Thursday, August 23, 2012

Our Adventure Continues

Krr-azy for Krakow.

In Krakow, we stayed at a wonderful Hilton right outside of the main center over by the once Jewish ghetto of WW II.  This was the first time that we stayed out of the city center on our trip.  What we have come to figure out from this stay is that if possible, always book a hotel inside the center of town.  That way, we can park our car in a garage and not worry about having to find parking.  It also removes the worry of it possibly getting broken into.  We really haven’t worried too much about anyone breaking into it, but better safe than sorry. 
Lily made friends wherever we went.
 When we got to Krakow, Martin and I had already been traveling HARD for a good week.  We decided to take the evening off from being tourists and just get caught up with work (Martin) and getting some much-needed laundry done (me).  Some hotels offer laundry facilities for travelers.  Meaning they have a laundry mat for the hotel patrons to use without the exorbitant cost of the actual hotel doing your laundry.  I picked the Hilton because it boasted such a self-serve laundry service and BONUS, had free parking!  
A lovely little bakery in Krakow.
If you plan on doing a whirlwind trip like Martin and me, know that most hotels charge around $30/day for parking.  I always factor those costs in when deciding on a hotel.  You can book a hotel for $150 but after taxes and parking, it can cost upwards to $230.  Keep those costs in mind. 

One little tidbit, most of the hotels we have stayed in so far have all been less than $200.  I don’t think that will be the case for some of the hotels down the road, but for the most part, we are getting off cheap.  All hotels (with the exception of Krakow) have been in the center of town, close to all the main attractions and sights.  All the hotels have been given a rating of 4-5 stars on  Our hotel in Prague was wonderful and it only cost $100/night.  Our hotel in Krakow was only $125.  So, if you plan correctly, it is quite do-able to stay in a nice hotel in Eastern Europe for pretty cheap.
Now for Krakow.  We loved Krakow and we loved the Polish people.  The Poles have a wonderful sense of humor, they love to talk, give directions and best of all; Krakow is still relatively cheap (meaning food, lodging, clothing, etc.)
Early the next morning, Martin and I took a taxi from our hotel down to the city center because we found it easier than getting over to the metro.  The center is so fun.  We walked through Cloth Hall, which is a big old Renaissance-style building in the center of the square that has different little shops on either side of the walkway.  It is called cloth hall because in the Middle Ages it was used as a cloth market.   
Most of the items that were being sold were knick-knacks and Polish souvenirs, but the building was so old and beautifully decorated that it was fun going from booth to booth.  It also made it fun for us to just people watch.  

After the cloth market, Martin and I walked over to the McDonalds just off the main square.  Not because we wanted a greasy, rubbery hamburger, but because we wanted to see the old vault/tavern that was found in the basement while McDonalds was excavating the site. 

We strolled through Krakow and walked through the Walwel Basiclica, Walwel castle (which was amazing) and then ran into a Polish festival.  We loved the festival so much that we stayed there for quite a while looking (and tasting) all the different foods, candies and especially more people watching!
Don't you love my new best friends?
From the festival we headed toward the Jewish ghetto and walked around.  It was still old and dark, although it is picking up in popularity in the past twenty years as up and coming.  However, for me, after having done Auschwitz the day before, I was kind of done feeling the heaviness of that period and so we didn’t stay for long. 
These flower bouquets were everywhere throughout the city.  I fell in love with them.
When we felt we were good and done with the city center of Krakow, we checked out of our hotel and took off for the salt mines.  I really didn’t want to go on the tour of the salt mines but Martin did, and I felt like we had been doing everything that I wanted to do, so it was time to relent a little.  

When we got to the mine, I asked the ticket agent if it was do-able to take a stroller down into the mine.  I was told, “no problem” and so we started the descent.  Little did we know that we had to carry Lily and her stroller down a winding staircase with 360 stairs!  It was almost 120 meters (390 feet) down and felt like we were in the center of the earth.  

By the time we got to the bottom, I’ll admit, I was sneering a bit at Martin.  Then the guide proceeded to tell us that the tour would be 3 hours long!  The sneering started to turn into loud grumbling on my part.  It was already 3:00 pm and I knew that we had a long drive ahead of us.  So basically, I didn’t start the tour off really on my best foot.  
Down in the underbelly of the mine.
However, through the course of the tour, it started getting really interesting.  We learned that once salt was much more valuable than gold because it helped to preserve food.  The preservation of food meant life was sustainable, and that is was what really mattered.  In fact, the word "salary"is derived from "sal" (salt) because at one period of time, workers were paid in salt, not gold.  Throughout the tour there were sculptures carved from the salt of all sorts of different subjects.  There were also areas that depicted of the miners and how they mined from the 1300-1800's.

After 3 hours, Martin and I were both itching to get out and on the road.  Lily was just itching to get out of her stroller.  So we pulled a "we gotta get outta here card" and were swiftly taken up out of the mine by the fastest running, open air elevator I have ever been in.  It was worth the 3 hours just getting to ride in the elevator.  

Soon we were out of the mine and into our car.  The roads here in Europe are very easy to navigate IF you can read the road signs.  When reading the different street names, it has become very funny for Martin and me in trying to sound out the different names of the streets (especially funny riding the metro in Russia).  By the time I have sounded it out, I can't remember what I have just read.   This is a little frustrating for Martin while he is trying to navigate through the busy streets.   

While the road from Krakow to Budapest (our next destination) is a well-marked freeway, I decided that I wanted to go another route because I wanted to stop in the town of Eger in Hungary.  Not so smart, but Martin was willing to take a different route and we set out to discover new land.  We were fine until around 9:00 pm when the sun went down and we were about to enter into Slovakia.  It got even sketchier when the map that we had just simply stopped.  Luckily Martin’s adventure races came in handy.  He can read a map by just fixing his positions on lakes.  Plus he has an amazing sense of direction.  Without a beat, he’d look at the map and say, “We need to head this way.”  I’d be like, “Okay, because I have no idea where we're going.”  Finally at around 10:30 pm, we found ourselves on a small road with only one lane and trying to make sense of the road signs.  I was more than nervous.  Even more nervous that there would be another car coming in the opposite direction on a darker than dark night.  

Finally after what seemed like hours, we saw a sign that read, “Slovakia.”  I still can’t figure out how Martin did it, but we knew we were at least going in the right direction.  About an hour later we stopped at the first gas station and decided it was time to break down and finally buy actual road maps of Europe.  NO more guessing where we were going!  The only problem was, that it was in Slovakian.  Close enough. 

We reached Eger, the town I wanted to see, at about 1:00 in the morning.  Martin was taking a quick 30-minute nap while I drove through the town looking at it in the dark.  I mean if we were going to come all this way, I was at least going to see it--even if it was in the middle of the night!

From Eger, we arrived in Budapest at about 2:30 in the morning.  We couldn’t find the hotel I had booked and we were both too tired to try and deduce where it would be, so Martin paid a taxi to guide us to the hotel.  Best 10 euros ever spent.

When we drove up to our hotel, I was giddy.  First, because we had FINALLY arrived and second because the hotel was beautiful!  I knew I was going to have a magical time in Budapest. 

I can’t wait to tell you about the city that I fell completely in love with.  It was just magical from the moment we arrived.

To be continued…

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Be a Tourist, It's Worth the Dreary Visit

Representing the end of the line at Auschwitz.
I really wrestled on whether or not I should even post our trip to Auschwitz.  However, I wanted to document our time while we're on this whirlwind vacation and this was one of my most memorable stops.  I'm sorry it's not more upbeat, but it is what it is... Auschwitz.
When Martin and I woke up the morning we planned to visit Auschwitz, it was eerily cold and rainy.  Any normal person would have wanted to stay inside under a warm blanket, by the fire while drinking a cup of hot chocolate.  Not us.  Remember, we have a schedule to keep and not even bad weather was going to keep us from not staying on schedule.  Besides, I thought it offered a perfect backdrop for what would be a difficult tour both mentally… and physically.

When entering the town Oswiecim, the buildings seem old and worn and it was obvious by the lack of upkeep that a tragic part of history was played out just beyond it’s front door--it had definitely seen better days. 

All and all though, it seemed like any other little urban village found in the European countryside.  As we drove down the streets, headed for Auschwitz, we instantly got a feeling of wondering what it might have been like for the people of this little city during the war.  Did they know what was happening less than a mile from them?  Were some sympathetic?  It’s hard to know.  Auschwitz camp and the Birkenau camp (aka Death Factory, called Auschwitz II) are just off the roundabout in the central part of town.  As you drive to the front gate to the main Auschwitz, you are greeted by a friendly parking attendant who gives you a ticket to park your car at the front of the main building at the camp.

When Martin and I were getting out of the car, we wrestled with whether or not we should take the stroller or the backpack to carry Lily.  We opted for the stroller because of the damp weather.  I had a rain guard that fit perfectly over Lily’s stroller, so we thought we were set in keeping Little Lil' away from the elements.  We left the backpack behind in the car because we saw no need for it.  Mistake numer-o un-o!
Entering the camp
As we began our tour we were met by a very serious tour guide who seemed suitable given the kind of tour we were on.  Her English was substantial but I found I was having a hard time understanding her through her thick polish accent.  I knew I could manage, and towards the middle of the tour, I found that I could nail her accent and was following her just fine from that point.

The rain was steady, and although we were prepared, our guide said to us at the first “Block” of barracks, “Your stroller is not suitable for this part of the tour.  Please park it outside the door.”  I looked at Martin quizzically because I really wasn’t sure what she had said.  She said again, “Park your stroller here.” Which was out in the rain outside the Block.  We did as we were told and entered into the building.  During the course of the 3-hour tour we entered up to 8 barracks.  Each barrack displayed pictures of the Jewish prisoners and all the terrible atrocities that happened to them during their stay at Auschwitz.  Most prisoners didn’t last more than 5 months.  The captured Russian soldiers who were the first prisoners to arrive were stripped of their clothes and forced to be naked for the first week of their imprisonment.  Almost all of them were killed or died in the camp. 
Where Martin rested Lily when she wasn't in his arms.

This photo about did me in when I saw it.
I have been to the Holocaust museum in Washington DC and feel like I have seen almost every documentary telling of this terrible genocide, but nothing prepared me for the rooms we were about to enter.  They were staggering.  One room was full of women’s hair and was the most startling for me.  They would shave the women’s hair upon entering the camp and then use it to make a type of burlap material.  They found it to be cheaper to produce than regular materials to weave into burlap.  

By the time we got to cell Block 11, poor Martin was struggling to still hold Lily.  I am sure everyone around us were wondering why we didn’t put her down, and it was just too much energy to use in the midst of what we were in to try and explain to others that she didn't walk.  As we left one barrack and entered into another we were being soaked to the bone by rain.  We could not even comprehend what these people had to endure without coats, in wooden shoes AND without their family.  As a mother, if I didn't know where Lily was, I don't think I would have made it.  It would have killed me then and there.
The bathrooms. 
At the end of the tour of Auschwitz I, we got in our car and drove over to the second camp called, Birkenau.  It’s better name amongst the prisoners was, “Death Camp”.  It almost seemed worse than the first, because the barracks were now made of wood, and we could see how these poor people had to endure so much from the outside elements in these poorly insulated barracks.  

The one bright thing of the whole day is that the rain had stopped and the ground was much more giving to Lily’s stroller.  We were able to push Lily from one barrack to another. 

At Birkenau, it was hard to actually see the bathrooms that were set in place seating up to over 50 people at a time.—with 18 seconds to get and get out.  It was also difficult to see that there was a childrens barrack where a Jewish artist, who was also imprisoned, painted a wall mural for the children to take them away a little from all the terrible things that were happening to them at the time.  The mural looks very sweet of the drawings of children walking with their favorite toys toward a building with smoke coming up from the chimney.  What you don’t know until it is further explained to you, is that he painted it to help the children to not be afraid when they are taken off, with their favorite toys, toward the big building with the fence because in actuality it is a the gas chamber. 

Now that I have depressed you enough, I would say that even though it is dismal and heart wrenching, it is also a very important part of history.  Martin and I were very glad that we made the decision to go in spite of the dismal day and even more dismal knowledge we learned while taking the tour.  It was worth it.

We finished up the tour around 3:00 and got in our rental car and headed for Krakow.  It was a beautiful drive from Osweicim into Krakow and the beautiful countryside helped to lighten the mood from the heavy day. 

We were excited to see Krakow!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Beautiful, Delightful Prague

Before Martin and I arrived in Prague, and somewhere in between the “ticket panic", I was able to secure a driver to pick us up at the airport in Prague. 

 When we arrived, we were greeted by a lovely English gentleman, Neil, who was there to get us to our hotel.  Even though our luggage didn’t arrive until the following day, we were just fine knowing that WE had arrived and were on our way to the comforts of our room in beautiful Prague.

Speaking of hotels, I only booked a few hotels before flying to Russia knowing that there were certain dates that we needed to be in particular cities.  The rest I have just booked the night before on  Having my laptop, I usually just book our hotel the night before we are to arrive in a particular city (I caved and bought a beautiful light Mac Air which has turned out to be invaluable for this trip).  This way, booking our hotels gives us some flexibility if we want to stay an extra night or leave a day earlier than planned.  Such is the case with Prague and our hotel turned out to be divine!

When we woke up the next morning, I opened the window of our hotel room and there before me was the beautiful St. Charles Bridge leading into the city.   I felt like I was on the set of some Renaissance period movie.  I wouldn’t have been surprised if a knight on a white horse rode past us on his way to a duel. 

We got dressed, and set out to discover Prague.  Since it was Sunday, we looked for a local LDS (Mormon) church.  However, once we arrived to the address specified, we found the street to be under construction and what we thought was the building, was the Israeli embassy.  It was actually fine because it put us on top of the hill right in front of Prague Castle at the foot of St. Vitus cathedral. 

St. Vitus cathedral is probably one of the most impressive sights I have ever laid eyes on.  Built in 1344 by King Charles IV it has a Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque style façade all combined to make one of the most majestic sights one can ever lay eyes on.  I had to keep telling myself that I was there because it seemed so storybook and unreal. 

Martin, Lily and I roamed inside the cathedral taking hundreds of photos of the woodwork, art and beautiful stained glass windows.  After a tour of the cathedral, we roamed the streets of the castle and just sat in the main square and took in all its charm.  It’s almost too beautiful to be able to describe.

After we felt like we had taken in enough of the cathedral and castle, we decided to go down the long path and over the King Charles bridge that leads into the city (Old Town).  To me, I felt like we were walking into Disneyland, but for grown ups.  It was all just too much like a fairytale.  It was marvelous.
This is how Lily rolls...

Words really can’t express the beauty of Prague.  When strolling through the city, I was surrounded by one architecturally constructed masterpiece after another.  I particularly loved the Jewish quarter that boasts some of the most beautiful Art Nouveau buildings that I have ever seen… okay, never seen before in my life. 

In the Old town section, Martin, Lily and I ate at the foot of the St. Nicholas church in a lovely café that looked over the main square.  It almost feels as if you’re at a staged Oktoberfest or Czechoslovakian festival because everything seems so perfectly placed. 

In the middle of the square are various eating kiosks with traditional Czech food.  All of which looked appetizing (and I’m pretty picky when it comes to food).  I wanted to try everything but opted to hold out until dinner. 
This looks a little gross, and I'm not much of a meat eater, but really, it was good!
 Martin and I decided to walk up and down the streets while still visiting all the major sights.  We just couldn’t get enough of all the beautiful buildings.  In fact, we roamed so long and into the evening that we stopped back into Old Town and decided to try a typical Czech meal for dinner.  I had sausage, dumplings, ham and cooked cabbage.  All of which I would NEVER have eaten at home, but you know what?  It was all so good.  Lily loved the ham so much that I felt like we should have ordered another meal since she ended up eating most of mine.

After dinner it was almost midnight and we decided that we needed to call it a night since both Lily and I were still both struggling with jet lag.  So we headed back over the St. Charles bridge that lit up the river beneath us while we looked up at the impressive sight of the St. Vitus cathedral.  Honestly, I felt like I was in the most unimaginable dream—one that I could never have dreamed up myself.

The next morning, we scheduled to have Neil (our British driver) come back to the hotel to pick us up at 1:00pm to take us out to the airport to pick up our rental car.  So we knew that we had to get up early if we wanted to finish our tour of Prague.  We headed back down to the Jewish quarter by Old Town.  I felt like I didn’t get enough of that area the prior day and wanted to take advantage of the Jewish sights. 

We toured through the Jewish cemetery, visited various synagogues and learned the terrible fate of the Jewish people during WWII.  It really was sobering.
At noon, I had eyed a spectacular café/bakery the day before so I made Martin retrace our footsteps because I was determined to find that bakery.  After a few twists and turns down streets, I recognized the awnings and knew we had found the bakery of my dreams.  Of course, Martin wasn’t nearly as excited.   For me, I felt like I had won the lottery.  We ate buttery croissants stuffed with chocolate, REAL apple fritters and drank fresh squeezed orange juice.  I don’t think I said one word to Martin while I ate.  I sat there eating the mouth-watering pastries while taking in the charming art nouveau architecture that surrounded us from every angle.  It was the perfect ending to an already perfect holiday.

Soon it was time to head back to the hotel where we met Neil (who had already packed our suitcases in the car for us) and we were on our way to get our rental car, but not without a stop at the local equivalent of Target (Tesco) to pick up a car seat for Lily.  The rental car agency was willing to let us pick up our car in Prague and drop it off later in Paris, but they weren’t willing to part with their car seats.  I knew that we were going to have to have a car seat before we took off on our journey so Neil willingly obliged and took me shopping.   Shopping for Lily’s car seat was almost comical.  Instead of doing what I normally do (i.e, compare all car seats and getting the one with only the BEST options), in less than 10 minutes I had selected, purchased and had Lily in her new seat in the car.  I have never purchased something so important and not even questioned myself or gone back for another comparison.  I knew we were on a schedule and I was not going to get us behind schedule!

At the airport, we picked up our car, got all our maps in place, got Lily in her new car seat and set off for Kotowice, Poland (about an hour outside of Krakow).  Katowice is a city right by the city of Oscwiecim where Auschwitz is located.  I knew I wanted to get us close to Auschwitz without having to go into Krakow and then retrace our footsteps the next morning.  Again, I booked the hotel online and got the directions thinking that I had it all perfectly planned.  Only when we arrived at Katowice (at 9:00 at night) did I realize that the city was much larger than I had expected and the hotel I selected wasn’t EXACTLY in Katowice.  After driving around for an hour, Martin used his superior navigation skills and found the hotel.   It was a welcome sight in the middle of what seemed like a shady neighborhood.

It was around 10:00 pm and we were famished but a little nervous about leaving the hotel.  The good thing is that most hotels here in Europe have decent restaurants.  With no other options and given the time, we decided to eat in the hotel.

Truthfully, I knew the food would be terrible, but to my surprise, it was fabulous.  Gourmet all the way!  Since the restaurant's clientele was basically the Frey family and some random Polish businessmen, Martin and I were treated like royalty.  The chef came out and prepared each of our meals and placed them artistically on our plate, making it even more special.  Also, when the staff figured out we were Americans, they switched the music from authentic Polish music to a Polish singer who sang old songs from the 70’s.  It was so bad, that it became hysterical to Martin and me.  We sat there and stuffed ourselves silly while anticipating the start of a really bad rendition of a Beach Boys song by a Polish-accented singer.  It made the evening so memorable.  We absolutely loved our stay in the Polish ghetto.

The next day, we arose early, had another great meal in the restaurant and set off for Auschwitz.  The weather was cold and damp setting the mood for what was the most difficult day of our journey so far.

To be continued…

Prague or Bust!

Don't let the face fool you... I was in complete panic mode at this moment.

Blogging and traveling don’t make for good bedfellows if I am the person in charge of both duties.  In a word, I… rather, WE have been rather busy and documenting our travels has taken a back seat.  

While traveling through each country, I wrote out some highlights of our adventures so far, more as a catalog of our trip.  It's more about mine and Martin's adventures and less as a blog.  I hope you don’t mind that my voice is written more in my traveling voice (if there is such a thing) and less in my blog voice.  

To begin, traveling with the Frey family may not be ideal for some.  What I have found is that when we hit the city we have planned to explore, we kind of hit it running at a marathon pace; really with little time to relax.  The reason is because we are on a tight schedule if we want to hit all the cities I have planned out for our next six weeks of travel.  Yep, I said six weeks.  Are we crazy?  Maybe… my reasoning is that if Martin was offering, I was willing to take full advantage of the time and schedule.   We have a lot of cities that I have wanted to see all my life and I am not taking this particular undertaking lying down.  

So far, Lily has been more than ideal and a wonderful traveling buddy.  Although getting around Europe with a small child who is also“non-walker” has proved to be both challenging and a bit hysterical (in a funny sense), Martin and I are managing.  We have lifted Lily up stairs and then down stairs.  We have pushed Lily’s little stroller past its maximum capabilities and it has held up strong with both of us saying, “I don’t know how this stroller is still moving.  I was sure that last round of stairs would have done it in for good.”   However, it keeps rolling and we keep moving.

From my last post, we were still in Moscow, where Martin and I were going to catch a flight to Prague.  That in its self proved to be a bit challenging.  When I booked the flights a few months ago (on a Russian airline), I didn’t realize that it had us routed through Istanbul with a one hour layover before we were to catch a connecting flight to Prague. This is all fine and dandy, but my husbnd is an engineer by trade, and taking a flight to Instanbul instead of in a straight line to Prague didn’t seem logical.  Istanbul is great and all, but it is completely in the opposite direction of Prague.  Problem was, we didn't figure out this important piece of information until the day were to leave Moscow.

Quickly, Martin had a travel agent cancel our tickets and book us on another flight straight to Prague.   Only, the travel agent booked the wrong date, the 25th of August!  Again, we didn't figure this out until noon and the supposed flight was scheduled for 2 pm!  About that moment, I felt my heart beating out of my chest wondering if we really got ourselves into a bit of pickle.  So, I jumped online while Martin called the airlines and cancelled the flight slated for the 25th.  

As I was frantically searching, I saw that flights for that same day were upwards to $600 each.  At that point, I was thinking that I am going to need to be hauled off to the hospital because our VISA was about to expire and I was too cheap to pay that hefty sum to get us out of Russia (my heart was coming out of my chest at that point).  LUCKILY, I found a website with discount tickets.  For some unknown reason, I found flights on Lufthansa airlines for less than $200 each that were leaving Russia that very afternoon.  I booked them and then went back to try and recreate that same fair and flight, only to be told that they were still $600.  I don’t know why, but an instant prayer was answered in finding those cheap flights, because I'm still not quite sure how I was able to secure those tickets. 

When we got to the airport in Moscow, we found that our flight was delayed, which would have been fine except we only had an hour layover in Munich.  My heart began to pick up its pace once again as I sat there ringing my hands.  We were going to miss our flight for Prague!  Finally, an hour later our flight pulled out of the airport and headed for Munich. 

When we got to Munich (an hour late) there was a Lufthansa worker out on the tarmac waiting for Martin and I with a special shuttle to take us to our flight.  One slight glitch was that we had to clear customs in Munich!  I was sure the flight wouldn’t wait any longer; we were destined to spend the night in Munich.  I was going to need to be taken away in a stretcher at about that moment.  Martin, of course, was completely calm joking how he wouldn’t mind spending a day in Munich.  Me, on the other hand--it was Prague or nothing!

Somehow, the customs worker could see the panic in my face and shuffled us through customs quickly.  Then back to the shuttle, out to another part of the airport, back onto the tarmac where our plane had been sitting waiting for the Frey family for an hour.  

When we boarded, I felt the compelling need to individually apologize to all the patient passengers as we passed them.  FINALLY as I took my seat, I let out a gasp and fell instantly asleep for the 40-minute flight to Prague.

To be continued…

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


After one of the most difficult airport transfers I have ever experienced in my life in Saint Petersburg, I safely made it to Moscow.  

Now for Moscow...

Nothing can describe how beautiful Saint Basil's cathedral is upon entering Red Square in Moscow.  The onion domes of each church that surrounds the main church and make up the entire structure are each unique and equally beautiful when compared to the next.  In fact, legend has it that Tsar Ivan IV (Ivan the Terrible) had the architect blinded so that he could never re-create the masterpiece anywhere else.

Ever since I was a young girl, I'd see pictures of the cathedral and be mystified by what it must be like to see such a structure in real life.  I still can't believe that I got to be there, seeing it up close, in person.  I loved it so much that I had Martin take me back after our city tour ended because it is such an incredible sight.
Entering Red Square
The city of Moscow is beautiful and carefully planned.  Martin and I found Moscow to be very advanced, progressive AND clean.  In fact, clean beyond belief (at least the parts that we visited).  I felt perfectly safe as we roamed the streets taking in the beautiful buildings that surround the Kremlin.  In fact, I found it almost strange that there is absolutely no loitering in the parts that we toured.  There were no homeless in the streets that you often see in big cities and I never felt like I had to clutch tight to my purse.  Again, I am sure homelessness and theft occurs as it does in any big city, but it was no where to be seen in both Saint Petersburg and Moscow.

This is only a small portion of what we saw within the Kremlin.  Each church and building kept me in awe the entire day.
I wish I could show you every picture I took of each place that we went.  Honestly, I couldn't snap enough photos... But it's late, we are already behind MY schedule, and more importantly, I'm exhausted.  

A few things before I end this post.  If you are or want to plan a trip to Russia, know that it isn't cheap.  After purchasing your tickets, you have to get a Visa which can cost upwards to $400 per person.  Plus, the process to obtain one is tedious.  My application took me almost two hours to complete.  Lots and lots of questions.  As far as costs, the hotel's are very similar to the costs in the US, but where it really hurts was in the food.  At breakfast one morning, I ordered a pineapple juice for Lily and it was $10!

In fact, while we were at Red Square, I wanted to go to the Bosco cafe because I had heard about it from a friend.  Our pitcher of lemonade cost us $37 US (granted, it was mighty tasty!).  One night, I ordered a salad and later we figured out that it was the most expensive thing on the menu.  

It amy have been a hefty penny, but the experience was all mine!
I would say that if you ever get the opportunity, do not pass up Russia.  I loved every moment that I was there.  I still can't believe that I got to experience such a beautiful country deep in traditions and culture.  You gotta go!

P.S.  Thank you, Yana for your great itinerary.  I think I did everything you suggested and then some.

Up next, Prague!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

From Russia with Love... and a Little Rain

A few months ago, Martin started planning his trip to climb Mt. Elbrus (one of the 7 summits) located in Russia.  He casually mentioned that I should come along because, "When would we ever have the chance to visit Russia?"  Pretty soon the conversation evolved into, "Let's do eastern europe" while we're over there.  

Martin asked me to put together an itinerary and then we could decide if this was even doable.

Well, that is just what I did.  I not only planned out our trip, but I put together all the costs that would be involved for the trip, driving directions to all the cities I wanted to see, and I included highlights of each of the cities.  I presented the plan to Martin and we decided together that we needed to make this happen.

Granted, I know what you're thinking--this has already been a pretty busy summer for the Frey family.  The thing is, Martin and I know that it is now or maybe never.  Since Lily still isn't walking and while she is still little, we can easily pack her around Europe, up and down steps and in and out of narrow streets.  The bigger she gets, the harder it will be be to take her to the tops of beautiful cathedrals and buildings all over the world.

So here we are!  Beautiful Saint Petersburg, Russia!

I am in awe of this city.  It is pristine and lovely with hundreds of years of history.  I have loved racing from one building, museum or cathedral to another.  Even more, I have loved just roaming the streets and taking in all the sites.
Triumphal Staff of the General's Staff.
We are just about to go into the Hermitage, Saint Petersburg, Russia.  Lily is all smiles.
Martin flew out last week to start his expedition.  Which meant, I had to fly out with Lily all by myself to St. Petersburg. Even better, Martin's group did St. Petersburg last week, then started their climb.  I didn't want to miss out on St. Petersburg, so Lily and I flew here to walk around the city for a few days before we meet Martin in Moscow tomorrow.  So far this trip has felt more like, "100 Years of Solitude" than any Dostoevsky or Tolstoy novel.  I don't think I have said more than 30 words in the past two days.  I forgot what it was like to walk around an unfamiliar city all by oneself.  It hasn't been terrible, but I am really looking forward to meeting up with Martin tomorrow in Moscow just so I can have a conversation!

Here are some highlights of our time in St. Petersburg so far.

First, Lily and I strolled through the Alexander Garden that leads up to the Hermitage (museum).  Below, I believe this is a bust of Nikolay Przhevalsky (who was a famous geographer in his time).  I wanted to take a picture of the explorer's bust along with the camel, but found that there were many people lined up to get a picture with Nikolay and the camel.  So I just snapped a few with the folks included because it became kind of comical while I was waiting.
Lily enjoying the park.

After the park, Lily and I went to St. Isaac's Cathedral where I had to throw Lily in her backpack and lug her up 262 steps.  I was so tired from climbing that I forgot to take a photo at the top.
Lily in front of the cathedral.

Lily in front of the cathedral doors just as we were about to climb all those stairs!

Jet lag starting to set in as we wait outside in the rain to get into the Hermitage.
Full-blown jet lag.
Now, this is why I came to Russia!  
I wanted to see the Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood.  It's real name is, "Church of the Resurrection of Christ."  The church was built on the site where Czar Alexander II was assassinated in 1881.  Hence the term, "Spilled Blood."  

This was a site to behold.  I have never been so amazed with the colors and architecture.  It really was so beautiful.

Unfortunately, no pictures of Lily in front of the cathedral since she was still fast asleep in her stroller.
What's not to love about this photo?  When I first saw the bride, I wanted to snap a photo of a Russian bride outside of the church.  However, when I saw her take a drag, I just had to snap a photo.

I can't explain in words how magnificent the Hermitage was.  Rooms and rooms full of beautiful paintings.  We only spent 4 hours in the museum because I was anxious to get to all the other famous sites around St. Petersburg.  I really could have spent an entire day going from room to room.  It really was amazing to see such a collection all under one roof.  I'll spare you the 182 pictures that I took while  strolling through the halls of paintings... but just know, it was amazing.

I am SO glad that I decided to come visit this city (even if I was alone with no one to talk to).  It has been worth it, and I am so grateful that Lily was able to come along with me.

This just in... Martin just called me to let me know that he summited Mt. Elbrus today!  Wahoo!  That is number 5 of the 7 summits!  I am so proud of him for being able to accomplish this.  I always think in the back of my head, "If he doesn't make it, I'm not letting him go back for a second attempt," but so far, he has had success with all his climbs.  Whew.

So Lily and I are off to Moscow tomorrow to meet up with Martin and begin our european trip as a family.  I am so excited to have this adventure and hope to have a chance during our trip to let you peek in on it.  The itinerary is packed full of fun places to see and I am anxious to see if we get to all of them.  Regardless, this will be a wonderful time for Martin and me... and our little Lily.

P.S. I am suffering from severe jet lag.  I found free internet and am typing away before I lose it.  So if there are more typos than usual, just know that I'm a little sleepy, I'm on borrowed time and that my brain is slowly shutting down.