6 Awesome Links to Make Your Friday Better

White Wisteria ceiling

A beautiful post about getting to know people in a culture that is maybe harder for many Americans to understand. I love love her blog.

Oh my goodness, look at these photos. Just stunning.

Have you guys heard of the hashtag #iftheygunnedmedown?  It’s powerful.

A cute infographic – should you goodbye or ghost?

Soooo….this is depressing. Not surprising, mind you, but still depressing.

And another from A Cup of Jo – a collection of Honest Slogans. Hilarious!

Hiking Český ráj

A beautiful day hike from Prague is in Český ráj.

Český ráj means Bohemian Paradise*, and is considered as some of the best, easy hiking in the Czech Republic. As with all hiking here, you follow a color-coded, laid-out trail, flitting from small town to castle to pub to castle ruins with a pub (so civilized in this country!), hitting all sorts of beautiful views and neat rock formations in between.

IMG_0753

The trail we took wound through picturesque forests and pastures with a few lung-busting climbs up to more scenic points.

IMG_0758

To be honest though, the trail we took was also kind of blind. We had a map and followed the color-coded trails faithfully and did end up where we intended to, but we also sort of just stumbled upon castles we didn’t know were there, didn’t get to see the castle we were aiming for, and even missed the last bus, forcing us to ask in broken Czech for the inn owner to get us a taxi to the town where we would catch the train (it was special).

IMG_0825

But that just shows you! Even when you don’t know what you’re doing, the worst that can happen here is that you might have to spend one night in a picturesque little inn by impressive castle ruins. darn.**

For our trip, we started at Turnov (a Czech town) and worked our way down, south-east, through the paradise reserve.

After we climbed a steep hill to leave the small town and enter the actual national park, our first major attraction was a look-out point, built at the top of the hill, overlooking the valley.

IMG_0750

Up a spiral staircase and onto a rock tower, you’re rewarded with this view of forest and farmland – Český ráj on your left, Czech homes on your right.

IMG_0746

We then continued on through pleasant forests until suddenly we came across this castle, Valdštejn.

Valdštejn/Wallenstein Castle – aerial view | Czech paradise (not my photo, click for link)

Valdštejn was originally built in the 1200s as a gothic fortress atop three sandstone cliffs. It went through various owners and was added on to throughout the years, the most recent addition being a pilgrimage church built atop the ruins. (Actually the most recent addition was probably the ticket booth and beer/sausage stand just outside)

IMG_0763

You pay just 50Kc and get a little leaflet with information in English. Then, you get to explore the ruins to your heart’s content! This means going in the buildings and church, running through little rock caves that connect different parts, and clambering up on partial ruins to see over the walls at the views beyond.

IMG_0764

Pretty awesome! (and then grab a beer on your way out – you deserve it, you hiker, you!)

IMG_0769

We then continued walking along until we came to a view point of the famous sandstone formations, the Hrubá Skála.

IMG_0795 IMG_0797

We continued hiking the ridge along side them until we came to the Hrubá Skála Chateau and wellness spa.

It was oddly empty while we were there, but you could tell that at its full grandeur, it would be a sight to behold.

IMG_0805

And how cool would it be to have your summer sunset dinner on this terrace?

IMG_0806

And a room with this view?

IMG_0807

Instead of stopping here and catching a bus home (which, in retrospect would have been a good idea since we had started the whole adventure rather late and were short on time), we decided to push on to Trosky Castle. Its twin towers are the symbol of the whole Bohemian Paradise, after all.

And as we headed towards it, we were rewarded with little cow-filled valleys and sheep filled pastures on spectacular hillsides.

IMG_0810  IMG_0826

Too bad we just didn’t have time to actually reach it, in the end! We got so close…

IMG_0830

But yet could only admire it while we nursed a beer and waited for our emergency taxi to arrive.

But, cool fact, Trosky was built on and right between two volcanoes, one tower being named the Young Girl, the other named the Old Woman. And, luckily, to visit it is cheap (Admission is 70 Kc for adults), and you can take a tour as well!

Although we didn’t actually get to go up to the castle that day and instead had to rush back to Turnov to get back to Prague (although, spending a night there wouldn’t have been the worse thing in the world!), the entire hike was well worth it.

Bohemian Paradise really does live up to its name.

Trosky Castle – Bohemian Paradise (not my image, click to link)

And really, with such great scenery so close to the city, how can you not spend a day of your Europe trip recharging your batteries in nature?

IMG_0804

Logistics:

Here are some great links to get you started planning your itinerary to the Bohemian Paradise:

http://www.cesky-raj.info/en/hiking-1/

http://www.czechtourism.com/c/bohemian-paradise-unesco-geopark/

http://www.outsideprague.com/cesky_raj/cesky_raj.html

The site detailing all there is about Valdštejn is here.

For Trosky, it’s here. (use Chrome to translate the page)

Bring normal hiking things like good shoes, a light jacket for changing weather (tends to rain a lot in Bohemia), and water. But there will be refreshments and tourist spots along the way, so never fear :)

Don’t forget that there are many many more hiking and biking routes, castles, and famous spots to check out in the Bohemian Paradise! I just scratched the surface.

And as always, make sure you know the bus and train itineraries to get back into Prague. A good place to start is here.

IMG_0792

*Čechie/Český/etc., when talking about regional areas in the language Czech, translates to Bohemia in English. So when we say the CZ is split into three regions, Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia, Czechs (meaning all those from the entire CZ who speak the language) say there are three regions, Czechia, Moravia, and Silesia. Confusing, non? Almost as bad as “no” meaning “yes.”

**Nothing like America, where the worse that can happen is that you get lost in the miles and miles of endless wilderness.

Greeks and Serbians and their English

Greeks and Serbians (in the capitals at least) speak excellent English.

In Athens we were at the end of a metro line, in a true Athenian suburb, in a small neighborhood grocery store, and when the check-out lady realizes we don’t speak Greek, she goes “Oh! Where are you from? Welcome to Athens.”

In Serbia, they were practically flawless. The waiter at the restaurant, after our pathetic “Dobro jutro,” goes smoothly into flawless English. “Our specials are ­­__, __, and ___. How we do things here is you take this card, go to the counter, order your food, then swipe your card and it’s automatically added to your bill…”

It was amazing. It put Czechs (sorry, Czechs), to shame.

Hiking in the Czech Countryside

I was fortunate and got to spend a lot of time outside Prague during my trip this summer. I spent multiple days daytripping all over the northern Bohemian countryside on foot and bike.

It’s a gorgeous activity and so so easy to do, even as a tourist.

And the reason why? Czechs LOVE to go hiking and cycling, and the infrastructure for it – ever since the start of the Czech hiking club in 1888 – is built up like no other place I know.

There are websites and maps devoted solely to hiking/biking trails. Just buy a map of the region you’re looking into for a couple crowns at a bookstore, or if you have access to a good printer, print it out from a site (I’ve navigated trails both ways).

And then, once you pick a trail, just stick to the colored markers and you’re set.

Seriously.

Every trail has color-coded markers placed every couple hundred feet and at junctions with arrows, so you’re never lost.

I mean they’re everywhere.

Nailed onto trees, painted on rocks, and even slapped on the sides of buildings to lead you smoothly through towns and back out into nature again.

IMG_32801 IMG_32061

Because that’s another thing about hiking in the CZ. Everything is so old in the country (and in Europe) that you will almost always be starting from a town, heading out into nature, and passing through at least 2 more small towns along the way to your destination.

It makes for a very easy and relaxing hiking experience. Bus out to a town, hike in the morning, pop into a town for lunch, continue on to a gorgeous look-out point, pop into a pub for a beer, continue on hiking to a castle, then grab a bus in another town to go home.

All by following the red-striped signs handily placed along your route.

IMG_33141

As a tourist you never feel panicky for losing your way, and you can feel outdoorsy and cultured in the same day!

It’s pretty sweet :)

IMG_32171

Logistics:

Here are three websites to provide you with a great starting point for exploring hiking in the CZ. The first (from expats.cz) is arguably the most informative, with general information and recommendations and links to maps galore. The second is a NYT article focused on the Prague-Vienna Greenways project – very descriptive and useful if you’re looking to hike that route! The third is from Czech tourism and offers many different routes you can take, all over both Bohemia and Moravia.

As for finding maps, if you don’t want to get it online (from the links I gave above), then look in any bookstore. I keep hearing the Kiwi bookstore mentioned as a place to get them, but quite honestly I just bought mine at a random bookstore on Wenceslaus Square, in the center of Prague (the clerks all speak English and can help you out).

Finally, here is the link to the bus and train website for the CZ. Make sure you check the last bus/train return times!! I’ve missed the last bus before from the middle of nowhere…it was not fun.

 

Prague: Inside St. Nicholas (Sv. Mikuláš) Church on Old Town Square

Here are some photos I found in the archives.

St. Nicholas is a gorgeous baroque church found right on Old Town Square in the heart of Prague.*

Once a year in the spring, Prague opens all of its churches up for an event called, predictably, “Night of Churches”. (This year it was May 23rd)

All the churches normally closed to tourists or that require a fee are open and free to enter. Plus, many of them also sport interesting programs, from history to music and everything in between.**

And St. Nicholas? Well, for one night only, it opened up its choir loft.

A very cool and unique experience!

IMG_0854 IMG_0856 IMG_0858 IMG_0860

*Actually there are two St. Nicholas’s in Prague. The other is also very baroque and famous, and located in Mala Strana, across the river.

**I listened to an organ concert and saw a church lit up as if it were a night back in Baroque times and electric lighting didn’t exist, among other things that night.

7 Awesome Links to Make Your Friday Better

Istanbul, Turkey

What happened when one woman had her face photoshopped to fit the definition of beauty of 25 different countries – now some of the photoshop is, well, not that good, but some is insightful.

Have you ever heard of the Tamam Shud Case? Sooo weird!

I just watched Before Midnight, and I loved it (just as I expected to). Here’s the real couple behind the original movie

GUYS – right now, HONY is doing a world tour of 10 different countries, in tandem with the UN and the millennium goals. Right now he’s in Dohuk, Iraq (think IS/Isis)

How to go on a hipster holiday.

Photoshopping slugs into photos of rock stars. Yes, just about as bizarre (and yuk inducing!) as it sounds.

25 small secret towns in Europe you must visit! And hey! I’ve been to quite a few of those! (of course, I cheated, and lived near a good few)

Portland Mixed Drinks

Really, this should be titled “American Mixed Drinks,” but Portland was the focus of my US tour in terms of food and alcohol, and can I just say, I love the chance to have mixed drinks again?

Prague beer is wonderful, don’t get me wrong. I came into my life there thinking “What is this? This is not a beer. Bring me my IPAs!” ….and then quickly started to love love love the taste of a good light, well-balanced and flavored beer -note the “well-balanced and flavored” part. The first Czech beer I had after drinking Greek and – especially – Serbian beer for two weeks was a moment when the clouds parted and angels sang.

YES.

SANG.

But although Czech beer is amazing, that is alllllll there is. Sure sure you can get a good imported wine and a good (maybe great?) mixed cocktail in certain bars and areas of the city, but when it comes down to it, the beer is great and about 1/3 the price.

But in Portland, oh in Portland, the beer is expensive and the cocktails are stupendous. From SE to the NW, every bar and restaurant has its own selection and specialties and signature drinks. Most with a lovely happy hour to boot.

It’s very very easy to sip your way happily through this city. Because when every cocktail is nicely balanced and smooth with creative names and ingredients, it is just like being in grown-up heaven.

2014-07-26 17.30.44-1*These cocktails are actually from Liberty Bar, in Seattle. But you get the point :) And check out Liberty if you’re ever on Capital Hill. It is SO wonderful.

 

Wild Blueberries in Bohemia

Have you guys ever picked wild blueberries?

So cool.

Previously, my experience of picking blueberries had been limited to one afternoon on Sauvie Island (a farm-filled island right outside of Portland). And that had been pretty cool, let me tell you, so the bar was set high. There, the 5 foot tall bushes had been laid out in neat rows and the berries had been delightfully small and tart (still maintain that “regular” blueberries aren’t my favorite – too mushy and sweet).

When David said “Let’s go hiking, we can pick blueberries!” I imagined about the same thing. Bushes (although unkempt) by the side of the road. Kind of like raspberries (which also grow in the wild in Bohemia*).

And so when David said “oh! There’s some there!” and enthusiastically pointed off to our left, all I could think of was..huh? There are no bushes…at all.

IMG_32761

Turns out? Wild blueberries grow in those little ground covers.

IMG_32711

Who knew?

And yes, once you started looking for them at ground level (admittedly difficult when you’re all of our heights – as one person put it in a photo caption, “When giants forage.”) you start seeing more and more just peeking out from under this leaf or that bunch.

And so although we looked absolutely ridiculous bending down to our feet like the trees we are, we happily spent the whole trip grabbing little berry after little berry, hands purple-stained and everything.

*Side note: Not only do raspberries and blueberries grown in abundance in the “wilderness” of Bohemia, but since you’re passing through ancient little towns and cottages, so do cherries and apples and plums and strawberries and rhubarb and almost every other type of fruit you can imagine. It’s like going through a Garden of Eden! It’s insane how many things just grow on the side of the road there!

Prague: Two Lesser-known Museums You Should Check Out

Prague isn’t really a city for museums. It’s not like the other major European cities with national galleries hosting all the greats from 12th century Byzantine to 20th century Degas. Nooope, Prague has..an ok National Gallery (which I’ve never been to, still).

It thrives in other ways.

But Prague does do well with a couple little museums. Its Mucha museum, if you love Mucha, is a must see. The city’s presentation of the Slav Epic (also Mucha) is absolutely stunning (take a Czech who loves history with you). I’ve heard both good and bad things about its Museum of Modern Art by the waterfront, and if you want to experience David Černy’s art, here’s a cool walking tour you can take throughout the city.*

But when I visited Prague again, there were two museums that were on my list.**

The first? DOX. The second? The Museum of Miniatures.

And both were worth the visit

DOX.

DOX we went to my first day, when I was jettttttlagged. Poor Vann, I could barely function, let alone be lively and fully engage with what was in front of me. But despite all that, DOX was great.

DOX is a modern art museum who’s objective is to  “to present and advance contemporary art in the context of issues that are changing today’s world.” This means it has a constantly rotating, constantly engaging flow of exhibits that are geared not towards tourists (although predictably, there is an English translation for everything) but to Czechs, to locals.  Over the last year it’s had a variety of exhibits from the women’s lives in Terezin to failed art school applications to everything in between.

When we went, the main exhibit was called “Prvni Linie,” or Front Line. It was a two part exhibit commemorating the 100 year anniversary of the 1st World War*** – the first part being a spatial installation of a trench wall evoking the Verdun trenches of WWI and parts of authentic anti-aircraft bunkers from WWII, the second being a collection of diaries, drawings, and photographs from Czech WWI soldiers.

Vann and I were practically the only ones there on the rainy Wednesday morning, so we eerily experienced the trenches alone – my primary thought the entire time being a slightly panicked  “These things are too short. Way too short. I would have to crouch the entire time. My head would be blown off.”

The second part was a bit overwhelming with the amount of information involved. But once I picked a soldier or two to focus on, it became much more of a moving experience – seeing and sensing the horrors and hardships and loneliness and comradery involved. I learned so much about the war that isn’t covered in American text books, and it brought the bizarre difficulties and inanities of it all sharply back into modern focus, which of course was the entire point.

But this exhibit is almost half over. It lasts just until the 22nd of September, and then something new comes to take its place.  Whatever it is, though, it will probably be interesting, and for you, the tourist, worth the time to see something like this. Something non-touristy, something distinctly Czech.

The Museum of Miniatures.

The Museum of Miniatures I went to by myself the day afterwards. I had read about it in travel guides and since it was a) in a very scenic location up by the Strahov Monastery and b) something no one else I knew cared to see, it was the perfect thing to make the focus of my day out in Prague.

I took a long circuitous walking route down from Vinohrady to Vaclavske Namesti (Wenceslas Square), over Charles Bridge, and up to Malostranske Namesti to take the tram up to the Monastery.  Once up there I leisurely walked around until I found the museum entrance, to the right of the brewery. It’s a little door with a small unassuming sign saying “Museum of Miniatures.”

Inside it’s…one room. Because it can be. Because everything is miniature. Lining all the walls are wooden microscopes, each permanently fixed on something, each with a little plaque. As you look down into the eyepiece, you realize with delight that you are looking at…a recreation of Rembrandt the size of a fingernail ….a train on the leg of a mosquito …a camel-train passing through the eye of a needle (get it?). It’s actually pretty cool!

2014-06-26 13.16.27 2014-06-26 13.16.36

The entire collection is that of only a few artists. Much of the work is so small and so delicate that they had to work between heartbeats. Can you imagine that?? How much of a steady hand and infinite patience must you have to write the lord’s prayer on human hair??

Really, I was delighted by this museum, and I think it might be a fun thing to break up a day of endless Prague walking. It’s only 100 Kc, a quick museum, and something just a little unconventional and quirky, something those good little travel memories are made of. Plus, you can always grab a delicious beer afterwards then walk 10 yards to your right to one of the more majestic views in Prague.

Not bad.

Logistics:

DOX: 170 Kc, and normally there is more than one exhibit on display. Closed on Tuesday, it’s a short walk (or tram ride if you wish) off of the Holesovice metro stop. It’s not a touristy part of town, so you get to experience what real Prague life might be like. Also, there’s a modern brewery on the waterfront (a waterfront recently reconstructed post 2002 floods and therefore looking pleasantly NW Portland/Seattle like) called ­­­­­Pivovar Marina that serves great beer if you want to make a longer trip of it. Plus, in this neighborhood is also the Mucha Slav Epic – too excellent museums in one! Also, the DOX museum itself has a nice café and an upstairs viewing balcony where you get a great view of the city center.

The Miniatures Museum: 100 Kc and a pleasantly short visit. Would be an interesting activity for older kids (need to be able to reach the eyepieces of the mounted microscopes). Right at the Strahov Monastery with the Brewery and the Library and view of downtown Prague. Take the 22 tram from Malostranske Namesti and get off at Ujezd. Go straight across the odd square/thingy and head right, up the hill to get to the monastery. The museum is to the right of the brewery and left of the view point.

*I’ve heard that the Franz Kafka museum is just really not worth it, and as for the Dali museum advertised on the building in Old Town? I have no idea. But it just kinda seems suspect, you know? I mean why would the CZ have a good Dali exhibit…

**Ok, one that was on my list and one that Vann convinced me to go to instead of the Modern Art one. A good choice, I think.

***Can you believe it’s been 100 years???

Photos of the Czech Switzerland

I hope to have a more informative post about hiking in České Švýcarsko (Czech Switzerland), but for now, here are all the pretty pretty photos!

(all of these were taken around Pravčická Brána – the most famous tourist part of České Švýcarsko)

IMG_32131 IMG_32141 IMG_32191 IMG_32201 IMG_32221 IMG_32231 IMG_32241 IMG_32281