About Allan

Family, travel, drums and watches. Marla and I have been traveling together for over 40 years. I love going somewhere new experiencing that wonderful feeling of the unknown, getting uncomfortable and having an adventure. As Anthony Bourdain said, “… travel leaves a mark on you and you leave a mark on it…”

Flying to Prague was a Prague-blem

LAX to London to Frankfurt to Prague
April 27, 2022

Image Credit: Google images

As usual the Browns were so early to LAX that the long line to check into British Airways was for the flight before us. Oddly there were no kiosks for self check in, so after a wait we were one of the first in line for our flight. Our flight was delayed an hour that put the crunch on our layover in London. The London layover was to be 1 hour and 50 minutes to connect to the flight to Prague via British Airways. No problem right?

Except that the connection was at another terminal that the Heathrow website stated would take approximately 20 minutes to get to. Two helpful BA employees told us that we would have plenty of time to make this and one circled our map of the terminal showing us how to get on the tram from terminal 5 to terminal 3.

The plane arrived a few minutes early to Heathrow and our luggage was checked through to Prague, no problem, and there was the tram sign as indicated. Ha! Easy peezy. There was a stop for Terminal 3 our destination for the connection. I boasted that we were ahead of schedule and jinxed it. We now had to get off the tram and take a bus to terminal 3, a bus that ran every 10 minutes, a bus that we just missed, a bus that circumnavigated Heathrow and the greater city of London for 20 minutes before getting us to Terminal 3.

And then there was another security check that I would later comment that was “running at the speed of sand”. This security check was to simply check our passport to our boarding pass without a metal detector or strip search but the security person was taking close to a full minute for each passenger and I started doing the math. Crap! While we were being tortured with our increasing wait time a group of handicapped passengers started cutting through the line with their entourage of airline employees and family members. We both spoke up and told them that our flight was now boarding and we couldn’t let them pass to which they understood however we felt bad in saying this. A new security officer arrived and started getting passengers through every 5-10 seconds and we thought we had a chance to make it however were told at that security checkpoint that the gate had closed to our flight as we were now less than 30 minutes to departure.

We had to go see Passenger Service for another connection flight. Marla had noticed our seat assignments had disappeared off the BA app and later we found online travel tips that said to give yourself 90 minutes to get to the far, far away terminal known as Terminal 3 from terminal 5. We should have insisted on a new connection at LAX.

We were not alone at the Passenger Service desk as other couples from the LAX flight had missed their connection. The best they could do was to book us on a Lufthansa flight from terminal 4 to Frankfurt and then on to Prague. There was a commotion at the counter with an elderly Syrian couple who missed their Beruit connection. There was a language barrier and they could not understand that they would have to go to Frankfurt to connect and since their luggage was already on the plane they missed, as ours was, they were upset and confused about that. The patient clerk explained this at least 4 times to them and since we were all booked on the flight to Frankfurt the clerk asked us to babysit them to the next gate. Marla and I agreed to get some good karma back after losing some from telling the wheelchair posse to back off. We had about a 3 hour wait and the Frankfurt gate had not been assigned yet, which stressed this couple out even more, so it gave us time to explain the situation to them several more times.

We walked with them to the Food Court to find out they didn’t have credit cards and only US Dollars. BA had given us $20 in food vouchers but not them. We were at a self serve sandwich shop when this came to light and a nun overheard this who paid for them.

The couple Abraham and Mimi were from Syria now living in Southern California. We got them on the Frankfurt flight and the last we saw they were trying to arrange a wheelchair ( and a guide) to their Beruit flight.

Our luggage not only made it earlier but was some of the first off the conveyor belt upon our arrival.

We we finally got to Prague around midnight instead the afternoon after 30 hours of fuckery. Thanks British Airways…

First Day Walkabout in Prague

Prague, Czech Republic
April 29, 2022

After hitting the breakfast buffet and having too many espressos to shake the jet lag off we took a walk to the Vltava river and up towards the old town.

We had to detour to across the river and then back over to a popular shopping area before venturing into a small shopping mall. We needed to sit down and use the WC, and there was the Golden Arches. Why not?

The WC turned into an adventure and learning experience. A sign in a hallway had the word “paid” and sure enough had a turnstile with different ways to pay: Debit Card, cash or use you receipt from a purchase at the mall. With some assistance I figured out that the QR code didn’t work to open the gates to the kingdom but a small UPC code on the receipt did. Now it was Marla’s turn and I proudly mansplained the procedure to her except she found out it was only one use per receipt before she had to return for a debit card. The charge was 15 CZ or about 50 cents.

We walked back towards the hotel taking a different route and made it back to the main road that follows the river before passing a Pagan Store. Huh? It was a unique shop of Viking swords, helmets, armory and trinkets. Hey kids how about a fake velociraptor claw?

Our most important find of the day was a Mexican restaurant near the river and about a 15 minute walk from the hotel. After some jet lagged induced naps we had a nice hmmm “ Mexican “ dinner, that was more Tex-Mex but it hit the spot. It was so much better the “ nachos” ( Melted cheese over funky corn chips with pickled beets on top) that we had in Finland.

Orientation Meeting

Prague, Czech Republic
April 29, 2022

We have been so lucky with our last two trips with Gate 1 being partially filled due to the pandemic. Ecuador was a group of 14 people and Egypt was 15. The boat in Egypt held 300 passengers and there was only two tour groups for a total of around 40 with a crew of 60. Lots of room, no rush at the buffet line and we really got to know each other. So, we got to our Danube River cruise orientation on time to find a group of around 20, then 30, then 40 before stopping at 50. Our tour guide said that we will be using 2 tour buses for excursions. On the plus side only two couples appeared younger than us and the rest were not that much older. As we all introduced ourselves many were adventurous travelers which we have found to be the case with Gate 1 tours. I noticed a preference for easy to care for travel shirts, pants and lots of running shoes. Nothing high maintenance, good. For once me and my stupid foot may not be the slowest of the bunch.

During the introductions a younger couple (around 50 years old…) mentioned that they had recently been to Ecuador and we instantly bonded with each of us sharing our Ecuador stories. They were both originally from Russia and we had another connection from our 2016 trip there; we had many enjoyable meals with them throughout our trip.

Lower Than but Not Less Than

Prague, Czech Republic
May 1, 2022

Prague has an area they refer to as Lesser Town but not in an disparaging way, our guide Jana didn’t like the term either. Lesser Town means it’s lower in elevation in its proximity to the river and more prone to flooding.

The area is also where most of the foreign embassies are located in beautiful old buildings. The streets are narrow and are made of cobblestones that give a unique yet comforting sound as cars drive by. You can judge the speed of a car by the pitch of the tires whining upon the cobblestones.

Many of the houses also have names like Three Stork, Blue Horse, Golden Flower, Golden Snake ( two houses were named that) and Golden Crown to name a few. The namesake of the house similar to a coat of arms is often located above the door or mounted on the corner of the outside of the house and you guessed it are usually painted gold.

The lower elevation of Lesser Town has historically caused problems when the river floods and in 2002 they had a massive rain storm for three straight days causing the river to raise to alarming heights. A door to a house was marked with the flood levels of years past and the 2002 water level was at 7 feet, this house sits over 20 feet high from the current river level!

So here’s what Prague did to mitigate future flooding, there are 10” wide strips of stainless steal imbedded at ground level running down streets, around buildings and sectioning off areas. If there is any risk of flooding they unfastened the plates and insert barriers to keep the water out of the buildings. Many of the buildings are government buildings in this area they need to protect.

The neighborhood is also home to the John Lennon Wall, a wall thats been a gathering point for past protests and Lennon became a symbol for peace. The wall is painted with encouraging, thoughtful words and poems of peace. There are also notes of hopes and dreams from those who seek solace from the past and the future. We took a shameless selfie.

Down the street from the mindfulness of the Lennon Wall was a small river with the statue of the River Man, a Boogie Man from past fairy tells who would pull you into the river if you didn’t behave or eat your peas. Sorry mom but I hated peas.

Our morning walking tour now led us to the river with a view of “Child’s” bridge. We had heard Childs Bridge mentioned or pointed out on maps since our arrival and we now learned it was really named Charles Bridge after King Charles, but with that cute Czech accent…

I appreciate and respect anyone who speaks more than one language so the following is not to insult anyone but to demonstrate the charming Czech accent as applied to English words. Our lovely guide Jana spoke wonderful English but a few words had her own special spice to them. I did a double take when I heard her say “ many men lived in the buttocks”. What? Below are a few translations.

Buttocks = barracks
Pea coat= peacock, bird
Off Asses= offices
Hell see= healthy

All Along the Clock Tower

Prague, Czech Republic
May 2, 2022

Our group finished our morning tour by walking across the Vltava river over the Charles Bridge towards old town. I’m sure we passed various ABC’s ( another bloody church) but I can’t remember my thoughts were already on how to take the #17 tram back to our hotel and take a nap.

There was one thing that interested me and that was a library that is claimed to be the most beautiful library in the world. I had seen photos of the Strahov library on my Instagram feed posted by travel junkies. We would have to navigate a tram or two but my feet were killing me and Marla had a couple aches and pains too.

The tour guide marched on to the astronomical clock with the hordes of Sunday afternoon tourists and drunken wedding parties. The astronomical clock is very popular with newlyweds for good luck. But, what was that we just passed? Hmmm, shall we, we did in Greece, Singapore and we did it twice in Rome. The Hard Rock Cafe was off the main square and had a marquee that read “ Marla and Allan we have big diet cokes with unlimited refills”, so we didn’t want to be rude and headed in.

It was 11:30 and we were the first customers of the day, when we left it was packed with mostly American tourists getting their fix of Americana. We sat in the corner underneath a framed pair of Elvis Presley’s trousers and a Barbie sized doll of “ Comeback Special Elvis”, we had to pinch ourselves to make sure we weren’t dreaming. For those Yanks who travel Europe, you will know how special it is to get not a tiny 6 oz glass bottle, not a 8 oz bottle but a big 16 oz glass with lots of ice and Diet Coke. Ahhh, it hit the spot and after her third refill it hit my delicate wife in another way. The wait staff was attentive and used to this quirky American indulgence, our pulled pork and chicken sandwiches arrived with what we now refer to as “ Czech Fries” or French Fires with so much salt on them they appear to have been dusted like a pastry with granulated sugar. You could feel the salt crunch in your mouth.

Travel Tip- This was our second time getting Czech Fries and we have made a note to order fries without salt next time.

Anywho, after lunch the carbs were kicking in and a 2.5 mile walk back to the hotel didn’t seem like fun so after walking about 1 mile we decided to take the #17 tram.

Before we got on the tram we admired our favorite melting clock artist, Salvador Dali and his statue of a unicorn thrusting his horn through a heart shaped hole in a brick wall as a symbol of virility. Hmmm….Dali also had a nakid golden lady to make it interesting and that made me think of a scene from the James Bond movie Goldfinger.

Taking a tram is so easy it makes you feel stupid to be an American and our lack of easy transportation in cities. The electric tram is on the honor system, no one checks your 30 cent ticket and people over 65 are free! Easy Peezy and they haul ass when not stopping for red lights. There is always a slight if not significant anxiety of using foreign public transportation for the first time. In our earlier travels we were briefly paralyzed in London before descending into the Underground and enjoying the color coded ease of The Tube. Mind the Gap y’all.

Remember that third soda refill I mentioned? Well, it does not only increase bladder volume but speeds up your walking pace back to the hotel.


Nuremberg, Germany
May 3, 2022

Photo credit: historyextra.com

Nuremberg is the infamous home of the WWll Nazi war tribunals which were held in courtroom #600. That courtroom has been used for major crimes throughout the years and only recently was turned into a museum memorializing this significant event of the past.

We did not go into the courtroom yet we passed along the street in the front, the bus briefly stopped while our guide pointed out the room from outside the building. It was sobering. The trial was to last 3 months and lasted 11 resulting in the hanging deaths of 6 men who all had pleaded not guilty. They were all cremated and their ashes dumped in the river in an undisclosed location to avoid pro Nazi sympathizers turning it into a shrine of sorts.

People can be screwed up, do bad things and as the saying goes “the existence of evil needs good men to do nothing” like many “good Germans” who did nothing carrying the guilt and shame for the rest of their lives. They went along with it and one could think it was to avoid death or imprisonment but too many Germans went along with it because they believed what they heard, and what they read. Misinformation was alive and well way before current political times.

We parked and saw the Zeppelin Stadium, later called Zeppelin Field to sound more military-like, across a small lake built to resemble the Roman Coliseum with a granite facade over bricks to stay within budget and to look impressive.

Photo credit: The Independent

We had earlier viewed the Nazi rally site where all those infamous black and white photos were taken of more than 100,000 people waving thousands of flags while Hitler’s Nazi elite appeared from a light cloud of spot lights in a staged production to impress, and it did.

To our rear a couple of hundred yards away was the former rally grounds, now a crumbling concrete “grandstand” for a lack of a better word.

Photo credit: Wikimedia.com

Another big production for a little man with a big plan, a big fucked up plan that too many people went along with. But in the end, two of the worse architects of this grand plan, of a perfect Aryan Race, of a permanent solution for the Jews and other war atrocities committed suicide.

How would it have all played out if people called them out sooner, told them they were batshit crazy and let them live their lives out as failed human beings? If that had happened we would have not had it to learn from. History is like that. The Germans teach their kids all about the Nazis starting in middle school up through high school and have to be tested on it to graduate.

So what have we learned? I don’t know, do people still think they are being good?

Salzburg City of Salt

Salzburg, Austria
May 5, 2022

Like many cities Salzburg was established on trade routes for salt, salt was the refrigerator of its time keeping food from spoiling and was very important. Salzburg is also the home of Mozart, who is a pretty big deal in the music world even bigger than Snoop Dogg or Beyoncé.

Its other claim to fame was that it was the town that the real Von Trapp family from the Sound of Music fame lived and they won’t let you forget it. There were posters advertising The Sound of Music tours and what is interesting is that most Austrians have never seen the movie because it came out in 1962 and , get this, it’s in English. Snap! So, Salzburg understands that the Sound of Music is a big deal to anyone over the age of 70 who speaks English.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Our guide Frank told us that you can now stay in the Von Trapp house that is now a hotel. With all this Mozart and Von Trapp hoppla there was not one mention of Austria’s most famous export, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Not one shout out for the Governator of California.

The bus ride took 2 hours to get there and put us briefly on the autobahn. Trucks are forbidden in Europe to drive from Saturday at 10:00PM to Sunday 10:00PM and we passed a truck stop for those truckers to take their day of rest on Sunday, it included a strip club with silhouettes of ladies in various yoga poses.

Our bus stopped by what we were told was a garden and this was to be an important landmark to meet and for bathrooms. The garden was pointed out on the map and we were told to just remember the big hard to miss garden. Where was it again? Was it this little strip of shrubs and trees by a bus stop? It looked bigger on the map. It was moments later that I realized that the garden was hidden by the big damn wall we were standing by. The Mirabell Gardens was pretty and had the fountain that they danced around in The SoM (Sound of Music) and some gnome statues, but no statue of Arnold.

We left the garden and made our way through the town passing Mozart’s first home and then later his second home, there were also shops advertising “Mozart Balls”.

Yep, little chocolate balls with some goodness inside that to this day remains a secret. Mozart would be so proud.

Also there was the best sign for the Golden Arches we have ever seen. Woo wee the hillbillies were impressed now!

We crossed the Salzach River over a bridge with locks of love attached to the rails or padlocks with the names of couples locked around the fencing. You attach your lock and then you are to throw the key in the river to symbolize that you are to be together forever, well statistically only 40% of the time.

Our tour snaked its way through the streets and through buildings via passage ways designed to access the streets without walking all the way around the block.

Marla and I added a few more acronyms to our vocabulary:
JAMS- just another market square.
JAS- just another statue.

There was a point that we looked at each other and agreed that we were burnt out on taking photos of JAMS and JAS, beautiful old buildings (BOBs) and ABC’s, or another bloody church.

But speaking of the devil our next stop was the Erzabel St. Peter Abbey where we toured a Benedictine monastery and former cathedral considered one of the oldest monasteries in the world. So we took more photos.

It is also next door to where we had lunch in a really fancy banquet room. After our lunch of turkey snizel we were too tired and full to hike up the hill to check out a view of the city so we went rouge.

Our guide left out something very odd and unique that we discovered after our lunch while on our free time. We explored another courtyard and there was a dude balancing on a giant golden ball. Wha wha what? How come there isn’t a bigger crowd watching this daredevil? He must have been 20 feet in the air! Our adrenaline kicked in as we made our way over to him, after all Marla is a nurse and can help apply direct pressure on any injury and I of course had my camera ready. This guy was understandably not moving a muscle and for good reason, we found ourselves looking at a giant golden ball with a statue of a man on top without any explanation. Another “ whimsical street art” exhibit designed to give senior citizens a scare.

Got Melk?

Melk, Austria
May 7, 2022

Today we awoke to a gentle rain, an English rain, we couldn’t hear it but we could see the rain drops fall upon the river. The Danube river is so smooth and glasslike at times you could water ski on it.

Yesterday’s excursion to Melk was a pleasant surprise after a couple of bland city tours. The bus took us up to the top of the hill and we walked down through a formal gardens the the abbey which Melk is known for.

Our local guide met us in the courtyard and told us the history of the abbey and that it’s still in use as a school. The tour included an updated museum inside showcasing some golden crowns and religious artifacts over the years however no photos were allowed inside the building.

We did manage to sneak a photo of the long hall that runs down a wing of the abbey. The abbey is also known for its library with thousands of well preserved books with many hundreds of years old.

Photo credit: Wikimedia.com

As we walked through the library our guide pointed out hidden panels that had shelves of books masking as doors to reveal private rooms for the monks to study in. Again we couldn’t take any photos and will poach some off the internet.

Afterwards we had a map of the town and brief directions to find our way back to the boat which consisted of “ keep walking downhill until you hit the river and you will see the boat, you have to really try to get lost”. And off we went down a series of stairs and walkways until we hit the small town and the Main Street.

There were the usual shops and thankfully a giant ice cream cone for Marla to take another “I Love Ice Cream” photo. The thing is that we didn’t see anyone from our tour as most decided to take the bus back or were way behind us probably letting us lead the way back.

So we kept heading downhill through the town until there wasn’t anymore town left and we were looking at a bridge that crossed a river leading into a forest that vaguely looked like one on the map.

Or did it? What time was it? When did the boat leave again? There was no more downhill left!

With no bread crumbs to mark our direction we walked into the forest along the bike path and questioned our decision every 100 yards or so until we saw the river, but no boat. It’s all fun and games until you are lost in a strange country with a map “ not to scale”.

After another 100 yards of self doubt there was the Monarch Empress just around the bend with time to spare.

Not Salty but Well Seasoned

Melk, Austria
May 7, 2022

Every city has a history, the famous people who were born there and the primary manufacturing, agriculture or other means for the local economy. Usually included with our tour guide’s information is the city’s role in the wars over the years and who governed them. You could apply this to any town in the world. Every village, town and city has a brass plaque somewhere, right? Statues, fountains and gardens are made for and by someone- that doesn’t always mean it’s significant or interesting.

Perhaps after a few dozen tours, excursions and many local guides we have become jaded, snarky and snobby. I like to think that we are seasoned travelers. Everyone will give a big round applause to their guide, the excursion or lunch. Yet later at the risk or being negative ( the mark of the beast on any tour!) the small talk begins with some subterfuge questions like, “Hey, how did you like that lunch?”, to which everyone at the table becomes an expert at reading facial expressions and body language. After some guarded reviews it’s clear to everyone that the lunch sucked and we can all have a laugh about it.

Many of the tour group are also seasoned travelers who will comment on free time being too long or too short and at others times there may be a snipe at a local guide who talked too much or too little. Marla and I were once seconds away from saying how much we loved an art gallery before a tour member went on a rant of how much she hated it. Beauty, or lunch, is in the eye of the beholder.

With that, I thought the cranberry sauce over the gravy looked gross and the “ dumplings” were probably just white bread.

Looney Tunes

Vienna, Austria
Sunday May 8, 2022

The third excursion today in Vienna was a concert in town and that meant getting on the bus for the third time for the day now at 7:30 PM. We were tired and had thought we had clearly over extended ourselves for the day. Also, it was the night to get dressed up with whatever our most fancy apparel was, with running shoes. Actually more than a few surprised us with some ladies wearing dresses and some of the fellas wearing sport coats, with running shoes. Do you know how much precious room a pair of shoes take up in a suitcase?

Our tour guide Benjamin had been recruited for the night from the concert venue, he was a ticket taker and he did a very good job. He was young, more relaxed than most local guides and asked us what we wanted to hear as he had just Googled some local sights to help him wing it. As he started to talk his voice and rhythm of speaking reminded me of an old roommate from college, Bob, who was from Montreal, Canada. Weird. The dry jokes even sounded like Bob’s , then as we departed the bus we discovered that his mother was from Canada.

We were expecting some huge concert hall with a full symphony orchestra and that we would be seated some in the middle so we could drift into our post dinner slumber without much notice.

However we checked in, got our tickets climbed the marble stairs to see that it was a small venue with only three chairs and a few music stands for the musicians on the stage. A string quartet? Ok.

The usher told us the Gate 1 group was to be seated to the left and towards the front and we shuffled in that direction to find two empty seats on the front row. The piano was on the floor directly in front of us about 6 feet away. It was then that we decided to try to look classy and not take a nap because the musicians would noticed.

The lights dimmed as the musicians entered, there were two violins and a solo violin, a cello, a stringed bass, a pianist and a flautist. After a nod from the lead violinist “bam!” they launched right into the fast and furious Marriage of Figaro. It was a night of music from every period movie we have ever seen, or Bugs Bunny cartoons and ended with some traditional waltz’s and a polka. It was exciting to be so close to the pianist that I could actually follow along with her sheet music on certain parts.

Bugs and Daffy would have been proud.