Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Weekend Wanderings: Rovinj, Croatia

Remember how I said I thought Venice was too romantic to visit without a partner? Well, Rovinj is actually the most romantic place I have ever been. Like serious sunsets on the rocks. After the hustle and bustle of Venice, Rovinj was a much-welcome break. There are a couple of main sites to see but otherwise, it's very small and very relaxing.

We ate SO well in Croatia overall but our host in Rovinj was particularly spot-on in her recommendations to us. Also, she had a big cat she held out the window to say goodbye to us (sorry, kitty!).

1) Segutra - This place is in one of the many alley-ways in Rovinj. You can sit inside or at tables in the alley outside (recommended). Like most places in Istria (the northern area of Croatia which was once part of Italy), seafood and pasta reign supreme here. So why not combine the two? My friend and I shared some seafood pasta and black risotto. Yes, the black ink of the risotto will turn your teeth black but just drink more wine. The waiter here was so happy with us because we cleaned our plates. How could anyone leave food behind??


2) Kantinon Tavern - Another favorite of our host, this restaurant is right on the harbor and has a great view of the old part of Rovinj. Sitting out here on a Monday, not being at work, with some wine and a giant cheese platter was pretty divine. The restaurant is also located right along a stretch of other restaurants and gelato shops which didn't hurt.

3) La Puntulina - If you want to eat at this restaurant or some of the other places on the rocks, you would be best served to get a reservation. However, if like us, you really just want to watch the sunset on the water as boats slowly go by, you can just walk up for drinks. We got a spot right on the edge of the rocks next to a swimming hole which gave us serious regret for not having our suits on. I half expected to witness a proposal here but alas, everyone was relaxing and watching the sunset. A German couple behind us took a picture of my friend and I being served our wine and they kindly AirDropped the photos to us (because technology).


4) Punta Corrente - We heard about this park and decided to go for a walk in here but again regretted not having our bathing suits as it was a great, quiet spot to go swimming or just lay out. We had some drinks from a bar mid-park which turned out to be very overpriced but worth it for sipping a pina colada on the Adriatic Sea while looking at the old city from afar. There were a couple hotels next to the park and people were riding bikes they presumably rented in town so is a good way to spend an afternoon.

5) Brist Olive Oil -  If you've rented a car, I would highly recommend visiting the small town of Vodnjan. We went to an olive oil tasting at Brist which sounds really strange because why would you drink olive oil but holy guacamole, you have not had olive oil before. We walked way with 7 bottles of olive oil between the two of us, it was that good (and makes good gifts!). The host there was Irish which was amusing but had married into this olive family. He recommended a restaurant for lunch, Vodnjanka, which had delicious truffle gnocchi and traditional fusi, a type of beef stew. Oh and truffle cheese because you can never have too much truffle oil -- or cheese.



Thursday, June 7, 2018

Weekend Wanderings: Venice

Ah Venice! For some reason, I had in my head that Venice was this super romantic place and I should wait to go there until I was in a relationship and we could take a gondola ride together because romance. But alas, I skipped out on going to Venice when I visited Verona (a mere train ride away) and am tired of waiting. YOLO!!


Now don't get me wrong, Venice is amazing! But if you're being dumb like me and waiting for a partner, don't. Just go. You can make anywhere romantic or not (okay, maybe not aaaaanywhere), you'll enjoy Venice either way.

Outside of the usual sites like Rialto Bridge, Bridge of Sighs and taking a Gondola ride, here are some places we stumbled upon (via actual walking or Instagram) that would be worth a wander. Oh and some fun tips in case you arrive at like midnight and are getting lost on water buses like us...

1) Water Buses: Venice - the city of water, land of canals. It seems so exotic to travel by boat instead of bus! But if you're doing so late at night, like after 10pm, make sure you check the schedule at your particular stop. Even though we asked the ticket lady and she directed us to stop C, our little map told us that stop C closes after 10pm. But the lady told us to go there! Well, she was wrong and we should have just read the schedule and not waited half an hour at the wrong stop. So yeah, trust your instincts and double check stations after dark.

 
2) Mercati di Rialto - Obviously you should go to the Rialto Bridge, lined with shops and offering great views of the grand canal. But through the square, there is a large market that has locals and tourists alike shopping for goods. Seafood, flowers, meat, vegetables, fruit-- everything you could think of! Really made me want a kitchen for our trip so we could cook up some fresh food.

 
 




















3) Libreria Acqua Alta- This was an Instagram discovery. You know how sometimes you're like "why do I have 500 Facebook friends, I definitely don't know half these people". I feel that way about Instagram sometimes where I've clearly followed someone because we met at a blogger event and I don't remember their real name. But if you stay following them, you get trip inspiration. Like my blogger friend Amy, who actually redesigned this site for me a few years back, who went to Venice the week before me! Cue making a list of destinations based on her Instagram, most notably this book store which is a) amazing and b) has a cool book staircase in the back overlooking a canal. Clearly a popular spot for photo shoots as we had to wait in a little bit of a line. Instagram-husbands/boyfriends were in full force.


4) Osteria Alla Staffa - There's probably not a bad place to get pasta or seafood but this little restaurant was very close to the bookstore and our hostel so in we went! The restaurant is cozy but they were able to seat us right away and although you are close to the other tables, it doesn't feel crowded. The staff were attentive and gave us recommendations on wine and local cuisine. 



5) I Tre Mercanti - Among the many tiny bridges that span the canals, was this little shop. Blink and you'll miss it! It's right on a corner going over a bridge so you can easily get swept up in the tourist groups walking across. Mini cannolis, chocolates and tiramisu, oh my! The woman working there was Scottish and greeted a seasonal English visitor by name when she came in having just arrived from the UK! Such a great feeling to know there are still regulars and people who know your name even now with all the digital clutter.


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....