Wednesday, May 1, 2013

pearls in praha

after our school program ended and we were kicked out of fancy pants student housing, a solid six of us started our weeklong adventure to prague & budapest! it was such an escape from the english culture as we were met with goulash, monopoly money, bath houses and *gasp* sunshine... each day was spent with an easy agenda full of silly photo.ops, stops for snacks & deep breaths of fresh air! I'm beyond glad I didn't miss out on the rich history & gorgeous cities of eastern europe. my companions, the architecture & the atmosphere made the week an adventure & a retreat all in one! I'll break up the two cities to keep this from turning into a blovel (a blog/novel hybrid) : 

{ evening one }
heading out of nido for the second to last time, our bags were heavy & spirits high as we made our early escape to the airport. london obviously wasn't ready to see us go as we were met with not a one or two, but a five hour flight delay... our final arrival into the czech republic was slightly more moonlit than expected but we arrived at the hostel, threw our bags down & made it to our third attempt at a dinner reservation with natalie's friend who studies in prague. 

even in the dark I could tell each building called for a second or third glance as I stumbled over the cobblestone to the italian restaurant that sat quite nicely in the river. a beautiful view of the partially lit castle & a 'big beer' later and we were out exploring the nightlife of the old square, which for us consisted of buying our own beer and sitting at the foot of the statue just to kick start the next few days of fantastic people watching. exhausted from travel & excited for tomorrow, I think I fell asleep in a quarter of a second... 

the view from the restaurant & our first glimpse at prague

{ day two }
to my excitement, our hostel provided free espresso (a perk I abused to the point I became a regular at the counter in the two short days we spent there) so we up early & on our way to the "staroměstské náměstí" (aka the old town square) to catch a free walking tour. we literally walked out the door of our hostel onto the charles bridge, a beautiful cobble stone tourist attraction that's lined with looming statues of prague's past that balance perfectly between creepy & beautiful. originally, we were going to use the tour to hit the major sights in old town before ditching for lunch. but our nerdy sides quickly kicked in as the young guide lead us through the dramatic, twisting, oppressed & often violent history of the czech people while pointing out the greatest buildings and quirky statues. we passed the incredibly confusing astronomical clock, past where beethoven loved to perform, through the new town and into the jewish quarter. luckily all six of us appreciate a great pun as our conversations were filled with "such a czechxpert" or "no more praguelems!" the atmosphere of the city truly felt "praguelem free" as the warm, inviting colors of the buildings reach just high enough that the smallest alley way wouldn't feel like a trap & as the czech band playing in the square at 10am is already on their second pint of beer & how anything over a casual stroll would attract attention. 

after leaving our tour guide with a map circled with bars & pubs for the evening, we headed straight to a small island in the vltava river that runs down the center of the city. here we split into two teams of four to test our legs paddle boating around the river. it was a fantastic way to see both sides of the city at the same time while I casually closed my eyes in the back seat begging for the sun to give me at least a slight shade of tan. after paddling the second half, we wobbled our way back across the charles bridge to the john lennon wall. the colors, encouraging quotes & quirky paintings made this symbol of freedom one of my favourite parts of prague! I love how everyone is invited to share their peace & how the jumbled mess ends up looking just happy & beautiful... I signed a quip & posed for a couple pictures before we opted for pre-sunset siestas. 

meeting back up with natalie & her prague-abroad friend (olivia), we made our way across the city to one of the beer gardens where we proudly sipped our 40 krone ($2) 1.5 liter bottles of czech beer while lounging on a grassy hill overlooking 'the most beautiful city in the world.' the pinks & peaches settled over the orange shingles, warming the surrounding hills & lulling us into a state of complete content that seemed to never quite fade away. before we knew it, the time was closer to 10pm & we realized beer wasn't going to hold us off much longer : leading us to a night of vietnamese takeout & just hanging out in olivia's apartment down the road. 

it's hard to find so much optimism in one place

 view of the prague castle from the other side of the charles bridge
charles bridge statues 

 candid shot by steven
old town square!

astronomical clock
 learning so much!
you write an evil wish on & toss it into his hood where it travels straight to the devil

typically gorgeous prague street
impersonating statues is one of our favourite pastimes : seen here with franz kafka 

entering the jewish quarter 
 one of the main synagogues : this one is essentially haunted by golem
the jewish graveyard elevated up on the left to fit more layers of bodies 

awkward family photo time

 and we're off!

 an inside paddler's view

proof I put in some leg work too!

the john lennon wall 

my favourite spot : happy earth day!

typical me 
meet the crew : ian, me, steven, olivia, caroline, natalie & thomas 
 up at the beer gardens!
 no filters or enhancers : prague is really this beautiful!

{ day three }
our second full day in prague happened to be april twenty second which happens to be both earth day & my birthday! what a better way to spend your second decade then in a gorgeous city, with wonderful people & absolutely nothing but greatness on your agenda? we started our day heading up the petrin hill in a gondola as we passed couples & friends already out on the green hill sharing picnics, kisses & giggles. at the top we wandered our way at no particular pace through the gardens to the petrin tower, a structure resembling a mini eiffel tower hidden in the hills of the czech republic... so up the stairs we went (have I mentioned I have a thing for climbing up monuments?) to the top view of prague where the rooftop of each building complemented the next, the bridges stood sturdy connecting the riverbanks and the random peaks of castles, churches & mosques politely asked, rather than demanded attention. though there was a bit of a fog making pictures a little hazy, the view was incredible & we hardly wanted to come down! when that time finally came, we began wandering once again, finding ourselves in a secret garden of sorts that hosted blooming flowers, antique benches & old couples in love : it was bliss. 

the only motivation to ever leave petrin hill was obviously lunch. olivia took us to her favourite czech restaurant just outside the tourist grasps of new town where we each sampled some traditional cuisine : the crew ordered goulash but not ready to eat meat again, I split "smažák" (fried cheese) which the local girls call "smaz" and was really just a large mozzarella stick. refueled & ready to go, we headed back over the river to czech out the castle! one metro stop too far and we wandered in the general direction of the center of town before happening across the royal gardens which guided us straight for the castle. the cathedral inside that rises above the rest of the city was filled with fantastically bright stained glass but we opted to spend more time enjoying the sunlight around a fountain in the courtyard. with hopes for another sunset on the hill, we wandered back to our hostel while natalie & I escaped to visit tourist shops and grab a traditional trdelnik which is like a hollow cylinder of cinnamon donut, yum! rainy weather & an extended nap time led to barely making sunset on the hill again. we then joined a group of abroad students at a place called 'the pub' where each table has its own beer tap which tracks your progress against all the other tables. by now I had pretty much forgotten but the pub broke out into "happy birthday" as natalie & caroline served me a slice of chocolate cake with a candle poking out. such a sweet gift and a great end to a great day! 

spring blooms 

prague castle from petrin tower 
all of praha as far as you can see! 
the crew walking through the park 

 the 'smaz'
 our czech menu

finding the royal gardens 

 I loved these ornate walls

 inside the cathedral

 prague from the castle : makes you just want to drop it all & move right in!

 don't fall off the ledge!

 crispy batter, sugar, cinnamon & a touch of almonds!
 at the pub sipping our praguelems away
happy birthday to me! 
daytime view from the italian restaurant : we went back for lunch before budapest

and off to budapest!

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