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Around the World- catching up! Italy, Germany, Austria…

Sorry it’s been a few days, been busy mostly working, some driving and some site-seeing. 

Italy- Venice very lovely place.  It takes FOREVER to go from one place to another.  Unless your plan is to eat next door to your hotel, start looking for food an hour before you’re hungry.  And expect to pay a lot.  A lot.  Venice was more expensive than other places I’ve been in Italy, like Rome.  The people are typical Italians, a tad on the rude side, but I’m sure they get tired of us American tourists.  There were about as many Americans as Italians.  That’s good and bad.  I hardly had a chance to use the dozen Italians words I know.

Driving from Italy to Germany was very pretty.  Might have to go back and visit wine country and do a few tours in Italy.  And by tours I totally mean drink lots of yummy wine.

We drove for about 90 minutes in Austria but had to buy the Vignette still and the tolls we pretty high in Italy.  Driving was good for independence, but still pretty costly.

Then to Germany, we stayed one night at an adorable little family-owned hotel.  They should have asked how tall we were, because we bonked our heads on the low ceilings a few times.

We tried to go see Neuschweinstein Castle but the fog was soooo thick we could barely see it when we were actually touching it.  Not worth posting any of the 8 pictures I took.

Now we are with friends for a few days, then off to Istanbul.

Around the World- total miscellaneous stuff just for fun

Dance like no one is watching (Venice Italy)


Does this look like a $13.25 cup of coffee? Total cost of this little snack, $41.65. (Venice Italy)


Laundry day, thank you REI concentrated soap. (Zadar Croatia)


What do these icons mean? Load up your friends and go out for coffee? (Norway)


No car races on Lufthansa (flight IAD-FRA)


In Norway 301-303 are not included in 300-305 (Bergen Norway)


Some staircases need traffic lights (Prague Czech)


No matter how good the effort, sometimes translations just don’t work. Whipped cream and bacon on your pizza? (Budapest Hungary)


Perfect illustration of why you should only travel with what you can carry on stairs (Venice Italy)


In case of fire, keep calm and read the newspaper. (Budapest Hungary)


Around the world update plans… no more La Spezia or Zermatt

We had planned an overnight in Venice, one in La Spezia and one in Zermatt.

Then it took hours and hours to find our hotel in Venice and we lost the only sunset we were going to have, so there goes those pictures and memories.

Then comes the client work and the pesky deadlines.  And all that driving from Venice to La Spezia to Zermatt.  We made a choice to stay in Venice so we could slowly enjoy the city and get more work done.  La Spezia was chosen so Dave could get a specific picture he saw somewhere.  Zermatt would have been pretty, but I do have mountains at home, and Dave had already seen Zermatt.  (note that even with notice the hotel in Zermatt refused to refund any of our reservation, don’t go there, Hotel Metropol & Spa)

So, Venice for an extra two nights, then off tomorrow to crazy King Ludwig’s big unfinished castle, then to stay with friends.

An agile around the world trip, ‘cause that’s how we roll.

Around the world- gadgety things

(on request) These are the gadgets that must last me for 71 days:

my regular laptop (Dell XPS touch/flip screen)
small kindle
purse sized camera
fancier camera
many many SD cards
extra batteries for cameras (2 for purse size camera, 3 for fancy one)
1.5TB external drive
2 SD card readers
2 sets of plug adapters
1 power strip/surge protector
regular cell phone (htc 8x)
back-up cell phone (nokia 920)
international cell phone (also nokia 920)
international wi fi hot spot/spare battery
adapter for gps to allow other things to plug in too
4 micro-usb cables
2 usb plug adapters
power pirate
tiny flat iron (only including it here cause it plugs in)

Getting to your hotel in Venice

Italy. Not California. Or any other Venice.

I know Venice is all about canals and water. So, that’s why in preparing for our stop in there, I double-checked that the hotel had parking. Their website says valet and self-park available. Perfect. I am happy to park my car and wander around, no need to drive much. I don’t want to become the hazard.

So, based on yes, we have parking, these are the directions to get to the hotel, from the google.


Seems easy peasy. I had never before been to Venice, so I had no reason to question any of this.

Here’s the real way we got to our hotel:

1. Input hotel address to our GPS and follow them for 7 hours up the coast of Croatia. Enjoy stunning views for hours.

2. Get almost lost in closed on-ramps and construction in round-a-bouts

3. Drive across a long bridge, into a round-a-bout with only one way out, the way we just came in

4. Drive back across long bridge

5. Compare GPS to pasted directions from Google (above)

6. See they are totally off. Totally. Not the same, not close to the same.

7. Confirm address is correct.

8. Go back across long bridge.

9. Turn into parking area, find boats and trains and stuff, but no roads at all but that one we came in on.

10. Park illegally and call the hotel

11. Blah blah blah (in mostly Italian), you no take car here, take the bus.

12. Ok, I see busses. Find bus. Wait. No busses go there.

13. Learn that bus=boat in Venice.

14. Park car (legally), get stuff and head out to find the right boat/bus.

15. Wander aimlessly and eventually find ticket machine, get two “bus” passes.

16. Find our “bus” and wait.

17. Get on crowded bus.

18. Ride bus for almost an hour til our stop.

19. Get off bus, find “taxi”.

20. Taxi gatekeeper tells us no taxi, hotel very close, just walk (with luggage). He points.

21. We walk.

22. And walk. 30 minutes walking over bridges and cobblestone streets and no hotel, but we have found another “bus” stop and are pretty sure it will take us back to our stop. We start over again, and will simply pay whatever it takes for a taxi to take us there, no matter how close.

23. Board bus, 20 minutes to our stop.

24. As we approach our stop, we see our hotel on the canal, now we know where it is and kinda how to get there.

25. So we walk.

26. With luggage.

27. Around Venice.

28. Again.

29. Over bridges with stairs.

30. On cobblestones.

31. Down dark allies.

32. And find our hotel.

Around the World Day 10 and 11 driving Budapest to Zadar and in Zadar

We spent the bulk of day 10 driving and the bulk of day 11 working.

Leaving Hungary was rather entertaining. Imagine an Eastern European border crossing with two agents. The first agent is standing there and takes the passports, looks them over, scans them and stamps them. She then hands them to the second agent, the one inside the booth. He then scans them and stamps them. Agent #1 was Hungarian border control, the second agent was Croatian border control.

We heading to Zagreb. What a crazy busy city. Old and not made for cars. GPS took me on a few roads that looked like they were meant for pedestrians, not us. We made it out alive and only made one concession, we ate our lunch at a hotel restaurant because we were starving and still had a few hours to drive to the coast. It’s better than McDonald’s but still we’d prefer to eat at local places. Not the Westin.

Finally get out of Zagreb and head to Zadar. I’ve never been to the Adriatic Sea and was looking forward to it. We did pass several wildlife crossings (think overpasses made of grass and trees so the deer and bears don’t use the road the cars use) and drove in several tunnels, probably some of the longest we’ve seen, a few miles long each.

By the time we got to the coast it was totally dark and had to drive some narrow wind-y roads. We had no idea what the area looked like. The hotel was adequate, nothing more, nothing less (we had quite the upgrade in Budapest at one of the swankiest places I’ve ever seen, this place in Zadar was likely fancy in 1972). I felt safe and the toilet was clean. The food was meh but this is the view.


Yes, it was this blue.


We ventured out for lunch and saw the city of Zadar. It was a quaint little beachy European city. Found a yummy place to eat, walked a little and came back to the hotel. I had a quick massage, but you’ve likely already read that blog postJ.

We went to a corner of the town that was popular for sunset, lots of people enjoying the great view.


Tomorrow is an early start (I think we decided 6am) to Venice. We’ll drive up the coast from here, should be gorgeous.

Getting a massage away from home…

Yup, loaded title I know it. I will start by saying the young man that gave me my massage was perfectly polite and respectful. With that said, it was the weirdest massage ever. Ever.

I am currently in Zadar, Croatia.  A beautiful tiny town on the coast of the Adriatic Sea.

I asked for the 45 minute aromatherapy massage. The cost was 150 Kuna, which today comes in at about $26.55. I check in a few minutes early, like any good spa customer. The guy at the desk stands up and points to the room right next to reception, leads me there. He is like 9 feet tall (ok, more like 6’8” or more) and young enough to be my son little brother. And the whole thing felt like it was a massage from my little brother. You know, here brother $5 now rub my back!

The room is pretty bare, lots of bright lights, classic rock playing in the background and no place for my stuff either. Like glasses, clothes, etc. And the door is kinda frosted glass but kinda you can see thru it. The massage table in the middle had one sheet on it. One. Dude walks out and says to take off my top (standard for a massage, nothing wrong here, but keep reading). No place to put my clothes. So I hang my tank top on the door knob and put my glasses on the edge of the sink.

So back to that one sheet. Over it or under it? I am not a prudish American, not bothered by nudity, mine or others. But this was not a situation I could win. I am either that American lady that wanted to be naked when she wasn’t supposed to be, or I am that American lady that was a prude and ashamed of herself. I can’t really wait for dude without committing, remember see-thru-ish door?

Ok, I figure I will error on the side of prude. As I start to go under the sheet, dude comes back in, he giggles at me. Ok, so I should have been on top of sheet. No big deal. I tell him this is different than I am used to in America, where should I be? Over or under the sheet. He said under. So I start to go under the sheet. He giggles again and says he meant the sheet should go under me. He told me to lay on my face (not in a rude way, in a cute English as a fourth language kind of way). Ok, I got this now, face down on massage table, there’s the little hole for my face. I lay down prepared for my aromatherapy massage.

He says he mixed lemon juice and orange juice for my smells. I think he meant oils, but I was like oranges and lemons? Maybe it’s something special that I am just missing by being a snobby American. (Nope, by the way, this adds to the little brother massage vibe, cause little brothers would use what was close and what they know)

He takes a towel and folds it into the waistband of my pants (to keep the oils from staining) and then he starts to rub. Not massage, rub. He actually also did that karate chop thing all over my back too. About 20 minutes in he asks if I want only the back or the whole body. Considering the whole over/under sheet thing AND the aching back that motivated the massage, I said just the back please. There were moments of actual massage, but mostly little bother like rubbing and karate chopping.

Nearing the end of the back rub dude walks over to the sink area and grabs a handful of paper towels from the dispenser (like from a public bathroom type towels) and rubs them all over my back (to absorb the leftover orange/lemon oil-juice?). Then takes the towel he had placed in my waistband and covers my back with it, then rubs my back some more with the dry towels. They have never heard of fabric softener here so it was a nice little exfoliator to end with I suppose.

All this for $26.55.

Around the World day 9 driving Prague-Bratislava-Budapest

We started somewhat early, left the hotel by 730am. The drive should have taken about 4.5-5 hours, depending on stops. For the most part it was an uneventful drive. Stopped for snacks now and then, but wanted to arrive in Budapest. We are only in Budapest for one night, so we wanted to make the most of it and get there as soon as was reasonable.

As we drove from Czech into Slovakia we saw the signs directing us to buy road signs. That was the words used, in English. I didn’t want a road sign, so I just carefully followed the ever-changing speed limit signs. As we left the border crossing area and I saw the cop I realized, WAIT, I DO need a road sign, that’s what they are calling my driving toll tag thingey. While preparing for the trip I read somewhere about needing something to be able to drive thru, but that it was CLEARLY marked. This was not as clearly marked as I would have expected and certainly not with words like “Julie pull over here now and pay some money to drive on our roads.” Ok, fast-thinking here and I proactively approach the cop (feeling like Bill Murray in Stripes heading into Czechoslovakia, but wanting to do it right). I ask about needing something for the car, he rolls his eyes at me (yes, literally) and points me back to where I need to go. A couple of sketchy u-turns and wrong ways later, I get to the place to buy the toll- sticker for the car. I spend a minute with Ms. Eastern European stereotype bluntness, pay my 10 Euro and move on, toll sticker in hand.

After all that we spent less than an hour in the country of Slovakia. We knew it was close to Hungary, just not HOW close. Nor did I know that we would also need a new toll tag for driving here. I used to live in Europe and where I used to drive, we never had to stop or worry about that.

We made it all the way into Hungary, following another car, and never got the darn toll tag thingey. One illegal u-turn later and we’re in line for Hungary’s version of Ms. Personality and get our tag. We won’t know until we return our car if we got a fine for the few miles we drove in waiting for a place to turn around.

The drive itself was easy, full of rule-followers, not at all like Germany. There seemed to be a contest on who could drive slowest on the autobahn instead of fastest. Speed limits were also not always clearly seen, so I am thankful for my GPS telling me the speed limits.

We only had one night in Budapest, so in order to make the most of it, we hopped on a double-decker tour bus to see the town. A couple of hours later, we got a good taste of the city. It’s a nice nice place.

We hadn’t eaten really all day, except the typical junk food you need for a road trip. We asked for a suggestion from our concierge, and we got a fancy schmancy place that looked like QUALITY food, not GOOD food. So we walked a little more and found a yummy and reasonable Italian place, full of local and tourists. Bacon wrapped chicken on a skewer with caprese salad and wine for me, coke and a spicy salami pizza for him. Would totally go back to eat there. In/out for just under $60.

We drove over the river and up the hill to the Citadella and got some pretty pics of the city at night.


The next day for us brings driving to the coast of Croatia. We’ll pass thru Zagreb and we’re staying in Zadar.

I think I owe a blog post on what gadgets I brought, I will try to do that tonight from Zadar, today will hopefully be a boring driving day.

Around the World day 8 Prague

This was again mostly a work day, with our breaks for food and wandering around.

The day started thankful that the hotel had breakfast for us (thank you Sheraton Prague). It was a nice place, they took good care of us. We got a nice upgraded room (even better since we paid in points), the room was two stories, living room and full bath on main level, bedroom, full bath and work/desk nook on the upper. I would have preferred more windows so we could SEE Prague from our room and would have preferred that parking wasn’t so expensive ($50/day).

We ventured out for a late lunch, got some yummy mixed grill skewers in a cool basement restaurant. Service was adequate but very very slow.

For our evening break, I was cranky. Work wasn’t going well, I couldn’t get the thing to work the way it was supposed to work so I was frustrated. I needed a break, but I needed the thing to work. We walked over to Old Town Square. There’s a great church tower you can go up. But after all the stairs the day before my knees were laughing at me and the thought of something like that again. Dave insisted there was an elevator. Yea, right, an elevator in a centuries old church to the top of the tower. Does it LOOK like an elevator would be in there?


Well, when we got there (and saw the elevator) I said sure, should be pretty up there. And it was.


On the way back thru the city center to our hotel we stopped and got more of those yummy pastries, and that was dinner.

Bing translator to the rescue- in the purgatory between Slovakia and Hungary

Sitting at the border between Slovakia and Hungary (taking a minute to checkin on Foursquare actually) and I see an enthusiastic blonde woman approaching the car. Did I mention I’m sitting at the border checkpoint between Slovakia and Hungary? It’s not like I know anyone there.

Crazy lady approaches the car door, actually grabs the handle to open it (good thing I had already locked it!). I roll down the window to see what she wants. She starts jabbering off in German. Whoa nelly. I know some German, can read it quite well for sure. But, she needed to slow down. And why the heck was she throwing her GPS at me? And leaning in the car, almost sitting on my lap?

She kept pointing at the top line on the GPS, Montenegro. We’re sitting between Hungary and Slovakia. I asked her in English what she was trying to do. That wasn’t going to work. She was pointing to the GPS and saying Montenegro and then waving all around saying Hungary (in a German sounding way).

Ok, light bulb! GPS is stuck on Montenegro, she needs it to be in Hungary. Woohoo. Lady can’t figure out her GPS. It’s a gadget, I can do this, right?

Ok, touch all around the GPS to try to find how to change the location. GPS is German. GPSy German is not the German I know. Food, I know. Ok, so I find the way to change the countries, but “Hungary” is the ENGLISH word for the place.

Here comes Bing. I asked Dave to find me the Hungarian word for the country Hungary. That word is Magyarorszag. And that word was not on the country list.

Ok, this is a German lady, German GPS, what is the GERMAN word for Hungary? Ungarn. That WAS on the list of countries!!! I change the location on the GPS and save the day! (just give it to me, it was a looooong day)

It was then I realized why she picked me. We got our rental car in Germany, we have Germany plates. She assumed I could help her.