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Guilin, situated in China’s southern province of Guangxi, is known for its scenic karst peaks that dot the banks of the Li River. Boating down the Li River from Guilin to Yangshuo is one of the most popular tourist activities in China and you cannot possibly visit the town without being offered “Bamboo boat?” by an old woman several times per day.

Each turn produces more beautiful karst peaks.

We were excited to cruise the river, but were surely not willing to pay the ridiculous prices charged by many tour companies. With a goal in mind, we set off one morning to haggle our way to a solid discount. Turns out the cheapest way to get down the Li is to forgo the English tour guide, and go on a Chinese boat instead. Why not? The river’s scenery should do all the talking anyway; who wants an annoying narration to cloud the natural beauty? Skipping the English practically cut the price in half; so, we forked out our money and signed up for the Chinese boat.

The next morning, a bus picked us up at our hostel as planned. So far, so good. After all of the passengers were on board, we headed off on a short drive to the pier. Eventually the tour guide got on her mike and started doing her thing. We had no clue what she was saying, hell, she could have been telling the entire bus that we were ugly and smelled, but it didn’t matter to us.

Our tour guide was all smiles before things got ugly.

Next thing we know, the pitch of the tour guide’s voice was raising and a few other passengers were beginning to speak up loudly. The tour guide was pointing her finger and speaking quite quickly while sighing and rolling her eyes. At one point or another, pretty much everyone on the bus had chimed in. Clearly, there was an intense argument going down. It’s amazing the things you can figure out without understanding a single word. To this day, we still have no idea what it was all about, but at the time we thought it was hilarious and were relieved that it didn’t involve us.

After the fight was over, the bus pulled over on the side of the road. “Are we here?” we both asked each other. Everyone emptied off the bus, so we decided to follow suite. Down the hill a bit, a dodgy looking boat was pulled up next to a rickety dock. There were not enough seats for everyone and we were beginning to think that we had been duped. Maybe this was what the argument on the bus was about? Nonetheless, we just went with it.

We were excited to be on the water, even though this was just our shuttle boat.

After a few minutes of cruising the river, our camera was snapping away. Just when we had come to terms with the sub-par condition of our boat, we pulled up to another pier, this time with several other boats docked next to it. Hmmm…what was going on this time? Turns out we were now supposed to switch to another boat. Still, having no clue what was happening, we just followed the other passengers. This boat was much cleaner and safer looking, had enough seats to go around, and was even equipped with a toilet!

Our real boat!

The cruise was now officially underway! We marveled at the spectacular scenery during the entire four hour ride. Visiting in May is an ideal time because the limestone peaks are coated in a lush green cover.

Small bamboo rafts and larger boats float together down the Li River.

Even though we did not know what the tour guide was saying, we could always pick up when a peak of particular interest was coming up. The Chinese would rush the top deck, cameras in hand.

Wow, this must be a famous peak or something!

Close to the beginning of the boat ride, someone came up to us and motioned towards their camera. Oh, they want us to take their picture. “No problem” we say. “No, no, no. Photo” she says as she points to us. Next thing we know, we are in the middle of an all out photo with her and her entire family. And this was only the beginning. We found ourselves cracking up during the majority of the boat trip as more and more people asked to take pictures with us. We felt like celebrities. We even caught this guy taking our photo on the sly…

You want to take our picture? OK, we’ll take yours too and post it on our blog!

Scenery, bus fight, photo shoots, and all, it was a great boat cruise down the Li River.

We couldn’t get enough of these views.

The moral of the story is, when you visit Guilin, definitely opt for the Chinese boat cruise down the Li River. It will be far more eventful than sitting with a bunch of old farts on the western boat. You will pay less, see the same beautiful scenery, take tons of photos with new friends, and maybe even learn a little Chinese while you’re at it.

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We believe that each place you visit leaves you with just a little more knowledge about the world in which we live. Last week we traveled to Bosnia and Herzegovina where we expanded our understanding of the Bosnian War. This former Yugoslavian nation does not likely appear on many RTW itineraries, and, to be honest, we didn’t have very high expectations. Sarajevo simply appeared to be a good place to exit Eastern Europe, but we could not have been more wrong. The sights we saw and the stories we heard about the Bosnian War impacted us profoundly. We are going to share our impressions, but first want to clarify that it was a very complicated war. It would take years of research to fully understand what happened, if understanding war is even possible.

Our first stop in Bosnia and Herzegovina was Mostar. Situated in the Herzegovina region, this relatively small city of about 130,000 people is most well-known for its old bridge (Stari Most) which spans the Neretva river.

The stunning Stari Most.

Sadly, however, the first thing that caught our attention in Mostar was not the bridge nor beautiful nearby mountains; it was the many bombed out ruins of buildings. Despite the nearly 15 million dollars that have been put into the reconstruction of the city since the war ended in 1995, many buildings remain in shambles.

Scars from the war can be seen everywhere.

Over the years, we have both visited developing nations and have seen poor living conditions, but witnessing the destructive power of war is something completely different. It left us feeling quite somber as we wondered through the town.

View of Mostar from the Old Bridge Museum.

After an evening of pondering our first impressions of Bosnia and Herzegovina, we decided to check out the brighter side of Mostar and see why it is a top tourist destination. Stari Most is indeed a magnificent bridge, and its white stone arch makes a beautiful contrast against the brightly colored, turquoise-blue water of the river. Our first walk across the bridge was met with an overwhelming cluster of camera-in-hand tourists peering over the edge. We quickly noticed that the crowd had formed to watch a group of locals jumping off the bridge into the quickly moving current below.

The things some people will do for a buck (or a Mark)…

At the Old Bridge Museum, which is housed in one of the bridge’s two towers, we learned that the original bridge was built in 1557 for the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. Like many buildings in Mostar, Stari Most was greatly affected by the war. In fact, after standing for more than 400 years, the original bridge was destroyed during a shelling on November 9, 1993. Reconstruction of the current bridge was not completed until 2004.

The reconstruction of Stari Most attempted to match it as closely as possible to the original, even using some of the same stones which were recovered from the river.

Our visit to Mostar happened to coincide with Easter. It was thought-provoking to spend this holiday in a primarily Muslim area; most people seemed to be going about their day as normal. You wouldn’t have known it was Easter at all were it not for the sound of church bells intermingled with the Islamic call to prayer. Interestingly enough, we entered our first mosque on Easter and walked to the top of the minaret where it is possible to take in panoramic views of the town.

Interior of the Karadjoz-bey mosque, the largest mosque in the Herzegovina region.

The Bosnian War was one of several wars that begun as a result of the dissolution of Yugoslavia and occurred when ethnic and religious tensions between Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims), Serbs (Orthodox Serbians) and Croats (Catholic Croatians) had reached a peak. While the wars have ended and the country of Bosnia and Herzegovina is now at peace (at least on the surface), signs of conflict between these groups are still present. One example in Mostar is the cross on Hum Hill. This hill was a key military position during the war and was the base of many Croat sniper and mortar attacks against the Bosniak population. Today, the hill is crowned by an imposing cross which stands at 33 meters high. For many Bosniaks, it is viewed as an attempt by Catholic Croats to claim ownership over the city. The city’s Croat population, however, argues that Muslim monuments (i.e. numerous mosques and the Stari Most) dominate the city’s old town. For the Croats, the construction of the cross in 2000 simply meant having a monument to call their own. Regardless of which side you’re on, the cross on Hum Hill is just one example of how the war continues to impact society today.

After a few days in Mostar, we caught a morning train to Sarajevo. In a recent post we mentioned how much we love train travel, and this trip was no exception. The train ran along the Neretva river, through rolling hills, and eventually, into snow-capped, rocky mountains. The two and a half hour ride was simply spectacular. For only $6 per person, it may be the best money we have ever spent.

Our attempt at capturing the beautiful train ride from Mostar to Sarajevo.

As the train pulled into Sarajevo, it was back to reality. While the city appears to have recovered and rebuilt more than Mostar, many buildings are still riddled with bullet holes and crumbling from mortar blasts. Yet, at the same time, the city has the vibe of a thriving European capital.

Bascarsija Old Town Square in Sarajevo

Unfortunately we only allowed ourselves one day and night in Sarajevo, but we think we made the most of it. Wanting to learn more about the war, we signed up for a “Tunnel Tour” through our hostel which is run by a family from Sarajevo. We learned so much from Saed, the father, who shared his knowledge about the history of the war and also many personal stories. He and his family lived through four years of war in the same building where they now run their hostel. It was chilling to hear him explain their daily routine of waking up before the gunfire and bombing began at 5am and relocating to the basement where it was safer.

Soaking in Saed’s stories and knowledge.

During the tour, we were driven all over the city of Sarajevo as Saed explained the landscape. An important note is that almost all of the buildings from the 1984 Olympic Games were destroyed; some have been rebuilt with donations from the international community, while others have been lost forever. We discussed what the city may have been like today if the war had never happened. It was growing rapidly and prosperous enough to attract the Olympics in ’84, but by ’94 was the centerpiece in a savage war. The name “Tunnel Tour” stems from the most important site visited, the entry of a tunnel which runs below Sarajevo airport, connecting the former Olympic Village of Dobrinja to the base of the mountains. It allowed the people of Sarajevo to transport much needed supplies to and  from the outside world during the siege, and it was vital to their ability to hold off the Serbian forces.

Entrance to the tunnel

During our week stay in Bosnia and Herzegovina, we learned so much about the history of the country and the perseverance of the Bosnian people. We both recall hearing about the Bosnian War on the news when we were young; it was the first war that we remember happening during our lifetime. Perhaps because of this, it made our visit more impactful. While Bosnia and Herzegovina is not the most glamorous of destinations, it is certainly a thought-provoking and beautiful place to visit, worth adding to your next European trip.

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In our last post, Dalmatian Coast: Part I, we mentioned how we booked our Dubrovnik accommodations without much forethought at 4:00am on the day we were arriving. Before sharing the many pleasant parts of our visit to Dubrovnik, we will finish telling you the story of our hostel from hell. We hope that you find it amusing and that it will help prevent others from making the same mistakes we did.

After staying up until the wee hours of the morning, we were in no hurry to leave Split and get on the road to Dubrovnik, but had to keep moving. We didn’t know the check-out time of our current apartment. We hadn’t packed. We didn’t know when the bus was leaving. But, thankfully we did know where we would be staying that night in Dubrovnik. Or so we thought…

The bus ride from Split to Dubrovnik was absolutely gorgeous. It drove right along the coast which provided incredible views of rocky cliffs slipping into the Adriatic Sea. After four hours, we had arrived in Dubrovnik. Once we found the address of the hostel where we had booked a room, we looked at each other with a “is this really it?” sentiment. There was no sign, the yard was cluttered with debris, a half dead bird was twitching on the porch, and children’s toys were scattered about. There was no doorbell or buzzer to be found. We proceeded to knock on each of the house’s three doors. Finally, a lady answered. She showed us around, and within seconds we realized the awful mistake we had made.

The place was filthy and in terrible condition: stained sheets, chipped paint, a broken window, busted handles, rusted fan, mold and cobwebs. They were the most uninviting accommodations we have ever seen. After a little discussion, we decided to inform the lady that we would only be staying one night (since we were already locked in due to our online pre-booking) and cancelling the other two nights of our reservation. She blew up! She was yelling at us and threatening to call the police, demanding that we hand over our passports. Yeah right! We kept our cool and explained that our reservation email specified that we could cancel if we paid for the first night. Eventually we smoothed things over, paid for one night, and decided to tough-it-out. In hindsight, we don’t know what we were thinking; we should have hightailed it right out of there.

Attempting to distract our minds from this hellish inferno of hostel, we sat down to catch up on email, book a new room, and do some research about our up-and-coming trip to Turkey. Suddenly, Mike spotted a bed-bug crawling on one of the mattresses; then, Amy moved our camera bag and found another. Before we knew it, we had found a third. That was all it took; at 11:00pm we called the owner of our recently booked (and positively reviewed!) guesthouse and asked if we could check in immediately. This is where our luck turned around.

Nikkolina, the owner of our new guesthouse, was truly an angel. She could hear the distress in Amy’s voice, and despite her guesthouse being full, offered to meet us right away. Amy was nearly having a panic attack as we walked out of the place we now refer to simply as “Hell.” We basically ran across town, packs and all, through the drawbridge and into Old Town Dubrovnik.

When we arrived, Nikkolina showed us to an extra room where we could stay even though it was not typically used by guests. Although just a simple, cozy and clean guesthouse, this place looked like a 5 star hotel to us! It was after midnight by this point, and we knew there was still one more thing we had to do before falling asleep: a bed-bug inspection. Mike’s work history in hotel housekeeping came in handy. We whipped out our headlamp and flashlight (putting them to use for the first time) and went through every single item in our backpacks in painstaking detail. We found one hitchhiker, put him to death, and continued inspecting the rest of our gear. An hour later, we were done and confident we had conquered the situation. Still, falling asleep proved difficult; after some assistance from sleeping pills, however, we were finally able to get a relatively good night’s sleep.

What did we learn from this experience?

  • Don’t wait until the day of arrival to book a guesthouse (especially if you’ve stayed out until the early morning).
  • Don’t book an accommodation that doesn’t have any reviews online.
  • If a place looks and/or feels wrong, leave immediately (dying birds cannot be a good omen).
  • When in doubt, only book one night. It’s better to have to switch hotels because they are fully booked than to be stuck somewhere horrible.

You’re probably thinking right now, duh Mike & Amy, this is all common sense stuff. And, you’re right, it is. We like to consider ourselves relatively well traveled people, but the excitement of our RTW trip got the best of us. Yes, it could have been worse, but it felt like the pits at the time. It all worked out in the end, and we will share our amazingly positive experiences in Dubrovnik in the final chapter of this series – Dalmatian Coast: Part III.

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Our journey to southern Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast was done in a very “fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants” kind of way; all of our train tickets were purchased at the station within an hour of departure. Traveling this way brings a sense of excitement and anticipation that is difficult to find in today’s internet-centric world where planning a trip can be done with just a few clicks of a button. In the past few weeks, we have been using trains as our primary mode of transportation which allows us to see much more of the landscape than traveling by plane. For both of us, trains are our favorite way to travel. They are not always the fastest way to get around, and you often have to make connections and switch trains, but the experience is so much more laid-back than flying.

The scenery along the train ride from Zagreb to Split included everything from snow-capped mountains to vineyards to lakes.

The trip from Eger, Hungary to Split, Croatia took us two days via three different trains, totaling about 14 hours on the rails when all was said and done. Our “layover” in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, was a nice surprise. The city was much more full of life than we had anticipated, with tons of young people out and about enjoying the parks, cafes and restaurants that line the cobbled streets.

It’s a bit of a miracle that we made it to Split at all. Half way through our train ride we noticed that we had been stopped on the tracks for quite a while. Wondering what was going on, we poked our heads out of the window and noticed that the train was being decoupled; the front half was pulling away, while our car was left standing on the tracks. The train conductor didn’t speak English, so we just went with it and hoped that we were on the right car. Another engine arrived a few minutes later, and we were on our way again. Upon arriving at the Hungary-Croatia boarder a few hours later, our passports were checked and stamped. Our concern about being on the right train was raised again when we looked down at our passports and saw “Republika Hrvatska.” Hrvatska?!  We thought we were going to Croatia.  Turns out Hrvatska is Croatia.  English versions of cities and countries are often different (i.e. Sevilla>Seville. Lisboa>Lisbon.), but how did someone come up with Croatia from Hrvatska? Anyway, we digress.

We did eventually arrive in Split, and when we did, we felt very glad to be back in a city on the sea. Our last view of the ocean was in Denmark, and although only a month ago, it felt like ages. Being from Colorado, Mike had always said that he prefers the mountains to the sea, but it seems that each time we travel to the coast it is harder for him to leave.

Relaxing along the rocky Dalmatian Coast.

Split is the second largest city in Croatia, yet only recently has become a popular tourist destination. It serves as the transportation hub for the numerous islands that speckle the Dalmatian Coast. It is also known for Diocletian’s Palace, the ancient Roman palace that encircles in the old town, and for its numerous beaches and party atmosphere.

An exterior wall of the Diocletian’s Palace under the moonlight.

View of Split from the top of the bell tower.

The cafe culture along Split’s main pedestrian street  is also prevalent. On our first day there, Amy said “is it just me, or is everyone staring at us?” We quickly learned that people watching is THE thing to do in Croatia. Everyone looks at everyone else, and most people can be seen decked out in big sunglasses to aid in the sport of people watching.

The Split Riva, or sea promenade, is lined by outdoor cafes and restaurants.

We had originally intended on staying three nights in Split, but after a day,  we decided that would not be enough, so we extended our visit for another two nights. The weather gods blessed us with warm temperatures and cloudless skies, making ideal conditions for a few days at the beach.

Crystal clear water along Znjan beach.

Diving board along the popular Bačvice beach.

The most famous island along the Dalmatian Coast is Hvar. The ferry from Split to Hvar takes about two hours and the scenery is gorgeous. The boat ride alone justifies the cost of the ticket, but the stunning natural beauty of Hvar is the real gem. We spent our day on Hvar hiking up to the castle for an amazing view, strolling along the coast and swimming in the turquoise sea. Then, we soaked up some sun while dining in the plaza. It was one of the most relaxing and enjoyable days of our journey thus far. It literally felt like heaven.

View of Hvar harbor and the Pakleni Islands from the castle.

Have you ever seen such a perfect mid-sneeze photo? We were laughing for days over this one.

Flowers were blooming all over Hvar Island. It must be spring.

Maybe it was the great weather that put everyone in a good mood, but whatever the case, we encountered only friendly people on the island. Everyone we met, tourists and locals alike, had a huge smile on their face. Among those we met was a really fun couple that we kept running into throughout the day. We spent the entire ferry ride back to Split chatting it up with our new friends, Juan and Saskia. Originally from Zimbabwe, they now live in Australia and are currently wrapping up a 9-month road trip around Europe. Dinner that night turned into ten hours of stories and jokes. While being away from friends and family back home can be hard, one of the best parts of our expedition is meeting total strangers along the way and witnessing first-hand how a love of travel brings people together.

The crew after a delicious Croatian meal.

We had to leave the next morning for Dubrovnik, so once we returned to our apartment at 4:00am, we hopped on the internet and booked the first affordable place that we could find. Remember what we said at the beginning of this post about a few clicks of a button? BIG MISTAKE. But more to come on that story in our next post…stay tuned for Dalmatian Coast: Part II.

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Until a few weeks ago, we had envisioned Budapest as one city, but the fact is  there are many sides to this spectacular place.  From a literal perspective, there are two sides, Buda and Pest, sitting opposite each other along the Danube River. They officially became one city in 1873 and today are joined by a series of bridges and rail lines that make up the greater city of Budapest. However, beyond the two banks of the river, lie the many different faces of Budapest, and this is what makes it such a great place to visit; there is something for everyone.

Budapest for the History Buff

Like many other capital cities in Europe, Budapest features a historic castle quarter. Located on the Buda side of the river, Castle Hill is the place to go for the best views of the city, and it is home to several museums and monuments including, not only Buda Castle, but numerous churches, the National Széchenyi Library and Sándor Palace, the official residence of Hungary’s President.

Check out this spectacular diamond tiled roof of the Matthias Church on the Buda side

View of the Hungarian Parliament Building as seen from Fisherman’s Bastion

After exploring the castle district, take a ride on Budapest’s underground metro system, the oldest subway system in continental Europe. Many of the stations have classy tile work and a very historic feel to them. Lastly, don’t miss the Hungarian National Museum which houses great exhibits about the nation’s history and current archeological excavations.

Budapest for the Foodie

Eastern European food is generally not anything to write home about; but, we had high expectations for Budapest. The bar was set high by one of our favorite restaurants from home, a Hungarian spot in Denver called Budapest Bistro. We were not disappointed. Hungarian food takes the basic meat and starch components that are used in so many Eastern European countries and jazzes it up with paprika. This spice doesn’t add heat, but flavor. Some of our favorites included: chicken paprikash, rabbit in red wine sauce and garlic seasoned goose leg.

Chicken paprikash with spaetzle…this picture does not do it justice, we were more concerned with eating it at the time than getting a good shot

In addition to the traditional Hungarian restaurants that cover the streets of Buda and Pest, you should also check out the Central Market Hall (Nagy Vasarcsarnok). At a first glance, this market looks like any other in Europe with produce, meat and seafood stands, but upstairs there are several food counters where you can graze to your heart’s content. We particularly loved the stuffed cabbage rolls.

Nagycsarnok in Budapest – Home of many delicious Hungarian food stands

Budapest for the Party Fiend

If you don’t look closely, you may miss one of the most interesting parts of Budapest’s nightlife: ruin bars. Tucked into warehouses and dilapidated buildings, these bars are often unmarked and therefore easy to miss. Stop by during the day for a relaxing coffee or beer, or visit on a Friday and Saturday night to experience the liveliest atmosphere in town. Ruin bars are eclectically decorated, including anything from rusted old cars that have been converted into seating to toilets that are being used as planting boxes. They feature many types of entertainment from DJs to dancers to interactive art pieces.

Funky decor in Szimpla’s outdoor patio

Random and fun interactive art piece in Szimpla Ruin Bar. This basic circuit board controls a crazy assortment of lights, bells, whistles and music.

Hidden seating area at a Budapest ruin bar

If you want to read a detailed summary of ruin bars in Budapest, check out this post.

Budapest for some R&R

Likely brought into popularity when the Turks invaded Hungary, gyógyfürdő (thermal baths) are a traditional part of Hungarian life. These facilities usually include indoor and outdoor pools whose temperatures vary based on the minerals of which they are composed. Definitely set aside at least one full-day for relaxing in a fürdő during your visit to Budapest. We loved our visit to Széchenyi Fürdő, one of Europe’s largest thermal baths situated in the center of City Park. You can purchase tickets which provide access to various services, ranging from the use of the basic thermal baths for about 3,000 HUF to pool access with a private cabin, including massages and spa treatments for upwards of 9,000 HUF.

Outdoor thermal baths at Széchenyi Fürdő. These get up to 38 degrees Celsius – the biggest hot tub we’ve ever seen!

Locals playing chess in the thermal baths. They must be prune proof.

One of the indoor thermal baths at Széchenyi Fürdő

If public baths aren’t your style, no need to worry; head over to Margaret Island (Margitsziget). This island park sits right in the middle of the Danube River and can easily be reached by foot or by public transportation. The park is just over 5 kilometers around and has countless areas for picnicking and sunbathing. There are also tennis courts and trails for biking and running, if working out is your idea of relaxation. A small petting zoo, water park, ice cream stands and cafes make it a family friendly destination.

Budapest for the Arts Lover

If arts and theater are your thing, be sure to visit Budapest during the Budapesti Tavaszi Fesztivál (Spring Festival) which happens each year in March. We happened to be in town this week, and although we didn’t take advantage of its offerings, you can be guaranteed so see a wide variety of operas, shows, and live musical acts at venues across the city. During the rest of the year, the city houses several art museums, including the Hungarian National Gallery which includes a feature on famous artists from Budapest.

Frescoes at the Hungarian National Museum

As for our personal experience in Budapest…fantastic! Even before we arrived things were going our way. The night before we left Vienna, we saw a sign at the reception desk of our hostel that said “free ticket to Budapest.” Although it seemed too good to be true, we asked for more details. As it turned out, a fellow traveler had purchased a round-trip ticket and wasn’t going to be using the return. So, rather than trying to sell it, they asked the hostel to try and find someone who could use it. Funny how things like that work out; we were actually planning on doing the exact same thing with our round-trip tickets from the Czech Republic.

Free train ticket to Vienna thanks to a kind stranger!

But anyway, back to Budapest, it has been one of our favorite destinations thus far. Despite the fact that neither of us speaks a word of Hungarian, we felt at home. Before arriving, we had heard some bad things about Budapest being a “sketchy” city with lots of people out to scam tourists; so we had our guard up a bit when we arrived. As it turns out, everyone we encountered was friendly, helpful, and honest. Add the delicious food, sights, and activities, and you have all the makings of a wonderful city. If you are planning a trip to Eastern Europe DO NOT miss Budapest.

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Surprise! We’re in Vienna. Well, technically speaking we are in Hungary now, but we were in Vienna.  We had no intention of visiting Austria during our RTW trip, but had to in order to get to our desired destination, Budapest. It took four hours, a bus and two trains from Český Krumlov, but before we knew it, we had arrived.

Vienna was a lovely surprise. Granted, we did spend our only full-day of sightseeing slightly hung-over, but you have to make sacrifices sometimes, right? Life is short. Two Americans, one Korean-born Australian and one Argentine in Austria = a jolly good time. Jägerbomb anyone? We have no idea where Diego and Lisa are now, but we wish them safe travels.

So, what did we see on this glorious day in Vienna, you ask?

Naschmarkt

An incredible outdoor market that stretches on for blocks, with stall after stall of flowers, spices, pastries, sipping vinegars, produce, meat, seafood, and more. Most importantly, it provided a much needed hummus fix for Amy.

Naschmarkt entrance. You can read about the history of this market here.

Colorful tulips. Christina, I was thinking about you when we walked by this stand.

That’s a lot of kraut!

Rows upon rows of tasting vinegars

An interesting observation we made in Vienna is that Austrians are constantly eating on the go; there are countless food stands strewn across the city, and it seems as though every third person you see is eating on the move. Anyone giving Americans a bad rap this behavior should visit Vienna. Naturally, we had to give eating Vienna-style a try, so picked up some fantastic noodles-in-a-box from the Naschmarkt.

Yum.

Ringstraße

The heart of Vienna is encircled by roads that are collectively called Ringstraße (Ring road). We spent a few hours walking it and were astounded by how grandiose everything is; architecturally it is one of the most impressive European cities we’ve seen thus far. Pictures simply do not do it justice. It is quite an experience to literally be stopped in your tracks by the magnificence of a building, every single block, for five straight kilometers.

The Austrian Parliament Building situated on Ring road

The Vienna City Hall, also located just off of Ring road

The stunning Upper Belvedere Palace, near Ring road

People Watching

Honestly, no place we visit is without this activity; however, people watching in Vienna seemed to be of particular interest. Every park had a sign posted that attempted to communicate “do not walk on the grass” with stick figures, but none of them seemed to get the point across. There were bodies littering the grass and soaking in the afternoon sun; ideal for people watching.

All in all, our less than 48 hours in Vienna were pure and simple fun. We didn’t feel obligated to do and see everything since our time was limited. Hell, we didn’t even have Viennese coffee. What we did manage to do was get a pleasant taste of the city that left us wanting more.

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You must be wondering, what is hjem? Maybe a typo? An obscure town in Russia? It actually is the Danish word for home. We flew into Copenhagen on the 28th of February to spend a week with the host family that Amy lived with while studying abroad in Denmark in 2006. Returning to Denmark felt like a homecoming, thus the name of this post.

Family dinner in Osted

It was such a treat to spend time with Lene, Nils, Mathilde, Daniel, Martin, Sabrina and Mikkel! We enjoyed delicious meals each night with great conversations and lots of hygge. Hygge is a Danish word that is difficult to translate into English because it describes a feeling and atmosphere, not a place or thing. Cozy is the closest synonym, however does not do it justice. When relaxing in a Danish home, surrounded by candlelight, enjoying good company and often food and drinks as well, you get hygge.

Creating hygge at the summerhouse

Having spent five months living in Denmark, Amy had already seen many of the must sees, but one that had not yet been checked off the list was the Changing of the Guard at Amalienborg Palace in København (Copenhagen). We had not intended on going to see this event, but as we were driving through the city one day, Amy’s host brother, Martin, noticed the time and suggested that we stop to check it out. It was a lot of fun to watch especially since we were able to get the inside scoop from Martin, who served in the Danish Royal Guard himself. Click here to watch a video of all the action.

Changing of the Guard at Amalienborg Palace

Over the weekend, Lene & Nils, Amy’s host parents, drove us to their summerhouse in northwest Sjælland. It was fun to see the completed house as it was under construction when Amy was living in Denmark.

The summerhouse!

We spent our days Sjӕllands Odde exploring the scenic drives, beaches, viewpoints, and historic sites of the area, which we definitely recommend as a side trip if you plan on visiting København.

Atop a hill near Asnæs, Denmark – looking out onto Sjællands Odde

View of the beach and sea near the summerhouse

We learned about some very peculiar ancient burial mounds spread out all over the landscape. They date back to the Stone Age, and we visited a well preserved site built circa 3500 B.C. At over 5,000 years old that definitely makes it the oldest building either of us has ever entered.

Amy inside of one of the large burial mounds

In the evenings we retreated back to the summerhouse for some delicious home-cooked meals and hygge time with the neighbors, Leif and Annika.

Starter of fresh salmon season with dill. Yum!

Fish filets spread with pesto and topped with prosciutto

After returning from the summerhouse, we took a day trip to see Møns Klint and visit Lene’s mom on the island of Lolland. Møns Klint is a series of steep, sharp cliffs on the east coast of the Danish island called Møn, another place you should see if visiting Denmark. Descending nearly 500 stairs from the top to the beach below provides a stunning view of these chalk-white cliffs.

Stairs leading down to the beach of Møns Klint. Easier going down than back up again.

Chalk cliffs dropping into the sea

After driving from Møn to Lolland, we ended the day at the farm where Lene grew up. All week we had heard stories about “whiskey time,” so were much anticipating arriving to the farm so that we could experience it firsthand. Lene’s parents created this tradition of serving whiskey each day at 4pm to any friend, family member or neighbor who made it to their home in time. We really enjoyed whiskey time and think it is a fantastic tradition to bring people together for the simple purpose of savoring life after a day’s work.

It was more difficult to leave Denmark than the previous countries we have visited because we weren’t only leaving a country we love, but people we love. However, we will certainly be coming back to Denmark time and time again in the future, so instead of saying goodbye, we just said vi ses, which translates to “see you later” in Danish.

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We chose to take an early morning train from Granada to Sevilla so that we could check out some of the Andalusian landscape along the way. Much to our surprise, seemingly all we saw from the train windows were endless rolling hills covered with olives trees. We had been offered olives with pretty much every meal since arriving in Spain, but hadn’t really connected the dots. Did you know that Spain is the world’s largest producer of olives?!

After arriving in Sevilla, we met up with some friends who are living there as English teachers. It was fun to connect with people we know after nearly a month of solo traveling. No, we’re not sick of each other, but a familiar face always has a way of making you feel at home.

Our main mode of transport while in Sevilla was bikes, via a bike share program called Sevici (for all you Denver people, it’s similar to B-Cycle). Thanks to Blake and Danielle, we were able to use the bikes for free!

Mike checking out a bike at the Alameda Sevici station

Riding around allowed us to cover much of the city in just a couple of days. A few of our favorite sites were the Plaza de España & Catedral de Sevilla, and we also enjoyed exploring the neighborhoods of Alameda, Santa Cruz and Triana.

La Plaza de España was built in 1928 for a world’s fair. It is surrounded by the beautiful Parque de María Luisa.

Fountain in the center of La Plaza de España

The Giralda Tower, as seen from the orange tree courtyard at La Catedral de Sevilla

View of Sevilla from the top of the Giralda Tower at La Catedral de Sevilla

Our nights in Sevilla were filled with tapas and flamenco. El Ambigú, which was recommended by Amy’s sister, Jennifer, was a casual place filled with locals and serving delicious tapas (you can read our TripAdvisor review here). Another great tapas place we found for a late night snack was El Rinconcillo, founded in 1670, and in operation ever since.

Tapas at El Rinconcillo – we love how chalk is used to keep track of tabs on the bar top!

Flamenco is part of the soul of Sevilla and can be seen everywhere; whether it be a flamenco school, a store selling traditional dresses, posters promoting  upcoming shows, or an actual Tabalo.

Our first flamenco experience was a performance held at La Carboneria, a flamenco venue in the Santa Cruz neighborhood that offers complimentary shows each night. This venue features ample seating, a fun bar and a casual setting. The show had no dancing, but highlighted the classic cante (singing), toque (guitar) and palmas (handclaps). It was very different but equally as impressive as the second, full blown performance that we attended the following night.

Palmas y Toque at La Carboneria

The second flamenco show, held at La Peña Flamenca Torres Macarena, was a much more intimate setting, with a raised stage and a few rows of seating on three sides. We were impressed by the dancer’s intense focus and incredible tranquil speed. Additionally, this show featured two singers which gave the performance a much more robust sound. In hopes of capturing the complex auditory component of flamenco, in addition to photos, we also took a short video which you can watch by clicking on the picture below.

After just under a week in Sevilla, we both agreed to add it to our shortlist of places we would consider living in the future. If you plan on visiting Spain, do not miss this city!

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