What Surprised Me Most

What Surprised Me Most

what surprised me most is how not different we are. i pictured far away places where everything was crazy and odd and strange. but when i got there it wasn’t that crazy or odd or strange. people were still laughing and going to school and wanting to be around more people. buses still roared and kids still threw tantrums and two old ladies still sat in the cafes gossiping. businessmen still strutted in navy suits and babies still waved behind embarrassed moms and middle school boys still made a scene on the metro. everyone was still running towards a thing or studying for a test or looking really hard for something somewhere. there are different food and buildings and sounds and pants and all kind of things i thought there would be but underneath there are still busy, scared, searching humans that might not understand what i mean when i say excuse me but know exactly what i’m saying when i point at gelato.

Ultimate Prague Blog

I’ve lived here for four months. It’s not enough. Not enough time to do and see and eat everything that Prague has to offer, but I tried to get pretty close. I ate cake at every cafe I could… just for you! For this guide to my favorite city on earth. This is the culmination of the adventures of a girl who is probably avoiding her homework and exploring a side street instead. Enjoy.

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Food

Czech food can be… Czech. Not really for the vegetarian or the faint of heart, these people love hunks of meat, cheese and LOTS of potatoes. But in case you don’t, I included some other options as well!

  • The Black Madonna
    • Famous cubist building with amazing cubist cakes
  • Lokal
    • Traditional Czech food
  • Creme de la Creme
    • The best gelato in Prague
  • U Pinkasu
    • Traditional Czech food
    • Good to make reservations beforehand
  • Hany Bany
    • Super cheap and quick food
    • Cash only
  • Bageterie Boulevard
    • Fast food better than you’ve ever had in the US
  • Javarka and Co
    • Indonesian
    • Cash only
  • Pho U Letna
    • Vietnamese/Thai
    • Cash only
  • Chickn
    • American food for when you’re homesick!
    • Fried chicken, fries, mac and cheese

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Cafes

Cafe culture in Prague is my favorite. You can pretty much get coffee and cake almost any time of day with no judgement. My kind of people.

  • Mistral Cafe
    • Light lunch spot/cafe
      • Homemade iced mint tea
  • Mama Cafe
    • Study spot!
    • Interesting food options!
  • Cafe Plecnik
    • Favorite study/hangout spot
    • Iced coffee!
  • Grand Cafe Orient
    • Right above Black Madonna
    • Cash only
  • Cafe Louvre
    • Favorite cafe in Prague

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Things to Do

The best part? Most of these things are free! (or very inexpensive)

  • Tour of Town Hall in Old Town Square
  • Tour Prague Castle
    • Requires tickets
  • Kampa Gallery
    • Modern Czech art
  • Museum of Communism
    • learn more about the crazy history of the Czech Republic and central/eastern Europe
  • Drink a beer at Letna Beer Garden
    • Cheap beer, incredible views
  • Klementinum tour
    • Beautiful baroque library near Charles Bridge
  • Buy souvenirs at Pragtique
    • trendy little store with souvenirs by local designers
  • Explore JZP
    • Hip, trendy area in Prague 3
      • Get off at the green metro line metro stop “Jiriho of Pobrady”
  • Climb Petrin Tower
    • Can buy tickets on the spot (~$4 for students)
  • Get drinks at The Dancing House
    • Take elevator to top floor and buy a drink to sit outside and look over the city
  • Try the hot mulled wine
    • Especially if you’re here in the winter time!
  • See an opera at the Estates Theater
    • Mozart’s Don Giovanni premiered here in 1787

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Places to Go

These are the places you see on the Prague Instagram accounts and those drone travel videos on Facebook. They are not overrated.

  • Old Town Square
    • In the summer it’s filled with tourists but it’s still one of my favorite places because it showcases the eclectic architecture of Prague perfectly.
      • Go inside the Church of Tyn
  • Jewish Cemetery + Museum
    • Tickets required but such a cool experience
  • Wallenstein Palace and Gardens
    • Free!
    • Perfect to picnic + example of incredible Mannerist gardens
  • Charles Bridge
    • Best in the early morning or evening because it’s less crowded
    • Amazing view of Prague!
  • Wenceslas Square
    • Lots of shopping
    • Historical location of most political protests including the Velvet Revolution of 1989
  • Petrin Hill
    • Great views of the city and the location of the Petrin Tower (baby Eiffel tower about 1/6 of the size of the real one) 
  • Vysehrad
    • Super old church (Romanesque) on a hill with an amazing view
  • Prague Castle
    • The current Czech president still works here and there’s a fantastic Gothic cathedral in the center
  • Lennon Wall
    • Iconic, perfect for the classic Prague pic but also an incredible social message symbolizing the strife of the Czech people and that never ending search for peace on earth

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Night Life

Prague actually has a pretty wild nightlife scene. The beer is also way stronger (and better) here so enjoy responsibly!!!

  • Retro
    • Club
    • No cover for girls on Wednesdays!
  • Stalin Containall
    • An outdoor event on weekend nights during the summer by the Metronome where the infamous statue of Stalin used to stand before 1989
    • They sell beer from carts and it’s a true Euro grunge scene
  • Lucerna
    • Club atmosphere
    • Sometimes there are specific shows, check online first for tickets
      • 80s/90s night is my favorite! Usually on Fridays and sometimes Saturdays
      • Worth the 100 crown ticket
  • Bukowskis
    • Free sangria starting at 7 on Tuesdays until they run out
      • I don’t understand how it’s possible but it’s like… completely free, no strings attached. Go.
  • U Sudu
    • Underground cave-like bar
  • Dog Bar
    • Vzorkona is the real name but Americans just call it dog bar because… there are dogs there
    • Very chill and a much more Euro vibe
  • Zazemi
    • An actual Czech student bar
    • Live music most weekends!
  • Duplex
    • Very clubby club
    • 300 crown cover
  • Zizkovoska
    • Super cool grunge student bar where they have trivia once a month and jam sessions on Sunday nights (+ soup!)

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Day Trips

All of these places are between an hour to three hours away from Prague by train! If you have an extra day or two these are fascinating places in the CZ.

  • Plzen
    • About an hour away, this is where the famous Pilsner Urquell is brewed!
    • Take the factory tour, you get a glass of unpasteurized beer from the barrel at the end
  • Karlovy Vary
    • A tiny historical town with shops, restaurants and hiking!
  • Kutna Hora
    • Home of the infamous “bone church” this is a creepy yet amazing little cathedral tucked away in Moravia.
  • Karlstejn Castle
    • The second home of Charles the lV, a Gothic castle featuring a small chapel of religious relics on top.

 

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Other tips:

Czech peoples aren’t rude; they’re just reserved. Don’t expect strangers to return your smile or a cashier to act like he doesn’t despise you. And don’t take it offensively– it’s culture, not wrong or bad; just different.

Take the metro. Prague has one of the easiest public transit systems I’ve seen in Europe. It’s not expensive and is honestly an experience in itself. My favorite for people-watching.

You only need to tip up to 10% in the Czech Republic. Service industry employees make real livable wages here, not like in the US. If you feel like leaving a bigger tip than that you definitely can, but it’s not expected.

Dobry den. That means like “good day” in English and they will say that to you in every store or restaurant you walk into. It’s polite to say it back, even if it’s the only Czech you know!

Most restaurants you can go and choose a table on your own without waiting to be seated, unless there’s a sign that says otherwise. Just saving you from a few embarrassing moments when is everyone staring at you standing by the door and you don’t know why.

Go inside churches! One of my favorite things about Europe is most historic churches are open all day. These are beautiful examples of architecture and art, the perfect place to think/meditate + in the summer they are some of the only buildings that stay cool since they’re made of basically all stone.

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My ultimate advice for Prague? Take it in. Take in the fact that this was a land unvisited by tourists from over 50 years because it was hidden behind the Iron Curtain. Take in the fact that what you’re seeing now is as untouched by the western world as we will ever experience it again in our lifetime. Take in the fact that people live, eat, breathe and work here so respect that; this isn’t Disney World, this is their home. Take in the beer that made me change my mind about beer and the people that made me change my mind about people.

 

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To je Praha.

 

 

A Thank You Note to the World

A Thank You Note to the World

They tell you to never travel alone. Especially if you’re a girl. Especially if you’re only 21 years old. It’s not safe. It’s dangerous. It’s irresponsible.

And they’re probably right.

But what they fail to consider when they tell you that well-meaning advice is that is not an super realistic way to live an entire life. To never be alone. To be so limited by by gender. That I must change my habits because others cannot change theirs. And it is often unavoidable. A flight delayed, a ticket booked for the wrong day, meeting a friend in a different country.

Wo this is not your mom giving advice now: if you have the chance, go it alone every once in a while. It is the most liberating and terrifying feeling in the world. To know not a single other soul in an entire country. To figure things out for yourself, by yourself, with only yourself to revel in the success. To get from one country where you don’t speak the language to another where you don’t speak the language. That is what strength can feel like.

And you will realize how good the world can be.

This is an open thank you to the old woman in the Philly airport who told me she would pray for me, to the friendly man in the Milan metro station who showed me how to buy a  bus ticket, to the nice lady on the airport bus who told me this wasn’t the right stop to get off at, to the airport worker in Columbus who asked me if I was okay because I was tearing up saying goodbye, to the kind woman in Copenhagen who pulled over to help because we looked so confused. There are so many good people.

When you travel solo, you never really travel solo. There are people pulling you up and out and whatever direction you need to go. When they tell you that you shouldn’t be alone they’re right. Because I never felt like I was.

I have never made it anywhere completely by myself. It is with the help of an entire planet.

They Eat Cake

They Eat Cake

The Czechs know problems. Regime takeover after regime takeover, they have suffered. It’s a country in the middle of countries, caught in the power plays of history, often collateral damage in the combustion. A country traded to the Nazis by world powers for just a little more time. A country freed from a totalitarian regime only to be taken captive by another. Freedom, fracture, freedom. There are bullet holes in building walls and places where bombs landed that were never built upon again. Rows and rows of Soviet building blocks painted light pink, baby blue, seafood green in rebellion against their utilitarian silhouettes. Bronze faces are memorialized on street corners, matyrs of a nation that has always been itself a martyr. Golden plaques are hidden between the cobblestones marking the homes of the murdered Jews of Prague.

Ledice was an entire town destroyed, wiped off the map by men with big guns and hate. A death mask on my school memorializes a student who set himself on fire in protest of the regime. A plaque marks the square where young girl was shot in the grass by Soviet police because she was carrying a poster that they thought it was a gun. 27 crosses mark the cobbles in Old Town Square where 27 Czech noblemen lost their heads. Fifty feet away stands a  20 foot statue of a brave man, burned at stake for speaking his mind. Hidden in a crypt under a church lies a memorial where 7 Czech heroes took their own lives rather than be taken by Nazis.

Sad story, sad story, sad story.

In the blueprint, this place is covered in death.

But they eat cake. Mid-morning, afternoon, late evening. Somewhere someone eats cake. In colors, flavors, shapes like you’ve never seen. 50 crowns. Cafe Louvre Cheesecake with an apricot inside. 45 crowns. Sacher cake covered in chocolate. 120 crowns. A  bright yellow cubist cake shaped like a square. 60 crowns. Tiramisu. 40 crowns.

That’s what all of this death, this suffering, this fighting teaches you. Eat your cake. While you can, as often as you can, all that you can. The blueprint of Prague says death, the people say life. I have never seen so much of it. So many people living on purpose. A slap in the face to all this dying. They will not be the victims. Eating cake at 10:30 am in spite of it all.

That’s what I’m taking with me back home. An optimism that defies gravity. The courage to live fully, impeccably, relentlessly. To enjoy more, so much more, it’s a precious thing; this life; all this time to eat cake.

Roma Weekend Guide

Roma Weekend Guide

Rome was one of my favorite cities I’ve been to in Europe, it’s a busy metropolis bustling with life, energy and pasta. There is way, way more to do in Rome than I could include in this little guide but it covers the basics! Be prepared for heat, crowds and gelato.

Food to Eat

The most important part of Italy: food. Here are a few of my favorite places I tasted while I was there:  

  • Mimi e Coco’s
    • Amazing dinner, well worth the wait!
  • Gelato
    • In terms of gelato, Rome is paradise. There’s a shop on every corner but here are some that were highly recommended to me:
      • Old Bridge
      • Frigidarium
      • Venchi
      • Grom
      • Galeteria del Teatro
      • Giolitti
  • Antipasta at Cantina Dei Papi
    • One of my favorite meals in Italy, you can’t go wrong with a giant plate of olives, meats, cheeses and everything good under the sun. Plus a bottle of red.

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  • Cul De Sac
    • Loved the meat and cheese platter + wine yet again! They had like millions of bottles, we asked for a Tuscan recommendation and it was fantastic.

 

Places to Go

Rome has no shortage of attractions, one of the European cities where I feel like you could stay forever and not see everything! Since you have to pick and choose these are the essentials:

  • Vatican City
    • Go super early in the morning to avoid a crazy long line
      • St. Peter’s
        • Climb the duomo– terrifying but worth it for the amazing view

 

  • Sistine Chapel
    • home of the famous Michelangelo frescoes and worth the crowds!
  • Spanish Steps
    • Beautiful area and a great place for people watching! Go into the church at the top too.
  • Piazza Navona
    • The prettiest little square teeming with street performers and artists
  • Roman Forum
    • Go here first to wait in a shorter line and get a ticket that works for the inside of the Colosseum too! I loved seeing the Roman ruins and there is plenty of green space to relax or picnic in.
      • The Colosseum is only a block away so it’s an easy walk even in Italian heat!
  • Trevi Fountain
    • Another Rome (and Lizzie McGuire) classic, they say if you throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain that you will one day return to Rome! I threw a few!

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Random tips:

  • Try to walk as much as possible to explore the city 
  • Bring a water bottle, there are fountains/spickets with free water everywhere
  • The city is filled with random markets and stalls, make sure to check these out while you’re meandering the street!

 

Make the most of the city of seven hills and eat some pasta for me! Ciao bella!