate. I often feel like I’m a Disneyland tram, riding through the beautiful streets of Prague!


I’ll admit, there are days where it is really cold, and I miss the warmth and convenience of having a car.  But we have no desire, nor need, to buy a car.  If needed, taxis (from a reliable company) are quick and inexpensive: 150-300 crowns for a ride across town ( $7-$15).

Old Town Square is always bustling with life throughout the year; it has an especially festive atmosphere when the Christmas markets go up.

Jan Hus presides over the festivities, as always.

Jan Hus presides over the festivities, as always.

For the past three years we always head to the US to spend Christmas with family, so I’ve never experienced what Prague is like right at Christmas.  I’ve heard that there are buckets of fresh carp that appear all over the city as it is part of the Czech traditional Christmas meal.

Early December is always filled with lots of events at my son’s school, Christmas parties, and last minute gift buying. I guess that’s the same regardless of the country! Some day I’d like to go to a Christmas concerts in one of the lovely churches. I’ve also heard that the New Year’s Eve celebrations are wonderful. We often see fireworks out our window throughout the year (we live on  a hill); I can imagine that there must be many spectacular displays of fireworks on New Year’s Eve!

Tomorrow we are off to the US to spend time with family.  We are looking forward to it!  Good-bye, lovely Prague.  See you next year!


Stylova Restaurant

Stylowa Restaurant

Nowa Huta was founded in 1949 as a separate town next to Kraków.  It was built on land taken by the Communist government, and was intended to be the ideal “proletarian city”. It was built for Communist propaganda and settled mostly by steel workers. We decided to visit this town when we went to Kraków in February 2012.

What are they looking at??

What are they pointing at??

Plac Centralny, or Central Square was intended to be the center  of the visionary socialist city of Nowa Huta.  We arrived here on public transport, and started looking for street names, so that we could find our way to Stylowa Restaurant.  We squinted to read the street sign from the far end by the tram stop…im Ronalda…Regana….WHAT??!!  We laughed when we realized that Plac Centralny was renamed after President Ronald Reagan!!

How ironic!

How ironic is that??!!

I later learned that there used to be a giant bronze statue of Lenin here, until 1989…when it was removed and later sold to Sweden!

The city plan

Nowa Huta means “New Steelworks”.

Hmmm, I wonder if the Proletaryat Koncert advertised below is organized for the tourists? Perhaps a little capitalistic use of the Communist past?


What exactly is a Proletaryat Concert??!!

We found Stylowa Restaurant not far from Plac Centralny.  Apparently it has been here since 1956.  In the communist heydey it was a high class (can I say that of a communist restaurant?) where the elite of Nowa Huta met: the party bigwigs, lawyers, engineers, and professors.

Stylowa  Restaurant has been renovated over the years, but they have tried to keep it like it was in the 1970’s.  Their website boasts: Socialist Realist interior is takeing our guests back to time of “Polish glory of socialism”…typo is theirs, not mine!



Nowa Huta and Stylowa Restaurant are definitely worth the visit…be sure to visit when you are in Kraków!

Château de Chenonceau

It looks like Andy is standing in front of a painted set!

We went to this lovely castle when we were staying in the Loire Valley when our daughter, Samantha, joined us in France in the summer of 2012. The Loire Valley is dotted with beautiful castles, but this was my favorite!


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 source of my wanderlust

Andy and Nicole in Salzburg, October 2013

Andy and Nicole in Salzburg, October 2013

This blog is about our adventures as expats living in the Czech Republic in the beautiful city of Prague.  In 2011, my husband Andy and I sold our home in the US, along with most of our belongings, and left for a new life and job in Prague with our son, who is now nine years old. Our twenty year-old daughter is in her third year of university in the US.

Andy and our daughter, Samantha, at Versailles, Summer 2012

Andy and our daughter, Samantha, at Versailles, Summer 2012

We travel frequently during our school breaks around Europe.  We’ve also recently been to Israel and Turkey, and we are planning a trip to India in the spring.  I am addicted to travel!  I feel more alive when I’m living or traveling in another culture. There are two possible reasons for this: my unconventional childhood and my unconventional grandparents, who passed their wanderlust and love of adventure to me.

Andy and Nate on the Mount of Olives, Jerusalem, summer 2013

Andy and Nate on the Mount of Olives, Jerusalem, August 2013

1.  My unconventional childhood.

I was born in the US, but lived in India for four wonderful years of my childhood (ages seven to eleven).  My mother was born and raised in India; she was born with Indian citizenship although her mother was Russian and her father was German.  My dad was an American businessman who met her in India; they fell in love, got married in India, and came back to live in the US.

However, my parents separated when I was seven years old.  So, my mom took me to live in Bangalore, India….”home” to my grandparents and aunt, uncle and cousin.  It was a wonderful place to grow up! We returned to the US when my parents reconciled after four years.  I experienced major culture shock going “home” to the US, whereas I had no culture shock when moving to India four years earlier.

Seville, April 2013

Seville, Spain, April 2013

I’m what’s known as a TCK: third culture kid.

David Pollack developed the following description for third culture kids:

 “A third culture kid is an individual who, having spent a significant part of their developmental years in a culture other than their parents’ home culture, develops a sense of relationship to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Elements from each culture are incorporated into the life experience, but the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar experience.”

In other words, it means that I feel more at home with others who have grown up in situations like mine….growing up as a foreigner in a foreign country. I love being an expat, developing relationships with other expats and Czech friends.

Parc Guell, Barcelona, October 2011, just after we first moved to Prague.

Parc Guell, Barcelona, October 2011, just after we first moved to Prague. A TCK raising a new TCK:)

2.  My unconventional grandparents, who passed on their wanderlust to me.

Growing up in another culture greatly influenced my development, values and personality. My Russian grandmother and German grandfather were eccentric, quirky, wonderful people who had a huge influence on my life.

Speaking of quirky, my grandfather was known as the “Popcorn King” of India, because he was the first person to introduce popcorn to the subcontinent of India.  Our house had a popcorn factory in it!!

You ask….how did a Russian and a German meet and decide to marry and raise a family in India, of all places?!!

Istanbul, where my grandmother had hoped to be sent after her escape from Soviet Russia.  Ironically, it is one of my favorite countries...I've been there six times!

Istanbul, where my grandmother had hoped to be sent after her escape from Soviet Russia. Ironically, it is one of my favorite countries…I’ve been there six times!

Tania (Tatiana), my grandmother, escaped from the Soviet Union in 1940.  She escaped with two Polish sailors that she had met while working as a nanny on a boat on the Caspian Sea. She had already been married three times; twice a widow and once divorced.  She had spent two years in a Siberian prison camp. She was determined to escape Soviet Russia.  She and her companions had a harrowing journey until they made it to Persia (modern day Iran).  She was asked if she’d like to go to Turkey or to the British; she said “Turkey” because it sounded more exotic to her.  Instead, they sent her to the British in India.

My grandfather was a German who went to work in Italy in the late 1930’s.  In 1938 he boarded a ship bound for Australia, to marry his sweet heart.  I still have the ticket!  The ship stopped in Bombay. My grandfather fell in love with India, and stayed. He never made it to Australia to marry his sweetheart! He got a job as a hotel manager (his profession).  He was later accused of being a spy because of a joke he had made, and the British put him in prison for two years.  Finally he was released to an internment camp in Satara, India, where he met my grandmother.

My grandfather loved to tell the story of the beautiful Russian woman who arrived at the camp without knowing a word of English…and he gallantly volunteered to teach her!  They fell in love, and after they both were released they decided to marry and raise their family in India.

Dresden: my grandfather's home city.  He left in the late 1930's.

Dresden, 2010: my grandfather’s home city. He left in the late 1930’s. Ironically, I lived just a two hour drive away!

So how does their story affect me today?  My grandmother’s favorite saying was “Carpe Diem”  which means “seize the day“. My grandfather spoke seven languages fluently. Their personalities were polar opposites, but they both loved to travel, and they had friends from around the globe.

I think that I inherited my love of travel, interest in other cultures and people from my grandparents. They passed it on to my mother, who also loved to travel. Growing up, we frequently had people visiting us from all over the world…we lived in California, and it is a popular destination!

My parents’ and grandparents’ legacy lives on in me. Andy and I have been practicing our “Carpe Diem” by living as expats in Prague, hosting people from all over the world in our home. In July 2014 we sold our belongings and we are now traveling, without a permanent home.  We are taking a mini sabbatical before moving to a new home, to be found, in early 2015.  Stay tuned to find out where that will be!


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!