We made the required (by us) stop at the meticulously rebuilt Frauenkirche, an 18th century church destroyed in the bombing. Now its interior is painted storybook colors — white and pastel green, peach, baby blue. The Green Vault museum was a construction site a decade ago; now its nine rooms showcase treasures of August the Strong, an 18th century Saxony ruler with Donald Trump spending habits.
After cultural overload at museums, we wandered into a courtyard market where mobs of families clutched pitas stuffed with beef and oozing white cheese. The aroma of garlic and grilled meats was overpowering, but oompah music was playing, so we did a quick two-step instead.
I thought that if the rest of the trip went as well as Dresden …
Karlovy Vary, we were delighted to discover, is a hilly spa town with a thermal spring, a graceful colonnade and several Art Nouveau buildings lining a canal-size river. The sprawling white Grandhotel Pupp is in the middle of it all.
We splurged on a premier suite, cream and powder blue. It had six French doors that opened onto balconies. It wasn't as glamorous as Queen Latifah's suite (filmed in a hotel in Prague, we learned), but we had fun exploring the hotel and finding locations featured in the movie.
Petr Brodsky, the front-desk manager, was a kindred spirit. He quoted Queen Latifah's character, who said, "I wasted too much of my life being afraid."
"She was fantastic," he said. "She was always in her jogging pants, running in the parks."
We skipped the hotel's formal New Year's Eve parties for dinner a deux, Champagne and sandwiches in our suite while watching our DVD of "Last Holiday" on my laptop. At midnight, the sky began exploding with 25 minutes of fireworks in a rainbow of colors. We looked from each of our six balconies and agreed that it was the perfect way to welcome 2013.
Frankfurt to Bangkok
Thai Air: 10 hours, 10 minutes
Hotel: Banyan Tree Bangkok
Why? We'd never been here.
Bangkok was a six-hour time change and a 60-degree increase in temperature. Many residents wear masks because of the smog. Photographs of the king hang from high-rises; our guide said it was forbidden to criticize the king, which doesn't bode well for productions of "The King and I."
BKK Tours was our conduit into this city of 8 million. Co-owner Air Reamsan arrived with a van and driver at 7 a.m. By then, our bodies didn't have any concept of time.
We spent the first tour day outside of Bangkok, intrigued by the packed Railway Market that extends to the railroad tracks. Vendors methodically rolled back their metal trays displaying seafood, grilled frogs and vegetables to make way for the commuter train, which arrives eight times daily.
A nearby market consisted of women paddling long boats, from which they sold cooked dishes and produce. Reamsan also took us to visit a brother and sister in their 60s who worked nonstop over a fire to produce coconut sugar. Reamsan said the sister told her, "We like it better when we fall from a big palm tree.... We have more time to think about how we're going to land."
The second day, we stayed in Bangkok, touring under a brutal sun but low humidity. The city's elaborate palaces and temples are as impressive as anything I've seen.
We had inexpensive massages at Wat Pho Temple's compound after walking past the 140-foot-long Reclining Buddha. Reamsan made a donation, then gave us each a metal bowl with 108 coins. "You say a prayer as you drop the coins in 108 bowls along the wall," she said. By the end, I had blessed the driver's family, third cousins, people in line. And, like Thai people, I bowed a namaste-style greeting to almost everybody.
Bangkok to Singapore
Singapore Airlines, 2 hours, 30 minutes