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Trip Report Trip Report: Scotland, Vienna, Prague, and Berlin (May/June 2017)

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After spending so many hours of enjoyment reading trip reports on this website, I decided to finally write up my most recent trip to Europe. I visited Scotland, Vienna, Prague & Cesky Krumlov, Berlin, and then back to Scotland again. For context, I am an early 30s woman from the USA. I will give you all fair warning--this is a very long and detailed trip report! I personally love reading those, the longer the better, so this is an exhaustive (and exhausting?), day by day narrative. I'll try to post it in chunks following this post, with one post per country/destination.

This was a kind of complicated trip. I first met up with my family (mother, father, younger sister) in Glasgow. My mother was born and raised in Glasgow and we often stay there in my grandfather’s old tenement (he passed away a few years ago.) We then traveled together as a family to Vienna, Cesky Krumlov, and Prague, before splitting up—I went on to Berlin, to meet up with my fiance. We then returned together to Scotland, staying in the flat just the two of us, before eventually meeting back up with my family on our very last day, when we all flew out and back to the USA.

We are all fairly experienced travelers. I have been to Scotland many times, but had never visited Austria, the Czech Republic, or Germany. My fiancé has also traveled a bit, to Eastern Europe, England and Wales. For the most part, we had a great trip with only a few minor mishaps, like losing my bus pass in Glasgow and having a debit card eaten in Berlin. Our biggest problem was actually the pollen from some kind of flowering tree, both in Vienna and particularly Berlin. My fiancé has quite severe allergies/asthma, and I was also terribly affected. We both had some quite bad days. We stocked up on allergy medicine but it had little effect. I still wonder what in the world those trees were! Their white fluffy spores completely coated the grounds and some of the little streams/rivers in the Tiergarten in Berlin and could often be seen drifting in the breeze. As soon as we got to the colder, damper, climate of Scotland, our allergies completely cleared up.

Our itinerary was as follows:

May 14 – leave home for Edinburgh
May 15 – Arrive in Edinburgh, travel to Glasgow
May 16 - Glasgow
May 17 - Glasgow
May 18 - Vienna
May 19 - Vienna
May 20 - Vienna
May 21 – Cesky Krumlov
May 22 – Cesky Krumlov
May 23 - Prague
May 24 – Prague
May 25 – Prague
May 26 - Prague
May 27 - Berlin
May 28 – Berlin
May 29 – Berlin
May 30 – Berlin
May 31 – Berlin
June 1 - Glasgow
June 2 – Glasgow
June 3 – Glasgow
June 4 – Glasgow (Edinburgh day trip)
June 5 – Highlands/Oban
June 6 – return to Glasgow
June 7 – fly home

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    Scotland, the First Time!

    I set off for Scotland, flying economy on United. Annoyingly, a few weeks before the trip they re-routed my flight so I had two layovers, instead of just one. (Going through Raleigh AND New York, and then on to Edinburgh.) Otherwise, the flight was quite painless and went smoothly.

    I arrived in Edinburgh early in the morning—although quite late for me! I was feeling pretty exhausted by that time. When I got in, I bought a bus ticket from Edinburgh airport to the Glasgow bus center. There’s a ticket kiosk in the airport. From the bus station, I took a taxi to my family’s flat, which is located in Dennistoun in the East End of Glasgow. I was planning on taking the city bus, but it was pouring down rain! I was pretty tired from my trip, so I mostly just sat on the couch and relaxed, bundled up in a fleece because I couldn’t figure out how to turn on the heat in the apartment. I was getting hungry, though. My parents were coming from different places—my mom and sister had been up in the Highlands and were driving down, while my dad was also flying in from the US a few hours later than me.

    In a few hours, I met up with my dad at the apartment, and we went out to get a snack at Tapa Organic Bakery, nearby. When the rest of the family arrived, we went to the local Lidl to stock up and my mother made us a delicious dinner of haggis and neeps & tatties—very traditional! Slept very well that night in my mom’s old bedroom.

    The next day, we decided to drive up to Stirling. My mom had rented a car for her earlier travels, and we still had it til the next day. The drive up to Stirling was fairly uneventful, if slightly alarming for me to be on the big highway. We went to Stirling Castle first, trying to get in before the hoards of tourists arriving. We managed to park at a short distance from the castle, on the town slopes leading up. However, we were already quite hungry from the drive and had a quick picnic lunch on the side of the street—hummus, cheese, bread, and cured meats. And, of course, Jaffa cakes—my favorite UK ‘biscuit.’ We then walked up to the castle, which was already getting pretty busy—were glad to avoid the official parking lot. I enjoyed looking around the castle, which is nicely preserved and set on a beautiful hilltop. I had never been and particularly enjoyed the carved faces of the old ceiling and wandering around the garden area. The guides located in the different rooms were very friendly and I ended up having a long conversation with one of them about the meaning of the unicorn motif in Scottish history.

    After the castle, we popped over Argyll’s Lodging, which was quite interesting for a short visit. It’s included in the Stirling Castle ticket. Finally, we went to the Church of the Holy Rood, just down the hill from the castle, and explored its graveyard, which has great views onto the castle. They also had a charity book table there—only a pound for some like-new books—and I got 2! I love British mysteries. We wanted some caffeine by that time, so we went to the Burgh Coffeehouse and got a little dessert and coffee (me and my dad) and tea (my mum). After finishing up with Stirling, which I found a charming little place, we drove over to the Campsie Fells to go for a quick walk. It’s not far from Glasgow and the walk provides some beautiful views. My mom used to go there a lot as a child growing up in Glasgow. After a short hike we returned to Dennistoun. I believe we had Indian food for dinner that night, at the Nakodar Grill, a short walk from our flat. It was delicious and quite economical! I should say here that my family, as well as my fiance and I, are definitely budget travelers. Our accommodations seldom passed $100 a night, and we generally eat at places where the per-head cost is $20 or less, so unless I particularly mention it, you can take those as price guidelines.

    The next day, we had to head over to Edinburgh. We had a flight leaving to Vienna very early the following morning from Edinburgh airport, so mom had booked us an Airbnb just outside of the airport. In the morning, my parents returned the rental car to Glasgow airport while my sister and I went shopping in downtown Glasgow. We went to some clothing shops and a bookstore, where I bought a journal to record my trip. We also bought a delicious lemon cake in the big Marks and Spencers there. For lunch, I had a very tasty banh mi at the Vietnamese restaurant Non Viet, on Sauchiehall Street.

    After lunch, we went to the Glasgow bus station and met up with our parents, to take a bus to Edinburgh airport. From the airport, we got a quick Uber to our Airbnb, which was located in a small suburb called Clermiston. Although there wasn’t much around, we went on a nice walk by the river, directed by our Airbnb hostess, and saw some adorable Scottish highland ponies and a bunch of fancy houses. We picked up some Indian food nearby and our Airbnb hostess kindly agreed to let us eat on her beautiful patio. Rather than rely on Uber, she suggested a local cabby we could arrange to come get us the next morning. He turned out to be great, very chatty, Scottish gentleman, and very reliable. We chowed down on our lemon cake from M&S and went to bed early for our flight the next morning.

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    Vienna

    Our flight to Vienna was painless and went quickly. I talked to a very nice Viennese girl on the way over. She had been visiting Scotland but lost her passport and had terrible weather… I hoped my visit to Vienna would go better! When we arrived in Vienna, we went to the tourist information booth at the airport and got a 72-hour transit pass for each of us (16.50 euro). This was a fantastic deal, and I really recommend getting it if you’re in Vienna for the short term. It means you NEVER have to worry about buying a ticket – you can just hop straight on – and since the busses, trams, and subways in Vienna are on an honor system, it’s completely pain-free; you don’t have to go rummaging about in your purse each time. Just put it in your wallet and make sure you have it, in case you ever get checked on by the transit inspectors! (We never did.) And we definitely made use of it. The only twist is that the airport is outside of the range granted by the transit pass, so you have to buy a supplemental ticket. However, the tourist information center was clearly used to explaining this, and they actually gave us a printed-out piece of paper that laid out exactly how to do this at the ticket machine in the subway/rapid transit terminal! I believe the supplement was only a euro or two extra per person.

    Once we arrived in Vienna proper, we had some time to wait before we could check in to our AirBnb. This was a lovely apartment and for the most part I would highly recommend it. https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/11073495.
    It was not at all in a typical “touristy” area – it was actually in the 10th District (Favoriten), which seems to have somewhat of a bad reputation. However, I didn’t feel unsafe there. Our apartment was located in what was a strongly immigrant area—specifically Turkish. There was a corner store just down the street from us that could have easily been a corner store in Istanbul. I have a special place in my heart for Turkey so this was not a problem for me, but it was an area without real tourist sites, so we had to take the subway to go basically anywhere. Again, not a problem because mass transit was so excellent in Vienna. Not the “typical” Vienna experience, but really interesting.

    Anyways, while waiting to check in, we ate a quick lunch at the main train station (Hauptbanhoff)—a quiet little restaurant with anice outdoor patio called L’Osteria, which I believe to be part of a chain. I was dubious, but the food was actually excellent and quite inexpensive—I had a very nice gorgonzola pasta and my parents shared a pizza and salad. After dawdling a bit and drinking a beer at L’Osteria, we met our hostess and safely deposited our bags in the apartment, after she gave us a brief tour. We then took the underground to Karlsplatz and hopped on the #2 tram, in order to follow the Rick Steves tram tour. This was a lot of fun. We got off at Schwedenplatz to transfer trams (there is no one tram that does the entire Ringstrasse) and had delicious gelato (Eissalon am Schwedenplatz), just as Rick Steves suggests. Long line, but worth it! We took the #1 tram to the city hall (Rathaus) where we noticed some kind of outdoor festival was going on, so we jumped off the tram there to check it out. It was apparently a street fair dedicated to various local producers—quite an amazing find. There was live music as well. We had some very tasty wine, beer, and a sausage plate with bread, all for pretty reasonable prices. Eventually, we headed back home. We wanted to stop for groceries for the morning, but couldn’t find anything open—happily, though, the corner store had milk for my mom’s morning tea, or she would have been very grumpy!

    The next morning, we enjoyed tea on our small balcony, and watched with fascination the drama of our neighbors across from us, who were apparently renovating an apartment and well into the “mutual loathing” stage of home repair. They would provide us with endless interest and periodic screaming matches.

    My mother really loves Klimt, so our first stop in Vienna was the Belvedere Museum, which we easily found by taking the subway to Karlsplatz and then a tram. I found this museum quite fascinating and it was only the rooms with the most famous Klimts (e.g. the Kiss) that were completely mobbed with tour groups—the rest of the museum was OK. There are a wide variety of tickets available for this museum, but we got the ticket only for the Upper Belvedere (which has the Klimt exhibits) and found that quite sufficient. We enjoyed wandering around the outside as well, and picked up some nice Klimt reproductions in the gift shop.

    After spending a few hours in the Belvedere, we took the tram back to Karlsplatz to look for some lunch. We began walking towards St. Stephens, past the Opera House (we popped in to take a look at the lobby) and eventually found ourselves in Neuer Markt. This is apparently a well-known historical square, but it is essentially a parking lot. Nonetheless, we were pretty hungry and tired by this time, so when we saw a pleasant looking café called Oberlaa, with some available tables outside in a little patio, we jumped on them. Initially, we were only planning to have some coffee, but the lunch menu looked so good and inexpensive (and our waitress was so friendly) that we ended up having lunch and dessert there (of course!) as well as coffee. I found that I liked café mélange the best. For lunch, I had my first schnitzel—a huge portion, served with delicious little peeled buttery potatoes and some kind of jam. All of us really enjoyed our lunch. For dessert, I had my first Sacher torte—figured I might as well get it out of the way! It was quite good, but not necessarily my favorite. I think Sacher torte is generally too dry for my taste.

    Afterwards, we wandered onwards to St Stephens, where we popped inside for a quick look (we didn’t end up paying the extra to go inside the gated portion). We also walked by the plague column and ended up over by Hofburg palace, where we walked around the exterior at St Michael’s Wing and through the Spanish Riding School. We were too exhausted to actually pay to go in, however, and wanted to get back to our place to relax before going out again that night. My mom and I had decided to go and try to get the super cheap, standing-room only tickets to that night’s performance at the opera house—Placido Domingo. That was quite an adventure itself!

    For the most part, we followed Rick Steves’ directions (I had his Austria book on my Kindle.) Earlier that day, we’d located where we thought the line-up probably was to buy the cheap standing-room tickets for the opera. We ended up getting to the line about 20 mins or so before they started selling tickets. We eventually wended our way through the line to the front, and only balcony tickets were left, but we didn’t mind – we had not been sure if we would get tickets at all, since it was a very popular performance. Each ticket was only a few euros. The whole process of lining up at various locations and then gradually making our way to the balcony was quite interesting, and we even witnessed some Brit getting shouted at by a Viennese native for pushing ahead in the queue! My mom and I murmured our disapproval of this rude display. When we got to the balcony, we unfortunately were slow on our feet and ended up with a spot at the back. (They had an usher come and give us a talk about how to proceed with the scares and everything—in English, even.) We obediently tied our scarves to the rail in front of us and went to look around the beautiful opera house a bit. The performance was beautiful, but a bit tedious for me as it was extremely hot and stuffy and we couldn’t see at all. I did manage to peer down and see some of the amazing dresses worn by the female singers (it was not a full opera, but a mixture of different songs performed by various famous singers—don’t know what it’s called as I am not an opera expert by any means!) We ended up leaving at the first intermission as we were getting quite light-headed. We walked around and checked out the small opera history display they had, often mentioning Placido Domingo himself, who I gather is quite a big deal! Certainly his voice was amazing. Afterwards, we went out to a small café in a plaza in front of the opera house. To our left they were projecting the opera on a big screen for free, so we still got to hear part of it! I had a refreshing white wine spritzer and enjoyed the fresh air and light breeze. The sun was setting on the beautiful stone buildings surrounding us and it was so memorable. Afterwards, we got a quick dinner of cut up sausages and French friends from a little kiosk. Aside from some slight street harassment from a drunk homeless man, it was excellent! We then headed home to collapse.

    The next day, my allergies really started kicking in. We noticed there was some kind of white fluff constantly drifting around the city and my nose was running like crazy. Undaunted, we headed out to the Nasch Markt and accompanying flea market that takes place every Sunday. We really enjoyed browsing this beautiful, if touristy, market, especially all the farm stalls. We purchased a bunch of stuff for dinner that night: olives, cheese, some fresh ravioli, and a perfect, incredibly expensive bunch of asparagus (7 euros!! for a quite small bundle. We didn’t realize til later.) We would have it that night with our ravioli, and, to be fair, it was easily the best asparagus I’ve ever eaten… but still… We also looked around the flea market, which was really entertaining, but didn’t end up buying anything. I did get a great cappuccino from a bike-propelled coffee stand. The buildings surrounding the Naschmarkt area were truly fantastic, with some amazing facades. We also passed the Secession building, but didn’t have time to go in. We had lunch at a Mediterranean/Turkish restaurant called the Naschmarkt Deli. It was actually quite good and inexpensive, which is impressive because many of the restaurants at the market seemed like huge tourist traps. I’m sure this one was aimed at tourists as well, but the food was delicious.

    Afterwards, we headed back towards Karlsplatz and went to look at Karlskirche (St. Charles Church.) It is an impressive edifice. We didn’t pay to go inside, but just looked at it from the outside. We also discovered a stand selling tickets to a classical music concert held there every night. Like the opera, we discovered they had standing room tickets for only a few euro. I believe we were able to buy these in advance, although I can’t remember for sure. Only my mom and I decided to go. We then split up, with my sister and I heading to Schonbrunn Palace and my parents heading back home to rest up and refrigerate our Naschmarkt purchases.

    I was a little worried about Schonbrunn because I’d heard about huge lines and sold out tickets, etc. We got there in the mid-afternoon, and there was hardly any line for tickets at all—I really think getting to places later in the day is the way to go nowadays, since everyone seems to try to get to tourist locations earlier and earlier. We often found that later, closer to closing, was actually better. We ended up purchasing the “Grand Tour” (Imperial apartments and the rooms of Maria Theresa) which Rick Steves recommends as the best value. I would agree, based on what I saw—the rooms of Maria Theresa were definitely worth paying a little extra for. It’s a timed ticket. When we bought our ticket in the afternoon, we got an entrance about half an hour to 45 minutes later. We spent that time wandering around the enormous gardens, most of which are free. We were able to peak in on the Orangery and Privy Garden, etc. and it didn’t seem worth the extra cash. The palace itself, particularly the audio guide, which is included with your ticket (you can also choose a guided tour), was great! I’m really glad I went, even though I was exhausted and sneezing / coughing constantly from allergies. The rooms, with their ‘exotic’ Chinese painting & porcelain inspired décor and incredible glittery facades, like the Millions Room and so forth, were simply incredible. I wouldn’t miss it, no matter how crowded it was (and it was absolutely jam-packed inside) and how many palaces are available to visit in Vienna!

    We took the train back to our apartment afterward and my parents had kindly prepared a delicious dinner for us with ravioli, salad, and asparagus. We’d also bought some baklava for dessert! Afterwards, my mother and I attended the concert at Karlskirche. Although touristy, it was beautiful, and the church made for a stunning backdrop. Although we’d purchased standing room tickets, the concert was not fully sold out and I think the ushers took pity on my 60-something mother, gesturing for us to sit in an empty pew. It was great and a wonderful bonding experience for me and my mom. Sadly, this was our last day in Vienna. The next day we were off to Cesky Krumlov via train.

    I was surprised to discover how much I loved Vienna—I wasn’t really expecting it, to be honest. It turned out to actually be my favorite city that we visited on this trip. I found it clean, safe, and beautiful, with uniformly delicious food (we didn’t have a bad meal!) and incredible public transport. I also love coffee and sweets, so it was a great place for me. I would love to go back someday and see more of Austria, as well as some sites we missed in Vienna (the museums, Hofburg, etc.)

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    Cesky Krumlov

    We had booked two nights in the charming city of Cesky Krumlov as a stop-over on our way to Prague. We decided to go by train, rather than private shuttle, as many people recommended, because we are uber-budget travelers! (As you can tell by our standing-room-only adventures…) That morning, we set off to the train station. We got there quite early, planning to have coffee and look around the area, but discovered the train station for the train to Cesky Krumlov was quite small and undeveloped, compared to Hauptbanhoff. There was a small grocery store – apparently one of the few open on Mondays in Vienna – that was absolutely jam-packed, so we picked up some picnic supplies. We still had some time to kill, so we looked around the station, but couldn’t find anything good. Since we had all our luggage and supplies, we ended up just going to the McDonald’s—which had a nice seating area outside?! With real chairs, not weird plastic benches or anything. We were shocked to discover that Viennese McDonald’s serve their coffee and desserts in real cups, with proper silverware and utensils. The coffee was quite good and it was interesting to see an Austrian McDonald’s. I don’t think the area was very “good,” and we witnessed a rather sad scene—a homeless gentleman had taken ill and passed out outside of the grocery store. An ambulance was called and he was taken away, all while we sat at our McDonald’s patio watching… again, we saw there a very different side of Vienna.

    I had been a bit worried about our train trip to Cesky Krumlov. It required two changes of train, each with only about 10-15 minutes in between. However, it went quite well and I was able to buy our tickets online in advance. The one-way trip cost about 56E for 4 people. The scenery on the train trip was quite beautiful, with rolling hills full of bright yellow flowers (maybe rapeseed?) There was however a slight hitch in our plans—at some point after our second train change, the conductor came around and was trying to convey to the various English speakers in our train car that the train was not running all the way to Cesky Krumlov, and that, as a result, we would need to transfer to a bus. This was slightly alarming, but again, all went as planned, and the bus deposited us at the train station, high above the city. We met a charming Czech man on the bus, traveling to the countryside with his friend and adorable dog, and really enjoyed talking to him. It was a beautiful day and we were in good spirits as we arrived in Cesky Krumlov.

    Our AirBnb in CK was outside of town, on the hill above the city. It seemed to me to be a Soviet-era apartment complex, perhaps initially built as holiday homes. It was a tiny studio apartment and frankly, not big enough for 4 people, but that was our mistake. It was perfectly serviceable, just rather low quality and dirty. It was also up a truly enormous hill from the city, which although mentioned in the Airbnb page, was perhaps not adequately emphasized. We found various shortcuts down but it was always quite a trek back and forth. Still, it was actually nice to be out of the touristic hubbub and it was very inexpensive, so I can’t complain. However, I won't link to it as I can't recommend it.

    After getting settled in, we headed down to the town. We got some really amazing views of CK from the top of our hill—that was another benefit! We headed to the castle, which was already closed for tours, but the grounds were open and relatively quiet. We enjoyed our walk around the castle on that truly beautiful evening. We then walked to the town square and just down the hill to a very cute little tavern, the oft-recommended Hospoda Na Louzi (pardon my lack of diacritical marks.) We had very traditional Czech food—slices of pork, dumplings, and sauerkraut, with big mugs of beer. It was very crowded, but a kindly Czech couple let us share their outdoor table and we chatted with them in a mixture of broken English (for them) and hand gestures (for us, since we knew none of the language at all). Inside the tavern, traditional music drifted out to the warm night. It was a great way to end our first night in CK.

    The next day we planned, of course, to go to the castle—the big ticket attraction. Unfortunately, it was closed that day (Tuesday)! How silly of us not to realize. Luckily we didn’t have to leave CK until the afternoon the following day, so we made a plan to take the first tour the next morning. Instead, we wandered around town and visited the tourist information center, which was amazingly unhelpful at providing any useful information. I did, however, pick up a Cesky Krumlov USE-IT map (http://use-it.cz/en/ceske-budejovice/map). I used one of these maps when I visited Bruges and LOVED it—such good restaurant hints as well as slightly “off-the-beaten path” suggestions. They’re also really cute and make great souvenirs. I would later use them in Prague as well; although in that case I actually used the excellent phone app. (It works without internet! I’ll provide more info about that later.) We wandered around the old town core, admiring the beautiful buildings and other nice sites. It was very hot that day, and we got tired quickly. We went Saint Vitus Church and checked out a nice little arts and crafts market in a hotel courtyard.

    By that time, we were getting hungry, so we decided to go to the “Two Mary’s Tavern” (U Dwau Maryi), an ancient tavern with a beautiful riverside patio. We sat on the patio and enjoyed the lovely day. The Two Mary’s specializes in traditional Czech cuisine, and the menu provides a fascinating history of what people would have eaten in the medieval period. We all enjoyed our meals. I had a delicious dish of latkes-like potato pancakes and a cappucino. After lunch, we decided to walk up to the castle gardens by a back route. We were at times dubious if we were taking the right path, but it ended up working out OK. (I believe this walk is described in the USE-IT map I mentioned). We didn’t see a single other tourist on this walk, which was a nice change. The castle gardens were very cool and we enjoyed taking a look at the revolving auditorium and stage. Later, we walked down to the river and walked alongside it, picking up some chocolate and other desserts along the way. We walked to the gardens of the former St. Clara convent (I think that’s what it was called), which has a small restaurant/café inside, as well as some random tables and chairs, which we sat at and rested in the cool, shaded, grassy garden.

    We were worried about getting the bus to Prague the next day, since we hadn’t yet bought our tickets, so we walked over to the main bus station, inconveniently located across a large busy street and up a huge hill. It was hot and we were exhausted, and generally not having a great time. We tried to buy bus tickets, but they wouldn’t sell us them (I don’t think they can) and found out little information. We later discovered that there was a much smaller bus stop far closer to our Airbnb, just over the bridge from the old town, which is where we ended up catching our bus.

    Since we were so tired, my parents headed back home to the Airbnb and my sister and I went to go buy some grocery supplies in the small grocery store in town. Unfortunately, it was pretty terrible and we weren’t able to get much. We got some cheese, meats, and bread, and brought them home. We usually really like self-catering while traveling, but I don’t think I’d recommend it in CK. The grocery store in the old town is pretty dreadful, and bigger grocery stores seem to be very far out of town, in pedestrian unfriendly areas. We didn’t eat much that night, but it was OK since we were all stuffed from our huge lunch. We supplemented our meal with a kind of egg scramble we made, with supplies bought from a small corner store near our Airbnb—a very strange experience, as the proprietors were clearly unused to (and unimpressed by) the presence of tourists.

    The next morning, we got up quite early and headed down to the castle. Since we had to check out of our Airbnb and catch the bus to Prague, my mom volunteered to stay at a small café near the bottom of the hill, with all of our luggage (the café was called Kino Luna, and is apparently also a movie theater!) She’s not as interested in historical stuff and seemed happy to stay at the nice café, drink tea, and read her book. She also discovered, while talking to staff at the café, there was a much closer bus station, which is where we ended up.

    We bought our tickets and had to wait for about an hour or so before the next English tour, so we went to a small café opposite the castle, and browsed about in some tourist shops. At the designated time, we showed up at the small door in one of the courtyards where the tour was said to start. Our tour guide was a very nice college kid (I presume) from the area. He did a great job guiding us, and it was definitely worthwhile seeing the inside of the castle, particularly the theater and the golden carriage. We were also shocked to hear that one of the famous bears in the moat around the castle had just died the night before. We had seen a crane on the bridge in the castle and had wondered what was going on. Apparently they were removing the body! What a shame. She was, according to the guide, very old and died peacefully. We learned a lot on the tour.

    Afterwards, we headed back to meet my mom and catch the bus. We stopped at Deli 99 on the way out of town to pick up some sandwiches for the bus trip. I cannot recommend it, although it has good reviews on TripAdvisor—there was only one person working there at the lunch rush and she was surly and seemed angry about our presence in the restaurant. It also took an incredibly long time to get our sandwiches, although the café was almost empty, and in the end, the sandwiches were only so-so. We successfully caught a bus at the station near the Budějovická gate (copied and pasted that one!) We had not bought tickets in advance, which I don’t necessarily recommend—the bus we tried to take was almost entirely full and we were seated at the very back of the bus, which was crowded and unpleasant. This was the Student Agency bus. Even though it was only May, it was incredibly hot and stuffy in the bus, and I genuinely started to feel sick about halfway through the ride. I’ve since seem some similar complaints. I don’t complain easily, but this bus ride was genuinely unbearable, and I can’t recommend it, even though it’s a very cheap and convenient way to get from Cesky Krumlov to Prague. Maybe if it was the middle of winter, it would be fine! Next, I will continue with my discussion of Prague.

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    Prague

    Once we arrived in Prague and escaped off that horrible bus, we headed down to the metro station to buy a 72 hour pass. Like Vienna, transit is on an honor system in Prague and we found that we loved having the freedom to hop on and off various busses, subways, etc. that the pass gave us. We took the metro to our Airbnb, which was located in a slightly “sketchy” street but perfectly serviceable. The entire apartment complex was clearly rented out as a business operation, and I felt bad because these are the kinds of Airbnb operations which can have a really bad effect on the people in a city. I prefer to rent from people either staying with them in their house or a place that they use part-time. However, we didn't realize til too late. The apartment was a loft with extremely high ceilings and big windows that let in a lot of light. It was unfortunately decorated with incredibly cheap IKEA-esque furnishings, including genuinely unpleasantly cheap linens with suspicious stains, so I can’t recommend it. That said, it was OK for a short visit. Despite the stains, the place was mostly clean, although the bathroom had some unpleasant mold. In addition, the location was fairly good, in a relatively untouristy area of Prague (Zizkov) and there were pretty good transportation links, including a bus to the downtown area of Prague and a subway station.

    Our first night in Prague, my mother and I were still full of energy. The four of us headed out to get some basic coffee/breakfast supplies at the grocery store by the Metro, and maybe some dinner, but my sister, who is not the best traveler, was having a hard time. Her and my dad opted to go back to the apartment with a few supplies to make pasta for dinner. My mom and I grabbed a doner kebab from a stand in front of the grocery store—delicious, if very greasy and saucy—and took a tram in the approximate direction of the Charles Bridge. We ended up jumping off the tram when we saw a lively-looking downtown area—I later realized it was Wenceslas Square. From there we walked through a bunch of fun shopping districts to the Charles Bridge, in the setting sun. It was quite lovely, but, of course, absolutely jam-packed. We wandered back towards a spot to catch a bus or tram home, getting lost in the extremely touristy streets in front of Charles Bridge. I have to confess this area almost put me off Prague a little bit. We eventually found a small mini-bus to take us back home to rest.

    The next day, we got up relatively early and decided to visit the Jewish Quarter as it was quite easy to get to from our apartment. We ended up buying the combined ticket to the Jewish Museum that allows you to visit basically everything— Maisel Synagogue / Pinkas Synagogue / Old Jewish Cemetery / Klausen Synagogue / Ceremonial Hall / Spanish Synagogue / Old-New Synagogue. We only ended up visiting the Spanish Synagogue, the Maisel Synagogue, the Old-New Synagogue, the Pinkas Synagogue, and the Old Jewish Cemetery. While I enjoyed our trip, I have to admit that I found the tickets overpriced; if I could do it again, I would probably skip the Old-New Synagogue. However, the Spanish Synagogue was a surprising highlight: what a beautiful space! The exhibits were very interesting too. The Pinkas Synagogue, with its exhibition of the names of murdered Jewish people, was deeply moving. The Old Jewish Cemetery was almost so over-touristed as to ruin its charm, in my opinion. A victim of its own success.

    After this, we walked over to the Old Town Square. We were getting hungry by this time, and I expected all the restaurants in this area to be terrible and touristy. However, my trusty USE-IT iPhone app directed me to a restaurant there with cheap lunches, called Restaurant Mincovna. The normally priced entrees, etc. were quite expensive for my blood, but we asked about lunch specials, and luckily, we had an incredibly kind waitress who was willing to translate them into English for us—outside, they had only been written in Czech. I had a really delicious stew with potato dumplings and sour cream, and my parents had mashed potatoes and a kind of schnitzel. It was all delicious and the special lunch menu was a steal. The coffee was good too. After lunch, we wandered around and watched the clock tower theatricals, as is required of everyone who visits Prague! We wandered into a nearby church, where an unexpected choral concert was going on! Ironically enough, it was a concert put on by a group of American students. The church was a lovely spot to rest and hear music. After this we headed home via a more up-market touristy shopping street, and enjoyed a little window shopping. I believe we were tired out with all the meat and potatoes, so had a salad at home that night—the advantage of renting apartments.

    The next day we decided to tackle Prague Castle. We arrived shortly before the castle opened, taking tram #22 to the Prague Castle (Prazsky Hrad) stop. We were horrified to discover a truly enormous line—the biggest line I’ve ever seen in my years of traveling Europe, with the possible exception of the line for the Sistine Chapel. We had no idea why there was such a huge line, since this wasn’t even the spot where you buy tickets—this was technically the entrance to the free areas and grounds of the castle. We later realized that due to heightened security, they were forcing everyone who entered the castle grounds to have their bags searched and to go through a metal detector. This slowed things down incredibly, particularly as they seemed to be desperately understaffed. I’m sure the line would have gone quite quickly, but it stretched for what looked like a mile, and they were making large tour groups go through the security as well, so it was growing rapidly. We decided to come back later, hoping that returning in the afternoon would mean the line had gone down somewhat.

    We walked around, trying to find another entrance, in hopes that it would be less crowded, and ended up at the Mala Strana side entrance. We wandered through upper part of the town on the way, which was surprisingly quaint and beautiful—and quiet! However, the Mala Strana entrance was just as crowded, with a truly enormous line. We stopped at a small café near the steps up to the castle, and had some coffee and an apple cake, in order to re-group. I was able to get wifi there and we decided to head to Strahov Monastery. The view from the top of the hill was truly spectacular! We walked up the hill and enjoyed looking at the library and the exhibition cabinets. I bought a print of a strange beast from a medieval book there, which I still have (need to frame it!) The small church there was not open, but you could walk in the entrance and we were able to listen to an organ practice, which was quite impressive. We were starting then to get hungry, so again we followed my USE-IT app to a recommended restaurant called Mala Buddha, an ‘oriental’ style tearoom with a mixture of Thai, Vietnamese, and Chinese cuisines. It was quite amazing—dark like a cave inside, with Buddhist altars and decorations, and totally candle-lit. The food was pretty good, and inexpensive. It made a nice change from traditional Czech food, and I believe this kind of 'oriental' tearoom actually has a very long history in Prague.

    After lunch, we finally decided to tackle Prague Castle. The line was still long, but it seemed to be moving fairly quickly, and we had at this point determined what was taking so long. People were buying beer from nearby restaurants and drinking in line - seemingly having a nice time. When we finally got inside (it probably only took about 20 minutes waiting in the line, in the end), we ended up buying the “Circuit B” ticket (St Vitus, Old Royal Palace, St George’s Basilica, and Golden Lane) for 250 CZK each. Ironically, the ticket line was virtually non-existent after waiting in security for so long. The interior of the castle was quite interesting. Definitely the best of these sites for me was St Vitus Cathedral, with its incredible stained-glass windows, sculptures (particularly the huge silver sculpture), and the various chapels. There was a line to get in there too, but it was relatively short and fast moving. I also enjoyed seeing the big hall of the Old Royal Palace, but it was relatively undecorated inside. The Golden Lane was too jam-packed with tourists to be interesting, while St George’s Basilica was a pleasant, although unexciting, stop. Inevitably, the castle was a bit of a letdown after the long wait, but it was certainly still worth seeing. After this, we headed out and walked across the bridge to Café Manes, a pleasant outdoor spot where we had a glass of wine looking out on the river. Unfortunately, it was really too hot and bright in the sun, and we had to head back home. We had another salad and pasta dinner at home that night. We also visited a nearby bakery and picked up some desserts. The place was highly recommended but I ended up getting this strange dessert which I still have no idea what the flavor was. It was a piece of cake, with white icing flecked with brown/black. I thought it was perhaps mint, as it had green mint-like leaves on top, but the cake had a really peculiar flavor that to my American palate, was inedible. Any ideas??

    The next day, my parents and sister were heading out to tour the Czech countryside, while I stayed in Prague for one more night before heading to Berlin, to meet up with my fiance. I also changed Airbnb apartments, as I had booked a small room in a lady’s art deco-inspired apartment. It was an attic room with its own bathroom and sitting room—really pleasant and a beautiful old building. I can definitely recommend this one:
    https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/10590986

    In the morning, I packed up and said goodbye to my family. Luckily, my Airbnb hostess allowed me to check in early and drop off my bags. Afterwards, I headed to a coffee shop for a quick lunch of a tuna salad and some delicious coffee (I believe it was called Zizkavarna.) I just enjoyed relaxing in a small local coffee shop and (to tell the truth) being totally alone for once! I used the wifi at the coffee shop to plan out my day. It turned out there was a nearby farmer’s market on that day at Jiřího z Poděbrad metro station. I bought some delicious cherries and a few tasty baked goods there and enjoyed browsing and the beautiful sunny day. Afterwards, I headed to Prague Castle to go see Lobkowicz Palace museum, which I had heard good reviews of.
    By this time, it was early afternoon, and I went to the Malostranska side entrance (with all the steps.) It was a long walk, but I made it, and there was barely any line there—I got past security after perhaps a 5-minute wait. Lobkowicz Palace was really cool and I strongly recommend it. The collection is pretty interesting and the audio guide is really great—plus, it’s practically abandoned in there compared to the other Prague Castle sights! There were quite a few times that I was the only person in the room. I particularly enjoyed the music room. They had interactive displays where they’d do two separate recordings of a famous score, one with the alterations made by the composer and one the original version—that kind of thing. It was really well done. Afterwards, I walked back down the steps and stopped in to see the free Wallenstein Palace Gardens. It was a surprisingly peaceful stop watching the peacocks and eating one of the pastries I had purchased at the farmer's market. I took the tram back across the river to Náměstí Republiky and kind of wandered around. I walked past the Municipal house and popped in to see it. By this time my 72 hour tranist pass had expired so I then tried to find somewhere to buy a bus ticket to go back to the apartment. What a hassle! Everywhere I went, there were no bus tickets to be had, even at the little kiosks that supposedly sold them, and the automatic ticketing machines were broken at every bus stop I went to. I eventually ended up at a subway station where I was able to get a ticket home.

    I was exhausted after my busy day, but stopped by the grocery store to pick up some picnic snacks for the train the next day, and scoped out a tasty looking restaurant for dinner. I took a quick break to rest up, and then headed out. I followed some online reviews to a nearby Czech restaurant called Lavicka Zahradni. It had a lovely patio and a grassy area out back, and I snagged a table outside by getting there a bit early for dinner. The food was pretty good and I really loved my Aperol cocktail, in particular. Although I was dining alone, I didn’t feel uncomfortable, and the waiters and waitresses were very kind. Afterwards, I went back home and enjoyed my sleep. I was a little nervous about the next morning, because I had to buy a ticket to get to the main train station, as my 72-hour pass had run out. It was a pain, but I managed to buy a ticket in advance (after my experience earlier...)

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    Berlin

    The next day, excited to see my fiance, I set off on my trip to Berlin. I got to the train station quite early, and waited at a cafe in the station for the train to be announced. I had a nice coffee and pastry there. The train to Berlin was uneventful and peaceful,with some nice views, and I soon arrived at Berlin Central Station. Upon arrival, it was a bit overwhelming because there were all kinds of people dressed up dressed up in yellow and standing in circles, chanting, with big cases of beer! Seems like some kind of big football game was going on in Berlin. I bought a museum and transit combined pass from the tourist information center and took the M10 tram to Strassmannstrasse, where we had rented a small studio apartment. It was wonderful! All white and elegantly decorated in a very modern style. Although it was a studio, it was spacious, with a nice little kitchen and a small balcony. The bed was also quite comfortable.
    https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/1259092

    After a few hours, I successfully met up with my boyfriend, who waited for me outside as I ran down to let him in. Luckily he has a T-Mobile phone, which gives free international data to its customers. It was great to see him, but of course he was severely jet-lagged! We took a short rest in the apartment, and then headed out to walk around--the goal was to prevent him from falling straight asleep! We had a pleasant stroll through the quiet Friedrichshain neighborhood. Eventually we ended up at a pleasant Italian restaurant (despite it being our first meal out in Germany…) called Pomodorino. We had a lovely appetizer of bruschetta and prosciutto and buffalo mozzarella (since it was still actually only a bit early for dinner.) It was cheap and quite delicious. We had a few glasses of wine as well. We wandered around a bit more and then stopped at a local bar for a beer/early nightcap. My boyfriend had his first beer in Germany—a Berliner Kindl Weisse… The look on his face when our server brought it a bright green drink was quite amazing. We wondered if she was playing a joke on us dumb foreigners! It turns out we had inadvertently ordered a beer cocktail where upon Kindl Weiss is mixed with a lime soda concoction. But we drank it, and it was refreshing, in a strange way. We had an early night.

    The next day we woke up bright and early. It was a Sunday, so our first goal was to go to the Mauerpark, which was close to our apartment, for the flea market. We took the tram there pretty directly and stopped to get money out of a Euronet ATM. This was a mistake—the machine ATE my fiance's debit card!! In the end, it didn’t really cause us too much inconvenience… plus, something happened later that day that put it out of my mind! �� We didn’t know what to do. We hovered around the ATM in confusion until another German girl came up and tried to use it. The same thing happened to her! We didn’t warn her because we just assumed we’d done something wrong, being strangers to the country. But we felt bad. Together, we all tried to figure out how to get our cards back, and took turns calling the number on ATM’s sticker (it wasn’t attached to a bank) but to no avail. We had to simply accept my partner’s debit card was gone. Luckily we have a joint account so I still had a debit card for that account, which had most of our travel money! Now I know—NEVER use an ATM not attached to a bank. We eventually had to move on and leave the ATM. Our biggest concern was actually that it was some kind of scam, but it turned out to be fine—think the machine just destroyed our card, but no idea why. It’s never happened to me before in all my years of traveling.

    Kind of worried and freaked out, we found an open bank that seemed legitimate and I used the card there at the in-bank ATM. We were determined not to let this ruin our day, though, and headed onwards towards the Mauerpark, only stopping to see a brief exhibition about the Berlin Wall—a well done open-air exhibition near the entrance to the park, all about the history of the wall (which went through the park – hence the name Mauer, or wall.) We wandered about the Flea Market for a while, but it was surprisingly hot and very crowded, and we felt a bit grumpy from the heat. We ended up at an open air bar in the market, where we shared a beer, some currywurst and French fries—VERY tasty! Currywurst was a highlight for my fiance, who loved it. Afterwards, we wandered the flea market a bit more, and we ended up buying a cool print showing a retro metro station in Berlin, which we have on our wall now.

    Next up: for some reason, my fiance was insisting we visit the Tiergarten. I thought it sounded like a nice park, but was a bit baffled why he was so insistent, since we had plans to meet a friend who lives in Berlin a bit later. But I went along with it. We walked through the Tiergarten and saw various monuments, including the “Golden Lizzy” – the Berlin Victory Column. My fiance is very interested in this time period, so he found it fascinating. We paid the small entrance fee and went inside to see the peculiar little museum, which is focused on models of various different monuments in different countries—I enjoyed it mostly in the spirit of experiencing odd museums. After, we went up to the top to see the views and enjoy the golden murals. After leaving the column, continued walking on through the park, til we reached a beautiful little spot by a pond. I should say now that although I've been referring throughout this account to my fiance, he was actually my boyfriend at the time. I will draw a veil over this event, but but… at this point, my boyfriend asked me to marry him! Needless to say, I said yes. He later told me he was thinking about asking at the top of the Victory Tower, but it was too crowded, haha.

    Still shaking with excitement, we made our way to Café am Neuen See (Neuen See Café). We were tempted by the amazing looking flammkuchen and strawberry cake, but settled for a beer. We decided to finally meet up with our friend (now that I knew why my fiancé had been delaying the meeting!) and she took us to a very nice beer garden, Prater Garten, which is apparently the oldest beer garden in Berlin. I enjoyed a few spritzers there, skipping the beer, and we had a nice pretzel as a snack as well. Highly recommend it—there was a really chill atmosphere there. We concluded the night with a fancy “engagement dinner.” My boyfriend, now fiancé, had made a reservation at “Grill Royal,” a fancy steak and surf place overlooking the river. Unfortunately, it was a huge disappointment—rude service, overpriced, bizarrely hot inside, and although the food was good, the heat and discomfort of the rude service combined to make me slightly ill. We had fish, steak, white aspargaus soup (good, but incredibly salty) and steak tartare. Still, it was beautiful location (although they sat us in the worst seats…) and we enjoyed walking by the river afterwards, in the cool night. We called both of our parents to tell them about our engagement, with a view of Museum Island all lit up behind us.

    The next morning, newly engaged, we got up and enjoyed coffee and breakfast on our little balcony. Our plan for the day was to hit up some of the museums on the island. We first took the tram to the Marienkirche stop and got off there. Since we were in the area, we decided to peek inside the love cool church, which was a nice break from the hot sun outside. Unfortunately, my fiancé was still not feeling well after the night before, and his allergies that I mentioned earlier were really doing a number on him. He was feeling awful. Mine were acting up a bit, but not as badly. We were hungry already (we’d gotten a late start…) and wandered towards a nearby plaza, Hackescher Markt, where we visited a few stores that I enjoy (H&M and Uniqlo.) We were also searching for a hat for my fiancé, who was feeling overly hot in the sun. I ended up buying a nice dress. My boyfriend was feeling quite bad (and had still not found a hat…) so went to a nearby pizzeria on Henriette-Herz-Platz, called Levespa. We shared a pie and drank a bunch of sparkling water. Somewhat to my surprise, the pizza was excellent. Slightly refreshed, we also found a pharmacy (according to the cashier, the oldest pharmacy in Berlin), and bought as much allergy medication as we could acquire.

    Confident in our medicated state, we finally headed to the Altes Museum in the afternoon. We were a bit confused about the tickets, and it was surprisingly hard to find straight-forward information about them. I believe we ended up buying the WelcomeCard with Museum Island (44 euros) but I honestly can’t remember. At any rate, it let us enter the museums on Museum Island over a period of more than one day. The first day, we decided on attending the Pergamon Museum. We were a bit worried as we had heard about huge lines and the importance of acquiring a timed ticket, but we were able to waltz in around 3 pm with no problem, and not even a tiny delay. The Pergamon is focused on ancient Near Eastern art. Although its most famous work, the Pergamon Gate, is not on display, the Ishtar Gate is still very extraordinary, as are many of the facades and statues, as well as the various highly decorated mihrab niches relocated to that museum. Afterwards, we were quite exhausted and had “Museum Feet” – we stumbled home to have take-out doner kebab and beer from a place down the street.

    The following day, we headed to the remaining fragments of the Berlin wall known as the East Side Gallery. We enjoyed looking at the brightly colored murals, but it was very busy and lots of big group tours, which put us off a little bit. Still, some of the artwork was amazing, and it was interesting to see the murals from different time periods—some shortly after the wall fell, and some much later. When we were done there, we headed to the City Center to go see some more museums on the island. First, though, we stopped for lunch. Following Google maps / Yelp recommendations, we made our way to a small lunch restaurant/pub called Marktschenke, near Marienkirche. It has some mixed reviews, but we really loved it. The waitress was friendly in a down to earth way, the food was great, and it was very inexpensive! It felt much more like a “local” place despite the definite presence of other tourists. My fiancé had schnitzel and fries, and I had a bratwurst with delicious German potato salad and mustard. My dish was the winner of the two, but both were delicious! (My fiance and I have an ongoing joke that my dish selection skills are always much better than his.) We shared a quick beer and enjoyed the outdoor patio, watching people walk by. We were so happy with our meal that we finished it off with a really delicious apple strudel with cream.

    Afterwards, we walked back towards Marienkirche and ended up in the Birkenstock store near there. My fiancé purchased a nice, extremely comfy pair of sandals—-as with the hat, he had been unprepared for how warm Berlin would be in May/early June! He tried to wear the shoes out of the store, but the clerk very firmly told them that he should not do that as Birkenstocks would be ruined by rain. It was not raining at the time so he was dubious about this forthright customer service, but sure enough, as soon as walked outside it started pouring! We made it to a small restaurant/bar called Kartoffelhaus with a canvas awning before the sky opened up and the wind started blowing like crazy, sending sun umbrellas and restaurant signs flying. It was amazing to sit outside and watch the rain pound against the roof of Marienkirche.

    After the rain let up, we headed to Museum Island once again to use our passes. On this day we focused our efforts on the Neues Museum (Egyptian stuff, as well as some really interesting museum historiography and history of Berlin), and then the Alte Nationalgallerie. This was my fiance’s choice, as he was very interested in seeing some oil paintings, rather than antiquities after the past two museums. While that wasn’t my initial interest, I found the museum quite interesting and the building it is housed in is really fascinating--highly ornate. After these two museums, we were pretty much spent, although potentially there were even more we could have seen! However, we decided to head home instead. We stopped at a nice little café by the river, right next to the bridge that crosses over to Museum Island—think it was called Allegretto. It wasn’t anything special, but the spot was just right, and we enjoyed a tasty cake and an Aperol spritzer as a pick-me-up. We headed home, stopping at the grocery store to pick up a few things. We had decided to invite our friend, who lived in Berlin, over for a nice dinner and wine at our apartment. We made a very traditional German meal: bratwurst, potatoes, and white asparagus with hollandaise sauce. Yes, we made hollandaise in our little rental apartment, for the first time! Making a meal together is one of our favorite things to do. It turned out really quite well, and we were very proud of ourselves! We accompanied it with some nice German beer, and sat outside on our little patio--there was just enough room for three out there.

    This was a nice night, but unfortunately, we didn’t sleep well that night—-allergies were acting up, and would get even worse the following day, despite copious allergy medication. We got up at a decent time and headed to Tempelhof Airport park, something my fiancé really wanted to do. We’d read about how it was an interesting place to see a bit of the old Berlin culture. It was a beautiful day and we rented bikes there for a small fee, enjoying biking down the quiet, but incredibly wide, abandoned airport runways—it was definitely a unique experience! We saw kids playing sports, people out sunbathing in the nice weather, and a community vegetable garden, all in the former airport. There were also some interesting informational signs about the airport’s history. This was definitely the best part of the day. Afterwards, we headed to Ku’damm street in the hopes of maybe finding some lunch and some clothes shopping. My fiancé was interested in getting some European fashion, and I was eager to accommodate this sudden interest in clothing! We did end up finding a nice restaurant—-a little Italian place, but I can’t remember the name. Things took a sharp turn downhill after that, as we futilely tried to find the shopping areas but seemingly walked the wrong way, and found nothing good. I was tempted to go home and call the whole thing off at that point! I sat down at a café and tried to regroup, but was still feeling awful and a tearful from not sleeping and the constant allergies, which were particularly bad that day. Just a bit of a travel breakdown.

    We ended up, oddly enough, finding a TJ Maxx, which for some reason is called TK Maxx in Germany. My fiancé successfully acquired several shirts there in the style that he was interested in. Determined to make the best of things, we ended our day with a quick visit to Charlotteburg Palace. While this palace is interesting, it’s mostly a reconstruction inside, and I found it only mildly interesting. Incredible silver and porcelain collections, however. The gardens are beautiful, of course, but we were too tired to properly enjoy it, so we headed home to rest. We were planning to have dinner with our friend on our last night in Berlin. We went to an art gallery opening with her, had delicious Indian food at a restaurant I can’t remember the name of (Amitra? something like that), and, finally, ended the night with a beer in Kreuzberg--a neighborhood I found totally overwhelming. Buskers would come into the bar we were at, played music, and would go around asking for money. I hadn't expected this kind of aggressive street begging in a place like Germany.

    We were up early the next day to leave for our final leg of the trip… Scotland, at last!

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    Final post--again, my apologies for the incredible length, but I hope some weirdo like me enjoys it!

    Scotland, the Second Time!

    We flew straight into Glasgow from Berlin, and bought a week-long bus pass at the airport. This was a really great deal, since it covered the cost of the bus back and forth to the airport, which otherwise would almost be as much as the cost of the pass overall. We took a bus to Glasgow, and then onwards to my family’s apartment, dropping off our bags going out for a walk. We were both feeling fantastic, since as soon as we landed in the wonderfully damp, cooler atmosphere of Scoland, our sinuses/allergy problems cleared up immediately. We quickly headed off to check out the Glasgow Cathedral, a beautiful spot. We enjoyed checking out the solemn interior. We then climbed up the Necropolis, marveling at the fancy gravesites, and enjoying the view of the cathedral and out across the city from the top of the hill. On the way back down, we stopped at a pub across from the Necropolis (also a hotel), called Cathedral House. We enjoyed a quick beer (our first Tennant's!) and caught up on English language news – bad, as usual. It had started raining a little bit, so it was a nice to escape inside. We finished at a little brewpub called Drygate, which was seemingly part of the Tennant’s Brewery. The food was quite tasty, if slightly overpriced and pretentious—I had some very nice fish and chips, and I think my fiancé had a burger. We had a little whisky to start us off. On the way home, we stopped at the grocery store to pick up some breakfast supplies and coffee. We also stopped at a local pub—but it was a little too local! Definitely very Glasgow, but we felt that maybe they didn’t appreciate us tourists visiting. It felt like someone’s living room. No one was openly unfriendly, of course, but it was a strange vibe and although it was clearly an old man's pub, they were blasting Beyonce... very strange...

    The following day, we took the bus downtown and checked out the impressive interiors of the City Chambers building, and looked at all the monuments in George Square. We wandered around downtown for a bit, and popped into a big bookstore, where I bought Iain’s Banks’ travelogue about whiskey tasting (a really fun read). By this time, we were getting hungry, so when we passed the Pot Still (a famous whiskey bar), and they were advertising meat pies for a very reasonable price, we headed in. We had a bit of whiskey with them as well, of course, and enjoyed the quiet atmosphere of the old bar mid-day.

    After this, we found the bus stop that would take us to Kelvingrove Park and Museum, and got off the bus near the end of the park opposite from the museum, and walked through the verdant green parkland to the museum. Kelvingrove is a fun museum—it’s very old fashioned in a way, including natural history, urban history, and art, all within one big building, with many combined displays. Nothing too incredible or famous, but it’s a fun way to pass the time—and it’s free! The sections on the history of Glasgow and the arts and crafts movements were some of the most interesting for us. We spent a few hours lingering there, and then we moved on. It was a lovely day and we spent a few minutes reading the books we’d purchased earlier that day in the park, before setting off. I really wanted to get afternoon tea at some point while I was in the UK, and I’d found a great one really close to Kelvingrove: Hidden Lane Tearoom, which—as the name suggests—was hidden down a cute little lane, nowadays lined with artist studios. It was quite busy, but we were able to secure a little table by a window. I really liked that they had a big variety of options for afternoon tea. We each got the “wee tea” (6.50 GBP), which included a selection of finger sandwiches (three quarter-sized sandwiches each), a large scone with clotted cream, and tea (naturally!) This was a great bargain and extremely filling, with very generous portions. The mismatched, vintage crockery they use is also extremely adorable, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who doesn’t want to pay full price for a traditional “high tea.”

    We then headed home to rest up. At the grocery store, we bought the fixings for a Scottish dinner, but were too tired, and in the end just had mashed potatoes with ‘square sausages,’ which we had originally bought for breakfast! After dinner, we headed back to the West End to try to go see some live music. We chose Ben Nevis Pub, which has live music a lot of nights, and it was a spectacular choice. Clearly there were quite a lot of tourists there, but there was also a good old multi-generational Glaswegian family seated in front of us, who got up and danced for all the classics. The bartenders were kind and the pub was cozy. The live music consisted of two guitarist/singers whose accents I could not understand at all—-and I grew up with a Glaswegian mother… They played a bunch of Scottish classics (I almost started crying when they played Wild Mountain Thyme, which is one of my mother’s favorite songs), but also some John Denver and Johnny Cash! It was a fantastic time, and we drank far too much whiskey, including: Ardberg, Glenlivet, Lagavulin, and Laphroig. I’m so glad I had the chance to show my fiancé this kind of pub.

    From my description of the whiskies we drank, you can perhaps guess that the night ended with me drunkenly losing my bus pass and waking up with a severe hang over. We had a hard time finding a bus home, as we didn’t realize that Glasgow busses started running on a different schedule after midnight or so, and ended up taking an Uber home (which we should have just done in the first place!) Still, I can’t regret going out to hear some music, although I do regret that last whiskey or two…

    In the morning, I was hungover-sad, and got very upset that I lost my bus pass, weeping and wailing. My fiancé, also hungover, very kindly put up with me and ridiculous mopiness, and we soldiered on. I ended up buying a one-day electronic bus pass (you can actually purchase these on an iPhone app, and just show your screen to the bus driver when getting on or off. I did this for the convenience of not having to scrounge for change.) We lost most of the morning to the bus pass fiasco, but ended up taking a bus over to a restaurant that was described as a good place to get a nice brunch any time of the day, called Cafezique (also in the West End.) I had a nice smoked salmon dish (with a TON of salmon) and my boyfriend had a full Scottish breakfast, including a tattie scone. Very good value. The food was good and they provided newspapers to read, in a charming mezzanine area. It was nice to sit inside in the cozy restaurant (it was pouring down rain at this point!) It got nicer by the time we left the restaurant. When we returned downtown, there was a pro-Scottish independence rally going on, and we lingered to watch the peaceful march. Finally, we took a bus back down to the East End, and headed for the People’s Palace, walking by the famous Barrowland venue. People’s Palace was interesting as usual, although I don’t think it’s changed at all since my mom took me there as a kid! We both loved watching the videos of Scottish comedians that they play on a loop. Afterwards, we walked along Glasgow Green, and then decided to try to make it to the last tour at Tennant’s Brewery, which as I said is very close my family flat.

    We succeeded in getting a spot on the last tour, and passed the 20 or so minutes until the tour by hanging out in the reception area, watching old Tennant’s advertisements play on a loop in the front room, and by admiring the various Tennant’s related items you could purchase in the small gift shop. The tour itself was a lot of fun, ending with a tasting of a few different kinds of Tennant’s beer, and our tour guide was really nice. He stayed on after to chat with us as we finished our beer (me, very slowly… hair of the dog!) They also had fun little arcade consoles where you could play Tennant’s related video games, and my fiancé got a real kick out of it!

    This night, we made the food we had bought the previous night. We had purchased haggis, turnips, potatoes, and broccoli, so we could have a go at making a traditional Scottish dinner of haggis, tatties and neeps. We had only middling success—we tried microwaving the haggis (which is what all my Scottish relatives do), but I wasn’t a huge fan. My mom is much better at preparing it than me! The tatties and neeps turned out pretty good though. We had grocery store sticky toffee pudding with it--one of my favorites.

    The next day we had a trip to Edinburgh planned. We took the bus to the train station, bought our tickets, and hopped on the first train we found. The trip was uneventful and takes only about an hour. We headed first for the famous castle, of course, but it was incredibly jammed, and we hadn’t had the foresight to buy tickets online or anything. We decided to perhaps come back later. I’d seen the castle multiple times before, and my fiancé wasn’t terrible excited to see it from inside. Instead, we walked down the Royal Mile and did a little shopping. My fiancé ended up buying some lovely tweed and leather gloves for the winter. We continued down the Royal Mile, stopping again in a former church-turned-arts and crafts market (Tron Kirk), but we didn’t end up buying anything there. We walked past the famously ugly Scottish parliament building, as well as Holyrood Palace. However, we were headed for the hill—the famous Arthur’s Seat. I hadn’t realized quite how steep Arthur’s Seat was, but we very much enjoyed the hike. Spectacular views. We had a quick picnic, packed earlier that day, on top of the mountain—cheese and crackers, salami, and delicious strawberries. We didn’t linger long though; although it was a beautiful day, it was cold at the top of Arthur’s Seat! This hike was a relief for my fiancé, who at this point was getting tired of cities.

    After returning to ground level, we stopped at a random bar for a quick beer to refresh us, and then visited the National Museum of Scotland—always an excellent, and free, visit. My fiancé found the sections on the modern history of Scotland fascinating, while I preferred the ancient stuff—especially the famous chess set. After a few hours, we headed back home on the train. We were quite exhausted, so we got Indian take-out for dinner—the same place I’d gone with my parents, Nakodar Grill. It was delicious, but we over-stuffed ourselves and both of us ended up feeling quick sick. We went to bed early that night (the whiskey the previous night probably hadn’t helped with that… don’t think it was the restaurant’s fault!)

    The next day, we were finally leaving the city. We returned to Glasgow airport to pick up a rental car for the next days. My fiancé did a great job of driving on the left, although it was his first time. Based on the weather report, we decided to head first for Glencoe, heading north via the Loch Lomond west road. We stopped near Tarbet to take a look at Loch Lomond and have a snack, but it was drizzling and foggy. Still beautiful, though.

    Afterwards, we drove towards Etive Mor, stopping every few minutes to take pictures of the stunning views. My fiancé was amazed. We took the road down Etive Mor, and did a little bit of hillwalking off the road, taking a look at the river there. Truly incredible, even though it was raining on and off. We followed the A82 towards Glencoe, and stopped at the Three Sisters to take a brief hike. We headed up the side of the hill, and I ended up turning around and heading back to the car about halfway up, when it started to become a bit of a scramble. My fiancé went up even further than me, and had the time of his life. After the hike, we were both pretty beat. Our original plan had been to drive to our Airbnb, outside of Oban in Bonawe, drop off our bags, and then go into Oban for dinner, but we were already extremely hungry. On the drive to Bonawe we passed a quaint-looking restaurant & hotel, called the Holly Tree. It was located on a beautiful lake, so were instantly tempted to stop for a beer. As soon as we saw the spectacular views off the back patio—now bathed in sun, which had suddenly appeared for a brief few hours—we knew we needed more than just a beer there. We ended up having a very tasty, if pricey, dinner—chicken liver pate to start, a steak and ale pie for my fiancé, and a delicious smoked haddock chowder for me.
    We ended the night driving to our lovely Airbnb.
    https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/14333657

    It was a big old stone house occupying a beautiful spot overlooking Loch Etive. Our room was large with its own bathroom, and our hosts were delightful people with beautiful spaniels and lively personalities. They fed us some cake and tea when we arrived, and then left us to our own devices. We walked around their beautiful grounds, admiring the sunset, but as we were getting eaten alive by midges, soon headed back inside for a blissfully early night.

    The next morning, we got some advice from our Airbnb hosts on nearby castles to check out, and ate our delicious (included) breakfast. It was a tasty, very filling, Scottish breakfast, with home-made jam and lots of coffee. We headed out fairly early, first stopping by Dunbeg Castle for a quick peek around (we just looked at the exterior, didn't pay to go in), and then onwards to Oban. In Oban, we parked in a public lot near a grocery store. We didn’t linger too long looking around the town, as it was raining hard, but headed straight for the distillery. We enjoyed our tour a lot—our guides were informative, and we had a sip of unaged whiskey—like ‘white lightning’ straight out of the barrel—and then another tasting at the end of the tour, with a free whiskey glass included. We ended up buying a bottle of whiskey at the distillery. Then we went to the Tesco, and bought more whiskey there—at a much cheaper price, of course! We also bought some more strawberries for a picnic lunch.

    My fiancé had some work to do/emails to send, so we stopped for coffee and a cake at a cute little café—I think it was called Abbie’s Café—and used their wifi. Finally, we headed to the fairly obscure, unattended/unticketed Kilchurch Castle, on the shore of Loch Awe. This was definitely a classic Scottish castle—practically deserted, and available for clambering all over, in a spectacular location on the loch. We spent a few minutes there, and then headed home. It was rainy once again, as we headed back to Glasgow.
    We made it back to the apartment without any trouble (despite warnings about how horrible Glasgow driving is…) and my parents and sister were waiting for us there. We enjoyed a really pleasant reunion as we shared the story of our engagement, and my mom made us a wonderful home-cooked meal. We went to bed early, since we were headed out to the airport next day.

    Our final day, we left pretty early in advance and got to the airport with plenty of time to spare. We had some trouble getting the petrol filled up before we returned the rental, and we were a bit worried that it was getting close to the time for our flight, but we made it just fine. Our flight back was uneventful, except that as we were landing, one of the panels in the plane ceiling suddenly fell halfway out, so we could see all the wires and tubes behind it. Thanks, American Airlines. And that brings my huge trip report to an end! I hope people enjoyed it.

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    Always glad to read a thoughtful report on my adopted city, Vienna. If you are interested to know, the festival at Rathaus was the "Waldviertel Pur," featuring, as you noted, local foods from the "Forest Quarter" of the neighboring state of Lower Austria. It is an annual event, and one that I look forward to shopping at.

    The jam with your Schnitzel was likely Preiselbeern, or red currant jam; it is a common accompaniment.

    Also very glad that your apartment worked out. Favoriten is definitely not a tourist destination; your location near Reumannplatz is fine, however. (You should have purchased your asparagus from the market at Reumannplatz--many Vienna restaurant chefs buy their product there, and it would have been a fraction of Naschmarkt's cost. :) )

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    " I would highly recommend it to anyone who doesn’t want to pay full price for a traditional “high tea.”

    I suspect "high tea" is not what you think it is:
    http://www.timetravel-britain.com/articles/taste/tea.shtml
    It's actually what's now called dinner (since we all became American :-) )
    BTW, it's whisky in Scotland.

    Apart from that, a very good report.

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