The men here are HUGE!

So we got on a bus to Stansted for a flight out the next day, we had a relaxing evening in a Hilton there and then a flight to Budapest the next day.
This is our first Ryan Air flight, if you don’t know, it is a VERY cheap airline for European flights.
Well we know why, we paid the extra for our bags but the weight limit is 15kg, that is only 33 lbs.
That is a very light bag, and although we had hiking packs, we had to dump some things.
Also, when they say 1 carry on, they mean 1… no plastic shopping bag, no magazine, no water bottle, nothing! Also none of the seats recline, even a little.
But it is cheap and luckily our flight was fairly short.

We arrived in Budapest to a snowy dark evening. We had a hotel downtown and were ready to crash, so we saw signs NOT to overpay for a cab… and then a very large Hungarian approached us and asked if we needed a ride. We got the price and sure enough he would have swindled us, after agreeing to a fair price we followed this HUGE man to a parking lot, way far away from the airport.
Let me digress…
In our travels, Mike has consistently been the tallest man, it is quite handy for me… I always know where he is and it is intimidating to locals. That is not the case in Hungary, they are large and burly, the men and women.
It was an interesting ride, nothing in his car indicated he was a professional cab, he drove incredibly fast through very narrow old streets, but we made it to or destination intact.
We have to do laundry tomorrow, it is essential.

Week on the Narrow boat

Ya know, I should have know better. When Mike was sick the last couple days, I should have been more prepared… cause now I have it!!!
I wasn’t feeling great the night before so I went to bed early, I can’t even tell you how we left the dock, I didn’t even know we were moving. So most of what you see is the sheer bliss Mike experienced driving, operating, and manning the boat himself today. I could not even get out of bed.

20130420-133110.jpg

He got a little way down the canal and then docked and came down. We had a little dinner and watched a movie, then back to bed for me. If this is what Mike felt like last week then I have no idea how he managed to get out of bed for even a little while.

Hope tomorrow I feel better.

Nope. Still sick, and I mean horribly sick, I cannot move. Everything hurts.

So I am going to narrate on behalf of Mike. We have to run the boat motor for at least 5 hours for our electricity to work, so every morning around 10am Mike goes out to drive us a little further down. Today he has to operate a small foot bridge and a LARGE set of locks. I know he is loving this.
Luckily the lock keepers were willing to help Mike out with operating the locks so all he had to do is drive into them. Here is what it looks like to drive into one on the boat.

20130420-134130.jpg

We also had to drive through some fairly long tunnels, it is very dark on the boat when that happens, but I slept through most of it. Here are some pictures of Mike’s journey.

20130420-134340.jpg

20130420-134357.jpg

It is gorgeous countryside. Most people take these boats out in the summer, we were the only people actually driving that we saw. It made for a very peaceful, relaxing trip. We WILL definitely come back and do this another time. It was that cool.

Here are the guys helping Mike with the locks.

20130420-134649.jpg

It was a cold but sunny few days and then we lost the coveted sun and were driving in an eerie like fog the rest of the time. Actually very pretty and mysterious.

20130420-135022.jpg

20130420-135040.jpg

The night of day 3 I was ready to throw my hands up and say I have to go to a doctor, I HAVE NEVER been this sick, it was the worst. Luckily, the next morning I was much better and on the mend. Crisis averted.
The narrow or canal boat vacation really is all about relaxing. You cannot drive fast, there is really no destination to get to, it is just chuggin along down the river. We played games, read books, I napped ALOT! we watched S.O.A., a British version of House Hunters (but WAY better) called Location, Location, Location and generally chilled out.
It was very cold and we can see why most people wait for warmer weather, but it was still beautiful and so incredibly glad we had this opportunity. We got this through a timeshare my parents have called RCI, usually I am not impressed with some of the locations, but this one is a winner!

So we have to turn around now and head back to Union Wharf, we didn’t make it very far due to illness and timing but it was still great. Here I am actually helping instead of sleeping.

20130420-140254.jpg

I did drive the boat just incase something happened and I needed to, we were heading back to the Foxton Locks and this time I was manning the locks, all 10 of them!
It was a very sunny and warmer day so the Locks were busy with people enjoying the seldom seen sun, so we had an audience… also very few people go through the locks in the winter so we were entertainment for many children and adults who never actually see them operated.
The lock keeper also helped me out.

20130420-141428.jpg

20130420-141527.jpg

We made it through all and stopped at the bottom for a little hot chocolate then docked for night, we wanted to be back early so we could spend the last night at the wharf to check out and catch a bus to the airport in another town. We pushed through some ice that had developed, it was very LOUD down below, Mike is loving life.

20130420-141645.jpg

The last morning we woke to SNOW! The first of their season, we were very lucky. We were told it rained for almost an entire month before we got there and it didn’t rain once on the boat and only snowed the day we left. An amazing experience and one we hope to do again some day.

20130420-141848.jpg

House boat here we come!

(I know this is way after the fact and the trip is over, but I am going to pretend to not have missed a beat, thank you for humoring me)

So our last night in London Mike was still very ill (and was the best trooper during the day until about 2pm) we rested up and got on a bus the next morning to Derby (properly pronounced Darby)
where we were greeted at the bus station, literally they were standing and waving when the bus pulled up, by Jenny and Steve Cooke. Jenny is the mother of a very good friend here, Alex Mellor.

It was so nice to see friendly faces! They took us home, where we had afternoon tea and coffee with homemade brownies as well, we could certainly get used to this. We chatted, did a little web cam session with Alex and Amy and the twins, then on to happy hour. A little champagne and a little apple cider and more great conversation. We then had a homemade dinner of lasagna (my favorite) salad and garlic bread, absolutely wonderful. Our evening was complete with a little more bubbly, apple crisp and ice cream a HOT shower and a warm bed. A perfect way to rest our weary traveling bones. Thank you will never be enough for the hospitality of the Cooke’s.

We got up the next morning to a traditional English breakfast of eggs (from the chickens outside), English bacon (which is different than the states, but delicious), tomatoes, homemade jam, croissants, tea and coffee. YUM! Jenny had to work that day (she is a nurse) so Steve offered to drive us to Market Harborough to our narrow boat excursion.

Jenny packed us some supplies for the week on the house boat, we are stocked and ready to go!

20130420-132253.jpg

Steve dropped us off and we checked in, we had some safety and instructional procedures for the boat so we decided to keep it at the dock for the night and head out the next morning when we had a full day and light.

We had a wonderful time with the Cooke’s in Burton on Trent, THANK YOU so much!

20130420-132551.jpg

London

now where was I…
we arrived via ferry boat in Harwich, England and got our transfer ticket to central London. We got to our hostel but per usual could not check in until later in the day, so we dropped our bags and headed out. We decided to do the touristy double decker bus ride (excellent choice!) we road around the whole city, taking in the sites from a warmer and more comfortable seat. Mike was not feeling at the top of his game so it was a nice relaxing ride.

20130215-130906.jpg
We saw many of the sites and after realizing how large London is we were glad we took the bus option.

20130215-131029.jpg

20130215-131045.jpg

20130215-131104.jpg
We even found a TK Maxx (apparently in the UK they change the letter? also went inside and perused the merchandise, I wanted to know if it was indeed my beloved TJ Maxx, YES it is!!)

20130215-131254.jpg
We rode around a little more, got off for some lunch but found the bus again as Mike was feeling a little worse.

20130215-131450.jpg

20130215-131505.jpg
We decided to head back to check in and take a nap, Mike was really sick so we called it a night and stayed in.
The next morning and feeling better, we headed out again. We went to Regency Cafe for a traditional English breakfast in a diner like setting (Erin’s favorite!) was a great choice!
Based on the previous day we opted to hop on the bus again since our ticket was good for 48 hours. After riding around on a different route we made a stop late in the day to Harrod’s, this place was a zoo!

20130215-131938.jpg

20130215-131951.jpg
We did a little shopping and after a few purchases we were spent and Mike was feeling bad again.
We hopped on the bus and headed back for the night.

20130215-132107.jpg
A few side notes; the hostel we stayed at in London was terrible! We have been doing cheap accommodations, and hostels tend to be on that end of the scale, luckily before now they have been very nice, some even excellent. That was not the case here, we were in a room the size of a shoebox, with bunk beds and nothing else fit in the room, the rooms are located above a bar and the bathrooms are a joke at best. The worst part is the random room check, a girl would randomly knock on the door every night to “room check” I was horrified, what if they come in when we are gone and steal things? I have NEVER had a hostel do this, EVER. We also did laundry the last day but after 3 paid attempts with the dryer I gave up and had to hang clothes from every spare place in our room, the bunk bed was actually helpful here. I wish I would have taken a picture but at the time I was too frustrated to laugh about it. Mike was also passed out most afternoons through the night trying to beat the bug he caught.
Due to Mike not feeling well we unfortunately missed the London Eye as well as a boat ride.
We went to bed looking forward to our trip north and really looking forward to seeing Jenny and Steve Cooke, Alex Mellor’s mother.

Lost but not forgotten

I did not forget about the blog! Several issues you should be aware of; finding a computer that I can upload photos onto is quite a challenge and I know no one wants to read the blog without photos for heaven’s sake! Also Internet service for the last 2 weeks has been nonexistent at least for the iPad, Mike’s company has an unbelievable Internet deal and that is how we have been able to check in on Facebook. We are in Rome for another day and I will do my very best to catch up a little before we leave for Thailand. After a week there we head to New Zealand for our last week of the trip, my it went fast! Love you all and hang in there I will try to post soon!

How many trains does it take?

We packed up and stashed our bags then went out to the only authentic Netherlands food we could find, The Pancake Bakery. Known for all kinds of pancakes, we ordered a savory one with meats and cheeses and a sweet one with apples, chocolate, ice cream and whip cream, WONDERFUL!
All sorts of people were taking photos of their food here, we like to spare you all and just take a picture of the sign outside. You are welcome.

20130124-222919.jpg
Spent the rest of the day wandering more, we have an overnight ferry to England but it doesn’t leave until 10:30pm. We did have to take a local train from Amsterdam to Hook of Holland with one train change, however so we decided to leave early and give us time for dinner and any mishaps.
Mishaps there were.
Things were going smoothly, we got our bags, got to the station, got on our train, got a snack.
This is the point where it goes astray.

20130124-223214.jpg
Sitting on the train reading his book, having our snack, the train stops, this is our stop.
It was a double decker train, Mike was very excited about this, we were on the top, we were not prepared. We got our bags and by the time we got down the stairs, the train was moving, that was certainly not enough time to get off the train!
After some exasperation on my part, we got off at the next stop and discovered all is not lost.
There are more trains going back to our stop, although we have missed our connection.
We are sitting on the platform, discussing how our stress levels are drastically different and that we also have different opinions on wether travel to and from places is part of the vacation, Mike likes the travel part, if it is a Tica bus I am not in favor and that is NOT part of my vacation.
Anyway, we, well I have calmed down and here comes the train. We are on.
Checking bags, and Mike’s small bag with all the electronics is not with us, we think it is on the station platform under the bench, he tries to get off the train, a man explains to him,”no the train is moving you cannot get off.” This is the point where I think Mike now understands how I am feeling sometimes. He is not happy. I do not believe he is enjoying the travel part.
We go back one more stop and get off, again.
We cross over to the other side of the platform, luckily for us there is another train, the longest 8 minutes, ever!
We get on the train, we get off at the next stop again, we cross the platform again, we get to the bench, YES! the bag is there!!!
We finally get back on the train going in the correct direction, with ALL our bags and we left so early we are not even late. We get off and thankfully can immediately board the Stena Line, the ferry to England.
It is the fanciest ferry I have ever been on! We get some dinner, play some games, and tuck ourselves in for the overnight trip to England.

20130124-224839.jpg
Just incase you were wondering it took us 5 train trips to reach our destination.

Flea Markets galore!

We slept in and slowly got around, had to head back to train station to fix our faulty tickets, there was a massive line, a couple hours, some Starbucks and lots of people watching and we were on our way.
Amsterdam has many outdoor markets, which I am a huge fan of, we visited quite a few and picked up some trinkets along the way.
Had a great day and finished it off with a popular dining experience called Wok to Walk, delicious and speedy asian cuisine.

Amsterdam

We had to be up early on New years day for our train to Amsterdam, was a nice train ride, so much better than the Tica Bus!!!
We arrived at central station and got our tram passes and headed outside of town to our hotel.

20130124-220805.jpg
We discovered our passes didn’t work so we needed to head back to the central station later.
We spent the day wandering around, Amsterdam is a great city for walking, Maeve and I were here about 10 years ago, my that seems like a LONG time ago!
We found a cheap Italian place for dinner, Amsterdam isn’t known for many specialities in cuisine.
I discovered a great beer, Weickse White, delicious!

20130124-221224.jpg
We wandered around more and discovered the office to fix our tickets was closed until tomorrow.
Luckily they didn’t give us a hard time on the tram. We stayed up late watching Sons of Anarchy, damn you Fanning’s for downloading those for us (actually thank you) we are ADDICTED.

Happy New Years!

We packed up, and headed to central station for our train to Koln (Cologne) for New years eve.
Immediately outside the central station in Koln is an incredible cathedral. It was getting dark, so it’s hard to see but amazing. We quickly went inside and then went to check in.

20130124-214819.jpg

20130124-214831.jpg

20130124-214841.jpg
We stayed at a hostel called die-wohngemeinschaft, was a quirky cool place with themed rooms, we were in the photography room. We rested up a bit then headed to an American bar for dinner…
TIP: Always eat local food when possible. Not good, we should have known better.
We rested up a little more, we had discovered that Koln has a large firework display for the New Year downtown on the Rhine River, we also found out you can drink alcohol in public, woo hoo!
Stopped for some provisions and headed back towards downtown.

20130124-215709.jpg
We found a spot to sit on a small hill along the river, the whole area was packed with people.
As the fireworks started and then after midnight we realized something… this firework display is completely participant driven. It is simply tons of people buying fireworks and setting them off where they see fit, and some people were amused by setting them off very close to people.
It was quite a show. A side note, there is no real drinking age here and open public drinking and fireworks, this would never fly in the US.
It was a fabulous display and a great way to bring in the new year, Happy 2013!

20130124-220233.jpg

20130124-220242.jpg

20130124-220251.jpg

I love bikes!

So jet lag got the best of us.
We slept in till noon, and I never sleep in, period.
We bundled up and rented bicycles from the hotel, we rode along the Main River to a small town called Hochst about 7.8km away. Was a very nice ride, the small town was less affected by wars and has some older buildings, however, it was a Sunday. In Europe most things shut down on Sunday, we had a hard time finding a place to eat but eventually came across Wunderbar.
We ordered some interesting German version of nachos and what we think is a Mediterranean platter. A couple German men shared our picnic table (a popular form of seating here) and one spoke English, he chatted us up and helped with our translations. Our delicious hefeweizen and food came, we ended up doing pretty good.

20130124-213728.jpg
We road around the small town and checked out the castle and tiny church, was a quaint little town.

20130124-213816.jpg
We headed back along the other side of the river, although it was dark it was still a nice ride and so pleasant to have bike paths everywhere. Here is Mike crossing over the river.

20130124-214043.jpg
We went back and warmed up a bit and then took our bikes back into downtown Frankfurt for some tapas at Bona Mente, where we discovered spetzi (a mix of Pepsi and Orange Fanta soda, yum!)
Our internal clocks were still off so sleeping pills came in handy tonight.