Sunday, February 21, 2016

Alternative Prague: Embracing your inner hippie + Česky Krumlov

My trip to Prague was…demasiado. I had a two hour train ride from Füssen to Munich and then a six or so hour ride from Munich to Prague. Don’t get me wrong I love trains, but the problem is that when you’re alone you have a lot of time to think. The worst is when you start thinking about the future and you don’t have anything to distract you and you just plummet into a downward spiral. Needless to say, my 8 hours of sitting and thinking put me in a pretty bad mood. Aside from contemplating my future, the ride was nice…I had almost the whole car to myself and the scenery was pretty cool. Also- not very metaphorical, but don’t forget to look backwards, sometimes the view is better.

When I got to Prague it was already dark out but the hostel, The Czech Inn (lol), gave me pretty good directions so after asking for a bit of help from a redhead at the metro station I had no problem getting where I was going. I didn’t pay for any public transportation while I was in Prague and I used it a lot. I probably should have, considering how cheap it was and how hefty the fine is for getting caught (like 40 euros) but sometimes ya gotta live on the edge, right?

The Czech Inn was a great hostel. It was located in a more alternative neighborhood but it was easy to reach the city center via the tram. I heard that it wasn’t a very long walk but it was freezing while I was there so I never did it. It was really modern and clean and it had an attached bar that had breakfast (overpriced but good) and a great happy hour (less than a euro for a beer). The Czech Republic was the first country I went to that had a different currency (that’s a lie, the UK was). My tip as far as currency goes is to just take it out of the ATM and always use it. The conversions to euros are a complete rip off. For example, it was like 10 crown to go to the bathroom (27 crowns is a euro) and I didn’t want to break a 200 note so I payed in euros and it ended up costing me a full euro. I was also buying mulled wine on the street and it was about the equivalent of one euro and they tried to charge me four. I laughed, gave them a bit of change and took the wine.

Lodeh: Kokos Mléko, Galangal, Zazvor, Zelenina Tofu, Mungo Nudle, Ryze nebo Pohanka (Coconut milk soup: Coconut Milk, Galangal, Ginger, Vegetable Tofu, Mungo Noodles, rice)

Once I was all checked in to the hostel I walked around looking for a place to eat. I ended up at this Indonesian/Javanese restaurant that was AMAZING. It was called Javanka and Co. The restaurant wasn’t vegan/vegetarian but they had so many options. It was also cheap, I got a half portion of soup and it cost just over two euros. I had never had Indonesian food and it made me want to go to Southeast Asia. It was just so light and fresh! It was also good for people watching. There were a solid amount of other people eating alone as well as some very earthy-looking couples, definitely a cool neighborhood to be in. When I got back to the hostel I saw a flier for an early morning yoga class just up the road and decided that I would go. I hadn’t really thought about it before arriving but I quickly realized that Prague was the perfect place to embrace your “inner hippie”. It’s a city with a great alternative edge and I can’t imagine what it’s like in the summer!

Zelený čaj, Chléb, Echte Luikse Siroop, Jablka, Banány, Hrušky (Green Tea, Toast, a Belgian Jam, Apples, Bananas, Pears)

I got up and found the yoga class which was in this cool, multi-purpose space up the road from the hostel. The teacher was actually a substitute but she did speak some English (they advertised as being English-friendly). I talked with her a bit before the class. There were two others in the class and let me tell you, it was hard. The difficulty was physical, not due to the fact that it was entirely in Czech. Besides walking, I hadn’t really done any exercise up to that point and I was very tight. As they say, it hurt so good. After class we had breakfast which was a nice surprise because the flier said tea and fruit but there was also had some toast and jam. After chatting for a bit I went back to the hostel to get ready for the walking tour. Since we were pretty far from the starting point, a bus picked us up from the hostel which was super convenient. It was absolutely freezing out, so I didn’t enjoy the tour as much as I could have. The most important thing that happened was that I met this guy from San Francisco and he told me about this language exchange that would be happening on Sunday (my last full day) at a big international bookstore. I also met some people from Poland who happened to speak Spanish, so I talked to them a bit. I’ve found that while the free walking tours are fun they’re really more for meeting people than for seeing things.

Špenátovy komínek s grilovanym kozím syrem vlsskymi orechy a gratunivanymi bramborami polnícek s bazalkovym pestem; Med zázvor čaj; Raw orechove koule s japonskym, jemne mletym cajem matcha a raw ruzovou cokoládou (Grilled goat cheese with walnuts, served on potatoes au gratin and spinach leaves, lamb’s lettuce with basil pesto…really just fancy cheese fries, am I right?; warm honey ginger tea; raw nut balls with Japanese matcha powder tea and rose chocolate)

I ate lunch at vegetarian restaurant called Lehká Hlava which translates to “clear head”. The food and the atmosphere were amazing. I spent close to two hours there and loved every second of it. I wish there were more vegetarian restaurants in Sevilla/at home! As I was leaving I talked to a guy who was also leaving and he gave me some suggestions for other veggie restaurants in Prague. I didn’t end up going to any of them but I have a list if you’re interested!

I was cold and tired after I ate so I went back to the hostel to relax. I was kind of bummed because there was this cool looking vintage concept store right next door but it was closed the whole time I was there. It was around this point that I realized that I had missed a day when I was booking my accommodation. I was due to check out of the Czech Inn (lol again) on the 11th but my train ticket to Vienna wasn’t until the 12th. I could have just booked another night in Prague, but I had wanted to take a day trip to Česky Krumlov anyway and my hostel recommended a hostel there that looked adorable and is owned by people originally from New England so I just decided to go ahead and book that. By the time I had my life all sorted out I was hungry for dinner. There was another girl just sitting in our room so I introduced myself and asked if she had plans for food yet. She, Chloe, didn’t so we went to this place down the street that she had been to a few days before.

Spinach and cheese quesadillas with a pesto basil sauce and spicy salsa. I knew I was missing Spain when I said “Spanish quesadillas” upon opening the menu and when I ordered.

As you can imagine it was nice to have someone to talk to over dinner. It did make me feel old though, she was 18 and getting ready to head off to university (in Australia, because literally everyone traveling in Europe is actually Australian). I’m used to being on the “younger” side of things, but I felt ancient! This was also the two-week mark in my trip which at the time I could not believe! It felt like I was gone for a weekend, not a month!

The next morning, with the advice of Chloe in mind, I went downstairs to the bar for an all-you-can-eat buffet breakfast, journaled, and then hopped on the tram with plans of spending most of my day at Prague Castle. Prague Castle isn’t just a single building, it’s a huge complex. My favorite part was Golden Lane which was basically a reconstruction of the houses of the non-royalty who lived and worked on the castle grounds. It was really interesting and very well done. The great hall and the huge colorful books in the Old Royal Palace were pretty amazing too. Oh I also enjoyed getting screamed at by a Czech lady as I tried to sneak into the bathrooms in the castle…I was pretty angry that they were making me pay after I just bought an entrance ticket. I spent the whole morning at the castle and when I was done I went to go find the John Lennon Wall which is basically just this wall that someone pained John Lennon’s face on as a symbol of peace and freedom around the fall of communism. The original image is long painted over but it’s constantly being transformed with writing/graffiti/street art. It’s a pretty well-known thing nowadays but there are no signs/directions. I purposely didn’t look for detailed instructions online because I thought it would be cooler to “stumble upon” it.

At the John Lennon Wall
While I was looking for the wall I saw a bunch of cool other things like reproduction United States army vehicles (I was confused, I think they were movie props though) and a wishing tree. I got some mulled wine and spent some time just freezing standing by the river admiring the beauty of the city. As far as cities go architecturally and historically, I remain indifferent to Prague but based on experiences and atmosphere it’s at the top of my list. 

By mid/late afternoon I was still looking for the wall which was supposedly right by the castle. I gave up because I was cold, tired, and had to go to the bathroom but didn’t have any change on me. As I headed to the bridge to get on the tram, I walked right into the wall…I’m not even joking. I of course was thrilled that I found it but secretly happier that I just “ran into it”. It was very cool. I don’t really know how else to describe it. There was a guy with his guitar singing “Imagine”, there were little kids running up to it while their parents took pictures, a girl gave me a sharpie and told me to write something and then pass it on…it was very cool. After taking some time and taking it all in, I grabbed the tram and went back to my neighborhood. I got off a few stops early so that I could walk (I was feeling all inspired) and wound up at this cute second hand store slash café where I got a nice and warm chai tea latte. I sipped on it as I chatted (briefly) with the barista and walked through the racks of already-worn clothes. There were so many things that I wanted but since my suitcase was so small it would have been impractical to buy anything so I settled for “window shopping”. I wanted to come back the next morning for breakfast but they weren’t open on Sundays.

Raw & Vegan Cheesecake
I went to happy hour at the hostel bar with Chloe and then ended up going out with her and the other Australians and one Canadian that we met. In my head it was going to be more fun than it actually was and I, like an idiot, decided to leave my phone at the hostel (aka I didn’t have a map) because I didn’t want it to get stolen. We went to Prague Beer Museum which would have been cooler if I actually liked beer. I decided after an hour or so that I was tired and wanted to go home. The group was fiercely opposed because I was a girl in Prague, which I understood, but I was being stubborn. They gave me directions back to the tram stop and I set off. I made it back to the station (and thus the hostel) perfectly safely after stopping into one Kabab shop to ask if I was going the right way. Looking back, as much as I hate to admit it, it probably wasn’t my smartest move but I will say that I kind of felt like a badass employing my “active bitch face” and firmly “no”-ing the sketchy looking people who got a little too close.

By the next morning I was ready to go, but I still had one more full day. After breakfast I went to the monastery and library that I read about online. When I first got to the area I went to the Museum of Miniatures. It cost two euros and I thought that it would be a waste of money, especially because it was packed with a huge Asian tour when I got there, but I was pleasantly surprised…it was wicked cool! There were portraits done on poppy seeds and little metal-work figures on pieces of hair and mosquito wings. I thoroughly enjoyed the metal-work camel caravan trekking across the eye of a needle. After that I went to the library which was amazing as promised but you could only see the whole thing if you booked a tour ahead of time so I settled with what I got and went to the park to walk around. It was a pretty cold and dreary day and I was ready to leave. I walked into another vegetarian restaurant as I was leaving the park where I had a salad and some vegan cheesecake and tea. Both good, neither stellar.

I remembered the language exchange that the guy from San Francisco told me about on my first day and decided that I might as well go. I’m glad I did. It was in this international bookstore that had a huge restaurant attached. I stayed for two or three hours and there were hundreds of people by the time I left. Each table was designated a different language and people could move freely between them. I stayed exclusively at the Spanish table and met some Czech students, a guy from Cataluña and another American who was doing his entire degree in Prague. It was tons of fun and I could have stayed forever. I really liked the format, it was very casual and there was a bar and food. I think that going to something like that regularly would encourage me to work on a third language (French or honestly anything) because I could just go and sit and listen to conversations until I felt ready to speak. There were over twenty languages represented and there was a native speaker at each. I loved every second of it and wish there was something like that here in Sevilla/at SBC. One of my favorite experiences of the trip for sure.

I was going to go out to dinner with Chloe but she was going out in the center of the city and I was too tired and had to do laundry. I went out to look for the place that we had gone to together but for some reason could not find it. I ended up back at Javanka and Co and I’m really glad I did. I got a full meal as opposed to the soup that I got the first time.

Tempeh se sójovou omáčkou, bílá rýže s smaženou cibulkou a Gado salátem; zelená Indonéský palačinka (Filling, protein rich tempeh cooked with soy sauce, white rice with fried onions, and gado salad. Dessert was a “green Indonesian pancake” filled with warm coconut served with a coconut sauce-the lightest, most satisfying dessert I have ever had)

Divine. If I lived in Prague, I would live in that neighborhood and I would eat there all the time. I need to learn how to cook that kind of food! The people watching was great again, a nice mix of people eating solo and lots of impeccably dressed earthy-crunchy couples sipping on tea and eating organic, Indonesian inspired vegan desserts…what more could you want?
As I said before, while the city itself was a bit overrated in my opinion, I loved the experiences it offered which were completely different than I expected. I know my time in Prague wasn’t exactly the “typical” college backpacker experience, but I wouldn’t have changed a thing!

[Brief interlude before you continue: as I’m writing this, I’m sitting under a tree in Parque de los Príncipes, barefoot, in a tank top and capris. 20 de Febrero 2016]

Česky Krumlov

I’ve gone back and forth on whether to include my day in Česky Krumlov as part of Prague or make it its own post. Seeing as it was really only one day, I’ll tack it on the end of Prague. In the end, I’m glad I made a mistake with my booking because my time in Česky Krumlov, though short, was a great experience. It was good to get out of the city and I would have liked to stay longer or to go in the summer when they have tons of quirky little festivals like the “Five Petal Rose Renaissance Festival”. It’s not so off the beaten track, it’s well known all around for its medieval appearances and castle. My only problem, besides the fact I was there for such a short time, was that it was very hyped up so it wasn’t quite as amazing to me as it could have been. I read a good number of blogs about it before I went and so I knew what to expect which led to some heightened expectations. Nevertheless, it was a good trip. I’ve been working on striking a balance between researching a place and just showing up.

The hostel I stayed at, Krumlov House was adorable and the couple who ran it was also great. I was pleased to find a full kitchen and one cozy dormitory. I would have loved to stay longer, but that’s life. I took a “Student Agency” bus to and from Prague and I highly recommend them! It was 3 hours each way and each seat had a movie player and you got free hot chocolate/cappuccinos and you could order food as well. The actual seats weren’t as nice as the Flix Bus I took to Innsbruck but it was a great service anyway.

Since I didn’t have much time in the town I just walked around trying to get a feel for it. It’s a beautiful place, very fairytale-y. I was surprised by the amount of street art mixed in with the old-fashioned houses. One of my favorite parts of the day was going into a cheap grocery store, buying a cheap pastry, and standing by the river that circles the town and taking everything in. At this point I looked up and saw an extravagant old blue building with a for-sale sign in the window. I immediately imagined it as a ballet academy; studios with big windows, dressing rooms with velvet curtains, waiting rooms with floral wallpaper and chandeliers…I guess some dreams just never die.

My Czech "Feast"
After I finished walking around I went back to the hostel and talked to the owner a bit about running the hostel and moving here from the US. She recommended I go to a restaurant called “Two Marys” over the vegetarian one to get a feel for “authentic Czech food”. I did, though I’m not entirely sure it was the right choice.
Staročeská vegetariánská hostina: kuba, pohanka, jáhelník, placka, knedlík, brambor, salát; Jihočeská medovina; Český koláč (Old Bohemian Vegetarian Feast: puffed barley, buckwheat, millet, potato cake, dumpling, potatoe, salad; South Bohemian Mead; Apple Strudel)

It was an authentic medieval restaurant. The atmosphere, after an arguing mother and daughter left, was really cool and I could imagine what it would have been like back then. I would not have wanted to live in that time period pero bueno. I went back to the hostel after and went to bed because I had to be up early the next day. PS Mom and Dad-this is when I wrote you those postcards.

The next morning I caught the bus to Prague after having to wait in the rain. There was also this kind of sketchy guy there and someone else most have thought he was strange too because the police came and talked to him. The bus ride back was uneventful, I didn’t watch any movies but I did spend time looking through the various hostel fliers I picked up mostly for Bratislava but also one for a place in Austria called “The Tree House”.

My unplanned stop went wonderfully and left me wanting a bit more spontaneity in my life.  

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