Tag Archives: Sightseeing

Travel is the Only Thing You Buy that Makes You Richer

Standard

This past year has been one of great adventure for me. I’ve visited so many wonderful places, learned a great deal about the world and myself, and done a lot of solo traveling. As much as I love to travel and see the world, it is also difficult for me to spend my money. I am a very logical thinker and I know what my daily/weekly/monthly budgets are, and I adhere to them. Always. I sometimes get so focused on working and making money that I forget to enjoy life (especially the fact that I am living my dream in France). 2d47eeffb96a1b600d0d10e2d17c2c44While I am really good at budgeting and saving, it always stresses me out to see my bank accounts decreasing, rather than increasing. I’ve made it through some pretty difficult financial times this year, and finally feel like I am financially stable again. I don’t want to feel like I did at the beginning of last school year ever again. When I was presented with the possibility of several visitors this summer I had mixed feelings. I was of course excited about the possibility of having people visit, but also a little hesitant, as I wouldn’t be able to do my Freelance job while people were visiting me. In the end, I decided to do as much of my freelance work as possible before people started to arrive. This meant consolidating one month’s work into about two weeks. As stressful as this might sound, it helps me to feel more financially stable and secure, so that I can focus on having a good time and enjoying the company of the people around me.

After my adventures with Chris, I had a trip to Edinburgh, Scotland. While I would have preferred to have returned to France and picked up with my freelance work, I didn’t have a choice. My visa to stay in France expired at the end of May, so I had to leave the Schengen Zone and return to France as a tourist for the summer. If I didn’t leave the Schengen, a massive administrative nightmare would ensure, on both the French and the American sides. In order to try and prevent this catastrophe, I decided to willingly leave the Schengen. However, most of the countries which are not a part of the Schengen are very expensive countries to visit. The last couple of times I’ve had to leave the Schengen, I went to London. As awesome as London is, I was ready for a change. I began researching other countries that are not part of the Schengen. Many countries were possibilities at the beginning, but there were a few characteristics that set Edinburgh, Scotland apart from the others:

  • There is a zoo with pandas
  • There are several acclaimed vegetarian restaurants
  • There are castles
  • There are beautiful landscapes

Coming at the end of a week long adventure throughout Europe I was not feeling my best. The night before my flight to Edinburgh I tripped on a curb, twisted my ankle, and scraped my knee pretty badly. I felt like I was falling apart! I decided to push through the pain and tiredness and make the best of this new journey. Going through customs in the UK was a nightmare, as always. They asked me questions I had never been asked before–what are the credit limits on my credit cards, what are ALL of the places I’ll be visiting while in Edinburgh, and then the usual questions. While I understand being cautious, it was quite a different (more intense) experience than I’ve had while going through border patrol in any other country.

DSCF5495When I finally made it to Edinburgh, the first thing I noticed was how friendly and helpful everyone was being. I don’t know if living in France has jaded my perspective, but the people in Scotland seemed genuinely happy and willing to help in any way they could. I was able to take the tram from the airport to my hotel, which was very convenient. I arrived mid-afternoon in downtown Edinburgh and promptly checked into my hotel. I really just wanted to drop off my bags and begin exploring the city. My hotel was perfectly located–at the end of the tram line, next to Calton Hill. The hotel was very clean and modern with average-sized rooms (by European standards). It was perfect for me. I dropped all my things off in my room and set off to find the Scott Monument in the Princes Street Gardens. The monument was impressive from the ground, but it was possible to climb to the top. This was a major accomplishment for me, as it was a very windy day, so at the top of the monument I felt like I was going to be blown away. The views were spectacular and made me very eager to continue exploring this city.

After walking through the gardens I decided to just walk around the city for a bit. Just walking around was a relaxing DSCF5515experience. I decided I would try to find a cocktail bar before dinner. After some initial searching I found a bar called “Panda & Sons.” After reading a little bit more about this bar and a few reviews it was clear that I had to visit it. Unfortunately, I was almost two miles away. However, the walk to get to the bar took me through some interesting neighborhoods and near some cool looking gardens. This bar is designed to look like a speakeasy and is perfectly executed. Speakeasy-style bars have become one of my favorite types in recent years. Panda & Sons was the best executed speakeasy bar I’ve ever visited. You enter through a bookcase and walk into what feels like someone’s living room. The drinks are perfectly made, and relatively reasonably priced (considering it’s Edinburgh). Everything in the bar was panda themed (!!) which was an added bonus for me. After a few drinks I set off in search of dinner. I found a restaurant that claimed to have veggie burgers, and since I’ve yet to find a true veggie burger in Europe, decided to give it a shot. It was one of the most delicious veggie burgers I’ve had in a really long time. It was an actual veggie burger!

The next day was hiking day. In my research I discovered that there is some excellent hiking to be done in Edinburgh. Initially, I DSCF5550wasn’t sure if I was going to give it a shot or not. Hiking is one of those activities that I feel is best done with a buddy (especially when one is accident prone). After scoping out the situation and reading reviews/tips, I decided that I could handle it. However, with my still twisted ankle, hiking to Arthur’s Seat proved to be a more challenging task than I had anticipated. I didn’t end up making it all the way to the top, but I made it almost to the top. I encountered another American while hiking and she told me that the path got really narrow, rocky, and steep just a bit ahead. As I was already hurting, I decided not to attempt the last stretch, but rather to take a moment and enjoy the scenery.

After my morning of hiking, I spent the afternoon enjoying the architecture and visiting various museums. I was pleasantly surprised by how affordable the museums were to visit (most were free!). I have a weakness for art museums and could spend days exploring the lesser known museums of the world. As much as I love and appreciate the major and well-known museums, I think there is a lot to be said for the independent, local museums. I called it an early night after visiting many museums, as the next day was my zoo day (pandas!).

I awoke very early, as my scheduled panda visitation was with the first group of the day. Compared to the other zoos I’ve DSCF5784visited, this zoo was not one of my favorites. It was very confusing to navigate, with either no signs or misleading signs. Also, the animals were not very active, so I was a bit disappointed. Of the two pandas, I was only able to see the male. It was nice to see a panda, but I think my experience at Zoo Parc Beauval in France has ruined all future panda visits. Last December my best friend, Jeannette, and I were lucky enough to have the panda exhibit to ourselves for nearly an hour and the pandas were incredibly active. While I don’t regret visiting the Edinburgh Zoo, I don’t think I will be making a return visit anytime soon.

To conclude my weekend in Edinburgh, I spent the next day exploring Stirling. Several of my friends highly recommended visiting Stirling Castle, and now that I have, I can see why. It was definitely worth the train adventure, even in the terrible weather. I’m used to the romantic styles of castles, which are very different from the castles in Scotland. It was also at the Stirling Castle where I received a real history lesson about Scotland. I love learning about the history of different countries and cities I visit. It was also here that I learned about the significance of the unicorn to Scotland, and who wouldn’t love a country where the unicorn is a very important symbol.

OverDSC06950all, it was a wonderful getaway to Edinburgh. It helped me to realize that I would love to return to Scotland to explore other cities. While Edinburgh was lovely, I think there are many more equally lovely cities I need to explore. After returning to France I had about 10 days of normalcy before Jeannette arrived in France. I embraced those 10 days by trying to relax and regain my energy, while also working at my freelance job as much as possible, as this was going to be my last opportunity to earn money for the rest of the summer. Stay tuned for the next adventure: two redheads take on France, Portugal, Spain, and Morocco!

Advertisements

Feels Like Home

Standard

Some things you need to know about what happens when Jeannette and I are together. We tend to do stupid things. Things that we normally wouldn’t do, but for some reason seem like a great idea because we are doing them together. Prior to my moving to France, Jeannette and I had a Detroit Day where we just drove/walked around the city like crazy people. There’s a local publication, MetroTimes, which created a list of 100 things every Detroiter should to do before they die (check out the list here). I’ve always been a big fan of lists, whether I created them, or found them. This list was no exception. As I knew I would be moving to France, I made it my personal mission to accomplish as many things as possible on this list. While we are still debating the exact number that we accomplished (we actually pulled out the list and discussed it in France), great times were had on many adventures, but by far one of the best days of our friendship so far was Detroit Day.

Leading up to Detroit Day we had spent some time discovering local art and artists, especially in the form of street art. One of the places we visited during Detroit Day was the Packard Plant, which has some awesome street art. Unfortunately, much of the art is on the inside of this crumbling building. The Packard Plant is also located in one of the shadier parts of Detroit. However, that did not stop us from getting out of the car to take a few pictures. During the few minutes that we were outside of the car, a man on his bicycle tried to convince us to follow him into the Packard Plant and he’d show us exactly where the best art was located. Luckily, this was one of the rare times we were both on the same page, and knew better than to follow this man.

I like to think that it was this day that truly sparked our bond with street art. We explored various neighborhoods in Detroit and I really began to develop an appreciation of it. Before Jeannette came to France, she sent me a link to a street art tour in Paris. We decided that it would be worth checking out, so we bought tickets. What we didn’t realize when we signed up was that the tour was entirely in French (not a problem for me, but a major challenge for Jeannette). However, the night before our scheduled tour, we received an email inviting us to attend the Sunday tour rather than the Saturday tour, as they were launching the English tours on Sunday. Of course, we opted for the Sunday tour instead.

The tour was through a company called Underground Paris, and took place in the 13ème Arrondissement of Paris. Since moving to France, I’ve discovered that the 13ème is actually one of my favorite areas in Paris, so I was excited to learn about the street art here. The tour was interesting, but also a little bit disappointing, as it focused primarily on commissioned art, rather than traditional street art. One thing that I found to be particularly cool was how supportive the major in the 13ème Arrondissement is of street art. In fact, it’s actually the mayor who has commissioned most of the murals and art to be painted.

The tour lasted a little over three areas and covered most of the arrondissement. Afterwords, Jeannette and I realized that we hadn’t eaten lunch, and decided that a snack was in order. We wanted to stay in this general area, so we walked back to some cafés and brasseries we had passed earlier. We found a restaurant with ‘service continu’ (non-stop service) and decided to go there. Jeannette had made it a mission for us to have have wine with every meal, so of course we began with wine. We also decided that we would split a vegetarian pizza. Turns out, pizza was the only thing they weren’t serving. Disappointed, we look over the menu again, only to discover that the only vegetarian option left was fries. We split an order of fries and drank our wine while unthawing from the street art tour.

When Grown Up Me Came to France

Standard

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!

IMG_2317

Adventures in Copenhagen: Day 1

Standard

I wasn’t entirely certain what to expect when visiting Copenhagen. I had talked with a friend who lived and worked there, so I had some knowledge about where I was travelling. I also spent a great deal of time researching things to see and do in Copenhagen, both touristy and not. I think that my first solo adventure in Europe set the bar for all the others very high. I absolutely fell in love with Prague, so now compare everywhere else to it. Doing so can have some negative consequences.

The one thing I was grateful for about this trip was that I was traveling to a country where the majority of the people have a working knowledge of English. As I don’t speak Danish, I was a little intimidated about traveling to Copenhagen alone, but with my few helpful phrases I quickly discovered that most Danes speak English very well.

When I arrived at the airport, there were no problems. The airport was easy to navigate, and because I was still in the Schengen Region I did not have to go through customs. I had done my research and learned that the Copenhagen Card was a great value for a short trip to the city. With the Card, you gan admission to almost 100 museums and other attractions, as well as unlimited use of all public transit. The 2-day card cost about $85, which was well worth the money (one of the few things I think is actually worth the cost in Copenhagen). The airport is just outside of the city centre, so it is very easy to reach the city centre via the metro. It was a short 20 minute metro ride from the airport to my hotel, which was near the Central Train Station.

I was really hoping that it would be cold and there would be snow when I arrived, but I discovered that I was going to see neither of these things during this trip. The temperature was very comparable to that of Tours. However, the wind. Oh, the wind. Chicago is nicknamed “The Windy City,” however, I think Copenhagen deserves this name instead. The wind in Chicago has nothing on the wind in Copenhagen. I literally had to stop walking and turn my back several times, and even then, it took all of my strength to remain upright.

The location of my hotel was ideal: central, near public transportation, and in a well-populated area. However, it was being renovated, and therefore was not quite what I had been hoping for. The good news is that the hotel is quite possibly the least important thing to me when I am traveling, because I spend minimal time there. However, this hotel had neither a television, nor a radio and there were no garbage cans anywhere in the room. This hotel served its purpose, but I do not think I would stay here again. I would pay a little bit more for a slightly nicer hotel.

Because my flight arrived in the evening, I spend my first day walking around and exploring different areas of the city. I found a Mexican restaurant that I decided I wanted to try, as I have been craving a margarita and cheese quesadilla (made with cheddar or Monterey cheese). The margarita did not disappoint, but like every other “Mexican” restaurant I’ve visited in Europe, the food was a major letdown. After dinner I walked around and just absorbed all that I could of the city. I had done my research, so I decided to go to a cocktail bar that was supposed to be a speak-easy. When I arrived the atmosphere was nice, but not exactly what I would classify as a speak-easy. The bar was called Ruby, and like everything else in this city, was ridiculously priced. My drink, a traditional daiquiri, was about $18!!! Honestly, the bar was cool, but not quite the atmosphere I was hoping for and there were a bunch of older, drunk men who felt the need to continuously talk to me, so I left as soon as I could.

I decided to call it a relatively early night (a little bit before midnight) so that I would be sure to get up bright and early the next morning for a jam-packed day of adventuring.

Weekend in Copenhagen: An Overview

Standard

So, I’ve decided to really try and visit someplace new each month. Because of Christmas and New Year’s this month, I have a two-week vacation from school. Normally, during these vacations I do most of my traveling. However, this vacation my best friend will be visiting, so rather than exploring somewhere new, I’ll be sharing my new home with her. 🙂

I decided that rather than not going somewhere new, I would just shorten my trip and move it up by a few weeks. The destination was Copenhagen. I did a lot of research leading up to this trip, in order to maximize my limited amount of time in the country.

A couple of things you should know if you are planning a trip to Copenhagen:

  • The weather is intense. I thought Chicago was “The Windy City” until I visited Copenhagen. Chicago is nothing in comparison to what I experienced in Copenhagen.
  • They don’t use the euro in Copenhagen; rather, they use the Kroner.
  • Everything is super, super expensive. I thought London expensive, but London looks like a budget vacation compared to Copenhagen. Most things are double or triple the cost of what I am used to paying in France. For example, a mediocre glass of wine cost 11€, or $13! It was insane!
  • The hours are very limited everywhere. Most places don’t open until 11am, and close at 6pm (with restaurants being the exception). And I thought the French worked limited hours!

Overall, I’m glad to have visited Copenhagen, but the city itself is not on my list of places I must visit again. For me, the city was not very memorable. However, I would love to return to Denmark to visit some of the smaller towns and villages. I found the Danes to be a very friendly people. I almost felt like I was back in the Midwest.

DSCF4007

My Next Adventure

Standard

This Friday, straight from my school, I will take the tram to the train station and head to Paris for my next solo-adventure. This time, I am headed to Copenhagen, Denmark. After much research, I decided that this would be my next destination for several reasons.

  • The weather should be colder and more wintery (based on current weather forecasts, I don’t necessarily believe this to be true)
  • I’ve never been, but I’ve heard it’s beautiful
  • They have what is considered on of the best Christmas Markets in the world
  • The display of Christmas lights was designed by the head designer at Tiffany & Co.

My tickets have been bought, and tomorrow I will print them. I’ve also been researching things to do in Copenhagen. I’ve started my own list, but if anyone has suggestions of must see/do while visiting Copenhagen, please let me know. I love doing the non-touristy things when traveling, so I’m open for any suggestions.

Prague: My Final Day

Standard

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.

DSCF3584

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!

 

DSCF3805

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.

IMG_2098

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.

DSCF3812

Prague: Part II

Standard

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.

La Toussaint Vacation

Standard

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!

Londres: Part II

Standard

The interesting thing about my life is that I have very few friends who are my age. Most of my friends are older than I, and it works out great because I tend to enjoy doing the same types of activities. However, I have recently come to the realization that even though many of my friends are older in age than I, they are actually much, much younger in spirit. I tend to have a difficult time keeping up with my friends when we go out. I enjoy going out, for example: seeing musicals/plays/operas, going to dinner, getting drinks, going to museums or benefits. However, I do not enjoy: dancing, staying out late, going to loud bars, etc..

Fast forward to London. While Ben is slightly older than I, he is a much more outgoing spirit and is able to stay up much later than I. Both nights that we were in London we stayed out until way later (or earlier) than I had in the recent past. We stayed out until almost 4am on both Friday and Saturday.

DSCF2242Because we stayed out so late and got such little sleep copious amounts of coffee were necessary on Saturday. While France in wonderful, there are some things that are much more readily available in London that make it quite a pleasant city to visit. For example, vegetarian options on menus, indicated by ‘v’, macaroni and cheese, cranberry juice in bars, and Starbucks, just to name a few. Because we were staying in the heart of London there was a Starbucks connected to our hotel, where we began our day on Saturday. Prior to my arrival in France I was very much addicted to Starbucks. Since my arrival in France I can say that I honestly haven’t missed Starbucks very much. What I have missed is having the option of ordering my coffee ‘to go.’ As an added bonus, the Starbucks in London also had skim milk! Additionally, I was able to order an iced coffee! YUM! Ben truly struggled with the idea of getting coffee to go. As a compromise we started our morning by sitting in Starbucks and drinking part of our coffee. We then continued our day by taking our coffee with us across the Tower Bridge.

Saturday consisted of a great deal of walking. A lot more walking than I had realized until I looked at a map. We left our hotel, walked across Tower Bridge, wandered around the Jubilee Walkway along the Thames, then continued walking the Jubilee Walkway. Here’s a list of some of the monuments and interesting things we saw along the way: Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, the Pickle Building, Millennium Bridge, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Tate Modern, London Eye, London Aquarium, London Bridge, various art installments, Parliament, Elizabeth Tower (where Big Ben resides), Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, St. James’s Park, Trafalgar Square, Hippothames, Harrods, St. Pancras, Platform 9 3/4, Soho, Chinatown, and Piccadilly Circus. Of course throughout this adventure we stopped for lunch and refreshing beverages.

While everything we saw was wonderful, one of my favorite moments of the night was eating dinner in Soho. There are many restaurants throughout London with highly celebrated macaroni and cheese. As I haven’t had macaroni and cheese in many months I wanted a very traditional mac & cheese. Prior to our trip I spent time researching different restaurants in London, specifically those known for their mac & cheese. One of the most celebrated restaurants for traditional mad & cheese was Soho Kitchen & Bar. When we arrived (via a traditional cab) the place was packed! I was slightly worried that we would not get a table before the kitchen closed. We put our name on the list and then wandered to the bar. The restaurant and bar was a nice balance of traditional and innovative options. I began my night with a mango and chile cocktail. It was the perfect balance of spicy and sweet. Since spicy food is difficult (virtually impossible) to find in France I enjoyed eating and drinking as many spicy things as possible.

When we were almost finished with our drinks we were told that our table was ready. It was a great location–right at the front and in an open window. We ordered a corncake and red pepper relish appetizer, mac & cheese, and side salads.  The mac & cheese was served in an individual crock, with a breadcrumb layer on top. Again, YUM! Ben had never had mac & cheese, so when it came out he was not sure what to expect. His view on mac & cheese: it’s good, but nothing special. He still does not understand my obsession with it, as the idea of ‘comfort foods’ does not exist in France. He told me that he would make me mac & cheese (an offer I completely plan on holding him to).

After dinner we proceeded to go pub/bar/club hopping. We went to multiple establishments throughout Soho and Chinatown. I was more in the mood for a lounge or a cocktail bar, so it took some patience and drinks along the way to find a place to settle for the night. After visiting multiple establishments, we ended up back where our night started, at Soho Kitchen & Bar. I continued to drink my cranberry vodkas and was quite content, as we were able to find a place to sit. After leaving the bar we ended up walking to Piccadilly Circus. It was great, but finding a way back to our hotel posed an interesting challenge. We were willing to pay for a cab, but finding a cab proved to be a near impossible endeavour. After much walking I was finally able to hail a cab. We made the long trek back to our hotel, and by the time we were back in the room it was nearly 4am.

While this was our final day in London it was not the end of our adventures. The final installment of our adventures in London will be posted soon. Stay tuned!