Viking River Cruise–Part 2

Day 6—Port in Linz, Austria–tour Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

I will admit, of all the reading and research I did to inform myself about this cruise, I completely missed the part that said we would be driving over the Austrian border into the Czech Republic! As a tiny bit of a travel nerd, I was so excited to add another country to our list as well as use another form of currency, the Czech koruna.

Our tour guide grew up in a time that the country was still behind the Iron Curtain, and it was so fascinating/saddening to hear her stories of how they lived under Communist rule, but also what their lives were like once their borders were opened and they were liberated. She told us stories of how her family would take turns standing in line to buy a freezer (it turns out the whole town only received 2), or a bicycle. She made the bus ride go by so quickly!

One we reached our destination, we toured the grounds and tower of Cesky Krumlov castle, as well as the small, historic town around it. We were given more free time here than any other place to explore, making this one of our favorite stops on the entire trip.

Day 7—Passau, Germany

Our last stop on the cruising portion of our Viking trip was the small port town of Passau, Germany. We arrived in the middle of the night and were ready to begin the walking tour of the town after breakfast. Our guide took us through the beautiful cobblestone streets of the port town, and walked us along one of the three rivers that intersects through Passau. After the short tour we shuttled back to the boat for an early lunch and then set out to explore the city on our own. We toured what I think has the most opulently decorated cathedral ceilings I’ve ever seen, St. Stephen’s Cathedral (yes, another one). Although the outside is not much to speak of, I couldn’t keep my eyes off of the ornate ceilings the entire time we were inside.

After St. Stephen’s we took the shuttle that runs from the river level part of the town to the top of the hill, where the fortress, Veste Oberhaus, over looks all of Passau. The fortress was founded in 1219 and visitors are free to roam the grounds and climb to the highest lookout point. Make sure to wear comfortable shoes!

After our exploring, we returned to our Viking ship for the last dinner and evening on board. We were sad to leave our crew, whose friendliness and personalities made the cruise portion even more special. DSC_0076_2

Day 8—En Route to Salzburg, Austria

We had one final breakfast on board the Viking Ingvi and then loaded up on Viking’s large charter buses to begin our journey towards Salzburg. This bus ride was all about the scenery and “Sound of Music” sites, and less about the destination. Our first stop was in the colorful little town of Mondsee, Austria, where the town’s basilica was used as the church in the wedding scene in “The Sound of Music”. This is a town that is in the middle of nowhere but would be fun to spend more time just enjoying the beautiful weather and scenery!

After a few moments of free time we all gathered back with our tour group and drove through beautiful mountainous terrain to another small town, St. Gilgan. Other than this town once being home to Mozart’s sister, I think we stopped here mainly because it was on the way and is set on a picturesque lake, Lake Wolfgangsee. We had time to eat a delicious lunch of wienerschnitzel and walk around the small village without having to rush back to our bus to continue the tour towards Salzburg.

I’ll admit I didn’t stay awake for the entire bus ride, but I know that we drove over an hour to reach Schloss Helbrunn on the outskirts of Salzburg, which is where the famous gazebo scene from the movie was filmed. Apparently this is not the exact original filming location of the gazebo, because we were told it was moved from another spot on the grounds after filming was complete. And don’t expect to run around the benches, the glass doors are locked to prevent any scene recreations!

This was the end of our long bus ride. We reached our hotel, Hotel Alstadt, which is part of the Raddison Blu chain. The building itself dates back to 1377, and each room is uniquely historic and beautiful. The hotel is situated right in the heart of the old town pedestrian area, with Christmas shops and lovely restaurants just steps from the door. By the time we threw our bags down, walked around for a bit, and grabbed a bite to eat, it completely slipped my mind to take a photo of our room before we destroyed it with our belongings! Follow the link above to see how great these rooms are!

Day 9—Salzburg, Austria

I know I’ve said this about most of the places we visited on the cruise, but I REALLY wish we would have had more than two nights in this wonderfully charming city! Our day started bright and early with a two-hour walking tour. Our guide pointed out more places from The Sound of Music movie, and also let us in on a secret. When the movie was shown on TV in Austria, it was cut off after the wedding, they didn’t show any part of the Nazi occupation. I thought that was interesting! We went inside Salzburg Cathedral, the largest cathedral in the city and also where Mozart was baptized as a baby.

We then crossed the river and walked over to Mirabell Palace Gardens, where the famous “Do-re-mi” steps are from The Sound of Music! After patiently waiting our turn we managed a quick snap on the steps!DSC_0216_2

This is where our guide concluded the tour, and we were left to our own devices. We decided to make our way back across the river and ride the Festungsbahn (funicular) up to the Hohensalzburg Castle, which is a large fortress. This monstrous building has been part of Salzburg’s skyline since 1077, and boasts as being the largest fully preserved castle in Central Europe. We had a blast touring the castle and walking around the grounds, and also grabbed a quick bite to eat in one of their overpriced (but yummy) cafes!DSC_0178_2DSC_0225_2DSC_0229_2DSC_0235_2

Almost right around the corner from the ticket line to the funicular is St. Peter’s graveyard, which served as the inspiration for the tense climactic scene in The Sound of Music. The story goes that filmmakers wanted to shoot the scene there, but were told they weren’t allowed to bring cameras in, so they had to do the actual shooting on a soundstage in Hollywood. Actual location or not, if you’ve seen the movie, you’ll definitely understand that this was the inspiration! We walked from here to Nonnberg Abbey, which is where the actual Von Trapps were married!

The next part of the day was what I was looking forward to the most. We were finally going to see Mozart’s birthplace and childhood home! It was such a surreal feeling to be standing in the room where the Mozart family ate their meals and lived their lives. There are a couple of rooms where there are “guards” watching to make sure people don’t take pictures, but if you time it just right, you can get a few in!

Cafe Tomaselli is in the square behind the Mozarthaus, and this is a cafe where a young Wolfgang and his father would go to spend time in between writing music to drink hot chocolate. It was much too warm to drink a hot beverage, so we drank iced tea and sat underneath the beautiful green and white awning and watched the people pass in the square. We then went to Cafe Konditorei Furst, which is the original baker of the famous “Mozart Ball”, which is delicious a chocolate candy in a blue and silver wrapper. Make sure you buy some for yourself and your friends!

After a short rest we ate a small dinner and shopped in the Christmas shops close to our hotel. I was completely fascinated with the hand painted egg shell ornaments! If you’re looking for a great authentic souvenir, this is it!

Day 10—Munich, Germany

We boarded the bus again early in the morning to drive to our last stop, Munich. I was really excited to ride on the Autobahn, but I guess unless you’re driving a sports car you really can’t take advantage of the “no speed limit” rule. The drive wasn’t particularly exciting, so we took a short nap before arriving into Munich. Our guide took us on a short walking tour and we ended the tour in front of the Glockenspiel, a giant clock that plays a 15-minute show twice daily to large crowds standing in the Marienplatz below. The show depicts two riders on horseback, one a French jouster and the other a Bavarian knight, in “battle”. As expected, the Bavarian always wins!

After a short break for lunch we all met back at the buses for our final city tour of the trip. Our driver took us around the city and we stopped at BMW World for a while (honestly I think it was just a large venue with free bathrooms), which is across the highway from where the ’72 Olympics were held. We stopped back at our hotel after this tour to drop off our bags and then headed back into the Old City in a taxi for more sightseeing and dinner. We saw the Feldernhalle, which was built in 1841 but made famous by Hitler, as he used it as the site of many speeches and his annual march. We also made a stop inside the Hofbrauhaus, built in the 1500s and the oldest beer hall in Munich.

Day 11—Munich, Germany

Today was the last day of the tour, but also the one that everyone had been looking forward to! We drove two and a half hours through the Alpine countryside to get to our first stop, Neuschwanstein Castle. Our guide, Moritz, let everyone know they could either walk to the top (on a steep but paved road) or take a horse drawn carriage. We opted for the faster route, walking. Even though it was raining and slightly cool (which we were thankful for after the climb), we had an enjoyable time learning about Bavarian culture from our guide. We learned that people from Bavaria are very proud of their history and culture and have a “Texas mentality” as he put it. He told us that they sometimes feel like their own country and would rather fly their regional flag than their German flag. After our 30-minute hike uphill, we made it to the famous Marienbruck Bridge, the bridge directly across from the castle that provides picturesque views of the structure itself but also the valley below.

After taking every possible photo we could from the bridge, we hurried over to the castle in time for our tour. No photos are allowed inside the castle, but I can try and describe what you would see on a tour. The man who built the castle, King Ludwig, was never married and was extremely interested in the arts, particularly operas. Every room in the castle is themed somehow around some work of art. He even built a cave in one of the rooms because it reminded him of his favorite play. Several rooms were themed around “The Swan Prince” opera, with tapestries and murals dedicated to the show. Ludwig’s story is ends sadly, because he became a recluse and died a mysterious death in a lake near his home.

We walked back down the hill and ate lunch at one of the little restaurants. I ordered a dish called “Kase Spaetzle”, which is basically mac and cheese and fried onions on top. It was WONDERFUL and I would recommend trying this dish if you are ever in Germany! We all loaded up on the bus for our last stop of the day, King Ludwig’s father’s house, Linderhof Palace. This is a much smaller domain since it was built to house one person and no guests. He built it with Versailles in mind, so it is very opulently decorated and every room is filled to the brim with furniture and art. Make sure you don’t miss the fountain show in the front pool on your way out!

Our Viking experience ended after the bus dropped us back off at our hotel in Munich that night. I’ve never taken a trip this long or to this many places, and it was definitely one of the most amazing travel experiences I’ve had. If you’re looking for luxury, convenience, and the ability to see many countries and landmarks on one trip, then Viking River Cruises are for you!

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Viking River Cruise–Part 1

Curious about Viking cruises? Set sail with me down the Danube River!

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I realize this post is EXTREMELY long overdue. Almost a year, in fact! We took a 2-week Viking River Cruise last August, and mostly because I felt like this post was so daunting, I’ve just avoided writing it! I’m sitting down now, though, because I have several other travel posts that I need to create, but this series MUST come before those.

I realize that Viking seems like it serves a very niche market. This cruise was a family vacation that my mother, father, and sister-in-law, and my husband and myself took together. We were by far some of the youngest people on the boat (save a couple of grandchildren accompanying their grandparents). This is not a party boat. This is not your typical booze cruise, full-floor casino, night-life cruise ship. Viking is all about luxury, relaxation, and culture immersion. The cruise we took is what would be listed as the “Danube Waltz” from Budapest to Passau, with a four-night extension adding on Salzburg and Munich (arrival by motor coach).

We boarded our boat, the longship Viking Ingvi, in Budapest, Hungary. I feel that most of my family would say this city was the surprise star of the cruise, but more on that in a minute. Rooms have either partial view “porthole” windows, sliding glass doors, or full-sized balconies with furniture. Although most rooms are smaller than a larger cruise ship, our room had a king-sized bed with enough storage for both of our large suitcases, and the sliding glass doors gave the illusion of a much larger room. The bathroom has a hotel-calibre shower and, the biggest perk, heated floors!

Every meal served is all-inclusive, and since the “crowd” on the ship is so small (there are only 95 staterooms), almost everyone can fit in the dining room at the same time, so there is never a wait or confusion of choosing a dining time. Although there are some standard dishes that are served each night, Viking attempts to theme their dinners around what country or city you are docked in. They will decorate the dining area according to these themed meals, as well! The service is beyond-friendly and outstanding, and although everyone on staff speaks multiple languages, English is the standard and is spoken fluently by all.

Our ship had a walking track on top and also plenty of outdoor seating for breakfast and lunch. I thought that a lack of a hot tub or pool would be disappointing, but honestly, once you are finally on board the ship after an entire day of walking and sightseeing, you’re pretty much ready to eat and get in bed!

Day 1—Budapest, Hungary

We arrived in Budapest midmorning, and the Viking motor coach was waiting at the airport to pick us up. We, along with about 40 other passengers, made our way to the ship which was docked on the Pest side of the city, not far from the beautiful Parliament building. Our rooms were ready on arrival, so after a brief rest, we ignored our jet-lag and began our first tour with Viking, and did I mention that all tours are included with the cruise as well??

Each tour is conducted by a local guide who works with Viking, so you really feel like you’re getting the authentic story of each place you visit. Everyone is given an earpiece, so you are able to hear your guide without them having to shout. Our guide on this first tour walked us around the block closest to our ship to familiarize us with the area. She took us to a spot down the river that was one of the most moving places we visited on the entire cruise.

The monument “Shoes on the Danube Bank” is located on the east bank of the Danube River to memorialize the people (many of them Jewish) who were ordered to remove their shoes before they were shot by soldiers into the river during World War II. Eastern Europe definitely has had some dark moments in history, but they don’t shy away from remembering them and allowing visitors to recognize them, as well.

Day 2—Budapest, Hungary

Our next morning started bright and early with an 8:30am motor coach tour. We began the tour with a visit to Heroes Square, a monument to commemorate notable Hungarian leaders and the Chieftans, or early conquerors of the land.

We were allowed a few minutes of free time before we boarded the bus for the other side of town, the more historic and hilly “Buda” area. Our guide took us around the beautiful Fisherman’s Bastion, where we took in the panoramic views of the Pest town below.

We then toured the ornate Matthias Church (named for a king that we were repeatedly reminded was NOT a saint!), which was built in the 14th century. This was the last stop on our tour, so we were allowed more free time here.

After a quick lunch on board our boat, we set out to explore part of the city on our own. We visited the Great Market Hall, known for its fresh food as well as being a mecca of souvenir shopping. After that, we braved the language barrier, probably the most challenging I’ve found from our European travels, and took a taxi over to the House of Terror, a museum that sheds light on the torture and evil that took place in the building and country during the Nazi as well as the Soviet Union regimes. This was an educational experience, but I would definitely recommend using an audio guide since most of the signs are in Hungarian!

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The extremely vast, hot, and overwhelming Great Market Hall! This is THE place for souvenirs.

This was our last night in Budapest, so after dinner we made our way to the roof of the ship to take in the breathtaking nighttime views of the Chain Bridge and of course the Parliament Building. Goodbye, Hungary!

Day 3—Bratislava, Slovakia

During the night we sailed down the river to the capital of our second country, Slovakia. Our tour began after breakfast, and we stopped by the Bratislava Castle, which is still in use by their government today, and took a walking tour of the charming old town. It was so beautiful in August that I can’t imagine what it must look like when it transforms into a Christmas market in the winter! Back on board the boat we ate dinner and were treated to a show by traditional Slovakian dancers and singers.

Day 4—Vienna, Austria

Sailing through the night again brought us to the large city of Vienna. This is DEFINITELY somewhere that I would have liked to spend more than a day. Our tour bus drove us around and after walking through historic squares and shopping areas, we ended the first portion of the tour at St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Construction on this monstrous building was completed in 1160. My US American self will never cease to be amazed at the beautiful and functional European architecture that has stood the test of time.

We were brought back to the boat for lunch and a short rest before our second tour of the day, a trip to the “Versailles of Austria”, Schonbrunn Palace. Built in the 1500s and one-time home of Marie Antoinette, the palace as well as its gardens are something to behold. After the inside tour of the palace (no photos allowed, strictly enforced!) we were given a short time to tour the gardens before we were told to be back or the bus would leave. Since we knew that the city’s metro system stopped close to our boat, we decided to stay for the rest of the afternoon. We were later told that the bus waited on us (although we were told it wouldn’t!) so make sure you let your driver know what you are planning on! After we toured the gardens we (my husband and sister-in-law) decided to visit the Vienna Zoo, the oldest operating zoo in the world, and conveniently located on the palace grounds. This was a great end to our quick visit to Vienna!

Day 5—Durnstein and Melk, Austria

Our time in Durnstein was spent walking, because the interior of this tiny little town is strictly pedestrian! We were given some time on our own to explore the town and the castle ruins that sit above the city. We were definitely not prepared for the giant hike up the large hill, but thank goodness it was a cool morning! After we boarded the ship to reach our second destination of the day, we sailed through the green and picturesque Wachau Valley, where we took in the sites of historic Austrian towns, as well as small castles set on the river banks.

We arrived in Melk to tour the expansive Melk Abbey. Since 1089, monks have been living and working in this abbey, and still do today. This marked the end of a long day of sailing and two beautiful towns!

Packing the Perfect Carry-On

Packing the perfect carry-on bag for a long vacation, or even a weekend getaway, can sometimes prove a daunting task. For the purposes of this post, I am assuming you have already checked a bag or else can cram everything you need into a backpack. If at all possible, that’s the largest piece of luggage I like to take onto an airplane with me.

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The Essentials

After much research, I found the perfect backpack to fit my needs. This L.L.Bean “Tear Drop” backpack only costs $44.99 and was big enough to fit my essentials, and also had enough “blank space” where I could sew on my travel patches. As you can see, I still have space for future travels! The backpack has sturdy, reinforced straps, and also a padded pocked on the inside for a laptop. There are also several pouches on the interior. The bottom portion is great for storing dirty clothes or liquids (as long as they are in a quart sized clear pouch!)

This is not a complete list, just a random assortment of items I’ve found helpful for traveling. So onto my must-brings!

Electronics

First and foremost, don’t forget your phone! I have a super fun case that was sent to me by Very Troubled Child, make sure you follow the link and shop around!

The fun gold shape is a portable charger by BaubleBar for Target, and even though they don’t sell those anymore, Target still sells alot of cute chargers. I only show one, but I usually charge up and take around 3, especially if I will be on a long flight. Along with that is an outlet converter. I think mine came from TJ Maxx several years ago, but you can purchase these almost anywhere. If you are traveling abroad, these are a must have if you want to charge your electronics!

Those beautiful wireless headphones are by Bohm and also double as noise canceling headphones. They come with a cord, though, that you can use to plug into anything that won’t connect wirelessly, AKA airplane screens. We will be traveling on a couple of long flights soon and I can’t wait to use them!

Comfort

I used to laugh at people who brought sleep masks on flights, but after using one the last few times I’ve traveled I am a true believer! Mine is just a basic mask, but I recommend buying the type that “bubble” over your eyes so your lids don’t get smashed down!

Don’t forget to bring your best and most comfortable shoes! For me, it’s my Nike sneakers. It may be more fashionable to wear cute sandals, but when you’re running to catch your next flight or having luggage wheeled over your toes in a crowded taxi line, you will be thankful for the closed toed shoes! Even if you want to change into flip flops for the flight, pack the sneakers just in case.

Common Sense

This will only apply to international travel, but don’t forget your passport case! I purchased my beautiful leather holder from Colonel Littleton. They also carry a “passport wallet”, but for my needs, I thought this would do just fine. Passport cases will hold boarding passes as well, because even though most places accept electronic passes, not everyone does, and you never know when you might just need those paper tickets!

If you are a contact lens wearer like myself, you may decide to just wear your glasses for the duration of your travel. However, I usually pack mine to change into later into the day, since I don’t really like wearing mine all the time. Your eyes will thank your five hours into your flight when you’re ready to sleep and that recycled air is blasting your glasses lenses and not your eyeballs.

The last “essential” for me might not be an essential for everyone, but I’m a nerd, so I don’t leave home without my travel journal. The first time I used one was when I was 12 and my family took a 2 week vacation “out west”. I still enjoy going back to read those journal entries.

Again, these aren’t essentials for everyone, but they’ve helped me out. Obviously a change of clothes, travel sized toiletries, and travel documents are must brings that aren’t photographed here. What do you always pack in your carry-on? Let me know in the comments below!

 

 

Easter in Lilly

Spending Easter in my new Lilly dress!
As soon as this Mila shift dress was added to The Lilly Pulitzer website, I made sure to order one before they sold out of my size! I love the animal print details and the beautiful periwinkle color! Because of my build, I ordered a size up since shift dresses run pretty narrow through the hips. You can buy it here, although most sizes are sold out at the moment. 

I love the zipper detail!
Pretty bows on the hem


Sadly, I have to wear sunglasses in most of my outdoor photos! I wish my eyes weren’t so sensitive to sunlight, but a good pair of shades always helps! I actually bought these at the Schipol airport in Amsterdam on our layover to India. I unfortunately lost my other pair somewhere between there and Atlanta, and knew I would need new ones before we landed again!


Just like I love the little details on this dress, I like incorporating jewelry details with my outfits. I love these Kendra Scott earrings, and you can purchase the same style here. My pearls are old, but you can buy another beautiful pearl necklace here. And of course, my favorite bracelet is from Kiel James Patrick.

How to Know When to Buy

Have you ever been shopping and saw a dream item that you knew you had to have? It happened to me when I saw this J. Crew top online:


I don’t usually shop at J.Crew, I’m more of a J. Crew Factory kind of girl. I simply can’t afford to regularly shop the full-priced items, but the J. Crew marketing wizards slipped this top into one of their emails that made its way into my inbox…and the rest is history.

So happy with my purchase!

Spending $88 on a top is no small purchase for me. Here are the three questions I ask myself before making a big purchase:

Have I slept on it?

I don’t buy on impulse. There are the rare instances where I know I won’t ever be back to the store or the item is one-of-a-kind, but this situation doesn’t often occur.

–By the way, these rules apply to any purchase, not necessarily a top or even an article of clothing.–

If I see something that is over my comfortable spending limit, I’ll allow myself three days to think on it. If I’m still considering the purchase after three days, I’ll move on to my next two questions.

How often will I wear it/use it?

An expensive item may not seem so expensive when you consider how often you’ll actually be wearing it or using it. If you can see yourself getting a lot of use out of the item, and not something you could only use/wear once or twice, it may be something to consider. I won’t buy something unless I know I can use/wear it multiple places (work, church, date night). If the item  passes this test (and is clothing), I’ll ask my last question.

–Side note before moving on: Please know that these rules only apply to your “everyday” purchases. I am more lenient with myself if I am purchasing something for a special occasion. I understand that a dress for your rehearsal dinner probably won’t fit the criteria I’m mentioning!–

Is this versatile?

The final question: how many outfits can I make out of this? Can I wear it with shorts? A skirt? Dress pants or jeans? Is this item timeless and not a “trend” that will quickly go out of style? Luckily, my J.Crew berry top checked all of these boxes. I felt that I would definitely get my money’s worth out of this top because I could wear it with literally every bottom half piece of clothing in my closet.

I just love the details!

Remember, these rules aren’t for everyone, they just serve as a guideline for me when I’m out shopping. I hope they help you when you’re deciding if you should make your next purchase!

Rainy Day

A lot of people aren’t fond of the rain, but I find it’s a great excuse to break out my rain boots and favorite rain jacket!

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I found the perfect rain jacket from L.L. Bean last fall before we went to Canada (where I read that a good rain jacket was a necessity). I was lucky enough to find mine for under $20. It was on serious clearance so I thought it was too good to be true, but I have decided it must have been the loud color that scared customers off, because all of the neutral colors were sold out. I think that rain jackets are the one jacket that you can afford to be fun, especially if you don’t get many opportunities to wear it. For my purposes, this jacket is perfect. It’s unlined and has a removable hood (although I always leave it attached). Since mine is no longer available, I’ve listed a few below for you to consider.

L.L. Bean Trail Model Rain Jacket – $80

Charles River Logan Jacket – $70

L.L. Bean Discovery Rain Jacket – $70

Land’s End Transitional Spring Coat – $60

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My other favorite rainy weather accessory are my Hunter boots! I have two pair, but I especially love my green boots. These are the children’s size 6 girl/5 boy. I wear a women’s 7 in the adult boots, and these fit me just fine. I can’t wear heavy socks with them, but if you can wear the adult size without the extended calf (and nothing larger than a 7) then you should be able to squeeze into these! I like them because, as you can see, I have fairly short legs, and the kids boots hit me where the adult boots hit everyone else! They have reflectors on the back, but I don’t mind. The kid’s sizes are also a lot cheaper. I have linked the pair I’m wearing here, they are listed for $80.

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My super cute striped dress is from Old Navy and is on sale for $20! They have the dress in several colors, and I would recommend it if you are looking for something casual and comfortable. My rope bracelet is from a favorite shop of mine, Kiel James Patrick. You can buy it here for $40. I wear this with everything, and being a neutral color it’s so versatile!

 

 

 

 

Nepalese Adventure

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Get ready…this is a long, long, long post. Almost as long as our 15-hour flight.

When we told our friends and family we were headed to Kathmandu, Nepal after our quick Taj Mahal detour, we received a mixed bag of responses. “Won’t that take two whole days to get there?” and “What’s in Nepal?” were the main questions, but when asked the inevitable, “Why?”, we would say “To see the world!” Honestly, there aren’t many “world-famous” attractions in Nepal, at least none that compare to the fame of the Taj Mahal, but we knew that Nepal was a place that many people haven’t visited, and it’s a place that is so unlike anything we’ve ever visited before. We toyed with the idea of visiting Cambodia and seeing Angkor Wat, but after my husband saw pictures of the spiders from that area, our decision became much easier!

Our Air India flight from New Delhi was a short hour and a half, but even on such a short flight we were still fed lunch. Once we landed, we walked into the airport from the plane and straight to the most hectic customs/immigration area I have ever seen. The kiosks to print your “Visa Upon Arrival” were fairly simple to use, but were quite laggy and there was not much order to the lines for them. Once we finally printed out our visas, we made our way over to the currency exchange counter. This was the ONLY negative experience we had in Nepal, and I will teach you the lesson we learned the hard way. There are signs that clearly state that they take Visa credit cards to exchange for the Nepalese Rupee, however, the agents very much want American dollars for their drawers. We made the mistake of pulling out our wallets while at the counter, and I’m sure the agent caught a glimpse of our cash. We wanted to use the card and save our dollars for later, but he had already seen our money, and when we asked to use our card, told us they didn’t take credit cards. We pointed to the sign above him, and after standing in a stare-down for probably 30 seconds, he huffed and snatched our credit card. He ran it and told us it was declined, which we knew was incorrect. We knew he had us where he wanted, and there wasn’t much we could do, so we handed over our cash. Not a great way to start our trip, but just a helpful tip for those traveling…DO NOT let them see your cash. Tell them you have none, and that you only brought credit cards. Also, once you are outside the airport, hold on to your bags. A man who was standing with our taxi driver offered to carry ours, and in the huge hustle and bustle that is the chaos of the Kathmandu airport, we allowed it. Once we were seated in our taxi, the man asked for what is the equivalent of $10. For carrying our bags literally 20 feet. Again, hold on to your bags.

After a very crazy introduction to the Nepalese way of driving, we were dropped off a our hotel, the Kasthamandap Boutique. If you are ever in Kathmandu, please stay at this hotel. We stayed in a “Deluxe” room, so we had two beds, a little extra room, and a delicious continental breakfast included. For about $200 for four nights, we thought that was a pretty good deal! We checked in, booked a tour for the following day, and went to bed without dinner!

Our first stop on our first full day in Kathmandu was to the Swayambhunath Temple, or as it’s sometimes referred to, the Monkey Temple. We seriously couldn’t get over how many monkeys were around us, running at our feet like squirrels or chipmunks! Our taxi driver probably thought we were huge white American dorks, but, in our defense, he didn’t even know what a squirrel was. So…we carried on like dorks.

My favorite part was spinning the prayer wheels. You don’t realize how little you know until you travel halfway around the world and know literally nothing about someone’s religion and rituals. We learned that (after trying to take cute pictures) you have to spin a prayer wheel clockwise, and if there are many surrounding the base of a temple, you have to spin them all! It was only after that that our guide allowed us to take our tourist pictures!

Our second stop was Patan Durbar Square, an ancient collection of buildings built in the 1600s that were badly damaged during the 2015 earthquake. My favorite part of this site was the beautiful architecture and craftsmanship that was created by hand. Metalwork and wood carvings made up the beautiful temples that we walked through. Our taxi driver hooked us up with a guide that walked us around and told us about each building.

Our third stop was Pashupatinath Temple. To be honest, I agreed to see this site because I had read that it was one of the top places to visit in Kathmandu. It’s the oldest Hindu temple in the city, legend saying the temple dates back to 400 B.C. , so we gladly paid our $10 a person (a hefty price in Nepal!) to enter. It was only after we walked through that we saw the sign, Hindus Only. So, we walked around the grounds instead. As we walked across a bridge we saw smoke along the side of the river. Our guide told us that bodies were being cremated. And he wasn’t lying. We literally saw the burning remains of bodies. And once the burning was done, the ashes were pushed into the river. All of that smoke in my picture is from the cremations going on below us. Let’s just say we didn’t breathe very deeply here.

Our final stop was Boudhanath Stupa, the one of the largest in the world. This was definitely a favorite, and a must-see for anyone visiting Kathmandu. The pictures don’t do this structure justice, it really was magnificent!

On our second day we took a tour that I booked through Viator.com, and one that I would recommend! We left our hotel around 10am and were driven to the highest point in the Kathmandu Valley, Nagarkot. I had read that this was the best spot to view the Himalayan mountain range, and, if you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of Mount Everest. We weren’t so lucky, but our guide pointed to a cloud and said “On a clear day, that is where the peak is.” So we just pretended that we saw it! After we took in the breathtaking view, we hiked down for several hours through tiny villages where the people live very simple, quiet, farm lives. Our guide told us that, although the people didn’t appear to have much, they were happy up here, away from the chaotic and dusty Kathmandu.

After eating my only authentic Nepalese meal (vegetarian Momo, basically dumplings), we toured the Changu Narayan temple, the oldest Hindu temple in Nepal built in the 4th century.

On our last day, we visited Kopan Monastery. This is a place situated on the outskirts of Kathmandu where people from all over the world come to study. Like Nagarkot, this place is so far away from the loud city center and the air is actually breathable. They allow visitors in to tour the grounds, but we managed to sneak into a class on meditation!

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I will say this, Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport definitely lives up to its #3 Worst Airport in the World rating. I can’t imagine this place in the summer, because even on a 60 degree January day the tiny waiting areas lined with windows were beginning to feel like small ovens. However, our Qatar Airways flight to Doha, Qatar was pleasant. I researched ahead of time and found out that if your layover is longer than 8 hours, the airline will put you up for free in a hotel, complete with meal vouchers. They take care of all visa issues and whisk you way from immigration and customs to a nearby, four star hotel. We were given an executive suite on the 27th floor of the Movenpick Hotel, and were allowed to use our meal vouchers for room-service cheeseburgers and french fries! I wish we could have had a full day in Doha instead of one night, but it was definitely what we needed before our 15-hour flight back to Atlanta.