These past few weeks have been quite eventful! I have added three more countries to my list of countries I have visited, I have worked some (got my first gift from a student!), hung out friends in Madrid, and continued with my Spanish classes.  Being in Madrid in the summer is definitely different.  After talking to a friend and fellow TEFL teacher, we have decided the summer is like an intermission.  Our “normal” life in Madrid has been put on hold for this interim period where everyone is on vacation and the city is empty.  Regardless, I appreciate this break from running around the city from day to night from class to class and I am taking advantage by going on my big trips.

My central Europe trip was sweaty and exhausting but a trip of a lifetime.  I traveled with three awesome people to five central European cities.  Each city was beautiful and unique in its own way and I fell more in love with each city we visited.  We began our trip in the fairytale city of Prague, Czech Republic.  As soon as we could, we began exploring this beautiful city.  We walked along the blue Danube river, across the famous Charles bridge, past the Lennon Wall filled with John Lennon inspired graffiti and Beatle’s lyrics, and climbed up a steep hill to the Strahov Monastery Brewery.  There we enjoyed delicious beer, wine, and apple strudel with a gorgeous panoramic view of the city.  Later that night, my friend and I hit up the town.  We started at a bar located on a boat in the river; however, after one expensive beer and terrible service, we decided to venture onto another bar.  After wandering the streets of Prague for some time, we stumbled upon a local bar in which we appreciated the great beer and service, wrapping up an awesome first day.  The next day was full of city tours.  In the morning, we toured the city in a vintage car. We were a little concerned at first when our first stop was at a gas station, but thankfully, the tour was just fine and drove us past the main sites of the city.  Later that day, I took a tour of the Old Town Hall, adorned with a beautiful astronomical clock, which unfortunately, was under construction.  I thoroughly enjoyed the tour full of history and a great view of the Old Town Square and surrounding areas from the clock tower.  Later that evening, we watched the sunset over the city on a dinner cruise on the Danube.

Bright and early the next day, we hopped on a train to our next destination, Brno, Czech Republic.  Once we arrived, we enjoyed delicious Czech food and beer at restaurant near the Brno Reservoir.  From there, we took a ferry to one of the oldest castles in the Czceh Republc, Veveří Castle, located on a rocky cliff overlooking the Svratka River.  Later that day, we explored the city center and various architectural mishaps (an angel mooning the city on St. James’ Church or the twisted middle spire on the Old Town Hall).  We ended the evening by going to Denis Gardens that had an amazing view of the city.  The next day, we went on a day trip to Blansko, Czech Republic to explore the Punkva Caves.  Although the tour was in Czech, the inside of the caves was spectacular and even a little scary when the tour guide turned off all the lights.  We walked along various parts of the caves, including Mirror Lake, which had a perfect reflection of the rock formations above, and the deepest sinkhole in Central Europe, nicknamed, “the Stepmother’s Abyss.”  The tour ended with a subterranean boat cruise on the Punkva river exiting the caves.  From there, we took a cable car to a couple lookout points towering over the abyss.  That night we relaxed at my friend’s place in Brno with homemade cooking, Czech wine (opened with an unusual and hilarious technique), and even homemade slivovitz.

The next morning, we were off to our next city and country, Vienna, Austria.  A city filled with imperial palaces, delicious food, and sophisticated charm. We began our time in Vienna with a free audio tour by Rick Steves.  The tour walked us by the Vienna State Opera, Stephansplatz, the Hofburg, and the Neue Burg.  Afterwards, we walked past the Kunsthistorisches Museum and to the Rathausplatz, where a film festival was taking place.  That night, we walked around the Prater, an old-fashioned amusement park, and rode the ferris wheel, which had a stunning view of the amusement park and city all lit up.  The next day was full of exploring the impressive Baroque palaces of Belvedere and the Habsburg’s summer palace, Schloss Schönbrunn, its vast, royal gardens, and the Gloriette.

The next day, we took the train to our final destination, Budapest, Hungry.  Rough around the edges, but absolutely beautiful, friendly, and with undeniable charm.  We toured the main sites of the city with a hop on and off bus.  After riding the bus for a while, we got off and took the funicular up the Buda Castle Hill and while walking towards the castle, we got caught in our first and only storm of the trip.  Afterwards, we took in amazing views of Pest and the Danube from the hill.   From there, we walked to and admired the gothic architecture of Matthias Church and the fairytale towers of the Fisherman’s Bastion.  Famished from all the walking, we found a local restaurant where we enjoyed Hungarian wine and chicken paprikash.  Funnily enough, the lady at the table next to me was from the Cleveland area.  What a small world!   Afterwards, we headed to a night cruise along the Danube.  Making it just on time, we decided to wait for the next cruise to be able to sit on the roof of the boat.  While waiting for the next boat cruise, we made friends with the family behind us, also from Ohio but now living in China.  The boat cruise was unbelievable.  I have never seen such a gorgeous view like the golden Hungarian Parliament Building lit up at night and reflecting so beautifully on the Danube. The whole city is just breathtaking at night.  The next day, we made our way to the Central Market Hall.  The exterior of the building was beautiful, and the inside was full of people and lacking air circulation, but still really neat to see and explore. From there, we walked around the Parliament, along the Danube to the Holocaust Memorial, and across the famous Chain Bridge.  We hoped back on the bus to the top of Gellert Hill to see the Statue of Freedom and panoramic views of Buda, Pest, and the river.  Our last stop for the day was to St. Stephan’s Basilica. The golden interior of the Basilica was breathtaking. That night, we went out for drinks at the famous ruin pub, Szimpla Kert.  As my friends wanted a more low-key environment, they left to go to a wine bar.  A little nervous but ready for the challenge to prepare me for my solo trip to Croatia, I got a drink and started walking around to find someone to talk to.  While on the stairs overlooking the crowd, I noticed a guy next to me standing alone.  We started talking and I found out he was a hitchhiker from Warsaw, Poland.  Intrigued as I never met a hitchhiker before, we talked for some time about our travels.  As he had to leave, I went to the bar for another drink and a group of guys, a table tennis team from Germany, asked me to take their photo. These guys adopted me into their group for the rest of the night. It was a blast drinking and dancing with them all night.  Our last day of the trip was a relaxing one as we were at the Gellert Spa and Baths all day.  To be honest, I thought the place was going to be more luxe and exclusive, but unfortunately, it felt more like a public pool.  Regardless, it was a nice way to end the trip relaxing in the thermal baths.  We finished our last day with sharing a bottle of Hungarian wine at a local wine bar listening to a live Hungarian band.  A perfect way to end the trip.  The next morning, I headed back to the 100+ degree weather in Madrid.  Check out my photography here from my tour of Central Europe.

Last week and this week has been and will be quite slow with work.  However, I will continue with my Spanish classes, spend time with friends, and prepare for my big solo trip to CROATIA!