I’m so glad they’re playing Christmas music here…in Bratislava…on Halloween…

Good Morning Boys & Ghouls! And a very Happy Halloween to you all! We will not be dressing up this Halloween 😦 because we have no costumes, no party and are in Bratislava. But there was this one time that Kristin dressed up like Lady Gaga.
Ok, maybe she was just wearing one of our Grandama’s weird, furry, colorful, dog-like, Kleenex box covers on her head(when Grandma saw she told her “That’s not what that is for” very seriously), but that’s kinda Gaga isn’t it? And speaking of Lady Gaga & Halloween… If you enjoy those two things you should watch this video by our favorite YouTube video makers: The Hillywoood Show…

We started our spookiest of days with a hostel breakfast, followed by brisk walk up a large hill. It are several hundred steps up to the Bratislava Castle…a healthy way to start our day! The Bratislava castle is a perfectly situated castle. It towers above the city and the Danube river. The site has been in use since Celtic times and under the reign of Maria Theresa the castle underwent large-scale reconstruction. A fire destroyed much of the castle is 1811 and it remained in ruin for 150 years. After WWII the castle was rebuilt. There wasn’t very much to do at the castle. All of the coties museums are closed on Mondays, not that we really wanted to go to any of them. It seems to still be in the reconstruction phase as well, but the outside looked nice and the park & walls around it were lovely. The fall colors are on full display here so everywhere you look is bright & gorgeous. Mix that with the leaves on the ground & the crisp air and you have the perfect recipe for a fall walk. We wandered the area admiring the views:
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We walked back to the city center, hitting the tacky tourist shops as we went. Eventually we sat down for lunch. We shared a Margherita pizza and a Bratislava pizza, half & half, with some Fanta. (As a side note, we ❤ Fanta!) A Bratislavan pizza, for those of you who are wondering, is topped with tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, ham, corn and chilli peppers. Both pizzas were delicious and we have come to the conclusion that we need to cook with corn more.

We then headed to the largest square to meet up with the free walking tour. It wasn’t a Sandemans tour…sad face…they don’t run in small places like this yet. The company was BeFree Tours and the quality wasn’t quite as high, but it was free so we won’t complain. Before we begin the tour with you at home though, here is a little bit of background info on the city of Bratislava so you can better enjoy our time here 😉
Bratislava is the largest and capital city of Slovakia. The city is the only national capital that borders two independent states. From the height of the castle you could see both Hungary and Austria as well as Slovakia. The city was the capital of the Kingdom of Hungary for many years and later an important city of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

There are many quirky statues around the centre of Bratislava. We stumbled upon many ourselves and our tour guide led us to some others. The Watcher peaks out of a manhole on the corner of a street. He is the most popular statue in the city. A “Man at Work” sign had to be put up above him because he had lost his head twice to drivers. We made sure to rub his cap as tradition dictates this means you’ll return to Bratislava in the future. The French army soldier statue looks a lot like Napoleon, who attacked the city twice…but why isn’t he wearing any shoes? The third statue was Schooner Naci. He is a man who, after failing to make a living as a clown or actor, began walking the streets of Bratislava. Always dressed in a suit with a top hat, he would give flowers to ladies passing by. The last statue is the Paparazzi. He peaks around the corner with no historical significance to the city.
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Michael’s Gate is the only gate still from the medieval fortifications of the city. The gates dates from 1300 and it is a Bratislavan legend that talking while walking through the gate will bring bad luck. We tried our best to be super silent walking under it…but when someone tells you you can’t talk, all you want to do is talk…even if you above nothing to say!
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The next stop was the church of St. Elizabeth or the Blue Church. This church in consecrated to Elizabeth of Hungary who worked for and helped the poor and needy. After her death, miracles occurred when people visited her grave. She was canonized and the Blue Church was built. No one really knows why it is blue, but the do know it was not because Smurfs built it.

After our tour we walked along the riverside path and enjoyed the lovely fall day. The Danube flows through the city. This river is the second largest in Europe and flows from the Black Forest in Germany to the Black Sea. We had planned to ascend the UFO building on the other side of the river so we crossed the Novy Most bridge. The building may have been closed, or we just couldn’t find the entrance so we walked back along the other side of the bridge. It was a lovely walk, even if it ended up being pointless. Check out the once view of the castle:

It was still much to early for supper but we had nothing else to do so we sat down at a nice little restaurant for a drink. We were quite surprised but very excited to see hockey playing on one of the tv’s inside, St. Petersburg was playing Moscow. We sat side by side so we could both see the tv, not because we particularly cared about the game but because it been 77 days since we were in Canada & we like things that make us feel at home. For supper we had bryndzové halušky or potato dumplings with sheep cheese and pieces of bacon. Ths is a sueor traditional Slovak dish tha is incredibly delicious!

Try not to overload on the tricks & treats tonight!
Love, Luck & Little Monsters,

It’s smells like fall…like leaves! …dying…

Today was pretty much everything a little kid would want on their birthday…and since it was Kristin’s birthday and she is practically a 6 year-old, this was perfect. You are about to read about a day full of castles, cake, trains & dinosaurs. Feel free to let your inner 6 year old out and be overly-excited about all of this etchings along with us 🙂

Our plan for the morning was to go to the Kunsthistorisches Museum. We hopped on the metro and got off right outside huge, old-looking, stone, twin buildings. Our museum wasn’t open yet so we wandered through the open area between it and it’s mirror image. That’s when we noticed the sign…”The Dinosaurs are Back!” We dare any of you to see such a sign and not be intrigued! It turns out that the twin building also held a museum, a Museum of Natural History. By now even our new, we-don’t-actually-know-them-in-real-life followers should know that this would catch our attention way more than a museum full of art…plus it was alredy open! Needless to say, we changed our plans and visited the Natural History Museum.
The first floor of the museum was an evolutionary look at our planet from the beginning. It started with rocks…lots and lots of rocks…and minerals….and such…They were very pretty to look at, but being as we wouldn’t have known most of the names in English we were extra lost in German. We needed a GeoPhys to help us out…where are you Mr. Styan!?
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We then progressed through small marine critters, up to more complex & giant marine critters. In this phase we saw a lot of fossils, and aren’t fossils just the coolest things?!? They are millions of years old and yet have a perfectly preserved image of something that doesn’t even exist anymore in them! Super cool!
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Next animals got legs and came ashore and from here we get those large reptiles that once roamed our planet: dinosaurs! Yeah, Dinosaurs! There aren’t even words for how cool they are!
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After pulling Kristin away from the dinosaurs we came upon the emergence of mammals. Justine loves the mammals from this time. All the cool mammals lived during the Pleistocene. Sabertooth kitties, wooly mammoths, giant sloths and wooly rhinos…basically things that exist now but in a bigger, scarier, hairier version…sounds awesome!
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The second floor focussed on the animals on the planet today. We began with the invertebrates in the ocean. Beginning here Justine tried to remember what she has learned in all of her animal classes. She doesn’t know any German but she did have to learn many of these words in Latin. Latin is universal and helped her identify things she knew! However, the marine organisms of the North Pacific are not the same as the ones in the Mediterranean. Next came the insects and many legged critters. The beetles were the most interesting thing here. They come in so many colors and patterns! In general it is amazing how many different types of insects there are out there (there are over a million known insect species!). Moving on to vertebrates we came to way more fish and birds than we would have liked. We did see some cool birds that we didn’t know actually existed….and one that doesn’t exist anymore, the dodo bird. He was awfully funny looking. While looking at owls we picked the ones we would have had as pets if we went to Hogwarts.
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Amphibians and reptiles consisted of many little and cute frogs and salamanders but also giant lizards and snakes. Kristin found these interesting, Justine looked the other direction. The many alligators in the center were also frightening. Mammals was the most enjoyable part, and what Justine knew most about. Though she doesn’t know that Latin names of Austrian mammal species…zoology 408 only taught her the mammals in Alberta. We liked scoping out the things that reminded us of home, along with the guys who were totally weird & exotic.
There was also a really cool, interactive exhibit dealing with extremes. We learned about how animals survive in places where it is very hot, cold, dark or there is a lack of oxygen. It was really effective because there were things for you to look at, touch and hear everywhere.

When we’d finished being educated we set off in search of lunch. We ended up getting a hot dog from a street stall…but don’t think for a second that this would be a disappointing birthday lunch for Kristin…it was sausage! The hot dog was made in an interesting fashion; they cut the top off the bun, squirt in the ketchup & mustard and then shove in the sausage. This way your wiener & condiments are enclosed within the bun so its very neat & tidy…great for walking and eating. But we did not do that. Instead we found a bench in a nearby park and enjoyed the view of some random old stony building. This city is full of these great looking places. There are just too many to keep track of!

We followed lunch up with dessert. Don’t judge, everyone deserves cake on their birthday! Plus it was our third day in Vienna, on our third trip to Austria and we still hadn’t tried the famous Sacher torte. Sacher torte was invented by Franz Sacher in Vienna in 1832. The cake consists of two layers of dense, not overly sweet chocolate cake with a thin layer of apricot jam in the middle and dark chocolate icing on the top and sides. The only place where the Original Sacher Torte is available outside of Austria is in the Sacher shop in Bolzen, Italy. There was a slight tanginess from the marmalade & the ganache was tasty that we guess set it apart a little. But, in our opinion, it tasted like chocolate cake…good chocolate cake, but chocolate cake all the same.

Now comes the ever exciting part of our day where we ride a train. We are sure you are sick of it by now so we will make it quick…We went to the hostel, grabbed our bags. We then took the metro to the right station and hopped on the train. For the first time on the continent we actually had to buy a train ticket. Slovakia is not covered by our Eurail passes for some unknown reason. We were good girls and bought the ticket, but being as it only needed to be from the last train stop in Austria to Bratislava it only cost €4. Lucky we did, they actually checked our tickets on this stretch of the ride. Just over an hour later we arrived in Bratislava where we walked the couple of blocks to our hostel. Easy-peasy! The hostel is ok. We are in a 6 person room that is a little squishy, one of those rooms where the jam in as many beds as possible and leave little room for walking. The bathroom is nice though and there is a kitchen for us to use if we want…which we actually might do this time.

Do you not know anything about Slovakia? We didn’t really either…that is until Justine pulled our her handy Wikipedia app and informed us. How about she does the same for you!
Slovakia has been a part of many countries and kingdoms since Slavs first arrived here in the 5th century. Slovakia has been part of the Kingdom of Hungary and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. After the First World War Slovakia formed Czechoslovakia with the Czech Republic. This country fell apart during WWII, but otherwise lasted from 1918 to 1993. After the war, Czechoslovakia fell under Communist rule until 1989. Today Slovakia is an independent state. In recently joined the EU and in 2009 the country adopted the Euro. There are 6 World Heritage Sites in Slovakia! Though, unfortunately, we don’t think we’re not going to see any.

We walked to the Old Town center for supper. After examining a few menus displayed on the street, we picked a place. We had to walk down an alley, down some stairs into a basement, go down a hallway, through a door and past a bathroom area, but we eventually got into the restaurant. The trip was worth it. The food was delicious and the beer was cheap (as was the food). We both had a dish that combined meat cooked in beef broth with a spatzle-like noodle. Kristin paired it with a Slovakian beer she can’t pronounce and Justine had a Radler.
Post dinner Kristin was exceptionally hyper. We are talking seriously giddy, to the extreme. She was bouncing off the walls in the restaurant, pointing out every countries embassy on our city map…and all of the tennis courts, which Bratislavans have went to the trouble of labeling for us.

On the walk home Kristin almost died. Ok in reality she tripped a little on a dip in the sidewalk…and we are talking a little; she didn’t even fall down. But in the moment she saw herself falling into the street & being hit by a bus, so her whole life flashed before her eyes. Her conclusion after seeing a replay of her first 24 years: she’s pretty much awesome.

Things We Learned Today:
– Look at this photo.. Did you ever realize how small the volume of the atmosphere is in comparison to the volume of the Earth!?!?
– Weiner Schnitzel is just German for Schnitzel Viennese style…this just hit us today…Weiner is Viennese…just as Wein is Vienna…all this time we’ve been eating Weiner Schnitzel and we’ve never made that connection…

Love, Luck & Lions, Tiger & Bears…oh my!

If there an oppotunity, please come to Sapporo, Japan.

Today we were thieves…and not the accidental thieves of yesterday, but thieves with full knowing of their thievery. By this we are referring to the fact that we didn’t pay for breakfast again. We just walked in, took our food, ate, and left. No tickets involved. We are such rebels 😉

After beginning our life of crime we set off for the metro. Today we rode the metro a lot (and got good use out of the 48 hour passes we bought). We actually rode 4 of the 5 lines at some point during the day…sometimes within a spance of an hour. On this occasion we took it to Schönbrunn. Among the palaces in Europe, Schönbrunn comes closest to Versailles. This palace was the former summer residence of the Habsburg’s….remember them from yesterday?

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The palace tour took us through a vaierty of state rooms. The general feel of the palace was quite similar to the Hofburg, although bigger & a tad more luxurious. Its funny how these monarchs made their summer homes more grand than the ones they lived in the majority of the year. The walls all carried a shining white base with gold trim…extra wall hangings, paneling & pictures were added from there. There were a selection of 17th century rooms done by Maria Teresa combined with many of 19th century design, decorated during the rule of Franz Joseph & Sisi. We didn’t need the provided audio guide to tell the difference. Maria Teresa had a taste for the ornate and created some truly lavish rooms. Sometimes you would look into the room and have to take a step back because there was so much going on in there. This was especially the case with the oriental rooms. This was a very “in” style to use in that time period so we saw many oriental screens, panel inserts and an entire room wallpapered with white & blue sketches that made the room look like a giant porcelain vase. In stark contrast, Franz Joseph was a simple man. He believed he was a servant of the people (put there devinely by God, but still bound to do the people’s work). His rooms were often painted brown and only had simple paintings of his wife & children. They generally just looked more bare & less shiney. Also fitting with the theme, he slept on a small, simple iron bed, as opposed to the intricately carved wooden structure covered in beaded bedding in Maria Teresa’s room.

Unlike the gardens of Versailles which were meant to shut out the real world, the gardens of Schönbrunn have been a public park since 1779. Opening the gardens to the public was part of Maria Theresa’s reform policy, making the gardens a celebration of the evolution of civilization from autocracy into real democracy. Today you can see many locals jogging or strolling through the grounds, simply because the can. We joined them (in the strolling, not jogging) and took a turn through the vast park area. Wide lanes run the length, normally with patterns of flowers between them but alas it is the end of October and we only got to see dirt shapes. It still looked kind of cool. At the far end is a huge statue dedicated to the god of the sea, Neptune or Possidon (depending on if you’re feeling Roman or Greek). Behind it is a hill and, atop the hill, an arch…but more on that later.
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With our ticket we had free entry into the Kammergarten. This small garden beside the palace looked more like those of the French and British palaces. It was once a fancy private garden for the Habsburg’s. The flowerbeds & hedges created intricate patterns and the whole area was enclosed by an arch covered promenade. This might have looked a bit nicer in the summer when it was all green, but in general the fall colors really brought the grounds to life!

At the end if the gardens is the Gloriette. We walked the length of the gardens and up a large hill to get there. This monument is purely decorative and celebrates Austrian military victory. Our ticket gave us access to the top…and the view was worth the climb. From the arch’s base we could see the palace, but from the top the entire gardens was visible with it. From here we were also rewarded with great views of the city.

On our way back to the palace we peeked at the other wonders the grounds have to offer. There are constantly tree-lined paths running off the sides. Each looked like a perfect “fall stroll” photo. It really showed why locals like to take advantage of this place. The gardens are the home to Europe’s oldest zoo, built in 1752 by Maria Theresa’s husband for the entertainment and education of the court. Peeking in we saw a rhino 🙂 Then there is the labyrinth…which turned out to be an area with 3 separate mazes! The first had high hedges and provided a decent challenge. The other two were tree-lined paths to follow, unveiling games & puzzles along the way. There were spring boards to bounce on, math/logic puzzles to solve, a mirror maze and a fun walk-on glockenspiel to play (it was similar to a large piano set into the floor, where you step on the notes to make little jingles).
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After leaving Schönbrunn we rode the metro to what was basically a random spot in the middle of the city. It is here that the Kummer Hotel is located. Yes, that is a hotel that shares a name with one of our very own writers! We snapped a few photos and went inside to check it out. It looked small but ritzy, with a fancy (and way too expensive for our budgets) restaurant. We wanted to snag some Hotel Kummer swag, but not even the pens at the reception had the hotel name on them…boo!
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Next adventure was a quest for a penny machine. You will recall that we are gathering pressed pennies from around Europe for sister/cousin Alexa’s collection. This is proving to be quite a helpful thing for us: last time we went machine searching we found the best gelato place in Venice and this time we ended up in midway-fair grounds-amusement park-madness. We knew that the penny machine in question was located in a park with a ferris wheel, but we had no idea that the park was actually filled with rides, souvenir shops and midway themed food stands. We took our time walking through the entire park, watching the rides and riders in all of their craziness.
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Returning to the main square of tourist’s Vienna we hit up a gift shop so Justine could buy a book. Ture to her history neediness it was on the Habsburgs…now she has books on both the English & the Austrian monarchs…she just needs French to have a fun set. We then found a restaurant with a heater filled patio and had a hot beverage. It kept us warm, but not warm enough to stay outside to eat. We packed up our stuff and moved inside (at the same restaurant) and had some dinner. Kristin had hunks of meat (rolled into sausage form, but not really tasting like sausage) with fries and Justine had hunks of meat in patty form with pureéd potatoes…because here mashed just isn’t smooth enough apparently.

Highlights of the Day:
– Watching the guy on the street play with his balls…they were glass balls that he would move around in his hands and over his arms like they were just floating there…his performance was even timed to music.

Love, Luck & Labyrinth