[Day 22] Starting of 2020 with a bang

Another busy day! Today was my last full day in Salzburg and I wanted to make the most of it.

First, I wanted to start 2020 with a clean slate so I decided to “hike” Untersberg. I didn’t really hike it. I took the cable car up to the top. The cable car was part of the Salzburg Card so I had to take advantage of it. It was about 30 minutes outside the city and it felt really nice to get some nature in. I got to the station around 10am and it was pretty empty. The cable car operated every 30 minutes and they were very true to their schedule.

There were several people who had ski gear and when I got to the top, I realized that there were areas that people could ski and I thought that was so awesome. Once I got off the cable car, the view that greeted me was just breathtaking. To see such a clear view on the 1st of 2020 was a blessing. The top of the mountain was full of fresh snow, the sun was beaming brightly, and no cloud in sight. It was a perfect weather.

I fully enjoyed the snow and hiked a little to the top of the hill. I always love getting the aerial view of the city and even though we were quite far from the city, I could see it in the distance. After making a small New Year’s Resolution wish, I took the cable car back down and headed into the city.

My big activity for the day was the Sound of Music tour by Panorama. Sound of music is one of my all time favorite movie and since I knew it was filmed in Salzburg, I could not let this chance pass by. I did some research and decided to do the Panorama tour. They had 2 time slots (9:10am and 2pm) and made it easier to schedule.

They ushered us into a huge tour bus with the Sound of Music sign (hard to miss) and we were on our way. Our first stop was Leopoldskron Palace. This was the back end of the house with the lake. It was where Maria and the children rode the canoe. We were able to see the Palace from afar because it is a private property. But you could still see where the filming took place. As I looked across the lake, I could imagine hearing the children singing.

Currently, it is used as a hotel and you can make reservation. (I wanted to stay here but they had a 2 day minimum stay and during the Holidays, they had several days that were closed so I couldn’t get 2 consecutive days)

Our next stop was the Hellbrunn Palace. The Palace itself was closed since it was winter time but this was where the famous gazebo was rebuilt! The one from “16 going on 17”! They tried to keep the gazebo at its original location (Leopoldskron Palace) but too many visitors came so they had to move it. We could not go inside but just looking at it and touching the door knob made it feel so surreal.

After seeing these two places, we were back on the bus for a long ride. While on the bus, our tour guide, Michelle, gave us some information about Salzburg as well as some movie trivia. I did not know that Salzburg was the 4th biggest city in Austria and that salt was their #1 source of income. 2nd being Mozart and 3rd being Sound of Music.

And some fun facts about the film. Did you know that the children stayed at the Sheraton Hotel and they almost got kicked out? Why? Back then, people who wanted their shoes polished overnight would leave their shoes outside their door. The children would go and swap the shoes between the floors! What little rascals! Also, did you know that the Captain’s singing voice is not his? I had no idea! It was so much fun learning these fun little facts!

While on the bus, we passed by two big lakes, Lake Fuschl and Lake Wolfgang. Lake Fuschl was a resort town for the people in Salzburg and during the summer, it would be filled with people, swimming in the lake. We could not get a good view of Lake Wolfgang because the fog started to come in. But that didn’t stop Michelle from making our tour fun! We did some sing-a-longs with mama goat!

When we got to Mondsee, the fog was gone and it was just starting to get dark. It was about an hour drive so why did we have to come so far? The church where Maria and Captain von Trapp get married at was here. In the movie, it looked they it was part of the Abbey but since they could not film inside the nun’s abbey (Nonnberg Abbey), they filmed it at the church in Mondsee and some of it back in Hollywood.

Mondsee was a very small town but had some cute characteristics. If I were a local, it would have been a great summer getaway location. There was a lake that was walking distance away and several shops and restaurants. It was small enough to just relax quietly. We were given some free time to enjoy the inside of the church and also to explore the city.

Afterward, we were back on the bus and off to Salzburg. On our way back, they played a small documentary about Sound of Music and it was a peaceful ride back. Once back to Salzburg, they gave us the option of visiting the Mirabell Gardens but since I already visited it, I decided to opt-out and go off on my own.

It was already dark in Salzburg and most of the museums were closed but there was one that was still open: Museum of Modern Arts. Plus, it gave me a chance to use my Salzburg Card again. I was able to take the Mönchsberg Lift and I highly recommend this. It might be a nice place to see the sunset. The terrace provides a good view of Salzburg Palace and the city. I was able to relax and take in the night view on my own.

I was starting to get hungry so I headed back to the main street. I’ve been eating a lot of the local foods and was starting to miss American food. So today, I decided to try Burgerista, a hamburger restaurant. It was like a fast food place. You order at the kiosk, sit yourself if there are empty tables, and grab your food when ready. The food gets prepared once you order so I guess it a little bit more high-end than Mcdonalds.

They also had an English menu so it wasn’t too hard to order. I ordered the Meisterstuck and I really wished I could eat more since it was really good! They had several sauces for fries (and maybe the burger) and they were really good too. Definitely worth it if you are craving some home food.

[Day 21] New Year’s Eve in Salzburg

New Year’s eve. I knew most of the places would be closed due to the holiday so I had to make sure to check online to see if the museums and palaces would be open. I ended up spending a lot of time doing research prior to leaving my hotel room. I decided to mix outdoor adventures with some museum times.

First, I headed to Mirabell Gardens. This garden (and palace) is famous as the place where they filmed the “Do-re-mi song” from Sound of Music. You can see the Pegasus fountain and the gates Maria and the children sing on. Since it was winter time, the fountain wasn’t on and the gates were closed. However, you could still see and walk by the filming location.

After seeing the Garden, I headed to the Mozart Residence to learn about Mozart and his family. I grew up playing the piano and I really enjoyed Mozart’s pieces. Plus, I really loved Amadeus, the movie.

Mozart Residence looked huge on the outside, but the museum itself was relatively small. They had a Mozart Lego figure by the entrance, greeting the guests. The theme of the exhibit when I visited was about Leopold Mozart and on his background. It was interesting to learn about Leopold since I only knew him as someone who took Mozart around for concerts. I didn’t realize that Leopold was also an outstanding musician/violinist but his son, Wolfgang was the musical genius of the century.

After seeing the Residence, I walked over to Mozart’s Birthplace (Mozarts Geburtshaus) to learn more about Wolfgang Mozart. This museum kept most of the apartment intact and created a timeline of Mozart’s life. It was amazing to see the piano he played, the musical pieces he created, the clothes he wore, and more.

If you are a fan of Mozart, these two are a must visit sites for you! I really enjoyed learning about Mozart and his family and how they became celebrates in Salzburg and in other European countries. Both locations had audio guides and they were very useful since they described things in detail. However, they did not allow photos to be taken in certain parts of the museum so be aware.

After seeing the two museums, I headed over to the Salzburg Cathedral. The teal colored domes on these cathedrals are a must see. There were lots of people in line to get inside but the line moved quickly. The cathedral was much bigger than I expected. And the high ceilings and the arches were impressive. But my final destination wasn’t the Cathedral. It was the DomQuartier.

DomQuartier was so worth it! They were using the old residence of the archbishop and converted into a museum space. I’m so glad I dedicated some time to viewing this. They also provided an audio tour but I decided to wonder the halls myself. I did not know any of the artists here and most of the artwork here were either about the royal family or Christianity. But everything, every corner was worth a look. They also had a terrace that overlooked the Residenzplatz that was picturesque.

One thing. I did not know was that the Cathedral was part of the museum! You were able to see inside the cathedral from up top. I believe it is where the choir would stand during mass. Not a lot of people must know about this because it was empty! I was able to quietly people watch for about 20 minutes and just take in the beauty of the Cathedral.

For lunch, I headed to Gablerbräu. This was a traditional Austrian restaurant but a lot of it overlapped with Czech cuisine as well. I tried their “The Original: Wiener Schnitzel” and it was delicious! The meat was so thin and tender and mixed well with the cranberry sauce.

After a filling lunch, I headed to an overlook/outpost following the Kapuzinerberg street. The entrance was very close to the restaurant. At first, I wasn’t sure what to expect but the overlook provided a beautiful view of the river, the city, and the castle. For a great aerial view, I would highly recommend this place.

Also, while we were up there, we met the prangerstutzenschützen koppl for their annual shooting. New Year’s Eve was their annual event and I was lucky to catch them! The men of the group were very nice. I was able to meet with Wolfgang, one of the members, and he told me about how he joined because of his father. It seemed it was passed down from father to son. Family tradition.

They were dressed in traditional clothing and all carried a rifle. They let me hold one and it was extremely heavy! They weren’t actually shooting anything. Just gunpowder and paper. Starting around 3:30pm, more members were showing up and getting ready.

There were also ladies in traditional dresses and they sold shots of beer and schnapps. Wolfgang’s father gave me a free shot and it was delicious!

And starting at 4pm, from all different parts of the city fortress, different groups all started shooting together and it was LOUD! It wasn’t just once. They did it 3 times! (The one with the sword is Wolfgang!) It was amazing to watch a city tradition that only happens once a year. If you are in Salzburg during New Years, please, please, please, go watch this! (I will post a video in Instagram)

After the shooting, I decided to take a small break before heading to Mirabell Palace for the New Year’s Eve Concert. I wanted to experience some Mozart while visiting Salzburg and I thought it would be a great experience.

And it was! They were very true to being the City of Mozart. Instead of modern instruments, the musicians used traditional instruments. For example, instead of the piano, they played the Harpsichord! It was fascinating and I fully enjoyed the concert. The concerts were relatively cheap but the music was top notch.

After the concert, I walked towards Residenzplatz to get ready for the fireworks. Around Residenzplatz, there were several concert stages and there were bands playing 90s pop songs. There were also several booths selling food and alcohol. They were only taking cash so I couldn’t buy anything. If you want to enjoy some music and food before the count down, this place was it.

Since I was excited about the fireworks, I asked one of the police officer where was the best place to view the fireworks and he told me to go to Kapitelplatz. There were already a lot of people hanging out in the square. It was much quieter here with no stages or booths. Just people. I waited here until the countdown.

However, there was no countdown. I looked at watch and even 10 seconds before the new year, there was no sound. Maybe there was a countdown at one of the stages but the fireworks just started. It wasn’t as big as I hoped but it was always nice to see fireworks. There was no music or any celebrations. Just people watching the fireworks quietly. It lasted about 8 minutes. What really bugged me was that no one was wishing anyone Happy New Year! They all just watched and left. It was quite bazaar to me.

After the fireworks ended, I walked back to the Residenzplatz and wished I stayed here. Right after the fireworks ended, they must have started the Waltz in front of the main stage. I wanted to watch but by the time I ran over, the song ended. They only do one song so if you want to see the New Year’s Waltz, stay by the main stage! I asked one of the locals and they told me that during the day time, they teach people the waltz if anyone wants to join. So if you want to learn the waltz for the New Year’s dance, you can!

[Day 20] Off to Austria

It was time to say good bye to the family. They were headed back to the States and I had one more destination to head to: Austria. To be more precise, Salzburg. We all packed our things, said our goodbyes, gave each other hugs, and headed our separate ways.

My bus to Salzburg was at 10:30am and it was going to take about 3 hours. I purchased my bus ticket via Omio and it was about $17 usd. I got to the platform about 15 minutes early and there was already a line. The boarding did not take long and I was lucky enough to have an empty seat next to mine.

I took a nap most of the way but woke up when we crossed the border. They stopped the bus and an officer came on board and checked people’s passports. They did not scan any passports but just did a quick scan to see if they had a valid visa.

Once we were at Salzburg bus station, I was really confused. They dropped us off at some parking lot! It wasn’t what I was expecting. There was a bus stop and I waited until the time that was on the schedule but the bus did not come. I ended up calling a cab and taking it to my hotel.

I booked a place called Bergland Hotel and it was nicer than I expected. The staff were friendly and it was about 15 minute walk from the heart of the city. There were several restaurants and shops nearby and a bus station into the city less than 5 minute walk away.

After checking in, I decided to walk to the information center in the city. I needed to pick up my Salzburg Card that I was going to use during the duration of my trip. This walked out great for me since I planned on going to several museums and other tourist attractions. During the winter time, some of the attractions were closed but they reflect that in the price.

When I got to the information center, it was packed! There were people picking up their Salzburg Card as well as people making reservation for concerts. Due to the Holiday season, everyone seemed busy. It took about 30 minutes for me to pick up my card.

Once I picked up my card, I headed to my first location. The house where the Sound of Music was filmed: Schloss Frohnburg. This wasn’t included in any of the Sound of Music tours and I really wanted to see it. I used Google Maps to find the buses going towards the area. Google Maps was very useful in Salzburg in finding bus routes and schedule.

The first thing I noticed when I got closer to Schloss Frohnburg was the wall that surrounded the house. It was where Maria sang and ran! The second thing I noticed was the music coming from beyond the wall. And I noticed the reason why when I got closer. The building was now a part of Mozarteum University and there were students practicing.

I kept walking towards the main gate and I saw the house. It was amazing to see the front end of the Sound of Music house! I was able to reminisce about my first time watching the movie and falling in love with it. It was exactly how I remembered it from the movie. The gates were open but since it was a private residence, I couldn’t dare go in.

After taking some photos, the sun began to set so I walked back towards the bus stop and headed back to the city. While walking around, I did some shopping and ended up at Cafe Sacher. I did not realize that the cafe was inside a hotel but it was easy to find. I really wanted to try the Sacher cake since people were raving about it.

I got really lucky with timing and was seated right away. The cafe was really fancy looking and the atmosphere was very romantic. I was told that ordering here could take some time so I took my time looking at the menu. I wanted to try things that were unique to the cafe so I ordered the Sacher torte and the sacher melange (espresso with milk and whipped cream). The cake was very rich chocolate cake and the drink was also very sweet. If you like chocolate cake, I would recommend trying the Sacher Torte for sure!

[Day 19] Last full day at Český Krumlov

This was my full day at Český Krumlov and also our last full day as a family traveling together. We wanted to make the most of it.

Like I said before, Český Krumlov is a very small town. You can definitely do everything in 1 day. 2 day at max. So with this being our 3rd day, we weren’t pushing to do anything extreme. We just wanted to see more of the town, do some shopping, and just spend time together.

We did not have any plans but to check out all the side streets and corners of this beautiful little town. So we just walked. Even though most of the museums were closed, we were still able to find things to do. (One thing we wanted to see was the marionette puppet show but they were closed, too)

We did find a marionette store but it wasn’t what we expected. It was called Puppet Museum – Fairytale House but when we got there, it seemed like a small store. The actual puppet museum was only upstairs and there was a small fee to get in. During the peak season, they have tours but while we were visiting, they only had a walkthrough.

So instead, we checked out their wine cellar. It isn’t much of a cellar but they do have some local wines. If you have a thing for local wine, you can check it out. We wanted to ask for a tasting but the staff did not speak English.

After, we were off again. There were a lot of local boutiques and we were able to find some gems! Austrian designer clothes, handmade ceramics, and even hats! Oh hats! I don’t think I’m a hat person but my sister-in-law and her family were all getting one so I ended up getting one too.

While walking around, we found a 3D museum that was open and we all decided to try it for fun. We were the only ones there (no surprise) and the fee was 100kc per person (about $4 USD). They had several different illusions and we tried them all. It was 3 floors high and had more than 10 illusions. We all had a blast and it was totally worth every dime! If you have kids, I think this would be fun activity.

We also found a record store! I feel like back in the States, we don’t have music related stores anymore? At least I haven’t been in one in years. So this was a treat. We looked through several CDs and vinyl records and it was actually fun finding different artist we all knew.

We wondered around town for a bit and headed to Restaurace Lazebna for dinner. Again, if there is a restaurant you want to try, make reservation 100%. We went to several different restaurants before finding this one. If it was peak season, we wouldn’t have been able to eat! This restaurant offered mostly traditional Czech cuisine. We ended up with several meat dishes including koleno, and soups such as goulash. The portions here were huge! So prepare to share.

[Day 16] Prague Castle and other architecture

Another early morning start but this time, it started with some home cooked meal. My brother’s father and mother-in-law cooked us breakfast. While eating breakfast, I quickly checked the weather map and it was going to be a beautiful day.

We headed back to the Prague Castle for a better look. With the rain yesterday, we didn’t get to enjoy it fully. We had to go through security to get into the Castle first and once inside, we headed to the ticket office. There were several ticket choices and we decided to do Circuit B (250 CZK). This included the Old Royal Palace, St. George’s Basilica, Golden Lane, and St. Vitus Cathedral. Take a look at the different ticket types to see which one fits your interest. They also have audio guides and guided tours if you want to learn more history behind the Castle. Also, they had signs that said cash only but when we tried to walk away because we didn’t have enough cash, the staff pulled out the card reader and we were able to pay with card. I was so confused but also grateful that they took our card! When you visit, it would be best if you prepare both cash and card, just in case.

Once we had our tickets, we first headed to Golden Lane. I was also very curious about it since it also had another name: Alchemist’s Alley. Rumor has it that the king had brought in Alchemists to the castle to make gold. I’m not sure if there were actual alchemists here but if there were, they must have been pretty tiny. The houses here had displays of what it would have been like to live here and everything was small! The beds looked like it was for children and even some of the doorways, I had a bend a little to get in. Also, the houses were really cute. Each house had a unique design and color and made the street look like a fairy tale. I wish I could’ve taken a picture of all the houses but there were lots of tourists here and was impossible to get a photo of the street without anyone. I would suggest coming here early morning to have the place to yourself. Also, some of the houses were used a shops! They sold handmade goods such as pottery, art, books, and more.

We also went up the tower and this was like the barracks. They had weapon and armor displays and even sold them. The tower was connected to the wall of the castle and they still had wooden barrels on the windows that closed and opened for when they were under attack. The wooden barrel could be turned to provide an oepn slot for archers to shot out of and turned to close it for when the enemy attacked. That was so cool! The Golden Lane also had a dungeon that had several torture devices used back during the 16th and 17th century. The hardest part of the dungeon was getting out! The stairs were narrow and when a flood of people came in one by one, we just had to wait to get out.

After seeing Golden Lane, we headed to see the St. Vitus Cathedral. It was the most impressive building in the Castle and yesterday, we were only able to see the outside of it. When we got to the square, there was a long line to get into the cathedral that wrapped around the whole square. Luckily, the line moved ralatively quickly. One thing to look out for was that there were a lot of people who were trying to cut in line. We even had to tell some people to get to the back of the line. I would watch out for these people.

Once inside the Cathedral, the staff scanned our tickets and told us that no hats were allowed. We took off our hats and headed inside. The Basilica was also as grand as the outside decor. There were several architects who worked on this project and they added their own spin on this Gothic architecture. I really loved looking at the ceilings for the net-looking arches and the light coming in through the windows. They also had several stained glass windows that brought in color into the Basilica.

We visited the Old Royal Palace afterward. After seeing the Basicila, the Palace wasn’t as impressive but the Vladislav Hall was still grand. What I found interesting was that this Hall was still being used by the government to host large events! Even though Czech Republic does not have a roayl family anymore, these old royal building were serving a purpose for the current state. I really liked that and would love to see a modern event being held in a historic building. The palace also had their royal family tree? on the walls and ceilings. I’m actually not so sure if it was a family tree but the staff there told us not to take pictures so I’m not sure what it was. Regardless, it was interesting to look at.

Lastly, we visited the St. George’s Basilica. The church building was bright red and very hard to miss. Once inside, we noticed how small this basilica was. Even though it was small in size, the Gothic style continued here. I walked around and saw some interesting artwork and Gothic architecture details and walked out. This was probably the shortest time we spent inside a building.

Once we were outside the Castle, we decided to eat from the Christmas Market. We wanted to eat light because we were getting a big dinner. So we had some sausages, potatos, grilled cheese, and of course, Trdelník. This Market was also cash only! A lot of places in Czech Republic were cash only so I would recommend bringing enough. The Trdelník here did only had plain or nutella and we got the nutella. Getting one fresh off the fire was the best! Crispy outside and sofe inside. And of course, nutella made everything even better.

After our meal, we walked towards the Dancing House. We walked along the Vltava river and saw the multi-color houses. I really loved how European houses/apartments were so colorful! I wish American apartments could be as unique as these. [One thing I do wish we had done was visit the Lennon Wall. I did not know it at the time but it was fairly close to the Charles Bridge.] But the uniqueness did not compare to the Dancing House.

It was so interesting to see a curved building! And there were actual people inside! We could see their shadows through the windows. I wondered what the people living there would think of the tourist who take pictures of their house. There were lots of people posing for a funny picture like kicking or punching and it was amusing to look at.

It was starting to get dark really fast. It was about 4:40pm when the sun started to go down. The parents wanted to take us to a restaurant called U Fleků and this was on my “eat here” list! From the outside, you wouldn’t notice it but inside, there were several different dining halls. The ones by the entrance was already packed when we came and we were led to a dining hall in the back. The hall had long tables with benches and a stage at the front. I asked the staff and they told me that they have live cabaret shows on certain days. We ordered several dishes including the pork knuckles (Koleno) and it was delicious! Again, they had huge portions here.

What was special about this place was their beer. They brewed their own beer here and you could not get this beer anywhere else. It was a dark beer and the test was almost velvety. Once you get hooked on this beer, you would have to come here to taste it again! And I think that is the reason why the parents wanted to bring us here. It was really good and I highly recommend it! We did not make reservation and were luckily it was non-busy season. However, if you plan on visiting during a busy time, make reservation!

Also, we did not get to see the cabaret but that doesn’t mean we didn’t get any entertainment. An accordionist made rounds through the halls and one made it to our hall. You could request songs and if he knew them, he played it. He played some old classic pop as well as newer songs. When he came by our table, he asked us what ethnicity we were and when we told him Korean, he played one of our folk song and he was actually pretty good. We tipped him and he stayed at our table for a bit and played more songs. It was actually really nice. Never had a chance to hear an accordion so close up. It was definitely a treat.

After our meal, we headed back home. However, I wasn’t done yet! I decided to go back out to the Old Town Square and go up one of the Towers to get a bird’s eye view of the square. Plus, the family wanted more Trdelník so I headed out. My sister-in-law’s sister wanted to come with and it was more, the merrier. We headed to the Old Town Square and decided to go up the Astronomical Clock Tower. Once inside, there was a line for the ticket. We tried to buy it online but the website was not working. The line moved quickly and we were able to get inside fast. We were ready to climb some staircases but was surprised with an elavator! An extremely modern looking one at that. Of course, there was a ramp along the wall that you can climb up but why walk when you can ride? So we took the elavator up and the view was amazing! You were looking right into the Square. The view of the Church of Our Lady before Tyn and the Christmas Market was spectacular. I could see why people were visting the tower. While we were up, we saw the Christmas Tree show and it was a sight! We must have gone right before closing time because when we left, we were the last few there. It was nice being semi-alone.

Once we were out of the tower, we looked for a place to grab Trdelník from. We couldn’t get any from the Market because they did not take card. We walked down the alley and found a place that took card. And this place had fillings and ice cream. We got 2 Trdelník (chocolate/vanilla swirl with pistachio spread and chocolate spread with vanilla ice cream) and rushed home to share it with the family. Best way to end the night!

[Day 14] Off to Prague

Today, we were moving on to Prague and meeting my sister-in-law’s family there. Again, this was a new place and I was excited to explore it. My sister-in-law’s family had been there before so I didn’t do much planning except to look for places to eat at 🙂 It took about half a day to get there so plan out your schedule wisely.

Once at the Václav Havel Airport Prague, I was amazed at all the Korean I was seeing on the signs. Usually they have their native language, English, and Chinese but here, the only Asian language they had was Korean.

I think it was because back in the early 2000s, there was a really famous Korean TV drama called Lovers in Prague. This show got really high rating and attracted thousands of Koreans to visit Prague. It was interesting to see how a TV show could influence a country.

We were able to use UBER in Prague and used it to head to our accommodation. The airport is about 40 minutes away from the city and it felt like we were driving through the country side.

Once at our accommodation, we met with the family, unpacked, and shared gifts with each other. We got each other matching tops and hats so we had some fashion coordination for the coming days.

As dinner time came close, we headed out towards the heart of the city. It was raining but we still wanted to go out. If it is your first time going to Prague, look for hotels near Charles Bridge or the Old Town Square. This felt like the main area and offered a lot of things to see and from here, everything was pretty much walking distance.

For dinner, we did not make any reservation and ended up at a burger place called Joy Burger. They had regular burgers but I wanted to try something unique so I got the Olomouc beef burger. I was interested to know what olomouc cheese tasted like since I’ve never heard of it before. It was really good.

TIP: Similar to Spain, every restaurant, bar, cafe took reservations. If you have somewhere you want to try, make reservation

After finishing our meal, we continued to walk towards Old Town Square. They were having a Christmas Market here and was said to be the most popular. And it was! The place was crowded with tourists and locals, buying food and ornaments, and looking at the decorations. They had huge Christmas trees, all covered with lights, and it looked amazing with the surrounding Gothic architecture. I believe every hour, they also had a light show with music.

And because of the food, the area even smelled good! You could definitely come to the Market and fill up on different foods. Make sure to bring cash here. Different from Spain, Prague had a lot of places, even shops, that did not take credit card.

One of the food we fell in love with was Trdlo/Trdelník. This is a must try! It’s a tunnel cake and they use nutella or marmalade jam as a spread. Since this was the Market, we were able to get one right off the grill. Super fresh. Nice and hot. This would become our go-to dessert for the duration of our time in Czech Republic.

After getting our dessert, we moved to see the Prague Astronomical Clock. We had perfect timing as it started to ring right when we got there. It is impressive, even in the dark, and at each hour, as the clock strikes, you were able to see the 12 apostles appear. The clock tower was also bigger than I expected and I found out it was a tower you can go up! However, by the time we got there, it was closed.

After seeing the Clock, we kept walking and ended up on the Charles Bridge. Even thought it was late at night and it was raining, there were lots of tourist on the bridge taking pictures and taking in the night scenery. From afar, you could see the Prague Castle. After a quick look around, we headed back to our accommodation to get ready for a full day in Prague.

[Day 13] Day trip to Segovia

My last full day in Madrid, I decided to check out Segovia. I really wanted to see the Aqueduct of Segovia. This was as great place for a day trip and I highly recommend it. I was an 1 hour 20 minute bus ride and I booked the bus ticket using Omio. This website is super convenient for all travel in Europe!

In the morning, I made my way to Moncloa Station, which was a transit bus and train center. Once you were inside, you should see a line of people waiting by their bus gate number. I did not get my gate number on my ticket so I had to look for it. I could not find any information booth here so I went from gate to gate, looking at the signs and luckily, I was able to find the gate. The seats are the assigned so it’s first come, first serve. If you have someone you want to sit with, it is best if you get here early.

TIP: Even though it was off-peak season, the bus was filled! So I would recommend booking tickets early and getting to the transit center early, too.

This bus had two stops. The first one is Cristo Mercado and the second one is Segovia. Do not get off at the first one! This is a local bus stop by the street. They don’t really make clear announcements on the bus and lots of locals were getting off here so I can seem like this is the stop. Wait until the next stop and they should stop at a Bus station.

Once we got off, we started to walk towards the Aqueduct. The city is very small and everything is walking distance. Once you start walking towards the city, you should see the Aqueduct in the distance. And once you get close to it, you will notice how huge this is.

Walking through the arches, you are just amazed by ancient architectural beauty. Seriously, how did they built such a thing back in the days? You can walk up to the top and get a view of the city with the aqueducts. It is just spectacular.

After admiring it for awhile, we headed towards the city to find a place to eat. There were several restaurant choices but a lot of them were closed. So we ended up at Restaurante El Sitio. It didn’t look it from the outside, but it wasn’t a cheap bar/restaurante. I guess never judge a book by its cover.

We tried lubina horno (fish) and cochinillo racion (suckling pig). We didn’t get to see them actually cut the suckling pig but I was told that if we order 4 servings of it, they will bring out the whole pig.

TIP: If you are looking for something on the cheaper end, look for MENU DEL DIA. This is like the daily special menu and for a set price, you get a small course meal.

After our meal, we headed towards Catedral de Segovia. This catedral was not as grand as the one in Seville but still amazing. The gothic architecture and its details were so pretty. When we went inside, there was a ticket booth. There were two options for tickets available when we got there : General entrance fee (€3) and entrance and bell tower (€7). We wanted to get a good view of the city so we decided to do the bell tower. However, for the bell tower, they had a specific time slot and they only had the 4pm one available.

So while we waited, we decided to head over to Alcázar de Segovia first. The line for the ticket was really short but they had ropes wrapping around for busy season. General palace tickets were €5.5 and an extra €2.5 for Torre de Juan II. Since we were getting the bird’s eye view of the city from the Catedral, we decided to just do the Palace.

Before entering the palace, we spent some time admiring the outside of the Palace. Some people were saying that this place inspired Disney when they were designing the Cinderella’s castle. And I could see some resemblance in the pointy tops.

The inside was also impressive. The decors in each room were vastly different and each were unique. The Galley Room was my favorite with the gold molding. All the rooms had lots of windows that brought in sunlight and I bet the Royals living here loved to look at their land while enjoy the sunlight.

After walking through the rooms, you end up outside on the castle walls. It’s not the highest part of the castle but provides some view of the outside area.

After seeing all the rooms, we headed back to the Catedral for our tour. Unfortunately, they only provided one English tour and we had missed that one. Our tour was conducted in Spanish but our guide was able to answer questions in English and most of the signs had both languages.

We had to climb up several flights of stairs but had breaks in between which helped a lot. And once at top, you won’t regret it. The 360 view of the Catedral and the city was amazing! One really interesting fact I learned was that this Catedral’s tower was burned down due to a fire and they had to bring in another architect to rebuild. And their new architect decided that instead of a tower, he built a dome in a different style.

After seeing the view from up top, we headed back down and looked around the Catedral and found a small museum. We couldn’t take photos but they had several different Virgin and Child paintings. And as it was getting closer to sunset, we headed outside towards the courtyard and was greeted with amazing colors. It was hard to find the entrance to the courtyard and because of this, we had the whole place to ourselves. It was beautiful.

After viewing everything, we walked around the city. We needed some pick me up and ended up at Confitería El Alcázar, a sweets shop, and tried Ponche Segoviano. Guys. 100% please try this! This was amazing! It was like custard filled pastry and it was so good! I wish I could have bought a bigger size as take out! It was that good.

This was a really good day trip. Since it only took 1 hour 20 minutes, you got to spend more time seeing the city than in a bus. You can definitely make this into an overnight stay if you end up seeing both towers and doing some hikes around the city.

[Day 11 +12] Relaxing like the locals in Madrid

I am combining day 11 and 12 because most of the days, I just hung out with my brother and sister-in-law. After our other brother’s family left, we just wanted some time to be lazy.

My brother and sister-in-law really wanted me to try this restaurant called Taberna El Sur so we headed there for dinner. This place was really small and I would recommend that you make reservation in advance. There are lots of bar seating if you are ok with that as well.

It was tapas style and we tried different things from the menu. We all got sangria first and ordered tapas like ropa vieja (braised flank steak) and carrillada (braised pork cheeks). They were so good. And the portions were good too. We ordered 4 tapas and it was enough for us.

After our filling meal, we walked to Plaza de Cibeles to see Cibeles Palace. I saw this place while driving by so I wanted a closer look. The building is all white but during the night time, they flashed different color strobes on it, making it look green, red, and more. We tried to go inside but they were closed.

TIP: I also did not realize how close this place was to Retiro Park. I would see this Palace first and head into Retiro Park for a half day tour.

And because it was the holidays, the streets were full of decorative lights. And by the Metropolis Building, they even had a giant Christmas Ornament. While walking back to Puerta del Sol, we saw several Christmas trees as well. It was really beautiful during the night time.

Our Sunday morning started with us visiting a church. We walked most of the way to church but on our way back, I got to ride the metro for the first time. The ticket was easy to use but we ended up getting off at the wrong stop and had to buy another ticket. They had pretty bad customer service.

We didn’t know what to eat for lunch and ended up at Tierra Burrito Bar and it was similar to Chipotle. But the portions were huge! They couldn’t even roll the burrito all the way, which was better for me 🙂 I think this solved my craving for American food.

Afterwards, we headed to the Royal Palace of Madrid. I just wanted to see what it looked like. There were lots of street performers outside the Palace and many tourist and locals taking walks. It was pretty peaceful. I did not get to go inside since I did not have tickets but by the size of it, you would need to spend at least 3 hours to see the place.

I also got to see the Catedral de la Almudena and this was impressive. Even more so than the palace! The architecture was stunning. We couldn’t go in because it was too late but still amazing. I would recommend staying here and seeing the sunset. It would make a killer photo.

[Day 10] Easy day in Madrid

Today was the last day we were spending as a family in Madrid. We didn’t have a lot of time so we decided to take it easy.

First, we headed to Puerta del Sol and saw the KM 0 marker. It is easy to miss since there are no signs pointing to it and it’s in the middle of the street. It was used as a place people would come and set their odometers to zero when they were traveling. Sort of like mile markers.

Afterwards, we headed into the Square to see the statue of the Bear and the Strawberry tree. I’m not 100% what it means but it represents the coat of arms for Madrid. I know it is popular because I saw all the magnets and mug cups with the bear on it in several different gift shops.

The Square was full of people in lines to get the lottery tickets and we had to zig zag around them. For our last meal together, we decided to do something simple but impactful and ended up at Chocolatería San Ginés. My brother told me that this was his favorite spot for hot chocolate and churros. And yes! I agree. This place was the best! The hot chocolate was thicker and less sweet and the churros were hot and crispy. We also got to try the porras, which were thicker version of a churros. (Personally, I like porras better. It’s more fluffy)

After snacking on our hot chocolate and churros, we had to say good bye to one of my brother and my sister-in-law. And I had to move my luggage to my other brother’s house which was between Puerta del Sol and Mayor, a prime location. After moving all my stuff to their house, we took a small break because it started to rain.

Since it was getting chilly, we decided to get some food that would warm us up! My brother really wanted me to try the pho place in Madrid and I am also down for pho. We headed to a restaurant named Vietnam and ordered pho. Their menu was not as extensive as the Vietnamese restaurant in the US but had the essentials. The pho was pretty good but the sauces were not the best. They had a different version of sriracha sauce and it was too runny and the flavor was not the same. But it still warmed us up well.

After our meal, we walked back towards Puerta del Sol and saw a line of people headed into a building. We weren’t sure what it was but decided to check it out. We later found out it was the Real Casa de Correos building and they have an annual Nativity scene display inside called Navidad el Sol.

The display inside was amazing and I was so glad we accidentally stumbled in. The nativity scene here wasn’t just the stable but all of Bethlehem! I couldn’t fit all of it into my camera in one go. You can imagine how big it was. They also had Christmas Forest with several Christmas trees. If you visit Madrid during the holidays, this would be a must see!

[Day 9] Touring Madrid

Our first full day in Madrid started with some bad weather forecast. It was going back and forth between cloudy and rainy and we were prepared for both.

First stop, Mercado de San Miguel for some breakfast. The market is not as big as the one in Barcelona but it has all the offerings. It is indoors and when we arrived around 10am, it was already bustling with tourists. Similar to La Boqueria in Barcelona, they had simple take out stalls as well as restaurants. I ended up getting empanadas and they had so many different fillings.

There is a sit down area in the middle of the market and several of the restaurants also had stools for their stalls. If you missed la Boqueria, this could show you what it is like at these Mercado.

After filling ourselves, we headed to Parque del Retiro to see the Crystal Palace. Retiro Park is huge and you can easily spend half day here. We took an Uber to the park and our driver dropped us around Paseo de la Argentina. This entrance leads straight to the Retiro Park Lake and to the view of the Alfonso XII’s monument.

This would be a great spot to relax and hang around when the weather is nicer and warmer. There were lots of benches and playground for kids. We also saw a lot of signs for different gardens, art gallery, and monuments. One in particular was the Crystal Palace. My sister-in-law highly recommended it and we wanted to check it out.

However, when we got to the Palace, it was closed! There were many people waiting outside so I thought maybe it wasn’t open yet. However, the time posted outside said otherwise. We thought we could wait until they opened again since we saw a staff member inside the building. So we waited and took pictures of the exterior.

As we were taking photos, a police car came by and told everyone to leave the park. The officers started to usher people towards the exit. Without any explanation, we started to walk towards the exit. The park was so big and we didn’t know where we were so it took a bit to get to the exit. And once we were outside the park, we saw a sign that stated “PARK CLOSED. HIGH WIND” sign on the gates. So a storm was coming.

After a few moments, it started to pour! Thankfully, we brought umbrellas but we had to rethink our plan. Our original plan was to visit the Real Jardin Botanico de Madrid but with the rain, we didn’t want to walk through the garden.

After some thought, we decided to visit the Templo de Debod, an Egyptian temple that was gifted to Madrid. When we got to the temple, there was a line of people waiting to get inside. Even thought it is called a temple, it is more of a museum and entry is free. Inside, you can see different gods and goddesses, scale model of the building, and learn about the history of the Temple. The inside is really small and you can see everything within minutes. Just be prepared for that.

And it would have been nice to see the moat filled with water but it was empty when we visited. We still got to walk around the walkway after we visited the temple. And because of the rain, no one was outside. Also, if you walk to the back of the temple, you can get a nice view of the city.

After seeing the Temple, we decided to take a break and headed back home. And before we got home, we stopped at Museo de Jamon. The name says it’s a museum but it is actually a store and restaurant. We stopped by to buy some jamon and cheese. They have so many different types of jamon, from front leg to back leg, and what feed the pigs were fed. If you are not sure what to get, ask for samples! The price range is quite wide and I’m sure you can find jamon that you like.

With our hands full of jamon and cheese, we came back home and rested. We snacked on the jamon and I kept going back to its saltiness. They are similar to prosciutto so if you like prosciutto, you will surely like jamon.

After some relaxation, we headed to our dinner reservation at Botin. A friend of mine had recommended this place for both the food and the history. It is considered the oldest restaurant in the world! Wow! Almost 300 years of history.

And my friend recommended the roasted Suckling pig. We ordered several dishes including the suckling pig and filet mignon. All the food was good but they were on the salty side. Ask for less salt if you do not like salty food. Also, make reservation! We had reservation right at their opening hour and there was a line already.