Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Best of Prague, Part 1: Attractions

As promised, here's the first part of my little guide to my little city. I hope it gets your hearts racing to Prague if you've never visited and helps recall sweet memories if you have. (It's been less than two weeks, and I miss it already!)

Top Ten Favorite Local Attractions:
  • Old Town Square

    From wherever you're staying, take the metro to Staroměstská, which means "Old Town" in Czech. Congrats, you've reached the heart of Prague! Go ahead and explore the square. Pick up a hot dog and hot wine (in winter), and take pictures of the Astronomical Clock, Minute House (where Franz Kafka once lived), Jan Hus monument, and Tyn Church. Wander through a portal off the square and get a little lost. Visit the fruit markets and souvenir shops. All roads lead back to Old Town, so fear not, my friends! Check out this 360 degree view of Old Town and get pumped.
  • Prague Castle

    You can't visit Prague and not see this gorgeous landmark! In good weather, hike up the hill (and enjoy the many interesting shops along the way) or take the tram to Pražský hrad. If you visit the Castle during the day, you can enter the St. Vitus Cathedral (and for free too)! It was modeled after the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, and is absolutely breathtaking inside. While you're up at the Castle, make sure you visit the the Wallenstein Gardens only a few steps away. This royal garden hosts live peacocks in the summer and boasts beautiful fountains, an aviary, and an impressive limestone wall. (See my photos of the Wallenstein Gardens and St. Vitus Cathedral!)
  • Old Jewish Cemetery

    Close to Old Town Square, you can easily walk to this massive cemetery that contains 12 levels of graves, where 100,000+ Prague Jews have rested for centuries. It's an incredible sight and piece of history, even if you're not Jewish!
  • Vysehrad Castle

    This one's for all the history buffs. Bohemia's earliest royals lived in Vysehrad in the 14th century, and while the Castle is not the most impressive of castles, the nearby Vysehrad cemetery (where all the most famous Czechs are laid to rest) is definitely a top 10 sight to see. (Scroll down for my pictures.)
  • The Dancing Building

    Take the metro to Karlovo Namesti, and you will easily find this new building, completed in 1996. The Dancing Building is so fascinating, because it is probably the most modern piece of architecture in Prague! Czech civilians actually dislike it, because it's so out of place; still, I think it's a cool thing to see, and in a beautiful part of Prague's New Town. (Check out my Dancing Building pictures.) After you've taken your fill of photos, look for the Vltava River to your right and walk over to a bridge to admire the view. If it's a nice day, make a 180 and walk away from the building, following the river on your left and taking in all the pretty buildings on your right. Keep walking along the river. You'll love it, I promise. And you'll most likely run into the...
  • Charles Bridge

    This bridge connects Old Town to New Town, and it is extremely busy, filled with tourists and street vendors. Right now the Karlov Must (Czech for Charles Bridge... duh!) is undergoing some (not so pretty) construction, but you can definitely still walk across. I'd recommend early in the morning or late at night, so you don't get pushed around by the crowds!
  • The Lennon Wall

    For Beatles fans, this is a must. Regardless, this homage to John Lennon is a sight for the eyes. Oh, and while you're there, just a few steps away is a teeny Love Lock bridge. You'll love it if you're a sentimental romantic like me. Never heard of one before? You have now.
  • Zizkov TV Tower

    Okay, fine, I didn't actually go up to the top. (Why does every city have one of these things anyway? Berlin, Paris, New York... it's like a global "mine's bigger than yours" mentality.) But the David Cerny "crawling baby" statues on the tower are pretty rad. Creepy, yes. But cool. I liked them.
  • Wenceslas Square

    The Times Square of Prague? Something like that. If you want to get your shopping on, walk down this lively boulevard from the Mustek metro station all the way to the end, where the National Museum stands. Gawk at the gorgeous buildings that are now owned by the likes of McDonald's or Zara. Then get a fried cheese sandwich at a food stand. Just tell 'em, "Smažený sýr, prosim!" ("Fried cheese, please!") And don't forget the tartar sauce. Continue walking toward the...
  • Museums

    Okay, new Prague wanderers. Prepare yourself for the city of art and architecture. If you're already in Wenceslas Square, go ahead to the National Museum at the end of the boulevard. (Or take the metro to Muzeum if you're short on time.) Climb up the steps and take in the full, glorious view of Wenceslas Square. Do a victory dance, Rocky-style. Then... visit some more galleries! Other great museums include the Cubist museum (free on Wednesdays!), the Franz Kafka museum, and cool galleries like the Salvador Dali exhibition and the Alphonse Mucha exhibition.
  • Keep a look out! More "BEST of Prague" yet to come...

    Part 2: Food, Drink and Restaurant recommendations
    Part 3:
    Day trips (for those on extended stay)!
    Part 4:
    Night life (Bars, Clubs, you name it.)
    Part 5:
    Czech specialties + souvenirs

Saturday, December 19, 2009

back home + postcards

After lots of sleep and Chinese food and reading some of the Glamour and Lucky magazines I'd missed at home... I'm finally unpacking. Which means distributing the presents to my family! (So happy to find them in good shape.) My little sister already hung up all the postcards I'd collected for her from each city. She's so much like me in that way :)

... Okay, back to unpacking! Phew!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

home tomorrow

I'm really in shock. How is it possible that I'll be back home tomorrow? That I have a flight to catch in 10 hours????? Tonight, I emailed my last final paper, had my last dinner at Zanzibar with friends, drank my last Czech beer, said goodbye to my friends from other schools...

I remember when living here felt so hard and even this charming little city couldn't rid me of my homesickness. And yes, I'm excited to see my family, my own comfy bed, the rest of my wardrobe... but I just can't imagine how my life would have turned out without Prague, without being in the city where I've learned to love new people, new cultural experiences, and even the many indescribable little ways that I've changed.

In a few days, I'm going to make an extensive list of my favorite Prague memories, in addition to my recommendations on Prague to-do's. I think once it sinks in that I'm actually back in the States (i.e. maybe in two weeks!), I'll be able to calmly write about this experience like a mature adult, rather than the emotional-and-procrastinating-on-packing girl that I am at the moment.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

2 more days... and snow!

View from outside my window

It's been so, so cold for the past week. Literally 20 degrees (Fahrenheit!). And I'm inside eating mushroom soup with the heat cranked all the way up. So toasty :)

But I'm stuck with papers and lots of work, ugh. I need to get everything done by 6:30pm because Isabel, Anna, and I are going to the ballet! Swan Lake, here we come! It's actually nice that we have snow to enjoy (from inside) right now... it's like a wintry preview of the performance. Snowflakes are like little ballerinas themselves, gliding through the air and landing oh-so gracefully. Don't ya think?

Update! Here's my post on Swan Lake + pretty pictures!

Monday, December 14, 2009

3 more days

The sun sets so early now in Prague. Pitch dark by 4pm...

I have two papers and one final to go. But I have a Swan Lake performance (I love ballet!) to watch and a good-bye party to enjoy before I leave. I can't believe that by Friday, I'll be back home in the 'burbs of Philadelphia, eating Chinese food and resting in my own bed. It might even feel like these three months never existed, all the emotional and physical challenges and growths. The best thing about home is that nothing ever changes, but I certainly have, I think. Just a little bit.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

6 more days

Six more days in Prague (and my emotions are all over the place). So I thought it fitting to jot down six random events in my life from the past week:
  1. Went to McDonald's (for first time in Prague!) and got a gigantic burger with jalapeno peppers. It was divine.
  2. Yesterday, I celebrated my first Hanukkah and helped make latkes! My hands smelled like potatoes the rest of the night. I had so much food, I wanted to undo a pant button. (But I was wearing long underwear, so no buttons to unbutton!)
  3. Visited my special Mexican place for the 52131th time! Mexican Mondays have become Mexican+Mojitos+Margaritas+Adorable Waiters Monday-Wednesdays-and-sometimes-Sundays.

  4. Went to an NYU Photo Expo and admired the artistic works of my dear friends. Found out my friend Will had modeled in some photos completely naked, but for a tube sock. I almost died cracking up.
  5. Went out dancing with the girls. LOVE clubs in Europe, because it's not considered snobby if you don't want to dance with any greasy men (who unfortunately love to sneak up on you from behind) and jam out solo.
  6. Friends and I bought tickets to Swan Lake for this Wednesday, and I am SO. EXCITED. (!!!)
Okay, I better continue with writing my papers/studying for finals. Isabel just walked in on me crying from this especially touching blog post. It's just the PMS, I swearrrr!

Friday, December 11, 2009

gifts for dad

It's usually really hard for me to find gifts for my Dad. I think all guys get really sick of receiving clothes and watches and whatnot after awhile. (Whereas for girls, it's the complete opposite!) So I'm being creative this year and giving him an assortment of fun things, including a literal "taste of Prague." I bought him a bottle of Pilsner Urquel and Staropramen, the two best beers in the Czech Republic, and Beckerovka, the most delicious Czech liquor. Of course, I had to get one of those manly beer goblets too.

Do you think he'll like them?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

9 more days!

I cannot believe I'm leaving for the States in nine days! It's just been such a whirlwind! I'm excited to come home for Christmas, but leaving Prague is a lot like leaving the adorable abandoned puppy you took home with you, even though it chews up all of your shoes and poops all over the floor. (Okay, bad analogy, but you get my point.)

I'll admit I've experienced lots of ups and an equal amount of downs here -- it's always tough to live in a new city, especially on a different continent. (Really, Central Europe and the US are so incredibly different.) I think I've finally truly realized how I've taken a lot of things in my life in the States for granted, like smiles from strangers (Czechs are very reserved) and an American sense of social justice. I guess it's true that traveling makes you appreciate your home that much more.

But the more I explore Prague, the more beautiful it looks to me. I'm still in love with its architecture, delicious pastries, and incredible history. I even got used to wearing high heels on the cobblestone! (Remember my booties?) I know that when I leave, I'll take a life's worth of memories with me... and I can't wait to share with you all soon. :)

Italian vacation!

I completely forgot to link over my post on my week in Italy on my inspiration blog, Helen Hearts! Well, here you go, my friends. Click away! And check out my Italy photos on flickr, if you like.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

french skirt!

Oh, this vintage red satin skirt with flapper-esque fringe? I picked it up in Paris for 1 euro! Excited that I finally wore it out this weekend. :)

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Fall Break Cont'd: London

My last day of Fall Break, I visited my best friend Anuja. It was like going back home. I was exhausted and just wanted to nap and talk and drink cappuccinos. No more backpacking and touring around for me. It was Halloween, but we had Indian food for lunch and were sooo full (Indian food always does that to me!), we opted out of going to her boyfriend's Halloween party (isn't she the best friend ever?) and stayed inside and caught up on each other's lives. That's what a real vacation's about. Don't you think? Being completely relaxed.

View from Anuja's apartment in King's Cross

This architecture is very British to me!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Fall Break Cont'd: PARIS

Oh my goodness, don't even get me started about how much Paris absolutely dazzled me. It reminded me of when I first visited New York. Something just clicked. The energies of these cities are so similar and familiar, I felt right at home. While I love Prague, it isn't really a true metropolitan-- you know what I mean? Perhaps not, but you'll see when you visit. :) I guess I'm really a big city gal after all...

My two days in Paris were an absolute whirlwind. My friend Kate dragged me off to all the touristy places that I would usually never go to. (Good thing, because I could sit in a cafe for hours on end!) We walked across the bridges over the Seine River to visit the Louvre, the Notre Dame, the Arc de Triomphe, took a stroll down the Champs-Élysées, and ohh and ahhed at the Eiffel Tower light show at night.

And of course, I had to go off to some "me" things. We walked around the Pompidou, the most incredibly architecturally modern art museum (too bad we didn't have time to go inside), ate raspberry macaroons at La Duree, the most famous dessert shop in Paris, and then, Kate and I parted ways so I could do some serious vintage shopping.

My friend Beverly, who is au pairing in Paris currently, wrote up the most incredibly helpful guide -- she knew exactly what I wanted! Yummy brunch places and SHOPPING! I scouted out the whole section of Marais, which is known for its gay and Jewish community... and vintage markets! All I had to do is follow some stylish girls and, lo-and-behold, I found a whole line of vintage/thrift stores for my viewing (and purchasing) pleasure.

My favorite shop is Free 'P' Star, which literally had girls packed to the walls because of its 1-euro scarves, fabulous vintage purses, and billions of dresses and jackets thrown around all over the place. It was truly like a grandmother's attic and treasure chest. Thank goodness I love "the hunt" in thrift shopping, because boy was it claustrophobic in there! A downside though is the total lack of dressing rooms. I mean, there is barely enough room to pull something on! I bought a skirt that is a bit too small and a cardigan that is too big in the shoulders, but c'est la vie, I still love them! And I absolutely adore my three scarves -- I had to really discipline myself not to purchase more. (My scarf collection is outrageous already.)

As always see my flickr here for more Paris pictures. Wish I could've stayed longer than 2 days! :(

PS: Free 'P' Star's business cards are so risque. Ooh la la!

Monday, November 23, 2009

a Mediterranean view

Just a clip from Marseille, after laying by the rocks, before drinking cheap 2-euro wine (that tasted kind of disgusting!). We had a goofy day. (Check out Kate's pose at the end, ha!)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Fall Break Cont'd: Southern France! Marseille, Antibe, and Nice

After Barcelona, my two friends and I took the bus to Southern France, just because we thought it'd be fun to take the unbeaten path for once. I mean, who goes to Marseille? Well, when we got there, we realized... apparently nobody. We were the only tourists in what felt like the entire city! Isabel and Kate were a little wary, but I absolutely loved that we could just walk around and be spontaneous with where we were going! So we wandered the entire day, admiring the ports and architecture...

Unfortunately, our hostel was just awful and dirty. No hot water, not even real toilets! (Just bowls, you know, very old-school.) So we trekked off to Antibes the next morning, where Isabel had studied for few weeks in high school. We were only there for a few hours, unfortunately. But I remember the teeny streets, yummy food, and cool handmade souvenirs. I bought a colorful straw tote from a local weaver and ate tons of bruschetta.

Later in our second day in France, we arrived in Nice and stayed for the night at Villa St-Exupery, which looked like a precious little villa on the outside, but inside, it was an absolute party house. There were young American tourists everywhere, drinking beer and hanging out in the common space. I totally understood why the hostel was named "Europe's Best Hostel" -- it had all sorts of day trip offerings (Monaco, St. Tropez) and fun activities (water skiing, bungee jumping). I wish I could've stayed longer in Nice! It was just such a relaxing atmosphere and beautiful city... so warm even in October! I dipped in the Mediterranean and didn't feel too cold, instead, it was totally refreshing. I can definitely understand why people vacation in Southern France. I'd love to own a villa here one day! :)

Monday, November 16, 2009

thoughts on traveling

Hello, my dears! I'm writing from Venice now, on the last night of my week-long trip to Italy. It's funny how fast time flies when you're on the road, touring one city after the next without break. My friend from Prague Kate and I visited Milan, Florence, and Rome before Venice, and I'm so happy I was able to spend some time in each one. They're all so unique and lovely!

But I'm really blessed to have had a nice week-long rest after my 10-day Fall Break because traveling can be so mind-numbing! I mean that in mostly a good way. There's so much to see and learn, so many different maps to read, transportation systems to understand, special places to visit, people to observe. I just love how educational my travels have been. And I'm glad I was ambitious in planning everything earlier in September, because if I had known how crazy the actual traveling part could be (especially traveling while being cost-conscious), would I have attempted to tear through 10 cities in 3.5 weeks? Probably not. But honestly, what other time in my life could be more perfect for backpacking and exploring than in college? I have no serious responsibilities or obligations, I'm healthy and young and eager -- it's just the perfect opportunity.

I have so much I want to share with you on what I've learned (about myself, balance, compromise, friendship, being a team player, etc), but I just realized I've been so bad about telling you all about the rest of my Fall Break in Southern France, Paris, and London! So I'll have some quick recaps of those up really soon, I promise. And some more random thoughts of this whole experience. And then, of course, you can expect to see tons more on Italy! I had such a fantastic time, I know I'll be back molto pronto. It's a little sad that this is the last of my travels in Europe before I come back home to the States on Dec. 18. Let's catch up when I'm back in Prague on Wednesday? xoxo, H.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Brunch at Zanzibar

Five friends are visiting me in Prague this month, which means lots of eating out! I usually cook for myself because groceries are so inexpensive, but sometimes it's nice to just...indulge. My friend and I devoured our brunch yesterday at Zanzibar, my favorite restaurant in all of Prague. Look at how much we got just between the two of us! Brunch is my favorite meal, what's yours?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Fall Break Recap: Barcelona, Last DAY!

Now, we actually weren't planning on staying an extra day... we should've been in Southern France already! But Isabel, Kate, and I still felt like there was so much adventuring and exploring to do in Barcelona. We hadn't really walked through our own little neighborhood in the Gothic Quarter, nor had we been to Park Guel, the only Gaudi work we hadn't seen. So we resolved to do just that!

Our last day, we took our time taking in the Roman ruins, checking out the souvenir shops, flea markets, and the general surroundings. The Gothic Quarter is everything that I could have hoped it would be. Clothes hanging out to dry from every window, plants (and palm trees!) everywhere, tons of little shops...

We ran into a tiny little Arabic pastry shop, and obviously couldn't resist trying! I got a walnut-y dessert and another treat with figs inside. Yum!

We also looked through plenty of flea markets. There were so many vintage treasures that I wanted to take home: old typewriters, elegant telephones, jewelry, photo frames, tea sets...

That evening, we hiked up to Park Guel, which is not so much a park as it is a beautiful series of rugged hills. We must've climbed about three of them -- the views were incredible. When we reached the tallest rock on the tallest hill, we were serenaded by a funky band, which I loved (and have a video of now!). Everybody looked so happy to be right where they were. Even when it started drizzling, we sat on the rock, looked down at the view, and listened.

View of Park Guel from one of the hills

We were on this rock, enjoying the music :)

Most enthusiastic entertainers ever!

The Gaudi Museum in Park Guel

It was getting late, and we had a bus to catch for France at midnight, so we went out to dinner for our last taste of tapas and sangria, shopped for a thank-you gift for Cande, and bid farewell to Barcelona. I was really sad to leave. Barcelona is so different from Prague -- it's much more energetic and upbeat (while Prague is historic and quiet). I loved practicing my (very rusty) Spanish and experiencing this city. Hopefully, I'll be back?

Last Barcelona tapas dinner

PS: You can find all of my pics from Barcelona HERE. Enjoy!

Fall Break Recap: Barcelona Day 3

The next morning, we realized we were pretty behind on seeing some of the landmarks, so we planned a very ambitious day. We spent the morning in the Picasso Museum, which holds most of Picasso's earliest works. I really, really loved this museum, it was so cool to see a person's artistic transformation. Next, we checked out a bunch of Barcelona's most famous architecture, from the Arc de Triumph to the many creations by Antoni Gaudi (who seems to be synonymous to Barcelona pride): La Sagrada Familia, Casa Mila, Casa Batllo.

Arc de Triumph

La Sagrada Familia

Casa Mila

Casa Batllo

We met up with some girls from our NYU in Prague program for dinner at Cervesaria Catalunya, Amy's favorite restaurant and definitely mine too in Barcelona. It was INCREDIBLE! We just kept ordering tapas left and right and consumed three pitchers of sangria con cava. Absolute deliciousness! The people around us were so amused, one guy even compared us to a pack of pups descending upon a bone! We ended up sooo full and tipsy after 20+ tapas and many drinks, it was the best night. Kaitlin was definitely right, eating tapas with a large group is so much fun! And we paid only about 10 euro per person! (Crazy, right?)

My exuberant friends at Cerversaria Catalunya

So happy after dinner!

Somehow, we wounded up back at Chupitos because the other girls hadn't been there yet. It wasn't as crowded as the last night because it was only around midnight, thank goodness! This time, we tried the "Harry Potter," a flaming shot. (There were lots of other options that were more scandalous, like the Monica Lewinsky where you lick whipped cream off of something very naughty.) Doesn't the picture look insane?! We were also really amused by bar's black light -- our eyeballs and teeth were glowing in the dark, and it was creepy to look at each other :)

From classy tapas to flaming shots!

Black light fun

After Chupitos, we bought some cheap white wine from a drug store and started heading over to our next bar destination, Bikini. The kindest elderly couple with a huge van asked us if we needed a ride (since we looked so lost), and in the state that we were in, we said yes! I know this could have been a terrible decision, but it ended up being one of my favorite stories to tell about Barcelona. All 7 of us piled up in their van (Kate was on my lap!) and gushed about how much we loved Barcelona ... and ten minutes later, we were in front of the bar. How incredibly sweet some strangers can be, right? We were very lucky to have met good people, because we were definitely not in the smartest state of mind. But as we were about to enter Bikini, Isabel and I were a little lame and gave in to our extreme exhaustion, so we metro'd it back and went to sleep. I blame my super low tolerance for alcohol, and the 10 hours of walking. Yeesh.