Truck Stop: Prague

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Next stop on our Europe trip – a bus ride to Prague! Here, we stayed at the Little Quarter Hostel. Very quiet (we ended up in a room with 5 boys who slept most of the time), but it was well located, being on a cobbled street right below the castle and just up from the Charles Bridge. It had a great common space below with a bar as well as a terrace up top, but no one really seemed to hang out there. We were there during the middle of the week, so perhaps that had something to do with it.

After checking in, we went out in search for lunch, and chose a spot at the top of the hill with a sneak peak view of the city.

Once we finished our glasses of wine and essentially the entire bread basket, we walked up to the castle grounds, and found an incredible view of the whole city down below.

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There were a few vendor booths to walk through, that had what I’m going to call more so artisan souvenirs and food. Touristy, but with a touch of medieval charm.

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Exploring Prague Castle:

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And, the gorgeous San Vito Cathedral:

Had a little fun on Golden Lane:

Note that I am only 5′ and am as tall as the doors here.

We then made our way down towards the old city, and weaved through the crowds on the Charles Bridge.

Neither of us were feeling too great at this point, so we settled into an adorable courtyard for dinner, complete with some grog and goulash!

With a full day in Prague, we embarked on another free walking tour of the Old Town, or as our guide would joke, “a tour of #oldstuff”. One of the great things about these tours is finding out how many people travel from so many different countries. Our groups of about 20 have been so diverse – up until this point where almost everyone was from the US! Even our guide was surprised. We started in the main square, and then headed to the astronomical clock.

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Unfortunately, the tower was under construction, but at least the clock was still visible and I was just in awe. There is so much detail instilled in it, and each piece has its own story and function. The top clock has the actual time, hours of sunlight and moonlight – which notes the time of year, and a zodiac calendar (doesn’t include day light savings though – too old!). The bottom is a name day clock. I wish I got a closer look at the names themselves. My great -grandparents were Czech, so it would have been fun to find their name!

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We also walked through the old Jewish quarter where we found Europe’s oldest synagogue that is still in use. They call it the Old New Synagogue. Originally, it was creatively called the “New Synagogue”, but when other synagogues began to be built, making this one now older, they changed the name to Old New. How clever?! Ha

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Despite the silly stories, Prague is a beautiful and picturesque city. We did a lot of wandering around, where I discovered my obsession for the river and bold bridges. Quick trip, but loved every moment and view point.

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Truck Stop: Amsterdam

Oh Amsterdam. Despite a crazy train station and it pouring rain upon our arrival, I knew I would like this city. The canals, the buildings, plants on every street; everywhere just had so much character.

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Where to stay in Amsterdam? Why not right on a canal? Somehow we found an airbnb room on a houseboat!

First stop on the sights to see list, was the Anne Frank house. We purchased tickets online a couple days before in order to make it in earlier that day as well as skip the line.

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I can’t remember if I have actually read her diary or not, but either way I need to go back and do so. We did an audio guided tour that led us through the annex where her and her family, as well as another family, lived in hiding for two years. It was set like a townhouse behind the tea and spice shop her father managed, which they closed off access with a bookcase. It was a larger space than I envisioned, not for seven people of course, but being built back into the courtyard, there doesn’t appear to be all that much from the front. All of the furniture has been removed, but they have encased the walls which hung her pictures, posters, drawings, and magazine clippings, that the ladies downstairs would sneak in for her. It really brought a reality that she was just a young girl and how secluded their lives were during that period.

Out front of the museum, was a canal with many boats lined up offering tours. I was a little weary if that was a worthwhile expense, but we decided to do so, and I am actually so happy we did. We chose a boat that was privately owned by this beautiful couple who offered drinks, and had pillows and cushions that gave it a homey and comfortable feel. We took the seat in the back of the boat that was elevated among the other seats along the sides (may have selfishly kept it to ourselves, but no one else looked squished or was trying to fit…).

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Giddy the entire ride, they brought us through the canals and under bridges (some of which you literally had to duck and lie down in the boat – great fun). They would point out different sights such as the mayor’s house, beautiful privately owned mansions, the narrowest house (4 meters wide! You were taxed on the width back then), the sets of triplets, and the famous seven-in-a-row bridges. All so cute!

My favorite thing though, is how almost all of the houses are crooked! Turns out they are basically built on marshland (of course with all of the canals), so some are beginning to lean to the side (not sure how I would feel about my house sinking), but not only that, they lean forward! With the houses being so narrow, they all have a fixture fastened to the top to create a pulley system to lift the furniture in through the windows – crazy! It just cracks me up, but given the opportunity, I’d probably take one in a heartbeat.

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We also passed a restaurant that sat on the water (and built under a parking garage – yes odd, but cool and quirky), and was said to have a nice sunset (amazingly, it was about 2 blocks from where Sara and I were staying, so that was our dinner spot!).

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After our tour and some lunch on a corner nearby, we were walking around when we realized that we needed a WC – ugh. Being in Europe, all of the public toilets you have to pay for – not so great. The mall (top) that looks like a palace from the outside charged, so we went across the way to the actual palace – Palacio Real de Amsterdam in Dam Square (bottom).

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We figured it’d be interesting to see anyways, so if we have to pay for a restroom, we’re getting a tour with it! And so we bought the audio guide tour (of the palace not the bathroom… ;)). It actually turned out to be a gorgeous building inside.

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I will come to say this for all of the European cities we visited, but Amsterdam has so character and charm! Other than almost getting run over by bikes (don’t walk in the red lane) and bus trams that quickly come out of nowhere left and right, I really do love this city.

P.S yes, walked through the Red Light District – lively and interesting to say the least, and no, did not sit down at an Amsterdam coffeeshop on this trip. Maybe next time 😉

Truck Stop: Copenhagen!

The quaint and charming city of Copenhagen. My first taste of Europe!

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The first differences between here and the US, began right as I stepped off of the 10 hour non-stop flight from Oakland. The gates were just nicer! Like walking into an airport that had been designed by Ikea, with each gate having a different layout and different chairs. There were self serve Starbucks stands, people casually walking around with a wine glass in hand, security/airport staff getting around via scooters and segways! The kids rode on their suitcases like little scooter bikes, racing in circles. Such funny sights. the passport check was quick, and I was quickly in baggage check. My best friend from childhood, Sara, jumped in on first part of the Euro trip too, landing minutes after me.

Slight side story on this one first though: Copenhagen originally didn’t make the “have to” list for this trip. My trip actually flip flopped because of one flight. I was planning on traveling around Spain first, and found a cheap flight to Madrid that had an overnight layover in Copenhagen. Being the indecisive person that I am, it took me a while to decide if one night was actually going to be worth it. I went through all of the pros and cons, researched, and eventually got in my head that I really did want to go there. Of course, since this thought process took a day or two, I ended up losing the flight altogether. Agh! Then I thought, well why don’t I just make the connection myself. Turns out there was a super cheap one way flight there, so I took it. Now sitting with a one-way flight to Copenhagen (anxiety and excitement speeding up my heart beat as this trip is now not just a dream, but a reality), I started to think if Madrid would be the best next move from here. Weighing more pros and cons to be efficient and budget conscious, let’s flip the whole trip and see Europe first, and then make my way to Spain! From there a route was created (with less ridiculous overthinking this time) and it just seemed to flow.

So, here we are actually on the city streets! Forgoing the sim card or paying for actual data, we decided to rely on wifi and good old fashioned maps (as well as offline gps). It’s raining, and after walking an extra block or two, we miraculously find our hostel: Sleep in Heaven. It was a cozy place with a bar (2 for 1 happy hour), but we had to go down the street to get to our room. Not bad, just a little odd. We had a 4 bed, 2 bunk room with a large window with a street view. Beds were a little squeaky, but the place was clean.

After checking in, we headed out to walk around and find a place to eat. We wandered and stumbled upon the lakes, much closer than expected, and very cute with all of the colorful houses, swans, and tree lined streets. They are very active there too, almost everyone was either on a bike (more bikes than cars in this city) or a jogger. I loved all of the plants, whether on a balcony, a store front or surrounding a restaurant with outdoor seating and patio lights as well as blankets draping the chairs. Couldn’t stop commenting how everything was so cute or charming or cozy or all three!

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We stopped on the water next to a tented dock, where you could rent swan boats and literally be among the swans. It was some sort of salsa night in the tent, and it was so sweet watching all of the couples on the dance floor. They had tables, so we decided to eat there, but it turned out you had to go across the street to order, and then they bring the food out to your table. Not sure what it is about having the businesses in such separate spaces ha. May take a couple extra steps to get to where you need to be, but it was such a calm and quaint evening.

Day two, was our full day to explore. Unfortunately a rainy day, but it was on and off, so not too terrible.

Sites of the day:

Rosenberg Castle

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We just toured the castle grounds (they’re free to see!) with lovely and spacious gardens.

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They’re were also adorable toddlers puddle jumping in their little rain slickers. Nothing like a family playdate in the park!

Next headed to the Rundetaarn or the Round Tower.

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I was so pleasantly amused with this attraction. You walk round and round up the ramp (7.5 turns that do not look unlike the yellow brick road…), and then up a tiny spiral stair case to the roof. Once up there you have a 360 degree view of the area. It may have been raining and cloudy, but still a great view.

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We then headed to the ever so picturesque strip of Nyhavn.

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They really are as adorable and colorful as you see in pictures. Seriously felt like I was in some sort of storybook (perhaps one by Hans Christian Anderson who lived there to write, but actually came to learn ballet 😉 )

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They had a couple vendors out, like these two handing out delicious apples slices (so crisp and tasty!)

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We had lunch on Paper Island (thank goodness as it started to pour right as we approached). This place was cool. Like a giant warehouse full of quirky, funky booths of almost every type of food. Each one had an eclectic vibe, and bumped their own music. Little pricey (expected in this city), but definitely worth it for the atmosphere.

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Nearby, we found Free Christiania. A hippy-vibe co-op community, who are also not under the government rules. It is colorful, and random, and has a little bit of everything put together. Tents, barns, houses and domes, with a cafe, outdoor seating and skate parks in between. There’s also a stage area for concerts, and woodsy trails that overlook a lake. And of course, they are known to have easy access to the cannabis club (literally someone set-up every 10′ down the street). I was honestly, slightly underwhelmed…I thought there’d be more activity and art such as murals and sculptures. That all existed, just not visually at the volume I had in mind. Granted the weather wasn’t exactly sunshine, so that could have been a factor as well.

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Next is the Christiansborg Palace.

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These castle grounds were huge. We took a tour of the reception rooms, which were smallish, but lovely and regal, and even saw a couch that apparently Obama has sat on – wow! haha.

Throughout history, this palace has astonishingly burned down 5 times. It has been built back up similar each time, but typically more ornate, and I think larger as well. We toured the ruins of past foundations from the previous builds, the kitchen (which is not widely used anymore – food is cooked and brought from Amalienborg (the royal residency) if a banquet is held here), and then the stables, where 6 white horses are housed, and still used by the Queen.

Speaking of the Queen, we made it to her and the royal family’s residency the next morning, Amalienborg.

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I thought it was so strange how little visible security was around. There were no gates around their houses, and two decorated guards outside. I know they wouldn’t allow you to get all too close, but it literally looked like you could stroll right up to their doorsteps and say hello.

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The courtyard is like a round about with 4 houses in each corner for each family. The Queen’s is the one with five chimneys (our guide said it is because she smokes so much – honestly not sure how true or false that actually is…!).

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The next day, we had time before our flight out to Copenhagen, so we went to see Tivoli, the 3rd oldest amusement park in the world. Unfortunately, it was closed that morning, but we tried to peak through the gates. We then went on a walking tour with a humorous Denmark local. Actually one of the better walking tours we went on, as he was informative, and we hit so many locations throughout the city (such as those listed above). You feel incredibly touristy being in a group like that, but it was so nice to hear all of the stories and get the history of the area right then and there.

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Overall, I am so glad that we stopped in Copenhagen. It was almost too quiet, but I think it was a great lead in to our trip, with it being so charming, smaller (much smaller than I expected, which is great to walk around), and the fact that mostly everyone spoke English. A very comfortable place to be when you are so new to a situation.

Time for a trip. Truck stop: Europe.

I have pulled the trigger. Saved up funds, quit my job and purchased a ticket to Europe. Crazy? Maybe a little, but sometimes you get so caught up in a routine, are constantly stressed, and you just have to do something new. I haven’t traveled anywhere big for almost 5 years now (Chile and Argentina for a month in 2012), and now that I feel financially confident, why not make someday, today.

After minoring in Spanish, I can read almost anything in the language, but my conversation is pretty poor. I have been wanting to go abroad for a few months to dive into the culture, and practice. While I loved my time spent in South America, I thought of Spain as I have never been to Europe. Three years or so of dreaming to make the trip, I actually buckled down, and began to save. Three years later, a ticket was purchased. Originally, I did want to go for 3-6 months or as long as a year, but realistically looking at costs, and thinking of what to do during all of that time, I settled with 2.5 months. A month to travel Europe, and a month in Spain. I then got ansty, and added a couple more weeks. Why not, right?

I decided that more planning and structure wasn’t going to be the sole purpose of this trip, I just wanted to explore and do something different. Not to say that I didn’t like my job or was unhappy in the Bay Area, I just kept feeling that I needed to be doing something more in my life. Something that I’ve never done. So, while the point and excuse as well as initial reason was to learn Spanish, I think I actually just wanted to escape. Escape and do something else for a change, that really was just for me. I don’t think we need concrete reasons for why we do something. Sometimes you just have a feeling, have to take a chance, and make it worthwhile.

I will note, that all transportation and lodging was booked fairly well in advance (it’s in my event planner nature to do so), but the physical presence of being elsewhere and letting the days unfold with a “let’s see what’s out there” mentality is what was exciting and needed.

Well that all sounds cheesy, and may not make the most sense, but for one reason or another I did it, and even was lucky enough to have a few friends join me along the way! I chose the following places, in this order:

  • Copenhagen
  • Amsterdam
  • Prague
  • Budapest
  • Split and Krka in Croatia
  • Rome
  • Barcelona
  • Valencia
  • Granada
  • Malaga
  • Seville
  • Detour to Fes and a Sahara Trip!
  • Madrid

And, then back to Oakland by mid-November! (Because I love my family and Thanksgiving 😉 )

Details and photos to come for each adventure.