Monthly Archives: November 2014

Final Day of an Amazing Adventure

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I left my hotel at 4:30am to head to the airport. When I bought my tickets I had forgotten that the 24-hour clock is used for tickets. As a result, I accidentally bought a return ticket for a flight that departed at 7am. All things considered, it ended up working out very nicely in the end. Because I left Prague so early, I had an entire day to explore Paris and do some of the things that I’ve always wanted to do.

Getting to the airport and the flight itself were uneventful experiences. I landed in Paris and made my way from CDG to Paris without any problem. I ended up beginning my morning at Gare d’Austerlitz, where my train would depart from that evening. I also learned the previous night that there are guarded lockers that you can rent at the train station. Needless to say, I decided it was worth whatever they were charing to not walk around Paris with my backpack.

Because I have been to Paris multiple times before (with the most recent trip being less than one week earlier) I have visited all of the popular tourist destinations. One thing I’ve always wanted to do in Paris, but never had the time to do was visit the covered passages throughout the city. These covered passages were built between the end of the 18th and the mid 19th-centuries. There were originally 60 covered passages throughout the city, however only 15 remain today. While I was not able to visit all 15, I was able to visit multiple.

Technically, the passages are private roads with shops on either side. The passages that remain today have been declared historical monuments. Each has a unique style and some have been better maintained than others. The passages I was able to visit are:

  • Place Choiseul
  • Grand Cerf
  • Galerie Vivienne
  • Passage du Caire

In my opinion, Galerie Vivienne is the best maintained and preserved that I visited. It definitely had a very luxurious feel to it Passage du Caire is one of the least well-maintained. When I found it I felt like I had discovered the Detroit of the covered passages. At one time, it was stunningly beautiful, but now it is neglected and in ruins, but definitely has the potential to be something great again.

As much as I loved visiting each of the passages, getting to them was less than simple. Because they are not major tourist attractions they tend to be located off the main roads and with minimal signs to guide you. Also, for whatever reason, my phone was not working properly, so I was literally wandering around aimlessly for far too long.

While wandering around Paris looking for the covered passages I stumbled upon many interesting things I had never visited. For example, the Nelson Mandela Garden. It was a beautiful park, with a very different feeling than Luxembourg or the Tuilleries. I also stumbled upon one of the smaller, but still somewhat well known, churches. However, I am currently drawing a blank on its name. Also, I found Lunettes pour Tous, an eyeglass store I had seen on a TV show about innovative French companies. The premise is that you shouldn’t have to pay an astronomical amount of money for something as basic as glasses. Your glasses will cost you less than 10€ (about $13).

There was one other thing I hoped to accomplish during my day in Paris. When I arrived I was not optimistic that I would have enough time to do this last thing. However, I had plenty of time. One of my favorite movies is Amélie. It is set in Paris and features many beautiful bridges throughout the film. The part of Paris where much of the movie is set is known as Canal Saint-Martin. One of the reasons I had not visited it before is because there is no easy way to get there using public transit. The most common way to get there is to take the Metro and then walk, which is exactly what I did. It was a very pleasant walk.

When I arrived it was everything that I had hoped it would be. The canal itself was a canal, but the area was charming and cute. The shops were colorful and very French. The bridges were just as they appeared in the movie. I ate lunch in this area, as there were several restaurants that were either vegetarian, or extremely vegetarian-friendly, a rarity in France. I had originally selected a vegetarian restaurant, but when I arrived I was very underwhelmed by the menu. I remembered passing a Middle Eastern restaurant, Mezz, and decided that falafel sounded good to me. The food was just okay. I think living in metro-Detroit for most of my life I got spoiled by the copious amounts of superb Middle Eastern food that is available. While the food was simply ‘okay’ a major bonus was the fact that they had true, honest to goodness lemonade. This simply does not exist in France. To top it off, the lemonade was true, old-fashioned, homemade lemonade.

By the time I had finished lunch I still had about 4 hours until I needed to be at the train station. It felt weird being in a wonderful, historical city, such as Paris, and not having any idea what to do or see. It was at about this time that I began toying with the idea that I had seen everything there was to see/do/experience in Paris. While I know this is not true, it truly felt like it at that time. I knew there was one museum I wanted to visit, but by this time my feet were very sore and the idea of doing that much more walking sounded like a terrible idea. I decided to revisit some of the monuments that I hadn’t visited since my very first trip to Paris when I was 13 years old.

I began my tour down memory lane with a visit to Place de la Republique. Other than the fact that there is an interesting statue in the square, there isn’t much to do when visiting. The history behind it is interesting enough, but truly not very memorable. The one thing I noticed while visiting is how much the woman resembles our Statue of Liberty, which was a gift from France.

Once I left Place de la Republique, I made my way over to Place de la Bastille. Today, la Bastille no longer exists. Rather, there is a column that stands where the Bastille (the prison) used to stand. The column is called Colonne de juillet, or July Column. It is meant to remember the July Revolution of 1830. None of the Bastille remains, which can be confusing for people who are visiting and do not know the history.

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After visiting Place de la Bastille I began working my way toward the train station, hoping to find a café to stop and have a drink along the way. Just outside of Gare d’Austerlitz there is a garden, Jardin des Planteswhich I did not know existed. Since I had the time, I decided to wander around for a bit. The gardens were still beautiful. Apparently, the garden was created in 1626 as a royal garden of medicinal plants. Also, within the garden you will see the Museum of Natural History. Walking through the garden was a relaxing way to end my whirlwind adventure.

 

The last thing I did in Paris was go to a café and have a drink before heading to the train station. I retrieved my backpack and found a small bar in the train station to have a drink while waiting for my train. Of course, my train was delayed by almost 30 minutes. However, once I was on the train, it was a smooth journey back to Tours.

On the train I began thinking about my next solo adventure. Stay tuned for an update on where I will be heading next. Hint: I’m basing my choice on the quality of Christmas markets in the town.

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Prague: My Final Day

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When I arrived in Prague I wasn’t sure how the trip would unfold. This was my first solo, international adventure. It was also my first time traveling to a country where I knew none of the language (I did research useful phrases and translate them into Czech, however, my pronunciation was awful!). Overall, I was pleased with everything about this trip. I learned a great deal about myself and what I can do without the help of others. I visited many amazing places and created many memories.

My final day began a little later than I had planned (8am, rather than 7:30am), but I was still able to see and do everything that I had planned. Because many of the places I wanted to visit did not open until 9am, this gave me time to visit some of the other statues and monuments that did not have restricted hours.

First Stop: Main Train Station, Praha Hlavní Nádraží

Turns out, I had actually been here yesterday, but didn’t realize it. I had a minor emergency when the batteries in my camera died, so I entered what I thought was simply a metro station, to buy new batteries. I did not know there was another building connected, but on the other side of the road that was the Main Train Station. It was beautiful! Much more artsy than the train stations in France, but still quite simplistic.

Next Stop: St. Nicholas Church, Malá Strana

Prior to leaving France I purchased a small travel guide for Prague. Many of the places mentioned in the book were already on my list, however, there were many places I did not know about, but seemed interesting. The St. Nicholas Church was one of those places. On the outside, it looks like most other churches. On the inside it is much more detailed than most churches I have visited. The altars were extremely elaborate and detailed.

Next Stop: Prague Castle, Pražský Hrad

Living in France, specifically the Loire Valley, I am no stranger to the beauty of castles. I’ve visited several castles in France and a few in Spain, but that is all. A friend suggested that if I only visit one thing in Prague to be sure to see the Prague Castle. This friend is French, so I knew that her recommendation was one not to be ignored.

I spent a considerable amount of time researching Prague Castle because I wanted to learn about the history and plan an adequate amount of time to visit without feeling rushed. I’m glad I researched because it was much more massive than I had imagined. In fact, I learned, it is the largest castle in the world. Also, it’s apparently the residence and office of the President of the Czech Republic. My goal was to arrive between 9am and 10am, which I was able to do.

While it is very easy to find and see the Prague Castle throughout Prague, when one is there and trying to actually enter the castle, it is much more complicated. I spent more time than I would like to admit walking in circles trying to find the entrance. It turns out that signs in Prague are only written in Czechoslovakian, which is not in the least bit helpful for me. The good news is that the French are terrible at creating signs, so I am quite used to walking around blindly.

 

Visitors have a choice of which type of ticket to buy, depending on what you want to see and do. I strongly suggest you buy the most expensive, 700CZK (about $32) as you will be able to pass several hours without becoming bored or running out of things to see and learn. Also, if you can, try and arrive as close to the beginning of an hour as possible, as there is an interesting changing of the guard ceremony to see. It’s very similar to the Changing of the Guards at Buckingham Palace, but much more casual and less intimidating.

I began my visit in St. Vitus Cathedral. It was beautiful and quite impressive, however not much different from other cathedrals I have visited that were built during the same period. The stained glass windows were absolutely stunning.

While visiting St. Vitus Cathedral my camera began yelling at me that my batteries were almost dead again (turns out I took a lot of pictures throughout this trip). Luckily, I was still near the entrance and the gift shop where I could buy more batteries.

Once I had a camera that was ready to go again, I headed toward to Old Royal Palace. It turns out that it was closed that day for technical reasons. Things like this happen to me often. I used to get upset, but now I view them as an excuse to return if I like where I am visiting.

Right next to the Old Royal Palace was the exhibition “The Story of Prague Castle.” It was interesting because it detailed the history of the castle, as well as what has been discovered during renovations. Overall, it was interesting, but also overwhelming because there was so much information to read and so many artifacts to see.

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When I left this exhibition I ended up in the gardens, where I spent a considerable amount of time wandering and exploring. Unfortunately, it is not peak season for the gardens, so they were not that impressive. However, the views of Prague were astonishing. Also, because of a lack of signs/maps/information of any sort, I accidentally ended up leaving Prague Castle. To return, I had to climb up hundreds of stairs and retrace my steps, practically back to where I started.

 

I then visited St. George’s Basilica. It was nice, but the man checking tickets at the door was very rude to everyone who entered. He left a bad taste in my mouth and it was difficult for me to enjoy being there, as I was expecting him to start yelling at me again.

Golden Lane with Daliborka Tower was my next stop. This was an area where people would have lived hundreds of years ago. It was still set up like a town, with shops and houses you can visit. It reminded me of the Petit Trianon in the Palace of Versailles in France. It was interesting, but extremely crowded. I visited many areas, but there were some that were simply too crowded. If there had been fewer people, I could easily have spent twice as much time exploring this area, but was feeling overwhelmed by the situation, so I decided not to stress about seeing everything.

After finally making my way through the massive crowds, I made my way to Powder Tower (not the same one I had already visited). The building itself was interesting, but the exhibit inside was less interesting for me. It was dedicated to the military and displayed uniforms. It was interesting, but not of very much interest for me, so I walked through relatively quickly. The one nice aspect was that it was not crowded at all.

Rosenberg Palace is also included in the ticket and is very interesting; however, photos are not allowed so it is one of the least memorable parts of Prague Castle for me. It is set up like it was when people lived there, so it was interesting to see, but really nothing all that special.

I spent some more time just walking around, as there are many buildings you cannot visit. The architecture throughout the area is stunning. By the time I was ready to leave, I had spent about 3 hours exploring. I did not feel rushed at all and luckily the lines were not too long for any of the places I visited. I would suggest dedicating a minimum of 2.5 hours if you plan to visit.

Next Stop: St. Loreto

This was one of my destinations that was not originally on my list of must-visit places. However, it was strongly recommended in the tour book I had purchased, so I decided it was worth visiting. Unfortunately, the outside was being renovated and for whatever reason, you could not enter the church. I was not the only person confused, as the posted hours said we should be able to visit the church. I could imagine it being very beautiful, however, it was difficult to truly appreciate it because of the construction

Next Stop: Church of Our Lady Victorious, Kostel Panny Marie Vítězné

I come from a Polish, Catholic family. When I was growing up my Nana had a ‘doll’ (turns out it was a statue) of baby Jesus. When I was young, I referred to this statues as “creepy baby Jesus” because I found it weird that a baby looked like an adult. In reading my guide book I discovered that “creepy baby Jesus” is actually called Pražské Jezulátko, or ‘Infant Jesus of Prague.’ While I am not religious, I decided to add seeing this to my list of things to do because of the connection to my childhood.

Also, when I was an infant I accidentally (at least I’m fairly certain it was an accident) broke the hands off of my Nana’s statue. I decided to buy her a mini replacement, from the original location. I’m glad I took the time to visit.

Next Stop: Lennon Wall

Was not on any of my lists, but I discovered it by accident walking around. It was cool to see, but nothing that has any significance for me. I’m glad that I accidentally stumbled upon it, though.

Next Stop: Petřín Lookout Tower

This was something I had heard about and researched, but was torn about actually visiting. On the one hand, it was built to look like a mini Eiffel Tower for the 1891 Jubilee Exhibition. On the other hand, it was isolated from everything else, and aside from offering a nice view of the city, wasn’t really anything special.

In the end, I decided to visit it because I had the time and I didn’t want to regret not doing it. Because it is located at the top of a hill, getting there is not the easiest of walks. There is a funicular railway (it reminded me of a ski lift) to get to the top, or you can navigate several paths and trails to walk to the top. I tried my darndest to find the funicular railway, but had absolutely no luck. This meant I was walking to the top. Again, there was no map or signs pointing you in the right direction. The views of the city along the way were breathtaking. Eventually, I made it to the top.

 

The area around Petřín Lookout Tower was interesting. There were many historical buildings to see; however, you could not go inside. I bought my ticket to visit the tower itself. I hate heights. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before. Hate. Loathe. Avoid at all costs. For whatever reason, I decided to put my fears aside and climb the stairs to the top. About half way up I began to have a mini panic attack and had to stop to calm down. Once I made it to the top the view was nice, but I don’t know that it was much better than any of the other views I had from the top of other buildings and towers. The fun part was going back down. I was shaking pretty badly, but more than anything I wanted to be out of the tower and back on solid ground. I slowly made my way back down and eventually calmed myself enough so that I could make the trek back down.

Luckily, I found a sign that included images as well as words, and I saw what looked like the funicular railway. I decided to follow the signs and see if I could find this thing. Turns out, it was much easier to find from the top of the hill. I was willing to pay to take this down the hill, but it turns out the cost was included in my public transit pass. In the car I met a pair of elderly Americans. It turns out it was a mother and her son who were doing a mini vacation together. They live in Texas and we got to talking about why I was in Prague and what I did back in the states. It was a very nice conversation and the mother reminded me of my Nana with some of her comments!

 

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Final Stop: Prague

I then had dinner and wandered around Prague for a bit before returning to the hotel. I didn’t have anything specific that I wanted to see, so I just took in everything that was happening around me. I visited Old Town one last time, walked across the Charles Bridge, and at one last Trdelník before heading to dinner near my hotel. After dinner I walked around the area of my hotel a little more and visited Wenceslas Square one last time. I decided that I was going to treat myself and have dessert since it was my last night in Prague. I decided to try what was translated as ‘apple pie’ but was so much better than what I know as apple pie.

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My trip to Prague ended with some Czech wine in my hotel room. It was the perfect ending for this trip, especially since I had a flight early the next morning back to Paris.

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Prague: Part II

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Prior to arriving in Prague I did a great deal of research about what to see and do. When I travel I try to find a nice balance between touristy things and unique/local things to do. As a result, I consult guidebooks as well as other blogs and personal suggestions. I had an extensive list of things I wanted to see and do around Prague, which meant that I was going to be very busy for the next couple of days.

One of the off-the-beaten-path things I wanted to do was find some of the David Cerny sculptures. Several of these sculptures are well known, while others are not. His sculptures are often controversial, which meant that I had to see them! Throughout my journeys I discovered three different installments. St. Wenceslas Riding a Dead Horse, Piss, and Tower Babies. I found each of these sculptures to be interesting and I wished I had more time to find the others.

My next stop of Wenceslas Square. I spent far too much time searching for this destination. After nearly an hour and stumbling upon many other interesting sites I discovered that my adventures had actually begun that morning in Wenceslas Square. While in Wenceslas Square I also discovered that there is a Czech brewing company called Budweiser. This caused me to add “Budweiser” to my list of topics to research. I believe that the main reason I struggled with locating Wenceslas Square is because it is less of a square, and more of an large, rectangular, island in the middle of a major boulevard. At one end of the ‘square’ is a statue of St. Wenceslas riding a horse (not dead!), in front of the National Museum. I was very disappointed to learn that the National Museum was closed for renovations, as the building was stunning.

 

I also stumbled upon the Main Train Station (which I didn’t know at the time and returned to actually find it the following day), a statue of Woodrow Wilson, the Jubilee Synagogue, and some other interesting buildings.

My next stop was the Dancing House a.k.a. Fred and Ginger. Other than a restaurant, there’s not much in this building that is open to the public. As a result, I did not visit inside. However, on the outside it truly was interesting to see. To get to Fred and Ginger I took the metro. What struck me as most surprising about the public transit in Prague was how inexpensive and clean everything was. A 24-hour pass was under $5 and included all public transit (bus, metro, tram/streetcar).

I then walked along the Vltava River toward Charles Bridge. I reached a bridge that was filled with tourists and I assumed I had reached Charles Bridge. I was truly unimpressed with this bridge, but took the required photos anyway. I then continued on my journey toward Old Town. As I was approaching Old Town I saw another bridge that was slightly more impressive. It turns out, this bridge was actually Charles Bridge, not the first bridge I saw! This bridge was more impressive, but still not that impressive. There were many other sites I visited in Prague which I thought were much more noteworthy than Charles Bridge. I walked across Charles Bridge and took the required photos along the way. The one awesome thing about this bridge is that it offers an amazing view of Prague Castle.

Old Town was probably my favorite part of Prague. The history is fascinating and the architecture beautiful. While in Old Town I visited the Astronomical Clock, Old Town Hall, several gift shops, and ate lunch at a vegetarian restaurant, Maitrea. Here I found a traditional Czech meal, Svíčková, but made with a meat substitute. I thoroughly enjoyed my meal and ginger-lemonade. I made sure to visit the Astronomical Clock Tower, which offered a birds-eye view of Old Town, and much of Prague.

Because of what I was able to see from the top of the Astronomical Clock Tower I decided to go on a few extension adventures. One of the things I decided I was going to walk to was the Prague Metronome. It was on my list as something I wanted to visit if time allowed, but I didn’t realize how close it actually was to Old Town. The Metronome was definitely worth the trip. My only disappointment was that the metronome was not functioning when I was there. I also spent some time exploring the park/garden where the metronome was located.

My next stop was the Powder Tower. As I was making my way there I stumbled upon a random marching band and parade. Anyone who has ever traveled with me knows that this is a regular occurrence. I tend to find random festivals/protests/parades wherever I go. I’m not entirely sure what the purpose of this parade was, but it turns out they were also heading to the Powder Tower. Apparently, the Powder Tower marked the beginning of the Royal Route in medieval Prague. The view was nice, but if it had cost more than a few USD I don’t know that it would have been worth climbing.

I then decided to find the Žižkov Television Tower. Turns out, it’s in a slightly scarier part of Prague. However, because I was exploring in the afternoon, with plenty of daylight and many other people out and about, I knew it was okay. The tower is interesting, but the real reason I wanted to see it was because David Cerny has sculptures on it…babies! I also discovered many beautiful churches on my way.

Having walked what felt like many, many miles today, I decided to go back to my hotel to drop some things off and to charge my cell phone. My final adventure of the day was going to be visiting Charles Bridge and Old Town when it was dark. It was a very different experience and definitely worth doing. Because it was chilly, I decided to get a glass of mulled wine. It was delicious! After walking around for a bit, I decided to stop and have a drink. Because I was in Old Town I had a seemingly unlimited number of choices. I discovered there was a speak-easy style bar. I love speak-easies, so it was decided. It had a very familiar feel to me, and an impressive drink menu. I felt like I was back in Detroit at Cliff Bell’s, but paying much less! A drink that would have cost me $12-14 in Detroit cost only 135CZK (about $6)!

After enjoying a few tasty beverages it was time for dinner. I had done my research and found another vegetarian restaurant, Estrella. This one was even smaller than where I ate lunch, but just as delicious. After dinner I headed back to my hotel because I would be getting up early the next morning to visit Prague Castle.

All things considered, I think this was a very productive and enjoyable day in Prague.

Prague: Part I

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Following my super exciting weekend in Paris I was off on yet another adventure. I’ve traveled alone before, but always within the states. This trip marked my first solo trip to a non-English/French speaking country. I was a little intimidated about this opportunity. While I knew that in the end I would have an awesome experience, I had a long way to go before I would feel like my trip was a success.

Charles de Gaulle airport (CDG) remains the most overwhelmingly intimidating airport I have ever visited. Every time I’m there I am overcome with a great sense of stress and panic. This time was no different. The one big difference was that I would be traveling within the Schengen region, which meant not having to clear customs.

This was also my first time flying with Czech Airlines. I did my research so I was feeling comfortable about flying with this airline. I also learned that they are partners with AirFrance and Delta which helped to alleviate any lingering concerns. The flight was very short–about 90 minutes–from Paris to Prague. The flight was uneventful, but figuring out how to get from the airport to my hotel proved to be a slightly more challenging endeavor.

I decided to take the bus, followed by the metro, followed by walking to reach my hotel. On a good day navigating from point A to point B proves to be somewhat challenging. Today was no different. Navigating the public transit was no problem. However, walking from the metro to my hotel proved to be a much more challenging task. After many wrong turns I eventually reached my hotel.

My hotel was not as nice as my hotel in Paris (which was super surprising). but served its purpose. After getting settled in it was almost dinner time. Because I was unfamiliar with the area I did not want to do too much venturing. I decided to ask at the front desk for a dinner recommendation. When I told the receptionist I was a vegetarian he was at a total loss for recommendations. I ended up wandering around the few blocks surrounding my hotel. Eventually, I found a restaurant with a temeph option and decided that was perfect.

While the Czech Republic is part of the European Union it does not use the euro, but rather uses the Czech koruna (CZK). Once CZK is worth about $0.04. This means that prices initially appear much more expensive. However, after converting the CZK to USD the prices were much more reasonable, even cheap! Dinner and three drinks cost under $14!

After dinner I called it quits as I wanted to get a good night’s sleep so that I would be ready for a long day of adventuring.