About Marla

Allan and I are two frugal minded nomads from Orange County, CA. who love to write and travel. Our mission is to travel the world on a budget and so far nothing has been off limits. Our quests have led us to walking across Spain, hiking in Portugal, cycling through France, cruising Russian waterways and even riding a couple camels in Egypt. In so doing we’ve been introduced to a large community of travelers who thrive on diverse cultures and broader perspectives. The COVID-19 pandemic had put the world on hold as we burrowed down in quarantine, but now after tippy toeing out of our cloistered confines we’ve been excited to hit the road again discovering more new and unexpected places.

Terezin Memorial

Terezin, Czech Republic
April 30, 2022

The weather was still cool as we left old town Prague and headed about an hour north to the town of Terezin, which was originally constructed as a walled fortress in 1780 and converted into a Jewish Ghetto and Nazi concentration camp during WW11. Terezin was unique because it was wholly created as a transitional camp before being sent to Auschwitz and latter it served propaganda purposes. Many educated professionals and artists were sent here and although not designated as a termination camp, 33,000 died here from malnutrition and disease.

As we prepared for a solemn history lesson, our tour guide Jana gave us some background on what to expect before reaching the Jewish museum, our first stop in Terezin this afternoon. No matter how prepared you are, you’re not and what you think you know, you don’t.

The Museum is very emotional and contains numerous exhibits, but it was the childrens drawings that really got me. The pictures were created in a class taught by Jewish artist Frieda Dicker-Brandeis who encouraged the children to express their emotions through art as a kind of therapy. The drawings were completed over a two year period and by 1944 the children as well as the instructor were sent to the gas chambers at Auschwitz.

We then walked around this deceptively nice looking town / converted Jewish ghetto that was portrayed by the Nazis as kind of a resort for relocated Jews.

Men, women and children were separated into different barracks with a few lucky ones assigned cramped apartments. We walked through one of these preserved units as well as a prayer room, which was encouraged to keep the people calm.

In 1944 an inspection was demanded by the King of Denmark because of the 466 Danish Jews that were interned here. The representatives included the Danish Foreign minister, International Red Cross and two Swiss delegates.

In order to prepare for this visit the Nazis created a plan known as “Operation Embellishment” which involved sprucing up the buildings with fresh paint, fake cafes and store fronts. Also overcrowding was managed by deporting approximately 7500 people to extermination camps. Questions were also prearranged by the Nazi officers and explicit instructions given for the interned to avoid all interaction with the delegation.

There was even a performance of “Requiem by Giuseppe Verdi” that was attended by the Swiss delegation and Nazi officers and conducted by the famous Czech composer Rafael Schachter with a choir of 150 Jewish adults. Afterwards all Jews involved with “Operation Embellishment” were sent to extermination camps.

Photo credit: Commons.Wikimedia.org


This ruse was so successful that Terezin thereafter was sought out for additional propaganda purposes. While visiting the Jewish museum we watched a short documentary film or what was left of it, most of the film was destroyed. The documentary was used to convince the outside populous of how happy the Jewish people were with their new home. This film portrayed a summer camp like atmosphere with young fit men playing soccer, fans watching and young people flirting. The film took 11 days to create and was directed by an interned Jewish actor. As with “Operation Embellishment” the people in the film as well as the director were also sent to various extermination camps.

Next we drove across the river from the ghetto to the Terezin Memorial where we walked past Jewish and Christian gravesites. The deaths became so numerous here that eventually the crematorium was used and the ashes were dumped in the nearby river.

Just past the Terezin Memorial is the Small Fortress that was used as a Gestapo prison. The infamous Nazi sign of “Arbeit Macht Freight” (Work sets you free), similar to the one seen at Auschwitz, was written above the arch in front of the inner camp where not only Jewish but anyone considered enemies of the state were imprisoned.

Within the barracks were the wooden frames that served as beds and I found it difficult to imagine how 60 people could fit in these damp cramped quarters with one toilet. Disease, dysentery and malnutrition became all too real. You can read about these appalling conditions and see pictures, but when you come here in person you experience a different kind of connection.

Nearby we walked through the shower area and where the prisoners would strip down in order to have their clothes “sanitized” by some steam devise. Theoretically this would kill the bacteria but not remove the dirt from the clothes. After their shower the inmates would put these wet steamed dirty garments back on or go naked.

How can anyone honestly relate to the atrocities that were committed against these people? I can’t. I can only try. All of which made this post difficult to write.

“Burning of the Witches”

Prague, Czech Republic
April 30, 2022

Photo credit: Getty Images

One of the best things about travel is discovering the unexpected. Something different.

Earlier this afternoon we saw a procession of people wearing witches hats and carrying an effigy of a creepy figurine. What sort of Coven was this? I had images of Nicholas Cage in the horror movie “The Wicker Man” where it ends with his sacrificial demise and a gigantic burning wicker man.

Photo credit: Travel Earth

So what were we looking at? Our guide explained that today is similar to our Halloween, but not exactly. That this is a celebration of the end of winter and the beginning of spring commemorated by the burning of symbolic witches in bon fires and having BBQs, of course. This centuries old ritual, otherwise known as the “Burning of the Witches”, is observed annually across the Czech Republic on April 30th.

It was now the evening of April 30th and I felt particularly spirited as we found ourselves walking toward the Vltava riverfront, about 3 blocks from our hotel.

It was as if a spell had been cast as we promenaded down the steps to the river and into an open air market place that encompassed a large section of the boardwalk. Being dusk we agreed to stop at the churro stand before the market closed. We were also looking forward to checking out the riverboat restaurants when we noticed something utterly unique.

I’m not sure what to call them, but on the opposing side of the boardwalk and within the walls of the riverside embankment are a series of Vaults with huge circular hinged glass doors. These cool spaces with their humongous “water tight” porthole like doors were former storage units that have been converted into a series of waterfront bars, cafés and galleries. So totally unexpected since they are not visible from the top of the embankment.

After exploring the boardwalk a little further we stopped to eat pizza on one of the riverboats, which also turned out to be a great place for people watching. Being Saturday night and a Pagan holiday there were a lot of young people out and about. I enjoyed checking out the latest in European fashion mixed with a splattering of Witches with hats.

Before returning to our hotel only one “burning” question remained; had that churro stand closed yet?

Puppets and Beer

Pilsen, Czech Republic
May 2, 2022

There were lots of nervous glances and chatter on the bus before leaving our hotel. Does everybody have their passports? Yes. “How about your vox boxes (voice boxes)?” Yes yes. “Did you check your luggage and pay your hotel bills??” People were getting on and off the bus while checking this and that, then finally we were on the road. Whew! For anyone who’s done a group tour this is all pretty common, but this is a large group with a bit more chaos.

So today we were off to visit the town of Pilsen which is known for its production of the Czechs popular Pilsner beer. So with that in mind, it’s interesting to note that the Czech Republic has the highest consumption of beer drinkers per capita in the world, yet China, USA and Russia are the largest producers of beer.

The story goes that in 1838 unhappy bar owners dumped 36 barrels of their local beer in the town square because they said it was unhealthy and tasted awful. The tavern owners and citizens got together and brought in a German brewer by the name of Josef Groll and “Pilsner Urquell” beer was born. The brewery opened in 1842 and was the first to produce a pale lager.

It’s also kind of interesting that the song lyrics “Roll out the Barrels” was attributed to the American soldiers who liberated Pilsen at the end of WWll and whom didn’t know the original words to this traditional German song.

So what else do you do in Pilsen besides drink beer? You can pray at St. Bartholomew’s Cathedral located in the main square and rub a cherubs head for good luck on the outer gate of the church. There is a legend that in 1739 an Executioner wanted to exchange wedding vows within this Cathedral, but it was not allowed because of his profession. So he arranged to have another man stand in as his proxy. During the wedding ceremony the Executioner fell ill and started to fall, but was saved by grabbing the head of a cherub. To this day it is believed that good fortune will be bestowed upon you by rubbing the head of one of these baby angels….

Or if rubbing shiny objects isn’t your thing, you can go to the Puppet theater and museum….or not. Yep, as it turns out puppetry has been a tradition here since the late 19th century and has functioned not only as a means of entertainment, but a way to express moral lessons and folklore to the children. The theater/ museum is also located conveniently in the main square but we’re not really into puppets, so we took a picture of the door.

Our local guide Renata whose hometown is Pilsen, is very knowledgeable and had talked nonstop without breathing since we left the hotel. How does she do that? So it was with great pleasure that we were finally cut free. With only an hour left we didn’t have enough time to take the brewery tour, or the puppet theater, or the underground ghost tour which sounded pretty cool. So, we decided to eat lunch and people watch other people “people watching” before departing onward to Nuremberg.

The end.

Dealing with the Devil in Regensburg

Regensburg, Germany
May 4, 2022

We drank coffee in the Aft lounge as our boat docked in Regensburg and where we watched from our perch as the city woke up to Wednesday. During these morning hours we contemplated how people along this canal seemingly emerged from nowhere as they headed somewhere with some purpose and thought about how soon enough we would debark and become one of those people.

It had been 17 years or so since we visited Regensburg and I was curious to see what we’d remember and what had changed. So with that in mind we started our walking tour around 9:00 am with a young chap who was eager to bestow upon us humorous stories. I estimated our guide to be college age when he mentioned that Regensburg was a college town with about 40,000 students out of a population of 160,000. It made me think about how cool it would be to go to school here with the public University of Regensburg so close along the southern edge of the old town. Someone in our group asked about tuition and he casually mentioned it was around 300 euros a year with additional expenses for books, food and housing. I was dumbfounded. Wow! I just couldn’t fathom this when you compare it with the high cost of tuition and the enormous burden of debt that students carry in the US. After a quick Google search this indeed proved to be correct with most colleges being tuition free.

We pressed onward until we stopped in front of the Regensburg Museum of Bavarian History and next to a hideous gold statue of what might have been a fish or a whale or some aquatic thing. Although I never got the gist of this golden glob, evidently there was money that needed to be spent so this was commissioned.

As we continued our walk along the canal’s boardwalk we came to “Garkueche aut dem Krarchen” which is a 750 year old Sausage Kitchen that our guide referenced as the “oldest fast food restaurant in the world” and told us that it’s not only a major attraction but where locals still dine.

The building was originally constructed as headquarters for the Old Stone Bridge, which we were near and also a good spot to see the twin spires of Saint Peters Cathedral.

Legend has it that in the 12th century the Master Builder of the Stone Bridge made a wager with the Master Builder of the Cathedral in that he would complete his project first. At that time the building of the church was progressing quickly while the construction of the bridge, with its many arches, was not. In order for the bridge builder to win his bet he made a pack with the Devil with one caveat, that the first 3 souls to cross the bridge would be his. In agreement the Master Bridge Builder was able to rapidly finish the Stone Bridge. Then when it came time for the Grand Opening of the Stone Bridge, the Master Builder cleverly arranged for a rooster then a hen and finally a dog to be chased across first. The Devil was so enraged that he unsuccessfully tried to destroy the bridge, which is why there is a hump in the middle of the bridge.

After goggling at the Old Stone Bridge and perhaps annoying a few construction workers nearby, we headed for the twin spires of Saint Peters Cathedral. It began to rain now and I was thankful that Allan had the foresight to bring an umbrella. Our group took shelter across from the Cathedral and our guide asked us if anything looked different about the church. To me it was just another large old gothic church with scaffolding for ongoing repairs. He then pointed out that it took over 600 years to build this church and with numerous delays due to financing, that only the bottom was constructed in expensive stone. The remainder of the Cathedral was completed in cement, which was a newer material for that period. Unfortunately cement has a tendency to crack over time, hence the scaffolding.

That’s Shitty

Regensburg, Germany
May 4, 2022

Photo credit: National Trust Images

Our guide led us through some narrow streets where he discussed waste disposal in 12th century Regensburg, which basically meant throwing your shit out the window in hopes the rain would carry it down to the river. But that didn’t always happen and often the accumulated waste would just be shoveled from one street to another.

He also talked about other sanitation methods which involved building large holes near wells. It was a convenient one stop shop of fetching water and taking out the garbage, but unfortunately the seepage would result in foul tasting contaminated ground water. So their solution was to drink beer. Yep it’s weird to think, but fermentation would kill the contaminants and therefore render the beer safer to drink. This light ale became the drink of choice and was consumed by all including toddlers.

The Hangman’s Noose

Regensburg, Germany
May 4, 2022

As the rain continued we made our way farther into town and once again took refuge, this time inside Regensburgs Town Hall. We rested on the steps leaving room so as to not obstruct anyone from applying for a marriage license or what not. But this nondescript building was also once used by the Hangman, otherwise known to side hustle as the towns Torturer, who would put in a hard days work eliciting confessions.

Outside this city’s town hall is where the executions took place, which were a big deal back in the Middle Ages. Festive events were organized around the gallows and where the condemned would be hung as the major attraction.

Photo credit: istock images

People from all around would come with their families to partake in food and drink and where children’s souvenirs of a little hanging doll on a stick we’re sold. The aforementioned Hangman was essential for these proceedings and became quite wealthy as he traveled from town to town practicing his craft.

Don Juan

Regensburg, Germany
May 4, 2022

Photo credit: Oil in canvas, 2nd half of 16th century, probably by Juan Pantoja de la Cruz. Museo del Prado, Madrid.

Once upon a time there was a poor maid named Barbara who bore the illegitimate son of the Emperor Charles V. The product of their scandalous union was Don Juan, whom was quietly raised to serve the church but instead proved to be a formidable military leader. Meanwhile Barbara, who’d been receiving monthly stipends from the Emperor, was sent to Brussels to be married. Her husband died. She partied and embarrassed her son Don Juan who then sent Barbara to a Nunnery. Meanwhile the Emperor Charles V died and his only legitimate son Philip ll ascended the throne and became jealous of the his very popular womanizing half brother. Don Juan was sent to Bouge near Namur where he died of a fever in 1578 at the age of 31. Meanwhile Barbara, who was still receiving stipends, left the Nunnery, continued to party as a wealthy widow and lived happily ever after. The end.

So how much of this story is factual? Who knows but there is a cool statue of Don Juan in Regensburg. Is there a moral to this story? I don’t know, but it does show how a poor woman named Barbara achieved upward mobility in the Middle Ages. I must say though that the best part of this tale was comparing the different versions with other travelers. Ahhh the lore of legends!

a Castle and a Moat and Bears, Oh my!

Cresky Krumlov, Czech Republic
May 6, 2022

We were docked parallel with other river boats at our Austrian port in Linz and in order to debark you needed to pass through one or more boats to reach the outside boardwalk. So since it was almost time to catch our 8:15 bus to Cresky Krumlov, we waited and watched as the passengers from another boat crossed through our boats foyer as they fell in line, one after another. We also watched as part of our group inadvertently followed them. I guess we should have stopped them, but instead we let Jutta know so she could rescue them. They were rescued.

With a two hour drive to Cesky Krumlov there was plenty of time to admire the green rolling hills and quaint houses along the way. Our local guide talked about the different house colors in Austria and their meaning. Blue for example meant nobility, red for a butcher and brown for a pub or bakery. I wondered if the people in these homes knew their meanings or perhaps this was just a fable to tell foreign tourists on a bus. Our guide also said to watch as we crossed into the Czech Republic and that those homes would be less colorful. I didn’t really notice. I’m pretty sure our guide is Austrian.

After our ride through the countryside we piled out of the bus and walked a short distance on a elevated path to the rear of Crensky Krumlov’s Castle and where we got our first view of this enchanting town. After checking out the area’s map we then squeezed into a small terraced area where we could see the village below and take pictures of the pretty landscape with the Vltava River curving around the fairy tale like buildings below.

William von Rosenberg
Photo credit: Wikipedia

Cesky Krumlov, which means crooked meadow because of its unique landscape, is an area that has been inhabited since the Stone Age. Its ancient history can be documented to Celtic then Slavic settlements and then there were a few feuding families with Roman origins. In 1302 the Castle and surrounded area came into the hands of the Rosenbergs whose rule at that time allowed the town to flourish.

This little bit of trivia helps to explain how the Cresky Krumlov Castle and the surrounding town acquired its unique look. Our little adventure continued as we walked through the first of several of the Castle’s courtyards where many of the walls were painted in faux masonry. The illusion continued with painted stone panels, columns and molding. There are also murals of Ancient Greek and Roman figures and perhaps some important people of that era. This interesting look also covers most of the buildings in town.

The faux paintings date from 1577 when the ruler William von Rosenberg wanted to conform to the Renaissance art style of the time, plus it was cheaper to paint than hire an architect. The paintings used 4 different colors and involved a technique of scratching wet plaster that was called “graffiti” or “scraffitti”.

Over time the natural aging process of this scraffitti would require restoration. The restorations in 1900-1912 were successful but many earlier attempts were not. Also additional restoration were needed as the town and surrounding areas fell into shambles following WWl and WWll. Today there are concerns that trying to restore previously poorly restored areas may destroy the original art below.

We continued our tour over the Cloak Bridge where we were told amusing stories of the Castle being used for different movie sets such as the Academy award winning “Amadeus” and early black and white films. But during the communist era following WWll, the movies that were shot here were prohibited from being shown because of the decadent wealth it might portray.

Onward we went to the last part of the castle which was the moat where live bears were kept. The bears were introduced in the 16th century at the end of the Rosenberg’s reign probably to promote wealth and power. Traditionally 4 bears are kept here at a time but we didn’t see any of them today. I question whether this is humane living conditions for these animals, but breeding has been allowed with 2 cubs born here recently. Then the guide lost me when she started talking about the 2 bears they acquired at customs after they had been abandoned. Wait! What? Like this happens all the time!

A Man Cave for Geeks

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic
May 6, 2022

After a “nondescript” lunch, we discovered an art gallery and a vey cool motorcycle museum upstairs in the restaurant. Allan was definitely getting his geek on as he rattled off dates and names of different bikes that meant nothing to me.

A lot of the bikes had the insignia CZ which stands for Ceska Zbrojovka, a Czechoslovakian company that originally made firearms and became one of the first companies to manufacture real motocross bikes, according to my geek husband. As a matter of fact they ceased manufacturing street bikes in 1972 so they could focus on making these motocross bikes. He also mentioned that his motocross hero Joel Robert, rode one of these bikes to the 1968 world championship. Evidently he placed 1st or 2nd between 1964 and 1972 in 5 consecutive world championships. I enjoyed seeing Allan giddy with pure boyish joy and also appreciated the fact that this upstairs museum was some guys awesome man cave.

After prying Allan from the exhibit we continued a quick walk around Cesky Krumlov while checking out whimsical statues before making our way to the town’s square where we contemplated a stop at the Torture Museum. We didn’t go in because the museum only accepted Czech cash and Allan wasn’t too keen on it anyway.

So we headed for a safer alternative the “Elon Schiller Art Centrum” which is an art gallery that we’d seen earlier on our walk. They were doing an exhibition on the artist Andrej Belocvetov whom did a lot of unique abstract pieces in a style similar to Jackson Pollock. The multiple level gallery building was also interesting to walk around with its history dating back to 1503 as the towns first brewery.

Graffiti in Vienna

Vienna, Austria
May 8, 2022

We could see graffiti on large sections of the canal as we headed by bus toward the historic center of Vienna. This art is unofficially allowed in certain areas and for the most part the taggers had carefully contained their craft to the inner cement walls of the canal with some overspill toward the road overpasses. These unexpected spray painted creations are planned yet temporarily tagged. Colorful murals may remain for 3 or 4 month before another budding enthusiast is allowed to paint over another’s unique art. Our young guide told us that the really good ones never get touched.

They say art is in the eye of the beholder and when your expecting to see Vienna with its classic Baroque style architecture, this tagging can be disturbing. But unlike at home, it’s not related to gang activity or drugs. It’s just art. Maybe.