Tag Archives: Paris

If We Were Meant to Stay in One Place, We’d Have Roots Instead of Feet

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At Château de Chenonceau

The past few weeks have been a true whirlwind of adventure. Saying good-bye to my twenties is truly turning out to be the adventure of a lifetime. While I am still not okay with the fact that I am about to turn 30, having so much fun in my final months as a twenty-something is making the inevitable at least enjoyable.

About two weeks ago, my friend Chris came to visit me. We had planned a ridiculous road-trip through Western Europe, and it shaped up to be much more eventful than either of us could have imagined. Chris arrived in France on a Saturday, and we set off on Sunday morning. Our trip included the following destinations:

  • Loire Valley: Château de Chenonceau and Chaumont-sur-Loire
  • Munich, Germany: dinner and to see the glockenspiel
  • Salzburg, Austria: Sound of Music Tour and architecture
  • Liechtenstein: originally, renting and riding bikes, but mother nature had other plans, wine tasting
  • Zermatt, Switzerland: go to Glacier Paradise to see the Matterhorn
  • Lausanne, Switzerland: wine tasting
  • Bourgogne, France (region): wine tasting
  • Tours: cathedral, le Petit Atelier (coffee shop), Château de Langeais (not technically Tours), wine tasting
  • Paris: le Panthéon, l’Arc de Triomphe, champagne

I’m going to write a very brief synopsis of the adventures that ensued for each of these destinations. In order to get the full story, you will have to ask Chris or me personally. Let’s just say a lot happened in a very short period of time.

Munich, Germany:

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Old Town Hall, Glockenspiel

Munich had been on my list for several years, and still remains there. Unfortunately, we only had time for a short stop in Munich, but I quickly realized how much I wanted to visit for real. Munich was a big city, but very different from the other big European cities I have visited. In my opinion, Munich was the first BIG European city I had driven in, and it was not as terrifying as I had anticipated. We were able to find parking with relative ease and found the Old Town Hall and glockenspiel without much problem as well. We ate in one of the oldest beer halls in Munich, and it was mediocre at best. It didn’t help that we were in a hurry, but the atmosphere was fun and I think I would have enjoyed it much more if I could have had a few glasses of wine.

One of my favorite memories from our short visit to Munich was being able to drive on the Autobahn. First of all, I love driving in general. Secondly, anyone who has driven with me knows that I like to drive really, really fast. Thirdly, the Autobahn combined these two loves. At my fastest, I made it to 180kmph (112mph). It was awesome!

Salzburg, Austria:

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At one of the glacier lakes

We arrived very late at night, so it was difficult to form a true opinion about Salzburg, as our hotel was at the top of a winding road going through a mountain. We check in and pretty much went straight to bed. The next morning was something Chris was really looking forward to–the Sound of Music Tour. In all honesty, this was probably the activity I was least looking forward to on this entire trip. I hate tours, especially bus tours. I hate being part of tour groups. Also, I’ve only seen “The Sound of Music” once so I’m just not that interested in it. It ended up only being somewhat awful. The one part of the tour I really enjoyed was the view of the glacier lakes. However, I think I would have liked it even more if we had our car and could have stopped whenever we wanted. We also passed several awesome hiking trails that I would have loved to visit.

After the Sound of Music Tour we explored Old Town and some of the architecture (the part of Salzburg I was not interested in). I love the Baroque style of architecture, and seeing as so many influential composers are from Salzburg, I found it fascinating to walk around and imagine the inspiration for some of the pieces I have performed throughout my musical career. This was our only day in Austria, as the next morning we were getting up bright and early to drive to Liechtenstein.

Liechtenstein:

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Wine Tasting in Liechtenstein

Let’s begin the story with an explanation that we had one idea and mother nature had another. The sole purpose of our visiting Liechtenstein was to rent and ride bikes the length of the country. I checked the weather before we left and there was a 100% chance of heavy showers. We managed to make it to Liechtenstein with the hope that it would clear up. It definitely did not. Our first stop was the Office of Tourism. Liechtenstein is one of the few countries in the Schengen Zone where it is possible to get a stamp in your passport (if you are willing to pay 3€). Next, we had lunch at an Asian Fusion restaurant. It was the best Thai food I’ve had since leaving the states. It was actually a little bit spicy and cooked perfectly.

By this point, we had realized the rain was not going to stop. It was also around this time that I discovered there was a winery in Liechtenstein. Since we couldn’t rent bikes, we decided to go wine tasting instead! It was one of (if not) the best wine tastings I’ve done in my life. We sampled three wines–a red, rosé, and white. The ‘samples’ were practically full glasses. For the first time in my life, I wasn’t able to finish all of my samples, as I had to drive us to Täsch, which was a route through the mountains and I wanted to be safe. It was also a seated tasting in one of the cellars, so it was extremely calm and relaxing. We left Liechtenstein and began the crazy drive to Täsch. Let me preface this story by saying that during the planning stages of this trip, I was under the impression that Chris was going to be splitting the driving responsibilities with me. Had I known that I was going to be doing all of the driving, I would have gone into this adventure with a different mentality.

That being said, the drive from Liechtenstein to Täsch was one of the most terrifyingly awful drives of my life. Prior to leaving for this vacation I had purchased a GPS, as it was cheaper for me to buy one than to pay for one with the rental car. I had been careful to avoid all toll roads, but what I wasn’t careful to avoid were ferries. Silly me, the possibility of a ferry was something that did not cross my mind. When we left Liechtenstein, the GPS said our drive would take just over 4 hours, which wasn’t terrible. About 2 hours into the drive, it had us deviate from the main road and begin zigzagging through these back roads, and ended by telling us to ‘proceed to the ferry.’ (Which we did not see.) We then reprogrammed the GPS telling it to avoid toll roads AND ferries. Our new route would take just over 5 hours. I literally could have cried at hearing this. I was tired, it was raining, and we were driving through the Swiss Alps, none of which made the drive especially easy or enjoyable.

I sucked it up, put on some Sara Bareilles and forged through this disaster. We continued driving through the Swiss Alps and countless ghost towns. Just when things seemed to be becoming almost normal, in terms of the road, we suddenly crossed into Italy! In comparison to the Swiss Alps, the Italian Alps were astronomically worse. The roads were even narrower, twisting, and up/downhill. My nightmare was multiplied. And on top of all of this, we were now driving through dense fog. The posted speed limit was 90kmph (HA! On my best of days, in perfect weather, I would not have gotten close to this speed!). My actual speed was between 30-40kmph. Given as I was going less than half of the posted speed limit, our drive time also lengthened. Each time we got a break from the winding mountain roads, I was dealing with equally insane village roads and deer. Honestly, if there had been a hotel, we would have stopped for the night. I was at my breaking point with only 1.5 hours of the drive remaining. Just when I thought I was done and had survived driving through the Alps, I had one final push to get to the hotel. All uphill on winding road, still in the rain and fog. It was after 1am by the time we rolled into our hotel, which was locked. I sat in the car and had a meltdown while Chris tried to get us into the hotel.

After another 30-45 minutes, we were in our hotel room, which thankfully had a bathtub. I ended my hellacious drive with the most relaxing bath of my entire life. Then I took a nap.

Zermatt, Switzerland:

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The cables for the third gondola.

After a short nap, we were up and ready to go again. Because no cars are allowed in Zermatt, we had to take the train from Täsch to Zermatt. One of the reasons we chose our hotel was because of its proximity to the train station (literally across the street). The train ride was stunning and when it ended you were in a typical ski town, but so much cuter than any I had ever visited before. There was still a very Bavarian feel to the town itself, which I really enjoyed and appreciated. Our first destination was to get tickets for Glacier Paradise. We got our tickets and began the walk to the first cable car/gondola. Back story to this adventure. I hate cable cars/anything suspended by a wire that I have to get on. HATE. When I was a child my family took a vacation to Disney World and my mother made all of us go on the cable cars across the park. Heights are one of my biggest fears in life. Actually, I think heights are my biggest fear, and one that unfortunately debilitates me from time to time. My fear of heights seems to be getting worse as I get older, but I am really trying to work through it. As a child, I sat on the floor of the cable car screaming and crying the length of Disney World. I was afraid a similar situation was going to happen on my way to the Matterhorn. Needless to say, I managed to keep it together for all three, that’s right THREE gondolas.

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View from the top

By the time we reached the top, we went to one of the lookout points to see all of the mountains. It was stunning. Honestly, words and pictures do not do this experience justice. If you ever have the opportunity, you MUST go to Glacier Paradise. We then found the restaurant/bar at the top, where I promptly rewarded my bravery with a few glasses of wine. We then explored all of the parts, including an ice cave, and a few more lookout points. Everything was so clear and calm. It inspired me to visit the French Alps within the next year. I’ve also decided to give snowboarding another shot!

We spent the rest of the day exploring Zermatt. We had a small snack from a bakery and then did a bit of shopping in town. After, it was too early for dinner, so I found a cool bar for us to stop at and have a few drinks. Because we were in Switzerland (wow is it expensive!) we stuck with wine. We also had some quality conversation over our wine and just enjoyed being where we were and not having anything pressing to do. For dinner we had cheese fondue. I have had cheese fondue in France, and it was quite different in Switzerland. The cheese was much thinner and not as flavorful, in my opinion. I’m glad we were able to experience cheese fondue in Switzerland, but it is not something I feel the need to do again.

Lausanne, Switzerland:

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In the port of Lausanne/Ouchy

Jeannette (my best friend) and I are slightly crazy, especially when it comes to lists and trying to accomplish everything. In all honesty, it is probably my insanity that drives us most of the time, but nonetheless, she seems to have jumped on board with finding lists. One list she found was “Europe’s 11 Most Underrated Small Cities.” Lausanne was one of the cities on the list, so when I discovered how close we were going to be, I immediately added it as a ‘must-see’ during our visit. At first, it seemed very industrial and I couldn’t understand how it made the list. It turns out there are several parts of Lausanne, and we happened to stumble upon the right part, eventually. Lake Geneva was gorgeous and the surrounding area was so peaceful. We also discovered that we were in the wine-region of Switzerland, so we had to go wine tasting. It turns out, that the ‘tasting room’ was actually more of a wine bar. It was nice, but not quite what we were looking for.

Bourgogne, France:

Prior to this vacation, I watched a documentary on Netflix called ‘A Year in Burgundy.’ I have a dear friend who is from this region and he talks about how amazing it is all the time. I had never visited, but it has been on my list for a few years now. After viewing the documentary, it was another addition to the ‘must-see’ list. I was not disappointed! The wines were amazing and the scenery was beautiful. I hope to return within the year to spend a few days exploring this region.

Tours, France:

We had only one day in Tours, so I decided to show Chris some of the ‘must sees.’ The cathedral is down the road from my apartment, so that was our first stop. We also did the cloister tour, which I had never done before. It was truly an interesting experience, and one that I would recommend to anyone visiting Tours. We then went to my favorite coffee shop, le Petit Atelier. It’s a relatively new coffee shop, but i have gotten to know the owners relatively well. We smile and wave when we see each other, and they know my order now. We had a relaxing coffee and cookie before beginning our adventure to Langeais. This was one of the remaining castles I had to visit in the Loire Valley. It was interesting, but not as memorable as the other castles I have visited. On the way home, we stopped to do some wine tasting in Montlouis-sur-Loire. It was interesting for me as I had never done wine tasting here. I usually go to Vouvray when I have people visiting. It was nice, but not something I feel the need to repeat (however, if it happened, I wouldn’t be disappointed).

We ended our night at Matt and Benoït’s for apéro. As always, Matt and Ben were extremely gracious hosts and welcomed Chris into their home as though they had known him for years. For the rest of our trip, Chris talked about how awesome it was to meet Matt and Ben and how much fun he had hanging out with them.

Paris, France:

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View from the top of l’Arc de Triomphe

The final stop on my vacation with Chris. Chris really wanted to visit the Panthéon, which I have only visited once before. However, when we arrived, we discovered that it was closed the entire week, in preparation for a special event. Since we couldn’t visit the Panthéon, we decided to stop and have a glass of wine instead. (I’m beginning to think that I am a bad influence on my friends…) After, we walked around Paris for a bit and got some gelato. Our final official stop of the night was a visit to the top of l’Arc de Triomphe. Again, something I have done several times, but always at a different time of day. It was, as always, a beautiful view. Chris then suggested that we stop in a café on the Champs-Élysées for a drink and light snack. We decided to have a few glasses of wine and some cheese in an excellent restaurant, George V. After, we decided to get take-out to eat in our hotel. I found a small Chinese place just off the Champs-Élysées, which was very reasonably priced, and surprisingly spicy. This food definitely gave the Thai food from Liechtenstein a run for its money.

We took our food back to the hotel room, which was excellently located, just off the Champs-Élysées. On the walk back to the hotel, I wasn’t paying attention and managed to miss a curb and crash to the ground, along with our dinners. I ended up twisting my ankle and scraping one knee pretty bad. The sad thing is, I was completely sober when all of this happened, so I have nothing to blame other than my clumsy nature. I got some ice and cleaned up my knee and pushed through the injuries. To conclude our vacation, we went out for a glass of champagne. The atmosphere at the bar was perfect, the service impeccable, and the champagne perfectly refreshing.

The next morning, we had to be out of the hotel bright and early, as Chris had a flight back to the states and I had a flight to Edinburgh, Scotland.

Quick Recap:

While this vacation did not go exactly as planned, in the end it all worked out and I have countless memories and stories. In the end, I drove almost 2,000 miles in less than one week, visited 7 different countries, and conquered many fears. Knowing what I do now, I would do it all over again, with only slight modifications along the way.

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Outside of Chaumont-sur-Loire

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When Grown Up Me Came to France

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I’ve been in France for almost five months (what?!) and was doing okay with being away from my family and friends, until Christmas was getting close. While I am not religious, I do enjoy spending time with the people I love, and being about 4,000 miles away was making this a very difficult year for me. Matt and Ben returned to the States to celebrate Christmas, so I was going to be left alone in France. Luckily, my friends Bruno and Lionel stepped up and suggested that I spend le Réveillon and Noël with them. I’m going to write an entire post about this experience later, but I really want to reminiscence on the time I spent with my dearest and bestest friend, Jeannette.

We had been planning her arrival in France practically since I found out that I would be moving here. We had the dates picked out, but didn’t buy the tickets right away. Because she bought the tickets so far in advance, it didn’t seem real.  I never forgot that she was coming, but there were many times that it did not seem possible that she would be in France with me, if that makes any sense. Leading up to her arrival, we spent a great deal of time talking about the things we wanted to see and do. One of the reasons that we are such great friends is because we have the same interests and travel styles. Neither of us want to do only the touristy things, but rather would spend time exploring the less touristy parts of a city. Of course, with her coming to France, there were a few non-negotiables that was had to do: see la Tour Eiffel, see le Louvre (not necessarily go inside), see l’Arc de Triomphe (not necessarily go to the top), visit Notre Dame, visit Montmartre. In addition to my must-visit list, her boyfriend also gave her a list. Her boyfriend is originally from Sweden and has lived and worked in many different European countries.

On the day of Jeannette’s arrival, Friday, 26 December 2014, I was so excited I could not sleep. In addition to my excitement, there were a few other factors that were keeping me awake.

  1. The night before, all of the wires that powered the trains had been cut between Tours and Paris (the route I needed to take). This meant that all trains were being re-routed or cancelled.
  2. Once I arrived in Paris, I had to get on the metro and then get on the RER to get to the airport. I am no longer afraid of transferring different lines, but rather afraid of unexpected delays.

Of course, the morning of Jeannette’s arrival I was super excited. Luckily, the trains were running normally and I made it to Paris without any significant problems. The train was a few minutes late, which normally isn’t a big deal, but this time I just wanted to get to the airport! I had been tracking Jeannette’s flight the entire journey from Tours to Paris, and of course, she arrived early. Early as in I was just approaching Paris when she landed. Another fun fact about this adventure is that Jeannette did not have a working phone. Her phone would only work when connected to WiFi, which of course, was not working at the airport.

After navigating from Gare d’Austerlitz to Gare du Nord, I successfully made it to the RER B, or so I thought. Turns out, there was an ‘incident’ that had interrupted the RER B line, so the trains were delayed for an unspecified amount of time. The trains ended up being delayed by almost an hour, which is significant considering this train runs once every 8-10 minutes. I was stuck on the quai waiting for a train, with no way to contact Jeannette. I was eventually able to talk to Jeannette (thanks to the kind person at the information desk who let her call me from the airport phone). I explained about all of the problems with the RER and that I would be there ASAP. After what felt like forever I successfully made it to CDG and found Jeannette. As so began the adventures of Grown Up Me and Mini Me!

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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.

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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La Toussaint Vacation

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Life in France is all about living in the moment and enjoying everything. I began my assistantship at the beginning of this month. So far, I have worked a total of eight days. Remember that I only work 12-hours each week, over the course of four days. This means that every week I have at least one day off, in addition to my regular weekend. I was just starting to get into the swing of things and develop a routine in both of my schools.

Last Friday was my final day of work for the next two weeks, due to All Saint’s Day (la Toussaint). It’s difficult for me to comprehend how it is possible for me to already be on vacation, when I have worked a total of eight days! I decided that for this vacation I wanted to visit somewhere in Europe I have not visited. After much research and changing my destination many times, I have finally selected my destination and purchased my tickets.

This coming weekend I will be in Paris. The husband of one of my college roommates is currently working in Dublin and has always wanted to visit Paris. However, he does not speak French and really doesn’t know what to see/do in Paris other than the major tourist destinations. I will spend 2.5 days exploring Paris and then I will continue my vacation by heading to a different destination.

After Paris I will be heading to Prague for 4 days. I have never been to Prague, so am super excited about this new adventure. It is also the first time that I have traveled to a foreign country alone. My biggest concern is not being able to speak the language. When traveling within France I am okay because I can speak the language.

So far on my list of things to do and see in Prague are:

-Charles Bridge

-Prague Castle

-Petrin Hall

-David Cerny’s public sculptures

-Church of Our Lady Tyn

-The Dancing House

-Old Town Square (Astronomical Clock, St. Nicholas Church)

Does anyone have any other suggestions for what I should see/do while in Prague? I’m always looking for additional ideas! I’m super excited for these new adventures!