Friday, December 2, 2016

Portugal Vegan Food Tour

Portugal has absolutely amazing vegan food and we were pleasantly surprised at the prices when compared to home or other European large cities. We spent our time in Lisbon and Porto, and as always, utilized the fabulous vegan dining travel directory; We found staple grocery items at the health food stores as well. My favourite grocery item to get in Europe is vegan jarred ravioli and dark chocolate covered rice cakes.

In Lisbon our favourite vegan spot was Ao 26 - Vegan Food Project. I had researched this spot before our trip by going through their Facebook feed, and based on the tasty looking photos, we booked an airbnb around the corner. Wise move indeed. Ao 26 is a bright and welcoming space with a casual, slightly upscale, bistro vibe. It is perfect for lunch or dinner, which we enjoyed repeatedly. They have English menus and wonderfully friendly staff. The menu is full of delectable appetizers, mains, salad as, specials of the day and dessert. For lunch we generally ordered one of the homemade burgers with fries. Their house made vegan cheese platter and their tempura vegetables are great appetizers. My dinner favourite was the cornbread crusted tofu with potatoes. J enjoyed the seitan steak on more than one occasion but his absolute favourite was a house special that had amazing creamed potatoes. The chocolate mousse is always a great way to end the meal.

A staple lunch spot for us is Primo Basilico, located on a very vibrant narrow street, serving the best focaccia style pizza we have ever had. It is a small space, with a few stools and counter but it also has a sitting area next door with 5 or 6 tables. The restaurant is not exclusively vegan but has terrific vegan options including a several types of pizza and calzones. Pizza is available by the slice or an entire pan. The vegan pizza does not have vegan cheese but you don't even notice as the focaccia and toppings are so fresh and flavourful. The prices are very affordable as well.

It was hard to be torn away from our two favourite spots but The Food Temple came highly recommended so we ventured out one evening to give it a try. (Reservations are strongly encouraged.) We found the small restaurant tucked away on a side street, with live music playing outside. It has a fun, casual hippie vibe and due to the limited space we shared a table with another couple. The staff work seamlessly together in the compact, open concept, kitchen and quickly served us our selections. The food is tapas style and changes regularly. We enjoyed everything we ordered and had a fun evening!

When exploring further out of the centre, we had lunch at Miss Saigon. The spot seems very popular as there was a line up to get a table. Everything was delicious and health focussed. We enjoyed the set daily combo plates which offered a good variety, and ended with dessert. 

We then traveled north to Porto and found more great vegan dining. We had a terrific vegan pizza from the veg friendly take away spot Hand Go. In fact it was so great we had to order extra. It comes topped with a very good vegan cheese and loaded with vegetables. 

Another great lunch spot is the all vegan Black Mamba burgers which has a cool vibe with a focus on good food with a side of animal activism. We had homemade burgers and fries and dessert. The portions, prices and staff were all great.

Our top pick for Porto is Em Carne Viva, an elegant vegetarian restaurant with lots of vegan options. The interior is a beautiful restored house with lots of bright white details. We ate there several times (like daily). We also enjoyed a wonderful thanksgiving dinner there with two of our friends. Meals began with a savoury plate of warn buns infused with vegetables and seitan pastry puffs. My favourite meal was Garden of Autumn with mashes roasted chestnuts, chi take mushrooms, seitan on a bed of gravy. The prices were very reasonable especially considering the exceptional quality, portions, setting and lovely staff.

Portugal was a very tasty adventure! For more photos see:

Saturday, November 19, 2016


Portugal was a surprising delight! It melds old world Europe with a modern urban vibe, plus it is well priced. We spent our time in Lisbon and Porto with a day trip to Sintra. This trip we opted for carry-on only made possible by our fabulous Patagonia Headway MLC bags - the perfect size and thoughtfully laid out. They convert easily to backpack, suitcase or shoulder bag.  Carry-on only made the trip a breeze; no waiting for luggage, and easy to lug around while walking or taking public transport. I can't say enough good things about the bag and found it easy to pack all the required items including a spare set of shoes and flip flops. Check out the video:

We arrived first in Lisbon and rented a great airbnb apartment in the Chiado Neighbourhood, which is very central to the metro, museums, shopping, the ocean and most importantly right in the middle of the quaint winding, cobblestone streets. Our favourite thing to do in interesting cities is to wander about and see what we find. The streets of Lisbon did not disappoint! 

While we generally do not buy much when travelling we do like to continue the world wide search for the retitrement Picasso. This search brought us to the flea market; "Lisbon's flea market is called locally the Feira da Ladra, often thought to mean "Thieve's Market" (in Portuguese "ladra" is a woman thief) but it actually derives from "ladro," a bug found in antiques. A market of this type is thought to have been in place in Lisbon since the 12th Century and the name Feira da Ladra was first mentioned in the 17th Century." The market sprawls along narrow streets perched on a steep hill and sells assorted junk, art, ceramics, used clothes, household items and antiques.  We love antique stores and flea markets; they give a great glimpse into life over the years. It is like going to a free museum where if you really like an item you can take it home! I couldn't resist and picked up a colourful, small, locally made ceramic sardine. J asked me several times if I might want to purchase a second but I insisted one would be fine. (Of course days later we made the trek again when I needed a second). We try to not have a completely packed schedule so we can be open to what ever comes our way, which also allowed us to stumble across a Vintage Festival packed with vehicles, antique furniture, art and other treasures from Portugal's past.

Lisbon is also home to several terrific museums. We checked out; MNAC Museum of Contemporary Art, MAAT Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology, and Museu Berado. (Sadly we missed out on the MUDE - Design and Fashion Museum as it was under repairs). All three museums were well worth the visit. MAAT is also connected to the Electricity Museum which is inside a historic power station, filled with very educational exhibits and a cool 1970's electric car; the Enfield 8000. We were very fortunate to arrive just the same week that MAAT opened and we had the special treat of attending a lecture from Ray and Charles Eames grandson; Eames Demetrios. He brought a very personal feeling to the works of his grandparents. The museum collection also showcased an original prototype of the famous Eames fibreglass chairs and a touching love letter from Charles to Ray. Museu Berado has a phenomenal contemporary art collection and it is totally free to visit! It is a nice collection of international superstars such as Picasso, Warhol and Calder as well as local works. It also allowed us to stumble upon a terrific recycled, trash graffiti racoon artpiece by Artur Bordalo on a nearby street.

From Lisbon we took a day trip on the train to nearby Sintra, a quaint town with amazing monuments, castles and gardens. We were initially going to take the cheap tourist bus loop to hit all the sights but it was very crowded. We decided take individual tuktuks and cabs between the sights; more expensive but also more delightful. We made the rounds to the National Palace, Castelo dos Mouros, the brightly coloured Pena Palace, and Quinta da Regaleira filled with secret tunnels and the awe inspiring 27 foot deep Initiation Well that looks like an inverted tower. The last three on the list were all surrounded with lush, magical gardens with water features. We spent a very full day wandering around all these sights. Below are photos of Pena Palace and the Initiation Well.

Then we set off for 5 nights in Porto taking the train north and enjoying the scenery as it rushed past. We again had a well situated airbnb which happened to have 2 bedrooms which ended up coming in handy. Porto has some amazing graffiti art so we spent quite a bit of time exploring the streets taking photos.  Our luck followed us to Porto and we arrived just after the exhibit featuring works by Joan Miro, opened at the Serralves Foundation. The works were confiscated from a bankrupt bank and had not previously been on public display. Joan Miro is a favourite artist of mine, and while his museum is Spain is even more impressive, this exhibit was full of very interesting works and we enjoyed a documentary of his artistic process. The museum also had several other fabulous exhibits and is situated in a lush garden. While in Porto, we had the extra special surprise of being joined by our dear friends for a night, on their way home from hiking in the Azores. We spent a day with them checking out the amazing bridges, architecture, a ride in the Funicular, and shared a great Thanksgiving dinner.

After Porto we took the train back to Lisbon and spent a luxurious night in the Memmo Alfama boutique hotel before heading to Morocco. Check out my Portugal Photos here:

Friday, March 4, 2016

European Vegan Food Tour

Over our four week trip to Amsterdam, Prague, Budapest and Vienna, we enjoyed some delicious vegan food! One of our favourite parts of travelling is checking out the local vegan scene. Some think being vegan while travelling means missing out but we find the opposite is true. Being vegan means you get off the beaten path to find restaurants and local vegan specialities. As always, our number one vegan travel trip is the HappyCow Worldwide Veg Dining Directory available as a free website or smart phone app. The site has over 40,000 listings, and I have contributed over 740 photos and reviews!

Starting in Amsterdam my favourite spot was Vegabond a simple vegan cafe with limited seating and a well stocked vegan specialty grocery. They make a great sandwich with locally made cashew basil pesto cheese. The coffee and desserts are also terrific. The shop has all the required vegan staples; faux meat, non-dairy cheese (including my favourite Vegusto), cookies, candy, ravioli and pasta. We ventured further out and went to the Loving Hut which had some nice filling dishes including a devious crispy faux chicken and a great tiramisu for dessert. Another further out spot is Koffie ende Koeck which had a nice sandwich, baked goods and coffee. I had high hopes for the vegan butcher I had heard about; De Vegetarische Traiteur, but we were a little underwhelmed with the offerings. It is still a good place to check out and their frozen take home items look good. In fact, we more than once enjoyed their delicious faux chicken product available on a bagel at the chain Bagel and Beans. A local recommended we check out Golden Temple, a vegetarian spot with a fun atmosphere. The flavours combinations (Indian, Asian and Mexican) sometimes were a bit different than expected, but we did enjoy our meal. The pakoras were particularly tasty. We checked out the TerraZen Centre one evening for an interesting mix of Japanese and Caribbean food. The space is small but the staff are friendly and we had a nice time. A favourite spot around Europe is the vegetarian falafel chain Maoz, which we enjoyed a few times. The best part is the all you can fill toppings bar with the great cilantro sauce. Amsterdam also has a candy shop, Candy Freaks, with vegan options clearly marked. We picked up some great licorices and chocolate covered raisons, which I haven't had in years! Amsterdam is also lucky to have a vegan shoe store; VegaLife, where J picked up a new belt. We found over all that Amsterdam vegan spots were more casual and cafe like and the city could do with a nice fancy vegan option.

Cupcakes from Vegabond Cafe

Part of the reason we opted to go to Prague is that we heard the vegan scene is really growing. We picked out our airbnb to be closed to a vegetarian spot; Etnosvet and Etnosvet Cafe. The cafe is all vegan and was our regular breakfast spot for yummy grilled panini with vegan cheese and espresso. It is a small shop with a few seats at the window. The vegetarian restaurant (with vegan options clearly marked) is around the corner. The setting is fancier - a great spot for a nice dinner. I loved the mock Peking duck, and peanut satay the best. There are few vegan options for both appetizers and mains; it is just lacking a vegan dessert. Our other common spot was Moment Cafe, an all vegan spot across from a nice park and near the train. We loved the vibe and the great staff. We ate many meals here and often stopped in later for a coffee break too. It is a great place for breakfast, lunch or supper and they have lots of desserts. Items I particularly liked; vegan egg spread, waffles, seitan bagel, and the soups. They also have great daily special meals. Prague also has a small shop and restaurant called Puro which is affiliated with the awesome vegan grocery chain, Veganz. We stopped in a picked up a few vegan snack items. However, we found the health food store, Bioobchod, near our accommodations to have more of the items we were looking for. It is all vegetarian, with lots of vegan items. There was a great selection of violife and other vegan cheeses, vegan sliced meats like wheatly, and vegan snacks. It also has pasta, canned goods, and a bakery area.

After connecting on social media, we also met up for coffee with Randi, one half of the full-time travelling duo behind the Veggie Visa website. We had a great visit! "Veggie Visa’s mission is to discover vegan lifestyle options all over the planet. Whether it be a delicious restaurants to dine at, great places to shop, vegan recipes, or health and wellness information, the site is devoted to traveling the globe to bring you great vegan resources, tips, and stories."

Grilled Panini from Etnosvet Cafe

Now Budapest has quite a few vegetarian and vegan restaurants, unfortunately due to the holidays some were not open the entire time we were there and others were only open part of the time. We were grateful we booked an apartment with a kitchen as we used it a few times. We stocked up on items from the Bio ABC health food market and picked up fruits and vegetables at the Great Market Hall (central market). However, Budapest is home to one of the most amazing things I have ever eaten; vegan fried cheese from Napfenyes Restaurant and Pastry Shop. This delightful dish was recommended to us by our new friend Randi, of Veggie Visa. She does a nice review of this delicacy in her article; Vegan Food Tour in Budapest, Hungary. Napfenyes is also home to amazing vegan cream filled eclairs. I admit we packed a few (several) for the train ride to Vienna. This spot also had great pizza and salad options, plus J's new favourite, a vegan napoleon square for dessert. Another great spot is Kozmoz Vegan Restaurant, and the highlight was the layered chocolate pancake dessert. HappyCow lists Madal Cafe as vegetarian friendly but it did not have a lot of options other than a few raw dessert items. However, the espresso is excellent so we stopped there regularly. There are also many Hummus Bar franchises with a good selection of vegan friendly hummus, falafel, soups and salads. 
Vegan fried cheese!

And on to Vienna, the highlight here was not one but two all vegan grocery stores: Maran Vegan and Veganz. Veganz is a chain of all vegan grocers, the first of which we went to in 2012 in Berlin. The Vienna store is terrific and we picked up some European favourites including vegan ravioli. Maran Vegan is actually a larger store and has a larger deli and produce area. Both stores had expansive selections of vegan cheese, faux meats, snack items, pasta, bakery items, personal care items etc. Whenever we visit a vegan grocer I always pick up a new reusable bag for a souvenir, and I particularly loved the all black one from Veganz. With the lovely groceries we made dinner a few times in our flat, after long days of wandering. We regularly visited Swing Kitchen, and all vegan burger joint. We went to both locations and loved the burgers, sides, and the soft dipped ice-cream cones! It was a novelty to have such a yummy vegan fast food joint with a fun atmosphere. For a more upscale and health focussed option, we loved Tian Bistro a vegetarian spot with lots of marked vegan options. The baked potato stuffed with cashew cream, and the tempeh salad were our favourites. Pirata Sushi was also a good spot with a variety of all vegan sushi. 

Vegan groceries 

Friday, February 19, 2016

Amsterdam, Netherland

We started our Europe trip with 2 nights in Amsterdam, to settle into the new time zone. We stayed at the convenient WestCord City Central Hotel. Then we spent the next nearly 3 weeks travelling around Europe before returning for our final week in Amsterdam. We stayed in an Airbnb flat in the core of De Wallen, which was much closer to the Red Light District than I anticipated (3 windows were a few feet from our door).

Some come to Amsterdam for the legalized pot and prostitution, but I was all about the cat museum, adorably called Katten Cabinet. The museum is in a tall row house, with cat related art exhibits and small museum store on the first 2 floors, then vacation rentals above and finally the owner's suite on the top floor. The exhibits are very diverse with the common theme of portraying a variety of cats. There are posters, sculptures, paintings - including a Rembrandt, etchings - including a Picasso, textiles, signs, advertising pieces, household items emblazoned with cats, ornaments, photos and a few real life cats wandering around. I loved the experience and saw many, mostly women, also enthralled, (some with bored looking husbands/boyfriends in tow).  The backyard contains several cat related tin signs and a few chickens running around, and the staff person said the owner calls them his two-legged cats.

Some of my readers may not know this but I started collecting cat related items when I was a young child. It all started when my maternal grandmother gave me a small china ornament of a cat sitting on a boot. From there I amassed many cat related items in my childhood. A highlight was shopping at The Bay and finding a cat comforter with matching cat sheets, which complimented my cat wallpaper, and the little cat foot prints I insisted my mom paint on my dresser. I slowed down on my cat collecting in my tweens and focussed in on the vintage Shafford  black cat collection from 1950's Japan. The first one I bought was a mug in a small antique store in Red Deer, Alberta, which was later joined by a teapot from a BC flea market. As an adult I've added more pieces to this collection. In 1986 I also desperately wanted the Franklin Mint "Cats of the World" Collection and they were simply too expensive. Last year, at an estate sale, nostalgia won out and I bought 15 of them for a bargain (which joined a few my sweet husband had previously purchased for me). Surprisingly our house is not overrun with cat kitsch, most of it is regulated to an old steamer trunk, and I promise we only (currently) have one real life cat; Milli.

Ok enough about cats... Amsterdam offered many other sights and things to do. The city is very picturesque with all the water filled canals and we often spent time just observing the street life. The streets are quite boisterous in the evenings but we did not have any negative experiences. Pro Tip; the 'coffee shops' don't actually sell coffee which is evident by the plumes of pot smoke spilling onto the streets; to find coffee you need to look for a cafe. We don't tend to do a lot of shopping but we did visit the Tesla store and picked up some shirts. We also visited the Sea Shepherd store where I added a towel to my collection.

We used the trams to get to the further out lying areas. We visited two excellent museums; Van Gogh Museum and Stedelijk Museum. The Van Gogh was a truly immense collection of Van Gogh works and information on his life. Stedelijk is dedicated to contemporary and modern art and design. I particular enjoyed the design portion with art in everyday objects such as, well designed kitchenware and furniture. On a different note, we also visited the Red Light Secrets - Museum of Prostitution, which gave a informative overview of the issues and history. One particularly powerful exhibit was set up like a Red Light window, with the museum visitor on the side of the woman working, and a life sized screen on the other side playing a video of the many types of people who pass by, including the curious, the friendly, the embarrassed, the rude, and the abusive.

Amsterdam is also home to Anne Frank's house, the young jewish girl who wrote a diary of her time in hiding from Nazis during the second world war. The exhibit is extremely informative, and is well set up items that belonged to the Frank family, Anne's diary, photographs and educational video. It is is an important and popular place to visit, so we opted to purchase booked tickets online, which allowed us to go at a specific time and avoid the line up. The canal house contained a business owned by Anne Frank's father Otto, while the hiding place is in a annex out back and above, the entrance hidden by a movable bookshelf. Anne Frank's family hid there with four other Jewish people (Hermann and Auguste Van Pels and their son Peter, and Fritz Pfeffer). Four of Otto's employees risked their lives to hide everyone and provide all their provisions over the more than two years they hid in the annex, before they are discovered by Nazis in 1944 and sent to concentration camps. Otto was the only one to survive the camps. It was an emotional experience to walk up the narrow staircase and stand in the rooms seeing the same walls that surrounded these eight people.

Anne Frank's life would have been much different had she and her family not been denied entry to the USA as refugees. Canada also turned away Jews fleeing persecution and death in Nazi Germany. "It was 1939 and 907 Jewish refugees aboard the German transatlantic liner St. Louis were seeking sanctuary from Nazi Germany. Canada refused to take them in and the ship sailed back to Europe, where 254 would later die in concentration camps." (source: The Chronicle Herald) As a global community we need to learn from history and respond to the worlds' suffering, injustice, poverty, war and those fleeing, in a compassionate manner.

“I think the purpose of life is to be useful, responsible, honourable  compassionate. It is, above all, to matter: to count, to stand for something, to have made some difference that you lived at all.” - Leo Rosten

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Vienna, Austria

We arrived in Vienna via train from Budapest, Hungary. For some reason in Vienna we had a difficult time finding information on public transportation schedules, so we opted for a taxi from the station to our airbnb rental in the Neubaugasse neighbourhood. The flat was magnificent, in an old building with an ancient but working elevator. The ceilings were high, with light filled windows. Vienna was snowier than our previous stops, and we were thankful for the extra layers in the damp cold. It was interesting to see flowers point through a light dusting of snow.

The view from our flat;

Vienna was our shortest stop, five nights, and we spent it immersed in wandering the streets and checking out the museums. We also did not anticipate the national religious holiday on January 6 called Epiphany which saw most shops and restaurants closed for the day. We tend to skew towards contemporary art exhibits but we enjoyed exploring the history in Hofburg Imperial Palace, which is a very historically accurate glimpse into the Habsburg empire. It includes furnished Imperial apartments, Sisi museum, silver collection and a large collection of Imperial utilitarian objects. We also learned a lot about the rather tragic life of Empress Elizabeth who was married into imperial life at sixteen years old, lost her son to suicide,  suffered deep melancholy, and was ultimately murdered. The exhibit did a good job engaging with visitors via the stories, authentically decorated rooms and artifacts.

Mumok Modern Art Museum was a fantastic experience with great exhibits in an interesting building. I particularly enjoyed the tapestries by Ulrike Muller. A local recommended the free exhibit at the Kunsthalle Wien which had an interesting mixed media show called Political Populism, exploring current and historical social issues. We also enjoyed the artistic, and often political, graffiti displayed around the city.

Vienna was also fabulous for vegan food, but that's another blog post!

For my photos on Vienna see:

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Budapest, Hungary

We travelled to Budapest from Prague via train, my preferred way of travel. Trains take much longer than a flight but are a more comfortable way to get from one place to another. You just show up a few minutes before the train departs and hop on. The train also does not give me the same headaches and cramps as a plane and offers a more spacious and scenic experience. There is nothing like going down to the dining car and enjoying a freshly made espresso and taking advantage of the free wifi. From the news one might expect that the train experience would be difficult, but as always the media often only shows one angle. The train was safe, comfortable, affordable and the stations in both cities were terrific. We took the metro from the Budapest train station and then a 1km walk to our airbnb, a quaint loft apartment in a historic building in the city centre. The first night we had an exciting trip to do laundry a 24 hour laundromat, which even provided wifi!

The second bath we tired was Gellert Baths, on the other side of the river from our central accommodations. We walked there and again agreed to meet in the central indoor pool that we both could see when we entered. I must stay that the halls are a maze and it took a me a long while to find the central pool again. The Gellert Baths are stunningly beautiful with an Art Nouveau style. The outdoor pool is much smaller than Szechenyi but we enjoyed it as well.

Next up was the Rudas Baths. We walked to the Baths, also across the river from our accommodations, but via a different bridge, and when we arrived there was a long line up and no further patrons were being admitted. After waiting awhile we decided we'd wake up early and try again another day. The following day, after being jolted awake by an unfamiliar alarm clock, as I was now quite used to waking when the mood struck me, we bundled up for the cold, early morning, 1.5 km walk. Once we arrived there was a large number of people milling about in the waiting area and no one selling tickets. We waited around perplexed until I asked a local person what was going on. It seems that there was an electrical problem and that it could be hours before it was fixed (they were still waiting for an electrician to even arrive). So we trudged back across the cold bridge to re-group at our flat. Did I mentioned this was all pre-coffee? The lesson; the early bird does not always get a birdbath. So we decided that Rudas was not meant to be and for our final trip to the Baths we went back to Szechenyi and had another great soak. I would certainly recommend checking out the various baths in Budapest for a interesting and fun experience. Apparently they also have late night disco parties at some baths but we decided that might be too interesting.

We spent New Year's Eve enjoying the outdoor energy, checking out the Christmas markets and the impromptu street fireworks. Teens and young adults put on their own fireworks all over the central squares. The streets were lively with everyone enjoying the evening. We had intended on spending part of the evening at the offbeat attraction, the Cat Cafe, however they were closed for the festivities. We did get to the cafe on another day and it was well worth it. There are ten formally homeless cats that lounge around the premises, spoiled with seemingly unlimited houses, beds, perches, climbing trees and hiding spots. The friendly cats wandered around to customers for a pet. There are strict rules of not picking up the cats or feeding them. I have never seen such a spoiled and content group of felines! It was nice spot to have an espresso and get int some cat therapy.

Our to do list included exploring the cities thermal baths. We attempted to try three different baths and succeeded with two. For the first experience we decided on the Szechenyi Baths, a large and popular destination. Upon arrival it is pretty straightforward to purchase tickets and head to the locker rooms, were your admission wrist band operates a locker. However, it is rather chaotic inside and a bit of a maze to find your way in and out. More than one gentleman wandered into the ladies change room and judging by the embarrassment I don't think it was intentional. The complex boasts 18 pools of which 15 are spring fed. We had agreed to meet in the outdoor thermal pool, however there was two large, very full pools. After J chased down my look alike he finally located me in the pool I believe we had agreed to meet in. Interestingly, bathing caps are not required in any thermal pools but it you attempt to enter the outdoor lap pool with out one the staff will descend upon you immediately. In fact it seemed to be their primary job. We wandered around the interior pools trying each one out, and they varied in size and temperature. We preferred the the outdoor thermal pool, and spent the majority of the time there. It was very relaxing, warm and full of diverse tourists and locals. There was even a stone chess table with men playing a game. My big lesson from he experience would be to bring flip flops as the floors are pretty dingy from the multiple shoes. As well, as a Canadian I pride myself on my hardiness in dealing with the cold weather, and would not have been that bothered by the chilly walk outside to the pool, except for the ice melt salt burning into the soles of my feet. So again, bring flip flops.

Another highlight was the Ludwig Museum for contemporary art. The museum itself is in a very interesting building. The exhibits were terrific and included european and international artworks. I discovered a new favourite artist; Laszlo Lakner, a native of Budapest. After much hype, we also decided to visit the House of Terror Museum. It contains exhibits related to the fascist communist dictatorial regimes in 20th-century Hungary and is also a memorial to the victims of these regimes, including those detained, interrogated, tortured or killed in the building." (source: The museum had some interesting elements such as intense music and lighting and artistic displays. Unfortunately, it lacked a cohesive flow and did not pull the viewer in. There was a lack of interpretive signage. For example you could pickup a written explanation in different sections that was often quite long but did not connect to the display well. They instead seemed to give a lengthy history lesson versus engagement. In one part you walk through a maze that appears to be bars of soap with no explanation. There was the option of a recorded guided tour but they were out of the headsets, and I believe an exhibit should be able to stand on its own with out such a guide. In fact we never use the guides. We have previously visited some very profound and emotional sites including the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp memorial in Berlin, that did a much better job connecting with the viewer. Within in Budapest a profound exhibit was the simple memorial on the banks of the Danube river. Shoes on the Danube Bank is a memorial in Budapest, Hungary. Conceived by film director Can Togay, he created it on the east bank of the Danube River with sculptor Gyula Pauer to honor the Jews who were killed by fascist Arrow Cross militiamen in Budapest during World War II. They were ordered to take off their shoes, and were shot at the edge of the water so that their bodies fell into the river and were carried away. It represents their shoes left behind on the bank." (source: The bank is lined with cast metal shoes of all sizes symbolizing the men, women and children murdered.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Prague, Czech Republic

Prague is a picturesque city with stunning, intact, heritage architecture. As with all our travels we like to flaneur; taking in the sights, sounds, and even smells of the urban life as we wander the streets, and Prague is an especially nice place to do this. In addition to the architecture, there are many parks, squares, benches, and public art to enjoy. We came to Prague with only a few items planned on our itinerary; vegan food and contemporary Art; we were not disappointed with either.

Our Prague stay started with arriving via a short flight from Amsterdam, which we had spent two nights in to break up the travel (on our way out of Europe we spend a week in Amsterdam). We normally take the metro to our accommodations but the Airbnb host offered to arrange a taxi for a reasonable fee. Our Airbnb was wonderfully located next to metro and tram stops, shops, and vegan friendly dining. We love Airbnb as it allows us to pick a place based on price, location, amenities, sights, lively neighbourhood etc so I always opt for a property in a central area, near metros, and vegan friendly dining (the happycow veg dining directly helps with this). The other benefit is it almost always cheaper than a hotel and since we opt for apartments, they are larger and have a kitchen as well.

As mentioned already, just wandering the streets you will stumble upon countless historic buildings and interesting architecture, including a great number of grand churches. We explored several of the recommended sites including Old Town Square, the astronomical clock, Charles pedestrian bridge, Dancing House and the castle. We also spent time window shopping the antique stores and enjoying the open air Christmas markets selling trinkets, and food, decorated with lights and festive displays. We also went to the Kolbenova flea market, best described as a garage sale crossed with liquidation world, a gun show and a butcher. This interesting article captures some of the experience; The Ultimate Guide To Kolbenova In Prague, Europe’s Weirdest Flea Market.

We explored some terrific museums including the fantastic Brave New World exhibit at Dox Museum. It was a little further from the centre but worth the trip. A well curated exhibit in a great space. We also enjoyed the Andy Warhol, Salvador Dali and local contemporary artworks on display at the Gallery of Art Prague. The National Technical Museum has an extremely large and varied collection including a particle accelerator, vehicles, vintage household technology, toys, chemistry, printing, mining, astronomy, time measurement etc etc. We spent several hours exploring the exhibits and cold have easily spent several more. We also stopped into the small but informative Museum of Communism.

An unexpected museum we stumbled upon was the Apple Museum and it was amazing! The museum is dedicated to the history of the Apple computer company and Steve Jobs. There is an expansive and amazing display of vintage Apple products including the original Apple 1 computer. The entire space is bright, well thought out and a great experience. Some unique aspects include Steven's food Cafe - vegetarian raw (all vegan except honey) featuring foods Steven liked, Integrated USB chargers in Cafe to recharge your iPhone/iPod, wifi, and iPad based Internet terminals. The experience was enhanced with some of Steve's favourite music playing in the lobby and Cafe, the voice over if Steve Job's commencement speech in the exhibit, apple air freshener, Macintosh Apple tree in the courtyard and super cool, and sleek subterranean bathrooms. The museum was an expected highlight of our visit to Prague. When travelling you never know what you'll find!

For Prague photos see:

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