January 18, 2018

Prague, Czech Republic – Trip Summary

Prague Winter Festival

Prague, Czech Republic

This town was made for walking

There’s something about Prague that keeps bringing me back. Although most people, if given the chance to travel to Europe, would choose Paris, London, or Rome, I find this city enthralling and it has been proven over the past decade that this thriving city has slowly become a major tourist destination. In my opinion, the fact that this beautifully rich and diverse city is often times overlooked makes it THE hidden gem of Europe.

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Prague Winter Festival

With the center of Prague dating back thousands of years, this city embodies aspects of the Medieval, Old World and 15-17th century, even today. The city center is adorned in ornate architecture and filled with cultural attractions, which is a strong contrast to the stark outskirts, found just a fifteen minute ride east by tram. The center of Prague is comprised of narrow cobblestoned streets, lavishly decorated bridges and the biggest Castle in all of Europe; whereas the outskirts of the city reflect the years after World War II, when Communism was the social order. As you head East the effects of Communism become apparent; the building are cold gray slabs, and the land is bare. For the longest time, the Iron Curtain prevented people from entering or leaving the country, but with the fall of the Berlin Wall came the destruction of the neighboring Communist regimes, and all the barriers they had built. In the last twenty years, Prague has rebuilt itself into a political, cultural, and economic powerhouse for central Europe.

I have visited Prague twice over the past couple of years. Once in late November, and once in Mid-January. My advice to fellow travelers and bloggers would be to go in the Fall, right around Thanksgiving. Although the city was freezing on both occasions, Thanksgiving weekend is when the locals start to set up the outdoor Christmas markets. Seeing this already stunning city lined with little wooden huts selling everything from mead (honey wine) to sausages to souvenirs’ is an absolute treat. Fifty-foot Christmas trees stand in the center of town as well as by the commercial district, and the entire city feels illuminated. Even with the bitter cold whipping at your body, people have a friendly, airy demeanor about them. The first time I went, I was with my father and as we entered Old Town square, we were surrounded by locals serving food, a band was singing German and Czech holiday songs, and a pig was roasting on an open fire. A few goats, lambs, and Ponies wandered around a larger wooden stable nearby for children to pet. Locals sang, ate, and danced in the street, making the atmosphere a memorable one.

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Astrological Clock

My favorite area of Prague is Old Town; one can walk for hours wandering in and out of souvenir shops, galleries, and restaurants. This is one of those places where you don’t care that you’ve wasted a half of a day buying goodies or taking pictures; with few ‘must see’ attractions, it allows the traveler to spend the time as they like, rather than rush to fit everything in. Old Town square is one of the most popular places to visit, with the Astronomical Clock standing in the center and colorful elaborate buildings surrounding the circle, it is unlike any other square I’ve visited, especially during market season. The peculiar looking clock has been ticking since 1490, and as crowds gather at the base of the tower to take pictures, many don’t realize you can climb to the top. For only a few Czech crowns, you can take a lift to the top of the clock tower and take in some amazing views.

Prague is known for having the largest castle in the world, and after walking the grounds I understand why it holds that reputation. The easiest way to get to the castle, believe it or not, is to walk, especially if you’re staying in old town. There are also trams and buses that make trips up the hill stopping near the grounds, for those visitors staying in the newer part of town. The castle houses the crown jewels, St. Vitus Cathedral, St. George’s Basilica, blooming gardens, grand halls, and the Golden Lane. On the street leading up to the grand castle, are palaces that used to be owned by the Royals. For additional costs the Castle provides guided tours, and for those broke backpacking students like myself, there are maps with numbered buildings so that you can find your way. There are two types of tickets you can buy for the castle, one is a longer tour including entrance to the Royal Palace, the exhibition, St. George’s Basilica, the National Gallery, the Golden Lane with Daliborka Tower, and the Prague Castle picture gallery for 350 Czech crowns ($19) a person. The other ticket is a shorter tour, allowing entrance to the Royal Palace, St. George’s Basilica, St. Vitus Cathedral, Golden Lane, and the Daliborka Tower for 250 Czech crowns ($14) a person. There are also other tickets available to get into the Galleries. It is important to note that several areas of the Castle do not allow photography, and if they do, it has to be without flash; I learned that one the hard way.

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Charles Bridge

The Charles Bridge, which links old town to the Castle grounds, is absolutely the most picturesque location in the city. It crosses over the Vltava River, and is lined on either side with 30 Baroque statues. With all of the religious statues covered in smog from WWII, the bridge takes on a gothic feel. Every time I revisit this bridge, another statue has been scrubbed clean, and it is amazing to see how the marble has discolored over time. During the night, the bridge is quiet and eerie. But during the day, it has a completely different feel; with painters, kiosks, vendors and tourists crowding the walkway, it is the bustling place to be.

A place like Wenceslas Square, is great for grabbing a cup of coffee and people watching, or doing a bit of light shopping. This area is the commercial district, and has some of the more expensive restaurants and stores. The Jewish quarter has the old Jewish Cemetery, a Synagogue, and is mainly known for their garnets. Garnets are sold all over the city, and it is possible to find deals on jewelry anywhere, but the Jewish quarter is undoubtedly known as having the best prices. Prague is also known for producing Bohemian crystal, and it can be found even in souvenir shops for a pretty penny. The outdoor markets and souvenir shops also thrive off of selling beer steins, fur hats, and art. If architecture is your thing, most definitely visit the Dancing House; it’s one of the coolest building’s I’ve ever seen. If art strikes your fancy, I recommend visiting The Museum of Decorative Arts, The National Gallery, or the Lennon Wall.

On my first trip, my father and I wandered up the Petrin Hill unknowingly, and fell onto The Petrinska Rozhledna, an observation tower resembling the Eiffel Tower. It is reachable by funicular and by foot, but we only found it because we became curious once we saw the tracks. The lift within the tower is only for disabled customers and it is about 300 stairs to the top, so I would definitely recommend you go at the beginning of the day when you still have some energy. Because the tower is perched on top of the hill, it actually is quite high, giving visitors the ultimate panoramic view of Prague.

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Czech Food

When I travel around to different countries, transportation is one of the main things I look at. From the airport there is no public transportation into the city, at least that’s what the woman behind the desk decided to tell us at midnight one Wednesday evening. This means that from the airport, you must take a cab into the city; it is about a twenty minute ride and costs around 40 U.S dollars. Once you are situated in the city, whether it is in Old Town or New Town there are several forms of transportation that make it useful to get around. There are trams and buses that run continuously throughout the city, and there is a subway that is fast, clean, and efficient. There are three railway lines, Red, Green and Yellow, and between the three of them you can get anywhere in town. I highly recommend buying a tourist pass if you are there for three days or more. In the train stations, they sell 24-hour passes for 110 Czech Crowns, and 3-day passes for 310 Czech Crowns. Day passes and long-term passes are also available within the station. The passes are good for all forms of transportation and are highly worth the money. DO NOT be fooled; locals walk on trains and trams without swiping tickets all the time, because during the communist rule transportation was free. However, on random days the police will check for tickets and if you do not have one, you will receive a hefty fine.

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Czech Pilsner Beer

The main kind of cuisine found in Prague is anything having to do with meat, sauce and dumplings. Although, they do dabble in cooking duck, fish, and chicken, they mainly specialize in dishes involving pork and beef. At traditional Czech restaurants it is normal to order pork knee or knuckles served to you on a wooden slab. They are famous for their onion and garlic soup as well as their beer. Any restaurant that is branded with the name Pilsner on it means it serves the traditional beers. Prague also offers a slew of other types of cuisine ranging from Italian food to French food, so you are not only limited to the traditional plates.

Prague’s beautiful architecture and quaint streets make it one of the more peaceful trips I’ve taken. With little stress to fit in a billion sites, this city allows you to pace yourself. It’s one of the few places where I felt like I had the time to wander and just enjoy my surroundings. I feel like this city has something to offer everyone, it has a booming nightlife for the younger generations, while still maintaining a quiet and clean environment for families and older individuals. If this city wasn’t on your list before, it should be now.

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Prague Cathedral

TEN Tips for Solo Women Travelers

Roman Baths, Bath England
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Bath England

Lifestyle and Travel

Top Ten tips for women traveling on their own

Living in Europe for the last year and a half was undoubtedly the best decision I’ve ever made. And although I missed my friends and family back home, travel provided me with something I had struggled with before: independence. I wouldn’t say I was ‘dependent’ before I left, but I will admit that as a newly graduated twenty-one year old I had a lot of growing up to do. Just like the rest of the student body, I attended class, ate three meals a day (provided to me by the café), worked a job, and lived in a dorm. Because I paid some bills, did my own laundry, and only came home in the summer, I saw myself as someone who had it all figured out, an adult in fact, but the reality was that I knew nothing.

When I had originally decided to attend Grad School abroad, many of my friends and family were naturally shocked. I was the small town girl that organized the get-togethers with friends, had family game night, and hated to be alone. How the hell was I going move away and start anew? But with each month away came little successes, starting with my first edible meal, and things became easier. I can honestly say my experiences in Europe changed me for the better. Every challenge pushed me to be the strong confident woman I am today. With that said, I think it is essential for every woman to take a trip on her own at some point in her life, whether it’s a weekend to Cape Cod or backpacking the world, it’s a must-do.

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Alone in Vienna

So many of my girlfriends say to me, “I can’t believe you traveled Europe alone, that’s so crazy!” or “I wish I had your life” and my favorite is “you’re so lucky!” The truth is yes, I was very privileged to have the opportunity to study abroad, but luck had nothing to do with it. I worked hard to get into grad school, worked hard to adjust and then from there I made traveling a priority. Many people are scared of taking that initial plunge for fear of failure, believe me I used to be one of those people, but the best part of life is taking risks, and experiencing new challenges and hidden adventures. My advice to women out there is that as scary as the idea of traveling alone may be, nothing tops the sense of freedom it gives you. Like most things in life, there are pros and cons to both traveling alone as well as in a group, but my aim is to help guide the woman, that are feeling ballsy enough to do it on their own, in the right direction. So here are a few tips I think may be helpful:

  1. Keep papers safe: I always made copies of my Passport, Visa, and license just in case my purse was ever stolen or lost. In the event that a student visa or passport does go missing, you just need to find the nearest U.S embassy and sort out matters with them. Just like in the States, if credit cards or forms of identification go missing or have been stolen, you call the card companies, explain what has happened, and they will issue you a new one. Keep phone numbers and Credit Card info separate from your physical cards.
  2. Reach out to other travelers: I feel like this is a crucial reason I made it the year and a half alone. The people you meet in hostels and on tours can transform your trip into something unforgettable. I met so many people, women and men, traveling alone and in groups; some only spent a day with me, others spent weeks and with each of them I had the time of my life. It is always good to feel people out before you decide to venture out on the town with them, but the truth is, most of the people around you are just like you, especially your fellow backpackers. They are merely looking for a warm bed to sleep in, some food, and an adventure with like minded travelers too.
  3. Be cautious: I know that this one seems like an obvious suggestion, but you would be amazed at how easy it is to get comfortable and then find yourself in a difficult situation. Always carry a map, some cash and a phrase-book with you, just in case. Use landmarks to help you navigate, and don’t be afraid to go into a restaurant or café to ask for directions. When staying in a hostel, try to stay in all female dorms, you’ll be more comfortable, and there’s less snoring.
  4. Stay confident: Confidence shows the locals that you know what you’re doing and therefore, they are less apt to take advantage of you. If you do start to panic, and have no trustworthy locals nearby, make that international phone call home because it’s worth it. Early on in my travels, I remember calling my Dad from a corner street near the Moulin Rouge in France one evening, almost on the verge of tears because I was lost and scared. Luckily, he Google mapped my location, and helped me find my way back to the hostel. Although they may be pissed about the phone bill later, they are just as concerned about your safety as you are, so be smart.
  5. Be aware of your surroundings: Be aware of the people around you and always be on your toes. The hard part about traveling alone is that you can never slack, you need to be alert and aware at all times, especially on trains and in crowded areas. Always wear your purse across your chest rather than over one shoulder, people are less likely to succeed at robbing you this way.
  6. Let friends and family know your itinerary: By doing this, people have a general idea of where you are, what you are doing, and where you are staying. That way, if God forbid anything did happen, people can help you.
  7. Use common sense: Don’t drink with strange men, walk around the city late at night alone, or stay in a dump to save a few dollars. Don’t ever hitchhike, and always know where all of the exits are at all times. If you are attacked, do not try to stay and fight, scream and run.
  8. Always carry a lock with you: This is mainly for your valuables. Often times, hostels assign a locker to every bed, but they do not come with locks, or you have to purchase one at the desk. The first few times I didn’t have a lock, and therefore slept with my purse wrapped around my body. It was super uncomfortable, so I suggest investing. Also, every day I ventured out on the town I would leave my valuables locked up in the room, so that if my purse was stolen, I still had the important things back at the accomodation.
  9. Dress conservatively: I know it may seem unfair to tell you to cover up, but it’s for your own good. To avoid attracting unwanted male attention, dress like other women on the streets. If you are visiting Religious tourist attractions make sure you are respectful. Often times, I would wear layers so that I wasn’t overexposed.
  10. Be Alert! Large tourist areas while seemingly guarded and safe can have isolated areas that make an attack possible. By aware of your surroundings and make sure you try to stay near others while meandering through ruins and scenic spots.

These few tips can greatly increase the liklihood of a positive experience for women traveling alone. I know they helped me. If any other female travelers have any advice they’d like to share, definitely post! Safe travels!

 

Interlaken, Switzerland – Ziplining- Heights are so NOT my thing

Zipline

 

As I have mentioned in several posts, heights are not my thing, and yet I find myself continuously trying to face my fear of them. For half my life flying was a process. I’d have a panic attack waiting for the plane to take off, and once it was in the air, I would have to drug myself with sleeping medication just to survive the trip. Then when I moved to England and started traveling around to different countries, flying became second nature. Sometimes I’d even take two flights a day. So, you can imagine my surprise to find that my fear of heights hadn’t diminished in the least, when I attempted to zip line.

Whenever someone in the past had told me they have gone zip lining, I instantly pictured a tropical setting, with someone at the top of a mountain strapping you into a harness, flying over the treetops of a jungle, and then sliding into the finish point, where another person unclips you. I envied those people, thinking about how beautiful the views must be as they sliced through the air; feeling completely free and weightless. My experience in Interlaken, Switzerland didn’t exactly go as smoothly, but it’s definitely an experience to write about.

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It was the last day of our weekend trip to Interlaken, Switzerland, and a group of people had decided to go to a place called Seilpark. Both guides from Bus2Alps and locals alike agreed it was worth trying if you were looking for something fun to do at a lower price. With only a few hours to spare before heading back to Italy, I decided to join in the fun.

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Getting up there

The main activities center in town, literally around the corner from Balmers Herberge Hostel, where they sell all of the snow sports equipment, was the meeting point. A van shuttled customers to and from the park throughout the day. As our van ventured out of the city and towards the countryside, I started to get anxious, like I always do when things involve heights. How high would I actually be? How sturdy is the line? Has anyone died on this thing before? What the hell did I sign myself up for? And by the time we pulled up to the site, I had decided I was never making a rash decision while intoxicated again.

 

From the ground looking up, it actually didn’t look too intimidating. The Park had created an elevated obstacle course, using the surrounding trees to build wooden platforms as resting points. Overhead, there were people tightrope walking from one tree to the next, others were clinging to nets or making their way across circular wooden planks fifty feet in the air. It looked like the course consisted of obstacles testing ones endurance with zip lines intermixed, rather than just zip line.

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After being helped into a harness and given a set of gloves, the guide explained that the entire course was made up of blue and red bungee wires. Blue meant it was a zip line section, and red meant it was an obstacle section, which told you which set of clips to use off of your harness. He explained there were eight different rope trails connecting over 50 platforms of height, ranging from beginner to difficult, and you choose accordingly. The one rule of the course was to always be clipped in, and with the ten minute explanation we were on our merry way.

As I approached the first course (one of the easier ones listed) all I could think about was “I can’t believe I don’t have a guide with me. If they knew how clumsy I am, they would not be letting me do this alone.” I tried to swallow my nerves, and climbed up to the first wooden platform. The minute I started to walk across the tightrope, I knew I had been stupid to wear fashionable boots rather than rent grungy hiking sneakers, bad life choice.

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The difficult part about the courses, are that you can’t just quit in the middle, or turn around and go back; you have to keep pushing forward, facing the obstacles until you finish. Although all of the obstacles push your body to be agile and alert, two of the sections really freaked me out. One obstacle in the easier course, where you had to walk across circular planks, had me fearfully frozen in place, holding onto the bungee cord for dear life. This forced me to break the rules, and use my zip line to get across to the other tree, rather than painfully walk. Desperate times call for desperate measures, but this is how much of an idiot I looked like:

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The other moment, where I questioned my sanity, was when I was standing 70 feet in a tree about to zip line across a stretch of land. I actually think Paragliding was less scary than being up in that tree. I was inches away from peeing myself, when friends on the ground talked me into clipping myself in and just making the jump. I closed my eyes as the wind whipped my face, and although my nerves were shot, once I got to the other side, I felt empowered.

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I’m not going to lie, this obstacle course was definitely a challenge, both mentally and physically, for me. Like most things in life, some people will excel at it and others may find it takes them a little longer to complete it, but the goal is just to finish. Sometimes it’s good to take a risk and push yourself. At 69 francs a person, it’s definitely an adventure worth taking.

 

Interlaken, Switzerland – Canyon Jumping- Channeling my Inner Daredevil

Dang
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Welcome

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you thought skydiving, bungee jumping, or running with the bulls was scary, you’ve never heard of canyon jumping. I hadn’t either until I started planning my trip to Switzerland. Apparently they only do this adrenaline-rushing death defying free fall in two places in the world: Interlaken, Switzerland and Queenstown, New Zealand.

The Original Alpin Raft Company in Interlaken is known for servicing the canyon jump year round, sending a van to pick up the jumpers at their accommodation. Although I am petrified of heights, I had considered making the jump with some of my friends, even at 129 francs a person, which for a backpacker, is a bit expensive. I wanted to mainly make the jump to prove to all of my friends and family back home I could do it, but in the end I decided I may have a heart attack in mid air if I threw myself off of a cliff, and I’m too young to die.

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Canyon Jump Platform

Although Canyon Jumping is not my ideal adventure, my friends were blown away by the experience. After signing a death waver (yes, I’m serious) and walking onto a metal grated platform almost 300 feet in the air, any person would be feeling the fear. One by one my friends stepped into a harness that wrapped itself around their torso, and got a thick rope clipped to the front of them. That’s it, a rope; no professional strapped to your back or a parachute, a single strand of twisted fiber is meant to save your life, that’s reassuring eh?

When it was my friend Jen’s turn she looked at the group of jumpers, waved, walked towards the edge, did the sign of the cross, and jumped. After dropping the 300 feet, a five second free-fall to be exact, the rope swung her quickly through the narrow canyon. From above, her body looked like a rag doll being jolted around; it was one of the most intense things I’ve ever seen. Two of my guy friends actually held onto cameras while they jumped, so they could film the trip down. Don’t ask me how they did it, because if it was me, I would’ve chucked the camera the minute I jumped, glued my eyes shut, and screamed bloody murder, if not throwing up on the way down; yea, I’m that girl.

After the rope comes to a stop, the jumper is lowered to a bridge/ walkway nearby, where all of the daredevils wait until the group has finished taking the plunge. After we returned to our accommodation, I asked her what it had felt like, what had gone through her mind as she jumped off the ledge, and she said, “I literally felt like I had just committed suicide, and wanted to turn around and grab something, anything.”

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Oh Man!

Some other friends spent the weekend on ATV’s, paragliding, snowboarding on glaciers, and undoubtedly they all felt that canyon jumping was the best thing they did. Every one of them. So either I have a bunch of crazy people as friends, or there is some fun to this sport and I just can’t see past the height thing. Regardless, if you are a thrill-seeker this is a definite experience worth crossing off the bucket list.

So, I’m going to leave you with this: It’s recommended to wear bright colors, so that they look better on the photos, but I think it’s just a way for them to identify the body’s when this thrill seeking death trap is over…think about it.