Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Weekend Wanderings: Prague - Food

Part II! In case you missed Part I, the focus of the last post was on activities in Prague. And now we move onto the reward for all that walking and biking: food! And beverages because Prague is a serious beer town.

We stumbled upon a small beer cafe on our way to a hypothetical beer garden (we never found it) that only served pickled cheese, pickled sausage and two beers. Made choosing easy. There were also a bunch of dogs around and the weather was sunny so helped make this oasis feel like paradise. There is also a beer garden in the large park on the north side of the river which will undoubtedly provide a great view! We passed it on the bike tour but didn't stop for a beer there (we stopped for one at the Castle instead).

Although this is a chain, Bakeshop is worth it! I couldn't say if these are traditional but it had the feeling of an old cafe and there are some just off the Old Town square if it's too hectic there. They have a great assortment of pastries but also egg dishes. They are also super fast, we had a sit down breakfast in about 20 minutes.

And if Bakeshop is full, there's a cafe across the street called Au Gormand that has a back garden area which is lovely for breakfast as well. They seemed to have additional lunch offerings beyond take-away pastries.

On the recommendation of a foodie friend, we went to dinner at Lokal. Although it also has multiple locations, they have traditional food and I couldn't even make it through the goulash and bread dumplings. It was extremely good but also so filling.

You will see a lot of vendors selling chimney cakes with ice cream in them. They look amazing and are delicious but our tour guide told us these are traditional as of about 2014 when they caught on from a Hungarian tradition. And although strudel is usually associated with Austria or Germany, their Czech neighbors adopted the tradition too. I've heard hot chocolate is great in Prague too but it was pretty warm so stuck with strudel for dessert. So go ahead, treat yo'self.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Weekend Wanderings: Prague - Activities

This is one time when I wish I had digital photos from my youth. It would mean instant access to some strong #tbt photos but at the same time, I looooved the whole printing photo process. Waiting for the prints, then flipping through them and hoping your pictures came out as intended and you hadn't blinked or stuck your finger over the lens. The struggle was real.

If I had those pictures readily available and not in storage, I would throw some up here of Prague circa 2005. I'm pretty sure I had a really good hair year at that time (more reasons to find those photos and be like "hairdresser, make this happen again") so I'm not even worried about embarrassing teen style. Okay, we were on a class trip and we had to wear the same bright blue jacket as all the other students and when we weren't, we had to wear our designated color which for me was 'silver' aka grey aka I'm super pale and that is not a good look.

At any rate, I don't mind visiting a place twice, especially with a fresh perspective and Prague was no exception. A friend of mine was in nearby Germany for work so away we went to Praha.

Smetana Hall / Municipal House
The first time I was in Prague was for a choir tour and we sang in the Municipal Hall, also called Smetana Hall. It was the first time I was travelling sans parents/family and our choir director was intense. People were paying money to see us! It wasn't just our parents in the audience or other kids forced to sit through a school assembly. No. Pressure. But it was also an amazing experience to be in a real concert hall so convinced my travel companions to attend a classical music concert there during our trip. The hall was pretty empty which made me wonder if it had been that way for our concert all those years ago. I'm going to tell myself it was full, just like my hazy memory remembers it.

The interior
This time around though, did a few more things, starting with a bike tour! I'm terrified of biking, mostly because cars crush bicycles (real-life rock, paper, scissors here) but it was worth the fear to take a bike tour of Prague.

Safety first!
We started in the Old Town and crossed the river to go up to the giant park and rode over to the castle. One thing from my travels the first time around that stuck out: the Metronome statue. At one point this was a giant statue of Stalin which they destroyed after the fall of communism. It was then temporarily replaced by a statue of Michael Jackson (no joke!) before the current Metronome was installed. To signify the sway of time? The delicate balance of life? Something nifty?? All of the above.

We then pedaled over to the Castle where we stopped for a bit and walked around. The castle was built over time so has a number of different architectural styles. As with most palaces, they have a royal garden and changing of the guard ceremony. There is also a cathedral you can visit, rumor has it the lines are shorter towards the end of the day but probably depends on the day.

St. Vitus Cathedral
The Castle is up on a hill, as you do, so while we had to work to get up there, we got to cruise downhill on our way back into town. And I do mean cruise, it's pretty steep and I rode the break pretty hard but ultimately my mass and inner child won out and away we went! Next stop was the Lennon Wall which started as a memorial to John Lennon when communism was still sort of a thing so kept getting painted over. But the wall is part of the embassy of Malta who were like "it's cool, we dig it" and so the wall remained. Now you can tag it to your heart's content. But it will most likely be promptly painted over.

Lennon Wall (sorry kids, graffiti isn't censored)
We then took a brief pedal past the Charles Bridge which was a relief because it was packed with people! Definitely worth a visit but perhaps on foot. You get great views of the castle from down below.

Charles Bridge with Castle in the background
The tour ended back near Old Town which is also a great place to visit. If you go to Prague now, you will see a lot of construction and the famed Astronomical Clock is closed for refurbishment. This is all in preparation for the big celebrations this fall for 100 years of Czech independence. Check back in October for all the sites to be open and shiny!

Further out, more towards the Castle on the north/west side of the river, you will find the Kafka House with the Pissing Statue out front (not sure what this is about, it showed up on Google maps and how can you not check it out...). The Infant Jesus is also an attraction on this side of the river, housed in the Church of Our Lady Victorious.

Sweet baby Jesus
This post started as one really long post including food recommendations but it just became a novel (it might still be too long...). So keep an eye out for part II: Food!!

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Weekend Wanderings: Amsterdam

I reached a point where I realized for all my lists of places I wanted to go, I hadn't booked anything or traveled in awhile. So I basically said, "here, hold my beer" to life and booked excursions for a month and a half. Tired of waiting around for "the right time" or someone to go with, just went for it. And surprise! Found people to come along for the ride. Because sometimes you just gotta go for it (that's what moving abroad was all about anyways).

I have long wanted to go to Amsterdam but as a top destination, most of my friends had already been so never booked it. Turns out there were still a few people in my boat and away we went! I had always wanted to visit the Anne Frank House and the Van Gogh museum came highly recommended so those were the two big ticket items on my list.

Here are some suggestions:

1) Anne Frank House

I don't even know where to start, this is a must-see for so many reasons. So instead, here are some tips and facts. I read the Diary of Anne Frank long ago as a teenager and it inspired me to write more. I think I even addressed my journal as Kitty for awhile. I reread the Diary in anticipation of visiting and since it had been a long time. Evidently there are three versions of the diary: the original Anne wrote, the version she edited to be published and a revised version which had additional pages added that were discovered later. I think the version I read the first time was the edited version but it had been further edited by her father initially for publication out of respect for those who had died. But the version I read this time had passages I didn't recall. All in all, it's amazing how similar and relatable people can be across time and experiences. And now a tip: the museum is currently undergoing renovation so you must book online ahead of time. Tickets are released 2 months ahead and go quickly but if it's sold out, you can also pay slightly more for an introductory educational program which includes entry to the museum. Those are available 2 weeks before and we were able to book it but went to the wrong place so missed the program, which wasn't the end of the world as we were still able to visit the museum and Annex.

2) Van Gogh Museum

I think Van Gogh is best known for Starry Night and cutting off his ear but there is so much more to his life and work! He didn't dedicate himself to art until later in life and largely gained fame after his death (like most artists, it seems). But it was due to the efforts of his sister in-law that his work was recognized posthumously. She was married to Vincent's brother who also died around the same time as Vincent so she was left with hundreds of paintings which she exhibited herself. It was her son who founded the permanent museum in Amsterdam to house the works. Van Gogh was also very interested in Japanese art and styled some of his works on famous Japanese art. Who knew?? Apparently a lot of people.

3) Blushing

Just across the street from the Van Gogh museum was this great brunch place, very hipster, complete with smoothie bowls. But conveniently located with wonderful outdoor seating.

4) G's Brunch

This was a fantastic find, they also have a brunch cruise which sounds amazing! They have the standard brunch offerings as well as some great cocktails. Off the beaten path, it was easy to walk in and get seating but was busy without feeling like you had to rush like with a lot of brunch hotspots.

5) The Butcher 

Okay, I know, you should eat local foods but these burgers--divine.
6) Cheese Museum

Pretty small but loads of cheese samples and there's a photo booth downstairs where you can dress up in some great styles and email yourself the photo. Then share with the world for fun:

7) Vondelpark 

Don't cycle in Amsterdam. Just don't do it. We saw so many crashes and arguments break out over the rules of cycling and even as a pedestrian, it was terrifying. Locals vs. locals, tourists vs. locals. Just no. But the park was beautiful and massive! There's a restaurant there, apparently called Vondelpark3, that looks like something out of Tower of Terror (in a good way!) and has a huge outdoor seating area. They offer a platter of Amsterdam cheese and meat which I naturally went for.

8) Keukenhof

I regret we were unable to go to this but it's still going on! So if you're going to Amsterdam in April-May at any point, there's a giant tulip festival where there appear to be acres of flowers. We were only there for a weekend so unfortunately didn't make it out there but there are buses that leave from the central terminal and airport that will allow you a few hours among the flowers before returning you to the city.

We did some of the regular tourist things like a canal tour but skipped the Rijksmuseum as the weather was amazing and we just wanted to be outside as much as possible. ALSO--there's a Dunkin' Donuts so you know that happened!

Ps: A "coffee shop" is not a coffee shop....

Monday, February 26, 2018

52 Books in 52 Weeks

I'm already starting behind but Chinese New Year just started so maybe I'm right on time...yup, let's go with that! I love reading, I love getting lost in another world and being inspired to think differently. While I could go through fiction books rapidly, non-fiction take me much longer. Still working through a non-fiction I started in November (granted it's a long one but still--way behind).

So in the spirit of self-improvement, resolutions and inspiration, I'm going for this crazy thing of 52 books in a year. Except I think my year will be until Chinese New Year because goals should be achievable ha.

I've had this list on my phone for a really long time but now it's numbered and official and ever-growing:

  1. Thank You for Being Late 
  2. Scrappy Little Nobody
  3. Everything You Want Me to Be
  4. Tale of Two Cities
  5. The Art Forger
  6. Blink
  7. Essential: Essays by the Minimalists
  8. Minimalism: Living a Meaningful Life
  9. Everything That Remains
  10. Proud to Be a Mammal 
  11. A Fine Imitation
  12. Predictably Irrational
  13. Fitness Junkie
  14. The Yellow Wallpaper
  15. Perennials
  16. Small Great Things
  17. Lilac Girls
  18. The Choice
  19. Trapeze
  20. Tightrope
  21. Nudge
  22. When to Jump
  23. Sapiens
  24. Grit
  25. We're Going to Need More Wine
  26. Sisu: The Finnish Art of Courage
  27. News of the World
  28. Everything I Never Told You
  29. The Waves
  30. Crime and Punishment
  31. World Without Mind
  32. From Values to Action
  33. Becoming 
I don't even remember some of these books or why they're on my list but thanks past-self! Okay, more than half-way there...any suggestions? This list is a living thing so eventually will reach 52. Oh and if anyone has any of these books they would like to lend me...I do not need to add 52 books to my physical belongings. 

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Love It or Hate It

Valentine's Day: a day solely devoted to forced romance or extreme single pride. People either love it and think it's mushy or adorable or sweet or they hate it and think it's a holiday invented by card companies, drawing harsh awareness to being single. Grab your girl squad, order some questionable pizza toppings and bring on the Ryan Gosling movies. Grey area acquired.

Speaking of divisive things, here is a list of foods that I've found people either vehemently despise or unequivocally love:

1) Cilantro/Coriander- Apparently there is actually some kind of genetic trait that makes cilantro (coriander in the UK) taste like soap to half the population (also, 60% of statistics are made up on the spot...). The other half of us love to add this to guacamole and just about any other dish that needs a flavor kick in the pants.

2) Pineapple on Pizza- This has been a raging debate in my flat, often fuelled by gin and the fact that we live across the street from a Papa John's. Pineapple gets all hot and mushy when you cook it. I already burn my mouth on the hot pizza sauce as I eagerly chow down but add boiling hot pineapple juice? No thank you. Also gross. Pineapple is delicious but not on pizza.

3) Marmite- What in the heck is this spread? Whyyyyyy not have Nutella? Or peanut butter? Or anything else but gravy flavoured goo. Okay, let's back up. Similar to cilantro, Marmite seems to be a genetic taste bud situation and is famously divisive. Their commercials even play up to this with families having genetic tests to determine if they are born lovers or haters. So I tried a tiny bit once and it basically tastes like super salty gravy. Not with my cup of tea, thank you.

4) Raisins- I didn't realize raisins were such an issue until I started making fruit cakes. Even though grapes are okay and wine is definitely okay, dried out grapes are a no-go for many people. This causes a great decrease in the consumption of fruit cake, carrot cake, granola and oatmeal raisin cookies at the office. I get it, they're mushy and kinda weird but what is an oatmeal raisin cookie without the raisins?? Just oatmeal...

5) Brussels Sprouts- I think the only people who love Brussels sprouts with a fiery passion are other people in my family. Everyone else I've met has been like 'oh yeah, Brussels sprouts are good' but not like 'omg I can't go another minute without sprouts!'. I have disliked Brussels sprouts my entire life. If I had a dollar for every person who responds with 'oh but that's because you haven't had them cooked my way', I could quit my job and blog full time. "I do not like them in a house, I do not like them with a mouse. I do not like them here or there, I do not like them anywhere". I do not like them with butter or sugar or even bacon! Save the bacon!!!!

What other foods do you love that others hate? What about you hate but others love? Is there a grey area?