Europe (Germany, Czech Republic, Spain)

6/21-7/3/2016

Our niece, Ashton, was going to be doing a Summer Abroad program in Liepzig Germany, so when trying to decide where to go on our family summer trip, we decided to plan our trip around her. We love Europe, but Germany alone didn’t excite me. I’ve always wanted to visit Spain, so we worked that in too, among with some other things. I used points for all the flights and hotels. Our only expense was rental cars, food and entertainment.

We took a late flight on Tuesday afterwork to New York. We’d be flying out of JFK the next morning. We arrived and Uber’d to our hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn Central Park. It was in a great location, right off Times Square and a few blocks from the park. After checking in and dropping our bags, we went on a walk around Times Square around midnight.

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The next day, our flight to Berlin wasn’t until 5pm. So, we had plenty of time to walk around one of our favorite cities. We did Central Park, Rockefeller Plaza, got cupcakes at Magnolia Bakery and of course, had lunch at Shake Shack. We then, Uber’d to JFK. We had time to go to the Admirals Club for a bit. It was really crowded, but we got some good snacks, including some snack mix with caramel balls in it. We flew AA and I had reserved Economy Plus for us. It was pretty empty, so I had a 2 seats to myself, Susan had 3 and the kids shared 3 seats. This was an 8 hour, overnight flight, so we all got some sleep.

We were transiting in Zurich. So, upon arrival, we went through customs and then had some time to grab breakfast. Our 2 hour flight to Berlin was on Air Berlin. Susan and the kids slept the whole way.

We landed around noon in Berlin, we got some Euro and I bought a SIM card for our travel iPhone. My plan was to use Uber the whole time, but it was difficult to find it in some of the cities we were in. We took a taxi to our Radisson Blu in Berlin. It was located right off the river Elbe? on the main street. It also had a huge aquarium inside of it. We had a great view of the big tower from our balcony. We freshened up and then did a Rick Steeves walking tour of Berlin. We saw lots of the main sites, including the Reichstag, Brandenburg Gate, the Holocaust Museum, Museum Island and everything on the main street. We enjoyed the Ampelmann and even bought some souvenirs of him. After that, we went to the tower and old town. We finished the night with some Wienerschintzel and fried potatoes at an outdoor cafe near our hotel.

I woke up at 3:30 am the next morning and couldn’t go back to sleep. It was also already daylight. So, I went out and explored Berlin for a couple of hours. It was pretty quite and peaceful. I enjoyed walking to all the monuments and had the city almost to myself. I got back to the room around 8 and woke everyone up and we had free breakfast buffet at the hotel. We took a cab to Checkpoint Charlie, then walked to the Topography of Terror Museum. We got to see lots of the remaining sections of the Berlin wall and learned of its history. We also bought a pretzel from a guy on a bike.

We went back to the hotel to get our bags, then took the train to the airport. We rented a car from Sixt. I paid for an upgrade to an awesome BMW 5 Series with GPS. We loved this car. We drove from Berlin to Prague. I think it was about 3 hours. We stopped in Dresden for 2 hours and walked around. I was really impressed with Dresden. They were having some kind of Santa on motorcycles meetup.  They had a gathering of a couple hundred.  The scenery was picturesque and I do love driving at fast on the autobahn. My top speed was 130 mph. Crossing into the Czech Republic, we stopped to buy a special sticker for the car.

We got to our Prague hotel around 7:30pm. Ashton was there waiting for us. It was so good to see her hang out with her. We checked in and went up to the room for a bit and facetimed Nanny and Shannon. This was the Radisson Blu Alcron and it was right off Wenceslass square. This is King Wenceslass from the Christmas songs. The Radisson and their employee Zbiju rolled our the red carpet for us during our stay. We went out to explore with Ashton. We had dinner at a cafe inside the Municipal house. Then we strolled the streets after nightfall. Ashton introduced us to the best treat ever, Trdlnik. It was dough, baked over a fire in the shape of a cone, then rolled in cinnamon sugar and filled with Nutella and ice cream. We loved this new discovery. After our treat, we took a cab and dropped Ashton at her hotel and then went to ours.

The next morning, Susan and I took the car to pick up Ashton. She came back with us for breakfast at our hotel. It was great and she loved it. She’d been eating like a college student for the last 6 weeks so this was a big feast for her. After breakfast, we did the Rick Steeves walking tour. Prague is beautiful with lots of sights and cool streets. The top sites are the Old Town Square, the Astronomical Clock and Charles Bridge. The kids enjoyed Hamley’s Toy Store. Susan and I enjoyed walking the pedestrian streets. Ashton had to be back at her hotel at 3, as they were all going back to Leipzig. After we dropped her off, we went back to the hotel for a nap. Back at the hotel, we were upgraded to a big Suite. Later that night, we went to the big castle, saw the John Lennon wall, went to the top of the Petrin Tower and walked back across the bridge and to the hotel. We ended our walk with more Trdlnik.

I got up early again the next morning and went on a walk. Then we had breakfast at the hotel again. They had great omelettes and crepes. We loaded up the car and started our 3 hour drive to Leipzig. We drove across some really pretty country. Once we crossed back into Germany, the houses and farms were noticeably nicer. In Leipzig, we went to pick Ashton up and see her apartment. Then we went to check into the hotel. This was another Radison Blu. Ashton showed us around Leipzig until she had to go to a dinner for school at 6. The town was really quite and had lots of great walking streets. After we dropped Ashton off, we walked around the city more and had dinner in a street cafe. All the cafes had TVs on because the German soccer team was playing. We got back to the hotel around 8:30 and watched some Netflix.

Today was our day to fly to Spain. First, though, we picked up Ashton and her roommate and took them to breakfast at a coffee shop by their school called Lucas. It was so good to see Ashton and I think she enjoyed seeing family too. We said goodbye, and drove to Berlin to return our car and catch our plane. We made a quick stop on the way to Berlin in Potsdam to see a pretty amazing castle. We flew on Easyjet to Barcelona. It was about a 2 hour flight and really not that bad. When we landed in Barcelona, we rented a car and drove to the Hotel. We were staying at the Hilton Diagonol Mar. It was close to the beach and a mall. The best part about it was the Executive Lounge and the rooftop pool. We went straight to the lounge after check in for unlimited Diet Cokes and snacks. After that, we went to the mall and walked around. It was an awesome mall with tons of restaurants. We ate at a place with Mexican food and got really good nachos and queso fundito. The mall had an outdoor playground that the kids enjoyed.

The next day, we had breakfast in the lounge. Then, we spent the day doing the Barcelona Bus Turistic. We explored the Cathedral of Barcelona. The girls had to pay 1 Euro each for a skirt wrap so they could enter the cathedral. Our next stop was the Rambles street for some shopping. We bought some souvenirs and some knockoffs. Trey got a FC Barcelona Messi jersey and Natalie got a pair of fake Nikes. We also went to a restaurant for all you can eat tapas. It wasn’t great. After that, the girls did some shopping in some real stores like Urban Outfitters. Our next stop was the Sagrada Familia church. This church designed by Gaudy has been under construction for over 100 years and it will be many more before it is finished. It is pretty spectacular. We also stopped at Parc Guel, a community planned by Gaudy. The best part of this was our pit stop for some chocolate churros. We also drove by the FC Barcelona stadium, and the Olympic Stadium. That night, we went back to the mall by our hotel for dinner. I ate at our Mexican food place and Susan and the kids ate at La Buguesa (or LA Burger USA as Susan called it). We had desert at Hagen Daas. We got the family size fondue special.

The following morning, we had breakfast in the lounge and then took a taxi to the beach. The beaches were crowded, and we saw many topless women and speedos. Natalie and I got in the water and it was super cold. The water was clear, and the sand looked like it had flecks of gold in it. Trey kept his eyes on the ground and dug a bid whole in the sand. We only stayed for about 2 hours and then we went to the hotel to swim. The hotel had a great pool. After swimming, we cleaned up and checked out of the hotel. We stopped at the Rambles street again for more shopping and bought Natalie another pair of Nikes. We then drove to our hotel on the outskirts of Barcelona. It was the Doubletree La Mola. It was a smallish hotel on a golf course, but it was fabulous. We spent some time swimming outside in the awesome pool and the spa. The spa was pretty amazing with and indoor pool and several different hot tubs. That night, we had a two hour dinner outside in the cafe under the Christmas lights.

The next morning, we got up early and had breakfast at the hotel. We then hit the road for Madrid. It was about a 6 hour drive, without stops. We did stop, however, at the town of Zaragoza. It proved to be a really cool old town with lots of neat shops. Their were 2 really old churches too. We had lunch at an authentic spanish restaurant called Taco Bell. It was actually pretty good. It was fun to wind our way around the streets and alleys. There were name brand stores like Ale Hop and like local shops. Back on the road, the scenery was more like West Texas and New Mexico with some small mountains, desert and farm land. Every town we came upon had some old houses and a really old church or two. Every 100 miles or so, there would be a really big Bull sign.

Since we were staying in a car restricted area, we decided to go ahead and return the car at the airport. We took a cab to our hotel, the Radisson Blu Marco Polo. It was right across from the Prado museum. On the way to the hotel, we passed an area where they were setting up something for concert. The conversation with our taxi driver went like this:

Susan: Oh a concert. What’s going oh here?
Taxi Driver (heavy spanish accent): Parrrty
Susan: What kind of party?
Taxi Driver: Gaaaayyyy

Yes, it was gay pride weekend while we were here. We saw many, many attendees while we were here. It wasn’t too bad or flashy, though. Security was very tight during our stay.

Our first night, we walked the alleys to up to Plaza Mayor. It was such a cool setting with the shops and outdoor cafes. We found a place called Mercado de San Miguel that had lots of food vendors and purchased some tapas and pizza. We, then walked back towards the hotel. Natalie got some Nutella gelato, and the rest of us got some churros y chocolate at Maestro Churrero. It was a great end to a great evening.

The next day was our last full day in Spain. We grabbed breakfast at a cafe and then started the bus tour. It was a beautiful day and we saw a lot of the sites in Madrid. After the first line, Susan and the kids went to the hotel while I completed the second line of the bus tour. I got back to the hotel around 2. We went out to lunch, back to Maestro Churrero. We got burgers and then some churros with nutella. It was fantastic. After that, we walked back to the hotel, it was about a mile away, and had some siesta and swimesta time. We took a nap and then went swimming. The hotel had a small pool with jets jets and weird shower features. After that, we got dressed and went back out on the streets. We walked to Plaza del Sol and did some shopping and wandering. The streets were very crowded and had police everywhere. We wound our way back to the Mercado de San Miguel for some tapas, back through the Plaza Mayor and got some gelato for the walk back to the hotel.

We started our journey home the next day. We got up, packed and caught an Uber to the airport. Once in the airport, we got breakfast at Paul, a bakery that we have eaten at in Paris. We did some light shopping and then boarded our flight to Chicago. We were flying on Iberia. The flight was nice and smooth and we had our own TV’s with plenty of movies to watch. Once we landed in Chicago, the boys were splitting up from the girls. The girls flew home and Shannon picked them up from the airport. The boys flew on to Minnesota to the the Rangers play at Target Field.

 

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