Orecchiette with Spicy Italian Sausage and Broccoli Rabe


Recipe from Everyday Italian.

Ingredients 

- 2 bunches broccoli rabe, stalks trimmed, then quarter 

- 12 oz. orecchiette pasta

- 1 lb. spicy Italian sausage 

- 3 cloves garlic, minced

- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan 

- 3 tablespoons olive oil

- 1 punch red pepper flakes

- salt and pepper

Directions
1. Bring large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook broccoli rabe for 1 minute then remove- keep water.

2. Cook the orecchiette in the same boiling water until tender but still firm to bite, approx. 8 min. Reserve 1 cup of water before straining.

3. SAME TIME- Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add the sausage and cook breaking up with a spoon until browned, approx. 8 min.

4. Add garlic and red pepper flakes, cook for 30 seconds.

5. Add broccoli rabe and toss to coat.

6. Add pasta and reserved cooking water, 1/4 cup at a time, until reached desired moisture. 

7. Add Parmesan cheese, stir. Salt and pepper to taste.

8. Serve warm or at room temperature.

A simple but delicious pasta dish that’s perfect for a regular night in or a dinner party. 

Sesame Snow Peas and Shiitake Mushrooms


Ingredients (serves 2-3)

6-8 large shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced 

3/4 lbs snow peas, trimmed

1 tsp soy sauce

1/2 tsp sesame oil

2 tbs vegetable or olive oil

Sesame seeds to garnish 

Salt


Directions 

1. Combine soy sauce and sesame oil with 2 tbs of water in a small bowl.

2. Heat large skillet over high heat. Add 1 tbs of oil. When the oil is hot add mushrooms and stir for 3 minutes.

3. Add remaining oil, snow peas and pinch of salt. Stir for 30 seconds.

4. Add soy/sesame mixture and cool for 2 minutes, until peas are crisp/tender.

5. Garnish with sesame seeds and serve.

Ahi Tuna Tartare

 Ingredients

1 lb ground tuna (sashimi grade)

2 tablespoons Sesame oil

Siracha 

Sesame seeds

1 large avocado

Directions 

1. Put tuna in bowl.

2. Add oil and siracha (to taste.) Use hands to mix. 

3. Mash avocado.

4. Plate avocado, then tuna. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Garnish plate with wasabi paste.

Artichoke “Hummus”

 
Ingredients

28 oz quartered artichokes in brine, or water (brine will have more flavor)

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 cup avocado oil or EVOO

4 tbsp fresh lemon juice

Optional: minced pimento peppers or olives

Directions 

1. Drain artichokes. Dry between paper towels to remove excess liquid.

2. Add all ingredients to food processor or magic bullet. Blend until creamy.

3. Drizzle oil on top before serving.

Optional: garnish with minced peppers/olives

Oyster Mushrooms with wilted Spinach

Ingredients

3 cloves garlic, chopped

4 cups oyster mushroom, or another wild mushroom

Dry sherry wine, 3 tablespoons

Low sodium soy sauce, 1.5 tablespoons  
20oz spinach

EVOO

Directions

1. In large skillet heat oil and garlic for 1 min.

2. Add mushrooms. Cook 5 minutes until mushrooms are tender.

3. Add sherry and soy sauce. 

4. Once simmering start adding spinach. Continue adding and stirring until all spinach is wilted. Serve.

London, UK

  Currently £1 = $1.55

I flew into London Gatwick airport from Amsterdam with Easy Jet, a budget airline. When I landed I was planning to take the National Express bus but ended up buying a £20 Gatwick Express train ticket instead. The buses don’t run as frequently and they are at least an hour and a half ride into the city, while the train only takes thirty minutes (once your at the train station.)

I decided to Couch Surf for my first time. I’ve always wanted to do it and London seemed like the perfect place because I wanted to experience the city like a local. My host lived in Zone 1, the touristy expensive heart of the city, aka downtown Central London. He picked me up at the train station and we got on the tube.We walked past the smallest Chinatown I’ve seen and stopped at a Wasabi sushi so I could grab a bite to eat.

We then went right nearby to Samuel Smith, a traditional English pub, which is exactly what I wanted. Here I met an American girl from Westport, CT who went to high school with an old family friend of mine. I also spoke to a group of guys about whether or not soccer is popular now in the states. They’re convinced it’s as popular as American football.

The pub shut down and we walked a block up the road to The Warick, a trendy English bar. Here I randomly met the Chinese Ambassador in Britain. On our way to the bus we stopped at a casino, which my host is a member of. I watched a bit of the Stanley Cup final that was on tv. Surprisingly the crowd at the casino was mixed male/female and most of the people inside were there for drinks and the tv.

My first Couch Surfing experience was a bust. My host snored loudly and the room was very bright. I ended up only getting about an hour of sleep and knew I wouldn’t be able to stay another night. So I booked a hostel and before I left for my new neighborhood we went for an Indian lunch at Needoo. My host then walked me down to the river. We crossed a few foot bridges and walked through a waterfront restaurant area that was packed with business lunchers and yachts. I got to see the Tower Bridge, the famous bridge in London; London bridge is actually a flat concrete pathway right next to this fancy bridge. 

 I took the underground at Tower Bridge to King’s Cross and walked to my hostel, Click 261 on Gray’s Inn Rd. The hostel is on the newer end and I stayed in the cheapest dorm, $28 per night in a 18-bed dorm. The room is cramped and smelled like feet. The showers are cramped as well, and the lounge/kitchen is in the basement downstairs with no natural light. However, I did manage to get the first bed in the room which meant I had some privacy, as long as the main door was closed.

I relaxed and did laundry then I headed back to King’s Cross and took the underground to Waterloo station by the south bank. [One of my Montreal friends is from London. She came to NY last summer and I showed her around, now she's showing me around her city.]

We spent the evening at South Bank, which is a massive outdoor waterfront promenade lined with restaurants and bars. We took a walk across the Golden Jubilee Bridge so I could get a great view of Big Ben, the Parliament and the London Eye. 
 For dinner we had chili ramen at Wagamama. It was prefect because I had been craving ramen but also because we love our spicy foods. After dinner I took the tube back home.
The next morning I took the free walking tour available through the hostel. The tour started outside the Covent Garden tube. First we went to Trafalgar square with the lions. I learned that the term “stiff drink” refers to when Admiral Nelson’s corpse was preserved in a liquor barrel at sea and the sailors drank from it anyway.

We walked to Waterloo Place. Then St. James palace and saw the changing of the Queen’s guards, a procession of guards with the traditional red coats and tall black fur hats. Down the road is Buckingham palace, and the flag on top announced that the queen is in the residence- it’s her birthday tomorrow. 

 We walked through the beautiful St. James park to Big Ben and Westminster Abbey, where the royal marriages take place. 
   I left the group and had lunch nearby at The Old Star across from St. James Park underground. I ordered the Fish & chips board served with mushy mint peas. It was a must do while I was here, and it was worth it. The cod was fresh and the peas were chunky. 
 Afterwards I walked to Soho and down Carnaby shopping street. I went searching for a hat for Ascot but all I found were the same shops we have at home. 

[Harry Potter] I walked to Cecil Court St. off Charing Cross Road, the street Diagon Alley was inspired off of. It’s full of used book stores. One store was selling an original signed copy of HP. 

 Later on in the evening I went to Clink78 Clash Bar. Clink78 is down the road from Clink261, and in the basement is a real bar where only guests are allowed. They were doing a Spain themed night so for my first drink I had cinnamon sangria.

I went to lunch at Wahaca near Oxford Circus. My London friend recommended it and she did not disappoint. I got the salmon sashimi tostadas and the Sonora chicken salad. 

 I met up with her for the second time on Oxford Street and we walked around that shopping area and to Selfridges department store near the posher side. After we took the train to Richmond (her neighborhood,) a town outside London proper. For dinner we went to Dehli Orchid, an Indian restaurant at my request. She knows her Indian food and we were able to get real spicy food, not the western version of spicy. We each got chicken murg xacuti, a dish she got my addicted to back in Montreal. 

  After dinner we walked up a hill to Roebuck pub, which has a view of River Thames and the lush greenery around. Many of the bars in Richmond have permits so customers can drink outdoors, in this case across the street on the park pathway. It was 9:40pm and still light outside. Another friend of ours from Montreal came for a drink; she also lives in Richmond. 

 The next morning we drove through the massive Richmond park. The park looks more like a forest with tall grass and big groups of deer grazing. It was the perfect English countryside setting. 

   I took the train back to London, then another train out to Watford, north west of London. I got off at the last stop, Watford Junction, and walked to Southern Cross, a bar with rooms upstairs. I got the cheapest room for $65, which had a single bed, a sink and a shower. However, the toilet is shared outside. It was a bit weird but overall a decent room with a comfy bed and a TV.

That night I went to dinner with a girl from my travels in Malaysia/Singapore who lives in Watford. We ate at Tarboush, a popular shisha restaurant in town. We then grabbed a drink at a bar on the promenade and I learned that Strongbow cidre is originally from the Watford area. 

 The morning I walked around town, relaxed on the lawn besides the church, and ate a bunch. At 2:45pm I caught the Harry Potter shuttle bus to Warner Bros along with a huge crowd of people. I had been incredibly excited to go to see the making of Harry Potter. When you first enter you see a 5 min. clip with the producer talking about how the movie blew-up. At this point I cried. Seeing the excitement in cities around the world over a decade of time, I was reminded of every opening night film I waited for.  

Then we saw a short film and the screen lifted and the actual entrance to Hogwarts was right there. We walked through the massive doors and into the Great Hall. One thing I hate about movie sets is that everything looks fake and much smaller. On the tour I saw most sets including the Gryffindor common room, Dumbledore’s office, Hagrid’s home, the Weasley home, etc. I saw tons of props and green screen behind the scenes. Especially with Harry Potter almost every scene is done with a green screen, which for me took away some of the magic. However, I was completely taken aback when I saw the massive model of Hogwarts castle (about 15′ tall,) and the videos on how they use it to do all castle filming. Every single shot of the castle is actually just of this model, and ever single shot of Harry outside the castle is with a green screen.  

         After the studio tour I took the shuttle bus back to the train station, and the train back to my hostel. I grabbed my bag from the storage room and moved to St. Christopher’s Oasis, inside St. Christopher’s Village, a party hostel near the London Bridge tube. Later on I went to the bar downstairs and met a few boys from Reno. All the guests were American or Australian, and I was by far the oldest person at the bar. The Oasis part of the hostel however was perfect. It was an all girls section and most of the women staying in the 12-bed dorm were long term.

In the morning I took the bus to Liverpool street station where I met up with a Brazilian friend from my travels in Thailand. We spent the morning walking around Brick Lane, Shoreditch and Old Street. The areas reminded me of a mix between the East Village and Williamsburg in NYC, except these neighborhoods are more unique and felt like the original. The people living and working around here also seemed more real, and tattoo’d. 

   We then jumped on a bus to go to Camden Town, her neighborhood and another area I was told to check out. All I was told was that there’s a big market where you can buy touristy things but I was pleasantly surprised to find a market that also had a massive gourmet street food section, tattoo shops, regular clothing, and mostly locals, not tourists. A canal runs along one side of the food market and there are a few outdoor bars on the other side. We grabbed a falafel and sat on the waterfront watching the Venice boat go up and down the canal. After eating we had a bottle of wine at The Ice Wharf, one of the river bars. Later on we went to The Elephant Head, her local watering hole. 

 In the morning I moved hostels again, this time to Holland House, a residential hostel near the Victoria station. The hostel is on a beautiful street of white townhouses across from a private residential park. My room had three beds; the other two girls in the room lived there and I felt like we were sharing a dorm room in college, or rather I was visiting them. There is a dining room downstairs and a buffet dinner is included in the £10 a night price. Not only was it the cheapest hostel I stayed in but it was also the nicest- if you’re not looking for a social atmosphere but just a place to get a quite nights sleep. I did get lucky with roommates though; one was fun and the other was quite. 

I took the tube to Oxford Circus and met up with my Vermont friend who I met in Bali and traveled through part of Borneo with. The entire reason I stayed in the UK was because she invited me to the Ascot horse races. I shopped for a fascinator, shoes and a matching purse, which all matched perfectly with my pearls. We walked around all day and stopped at a pub in Soho for lunch. 

   The next morning I stopped at Sainsbury, a cheap chain supermarket, and I picked up lunch and two bottles of champagne. I met my Vermont friend at Waterloo train station at 9:30am. We took the one hour train to Ascot for Royal Ascot, the famous horse races that the queen attends. On this Thursday we had tickets for Silver Ring, the cheapest section where you can bring in your own food and beverages (one bottle of champagne per person.) The lawn was packed with girls in pretty dresses wearing big hats and fascinators, and the boys were very dapper in suits. We had an all-day picnic. We could barely see the track from where we were sitting but I did get up a few times to see the horses. 
     We spent parts of the day at The Stag bar near the race course. I tried a proper Pimms for the first time and I have to admit I’m not a fan. We met some Irish men at the bar after the races and ended up taking a taxi to Richmond with them. Here we sat at a bar on the waterfront and watched the sunset, then later on we went to Viva nightclub. Around 3am I realized that the tube and buses were no longer running, which is something I’m not used to, and I had a minor panic attack because we were in the suburbs. I ended up having to take a forty minute (and $60) taxi ride back into the city. 

The next day I went to Topshop and finally did proper shopping for my first time in the past 8 months. One pair of shorts had a $50 tag and they rang up for only $5, a nice surprise sale. I only bought a few basic items but it feels great to have new things- a big white fascinator didn’t seem to do the trick. 

I ate dinner with my roommate in the dining room and went to bed early. The next morning I woke-up, bought champagne, and met Vermont and a friend of hers at the Waterloo train station. This Saturday we got Grandstand tickets, the section in between Silver Ring and Royal Enclosure. This section consists of an interior stadium-like area with bars and food stands; however, it’s all classy. Outside there are tables and chairs on the lawn, and inside above the first two floors is the Royal Enclosure, aka the boxes. 
 The races don’t start until 2:30pm but there’s a parade for the queen and horses around 2pm each day. This time I actually made it to the track side to watch. I saw Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip pass by in a carriage only a few yards from me. She wore an orange outfit, probably to offset the rain clouds. At the end of the day I saw them again as they were vacating the Royal Enclosure. It’s amazing to me how they get so close to the public without intense security around. 
   I bet on two horses in one race and lost on both. I drank some more Pimms, ate a burger and fries soaked in vinegar, and enjoyed the outdoors a bit. The weather was grim with drizzles here and there; typical London weather but nothing I want to be outside in. The outfits in Grandstand were more extravagant than Silver Ring, and at the end of the day we watched the Royal Enclosure let out and then I got to see the designer outfits. Some of the hats were outrageously decorated with massive feathers, flowers, brims, etc. After the races there was a band playing in a bandstand, and thousands of fancy drunk merry Brits sang along to traditional songs. Then it started to downpour and we made a run for it back to the train. My free shiny red ballet flats had puddles in them, and I found out my fascinator is waterproof. 
 On the way home I picked up a large soup from Sainsbury, my millionth and final trip that store. I took a hot shower, watched West Wing and sipped on soup on my final night in London. The next morning I got a refund on my Oyster tube card, then took the Gatwick Express train to Gatwick Airport. I did my VAT refund and got £30 cash back- VAT refunds is something I just learned about. I flew Norwegian Airlines to Copenhagen, then to JFK. 
 

Budapest, Hungary

 On Sunday we said farewell to Bob, then Dave and I walked past St. Stephan’s church and the Opera House on the way to our hostel. We stayed in a 8-bed dorm in Carpe Diem Vitae aka Vitae, not Carpe Diem, which is the shitty sister hostel. Vitae is on the 5th floor of an apartment building with an interior walkway. Many apartment buildings in Budapest are designed this way. 
   
After checking in we headed back out. We ran into Judah Fest, a Jewish festival along Kazinczy street, which is also a bar street. The festival was like any other with food, activities, and women selling vintage and handmade jewelry. There were Jewish organizations trying to sign people up, and loud Jewish music playing. We stopped and ate a bean dish and then hummus.  
We continued down the street out of the festival to Szimpla Kert, the famous garden eclectic bar, which is also a farmers market on Sunday’s. We were too full to eat more real food so we bought a kilo of cherries and took a seat. The cherries were really soft but not overripe, which we’d never had before. We chatted with a few German girls who are studying abroad in Budapest. 

 We went to the Great Synagogue, the biggest synagogue in Europe. The bema is magnificent with a gold facade and a colorful ceiling. I was given paper towel to cover my shoulders and Dave was given a yamaka. Behind the synagogue is a gravesite for Jewish heros.  
We walked towards downtown and stopped at Blue Bird coffee. We then went to Erzsebet park and sat on the ledge of the public pool. The pool is only used for dipping your feet and it’s crowded all times of the day. People bring beers during the day and at night all liquor can be found.  
In the middle of the park there’s a few outdoor bars, street food, and a giant Ferris wheel. There was a stage set-up with a band playing, along with men cooking massive skillets of sausages and other Hungarian foods.  
We kept walking and ran into a used book market in a large square. We had a snack at Anna Cafe on a busy tourist shopping street for the people watching. For dinner we went to Kadarka Wine Bar on Kiraly street. I was being incredibly indecisive with both wine and food and the waiter was being a gem, except for when we asked him what food is best and he suggested the burger for Dave and a salad for me. 

After dinner we went to Retox, our sister hostel with a bar. Our entire hostel was there as well. The crowd was young, and the bar was a dump, but the space was big, the drinks cheap, and the people nice.

In the morning we went to breakfast at the elegant New York Cafe commissioned by New York Insurance Company New York Palace.    
We walked through the big City park, past numerous playgrounds and a kids soccer field with mini bleachers. We went to Szechenyi thermal bathhouse, the biggest one which sits on the edge of the park. The bathhouse has three outdoor pools and more than fifteen inside ranging in temperatures, along with saunas, etc. Some of the saunas reach as high as 70 Celsius which is just mad. The interior thermal pools smell like sulfur and hot pee but that’s just the natural hot spring smell. The best pool was the medicinal one. The temperature wasn’t too hot or too cold and the water felt like silk.  
We walked past the zoo, Heroes square, through town and went to Konyha for lunch, a restaurant we had past the day before that had cool sliding windows. We finally tried one of the traditional creams. Every restaurant in Budapest serves veggie and meat creams; a sort of pâté. My fear of them is the amount of mayo but this one only had spinach and feta. We also got fresh fruity lemonade, another thing all restaurants serve.  
We walked down to the waterfront, past our Viking cruise ship which was still there, to the Jewish shoes. The shoes represent the Jewish men and women who were brought to the riverbank and then shot from behind.    
Parliament is right across the road but unfortunately it was closed. We never did get a chance to go inside. We walked back to the social park downtown, and had drinks at Drk Dorko, one of the outdoor bars.

On our walk back home we ran into Gozsdu Udvar, a long pedestrian alley packed with restaurants and bars. In the middle of the alley you can go up or down in the opposite direction hitting more restaurants and a street food outdoor area. The space is awesome and we couldn’t believe we didn’t know it existed. We weren’t hungry for a real meal so we grabbed Pad Thai Wok 2 Go.

Later on we went to Szimpla Kert to check out the night scene there. The bar was great; there were all different types of people all ages. We ordered wine from the wine bar, then beer from the beer bar, and a grapefruit shisha from the shisha bar. It came with a grapefruit head with glow sticks inside the vase.

In the morning we went to Kozpont (across from Konyha) for coffee and sandwiches. It was 10am on a weekday and the local girls next to us were drinking beer. After getting our caffeine fix we walked across Erzsebet bridge and trekked up to the Citadel. You go there mostly for the panoramic views of the city. We came back across on the green bridge farther down the river. When you look back towards the Citadel from this bridge you can see there is a church inside the mountain.    
We walked into Central Market and bought the most amazing sweet cherry tomatoes.  
Lunch was at Trattoria Barca Bianca for the pizza, which we had smelled our first day. On the way home I attempted to shop but all the clothes (that weren’t in American stores) were trashy. I ran back to the hostel and missed getting caught in a crazy hail storm by a few minutes. 

We had beers and sandwiches at Farm, then went to Exit Point to play an escape game. We did Wonderland and couldn’t get out in the end. We made it into the second room but most of the clues were impossible to figure out. After playing we talked to some girls who play regularly and they say you have to ask non-stop for hints in order to get out.

It poured almost all night. After Exit Point we went to Soda bar with our hostel. The bar is famous for having carbonated vodka shots. The next morning we grabbed a cab to the airport and flew to Amsterdam. We then parted ways; Dave to NYC and me to London. 

    

Danube River Cruise

 This year Dave, Bob and I did our first European river boat cruise together. Last summer Viking River Cruises was having a 2-for-1 sale so we decided to venture out from the usual university trips and try something new. The Viking River cruise ships are much bigger than anything we have done before, our trip had 188 guests on board. Although the ship accompanies a lot of people the layout is the same, two levels of rooms with the dining room and bar/lounge on those levels as well. There’s a third bottom level where the staff sleeps, and there’s a rooftop deck that spans the whole boat. The rooftop is covered in turf and has lounge chairs, tables and chairs, a life size chess set, and a shuffleboard court. 

 With this group we had at least four coaches for daily excursions instead of the one or two that we’re used to. There’s too many people on board to meet everyone, which makes the trip less intimate. Also, many of the daily activities, like a music concert and bike riding costs extra; and alcohol is not included in the price. All our previous trips have been all inclusive, but they have also been much pricier so I can’t complain.

Passau, Germany

We did a Danube River cruise from Passau, Germany, to Budapest, Hungary. The three of us took the train from Munich to Passau. Here we got a taxi which was driven by an older Bavarian woman. She drove us down the river to the far port where we boarded the ship. About an hour later the ship moved ports to be in the Old Town in Passau. After dinner Dave and I left the ship and walked through the town. It turns out it’s a university town full of young people. The Old Town is incredibly cute with a bunch of cobble stone streets. There is a long pedestrian shopping street and in general everyone looked very cheerful. It was a Monday night and the Irish pub the boat staff recommended to us was closed, so instead we just wandered.

The next morning we did a walking guided tour of the Old Town. A lot of the windows have painted trimming instead of the usual stonework which was a bit odd.    
That afternoon the boat cruised down towards Linz. Dave and I went to the roof deck and played shuffleboard; it was my first time playing and I loved it. The scenery was amazing. Deep greens hills, wooden country houses along the lake, and random bike riders peddling along the river road. The sun was hot and the drinks were cold. The boat had to cross two locks on the way down and I was able to touch the bridge as we passed under one. 

Linz, Austria

After dinner Dave and I walked through the the downtown city area of Linz. It was a Monday night and the city was pretty quite. We found ourself on an endless shopping street. We ended up in Sax bar, which ended up being a gay bar. There was a drunk dog owner and I took the leash to play with the dog. We got back to the ship and finished watching The Sound of Music which we had started earlier. 

   [After Salzburg the next day Dave and I walked back into Linz and got haircuts. We went to a nice place but our hairdressers seemed untrained and we both walked out with German-looking hair. My girl did not know how to properly layer or angle and my hair is stiff and dead straight across in the back.] 

 

Salzburg, Austria

The next morning we took a two hour bus ride to Salzburg. Along the way we had a rest stop at a restaurant overlooking a lake. The alps were in the background and it was the most amazing view. We sat and sipped coffee taking it all in. 

 We were dropped off in the New Town of Salzburg and with our audio tour walked across the bridge and into the Old Town. The Sound of Music was filmed in Salzburg and I was incredibly excited to see many of the places they filmed. We saw the fountain and arbor where Do Re Me was filmed, as well as the hotel Julie Andrews stayed at while filming. 

    Mozart was from Salzburg. We saw his birthplace which is a yellow apartment building on the main shopping street in the Old Town. We also walked past his residence which is a pink house in town. Many places in Salzburg are named after him. There’s the Mozart Hotel, the music school, the restaurant, the bar, the park, a statue, etc. 

 Each of the stores in the old town has an iron sign that represents what the store originally sold. Many people used to be unable to read and therefor pictures were useful. There’s a key for key store, dressed women for the clothing shop, a Lion for Lions den bar (which is now McDonald’s,) etc. 

 After walking with the group we set out on our own and took the tram up the mountain to the fort. We had lunch at the outdoor cafe on the top overlooking the city. We tried to do the interior tour but the wait was too long so instead we walked around the exterior.      Back in town we met up with the group at the square where Cafe Tomaselli Seit 1703 is. It’s the oldest coffee shop in Salzburg. Before getting back on the bus I stopped at the farmers market and bought tomatoes to snack on.   

 

Melk, Austria

In the morning we took a walking tour of the Stift Melk abbey. The exterior of the abbey is traditional with great views of the Danube River and the town below. The interior of part of the abbey has been turned into a museum with neon lights. 

     The tour stopped at the library which had floor to ceiling bookshelves which reminded me of the library in Beauty and the Beast. Then we went through the church and were able to stand in the back and observe the end of a prayer; locals sat in the benches. When the priest was finished speaking Bob walked all the way down the aisle and asked the priest if he knew where the toilets were. 

There was an optional 30km biking excursion from Melk port to Durnstein port which about twenty of us younger-ish folk opted to do while the boat cruised down. Dave and I started last and went to the right, which we saw the group do as well but we were no longer with them. About fifteen minutes down the river pathway we went onto a bridge that crossed over the Danube. We decided to stop and take a photo on the bridge, and then also to check google maps to make sure there would be another bridge eventually so we could get back onto the right side of the river. It turns out we were going in the opposite direction, we were going towards Linz and not Vienna. We also realized that neither one of us knew which town our ship was docking at. We peddled back to our ship and discovered that it had already left. Luckily there was a different Viking ship there so they called and found out all the details for us, and gave us directions how to get onto the river path going in the right direction, towards Vienna.  

The road to get out of Melk was very confusing. We thought we finally figured it out and then we ended up in an army area and had to turn around again. Eventually we made it to the scenic bike path along the river. Along the 30km we drove past a castle, a few small villages, and through a lot of forest. On the other side of the river there were ruins of castles, farming along the mountains, and a few slightly bigger towns. The last hour or so of the trip we rode through vineyards, specifically the Gruner vineyard which is the wine we’d been drinking frequently on the ship. We also passed many apricot and peach farms but they weren’t ripe yet. 

  
 Luckily our GPS worked because there were absolutely no signs for Durnstein. We reached a playground near the waterfront and immediately realized we were on the wrong side of the river and there were no bridges anywhere nearby- we saw our Viking ship on the other side. Luckily there was a motorboat ferry that we were able to take across. We saw the group of bikers approach the ship and it turns out we made it (sort of) before they did. I played in the playground and we admired the view of Durnstein before we took the ferry across. The captain of the ferry was a British guy from London; we chatted with him for a while. 

  
  We dropped off the bikes then headed for a stroll through Durnstein, a tiny village on the hill. Many of the shops made their own apricot schnapps, so we made sure to try a shot. We wandered around and discovered that one man owns almost all of the property including the five star hotel.

We came back to the ship and played shuffleboard. We even got Bob to play with us and it turns out he’s great and be beat both of us. He did injure himself once by banging his thumb against his hip- OPP (old people problems.)  

Vienna, Austria
We woke-up in Vienna, one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen. Almost every single building is old and ornate. We did a bus tour along the famous Ringstrasse. We passed the Opera House, which is famous for Mozart performing there, the Imperial garden, Parliament, Town Hall, the last remains of the city wall, a votive church with a double tower facade, and more. 

        We then got out of the bus for a walking portion. We walked into Place Maria-Theresa, then Heldenplatz. We saw the Archbishop of Vienna giving a speech outside; it happened to be a religious holiday that day.

We walked past the city horse stables, and down the high end shopping street to Saint Stephan’s Cathedral. We didn’t get a chance to go inside the cathedral but we did sit at Do&Co coffee shop across and watched the procession with the archbishop go by. 

   That afternoon we went to Schonbrunn Palace, a UNESCO site. It is a former summer residence, most recently decorated during Maria Theresa in the 1740-50s. It has 1,441 rooms and we were able to see about ten of them. The palace is compared to Versailles and although the interior and exterior of the palace is vast, rich and beautiful, it cannot compare. 
     Later that evening we went to a Mozart and Strauss classical music concert in a Viennese palace, wiener borsensale, in the city. The musicians were occasionally joined by a ballet couple, and an opera singing couple. It seemed that all the performers were has beens, or just never made it; not to say they weren’t talented. 


Bratislava, Slovakia

The next morning we woke-up in Bratislava and had a bus and walking tour. We first went to a palace on the hill, then into the old town. A few buildings were run down but it still looked like many other old European towns with small streets and tourists shops. After the group tour we walked on our own down a tree lined plaza and stopped at Good Mood coffee shop where they gave us creamy coffee topped with ice cream when we ordered iced coffees. 

  
     
That afternoon we spent on the roof deck of the ship playing shuffle board and sun bathing while we travelled down the river. We entered into a massive lock and another Viking boat came in next to us. Together we sank at least 60 feet before the opposite lock doors opened. 

 Budapest, Hungary

That night was the Captains farewell cocktails and dinner, then at 10:15pm the whole ship gathered on the roofdeck to watch our entrance into Budapest. We were all decked out in jackets and blankets although it ended up being warm enough to walk around. The entrance was magnificent. The city completely lights up and sitting near the Danube is the Huge ornate Parliament building, as well as many grand churches and a palace. The view from our cabin that night was of the old Chain Bridge and the Buda Castle. 

    We woke up to the same great view of Buda from the Pest side of the Danube. In the morning we did a bus tour of the Buda side of the city, then did a walking tour through the old town. We stopped at Matthius Church which is one of my favorites of all time. The exterior and interior is decked out in different patterns. The exterior roof is decorated with colorful tiles, and the interior with bright colorful paint. 

     Right next to the church is Fisherman’s Bastion, which looks like a princess castle entrance. 

    We walked around the old town which was full of old colorful doors. Every apartment building had one. 

We then did a bus tour around Pest. After lunch on the ship we drove out into the country to Lazar Equestrian Park for the Puszta horse show. We sat and watched a performance and then rode on a carriage, I got the front seat. There was also a small farm area which had lambs with antlers and rainbow colored chickens. 

      After our last dinner on the cruise we watched a traditional Hungarian dance show. The men and women who performed wore traditional ballroom dancing outfits- tuxedos and princess gowns. When all the adults went to bed a few of us went out. Along the waterfront local teenagers and adults drank bottles of wine and/or vodka; this seemed to be the place to hangout. There’s no railing along the edge of the water and people get pretty smashed.

We walked right under the Chain Bridge to an outdoor bar. The bar was a mix of tourists and locals, and it drew a nicer crowd. We drank rose spritzes and took a shot of traditional Hungarian flavored liquor, which a lot of locals were drinking. We danced and I met a bachelorette group where the bridal party all wore white and the bachelorette wore red.

Budapest continued on next post…

Munich, Germany

 We landed in the airport and took Subway 8 to Marienplatz, the main town square in Munich. The ride was approx. 45 minutes. The city center square has the massive neo-Gothic new town hall as the focal point. The clock tower soars into the sky and the facade of the building is adorned with gargoyles. At noon we watched a figurine show below the clock. 

After we walked through the old town hall and down the pedestrian street to Hofbräuhaus, a massive beer hall. We sat in the patio out back. We each ordered a liter of beer and shared a big pretzel and a platter or sausages with sauerkraut. Although it seemed like a tourist spot most of the people sitting outdoors were locals. One table of guys was drunk singing German beer songs. There were women walking around in traditional outfits selling pretzels, and there was a traditionally dressed band with a harp and an accordion. 

   After lunch we walked over to Vikualiennarkt, an outdoor food market. It was Sunday and unfortunately that was closed along with all the shops in the city. There wasn’t much to do so we decided to make our way to the train station for our next destination. We bought tickets to Passau then boarded our train. After an hour we got off and boarded a bus, then another train. It was orderly and I felt like I was back in Asia, just on a much shorter commuting trip; it only took 2.5 hours to get to our destination. 
 

Warsaw, Poland

 Our flight departed from NYC at 6pm and we landed in Warsaw at 11:30am the following morning. We flew KLM (also Delta) and had a 4-hour layover in Amsterdam where we ate smoked salmon sandwiches, a must-do when I’m in that region. In the past seven months I became accustomed to non-American airlines and it was incredibly disappointing to go back to one- the food and plane were crappy.
We grabbed a taxi at the airport which ended up costing $25 USD to get to the Old Port. I booked us four nights at Castle Inn, a unique boutique hotel in the main square of the Old Town. Each room in the hotel is unconventional and decorated differently. The three of us stayed in the “Comic Book” family room, which has black and white cartoon images of the city on the walls and grand pre-war furniture. 

 When we first checked in we took a nap. Dave and I didn’t sleep at all on the trip over here and by this point we were exhausted. Around 2pm we made our way outside and walked along the cobble stone streets of the Old Town. The medieval buildings are all different muted colors and each has a decorative design ex. decorative painted facades or window panes. 

We ate lunch at Bazyliszek outdoor cafe in Rynek Starego Miasta, a big square in the Old Town behind our hotel. The square is lined with restaurants; we chose the most popular one that still had some sunlight hitting the tables. Dave and I tried some Polish beers, I had Ksiazece red lager, which tasted like a mix of Heineken and a decent Canadian red beer. For food we split pierogis and polish sausages.
After lunch we walked back and took another nap. We then headed back out around 9pm to Portretowa, a cute restaurant we passed by earlier. The outside is covered in vines and florals, and the inside was the perfect old European feel with tall ceilings, a low wooden bar, walls adorned in oil paintings and eclectic vintage accessories, and lace linens. I ordered the beetroot soup with dumplings, and the steak tartar, which was tasteless. Bob’s roasted duck was delicious. With our bill we each received a shot or cherry vodka (tased like real cherries,) the perfect nightcap. 

 The next morning we slept in then went to Cafe Baguette for breakfast. We sat outdoors in the sun and I munched on a (real European) tomato mozzarella panini and sipped an Americano. After we walked all the way down the trending Nowy Swiat street. This street is touristy as it stems from the Old Town but it is cute and not too overcrowded. There are outdoor cafes and shops, and the sidewalk is dotted with Chopin musical benches; Chopin was from Warsaw. There’s stencil graffiti on the side streets. We stopped to look inside a church which was decorated differently from any I had ever seen. The walls were white and there were vintage crystal chandeliers- the beautiful type I want to steal from my grandmothers house. 
 We kept on going all the way to Lazienkowsi Park, the largest part in Warsaw. Within the park we saw the Chopin monument and the Lazienki Palace on the lake. We did the palace audio tour. The interior was beautiful with gold accents and jewel toned walls. There was a lot of artwork which sparked my dads interest. After we had lunch at a outdoor cafe behind the amphitheater. 
   At night we took the cable bus line 227 to the other side of the river to Soho Factory, a new industrial square which has a neon sign museum, a restaurant, etc. Here we ate at Warszawa Wschodnia, a trendy Polish/French restaurant that was recommended to me by someone along my travels. The restaurant was in a massive loft space with brick walls and an industrial ceiling. The design is very Scandinavian with light wooden furniture, white table wear, and green plants throughout. There is a live jazz band and the piano looks like the tale of a whale, sleek. As a foreigner the prices are almost half the price as they would be at home, which allowed us to indulge and feel good about it. David had the quail which was served in a ceramic pot and came with a side of mashed unseasoned beets- very Polish. 

The next morning we went back to Cafe Baguette then walked to the Polin museum, the new Jewish museum. It took us about three hours to walk through the museum with the audio guide. The museum tour leads you from one room to another very smoothly. Each room has a different layout and is incredibly interactive; it’s one of the best designed museums I’ve ever seen. The most interesting thing I learned here is that Poland is still antisemitic and that there aren’t many Jewish Pols in the country. 

   After lunch we walked down Gen. Wl. Andersa street towers the city center. We stopped at a Sphinx for lunch, a Polish version of Applebee’s. The food was good and place wasn’t as cheap looking as I expected.

We then walked over to Nozyk synagogue, the only surviving prewar synagogue. It was closed so we couldn’t go inside but from the outside it didn’t look like we missed much. The synagogue had a double barrier all around, two metal fences to protect it from cars. After Bob tried all the entrances we put him into a taxi and sent him home. 

 Dave and I walked across the street and watched a small legalize marijuana march where everyone looked under the age of twenty-five. We then circled the base of Palace of Culture and Science, the tallest building in Poland, looking for a way inside. Eventually we made it up to viewing deck on top; we were soaring over the city at only 30 floors up. The city is incredibly green with parks every few blocks. We saw this as we walked around but it was even more apparent from above. 
     When we exited the building it began to rain and was on and off for a few minutes. It ended with a double rainbow. We shopped right nearby in the city center, and walked down the pedestrian only Chmielna street which was hopping with locals and tourists. We stopped for ice cream which we constantly saw people eating. It was early evening Saturday and this time Nowy Swiat street was packed. There was a live traditional Polish band with the lead singer also playing a flute. There were random music performers, and a “ghetto” white break dance group that was choreographed. [They have nothing on our NYC performers.] I was attacked in the Old Town square by a massive collection of balloons. When it got dark a fire dancer came out.

For dinner we stayed in our lively neighborhood and ate at Trattoria Rucola. The interior walls were covered in wallpaper that looked like we were in a park. I ordered the big Prosciutto pizza which was massive and delicious. 

 The next morning we left for the airport at 7:30am. It only took fifteen minutes to get to the airport. We flew Lufthansa to Munich.