Phew. I'm exhausted. Right now, I am typing from our bed at Paya's mother's house, recovering from 4 hours of travel up through slovakia and into the Czech Republic, but this is but the latest in a long line of journeys over the last week or so.
We arrived just less than a fortnight ago from London having decided that the best use of our financial resources was to visit for two weeks instead of the usual one. The journey started our badly. Our plane was full of chattering girls from what appeared to be a Jewish religious college. Don't get me wrong - I don't care that they were Jewish - my only concern was with the very loud prayers they chanted during take-off and landing.
Prayer and turbulence aside, we were an hour or so late into Prague which cut down our time at my favourite restaurant. If you are ever in Prague I would strongly recommend the Cafe Imperial... it seems to be stuck in time in an age of 1920's elegance, when the intelligentsia would frequent the restaurants of Prague, Vienna, Budapest and Belgrade.
After Prague, we travelled to Paya's home-town and got our usual effusive welcome. My mother in law is AWESOME, and within moments she had thrust into my hand a shot of Myslivescka - a herbal brandy, One thing I have come to learn and very much embrace is that there is no discomfort or ill that cannot be cured or at least made better with a shot of Myslivecka. You might recall from the film "Schindler's List" that Myslivecka was Oscar Schindler's favourite drink.
Our first trip out was to visit Paya's family ancestral home, a league or so deeper into the countryside and almost all of it uphill, I spent most of the journey clinging with one hand to the car door handle and the other hand clinging to my stomach as we raced around serpentine roads at a speed not unfamiliar to a roller-coaster aficionado but unfortunately extremely unfamiliar to my British reserve and temperament.
If I were to describe the house there, I think the word I would use is "rustic". There is something rather special about eating "Klobasa" (sausages) cooked in a closed metal furnace, while sharing a shot or fourteen of "slivovice" (home made distillate of plums often described as a plum brandy - though this description implies a level of refinement that you would never get from real slivovice - this stuff will blow your socks off).
One thing about the Czech's is that they have a devout respect for the dead. We visited the grave sites of a number of Paya's family members, and I was very much touched by how well tended the graves were - even of people long since gone. It was very clear that tending these monuments was a sacred duty to each and every person in the village.
Our next trip (leaving out some details in between) was to Vienna. I had decided that since we were spending our holiday visiting relatives, I wanted at least one day of the trip to be all about what I wanted to do. With this in mind, our trip to Vienna concentrated on the food. Vienna is rightly famous for it's Wiener Schnitzel - basically a veal escalope served with a slice of lemon and rosemary potato. And the very best in my opinion is served at the Café Restaurant Residenz Schönbrunn, located (as the name might suggest) at the Schönbrunn Palace.
If my first priority in Vienna is Wiener Schnitzel and Schönbrunn, my second priority is Sacher Torte. The Sacher hotel is world famous for the eponymous chocolate cake invented by their original chef. Don't be put off my the price - in anyone's book, €36 for a chocolate cake of 19cm is a lot of money, but I absolutely promise you that it is worth it.
Our final stop in Vienna was the orangery restaurant at our hotel. The reason for this is that I absolutely adore beef carpaccio and this restaurant happens to make one of the best - though I appreciate that raw meat is not everyone's idea of a great meal.
From Vienna we travelled across part of Hungary to a border town with Slovakia, where we would meet Paya's grandparents, who are ethnic Hungarian. The thing you need to know about Hungarian women is that their hospitality is legendary. There are only two possible answers to the offer of food at a Hungarian table. The first is "Yes Please", the second sounds remarkably like "no thanks" but to a Hungarian woman generally means "Yes please".
No trip to Hungary would be complete without an investment in a few bottles of Tokaj - a legendary and sweet wine that in the most quality forms can age and keep past 200 years. In our case, we bought the best we could afford (which was not 200 year old, not that the local hypermarket stocked 200 year old Tokaj) and will save it for special occasions.
We are now back in Paya's home town where we will rest for two days before heading back to London. Thoroughly exhausted, the one thing I love about travelling in Europe is that you learn and experience something new every time.
That's why, even in the haze of my exhaustion, there is a creeping sense that I am really looking forward to European Odyssey 2015 too....